It happens to every shooter, whether competitive, tactical or hunter. You hit a slump and start missing targets you know you should have hit. Perhaps you are relatively new to shooting and are still developing your skills but have hit a plateau. Or maybe you are attempting to broaden your skill base with ambitions of being the next winner of "Top Shot." The good news is that there is always hope for improvement. The bad news is that there really aren't any shortcuts. It takes ammo-lots of ammo-sent downrange, under discipline, to make a superior shooter. Here are five simple sure-fire ways to improve your shooting.
1. Slow Down
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.
2. Dry Fire
Dry firing can be done at home. First and foremost, you must make absolutely sure that there is no ammunition in the firearm before engaging in dry-fire practice. Many instructors insist that all ammunition be removed from the room where the practice is conducted-not a bad idea. You can put up a dummy target on a wall across the room or pick something small-a light switch, for example-as an aiming point. Make every "shot" count. There is no recoil or noise to contend with, so your focus should, again, be on the basics.
Some caveats: Let the rest of your family or roommates know that you are dry-fire practicing in the room you choose. That way they won't come barging in and possibly find a gun pointed at them. In addition, you might want to consider pulling the shades on the windows, lest an excitable neighbor spot you, get nervous and call the police. Finally, resist the temptation to practice your fast draw in front of a mirror. Eventually you'll want to try it just one more time after you have loaded the gun for carry, and the results will be...less than pleasant.
3. Get Off the Bench
If you carry shooting sticks, by all means spend some time using them at various heights on the range. Learn to deploy them quickly so that when the time comes to use them on a nervous buck, you are able to concentrate on shooting instead of figuring out how to set them up.
Practice from all the field positions: prone, sitting, kneeling, squatting and off-hand. Whether rifle or handgun, determine your maximum effective range from a given position. Be brutally honest in your evaluation. That knowledge is extremely valuable when making a shoot/don't shoot decision.
4. Vary Your Training Routine
Generally, I break practice sessions into three different stages: basic shooting skills, skills that I have learned fairly well and those skills that are difficult, new or very advanced. The basics take up about 20 percent of the practice session. Its purpose is to reinforce basic skills and provide a confidence base. Roughly 60 percent of the session is dedicated to honing and maintaining the overall base of shooting skills. Then I finish up with practicing advanced or new skills that are more difficult.
Within that framework, however, I vary the exercises so that they do not become boring. Sometimes I'll shoot paper; other times I'll shoot reactive targets. One of the best assets you can have is a shooting partner. He or she can provide variety in training scenarios as well as some inherent competition.
5. Know When to Shut it Down
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.
I wish I could tell you to take a pill, buy a gadget or sing "Kumbaya," and your shooting performance will improve, but it's just not possible. But if you try any or all of these tips and practice with due diligence, I can guarantee that you will see improvement.