by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This is the next installment of a fictional guest report about a man teaching a woman how to shoot. Jill has advanced to handguns and today she begins shooting them.

Our writer is reader, Jack Cooper. Take it away, Jack.

Teach me to shoot

by Jack Cooper

This report covers:

  • Trust the instructor
  • Shooting position
  • Start at 5 feet!
  • The secrets
  • Proof of the pudding
  • You’re ready!
  • Final talk

Jill was impatient during the week that followed our last training session. She was finally graduating to shooting handguns and was anxious to get right to it. That was what she had wanted me to teach her all along.

At the bible study on Wednesday she admitted that she was concerned about holding the pistols rigidly enough to hit the target. I told her we would be shooting from twice the distance as with the Daisy 499 (10 meters instead of 5) and suddenly all her cockiness drained away. She told me she had been trying to hold the two pistols I’d left with her on some targets, using the sight picture I showed her, and she saw that her hand wobbled all over the place. How would she ever be able to shoot with just one hand?

Trust the instructor

I told her not to worry. I would show her a stance that was so solid it would be next to impossible for her to ever miss the target. She said she wasn’t so sure, but I hadn’t let her down yet, so she trusted me.

You readers must think I am about to put everything we have accomplished thus far on the line. How, indeed, can a brand-new shooter learn to hold a target pistol in one hand so well that she could not miss a bullseye at 33 feet (10 meters)? I bet some of you have tried it and found it impossible to do every time. Well, I have a couple secrets that I’m going to teach to Jill. You watch what we do and if you can learn how to do this, you can become an accomplished one-hand target pistol shot, too!

She asked to start the training on Friday evening again, and this time I was all for it, because what I had to show her would take two full sessions. It was all about form, and she needed time to learn how to do it.

When Friday evening rolled around I had her start with the Crosman 2240 pistol. We would switch over to the Mark I Target pistol once she mastered the stance, grip and had some control over her breathing.

Shooting position

I placed a card table in front of the shooting position. The tin of pellets would be on this table and as you will see, the muzzle of the gun would also rest on it between shots.

Start at 5 feet!

I started her at 5 feet from the target, which was a 10-meter air rifle target.  Yes, that’s correct — five FEET! She thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. I wanted her to begun at a distance at which she could not miss. I told her her shots would hit below the bull because we were so close, but we weren’t interested in where they landed just yet. We were only interested in how well she learned the few things I was about to show her.

I really didn’t show her anything new. I just reviewed the sight picture, showed her how to cock and load the pistol and then let her begin shooting. As you might guess, she did remarkably well at this distance. All her pellets went into the same small hole. And she was very upset about shooting so close! We had a little argument that only ended when I promised I was not patronizing her.

After about 15 shots from 5 feet I had her back up to 10 feet from the target. Though this was twice as far, it was still very close. “I cannot possibly miss the target at this distance,” she complained. I assured her I knew what I was doing and asked her to put 10 more shots into the target. She did so, begrudgingly.

Then I backed her up to 20 feet from the target. The bullseye on a 10-meter rifle target we were using is a little larger than an American quarter or a one Euro coin, so I reminded her that I had promised she would be hitting that size target with a pistol. Well, at this distance things started looking different. Now she wasn’t so sure she could always hit the target.

Ten-meter air rifle bull is just a little larger than an American quarter (left) or a one Euro coin.

She took up a position and fired 5 shots at the bull. Her group was about two inches across, and was wider than it was tall. After the last shot she laid the pistol on the shooting table in front of her and said, “This is harder than it looks!”

And this is where I taught her the secrets of target shooting with a pistol.

“Okay, Jill, now you know what you’re up against. Shooting a pistol one-handed is much harder than shooting a long gun like the Daisy 499. But when you know a couple things, it gets much easier.

The secrets

I spent several minutes getting Jill into the proper shooting stance. Until now I had been allowing her to stand any way she wanted that felt comfortable. Now I showed her how to properly “address” the target with her body. This is the drill we see baseball pitchers going through on the mound before they start pitching. Wherever the feet are is where the ball will go.

Jill is right-handed, so she holds the gun in her right hand. I had her stand almost sideways to the target. Her right foot went down almost in line with the target and far enough back from the firing line that the muzzle of the pistol would not extend past the line when she shot. Her left foot was shoulder-width from her right foot (her shoulders — not mine). Her left foot was about a foot behind and just a little to the left of the right foot. A line from her to the target looked like this.

handgun stance
Addressing the target.

Once the front foot was planted like you see in the drawing, we moved her back (left) foot until her shooting arm was aligned with the target. We spent some time shifting that rear foot by small amounts until it was perfect.

Once I got her feet more or less where they needed to be, I told her to only move them when I told her. We weren’t done. Now I had her close her eyes and point at the target with the index finger of her gun hand. Then open her eyes and tell me which side of the bull her finger was on. As she continued to point we moved her rear foot in small amounts left and right to get the finger aligned with the bull.

Then I had her pick up the Crosman 2240 pistol. She rested the muzzle on the table in front of her while holding it in her shooting hand. Then I had her close her eyes again. Now, on my command she raised the pistol and pointed it at the target with her eyes closed. When she opened them I asked her to sight the pistol. Two things she noticed immediately. First, she wasn’t holding the pistol correctly to be able to see the sights, and when she adjusted her grip so she could see them the gun was off the target. It was close, but not quite on.

I had her keep pointing the pistol at the target and I had her point the toes of her rear foot either inward or outward until the sights were dead on the bull. She noticed as she did that both of her legs were getting tight at the knees, but she was not straining to make them that way. Her skeleton was tensioning her legs.

feet adjustment
Moving the toes in small angles tensions the legs and also makes fine adjustments to the direction of the shooting arm. Move the rear foot first and only move the toes of the front foot if absolutely necessary.

When she was perfectly adjusted, I had her lay the pistol down on the table. I stepped in front of the table, in line with the target and had her point her shooting finger straight ahead. I moved until she was pointing  at my right eye. Then I pushed her arm to my left and her right about 6-8-inches. When I let it go, it returned to point at my eye. I pushed it in the other direction and let go and it returned the same way. No matter how I moved her arm, it always returned to point at my right eye when I let go. The tension in her legs kept her pointing the right way. Jill was now in the perfect offhand shooting stance, and what’s more — she knew it! She saw that as long as she maintained this stance, she would always point to the center of the target.

I stepped back to her side and told her to relax her shooting arm, but to leave her feet where they were. Now I told her to close her eyes and raise her arm above level, then lower it until she thought she was pointing at the target. When she was done she opened her eyes and to her surprise, she was pointing straight at it. “Jill, as long as you don’t move your feet, you cannot miss the target, right or left. It makes no difference whether you are 5 feet away or 50 feet, you will always point at the target.”

She agreed with me. This was the most stable stance she had ever taken in her life. She knew she could not miss, left or right. “But what about up and down? I’m not Supergirl, you know. We have two very light pistols, but I still have to hold them at arms length, and that’s not easy.”


The second secret

Trust, me,” I said, “it will be in a minute. Here comes the second secret. Pick up the 2240 pistol and hold it comfortably in your right hand. Now extend your right arm straight and point the pistol about 3 feet above the target.” I was standing to her side as she did this. “Now roll your hand and arm (and the pistol) as far to the right as you can without hurting yourself — all the while keeping that arm extended.”

She did this and when I told her to relax the roll, her arm rolled back to the left and she immediately saw what had happened. Her elbow and wrist were locked! She was holding the pistol at arm’s length without using most of her strength. Her skeleton was doing a large part of the work.

“Oh my gosh! she exclaimed. I’m not holding the weight of the gun! It’s floating on the end of my arm!” That feeling lasted a few seconds more and then the weight began to make itself felt again. I told her that’s how the top shots do it, and if she could learn to do it she would become a great shot with a handgun.

Proof of the pudding

Now, I had her cock and load the pistol, then rest the muzzle on the shooting table. I said, “Now, raise the pistol to point three feet over the target, lock your elbow then lower the muzzle slowly until the sights are in perfect alignment with the bull. As you lower the pistol, slip your trigger finger around the trigger and start squeezing. If you take over 5 seconds to fire, release the trigger and lower the muzzle to rest on the table once again.”

She did this three times before firing her first shot, which was a 7, just below the center of the bull. Then she did the same thing 4 more times, only lowering the gun two times without shooting. When she finished, her 5-shot score looked like a 37, though all the pellet holes were touching, making it difficult to score. After that I had her lay the gun down and relax.

“Jill, you just put 5 shots into a nickel from 20 feet. You thought you might not hit the target, but instead you tore the bottom center out of the bull. How do you feel?”

“I’m flabbergasted! I had no idea this is what target shooters do. The way I was standing, it was hard not to hit the bull every time! Did you know I could do that? And why are these shots higher on the target than the ones I shot from closer?”

The shots were higher because we we shooting from farther back and the pellets were coming closer to the line of sight. When we got back to 10 meters, her shots would hit the center of a much larger bullseye. I told her I knew she was going to be a good shot, but in truth she surprised me.

Now I had her step away from the shooting table and loosen up. It is surprising how much tension this shooting position builds — especially when you aren’t used to it.

Next, we practiced getting into position several times. She quickly learned to first plant the feet, then point her finger at the target and adjust the rear foot. And finally to pick up the pistol and make those final tensioning corrections that put her directly on target.

Locking the elbow was foreign to her in the beginning, but once she caught on it became easier. Then I had her shoot another 5 shots at a fresh target. This time her group was bigger than before, but it was still credible. We did this four more times and I ended the session because she was tiring. But there was one more thing to do before we quit.

You’re ready!

I had her take both air pistols and the pellets back to the 10-meter mark in the hall we had made earlier. I carried the shooting table that would be in front of the firing position. We weren’t going to shoot from this distance this evening, but tomorrow night we would start from here.

I showed her the 10-meter pistol target whose bull is almost twice the size of the rifle target. When I put it on the target trap it actually looked bigger to her, even from this far back.

10 meter pistol target
Ten-meter air pistol bull (top) is almost twice the size of the air rifle bull.

Final talk

Before we went to dinner I asked Jill to please refrain from shooting at the target with pellets until the next session. She could practice getting into position as much as she wanted, but I told her I wanted to be there when she fired her first shot at 10 meters. I told her to try both pistols if she had the time. That would make our next session go smoother.

There is a surprise coming, so stay tuned!