A Nurse with a Gun

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Seeing Red, Shooting Black

For some reason the range was deserted when I met Cassie this afternoon for a bit of shooting. Click to enlargeIt was a little chilly, but not enough to keep most people away. I don't know what was going on. I was just happy for the good fortune of having the range to ourselves.

We shot at seven yards, and Cassie decided to stick with the Ruger MKII. That was fine with me, she was familiar with it, and comfortable shooting it. Cassie naturally assumes an Isosceles stance. All I had to do was ask her to spread her feet just a little farther apart for stability. She had brought along 550 rounds to enjoy shooting. I would be her magazine loader and coach/cheerleader.

As each bullet pierced the target, I either said "Good," or I kept quiet. Hits in the red merited a response. Hits in the white were ignored. At this point in Cassie's shooting, I am striving for confidence, and fun. Precision can come later. If she doesn't have fun shooting, then she will eventually give it up. If she doesn't feel confident, she will eventually move on to something else.

Click to enlargeDuring a break in the shooting, I talked to Cassie about focusing on the front sight. "Your eyes can not focus on the target, the front sight and the rear sight. The distance between them is too great. Rather than trying to see all three, bring the front sight into focus, and let the rear sight and the target be a bit blurry," I said.

Cassie shot a bit more, and then confessed. "I can't see the front sight," she said.

Since I wasn't shooting, I had not noticed the orange front sight and the red target. Cassie was staying in the red by the process of elimination. When she saw the front sight, she placed it back in the red to make it disappear and pulled the trigger. A novel solution, but not what I was looking for.

I dug into my range bag and found a black Shoot 'n' See target. Click to enlargeWe affixed that over the red spot, and went back to the firing line. With the next hot range call, Cassie picked up her pistol and aligned her sights. "Wow, I see what you mean!" she exclaimed.

"Can you see the green rings in the black?" I asked.


"That's OK. We're shooting for the center. Just imagine two lines across the black spot intersecting in the middle. Line your front sight up with that point of intersection right on top of the front sight," I instructed her, "Then, squeeze the trigger without pulling the front sight off that intersection."

With Cassie's first, second and third shots, I was pleased to see green craters appear in the center of the black void. Then her accuracy began to suffer. After the first magazine was fired into the Shoot 'n' See, we talked some more. "You have sight alignment now Cassie," I told her, "But any monkey can do that."

"But why don't the bullets go where I point the gun?" she asked.

"They do. Click to enlargeWhat you are not seeing is that you are pulling the sights slightly off target with your trigger pull sometimes. Compressing that trigger without moving any other fingers and without changing your sight alignment is the key to putting a hole precisely where you want it."

"It's not that easy."

"No, it's not. That's why it's called a skill. But truthfully, that is all there is to it. When you shoot, discard anything that causes you to move the sights off target while pulling the trigger. Keep everything that helps you accomplish that task. Don't lock your elbows. Don't anticipate the shot. These are things to discard," I told her. "Pull the trigger at a steady rate straight backwards. When you are waiting in the check-out line somewhere, don't just day dream. Instead, practice moving your trigger finger straight back with the rest of your fingers held perfectly still. Being able to control that finger independent of the rest is key."

"It takes a lot of practice," she responded.

"It does," I said. Click to enlarge"It's not like the movies where somebody picks up a gun for the first time and scores bulls eyes. It takes dedication and practice, but if you focus your practice to achieve your goal, you will arrive there quickly."

"I'm not sure I have that dedication," she said.

"You don't have to," I replied. "You are shooting well enough now to accomplish your goal of self defense. Think of it as a zen thing, a meditation. It's a zone you want to be in, where you can pick up a handgun and place the shot exactly where you want it to go. Your goal when we arrived today was to stay in the red, and for the most part, you accomplished that. Shooting is a skill that involves stripping away all the hindrances to the basic skills of aligning the sights and pulling the trigger."

"A zen thing," Cassie mused, "I could get into that."



Blogger jon spencer said...

Let her try that TOZ of yours for some zen stuff.

5:50 PM  
Blogger tom said...

I don't believe this to be entirely off topic:

Your mileage may be different, and for .22LR your advice does work. For large bore and rifle caliber handguns you need to think about more than Front Sight and Press. If you limit yourself to that you may eat a gun in your face. Seen it happen more than once.

.45ACP 230 grain in a Commander or bigger/heavier 1911 size handgun, fine. 230-300 grains going at 2900fps from a handgun, sturdy shooting stance and plan on where the gun is going to go on recoil is key to save yourself facial scars and save losing control of the firearm. This applies to varying degrees, depending on shooter and loadings, even to airweight .357s and tiny .380s with Corbons in them. The guns many people almost never practice with and depend on for their lives.

I realize this is a neophyte shooter article, but when you go up in power levels some things change. Newton rules the roost and you ignore him at your peril.

I see loads of people get away with stuff with Mk IIs they'd never get away with with a 10mm or even .357 dependent on upper body strength and I think isosceles is a weak, although instinctive-ish, stance. You'll get your first shot off fast and possibly accurate but what is your recovery time? I shoot my .223 hand cannon different than the ones that have belted magnum cases.

Habits formed in loads of practice with a .22LR for economy or neighbor noise reasons very well might be what a person defaults to in survival, combat, and DG hunting. It could be fatal.

I realize you have to ease people in gently but you also are building them up to shooting things a bit beyond glorified pellet guns, I would think.

I suppose it depends on what one is trying to teach. Not beating up on you, just thinking out loud. There are times when you DO want to lock your gun arm.


8:13 PM  
Blogger tom said...

Off the cuff and not for publication unless you want it to be:

I just was hit by the idea of only thinking about the two things, sight and pull. They are key but only a start. Like telling somebody all they need to think about in driving a car is the wheel and the pedals...

It struck me wrong because with many firearms you need to think about more than two things to properly wield them.

I appreciate your blog and I'm glad you seem to have taken it in the context that I wrote it, but I think it really does matter.

A pocketable .40S&W is an entirely different animal than a Buckmark just like my Match and Wheel Locks are entirely different than my rimfires and centerfires.

Thanks for not taking offense, was off the top of my head and I wrote what I wrote after multiple edits so as to do my best to not offend. Consider it a personal experiential bigotry from one who grew up in shooting at the knees of the people that modified Weaver's stance to include a straight arm. Weaver personally liked .38s. Isosceles shooting development was mostly done with 9mm by military instructors who were building "on average" good shooters but weren't looking to get the best out of their students.

My bigotry and experience prove to me one can do better than relaxed iso or modified iso stances.

We're all entitled to an opinion, right?

Happy Shooting,

10:32 PM  
Blogger Old NFO said...

Good training points X- Thanks

2:02 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

I am instilling confidence and a joy of shooting. That is my primary concern. We are shooting a 22 pistol. We will cross the other bridges when we get there.

I try not to over burden students with so much information that they become saturated and give upbefore they begin. I believe giving them the desire to learn and the confidence they can learn is far more important with a beginner.

5:30 AM  
Anonymous Blackwing1 said...

If shooting is a zen-like process, I've got my own little mantra that I repeat internally before each shot:

"Sight alignment...sight picture...move the trigger back."

As you noted in your post, the trick to the whole thing is that last step. And to do WITHOUT disturbing the first two. To be able to slowly and smoothly move the trigger to the rear without disturbing your sight alignment or sight picture means that the bullet goes exactly where you want it to. Allow your trigger finger movement to disturb them, and you can sometimes call the shot (where it went) but it won't be where you want it.

A good day at the range is when I'm so completely "in the zone" that I literally don't notice reloading, grip, stance, or anything but the front sight. When I've perforated the bullseye of a target so thoroughly that it's one big hole.

But I'm a lousy shot, and that only happens about one time out of ten. That's why it's zen, huh?

7:16 AM  
Blogger Mike W. said...

I have a P6 with all black sights and run into the same problem she did with orange on red.

Things are much more difficult when sight & target are the same color.

11:37 AM  
Blogger tom said...

Point taken, which is why I left it at your discretion (like it isn't anyway) to post my follow on bit.

I tend to over-think these things because I like to assume everybody that gives shooting handguns a try will be hooked and moving forward to bigger things. I won't say "bigger and better" because I love my Rugger Rugged .22LRs too.

Best regards,

6:27 PM  

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