Aiming Tips

Aiming is both a simple task and a difficult one. It seems like it should be a simple matter of point and shoot, but it can be influenced by a lot of different factors. We’re going to focus on two, here: firing position and natural point of aim.

Firing Positions and Stances

Different guns are fired in different stances. It’s important to remember that each stance, no matter what kind of firearms you’re shooting, is about stability.

  • Handguns

    Handguns are primarily fired when standing, with your firing hand clasped around the weapon, trigger finger in the trigger well, and your other hand clasping that one, usually curled around the butt of the grip. This provides needed control and helps deal with recoil (it’s possible to break your wrist firing with only one hand). Regardless of what the rest of your body is doing, this should be your hand position. Note: there are other ways to shoot handguns with specialized applications, such as trick shooting or reenactment shooting, but the one described above is the one most used for self-defense and ranges.

  • Shotguns

    Shotguns are fired standing so you can manage the recoil. Keep the buttstock in the pocket of your shoulder, the gap between your pectorals and bicep muscle. This helps to keep the weapon stable. Feet are braced one foot forward and one back, knees bents, with the body leaning forward into the gun. A shotgun is pointed more than aimed. If you’re shooting skeet or hunting, you will turn your body almost like a turret to track the target. All of this changes in self-defense, where your primary goal is to not get knocked over by recoil when you fire at a close range target. Brace your feet and fire, in that case. Your target will have a worse time than you will; how bad is going to depend on the kind of shells you’re using.

  • Rifles

    Rifles can be fired standing, kneeling, and prone. In all three, the buttstock is kept in your shoulder pocket.

    • The standing position is similar to the shotgun firing position, though remember you aim a rifle.
    • Kneeling is done, as you’d guess, kneeling. Rest your elbow on you’re knee on your non-firing side and tuck your firing side knee down. I’d suggest locking your elbow behind your knee to keep it from slipping. How you position your firing side leg is up to you; even in the military, you’ll see people shoot from different versions of this position. Stability is what matters.
    • The prone position is the most stable of these, and can be done with supports (sandbags, for instance) and without them. Lay down with the rifle tucked into your shoulder and ready to fire. Many people advise bending your firing side leg to help with recoil. Trying to hold your torso up with muscle power alone is difficult, exhausting, and unstable; rest your weight on your bones. Hitting your target makes you a tough guy on the range, not muscle strength.

Finding Your Natural Point of Aim

  • This exercise should be only done on a range.
  • In a high-intensity situation, you don’t have time trying to find the textbook aim point. Your natural point of point is where the gun naturally points. To understand the idea, try this: face your target (after making sure the gun is unloaded!) and close your eyes. Then lift the gun into a firing position and open your eyes. Where your gun is pointing is your natural point of aim. Based on how your muscles, bones, and brain work, it is the way your body falls into position when firing.
  • Try this eyes closed drill with your unloaded gun a few times on the range. Check to see if the front and rear sights are on the same plane or not. If they are not, you might want to try a different handgun with a different grip, weight, or size. The idea is not to have to force the weapon up or down to get a proper aim. In an adrenaline-fueled situation, you will likely be unable to do so.
  • Once you have the natural position figured out, you can try minor shifts to get the sights on your target. Try moving your dominant foot (usually the same side as your dominant hand) backwards or forwards. This adjustment alone can sometimes move the sights up and down.
  • Once you find a stance that seems to work, try firing, then keep making adjustments to the gun or your feet as necessary. It can possibly be a trying process, and the weapon you’re using may unfortunately not be the right fit for situations where you’ll want to use your natural point of aim. In an emergency, however, it may be the difference between life or death.

Try It Out!

Figuring out how to aim is an exercise in patience and experimentation. People fall into different natural points of aim depending on their build, and varying how you handle firing positions can make a lot of difference. Remember that stability is the goal of your firing stance, and hitting your target consistently is going to be your true measure of success.


About kzurmehl

I'm a lifelong shooter. I grew up hunting and shooting on the range. Firearms have been a part of my life and continue to be so.
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