Book Review – Basics of Pistol Shooting Pt 3 (NRA, 2020)

The National Rifle Association recently released a major update to the Basics of Pistol Shooting book. This is part 3 of a multi-part review of the book. (Part 1 of the review is here, and part 2 is here.) Most of the book is excellent, with significantly better graphics and content than previous editions. However, because so many instructors and students will be using this book, I think it’s worthwhile to point out some of the flaws.

On page 103, this example of proper benchrest position is fundamentally wrong. Bracing the hands on sandbags does not eliminate the muzzle dipping or moving as the trigger is pressed.

The right way to benchrest a pistol, particularly when zeroing or making sight adjustments, looks like this:

correct use of a rest for zeroing a pistol

Bracing the frame under the muzzle provides the steadiest platform for shooting, and minimizes the most common shooting errors.

This photo, showing a pistol with a red dot sight mounted, is also the wrong thing to be showing beginners.

red dot pistol with pretend iron sights

What this picture shows is a pistol with a slide set up to accept a red dot sight, but still using the factory sights, instead of iron sights tall enough to co-witness. The use of red dot sights on pistols is becoming much more common – thus the importance of showing a gun properly configured. A beginner looking at this picture would easily get the wrong impression that co-witnessed iron sights are not necessary. (National level trainers specializing in red dot pistol classes recommend the co-witnessed irons, and most factory guns sold with a red dot come with tall sights as a standard option, except for Glock, who ship the gun with their standard sights, as shown in the picture.)

For decades the NRA’s basic pistol program encouraged students in the class to make adjustments to their iron sights, which makes sense if the class is being taught to Boy Scouts using target .22s with adjustable sights, and they are shooting from benchrest. But in the modern era, the typical student is a concealed carry permit applicant shooting a gun with fixed sights. The new book does an excellent job of explaining the differences in point of impact between heavy/slow and light/fast bullets, encouraging shooters to try different ammunition first before making sight adjustments, and it discusses both drifting sights left and right and replacing front sights as the correct method to getting a perfect iron sight zero.

In a section on common pistol shooting errors (a section presented in much more detail than previous editions), this graphic is shown.

This graphic is almost great. Problem #1 is color. The target is black. The rear sight is black. The target center is orange. The front sight is orange. This makes seeing the fine details of what is being presented very difficult. Problem #2 is scaling. If you’ve shot drills using the NRA B8 bullseye target, you probably noticed that the graphic doesn’t look like what you see when you aim. The sights are too small, the bullet holes are too small, even for a .22. The concept for the graphic is a good one, but a beginner reading the book may not understand what is shown.

In Chapter 17, “Selecting Pistols, Ammunition and Accessories”, gun fit is discussed in more detail, including definition of trigger reach…without showing frame-dragging or warning beginners that they should not twist the gun in their grip, out of alignment with their hand or arm, to reach the trigger in the first place. Twisting the gun so that it recoils over the firing hand thumb knuckle (instead of the web of the hand), and laying the trigger finger against the frame are the two most common problems instructors will have to deal with and two critical issues novices should understand when selecting a pistol. A few more pictures would have dramatically improved this important section.

On page 147, under the caption “Function Check your Firearm”, this picture is shown, which doesn’t show dry firing or any other action related to function checking.

The Zen of function checking

In Chapter 19, “Pistol Shooting Activities and Skill Development”, USPSA and IDPA are mentioned in an official NRA book for the first time, along with Cowboy Action Shooting, and the NRA sanctioned matches (Action Pistol, Police Practical Competition and bullseye), but Steel Challenge and it’s junior-friendly offshoot, Scholastic Action Shooting, aren’t mentioned at all, despite both being more beginner friendly than any of the NRA match formats.

The review will conclude with part 4, where I dive into the section on holster selection and use.