I will never forget Christmas morning when my parents gave me my first bee-bee gun. After breakfast, my parents went to visit relatives and left me with my grandmother. When they returned I was beaming with pride. Let us just say that the animal population in my grandmother’s back yard was significantly reduced.
My mother was not happy, but you could tell my dad was slightly impressed. Accurately shooting a firearm is one of the most helpful and versatile skills you can develop for survival.
In a SHTF scenario, firearms can be used for both hunting and self-defense. Also, learning to properly aim opens up dozens of other weapons that are useful for survival.
When teaching yourself to shoot, most marksmen reach a point where their skills plateau or they fall into a slump. To continue improving, you have to go back to basics.
The firing routine for handguns, rifles, and shotguns is different for each. However, there are tips and best practices that can be applied to all three. Below are general shooting tips that should help with any firearm.
- Do not pull the trigger, squeeze it. You may have heard this before, but it deserves to be repeated. You must eliminate any jerkiness to your trigger motion and gently apply pressure until the gun fires.
- Always follow through. Whether you are shooting at a stationary object or a moving target, hold your gun on your target after you fire. Do not pull your gun down until your target is back in your sights again.
- Dry fire practice as often as possible. This consists of aiming at a fixed point and firing your gun while it is unloaded. One of the biggest issues shooters have is jerking the gun in anticipation of the noise from the gunshot. Make sure you hold your gun steady when you dry fire, and you reduce that issue. You can also put a coin on your front sight. If you are doing it right, the coin shouldn’t fall off when you dry fire.
- Practice with dummy rounds. When loading your gun, load half live rounds and half dummy rounds. Being able to watch your gun movement and compare between the two helps greatly with eliminating the flinch from anticipation.
- Practice short range bullet hole shooting. Marksmen often blame the gun or sights when they shoot inconsistently. By shooting at five to ten feet from the target, you eliminate all variables except for yourself. If you are holding the gun steady, you should put all bullets in the same hole.
- Practice with and without a rest in the same session. Shooting with a rest simplifies the process and allows you to focus. If your posture and process are correct, you should be just as consistent standing up with no rest.
- Practice with several different guns. Typically the breakpoint, trigger weight, recoil, and noise are going to be different for each gun. By using multiple firearms, you force yourself to stay consistent and keep your aim steady. It eliminates the ability to anticipate the shot.
- Practice a reset drill. Instead of giving yourself a pause to aim, firing, and then taking another pause to aim you can do the process in reverse. After you pull the trigger, hold it down until you have aimed again. Then, fire immediately after you reset the trigger and hold it again. Breaking up the rhythm forces you to focus more.
- Give yourself a trigger word and repeat it each time you fire. For example, you can say “squeeeeeze” as you pull the trigger and you will focus on the sound of your voice instead of anticipating the shot.
- Practice moving shots. Give yourself a larger area to focus on and constantly move your aim within that area. Squeeze off rounds as your aim falls onto the spot you desire and continue this process. This will train yourself to deal with any natural movement in your aim, especially if your arm is tired.
- Practice shooting from strange positions. When you are hunting or defending yourself, often times you do not have the option of a standard shooting position. Practice shooting from sitting, lying, or leaning positions. Try having your gun tilted to one side. Having a firearm aligned off of the vertical access will affect the flight of the bullet.
- Know your gun inside and out. Assemble and reassemble it, clean it regularly, get used to the trigger, get used to the recoil, get accustomed to the action, and even work with it unloaded with your eyes closed. The better you know your gun, the better you will shoot.
- Shoot with both eyes open. It has been proven that there are several advantages to keeping both eyes open. One of the most important is that you will likely shoot with both eyes open if you are in a survival situation, so why not practice that way? If you can’t get comfortable with both open, make sure you are shooting with your dominant eye. Point to an object with both eyes open. Then close each eye one at a time. If your finger is still pointing at that object, then that is your dominant eye.
- Control your breathing. Take a few deep breaths and pause as you are exhaling with your lungs about 50% full. Hold your breath for a moment and take your shot.
In addition to these tips, there are a few that are specific to handguns. Because these firearms are typically used for self-defense, being accurate is that much more important.
- Focus on your front sight. This will leave your target a bit blurry, but it is the most accurate way to shoot.
- Practice shooting from a holstered position. If you ever need to use your weapon for protection, you will likely have to pull from your holster and will have a short window to squeeze off a round. Practicing this motion is very important and could save your life.
- Practice for body armor. When at the range, get used to putting two rounds in the chest and one in the head. Your two in the chest should be a tight grouping. In the case that your assailant is wearing body armor, the shots to the chest will stun them long enough for you to adjust your aim to a more vulnerable area.
- Flip your target around to shoot at the silhouette only and eliminate the bullseye. Periodically doing this will force you to focus on the center of your target without actually having a visual point of reference. In real life scenarios, your target will not have a bullseye to shoot at.
- Spend time working on close range shooting. Start at three yards and put five rounds in a tight group. Step back to five yards, then seven, then ten, back to seven, five, and three again. Shoot five rounds at each distance and keep your grouping tight. This is actually more realistic than normal range distance. Most confrontations will be up close and personal.
There are a few other best practices that apply to rifles only. When you are shooting at a squirrel’s head at 150 yards, every tip counts.
- Practice consistent shoulder pressure. Tight groupings require the same amount of shoulder pressure each time you fire. Less pressure is typically easier to recreate than larger amounts of pressure. With your rifle unloaded, bring it up to aim over and over focusing only on how tightly you press it to your shoulder.
- Shoot from varying distances to know how much drop your bullet has. I normally sight my long distance rifle in three inches high at 100 yards. I know to aim three inches low at that distance, dead on at 300 yards, and 10 inches low at 400 yards. Knowing these ranges is very important.
- Practice shooting with a crosswind. We do not live in a vacuum. When you go after that big buck, there is typically some level of wind to deal with. Go shooting on days with 10 to 20 mph cross wind and take a spotter. Figure out how to adjust your shots to account for the wind, and determine a system to establish how hard the wind is blowing. Throwing a few blades of grass into the wind and seeing at what angle they fall is a good way to do it.
- Let your barrel cool. If you are shooting round after round, the barrel gets hot and your groupings get sloppy. Give it a break from time to time, or try shooting in the shade.
- Practice determining distances for targets. Take your rangefinder into the woods, pick out objects, and try to guess how far they are. Then check with the rangefinder to see how close you were. In most cases you need to be within 10% of the accurate distance to keep your shot in the kill zone. When hunting, often you will not have time to use the rangefinder.
- Laser bore sight your rifle in on a regular basis. They are relatively inexpensive these days, and who knows how far off your scope is now that it has flopped around in your back seat for the last few hours.
- Follow the 90% rule. Do not take the shot unless you are 90% sure that you can put your bullet in the kill zone. This eliminates most running shots. It’s just the most responsible way to hunt.
- Always run your ammo completely through your rifle before you load it and head out. This will ensure that you catch any potential jams before you are in the field.
- Train yourself for follow-up shots. It is not uncommon for a hunter to have a chance at a second shot if the animal is simply confused by the noise or wounded by the first shot. Practice a bullseye on the first shot and then see how close you can get on an immediate follow-up.
Wing or clay shooting with a shotgun is an animal in and of itself. It requires a completely different skill set, and many people struggle with accuracy. Here are a few ways to improve your results.
- Practice swinging your gun and pulling it up to your cheek in the mirror. This movement has to be smooth and effortless. Remember that you will have to find a moving target, point your rifle, and bring it up to your face all in the same motion. It needs to be automatic.
- Line up your feet so that a line from your back heel to your front heel points at where you want to fire. Many people line up closer to where the bird or clay will be coming from and it restricts their motion. Figure out where you plan to fire and line up for that point.
- Focus on your target, not your sights. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but you do not aim when wing or clay shooting. Aiming slows down your motion and forces you to shoot behind your target. Keep your eye on the target and point the gun slightly in front of it to compensate for its movement.
- If you are consistently missing your target, you are probably shooting behind it. Double the lead you are giving your target and try again. It is human nature to shoot at the target instead of shooting where it will be when the shot gets there.
- When in doubt, shoot sooner. It is easy to get in a rut where you follow your target for too much time. The most accurate shot you can make is as soon as the target comes into focus. Try to stick to that moment if possible.
- Do not box out. This means that when your gun is at rest, you need to keep your stock directly below where it will press against your shoulder. You want to make one vertical motion with your stock when you bring up your gun. If you make any lateral movement with your stock, it will slow you down.
- Once your gun is up, keep your stock stationary and move the barrel with only your front hand. If both the barrel and the stock are moving as you are pointing the gun, it will give your shot a weird motion. Keep the stock at a fixed point.
As you can see there are dozens of little ways to mess up your shot, but there are solutions for all of them. That being said, practice is more important than any magical tip or trick.
Buy your ammo, get your range time, and put your rounds down range. You can figure out a good deal of technical issues through simple trial and error.
Whether you are bagging a monster buck, protecting your family, or just blowing off some steam after work, marksmanship is a useful and essential skill for survivalists.
Your motivation may vary based on how you use your firearms, but accuracy is always important. Hopefully some of these best practices will help you hit the bullseye more often. For help deciding which gun is right for you, please check out other article.
My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.