New to Handguns? Our 10 Beginner Tips when Learning to Shoot a Gun

Beginner Tips when Learning to Shoot

When first starting out with any new interest, the amount of information out there on the web about it can be overwhelming, and if you poke around a bit it can be very eye opening to how vast and deep an interest can be.  More than likely you learned in your search that what you initially thought was one topic is actually further divided into many, many categories.  Firearms are no different, in fact, you could consider yourself an enthusiast and not even touch entire segments of firearm knowledge and shooting.  

While Olympic shooting sports, high speed competitions, or Cowboy Action Shooting might fall under the firearms umbrella most people starting out are looking for a way to feel safe and defend themselves should they need to.  Progressing into specific sports usually comes at a later time when a person feels comfortable with the skills needed for the activity.  For this article we will go over tips and advice for a new shooter who is looking to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.  After all, the best place to start any journey is the beginning.

The start of your journey into firearms likely begins with a reason behind your interest which will shape the choices you make not only in gear but in training and on the range.  Let’s take a look at four categories a typical new shooter should take into consideration as they start their gun craft. 

Safety

The most important thing to know when starting out with firearms is that safety is paramount.  It supersedes all other things, and is the number one priority at all times.  The high safety expectation in gun culture is present at every level and is something that should always be top of mind and treated with respect.  

Remember, you never get too good or too knowledgeable for safety.  It is not cool to be unsafe, having a devil may care attitude will get you banned from ranges and classes and will ensure you do not make any gun friends.  

The stakes are too high to be negligent, which is why Col. Jeff Cooper gave us the Universal Firearms Safety Rules along with several other important concepts we still use today.  Col. Cooper took all the rules from manufacturer and training manuals and distilled them down to 4 simple rules that when followed will keep the user and those around them safe.

The Universal Firearms Safety Rules have been rephrased over the years and many trainers add a fifth one but they all follow the same message.

  1. Treat all guns as if they are always loaded. 
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on target.
  4. Always be sure of your target and what’s around it.
  5. Maintain control of your firearm at all times.

Following these rules will keep you and everyone around you safe.  The rules layer together so that if one is broken, while not a good thing at all, the consequences may be less severe.  However, if you violate two or more rules at a time the consequences can be grave. 

There are also range rules, these are not the firearms safety rules, but the rules set specifically by that range and/or instructor.  These may be different from place to place but will always be available, typically posted at the range as well as online.  

Follow the universal rules, range rules and instructor rules.  Ask if you have questions and do your best to be conscious of your firearm at all times.  Take these rules seriously and they will quickly become second nature.

Gun Choice 

What gun to choose is likely the first thing that popped into your mind when you decided you wanted to take a bigger interest in firearms and then choice paralysis kicked in as soon as you saw all the options.  Not to worry, that happens to everyone.  While picking a firearm is a personal choice, there are a few things everyone should consider in their selection.

What is the gun going to be used for?

The first consideration is, what is the gun going to be used for?  Most people will answer with some sort of self defense and that quickly leads us to concealed carry.  Concealed carry is a great goal to have, it takes training and the right gear to get there but is absolutely reasonable as the driving force behind getting into firearms.  This however, leads us to the following pitfall many new shooters run into.

Gun Size

Choosing the right gun for you

New shooters with the intent to carry often pick a small, subcompact pistol which makes sense from a concealability stand point. However not so much from a skills standpoint.  Most people will have a much easier and more enjoyable time shooting a compact or full size pistol. 

That means the next consideration is size.  Think about it this way, do you want a brand new 16 year old drive in a big, boxy suburban or do you want to put them in a little two seater stick shift built for speed?  Pistols are the same way, learning to shoot on a full or compact is going to be much easier.  The longer barrel and sight radius, less snappy recoil and overall weight and size are helpful to a new shooter.  Get your fundamentals down and then consider that small, snappy micro pistol.  For what it’s worth many people want more round capacity and conceal compacts just fine, even full size aren’t impossible.  So be wary of going too small on the first gun you start training with.

Irons or Optics

Another consideration comes up as you start looking at guns and notice there is a lot about optics and if the gun’s slide is compatible with one or not.  As a new shooter it is recommended to start on iron sights, so if you think you may want to use a red dot in the future purchase a compatible gun but wait to mount an optic.  

If you learn on irons you will set yourself up to use any firearm at any time, it will help with proper fundamentals and overall understanding.  It is much harder to go backwards from a dot to irons and people may not realize it but red dots have a large learning curve. They require a shooter to not only know more information but to then apply that information on the fly, for instance adjusting your point of aim to account for the red dot.

Tips for choosing the Best Sights for your Gun

Take it for a Test Shoot

As you can see, gun choice has some consideration other than looks to evaluate, but the best thing you can do to help narrow your options is to rent them for a test shoot.  Find a local range that has your top choices and rent them out one after the next in the same session.  Often the employees are happy to help you in this and can be a nice sounding board as you try each.  

During the test shoot take notes and rate them in different categories, give yourself a scale on the features that are most important to you.  You may be surprised that what you thought was a good fit and what felt like a good fit are entirely different.  I don’t know about you but I would rather find out I hate that micro pistol kicking my hand like a mule before dropping several hundred bucks then on my first day at the range and being put off shooting for a good while.  

My philosophy is always say yes when someone asks if you want to shoot their gun, you just might fall in love.  That’s how I found my favorite pistol to date.

Of course you can always look around on the internet and watch videos to help narrow down.  There are some great resources out there like the NRA Women Ladies Pistol Project, Gun-Tests, Gun University, and Handgun Hero but youtube has no shortage either.


Drills

Penny Drill

Once you have a firearm you may be unsure what to do when you get to the range and end up just firing with quantity over quality.  While you do need to shoot your gun a lot to get familiar with it there should be some method to the madness. Taking a class or several to get started is highly recommended but we will go into more detail on that below.  To get started hands on with your gun there are a few things a new shooter would want to know.


Trust the Process

One of the best pieces of advice you can take to heart is that this takes time, it really is about the process.  Don’t worry about what the target looks like, instead focus on being safe and applying the fundamentals.  They are fundamentals for a reason, if you can do each of them reasonably well the process will deliver the results you are looking for on target.  

One of the easiest drills you can do is to put up a paper plate and talk yourself slowly through each step and apply the fundamentals. If you are putting all rounds on the plate then you are ahead of the curve and on track with fundamentals.  The goal is to apply a slow, even trigger press without disturbing the sights.

The same process as above can be applied to other skills like drawing from holster.  When learning it is helpful to talk yourself through the process and as you get better speed up, stop saying active cues in your mind and let it happen.  

Dry Fire

One of the best ways to get familiar with your firearm is dry fire.  Dry firing is simply doing everything you would normally do but without any live ammo.  Technology has enhanced this practice with laser cartridges, laser training systems, blow back systems, shooter behavior analysis, training cards, and more.  All of these can speed up the learning curve and allow you to practice in a fun, creative way at your convenience while still improving.  Almost any skill you learn on range can be practiced dry fire, doing so will allow you to engrain that skill and keep it in your toolbox.  The lack of bang in dry fire is essential, it allows our bodies to calm down and concentrate on applying the fundamentals well.

Learn Your Trigger

Choosing the right Trigger

One dry drill to try starting out with an empty gun, pointed in a safe direction, look at your gun and watch the trigger as you press it back.  Press so slowly you can observe the resistance on the trigger and how it changes until the shot breaks.  Watching yourself do this will help your brain to understand when the gun is actually going to fire not guessing based on feel.  It helps reality and our expectations match and shows a new shooter what it is like to slowly press a trigger rather than slap or jerk it.  After you know what to feel for try placing a penny on your front sight then dry fire with the goal for the penny not to fall.  Once at the range, don’t watch the trigger but see if you can recreate the same feel to understand your trigger.

Manipulations

Not everyone thinks of practicing firearm manipulations but it is often helpful to put in the effort to engrain these quickly so they don’t become the focus of a class where you should be learning to shoot.  With an empty firearm pointed in a safe direction, practice locking the slide back and releasing it, remove and replace the magazine, if you have a safety practice switching it on and off, and understand how any buttons/levers on your gun work.  You should be able to manipulate your firearm without looking at it or having to think about it, this can be done purely through reps. 

Training and Classes   

Training Field Notes

If you have not taken a class you should, at least one a year.  Firearms is not a science, it is a craft and that means there are a lot of formulas out there to get you where you want to go, but first you need an open mind and some education.  

As you train you will hear lots of the same, and some different, the trick is to distill down to the parts that you need and work for you.  We are all built and learn differently and that can lead to some preferences in our techniques so don’t throw out all instructors just cause you didn’t like one, give several a try.

When you pick classes to attend, make sure they are at an appropriate level and congruent with your goals.  Starting out with classes or private lessons can help set you up for success and reduce a lot of frustration new shooters have.  It takes time to learn and engrain a skill but having a qualified instructor lead you through all the nuances gives you the ideal techniques to aim for and avoids some of the common rabbit holes self taught shooters go down.  One of the most common culprits here is not learning to use the trigger reset, and having to retrain entirely.  

Don’t think you have to take as many classes as you can though, they can be expensive and time consuming, instead get the most from every class.  Take notes as you go, jot down key points, draw diagrams, video the instructor, anything that can help you remember will be helpful.  

Mentally review the class progress at the end of the day, re-read your notes each day for a few days after the class and exchange notes with classmates.  This gives you the opportunity to learn the material multiple times through multiple avenues and can help that foundation of skill you made during the class dry and cure into a solid, reliable skill.  

Lastly, if your goal is to conceal carry, find out what your state requirements are and where you can take a class.  Knowing the law in your state is part of being a responsible firearms owner.


Conclusion

We only just scratched the surface of what to consider for new shooters but you are now armed with some advice and drills to help you get where you want to go.  Firearms are a never ending journey and you will likely buy the wrong gear or take lackluster classes a few times, everyone does, just don’t let it deter you.

At the end of the day, this is a personal choice and while you can heed all the advice you want from novices to pros you ultimately have to go through it to have a firm opinion.  If you have an insatiable curiosity about firearms, making these choices and putting in the effort to reach your goals will be easy.




Kayla House
Kayla House

Author