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Education / Training The basics of shooting: Part 1

The basics of shooting: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Accuracy
  • First development — sights
  • Scopes
  • Rifling
  • Accuracy with the smoothbore versus the rifled barrel
  • Trigger
  • More to come

Today I’m writing a special report for a reader named Bill who requested it. I will let you read what he said.

“Trying to make a point in a few words for a big subject doesn’t help me at all. I obviously had also in mind your report on the other side of the spectrum, see Stoeger, and I didn’t make my thoughts clear. I wish you’d make one more series about the basics of shooting. Where terms like relaxing before the shot, sniping, pulling a shot, use of different types of sights etc, every basic information that is, would be brought up AGAIN. General Rules, all together… It just came out when you took the Rolls Royce for test drive. I know, many years now, that you deal with the lowest and the highest gear as well. By the way I for one have enormous respect for the simple feeling of joy for testing such great items like these three. Bill”

Bill told me in an earlier comment that he is new to shooting and needs to find as many of the basics as he can. He is trying to use this blog as a large tutorial, which is one of the reasons it exists.

I’m calling this Part 1 even though I don’t know what the future subjects are right now. I have faith that you readers will tell me the things I need to cover as we go. So today I will just give it a start. What are the basics of shooting?


We believe that firearms were first created in either the late 1200s or the early 1300s. At that time they were more like science experiments than firearms, because everything was new. Airguns came along around the middle 1500s, and they were just as novel and new when they came into existence.

The Bogenschuetzen-Gesellschaft (Society of Bowmen or Archers) of Dresden dates from 1286, though there must have been activity prior to that time or else why would that group form? These were persons of royal lineage (about 400) who gathered annually at a festival to see who was to be the King of the Crossbowmen. The town granted them land, money and special honors, because when trouble came, they were the town’s first and best defense.

bird target
An engraving of the 1612 crossbow match in Dresden. From The Crossbow, by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey.

So accuracy was already well-known by the 1200s. The longbow had existed for many centuries by then, and the spear-thrower was even older. The desire to hit what you intended grew out of the need to hunt for food. And, from that, men developed games to see who was best at hitting their target.

I don’t want to depart from the central theme of this report, but you should know that even today spear-throwing is popular. The thrower is called an atlatl. Throwing contests are held around the world. And the point is — people like to shoot and to see how good they can become. So when the first firearms came about it was natural that the same things would happen to them.

First development — sights

Sights were perhaps the first development to come along for firearms. With a longbow or spear-thrower sights are not an issue because the shooter/thrower uses a different way to aim their weapon. But a firearm is a tube and it isn’t a natural thing. Some means of referring to the direction the tube is pointing is needed. At first all it was was a bump on the muzzle that told the shooter where the end of the tube (the muzzle) was pointing. Soon shooters discovered that if they aligned that bump with something on the back of the tube they could point their gun more consistently. The front and rear sights were born!

I’m not going to go through the history of sights because I have already done that in a different 5-part report. We are here to cover the basics and here we go. With open sights the basics are:

1. The strike of the round moves in the same direction as the rear sight. Want your shots to go to the right? Move the rear sight right. Up? Move the rear sight up.

2. The strike of the round moves opposite to how the front sight moves. To raise the strike of the round, lower the front sight. Move the front sight to the left to move the round to the right.

3. With open sights you can move the strike of the round by simply holding the front sight to the left or right within the rear sight notch. For more information on how this is done, read this report.


When a scope is added it throws another monkey wrench into the works, because it allows the shooter to see and even obsess over small movements that are beyond his control. Most people when looking though a scope sight for the first time are amazed by how much the rifle seems to move. Even your heartbeat will move the reticle. The thing is, the same thing happens when you use open sights. You just can’t see it. And if you can’t see it you don’t stress over it and as a result you tend to do your best.


Another big development that took a long time to catch on but revolutionized shooting when it did was rifling the barrel. As with sights I won’t write a special section on it, but read this report. And, if you want to know more, here is a brief history of rifling.

Rifling is important to the shooter because with it your projectiles are stabilized and more accurate. BUT — there are some things you cannot do! For example, you can’t accurately shoot a solid pellet (really a lead bullet) at a velocity that’s too slow to stabilize it. If it spins too slow it will not be accurate — just as a top that spins too slow won’t stand up and spin.

A diabolo pellet (wasp waist and hollow tail), however, will stabilize at much slower velocities, because it is also stabilized by air drag. Combine the drag with the spin from rifling and you get a heavy pellet that’s accurate at a velocity that’s too slow for a solid bullet to stabilize.

diabolo pellet
Diabolo pellet shares the fundamental shape of its juggling namesake, the diabolo.

Accuracy with the smoothbore versus the rifled barrel

This discussion begs the question — If diabolo pellets are stabilized by their shape, are they as accurate in smoothbores as they are when shot from a rifled barrel? I have tested the accuracy of a smoothbore pellet gun as opposed to that of a rifle. In this series look carefully at Part 4, because the accuracy drops off sharply from 10 meters to 25 yards.

The effects of rifling were known before very long. There are shooting contest rules from the 1400s that prohibit the use of rifled barrels and dueling pistols were not supposed to be rifled, either.


This is the last subject I will address in this report. Firearms didn’t even have triggers in the beginning. They had touch holes like old cannons. In fact, early firearms were called hand cannons, and that is how they were viewed for at least the first century or even two.

The first “trigger” was a long lever that lowered a burning match to the touch hole, making “firing” (lighting the gunpowder on fire) a piece a bit less cannon-like. A trigger like that wasn’t sophisticated and did little to assist with accuracy

The long lever on the left is the trigger and the curved piece on the right is the matchholder. Pull the trigger up and the match goes down to touch the gunpowder in the pan — setting off the main charge in the breech.

Of course triggers evolved into better and better units, but the lesson isn’t in their design but rather in how they are manipulated. For accuracy the trigger must be squeezed slowly and break cleanly so that no movement is imparted to the rifle when the sear releases. Yanking the trigger to set off the gun moves the entire gun, destroying consistency. I will have more to say about that when I discuss how the hold affects accuracy.

More to come

As I was writing this several other basic and important topics occurred to me. They are hold, breathing control, ammo and cleaning the barrel. I’ll also talk about training shooters to use the sights correctly (triangulation drills) and the accuracy differences that airguns bring to the table. Airgunners shoot so close to the sights that misalignment stands out in a major way, where with a firearm that gets masked by distance. I bet you readers will remind me of even more.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

26 thoughts on “The basics of shooting: Part 1”

      • Bill,

        I do not recall now and I am short on time at the moment (work day),…. but did you tell us where you are (currently) with shooting and what you have done and tried thus far? What do you have to shoot? Do you sit and have somewhat of proper rest or do you just stand and brace off of something? Have you shot with scopes? Etc., etc..

        Here is a link that will explain a lot of things. Many items are interactive. You can change things and then see the results in real time.


        Hang in there bud,… you will get all this figured out. 😉 I was very much like you just a few short years ago.

        Good Day to you and to all,…….. Chris

  1. O.k. guys don’t shoot. I think that basic guidelines can be useful to novice and accomplished shooters. It’s not just a personal matter, although in my case I try to learn regardless my level. That’s what I do in my life generally.

    • Bill,

      What do you mean “don’t shoot”? That is what all of this is about. 😉

      Hey, my dad bought me my first rifle a little over 60 years ago. I am still learning. If you ask BB he will tell you he is still learning. You never stop learning.

      If at times I sound like a “know it all”, and I will, you and everybody else around here has my permission to chastise me for such because I do not know it all. Please do it gently though. My ego bruises easily.

        • Bill,

          It has become apparent to me that I initially thought you were a new shooter when you asked for a blog on the “basics of shooting”. Thus,… my comments in support of someone that I perceived as new to the sport. My apologies.

          For some reason? I did not recognize you as a regular poster. It was not long ago that I was a “newbie” and remember how great all the help taught here was very much appreciated. I am always looking to pass it on.


          • Chris there’s no need for apologies. Kind intentions are always welcome. Along with them goes any support from fellow readers in this case.
            Please keep it up because after all that was the main reason I asked B.B. to start the “basics” blog.

  2. BB,

    In the First development – sights section. Number 2. “To raise the strike of the round slower (lower) the front sight.”

    Speaking of learning, when I read this section I went “Huh?”. Things just did not sound right to me. I started pointing my finger around and everything seemed to be the exact opposite of what you said. Then after I started using one hand for the front sight and the other for the rear sight, it was as you said. Then my “Huh” became a “Duh”.

    Talk about a slow learner. How long have I been doing this?

  3. Thanks for this B.B.!

    Always have time to revisit the basics, and it will be good to have a series that pulls all the little details together.

    Basics are great! I hold two things dear to me – LEARNING and TEACHING. Find it amazing how much you re-learn when teaching something because you have to explain all the things that you do out of habit after you have long since forgotten the time and effort it took to learn it in the first place. God bless newbies and their question: WHY?

    A thought for the “basics” reports… you may want to have a summary of the different airgun power plants pointing out the advantages, disadvantages and special considerations (maintenance, tunability, etc.) for each type. I find that I am frequently having this discussion with people that are new to airguns.


    • Hank,

      “God bless newbies and their question: WHY?”

      I took a Hydraulics course for my company at the Vickers school in Troy, MI and, upon returning to class the second day, I found that someone had replaced the nameplate on my desk with one that read ” WHAT IF?”
      Everyone thought it was hilarious, and I ended up with the highest score anyone had ever gotten in the 20+ years the school had been open and I had one fellow student buy all my drinks one night because he said he wasn’t understanding enough of what was being taught to even formulate a question, so he was grateful that I was asking plenty.

      Questions are indeed good!

      • Half,

        When I was in school or in later years in training, I always sat front-center. The instructors learned very quickly that the time between the frown and the WHY question was short and it was best to start explaining before the hand went up LOL!

        I taught at the college level for a couple of years and the students who asked WHY or WHAT IF were the ones that always did best… it was the difference between “understanding” and “remembering”.

        Yup, questions are good!

  4. If someone really wants to learn how to shoot a rifle attend a Appleseed event . I have have attended 3 of them and on my 3rd try I made Rifleman. It is a great experience and You learn how to shoot a rifle in a practical sense. On my 1st Appleseed my highest score was 165 , 2nd – 207 and finally on the 3rd I shot a 212 , 210 is needed to be a Rifleman. This took over 2 years time from 2007 until I made Rifleman in 2009. It is a great event due to the history and the camaraderie of like minded individuals. I started out as a pistolero shooting IPSC and then IDPA , so I just assumed I could shoot a rifle well – WRONG , always seek out the help of others in any discipline You want to attempt. Best thing to do is belong to a club and most members will mentor people on anything from reloading ammo to gunsmithing and skill development. I learned allot from my Father and Grandfather , but probably a whole lot more over the years from many other people I have competed and shot with . Shooting is such a broad discipline that there is something for everyone to enjoy ! It has given me a lifetime of enjoyment .


  5. I have room in my life for a smooth bore air rifle that shoots pellets. It’s a Crosman Model 760. It’s the recentl 760 before they did away with the five round magazine. I had bought it hoping it would shoot bb’s with decent accuracy. Nope. But, I have found that at the practical distance of seven yards, which is a convenient distance at which I also shoot rats at night that enter our chicken coop, it shoots verygood groups with RWS Meisterkugeln rifle pellets. Eight pumps is the magic number for accuracy and good power. I stuck my TKO muzzle brake on it, and it is very quiet. Itmightbe okay to ten yards, but at seven it’s excellant. I’ve run between 2000 and 3000 pellets through it with zero problems. For a $35 air rifle bearing in mind the amount of fun I’ve had with it, the 760 is a no brainer. Of course a tin of the favored pellets cost half what the gun cost me. If it dies, I’ll buy a other 760 without hesitation.

  6. Atlatl or rather sling spear from the use of mechanical aid in throwing and i have seen the projectiles called darts and even arrows the words used to describe a sling spear, well i am not going to get into all that. If it is something you are thinking about trying my only suggestion based on my limited experience longer spears were easier for me.

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