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Watch TV and you’d think shooting a handgun (or any firearm for that matter) and hitting your target is as simple as looking down the sights and pulling the trigger. But there’s much more to it than that. Improving your marksmanship skills will hinge on a combination of fundamentals of shooting including your stance or how you stand when you shoot, your grip or how you hold the gun when you shoot, proper sight alignment and correctly squeezing the trigger not pulling on it. Entire books and training courses are dedicated to the fundamentals of proper shooting and there are differences whether you are shooting a handgun, a rifle or a shotgun.

To start, we’ll focus here on the fundamentals of shooting a handgun with a short look at the basic considerations that need to be considered when shooting either a semi-automatic handgun or a revolver.


Your shooting stance is your foundation, and it significantly influences your ability to control your handgun and manage recoil. Here are a few key principles behind what makes for a proper stance.

Foot Placement – Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, parallel to the target. Distribute your weight evenly between both feet.

Knees – Slightly bend your knees. This stance helps absorb recoil and maintains better balance.

The Torso – Lean slightly forward at the hips while keeping your back straight. This promotes better control and a stable platform for shooting.

Hips & Shoulders – Align your hips and shoulders with your target. This minimizes unnecessary movement when aiming and firing.


Photo courtesy of the National Rifle Association

Your grip is the connection between you and your handgun. A solid grip allows for precise control and ensures you can manage recoil effectively. Here’s how to achieve a proper grip:

Dominant Hand Placement – Extend your dominant hand toward the handgun, placing the backstrap of the grip in the center of the web of your hand between your thumb and index finger. Your hand should be as high on grip as possible, right up snug against the beaver tail at the top of the grip. The side of your middle finger should rest right against the bottom of the trigger guard. Your ring and pinky fingers should match wrapping around the grip, while your trigger finger is indexed along the frame of the handgun until ready to fire.

Non-Dominant Hand – Your non-dominant hand should wrap around the fingers of your dominant hand, with your thumb aligned with the frame opposite your trigger finger.

Thumb Placement – Your dominant hand thumb then lies slightly behind and atop your non-dominant hand thumb. Both should point forward and rest alongside the frame of the handgun, not the slide. No part of your hand should ever be above the grip or frame when shooting a semi-auto as the rearward action of the slide when firing could cut or injure your hands. Thumb placement with a revolver is different, as illustrated in the photo. Your dominant and non-dominant thumbs should overlap at the top of the grip and behind the cylinder. 

Not Too Tight – Your grip should be firm but not so tight that it causes trembling or torquing of the gun in your hand. A balanced grip with a push-pull feel is best for precise control.

Sight Alignment

Proper sight alignment is critical. It ensures your handgun is pointed in the right direction and the muzzle of the gun, where the bullet will exit and begin flight toward the target, is properly aligned with where you want the bullet to strike. Follow these steps for correct sight alignment:

Focus on the Front Sight – While aiming, focus on the front sight post, allowing the rear sight and the target to blur into the background.

Photo courtesy of NRA Shooting Illustrated

Align the Sights – Ensure that the front sight post is aligned evenly inside the rear sights forming a straight line across the top. The sights should appear aligned and level. Additionally, be sure the front sight post is aligned in the center of the rear sight with equal space on either side. A common phrase to remember is “Equal height, equal light”.

Be Patient – Take a moment to stabilize your sights. Don’t rush this step. Breathe in, exhale, and let your sights settle before pulling the trigger.

Trigger Press

The trigger press is the final step behind the previous fundamentals. A smooth and controlled trigger press is essential to accurate shooting.

Finger Placement – Place your index finger on the trigger, positioning it so the trigger face contacts the middle of your finger pad (between the tip and first knuckle of your index finger). Keep in mind that this should be a comfortable placement. If it feels uncomfortable, then your firearm grip may be too large or too small. 

Gradual Pressure – Apply consistent, steady and gradual pressure to the trigger, taking up any slack in the trigger until it is tight. Avoid jerking or flinching as this will affect the projectile’s point of impact. If you’re consistently hitting to the left (right-handed) or to the right (left-handed), then you’ll want to focus on your trigger press.

Feel the Break – Continue to apply pressure until you feel the break; the point at which the trigger releases and the shot is fired.

Follow-Through: Keep your focus on the front sight even after the shot fires. Release the trigger only to its reset point and maintain your grip as you prepare for a follow-up shot.

The proper stance, grip, sight alignment and trigger press are the four pillars of marksmanship. Regular practice and continuous improvement of these fundamentals will help you become a better shooter. For more information on handgun fundamentals, please watch our Take Your Shot: Intro to Handgun video series. 

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