Firearms Training: Achieving a Balance Between Speed and Accuracy

One of the major challenges in shooting a handgun is achieving the right balance between shooting fast and shooting accurately in the context of responding to a violent encounter or participating in shooting competitions. In the case of responding to a violent encounter, you need to be able to access your handgun and fire at your attacker before they can cause you severe harm or kill you. However, shooting rapidly at them will do no good if you do not hit them where it will cause them to stop their attack on you. As a result you cannot ignore shooting accurately; especially as the distance between you and your attacker increases while also considering the location and number of innocent bystanders that are present. It becomes even more complex if you are confronted by multiple attackers. The situation with competitive shooting is similar because many of the stages of fire are designed to simulated what you would have to do if your targets where human threats instead of inanimate paper or cardboard shapes.

Shooting accurately requires you to correctly align the sights and obtain the correct sight picture so that your bullets strike the target at the intended place. Shooting quickly means operating your gun as rapidly as possible. Being able to do both at the same time is complicated because of physics. Recoil causes your gun to move and thus you need to realign the sights with the target before firing the next shot. Recoil forces are exaggerated because the handgun is held extended away from your body at the end of your arms with little or nothing supporting the weight of the gun and resisting the recoil forces except the muscles in your hands and arms. (I remember one instance when I was in college shooting as part of my Air Force ROTC unit’s pistol team. The Army ROTC rifle team was using the range at the same time. Both teams were using .22 Long Rifle ammunition in our guns and we were both shooting at targets that were placed about 25 yards down range. Using their rifles, the Army team members were placing all of their hits within a 1-inch bullseye and they couldn’t understand why the most accurate Air Force pistol shooters were having difficulty keeping their shots within a 4 to 6-inch circle—until we invited them to try shooting our pistols. They suddenly realized it was much more difficult shooting a pistol accurately than it was to shoot a rifle accurately!)

In order to shoot your gun faster without reducing your accuracy you must re-acquire your point of aim faster. (You can measure your ability to do this by including a shot-
timer as part of your training equipment and using it to see what the time interval is between your shots.) The best way to do this is to hold the gun steadier and to not allow it to recoil as much. How do you do this? You could use a gun and/or ammunition that do not recoil as much. However, this usually means using a less powerful cartridge and doing this typically means you will need to fire more rounds to stop the threat than you would with a larger, more powerful cartridge. Alternately, you could use a heavier gun that absorbs more of the recoil forces but this typically makes the gun harder to carry. Or, you could hold the gun tighter. This means you must improve your grip and stance to eliminate as much of the movement of your gun as possible.

Mechanically, your gun is capable of operating much faster than the vast majority of individuals shooting them are able to make them operate. You can operate a single-action revolver faster than a semi-automatic pistol can operate and there are videos on the Internet showing this. However, the number of people that are able to achieve this feat are limited to just a few that have very quick reaction times and that spend hundreds of hours practicing to do it.

According to one expert, the key to shooting a gun faster is simply to shoot it faster. Rob Leatham (a competitive shooter with numerous national titles and a spokesman for Springfield Armory) explained to Ryan Gresham on a firearms-related television show earlier this year. He went on to explain that the key to shooting a semi-automatic pistol faster was to get your finger off the trigger quicker between shots so the trigger could reset! Once the trigger re-sets it typically requires very little movement of the trigger to reach the reset point—the gun is ready to fire again. While Leatham’s advice makes sense, initially it seemed to run counter to the advice Dave Spaulding (another nationally known firearms training expert) gives to his students which is to never let your finger leave the face of the trigger while you are shooting at the target. He tells his students to keep their fingers in contact with the trigger while the trigger moves forward to the reset point. This is done by stopping the rearward “press” of the trigger and allowing the trigger to move forward. In contrast, Leatham seemed to be advocating “slapping” the trigger, a technique used by some competitive shooters where the finger is completely removed from the trigger to allow it to reset then rapidly pressing it to the rear again to fire the next shot. Slapping the trigger introduces additional movement to the gun which would adversely affect accuracy. Leatham said the way to counter this movement was to simply hold the gun tighter.

Leatham’s advice for achieving the right balance between speed and accuracy is to pull the trigger as fast as you can until your group size begins to increase to the point they are no longer “combat accurate”—i.e. about a 4-inch circle. If you need to shoot faster than this, then you will need to work on your grip strength so you can hold the gun steadier while it recoils and the trigger resets. Several of the firearms instructors that I have taken classes from say that you should hold the gun tight enough so that it leaves an impression of the grip in your hand when you open up your hand after gripping it. After a few moments this impression should go away, but it will be there immediately after you open up your hand. But, you need to be careful when doing this. You do not want your grip to be so tight that it inhibits your ability to operate your gun’s controls (i.e. the trigger, safety, etc.).

There are many exercises you can do to increase your gripping strength. One is to simply squeeze a tennis ball repeatedly. As you increase the number of repetitions your strength will gradually increase. You should do this with both hands. You could also buy one of the commercially-available grip trainers to do the same thing. Their advantage is that they apply more even resistance to all your fingers as you squeeze them. Doing this exercise just a few minutes each day will produce significant results.

Lifting weights, etc. will also help. One thing you might want to consider is not only increasing the gripping strength of your hands, but also increasing the muscle strength in your wrists and arms to help hold your handgun steadier. It will be time well spent if you want to increase your shooting speed while maintaining your accuracy.

Gary Evens is an NRA-Certified Instructor and Range Safety Officer.

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