Being a good marksman, just like riding a bike, requires great amounts of muscle memory. When shooting a competition stage and your gun jams, you need to rack tap bang your firearm on instinct. If you’re attacked, you need to draw and accurately fire faster than your mind can walk through each step of drawing from concealment. Hell, simply aiming and making a smooth trigger pull requires performing a number of specific actions so as to not flinch, jerk, or anticipate. All of that requires impeccable muscle memory.
In order to develop muscle memory, you need to practice. Training can help you build excellent muscle memory, or perfect bad habits.
Learn from Experts
Step one in avoiding building bad habits is to know what shooting technique is good and which is bad. Shooting sports and self defense techniques are constantly evolving, but the core principles always stay the same. Find a good instructor and hammer these habits into your head. There are many good technique videos and articles available online for free, as well as many good instructional videos available for purchase, and just as many instructors ready to teach in person. Find one of each with a good reputation and learn learn learn. Then do it again with someone else and don’t stop learning. You’ll always be able to learn new tricks and help reinforce the base technique with each video, article, and class.
Don’t Mindlessly Shoot at Paper
Many, if not most, shooters simply go to the range, aim at the center, and pull the trigger until they run out of ammo. While better than nothing, that is not training, that’s just shooting paper. True training involves focusing on specific drills and making efforts to diagnose your incorrect shooting. True training takes a concerted effort.
When starting to train, focus on core techniques and don’t move on until they are second nature. You can’t reliably make a 1,000 yard shot if you don’t have a smooth trigger pull, no matter how pricy your rifle setup is. You can’t blitz an IDPA stage and get all hits in the A Zone if you don’t know how to take a good sight picture. These core skills aren’t as flashy as showing off a sub one second draw time on Instagram if you can’t hit anything because you can’t properly aim or smoothly pull the trigger. So focus on the core skills and start slow.
Remember, slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Even if you do perfect a smooth trigger pull, learn each new piece of technique slowly and one step at a time. Rushing your draw time faster than you’re capable of is how you build bad habits or even shoot yourself. I cannot stress this enough, learn each new technique one step at a time and do it slowly. There is no rush. You can’t become a ranked shooter overnight and you can’t do it with bad habits.
Be deliberate when learning each and every new step. Don’t just mindlessly draw your handgun over and over or pull the trigger over and over. Focus on what you’re doing. Slowly draw than handgun and think about every part of your body – where it’s at and what it’s doing. You might have an arm cocked in a funky position without realizing it, or you might be leaning too far back or too far forward.
Filming yourself isn’t (always) an ego trip. Film yourself training at home and have someone film you at the range. Watch your videos over and over – don’t watch the targets, watch you. Slow down the video and analyze each movement you’re doing. Watch for unnecessary movements, bad form, and safety violations. This is how you can identify bad technique before it becomes a bad habit. Bad techniques are a lot easier to fix than bad habits.
First time I brought a camera to the range I couldn’t help feeling like a douche. But after time, I don’t give it a second thought. Watching your own videos is one of the greatest tools for self diagnosing.
Shoot with a Partner
Finally, don’t only self diagnose. Sometimes you can’t spot your own bad habits even on review. Have skilled shooters watch you and provide constructive criticism – don’t take it personal, everyone’s gotta learn one step at a time. If you have a significant other that likes to shoot, awesome, spend time watching each other and providing feedback. If you have some friends who shoot well, bring on the constructive criticism. If you don’t have either of those, find some shooting friends and/or go to a class and have an instructor critique your technique. Always seek out new people to provide feedback on your skills. Even champions make mistakes and are always learning.
Go to a Shooting Competition
Just do it, no matter your skill level. It will be a very enjoyable and very educational afternoon. Seriously, even if you’re a novice shooter – you will learn more in that afternoon than two days at a static range. Everything changes as soon as that buzzer goes off. You’ll learn so much about what skills you’re strong and weak in, and fellow shooters will be happy to give you tips. Not to mention all that you’ll learn from watching more experienced shooters. We love having new shooters join us at our local competitions – we were all there once.
The only day wasted at the range is the day you don’t learn anything.