Practical Pistol Cheat Sheet: Eight key thoughts for assured performance

One of the most common questions I hear as a trainer is, “How can I be more consistent and not blow out when the pressure is on?” We shooters tend to be hard on ourselves. If you’re like me, you are your harshest critic. However, self-criticism rarely leads to real self-correction on it’s own, and often makes things worse.

bruce-gray-shootingIt’s not helpful to tell yourself not to miss, go faster, slow down, or shoot only “A”s. Such internal dialog is motivation without a practical focus. It increases your investment in results by building expectations, ramps up the pressure you put on yourself, and leads to further errors and blowouts.

What you need is a way to channel your desire to excel productively, by relating it to specific aspects of technique and mindset that you can improve to assure future success. It’s not enough to tell yourself not to miss. You need to teach yourself how to hit by refocusing on the process and let the results take care of themselves.

1 – Observe the aligned sights

Alignment of the sights to each other is always more important than where they fall on the target, since the amount of misalignment you see compounds itself as the distance to the target increases. You are more likely to accept a misaligned sight picture if your focus is on the target. Thus, the preferred technique is to attack the center of the target area by placing the aligned sights on it.

2 – Prep the trigger and isolate the press

Follow through is crucial to practical pistol marksmanship. Rather than an active part of technique such as continuing a golf swing, Follow through is actually a passive state in which you let yourself release each shot while isolating the trigger press from your grip, with no other inputs into the pistol.

3 – See yourself pressing the trigger, and let the gun fire

Your trigger control skills (reset, trigger prep and a smooth break with follow through) are ideally prompted by the appearance of an acceptable sight picture on the target. To develop and “hard wire” this skill into place, dry fire while visualizing the sights appearing on a target. This is the most powerful tool you have for building your marksmanship skills.

5 – Visualize yourself shooting well

Similarly, we use visualization to program our performance in great detail before each stage of a course of fire. Aside from visualizing going through the stage, setting up and leaving each position, negotiating props and so forth, this includes seeing the sights and pressing the trigger for every shot on every target.

This is the most powerful tool you have for performing to potential.

6 – Set your ego aside

The purpose of training is to program the mind to perform on demand without conscious thought. When we shoot poorly, it’s always because we negate our training by thinking, worrying and trying. Have faith in your training, give your conscious mind something to do (like observing the sights), and you will shoot at your best.

7 – When in doubt, have fun and enjoy the process!

If you find yourself struggling, frustrated or anxious, replace these negative emotions with a sense of fun. Let the pure enjoyment of executing the process of sight alignment and trigger release be your motivation, and you’ll be in the ideal state to shoot to your potential. Stay behind the gun and smile!

8 – Shooting is not about hitting the target. It’s about operating the pistol and watching the sights.