A Beginner’s Guide To Aiming A Pistol

Let’s start off with the obvious: Safely enjoying the shooting sports is fun. It feels good to go out and send rounds downrange. It feels better though, to shoot at something and hit it, which is why we’re going to talk about aiming a pistol. 

Right off the bat, we’re faced with the fact that none of us are really designed to shoot a pistol accurately. Our bodies do a lot of great things, but we are new to this whole “hold a device in your hand, point it at something, and look at the device, not the target as it makes a small explosion right in front of your face” thing. As such, it takes training and practice for us to be good shots, especially with a pistol. 

Fortunately for all of us, firearms training has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. From Sykes and Fairbairn’s “Shooting To Live” book based on their experience with the Shanghai Police Force in the 1930’s, to Jeff Cooper’s work at Gunsite, to today’s trainers who are applying the latest technology to aiming a pistol, we have made great progress in teaching people how to shoot well, especially under the stress of a life and death situation. 

However, some things remain constant throughout the ages. The first is the need to develop a smooth trigger stress. Moving the trigger is the last thing that happens before the gun goes “BANG!” As a result, any movement that disturbs your aim as you pull the trigger has a great effect on your ability to hit the target on-demand and on-time. You can minimize this with an effective grip and stance.

We talked with Jeff Street of Step By Step Gun Training for a more detailed explanation. 


Now let’s talk about the items mentioned in the video. 


To put it plainly, if your hands are not on your gun, they are not controlling your gun. Therefore, for maximum accuracy, it makes sense to have as much of your hands as possible on your gun as it goes “BANG!” This is why most pistol trainers today teach a two-handed grip that uses both hands to grip a gun. 

It would take hours (if not days) to review all the discussion about how to grip a pistol, but simply put, the best way to grip a semi-automatic pistol is a three-step process. 

  1. The right hand holds onto the grip of the pistol as high as possible.
  2. The fingers of the right hand curl around the grip, emphasizing control of the gun with all the fingers, not just the middle finger and ring finger. 
  3. The palm of the left hand nestles into the opposite side of the gun, rotates forward slightly, and the left hand fingers grasp the gun with equal strength as the right hand fingers. 

And of course, all of this is reversed for left-handed gun owners. 

The question pops up from time to time about how hard to grip a gun. My answer for that is simple: “A little harder, especially with the left hand.” There are very few downsides to a good, strong grip on your pistol. You can also learn better grip techniques during dry fire practice. So there are very few reasons to not have a good grip on your gun at all times. 


This is another topic gun writers have covered extensively over the years. The goals of a shooting stance are simple: To help you maintain a consistent sight picture, and to help you absorb recoil. There are many different styles of shooting stances out there. We’ll start with the one that I find most intuitive, the Modern Isosceles stance. 

Have you ever watched a boxing match or MMA fight? Did you pay attention to how the fighters placed their feet? If so, you’ll understand the ideas behind the Modern Isosceles stance. In the version of the stance that I prefer, you place your feet about shoulder-width apart. The support side foot (the left foot for you right-handers) is slightly forward. The strong side foot is slightly to the rear. Over the years, we human beings have found that this is a good way to absorb things like a thrown punch. It also works well absorbing recoil. 

Don’t worry if your grip or stance isn’t text-book perfect all the time. One thing you’ll learn quickly while shooting a practical pistol match or doing force-on-force training is that there are some techniques that work well during practice sessions, and others that work when the pressure is on. The two intersect only occasionally, so be prepared to improvise on the fly when needed. Speaking of which…

Aiming A Pistol Is A Process 

Your sights are going to move no matter how perfect your grip and stance are. We are not made of stone, and we move easily and often. Keeping your sights properly aligned with each other is called “sight alignment.” It’s an essential part of pistol marksmanship. You can have your gun pointed right at the target and have a smooth trigger press, but if your sights aren’t aligned with each other, you’ll miss. 

Sight Picture Issues with Aiming a Pistol

We can easily define proper sight alignment. When your front sight is the same height as your rear sight, your sights are aligned. Now it’s time to get your sights on target. 

Sight Picture Is An Ever-Changing Thing 

For years, I’ve read articles about “sight picture,” implying that it’s a momentary view of your sights. In reality, though, it’s not a “sight picture,” it’s a sight video. We can have perfect sight alignment and a perfect glimpse of the target, but that glimpse will not last. Our bodies are designed to move, not lock into place. As such, as the seconds pass, our sight picture will change ever so slightly. 

Wobble happens, but it doesn’t have to ruin the shot.  You can cut back on this slight movement with consistent practice, either with live rounds or with dry fire. Unless you have your own range, dry fire is much easier to perform at home. In the meantime, if your sights are aligned and not disturbed as you press the trigger, you can make effective hits on the target. This is true even if your sights move somewhat.   

Get Out To The Range And Get Better

As I said at the outset, none of us, not even high-level competition shooters, are born with the skill of aiming a pistol. We all need to learn how stance, grip, sights, and trigger work together to place hits on-target when we need them. However, in the past few decades, concealed carry and competitive shooting have become tremendously popular. This has led to increased numbers of people who are interested in learning the process of aiming a pistol properly. This, in turn, has led to new and more effective ways of teaching pistol marksmanship. 

We are in a golden age of firearms training. Go out and take advantage of it, and become a better shot today.