You need to give your own handgun skills an honest appraisal. From novice to expert, these standards will encourage the average shooter to excel and present a basis for procedure.

  • Handgun shooters can be classified by novice, beginner, specialist and expert.
  • An honest evaluation of your handgun skill level is necessary to advance.
  • A novice may not win a fight, while a professional should be decisive in a battle.
Note Jessie Duff’s grip and trigger finger position — she gets it right and wins the big money! handgun shooters
Note Jessie Duff’s grip and trigger finger position — she gets it right and wins the big money!

Novice
The novice may be able to safely load, unload and handle his or her personal sidearm with a minimal amount of fumbling. Their level of competence is more broad than deep. This is the beginning level for each of us.

While indeed minimal, it is the common skill level of quite a few non-dedicated service personnel. Shooters at this level may not survive gunfights. It really depends upon their mindset.

At short range, marksmanship problems are not severe, but the combat mindset is questionable. Shooters in this class are likely recreational shooters on the civilian side. Peace officers at this level maintain their marginal skill by yearly qualification.

Many look forward to these qualifications as much as they looked forward to high school fire drills. Their tactical mindset is influenced more by the media than reality. Among this group you will find many that rely upon skills they cannot demonstrate. The single greatest shortcoming among this group is a lack of complete familiarity with their sidearm.

The author demonstrating a good, solid grip with the thumbs forward and proper trigger finger placement. Handgun shooter
The author demonstrating a good, solid grip with the thumbs forward and proper trigger finger placement.

Beginner/Proficient
The beginner may be a product of a personal training program or an agency with quarterly qualifications. Their training is likely to be relatively narrow but perceived as adequate.

Some within this group realize there is room for improvement. It is important to note that this is the highest level of skill sustainable by many with job and family demands. A homeowner who keeps a firearm primarily for home defense has done well to reach this level. A peace officer trained to this level who combines his skill with streetwise tactics will be a formidable shooter.

This is the highest level of skill to which administrative qualifications will lead. While common street thug adversaries are often at the duffer level, some criminals reach the beginner-proficient level.

In my experience, very few of our protein-fed, ex-con criminal class rise past the novice level. The proficient class of shooters is common among those who shoot in IDPA matches. The proficient level of skill is sustainable with monthly practice and not out of the reach of anyone of normal strength and dexterity.

Specialist
This level isn’t one that you arrive at by accident. Hard work is needed.

The specialist is good at a number of skills. He or she will deploy a top-grade handgun and be able to use it well. This person knows the likely threat profile and practices diligently to address this threat.

Well-versed in the tactics and skills likely to be needed in a personal protection scenario, they are able to handle unexpected problems. The specialist is often deeply opinionated, has formal training and often gravitates to training others.

52Colt’s Maggie Reese demonstrates an excellent all-around firing grip and trigger finger placement. handgun shooters
Colt’s Maggie Reese demonstrates an excellent all-around firing grip and trigger finger placement.

The Professional
The professional has a lot of answers dependent upon the situation. He is conversant in marksmanship and gun handling as well as advanced tactics. He is familiar with a number of firearms.

While he has opinions concerning firearms, he regards each as a tool. The professional does not consider training the goal but a means to an end. His marksmanship skills are well-honed and consistent.

He has fewer bad days and brilliant moments than the rest of us, but rather his skill is consistent. He is responsible for his actions and strives to learn new tactics while respecting the tactics and skills that saved his life in the past. His skills are demonstrably superior to most of those he trains but they are hard-won.

While the specialist is a product of official training, the professional may only be produced by diligent effort on his own time — and his own dime. His training time is measured in thousands of hours. I know such men. Three have run my training classes and two were United States Marines. I also attended a class as a student with such a marksman (the only one in his class at the course), and he too was a Marine. I have no military experience and I can only state that the Marines are doing something right.

As for the third I met, he was a U.S. Army veteran that had been injured overseas. Despite muscle tremors that challenged his considerable skill he aced the course and demonstrated extraordinary ability. Very few instructors have the privilege of training such men.

Editor’s Note:This article is an excerpt from The Accurate Handgun, available now at GunDigestStore.com


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Unleash Your Handgun’s True Potential!

The Accurate Handgun arms shooters, hunters, and armed citizens with the resources they need to always hit the mark with their pistols and revolvers. Deftly written and easy to grasp, this expansive look at handguns, upgrades, accessories, mindset, and skills enable shooters to milk every ounce of accuracy from a sidearm. It truly is a must-have resource for serious marksmen looking for an edge or novices aiming to ground themselves in fundamentals of precision handguns and handgun shooting. Learn more

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