Gun Digest

Shooting a Pistol: Instruction is Key to Success

The boss says it’s time for me to get handgun training.

For several years now, I’ve been editing books written by notable handgun trainers – Massad Ayoob, Grant Cunningham and Gila Hayes, to name a few. However, since knowledge is not the same as understanding, and the focus on handguns doesn’t seem to be waning, the time has come for me to get some first-hand experience shooting a pistol.

First group ever with a pistol. Corey’s instruction using Massad’s principles seems to work well. A half hour of basic instruction in the fundamentals can get you up and running with good technique. Don’t spend years developing bad habits or think you can learn to shoot a handgun by watching others (and certainly not from what you see on television or in movies!).

While I’ve been shooting rifles and shotguns for several decades, my experience with handguns has been limited to less than a box of ammo getting to know a .41 mag revolver prior to a trip into the wilderness. So, yesterday I spent some time at the range with Gun Digest Online Editor/in-house handgun expert Corey Graff and a couple of 9mm pistols.

Off to the shooting range

Our planned activities for the day included a Glock Model 19 and a KelTec PF-9.

Corey chose the mid-size Glock because, in his experience, this pistol is simple, reliable, accurate and safe to use for a beginner. We took the KelTec along so I could experience the contrast. The KelTec is an emergency pocket pistol (per KelTec, “one of the lightest and flattest 9mm ever made”), and one would expect it to be not super-pleasant to shoot and not real accurate beyond a few yards. That’s the trade-off – less weight equals more recoil, and a smaller frame is more difficult to grasp and aim properly.

Corey explained the mechanics of the pistols we were shooting, and then reviewed his go-to training method based on Massad’s “5 Lost Secrets of Combat Handgunnery” (power stance, high-hand grasp, crush grip, front sight and smooth roll). Then he handed me the Glock, and the shooting commenced.

(For more from Ayoob, pick up a copy of Combat Handgunnery from the Gun Digest Store.)

With the 12 gauge as my shotgun of choice, experience with the M-16 and a few shots from a 50-cal rifle under my belt, it would seem the idea of recoil from a handgun should not concern me. However, with all of the bad press it gets, I have to admit it crossed my mind.

Shooting the Glock

Even with the smallest backstrap on the Glock, my hand was not big enough to put my finger on the trigger where I would have liked – closer to the first joint rather than out toward the tip of the finger.

Also, because of the smaller size of my hands, the ergonomic shape of the grip made it challenging to keep the web of my thumb snugged up to the frame tang, to take full advantage of that position during recoil. Ultimately, the trigger pull on the Glock was very comfortable, and the recoil not objectionable. It was fun to shoot.

Shooting the KelTec

The smaller KelTec was a better fit for my hand. However, upon firing the first round it was apparent that this pistol jumped noticeably more than the larger Glock. This definitely makes it more challenging to keep/refocus on the target for the next shot.

The next trigger pull, nothing happened. Hmm. After clearing the malfunction I continued shooting. Compared to the Glock, the trigger response on this one seemed abrupt. This snappy little gun may have fit better in my hand, but I sure preferred the feel of the trigger pull on the Glock, and also had better control of the recoil with the larger gun.

Overall impressions

My overall impressions of this first (admittedly limited) experience shooting a pistol? First, I had some trouble getting used to sighting with both eyes open (my trifocals progressive lenses may be part of the problem), so that’ll be something to work on.

Also, I can see why experts recommend trying different guns to find one that you like. The size and configuration make a huge difference in the shooting experience.

In addition, as Corey reviewed technique at the beginning of our session, I found myself repeatedly asking “Why?” In each case, he had a reasonable answer, but it demonstrated to me the idea (espoused by each of the author/trainers noted earlier) that there is no one “right” method for handgun training, only that different methods were developed for different purposes. What works for target shooting, for example, may not be the best method to learn for use in self defense.

When choosing a class, understand the differences. Be clear about what you want from the training, and find out if that is available from the class or trainer you are considering.

For my next adventure, I’ll be attending a NRA Women on Target Instructional Shooting Clinic at a local shooting club. Watch upcoming blog posts for updates.

Thanks for reading the Inside Gun Digest Books blog!

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