Shooting handguns can be both fun and challenging. It is a wonderful activity to do alone, or with a group of friends. Learning how to safely, and properly shoot will not only provide you with hours of enjoyment; it will also help you build confidence as you become more familiar, and comfortable, with firearms.
Luckily, it is not hard to get started and it does not require a lot of effort. However, there are a few important steps you must take to get the most out of your experience. Whether you have a lot of experience shooting handguns, or have never shot one before, the steps are all the same.
We have covered everything you need so you will know how to shoot a handgun. After reading this article, you will be ready to hit the gun range with confidence and have a good time. Because safety and fun are something that can, and should, go together.
Complete Guide to Shooting a Handgun
Local Laws and Where Too Shoot
Each country, state, and even cities, can have different rules and regulations. It is important to check with local, reputable gun dealers, or local law enforcement, to find appropriate, and safe, places to shoot. If you live in the city you’ll most likely go to a local gun range. If you do not have a range close by, you could also travel to one in a more rural area, where shooting is legal and safe.
Always remember the basics of gun safety. You must always treat the handgun as if it is loaded. Even if you know it is unloaded. Never point a gun at anything you do not intend to shoot. Only put your finger on the trigger when you intend to fire the gun. Always know what is behind your target. Never point, or fire, your handgun when someone is down range.
Anatomy of a Handgun
Understanding the basic anatomy of a handgun is essential to properly, and safely, using one. All handguns have the following parts.
- Barrel – This is the part of the handgun that directs the bullet at the target. The barrel is typically rifled to add to the overall accuracy of the handgun. The muzzle of the barrel is where the bullet exits.
- Grip – The grip is what you will use to hold the gun. This is done using your hands to firmly grip the handgun, and aim, before firing it.
- Sights – The most common type of sights on a handgun are iron sights. Revolvers typically have fixed iron sights. While semi-automatic handguns are usually removable. Fixed sights have both a front and rear sight. You line up the front and rear sights to accurately aim your handgun. Occasionally, you will see a handgun that has removed the rear sight and replaced it with an optic like a red dot.
- Trigger – This is what must be pulled to begin the process of firing a handgun. There are different types of trigger actions – which we’ll discuss a little later.
- Trigger Guard – A trigger guard is designed to protect the trigger from accidentally being pulled by creating a barrier. You place your finger inside the guard, directly on the trigger, only when you are ready to shoot the handgun. Gently resting your finger above the guard, before shooting, is a good safety precaution.
- Firing Pin – The firing pin is responsible for striking the cartridge’s primer. This chain of events is started when you pull the trigger. This causes a striker, or hammer, to hit the firing pin, which hits a primer, in the cartridge holding the bullet.
- Cylinder – A cylinder is used to hold the bullets in a revolver. Pull the ejector rod to move the cylinder out to the side and load the handgun.
- Slide – The slide is part of a semi-automatic handgun. It slides backwards, and forwards, to eject and load a bullet. When you fire a bullet from the handgun, the pressure pushes the slide backwards. The bullet is ejected, and as the slide moves forward it loads another bullet into the chamber.
- Magazine – A magazine holds the bullets for a semi-automatic handgun. It’s typically stored in the grip of the handgun. There is an ejector button which will allow the magazine to drop, or be removed, from the handgun.
Types of Handguns
There are two main types of modern handguns – revolvers and semi-automatics.
The first, and oldest, is the revolver. This handgun uses a cylinder with multiple chambers that hold bullets. As the trigger is pulled, the chambers rotate into alignment with the barrel. The hammer then strikes the cartridge’s primer. This causes the cartridge to fire the bullet through the barrel, and out the muzzle.
Semi-Automatic handguns are slightly different. The bullets are kept inside a magazine which is loaded into the grip of the handgun. To load a bullet into the chamber of the handgun, you must first cycle it by firmly holding the grip with your dominant shooting hand. Then you will pull the slide backwards by firmly gripping the slide with your secondary hand and pulling back.
Once you have pulled the slide all the way back you can release it or move it forward slowly while still firmly gripping the slide with your hand. This loads a bullet from the magazine into the chamber. The firing process will cycle bullets from the magazine, into the chamber, and out the ejection port. Hence the name semi-automatic.
Types of Handgun Actions
There are four main types of trigger actions. These action types determine how the handgun operates.
- Single Action Only (SAO) – This action does only one thing. It releases the hammer, or striker, which in turn hits the primer on the cartridge. This is the most basic action available. If the hammer, or striker, has not already been “cocked” or pulled back, the firearm will not fire a bullet. Single action trigger pulls are the easiest, and lightest, of any of the trigger action types.
- Double Action Only (DAO) – The double action does two things with each trigger pull. It will pull the hammer, or striker, back “cocking” the gun, and then releases it, striking the firing pin. Hence, double action. If you are shooting a double action revolver you will see the hammer cock back before falling. Double action trigger pulls are the heaviest, and hardest of all trigger action types, which some people prefer.
- Double Action / Single Action (DA/SA) – When the hammer, or striker, has already been pulled back, pulling the trigger is a single action, which releases the hammer. When the handgun in not “cocked” it will act as a double action, pulling back the hammer and releasing it in one trigger pull. This is a common action in semi-automatic handguns. The weight of the trigger pull depends on whether it is double action, or single action. Frequently, the first pull will be heavier, with subsequent pulls being lighter since they are single action.
- Striker Fired (SF) – These actions are found in modern handguns that lack a visible hammer or have a flat back. The trigger pull is consistent, and lighter, than double actions. However, it is not as light as single action trigger pulls. There are many fans of striker fired handguns and you will find this action in many newer handgun designs.
Now that laws, anatomy, and types of guns and actions are out of the way, lets talk about how to safely shoot your handgun. Once at the range along with your handgun you’ll need a few more items for a fun and safe experience.
Make sure you have good eye protection that is rated for firearm safety. This is very important because you never know what might happen with casings ejecting, or faults in the handgun itself. Good eye protection will help protect you against potential vision loss and should always be worn when operating any type of firearm.
You will also need good hearing protection. This can be something as simple as crushable foam ear inserts. There is also very good electronic hearing protection that will allow you to talk to others – but will protect your ears from the loud noise produced by gunshots.
Finally, you will also need to have some targets and plenty of ammunition. Targets can be anything from cans, bottles, steel plates, or paper targets; there are a lot of options available. However, depending on where you are shooting, the type of targets you can use may be limited. Indoor ranges will typically require the use of paper targets. Make sure you check with your range before you go.
Loading Your Handgun
Once you have your eye and ear protection on, and your targets out, you are ready to shoot your handgun. The first thing you will need to do is load your handgun. If you are using a revolver, you will pull the ejector pin, slide the cylinder out to the side, make sure the chambers are empty, and load new cartridges into the chambers.
If you are using a semi-automatic handgun, you will need to feed cartridges into the magazine and then push the magazine up, into the grip. Make sure that you give it a good firm tap, and a good downward tug, to ensure the magazine is properly seated. This will prevent feeding problems as you shoot the handgun.
Properly Gripping Your Handgun
Your dominant shooting hand will typically be the hand you write with. So, if you are right-handed, your right hand will be your dominant shooting hand. This means that it will be the first hand you use to hold the grip. Your secondary hand would be your left hand. If you are left-handed, then this would be in reverse and your left hand would be dominant.
You will always hold the grip of your handgun with your dominant shooting hand wrapped firmly around the grip. Your other hand, the secondary hand, should then be wrapped around the fingers of your dominant shooting hand, and remaining grip on the other side of the gun. Your dominant shooting hand should be pushing ever slightly forward. Your secondary shooting hand should counterbalance by pulling slightly backwards.
Ideally, you want as much of your hands surface holding the grip as possible. While you are holding the grip firmly, it should still be comfortable. You do not want to squeeze so tightly that you stop circulation in your fingers. You should also not be squeezing so tightly that it hurts your hand. A firm comfortable grip will be enough.
Finally, you will want to push your arms out in front of you, holding them out with a slight bend at the elbow. This will allow your arms to catch the “recoil” of the handgun as it is firing. You will then be able to quickly bring your handgun back down and onto the target for follow up shots. Do not lock your elbows, you want to allow your wrists and elbows to be able to absorb the recoil as you shoot.
Properly Aiming your Handgun
The next step in shooting your handgun is to properly aim at your target. This is a simple, straightforward process. You will need to align the rear sight with the front sight. The rear sight will have a gap in the middle. There are usually two dots, one on either side of the gap on your rear sight.
Align your handgun so that the front sight falls inside the gap; this means that your handgun should be nearly level front to back. Then place the target directly in front of the front sight, and you should be aiming at your target. At this point, you can place your finger on the trigger and shoot the handgun by pulling the trigger smoothly and firmly.
If your bullet strikes to high, move your front sight lower in relationship to the rear sight. If you are shooting too low, move the front sight higher. If you are shooting to the right, move your front sight to the left slightly. Remember, how you align the front and rear sight provides accurate, consistent, shooting patterns.
Bottom Line: Practice, Practice, and More Practice
The more you shoot your handgun the more comfortable, confident, and accurate you will become. Practice is the key to having a good time. Get out and shoot your handgun often. Have fun and be safe. Mix it up and shoot a shotgun once in a while.
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