The End Of The Beginning: Learning How To Shoot a Gun

If you’ve been following our series on “Everything You’ve Always Wanted To Know About Guns” (but were afraid to ask),” you’ve learned quite a lot about guns. You now know about choosing a good gun for beginners. You’ve learned about pistols, rifles and shotguns. You’ve learned how to buy a gun. You know the differences between hollow point vs. FMJ ammunition,  how to load a magazine, how to hold a gun and how to take your gun to the range. Now it’s time to put all that knowledge together and learn how to shoot a gun.

Let’s start with the obvious: No one, not even top-flight competition shooters or Tier One operators, are born knowing how to shoot a gun. Each of us started out as a beginner at some point and we all needed to learn the basics. On top of this, holding a gun, pressing the trigger and having it go “BANG!” mere inches from your face is not something that happens in our normal, everyday life. Because of this, if we want to own a gun, we all need to learn how to shoot a gun at some point in our lives. So let’s begin.

Knowing How To Shoot A Gun Starts With Knowing The Rules

Once again, I’m going to start with the Four Rules of Gun Safety. Do I talk about them a lot? Yes. Should you obey them all the time, every time you’re around guns? Also yes. The rules are: 

  • All guns are always considered loaded 
  • Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  • Always keep you finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot
  • Always be aware of what’s around, in front and behind your target as you shoot

Got it? Let’s move on. There are many different guns and many different techniques for shooting them. For this article, however, we’ll limit it to just two types of guns: Semi-automatic pistols and AR-15 pattern rifles. These are two of the most popular kinds of firearms in America right now, so it makes sense to start there. We’ll also look at how to shoot them with both hands in a range. This is the default setting for firearms training and practice in the United States, so it’s a good place to start learning how to shoot a gun. 


How To Shoot A Pistol 

If you’ve not read the posts on how to bring your gun to the range, how to load a magazine and how to hold a gun, do so now. A lot of what we’ll be talking about here builds on the knowledge you’ll gain from those posts. We’ll assume you know how to perform those tasks, and move on. 

At this point, your pistol should be unloaded and on the shooting table, pointed downrange. Pick it up and look at it, keeping it pointed in a safe direction as you do. Is the slide (the thing on top of the gun that moves back and forth) locked open so you can see inside the gun? If it isn’t, grasp the rear of the slide with your support hand and press backwards as you push forward with the hand that’s holding the gun. The slide will move backwards (with some effort) and reach a point where it doesn’t move anymore. On most guns, there is a small lever, latch or something similar that locks the slide to the rear. Typically, you push that lever or button up to lock the slide, and then your gun is open and empty, with the slide locked back. 

How Shoot A Gun (Continued)

shooting a pistolNext, insert a magazine into the magazine well (it’s at the bottom of your grip) and set it firmly. You might want to give it a little tug to see if it falls out, and if it does, give it a firm tap on the bottom of the magazine to seat it once more. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction and grasp the rear of the slide with your support hand. Pull back on the slide until it stops, and then immediately let go. 

Building off of what we learned about holding a gun, let’s talk about how you should stand when shooting a gun. When a gun fires, it delivers a hard shove into your arms and then into your upper body. Which, when you think about it, is exactly what happens when you push something heavy, like a car or a large piece of furniture. Set your feet about a shoulder-width apart, roll your shoulders forward and shift your weight towards the front of your feet, just like you would when giving something a good hard shove. 

Aligning the sights of your pistol means centering the front sight on the rear sight horizontally and vertically. The top of the front sight should be even with the top of the rear sight, and there should be an equal amount of light from the wings of the rear sight as you look at the front sight. It’s the front sight that’ll be the most important part of aiming your pistol. We humans have a tendency to focus on a threat, not the tool in our hands. Learning how to look at your front sight, not the target, is going to take some time and effort. 

Master The Trigger, Master Your Gun

However, the fact is, you can do all of the preliminary things involved with how to shoot a gun the correct way, but if you can’t press the trigger smoothly, it’s all wasted effort. Moving the trigger is the last thing that happens before the gun fires and the bullet flies downrange. As such, any movement of the gun while moving the trigger is going to have a big effect on your marksmanship. Align the sights on target and then move the trigger of your pistol deliberately but smoothly backwards. At some point, the trigger will have moved enough and your pistol will fire. Relax, stay safe, move your trigger finger forwards and prepare to do the same process all over again. 

How To Shoot A Rifle

shooting a rifleNow let’s talk about how to shoot a rifle. The gun we’ll be using to demonstrate this is an AR-10, an AR-platform gun that is right now one of America’s most-popular firearms. We show you how to hold an AR in our previous post, now let’s talk about how to shoot it. 

With the gun pointed in a safe direction, and your finger off the trigger, firmly insert a loaded magazine into the magazine well on the bottom of the rifle. I make it a habit to tug on the magazine after I insert it, just to make sure it’s set in place. Point the gun downrange. Your shooting stance should be similar to your shooting stance for a pistol, but because a rifle is going to deliver more recoil than a pistol, you should pay more attention to where your feet are placed and how you’re moving your weight around your body. 

More Points Of Contact Means More Stability

Place the gun in the pocket of your shoulder, and bring your sights into focus. If you’re using a red dot sight, place the red dot on the target. Place the crosshairs on the target if you’re using a scope. If you’re using iron sights, center the front sight post in the ring of the rear sight. Keep your finger off the trigger, and flick the safety lever on the side of the rifle from “Safe” to “Fire.” Your rifle is now ready to shoot. 

Everything we just talked about how trigger affects your aim also applies to rifles. In addition to this, your body’s natural breathing patterns are going to affect where your sights are pointed, especially at longer ranges. Take a breath, and let it out. There will be a brief moment in-between letting out your breath and drawing a new one where your sights will settle down and the movement from your breathing won’t affect your shot. That’s the moment to make sure your sights are on target, and if they are, gently press the trigger to the rear until the rifle fires. Move your finger forward, recover from the recoil, and prepare for the next shot. 

Now You Know How To Shoot A Gun

Learning how to shoot a gun is just the beginning of the journey. There are so many shooting sports and so many different kinds of guns for you to enjoy. America’s gun owners are a diverse and friendly sort of people who overwhelmingly support bringing new shooters into their ranks. So relax, stay safe, have fun, and enjoy the shooting sports along with millions of your fellow shooters.