by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

Today’s report is in response to a comment that came in yesterday from a blog reader named David. He asked me to explain what I meant by the terms, “calling the shot” and “follow-through.” I think we have a number of new shooters who may not know what these two terms mean; and if they don’t, then they certainly aren’t doing them. That makes all the difference in the world when it comes to accuracy. I’ll explain both terms, then I’ll tell you how you can determine that you definitely are neither calling the shot nor following through with a handgun.

Calling the shot
When you align open sights on the target, your focus is supposed to be on the front sight element. The rear sight and the target will both be blurry when you do it right. Novice shooters think this is wrong…how can you hit the target unless you focus on it? But the truth is that this is the only way to be extremely accurate.

When you’re really concentrating on the front sight, you’ll be able to see the alignment of the front and rear sights against the target as the gun fires. This works best when the gun is a lower-powered one — something I want to talk about later.

Let me illustrate the importance of proper sight alignment with the following graphic.

Sight alignment
In the top image, the front and rear sights are properly aligned and also aligned correctly with the target. In the center, we see what happens when the front sight is not aligned with the rear sight. The bottom graphic shows what happens when the sights are properly aligned, but they are not aligned with the target.

Which is worse: Not aligning the sights with each other or not aligning the sights with the target? Obviously it’s not aligning the sights with each other, because that throws the impact of the pellet farther off the target than simply not being lined up with the target.

Here’s the proof
Matt61 — this is for you and your father. If your father is right-handed and shooting his pistol one-handed, I guarantee that he is throwing all his 1911 .45 ACP shots low and to the left. How do I know that? Because it’s what everybody does. He’s not squeezing the trigger so it releases unexpectedly. He is pulling it with a quick jerk of his trigger finger; and if you hold a 1911 pistol and do the same thing, you’ll see the muzzle dip low and to the left. If he’s a lefty, the shots are landing low and to the right for the same reason. It works the same for revolvers.

It’s harder to say what will happen with a rifle because there are so many ways to hold a rifle. Also, some of the 2-hand pistol holds can change where the bullets land a bit, but this still holds true more often than not. A shooter with experience can look at the holes in a target and spot this kind of thing immediately.

Not following through
The cause of throwing a shot this way is because the shooter is not following through. They pull the trigger and immediately take their eyes off the sights. Then they start taking their eyes off the sights an instant before they pull the trigger.

Following through means that you continue to hold your aim after the shot has fired. It takes discipline to do it, but it’s the only way that you will ever be able to tell where the sights were when the shot fired. It’s the only way you will ever be able to call where the shot went.

Calling the shot is nothing more than noting the alignment of the front and rear sight at the instant the shot fired and also noting where the sights were in relation to the target. If you follow through, you should be able to do this most of the time — as long as you don’t blink when the shot fires. And, yes, that does happen to even the best shooters.

Impossible shots become possible
Matt61 mentioned yesterday that I’d made some incredibly long shots with a short-barreled handgun. In fact, what I did was hit a football-sized dirt clod repeatedly at 80 yards with a Colt Detective Special snub-nosed revolver that had a 2-inch barrel. You aren’t supposed to be able to do things like that with a snub-nosed revolver, but let me tell you how I did it.

I was sitting on the edge of a plowed field in Germany in the mid-1970s. The field had not been disked yet, so the dirt clods were still large. I sat resting my back against a tree and held the revolver with both hands between my knees for bracing. I asked a friend to tell me where the bullets went. He could see the puffs of dirt when the .38 Special bullets impacted the ground.

The fixed sights on a Detective Special are large and very close together because of the short barrel, so the sight picture was easy to see. But even the slightest misalignment threw the bullet off-course by several feet at 80 yards. It probably took 2 full cylinders before I got the range on that clod; but once I did, all I had to do was align the sights the same every time and put the clod on top of the front blade. After that, I hit the clod repeatedly.

Colt Detective Special
Colt Detective Special is a typical snub-nosed .38 Special revolver. The rear sight is not obvious in this photo. It’s a  notch in the top rear of the frame ahead of the hammer.

Elmer Keith wrote about the way to make that shot, and I believed him. I did what he said and it turned out to be true.

dirt clod shot
This is the sight picture I used on the dirt-clod shot. I’ve enlarged the dirt clod many times for clarity here. It was actually much smaller than the width of the front sight.

You have to follow through to be able to call your shots. And now you know what calling your shots means. It means knowing how the sights were aligned and how they related to the target at the instant the gun fired. Don’t try to do this with a large-caliber gun the first time. A pellet gun is the best to start with because the noise and recoil are minimal. A .22 rimfire is another wonderful way to do this.

Once you get enough skill, you can graduate to progressively larger calibers and calling your shots will become almost second nature. I can call mine with a Desert Eagle .44 Magnum pistol now, when I want to. But it still takes concentration, and I don’t think that will ever change.