Handgun Shooting Tips for Hunters

Handgun Shooting Tips for Hunters
Bass Pro Shops shooting instructor Heath King says the basic elements of accurate shooting with a pistol are exactly the same as they are with a rifle. Photo by Ken Freel.

Firearms instructor Heath King of Bass Pro Shops' main store in Springfield isn't the kind of person who thinks outside the box. Or inside it, for that matter. He's more inclined to think "inside the circle," especially when it comes to target practice and hitting the bull's-eye consistently.

However, when it comes to convincing everyday hunters how target shooting can actually improve their chances in the field or deep in the woods, he is an outside-the-box kind of teacher. After all, how can target practice with a pistol help a rifle or shotgun hunter be a better shot?

"Think of a pistol as a miniature rifle or shotgun," King says. "All of the things you need to do with a pistol, such as trigger pull, proper breathing, proper stance and sighting in on the target, are just the same."

And then there's the convenience factor. There are more pistol ranges than rifle/shotgun ranges -- and the cost of shooting, say, a .22-caliber pistol is a huge savings over using larger ammo, which most sportsmen can appreciate these days. Yet the benefits of shooting more frequently will become crystal clear when the actual hunting season rolls around.

Another of the many reasons for punching paper is simply the repetition of target practice. Practice is something most sportsmen don't get enough of -- out in the deer woods or on their favorite upland hunt. And an actual hunt is not the time to think about improving your shooting skills. You're more likely to miss a once-in-a-lifetime shot, or at least do poorly on shots you should be making.

It's often said that practice makes perfect, But that means repetition to the point where you're not even thinking about your actual shooting as much. There are three important aspects of all shooting that come into play when it comes to building accuracy. They are your stance, smooth trigger pull, and practice.

Let's take a look at each of the vital shooting skills that need to become second nature if you are to become a spot-on kind of shooter.


There are so many things about proper stance that make it important to shooting. As in baseball, where an incorrect or just-off batting stance can make the difference in hitting the ball or striking out -- the same applies to shooters. The purpose of your stance is to provide you with the best possible balance, which allows your hand-to-eye coordination to be in perfect synch. Conversely, if your balance is off -- sometimes just a little -- that can be the difference between downing a deer and missing it completely.

According to Heath King, a modified Weaver stance best fits most shooting situations. Basically, the proper stance for right-handed shooters is to keep the left foot (or weak leg) in front of your right (or dominant leg) with your dominant leg's toe pointed directly toward the target. Lean forward and bend your weak knee. Veteran shooters do it without thinking, but it helps to know you're doing the basics correctly.


Everyone knows that a smooth trigger pull is important -- no jerking or twitching of the finger. But just as important is that you don't anticipate the gun's recoil, either. Instructor King says it should be a surprise when the gun goes off -- but a surprise that doesn't scare you.

A big part of a smooth trigger pull includes breathing in a relaxed mode -- called "breathing down" in some circles. You should breathe in slightly less air in each of a specific number of breaths. Some sportsmen simply will breathe more lightly, even holding their breath briefly to keep perfectly still. Breathing down can lower your blood pressure and heart rate, which allows your body to remain as still as possible when taking a shot.


Sight posture is another part of practice, practice, practice, says King. Sight posture is lining up the front sight with the back sight. When everything is lined up properly, the back and front sights should be flush across the top and even on both sides.

"Target practice can improve your hunting skills. In hunting, your adrenaline is running high when sighting in on an animal. Your heart rate is rising fast. You wouldn't be hunting unless you got excited about doing it. That's when training and the subconscious take over!" says King.

Yes, hunting presents many more challenges and differing situations than a stationary paper target -- like sitting in a stand for hours or trying to hit fast-moving birds from many different angles -- yet, punching paper at your favorite range with a pistol can make so many of the essential parts of shooting become second nature. And that's when you'll start to shoot your best!

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