There is very little that is intuitive about successfully shooting a handgun. The same thing applies to good driving, splitting firewood, cooking a pot roast, or any other human endeavor. We all understand that education is required to master a skill but for various reasons many of us believe that shooting is like being left-handed, some are born with it and others are not. I suppose this comes from the informality which imbues marksmanship and guns in general. In the 19th century it was not uncommon for homegrown medicine salesmen to refer to themselves as “Doctor.” Today, every guy who has shot a gun twice is “Instructor.” Consequently, we too often rely on myths, old wives’ tales, and pop culture to form theories about shooting.

If you’re struggling with mastering your handgun take control of your training in the following manner:

  1. Start over. Accept that you may believe things which are incorrect. Receive formal instruction in handgun operations; I am referring to basic operations not marksmanship. Many shooters, cannot load a semi-automatic pistol while keeping the muzzle pointed downrange. Muzzle control in marksmanship is the next step after muzzle control for safety.
  2. Learn the fundamentals of marksmanship from someone qualified to teach them. I’m sorry to offend, I know there are many good independent instructors out there but I also know you probably haven’t found one. An NRA instructor course is worthwhile but it does not qualify a shooter to teach. Being a lead instructor requires having spent a lot of time coaching on the firing line in order to understand why shooters miss their intended targets. Being a good shot doesn’t mean one can teach. The instructor has to see errors repeated in many different shooters to understand how corrective action can be applied by a particular shooter. It took me years.
  3. Record every shot and analyze your results. A right-handed shooter tends to shoot low left for a very specific reason. If you know that reason you can correct the error, and panic and hopelessness disappear.
  4. Be patient. I am certain that no one expects to fly a plane through a storm the first hour of flight school. Marksmanship is a skill that you can learn and apply as you learn.

My first visit to a gun range was as a teenager. I took my father’s revolver and went as the guest of a range member. I was told by a well-intentioned shooter (who was kind enough to let me shoot his 1911 pistol) that “maybe the .45 isn’t your gun,” and the local gun nut insulted me for not being able to hit a bullseye with my dad’s Colt Python. I learned to shoot the .45 pistol (and handguns in general) because the U.S. Marine Corps knew how to teach. Leaving your shooting education in the hands of unqualified instructors will succeed only in making you give up shooting. For more, read my book, The Perfect Pistol Shot.