Target Shooting for Beginners

When learning the basics of shooting a firearm, the best time to learn is as a beginner. Seeing an instructor to learn is even better! Through practice and instruction every shooter can improve his skill. An experienced shooter may bring old habits, which can be difficult to correct by even the most skilled instructor. A beginner may have some advantages as they may be more open to the instructor’s advice. Hitting the target is truly about skill, the shooter cannot blame the firearm for missing the target.


The most important rules are those about safety while handling firearms. The four basic rules are:

  1. Be sure to keep the muzzle safely pointed at all times.
  2. Until ready to shoot, keep fingers off the trigger.
  3. Certain or not, treat every gun as if it were loaded
  4. Be certain of the target and its surroundings.


Other important safety measures include eye and ear protection, to protect from any fragments and the high decibel level of the gunshot.


A firearm is a huge responsibility and should always be respected in that sense. Accidents happen when people are not responsible with their firearms.


After understanding the basic safety around a firearm, the next step is to learn how to use it. The best places to shoot are ranges, which often have instructors at the ready to ask for help. Utilize instructors when available! Keep in mind that a bullet can travel about a mile after firing, this is why ranges are the best place to shoot.


First, a shooter needs to know the anatomy of the firearm they are handling. Seek the manual, if available, as a shooter should be familiar with the firearm. For example, a semi-automatic pistol consists of these basic parts: front sight, slide, and take down notch, slide stop notch, slide stop lever, rear sight, internal lock, grips, frame tool, magazine release, trigger, and the rotating take down lever. It is important to know the anatomy of the firearm being handled.


Second, a new shooter needs to establish a comfortable stance and grip on the firearm before shooting. An instructor can help with this as well, but this is one way to find a comfortable grip.

  1. Using the dominant hand, hold the gun towards the ground at a 45 degree angle.
  2. The hand should be low enough that it will not be hit by moving parts, and the web of the hand between thumb and first finger should sit high as possible.
  3. Place the non-dominant hand over the dominant hand holding the gun, the tips of the fingers should touch the knuckles of the dominant hand.
  4. Lay thumbs comfortable on top on another.
  5. Fully extend arms. This is important in case of a severe kickback.
  6. Close eyes and raise the gun in front, parallel to the ground.
  7. Now, the next step is to open eyes.
  8. Muzzle pointed to one side: position of weak hand needs to be adjusted.
  9. If the muzzle points to the dominant side, move fingertips of the non-dominant hand closer to the knuckles of the dominant hand.
  10. If the muzzle points to the non-dominant side, move fingers farther from the knuckles.
  11. Repeat this process until finding a proper grip. The goal is to have the sights aligned by the time the gun is raised.

While holding the firearm, remember that the dominant hand is for using the trigger, while the non-dominant hand supports 60% of the weight. This is not the only way to find a comfortable grip, however it does work.


The easiest stance for a new shooter is the “Weaver stance.” There are thousands of resources outlining stances while shooting a firearm, but this is basic and a stable stance to start with. This stance consist of standing with feet shoulders width apart and staggered, so that the shooter can accommodate force from the kickback of the firearm. Find a comfortable stance and use it.


The next step after raising the gun is to find the sight alignment, this skill enables a shooter to fire accurately and hit the target. A new shooter will want to establish which eye is dominant too. This is often misunderstood, as it is not necessarily the same as the dominant hand. This is a technique to find the dominant eye:

  1. Hands crossed, thumbs creating a hole to look through, raise arms in front of the face.
  2. Look through the hole, try to focus on an object in the distance.
  3. Slowly move hands towards the face.
  4. By the time the hands are touching the face, the dominant eye will the one looking through the hole. The non-dominant eye will be covered.

Shooters with same side dominance will be able to learn and adjust to shooting more quickly, as the motions are more natural same side dominant.


Once the dominant eye is establish, it is time to learn how to use the sight alignment to shoot the target.

The concept of using the sights is simple, however it can be frustrating at first. The proper way to align the sights is to align the front sight post with both sides of the rear sight, keeping it flush with the top. Position the firearm so that the front sight post lines up with the bullseye. This will allow for a straight and accurate shot. Varying the front sight post’s position between the sides will change the direction of the shot.


Actually firing the gun is the easy part! A new shooter will want to remember to be slow, smooth and even when squeezing the trigger. This will apply even pressure until the trigger breaks, allowing the firearm to go off. Always use the pad of the index fingertip, never the joint of the finger, the pressure will not be even. Sometimes pulling the trigger can be scary, use mental distractions like counting to combat this.

Try dry firing a few times, this may lessen the anxiety a new shooter has about the ammunition. A dry fire is just a shot fired without a bullet. The instructor may use this to demonstrate the force of the firearm. Many modern firearms are not damaged by dry firing and can be a solution when a suitable place to fire is not available. The gun does not have to be loaded to practice sights, stance and grip.


When trying to improve shooting skills, the best way to do that is to practice and practice some more. Though the motion of squeezing the trigger is simple, the responsibility and full body involvement that goes along with firing a gun can be challenging. Though a new shooter may be discouraged about lining up sights to hit the target, the skills can always be practiced to become better. Practice, practice, practice.
Hopefully this gives a little insight on how to begin target shooting, good luck and enjoy!