Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Basic Shooter Instruction

JayG has asked for input on teaching new shooters. Rather then try to fit this as a comment over at his place, here's my answer:

For brand new shooters, or those who haven't shot in years, I try to go as informal as possible. My goal is to take them out for a safe and fun day. Unless asked, I avoid getting into the hows and whys of self defense shooting, or great depth on any particular portion of the fundamentals. The one exception is safety.

We go over the four rules several times: first when they approach me about going shooting, then in the car on the way to the range (I like to have the student ride with me so we can talk more about what they want to get out of the day, and what their concerns are), finally we go over each of the four rules as the guns come out. This means having them identify the safe direction(s) at the range (floor good, ceiling bad, sky worse), talking about how we specifically manipulate firearms when they are loaded (remember they always are), and how its safe to walk down range of the empty but still 'loaded' guns, so long as they are left alone on the table. Rule four we talk about while walking down range to see the target hangers and set up anything not left out on the range. Finger off the trigger will be a constant discussion with most new shooters, who while very conscious of muzzle direction will often lapse on trigger finger discipline.

From my safety perspective muzzle control, control of other shooters on the range, and the student's trigger finger are the biggest issues. In that order. You never know what the Fud three bays over will do, even at a private range, and I have taken guns from other club members (and nearly drew down on another) because they were waiving guns at or near my students. This makes an impression, and not often a good one. Also be ready to pre-emptivly correct other shooters near you, and explain why to your students.

A side note: I always carry concealed while teaching, and while I will some times (in a discussion of self defense with firearms) reveal my primary carry, the BUG always remains concealed.

Back to intro to shooting: You and your new shooter are at the range, time to set up targets, and unpack guns. I like to do it in that order. Reactive targets are key. Some paper is okay, especially for the first few shots, and defiantly have them shoot up a couple good targets to take with them, but most of the time steel or clay pigeons are the most popular. The instant feed back, and just plain fun, of dinging steel or breaking a clay(even a stationary one on the back stop) turns most people on allot more then punching perfect holes in paper.

Once the targets are up, the guns and ammo come out of the car. I'll break with Xavier on this one: I bring lots of guns for the new shooter. We start with .22lr, and move up from there. Assuming sufficient range time I'm happy to have a new shooter try every gun in my collection, at least for a few rounds.

This does two things: first it keeps the excitement level up and second it puts some perspective on the different guns. They have doubtless heard and seen plenty of things on TV or other media that just aren't true. Having them try out a shotgun and see how narrow the patern is can be a great eyeopener, and makes them wonder what other things they 'know' are wrong. That leads to some great discusions, and puts it on their terms, rather then our rant on a topid dejour. The one down side is they may never get as good a group as they would have shooting .22 all day, but they do get a wider exposure.

This sets them up for trip two: where they know which guns they liked, and can shoot them in more depth and learn in greater detail about them. Greater then half of the range trips for 'new' shooters I've run have had at least one person returning from a previous one, often with a friend in tow who is brand new.

As for the actual skills taught:
Dominant eye.
Grip (Two handed)
Stance (modified weaver or isosceles, as comfortable to the student)
Sight alignment.
Trigger squeeze.
Breath Control.
Basic operation of each firearm.

I'll spend no more then 5 minutes talking about all of those, before getting the student blasting away with a .22 pistol or revolver. Then we focus on sight alignment, trigger squeeze and breath control (usually in that order) to tighten up their groups.

If the sight alignment is inconsistent there is no group, its a scatter pattern.
If the trigger squeeze is bad the group will be offset, usually down from jerking, or to the left from too much trigger finger.
Lack of breath control is least obvious, but likely smears the shots in a vertical line on the target. I honestly don't worry about this one too much.

Finally: your students will put groups in odd places on the target, especially those with corrective lenses (and if you wear corrective lenses even those with out). This is a parallax issue and is fine: explain that if it were their gun they could just adjust the sights and 'walk' that group right into the bulls eye. I try to avoid adjusting sights for students, but have on occasion. This is also a good chance to teach Kentucky windage.

As for safety gear: I try to get students to bring their own eye protection (usually in the form of their own sunglasses) but I do have several sets in my range bag, and I try to shoot outdoors the lessen the noise. However I do provide both foam ear plugs (home depot has the best ones) and muffs for students, I also encourage them to use both of they are concerned about the noise.

Final thoughts:
The goal is to have a safe trip and make some noise. NOT to convert some one to the path of being a Gun Nut. Plenty of them will jump at the chance to become a Gun Nut, and ask all sorts of questions and demand to be shown the way. However it has to be at their pace, and this is not the time for a rant on MA gun laws, or other politics.

The amount of shooting skill required to have fun is not very high, so I don't let perfect marksmanship get in the way of fun. Latter lessons, or a more formal class, will be there to teach that stuff and get them hitting at 50ft with a pistol. Get them on the target and watch the fun.

The only thing to do different for ladies is make sure they wear a shirt with a high neckline. In my experience they don't want different treatment, and are often better shots and less recoil sensitive then the guys. More ladies then men have wanted to try the 3" mag 12 gauge shells, and several ladies have shot up all that I brought, after their husband/boyfriend declared the round too powerful.

To contradict myself: always make sure the lady or girl gets to shoot the AR-15. The combination on noise, looks, and light recoil has left many a husband leaving the range cursing my name, knowing that the next gun bought will be an AR, for his wife.

Take a couple shots yourself. I try to get in at least one mag or cylinder very trip. This makes it more fun, and avoids the trap of being at the range all the time, and never shooting.

If you are in MA: make sure your students check their clothing for spend casings, this includes shoe treds and pants cuffs. The possession of which is a crime unless they have an LTC or FID (ammunition components). Have them wash hands and face after shooting, before leaving the range. I also council them to wash again before eating, just to be sure.

I'd appreciate any feed back or insults on this one.



doubletrouble said...

Good post AE.

I think you've covered all the bases, & it appears you've put some thought into letting the student enjoy his/herself a bit whilst still getting the learnin' part through.

A good model, methinks, for training.

zeeke42 said...

Good post. Sorry my comment is so delayed, my RSS reader doesn't like your blog for some reason.

I agree with bringing a wide variety of guns for the newbies to try. My newbie trips still involve every gun I own.

Aside: I think that's one way to draw the line of when one becomes a gun nut. Once you own enough guns that bringing all of them to the range is not only inconvenient, but impossible with one vehicle, you're a gun nut. I'm working hard to get there. :)

You never know what a shooter is going to like. I've had a woman who was probably 100lbs soaking wet ask for a second clip for the Garand with a huge smile on her face.