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​10 Tips to Improve Your Shooting Skills

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It goes without saying that practice is a critical element when it comes to gun ownership. Whether it’s a matter of hunting, competitive shooting or personal defense, it’s important to constantly strive to improve your skills; the last thing you want is to hit a plateau.

And according to the experts, there is always room for improvement.

We’ve rounded up some of the best advice out there to help hone your skills:

Photo from Top Spec U.S.

1. Perfect Your Trigger Pull

"Several things happen in the gun to cause it to fire. The part you control is pulling the trigger. If done correctly, nothing moves, not your hands or the sight picture and the pistol fires a round exactly where you intended.

However, if you 'jerk' or 'flinch' before or at the instant you fire the gun, the shot will most probably head somewhere other than where intended.

In my experience, a good trigger pull is one of, if not the most important aspect of shooting well.

Serious shooters spend many, many hours perfecting their trigger pulling. Top marksmen can pull the trigger so well they never move the gun out of alignment.

New shooters have a tendency to pull the trigger in an abrupt manner that can move the gun quickly out of alignment and cause the shot to miss.

The old adage of 'aim and squeeze the trigger slowly' is a perfect place to start for the new shooter."

- Pro shooter Rob Leatham

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2. Work on Your Concentration

"My go-to drill is what is called the ‘ball and dummy’ drill.

Ball ammo is live ammo. Dummy ammo is inert.

Just load your magazines with a combination of live ammo and dummy ammo. When you try to fire the dummy round (thinking it’s a live round), you’ll see the muzzle dip slightly (or more). That’s the flinch, or anticipation if you prefer. You will work on your concentration to make sure you don’t yank the trigger the next time a dummy round comes up, and as a result, you’ll be pressing the trigger better, have better follow through, and your groups will shrink significantly.

Note, this can be done with a revolver by leaving one or more chambers empty.

This is a drill people should do a few times a year, just as a tune-up."

- Tom Gresham, nationally-known firearms expert and television host

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3. Slow Down

“Everybody wants to shoot fast-faster than the other guy. But speed always sacrifices accuracy. If your groups look more like an improved-cylinder pattern from a shotgun, the best thing to do is slow down. Focus on sight picture and trigger control. Once your groups shrink back into an acceptable range, then, and only then, should you start to pick up the pace. Several years ago at event hosted by Springfield Armory on a rainy San Diego day, Rob Leatham gave a bunch of us gun scribes some pointers on how to improve our pistol shooting. One in particular stuck with me, and I regularly make it a part of my practice regimen. It is as applicable to a rifle as it is a handgun.

Put up a blank target-no bullseye or aiming point-at close range. If you're working with a handgun, start at 5 yards; rifles can start at 25 yards. Hold center of mass and fire one round. Now, taking as much time as you need, shoot the remainder of the magazine without enlarging the first bullet hole. Tough? You bet! Impossible? Theoretically, no, but the exercise focuses on the basics of shooting: sight picture, breath control and trigger control. This is a slow-fire drill. What this does is reinforce proper muscle memory for accurate shooting. When you are shooting one ragged hole at 5 yards, move back to 10 yards-50 yards for rifles-and repeat. This is also a great drill for curing a flinch.”

- Dave Campbell, American Rifleman

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4. Master Your Gun's Controls
“Getting familiar with your gun is an often-overlooked element of marksmanship, especially in defensive scenarios. Fumbling for the magazine release or searching for a manual safety can make the difference between life and death. Spending a few minutes in your lane with your gun pointed in a safe direction will improve your confidence with your gun and how it operates, leaving you free to concentrate on other tasks. Take some time in every range session to learn how to manipulate the controls of your gun so that eventually, you can safely load and unload your gun and manipulate all the controls without conscious thought.”

-Kevin Creighton, NRA Family

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5. Do Some Dry Fire Drills

"My go-to drill is dry fire with a coin placed on the front sight. After you’ve got your sights aligned, slowly squeeze the trigger. If your squeeze is slow and smooth then the coin will stay on.

If it falls off, then keep trying until you can consistently squeeze the trigger and keep the coin on the sight. This is a great exercise if you see your shots dropping low – often a symptom of jerking the trigger."

-Chris Cheng, NRA News Commentator, Professional Marksman, Author of “Shoot to Win” a book for the new shooter and History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 Champion

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6. Improve Your Balance
“Years ago I attended a series of shotgun seminars by professional shooters/instructors Gil and Vicki Ash at 7 Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania. During one of those sessions, Gil stressed the importance of how improving one's balance can carry over to improving shooting skills.”

“He and another pro, Nick Sisley, brought to the seminar two fitness or balance discs which look like a half basketball that is ¾ full of air. To use them, the shooter puts one under each foot and tries to stand upright, which at first is not easy. Therefore, as a safety measure, stand behind a chair in case you do lose your balance. For a routine, stand on them for 5 to 10 minutes a day and after a week or two, it will become obvious just how much your balance has improved. After a few weeks of using these, I got to where I could stand on uneven ground and break clay targets or hit what I aimed at with a handgun. In general, as we age our balance can suffer! In my experience, these have helped me to get back a lot of what was lost over time and therefore continue to shoot accurately.”

-George Dvorchak M.D., NRA Family

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7. Stay in Shape
"This topic is a first concern to anyone who participates in sports, and that includes shooting. Keep in mind that conditioning for shooting boils down to one element: If you cannot hold your firearm out, you tend not to do well. Before doing any exercise, make sure it is safe as per any medical conditions you may have and what your physician approves. If all is O.K., here is how to get started!

To begin a routine, I would suggest standing erect with 5-pound hand weights, one in each hand. Now extend each arm up and forward and hold them for a count of 10. Next, slowly move each arm sideways and hold for a count of 10 and then gradually move both arms back down to your sides. With that sequence completed, repeat this for 10 repetitions. Once this becomes easy, increase the weight and how long you hold the two weights out, and/or increase the repetitions. To check your physical improvements, after two weeks of doing this at least every other day, pick up your verified unloaded firearm and aim. Due to the exercising, I would bet that it feels lighter and with that, easier to keep steady. When I was a cadet at Valley Forge Military Academy, my pistol coach suggested this routine which I still do. It is simple and it works!

Another quick routine is to hold a weight in each hand and look at a point on the wall and slowly punch at it with the right hand, then the left for 10 to 15 repetitions with each arm. This also strengthens the upper-body muscles you need in order to shoot well, especially over long periods as during a round of skeet, trap or handgun competition.

For a third strengthening procedure, I get out my hand grip, which I squeeze for a count of 10 or 15. Then I remove my trigger finger from the grip and hold it up and out so it does not touch the gripping area. Next, I hold that same pressure on the grip, still pulled inward with fingers 3, 4 and 5, and aim at the wall for a count of 20. I then do this with the other hand and repeat the routine for 5 or 10 times with each hand. This will especially help with pistol shooting!

Once we've strengthened the various muscles we use to hold and steady any firearm, we usually can shoot more accurately and with more endurance. Exercise helps us not become tired...unless mental stress works against us."

-George Dvorchak M.D., NRA Family

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8. Fuel Your Body

"As a competitive shooter, you are required to stay focused and energized so that you perform at your very best. On competition day you will need to select foods that will provide you fuel throughout your day.

To do so you will want to focus on complex carbs. Complex carbs are broken down and stored in your liver for when you need the energy, which will prevent you from feeling hungry while competing. If you feel the need to refuel mid-stride on competition day, select foods that are unprocessed and contain those complex carbs. Refrain from energy drinks. These drinks will elevate your heart rate and give you the jitters. Stick with water; it is your best friend! If it's warm out or you find yourself sweating profusely, you may consider a drink that contains potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps the body function properly."

- Chris Olsen, NRA Family

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9. Understand That Fight/Flight May Come Into Play

"Shooters may “experience a fight-or-flight response— the body's way of automatically responding to what it perceives could be mortal danger.

The brain rapidly releases cortisol, adrenaline (aka epinephrine), and other hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. This can lead novice shooters to feel intense fear, anxiety, or aggression after shooting.

Even experienced shooters have to manage their body's responses after firing thousands of rounds in countless training scenarios.

The heart begins to race, blood vessels constrict, and blood pressure skyrockets, in turn rapidly delivering oxygen and sugar to muscles."

Dave Mosher, Business Insider

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10. Know When to Shut it Down
“There are times when it just isn't happening. You may be fatigued from work, your mind may wander toward other non-shooting challenges, or maybe you'd just rather be at the beach. In any case, if your focus is not on shooting, you are wasting ammunition and developing bad habits that will have to be fixed later.”

“Recently I started to force a range session with my Sharps replica rifle. My enthusiasm to get out and shoot after a long, cold winter and to get the hang of its vernier sight got the better of me. It was nice and warm at the house, but at the range the wind was blowing 25 mph. My first shot was good; the second off a bit. The third shot sealed the deal for me. It was 10 inches off the mark, and I started shivering. So I put it all away and postponed the session.”

- Dave Campbell, American Rifleman

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