Ammo & Gear Reviews

8 Diagnostics To Common Shooting Errors

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By Ed Santos, The Shooting Channel

Most of the shooting errors I see at the range are a failure to properly apply the two most important shooting fundamentals: sight alignment and trigger press. However, other factors may also cause a shooter to experience problems in properly delivering a shot to the target.

The shooting situations listed below assume that the handgun and ammunition are functioning correctly, that the handgun sights are adjusted properly and that the shooter is right-handed. The shot groups for a left handed shooter will appear on the opposite side from the shot groups as described here.

Here are some possible causes to your misses if you are aiming for the center of the target but, are producing hits in the specific quadrants called out below.

(1) SHOTS in Lower Left Quadrant:

This pattern is caused when the shooter jerks the trigger, causing the front-sight to dip low and to the left before the bullet leaves the barrel. To correct this type of error, the trigger must be slowly pressed until the shot fires, being careful while pressing not to disturb the sight alignment and sight-picture.

(2) SHOTS in 9 o’clock position:

This pattern is created when the shooter does not properly place the index finger on the trigger. In such cases, the shooter has a tendency to press the trigger at an angle instead of straight to the rear. This improper press causes the muzzle to shift to the left, with the shots striking in the 8:30 to 9:30 zone.

(3) SHOTS in Upper Left Quadrant:

This is caused by “riding the recoil.” This is where the shooter anticipates the recoil and makes the handgun recoil before it really happens. This type of pattern can also be caused by improper follow-through. The shooter releases the trigger finger too soon and may flip the finger forward, causing the front-sight to rise to the left. Errors of this nature will usually produce shots in the 9:30 to 12 o’clock zone.

(4) SHOTS in Upper Right Quadrant:

Here the shooter has “heeled” the shots high on the target. This error is caused by anticipating the shot and, at the last moment before firing, giving the handgun a slight push with the heel of the hand. The front sight moves up to the right and the bullets strike the target in the 1 o’clock to 2:30 zone.

(5) SHOTS in the 3 o’clock position:

Here the shooter “thumbs” the handgun. Just as the shot begins, the shooter pushes the right thumb against the side of the frame, causing the aligned sights to move to the right.

(6) SHOTS in the Lower Right Quadrant:

This target illustrates what happens when a shooter’s grip tightens as the trigger is pressed. This target area is known as the ‘lobster’ area – just as a lobster’s claw clamps together, the shooter’s hand clamps or snatches at the last second. This movement causes the front sight to dip low and to the right, pushing the shots to the 3:30 to 5 o’clock zone.

(7) SHOTS directly below the point of aim:

The shot string in the 5 o’clock to 6:30 area is caused when the shooter “breaks” the wrist – another form of anticipation. The shooter expects the handgun to recoil at a known instant and tries to fight or control this anticipated recoil by cocking the wrist downward. The shooter may subconsciously believe that the recoil can be lessened by holding the wrist down. This shot group can also be caused by a shooter who relaxes too soon.

8) SHOTS everywhere – No distinct pattern: 

A peppered target is often produced by a beginning shooter. A new shooter usually does not consistently repeat one particular error, but instead commits many different errors. The result is a target with shots scattered in many places. Such a target may be caused by the shooter’s inconsistency, including changing the grip between shots, focusing on the target instead of the front-sight on some shots, failing to align the sights properly.

About the Author

Ed Santos is author of the books “Rule the Night Win the Fight” published 2008 and his latest “Low-Light Combatives” published 2013. He is the Owner/Founder of Center Target Sports, Inc. and Tactical Services Group. He teaches advanced firearm skills and Low-light training around the world and can be reached at Ed also writes for The Shooting Channel – click here to visit