The pie chart “shooting correction” target has been around as long as I’ve been shooting. It’s widely shared and is used as basis for guidance in some dry fire apps. It’s also widely derided by high skill level shooters and trainers, with this variant on the pie chart being a frequently shared meme:
Karen Ziegler of Red’s Indoor Range in Austin recently gave me a print copy of the 1971 U.S. Army Pistol Marksmanship Guide, which I have scanned and will share for download in the very near future. A more recent edition of that book is available as a download from archive.org.
Stuck within the pages of her copy of the 1971 edition was a worn copy of a reprint of an article from the May 1962 issue of the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine, titled Pistol Targets “Talk”, written by T/SGT Edmund Abel, of the U.S. Air Force. My research shows that the article was offered as an official reprint from NRA for many years. During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, bullseye shooting was the second most popular pistol sport. Fast draw was more popular, but the NRA refused to sanction or even acknowledge any non-law enforcement pistol sport (or training class) in which pistols were drawn from a holster at any speed until after 2000. The author assumes that the shots are being fired one handed in the classic bullseye competition style. Modern practical pistol sports did not exist in 1962, and pistol sports had very few women participants, so consider the article in the context of the era in which it was written. Based on the article’s content, with the 8 different errors linked to sections of a bullseye target, if this article wasn’t the original influence for the pie chart, it certainly reflects “conventional wisdom” of that era regarding that topic.
Pistol Targets ‘Talk’ (original article text)
Most pistol shooters have experienced a misplaced shot that has utterly defied explanation.
Since the pistol shooting brotherhood is composed of reasonably intelligent individuals, they tend to consider that misplaced shot on the target has its logical explanation.
Vast strides have been taken in the last decade to improve target pistols to the quality demanded by serious shooters. Ammunition manufacturers have been working successfully to give pistoleers the close-grouping ammunition they require. An experienced pistol shooter’s first response after spotting a flyer should be question his own performance, not that of his equipment — which generally can out-perform the shooter.
Targets can “talk” and tell quite a bit about a shooter’s personal performance if one will take the time to study them. This process is referred to as target analysis.
It is assumed that correct zeroing of the pistol has been accomplished and that correct sight alignment and sight picture were obtained at the time the trigger was squeezed. The possibility of wind or light deflections as well as faulty ammunition and equipment must be excluded.
The targets show depict the 8 most common errors that plague pistol shooters. They are for a right handed shooter, but by reversing the areas from left to right they will show the errors encountered by a southpaw.
A shooter will sometimes not believe he made an error because he thought his front sight remained where it was supposed to be when the bullet left the barrel. He should realize that many of these errors will not be noticed from the working end of the weapon. The reason is quite simple: the recoil covered up the error at the last moment. But it is there.
If a shooter is having difficulty convincing himself that he is making any specific error, he can perform an exercise that will make him a believer. In the military it is called “ball and dummy” firing. In performing this exercise, the shooter is assisted by a coach or an observer. The coach does all the loading of the weapon. Sometimes he may put a live round in the chamber or he may load a dummy or a fired case, the shooter not knowing whether the weapon is loaded or not. Watch what happens when he thinks it’s loaded and the hammer falls on an empty round. Now the shooter will be able to see the error because there is no recoil to hide it.
Once a shooter realizes he is not infallible and accepts the story that his target has to tell, he can then concentrate on his error(s) and will be on the road to better scores.
My Thoughts (Karl)
I spend a lot of my time on the range working with students looking closely at their hands, watching as they manipulate the trigger as they shoot. It’s rare that a student having difficulty shooting accurately produces a target that looks like any of the targets shown in this article, except for perhaps the last one. This is because they are either making multiple errors, or are inconsistent in their technique.
The common factor in all these errors is that fingers other than the trigger finger are moving as the shot is being fired. Often this relates to the shooter trying to add extra grip pressure during the trigger press, and/or sympathetic movement of other fingers of the firing hand occurring when the trigger finger moves.
The author comments that recoil can hide observation of gun movement. Recoil actually occurs after the bullet leaves the barrel. What hides the observation is blinking, either a natural blink or a blink in reaction or anticipation of the shot. The typical eye blink is 100-150 ms (milliseconds). The time a bullet is traveling down the barrel of a 4″-6″ barrel pistol, depending on velocity, is roughly 0.25-0.50 ms.
Shooters that dry fire a lot can develop a problem where they press the trigger properly in dry fire, but still make shooting errors in live fire. Ball & dummy or live/empty practice is a great way to solve these problems. I prefer the Rogers Shooting School approach of “known dummy” training vs the surprise dummy approach the author describes. By loading a magazine alternating live and dummy, and firing two shot drills (bang, click), the shooter can learn to react to recoil and fire a follow up shot with the proper sight picture and trigger press, as opposed to the “aim once, shoot twice” approach popular with many beginner USPSA/IDPA competitors that shoot A/D, A/M or 0/+3 pairs on targets.
A variation on this technique that doesn’t require dummy rounds (and avoids the hassle of manually ejecting and chasing down dummy rounds) is simply insert a magazine, rack the slide, then eject the magazine, and shoot a 2 shot drill, with the second dry fired with an empty chamber. Always load the live rounds into the gun racking the slide with a magazine inserted. Loading a live round into the chamber by dropping it into the barrel with the slide locked, and then closing the slide, can damage the extractor as it smashes into the rim when the slide goes forward.
With the modern two handed high thumb grip, there’s ample opportunity for one or both thumbs to push against the slide. This can result in malfunctions if the thumbs are pressing in against the slide as it cycles. In my experience that error is more common than the gun moving right.
With two handed shooters I rarely see this problem occur.
Breaking the Wrist
A term more commonly used today is “pre ignition push”, which means pulling the whole gun down trying to negate recoil. As the author observes, letting go or relaxing the grip during recoil can be another factor. Relaxing as soon as the shot breaks is a bad habit that recreational shooters and those restricted from firing at realistic defensive speeds (faster than one shot per second) by range rules can develop. It also relates to the “tactical gopher” syndrome, where the shooter immediately relaxes their grip, lowers the gun and looks at the target as quickly as possible, after the shot was fired, to assess where the shot went. (Often this problem includes leaving finger on trigger when the gun is lowered, as the shooter has stopped paying attention to the gun in his or her hand.)
Riding the Recoil
Another variation of pre-ignition push. Shooters that do “one shot” practice can get in to the bad habit of getting off the trigger like it’s on fire, even before the gun is out of recoil, in a race to get the finger back in register (touching the frame above the trigger guard). While this is a safe way to shoot, this habit becomes a problem when the drill is to fire multiple shots without mentally or physically quitting until the entire string is fired. A shot fired with proper followthrough should end with the shooter ready to fire another shot, with sights on target and finger on trigger, until the decision to fire again or return to the finger-off-trigger ready position is made.
Too Much Trigger Finger
The author’s comments about problems using the second or third section of the finger are valid, but less relevant in our current era of wide-body, double stack pistols than they were in the 1911 and single stack target .22 days of the early 1960’s. The problem I see more often is frame dragging, which is the shooter laying the entire trigger finger against the frame, often associated with poor gun fit (gun grip too big for the shooter, or trigger reach too long, or both). It’s a byproduct of people being told to evaluate a gun based on whether it “feels good in your hand”, which is a meaningless standard, and being more concerned with gun capacity than gun fit, even though gun fit plays a significant role in shooting skill.
Frame dragging problems are exacerbated by shooters that mistakenly believe that their firing hand grip should grip harder than the support hand grip, so the support hand grip does little to deter the gun from moving left as trigger finger movement twists it to the left. The vast majority of shooters fail to grip the gun hard enough with their support hand, which should be using 100% of its available grip strength for every shot, not relaxing in any way between shots.
That problem is shown in the picture below.
The photo above shows better trigger finger placement, with no contact of the second section of the trigger finger with the frame.
This is a very common problem. Gripping the pistol with full grip pressure in the support hand, and strong but not maximal pressure in the firing hand is fatiguing, and there is a tendency, particularly with shooters firing at a slow pace, to relax the grip and re-tighten as the trigger press for the next shot resumes. The best universal correction approach I can offer is to use a SIRT pistol or dry fire magazine or a pistol capable of dead trigger dry fire (full range of trigger motion if the gun is uncocked), having the shooter run the trigger as fast as they can while watching the sight movement. At that maximum pace there is no time to relax and regrip between shots. Once they have the concept of consistent grip, slowing the pace down to strive for a standard such as 5 shots, 5 seconds, 5″ at 5 yards rather than one shot exercises can be useful.
99% of the time it’s not the speed that the trigger is manipulated that is the issue; it’s the movement of all the other fingers during that spastic trigger press. Often the quick punch of the trigger is combined with the incorrect idea that when the sights are in the right location for a fraction of an instant, the shooter’s job is to snatch the trigger as quickly as possible. The wrong but commonly used phrases related to smooth and slow and fast are often given as advice to shooters with this problem, and they don’t help. “Slowing down” often ends up being taking more time between shots aiming more carefully, but still snatching the trigger at the last second producing bad hits even slower than before.
Similarly, doing the wrong or inefficient technique smoothly may never lead to peak performance.
There is no substitute for the dry and live/dry combined practice necessary to learn how to press the trigger, at any speed, without moving the gun out of alignment. Slowing down and being smooth can make producing the right outcome easier, or make it easier for the shooter to pay more attention to what is happening to correct errors, but slow and smooth by itself, without correct technique, isn’t a solution. Slow and smooth may never lead to fast and accurate if errors creep back in as speed increases. In general, that statement applies to all the shooting errors in the author’s original article and to all the advice from the pie chart.