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Teach… and Ye Shall Learn!

Tips For Teaching Others at the Range…

It is said that “Teaching is the best way to Learn” and when I don’t necessarily think its the best way…it is certainly in the top 3.  When I think of taking students and friends to the shooting range, it almost always happens that I fall into a teaching roll.  I don’t mind really, I enjoy teaching. That is one reason I have tapped into the experts around me and also read many books and publications to “check myself” and make sure my technique and knowledge is solid and corrrect.

But I am not hear to argue about my teaching ability…instead I thought that sharing some things that have helped me learn and teach, may just help someone else.

There are two kinds of students at the range.  1. Those who are ready to learn and are in a “sponge like” mental state.  2. Those who are scared and timid, but who are there for some reason. They are influenced by a loved one or by their own internal urging to overcome fear and take safety into their own hands. Something is motivating them, whether good or bad, they are taking those baby steps to break out of their mold…to them I say “Way to go!”

NOW…as most people know, the two most important  things for shooting, are trigger control and sight alignment.  There are other factors of course, like breathing, grip, stance, etc. but when you have someone at the range, you need to make sure you have gone over some basics first…BEFORE you get into the range.

1.  Go over the 4 basic safety rules:  Always treat all firearms as if they are loaded.  Always keep it pointed down range, or in a safe direction, Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, Always be aware of your target and target environment.

2.  Go over the basic operation of the firearm they will be shooting, loading and unloading, etc.

3.  Go over the range procedures, the layout, the lanes, and the range etiquette as well. (Example: making sure your empties are not “raining” down into the lane next to you when ejected)

4.  Go over eye and ear protection, noise levels, where to store you gear, the difference between the firing lane and observation area, etc.

These simple things should be covered before you get to the range, or if you are at the range already, before you go into the range firing area.  If you start to teach while on the line, you will loose time, if you have only booked…say an hour or something.  Also, when the other people are firing, the noise makes it hard to actually teach effectively.

Now that you are on the line, your student is ready, you will find out that the stuff you just taught them…will all but disappear. hahaha…its true…so while helping them to “recover” their short term memories…there is one thing that is a must, but is not done nearly enough on most ranges.  Dry fire!

Before the gun is even loaded, I tell each student that we will be dry firing multiple times until they feel more comfortable.  I love dry fire drills.  I have learned much from doing so. My instructor taught me that way and it worked well. (especially since I out shot him the first time…it was a nice grouping, I’m sure I just got lucky…)

When your student has the gun in their hands, in the correct stance, with the correct grip, there are some little things you can do to help with sight alignment and trigger pull.

What I think is the best way to help them understand the “sight alignment” aspect, is to show them an image before they get into the range.  Either drawing it out or showing them the image the NRA uses…that one works well.  Getting the front and rear sights lined up correctly is essential for their understanding the purpose and importance of accuracy.

Once they have the idea…use the “dime” or “nickel” technique if you need to.  Have the student hold the gun in the ready firing position, and while they hold it steady, you simply place a dime or nickel (or something like that) on the rear sight.  Balancing it there the student now has to look under the coin and find the front sight.  Being able to see the entire front sight through that little window will help them “get it” and they will remember that every time they shoot.  When I was learning, my instructor did the same thing to me…even when I was shooting well, and it helped me to understand better the balance and effectiveness of that drill.

Remember that, lining up the front sight with the rear sight perfectly, while pulling the trigger at the precise time with the alignment of the sights is like trying to play that perfect game of golf…getting a hole-in-one on every hole.  OUCH.  Because we are people, and we are not perfect, we tend to move and shake when shooting firearms.  It is going to happen…and its ok, but that is where perfect practice makes perfect…right!

Now some people will say that “pulling” the trigger is not the correct term for doing such…now a days…”squeezing” the trigger is not the correct term either…so for everyone out there who wants to see the new “correct” term…it is “Press”.  Yes…so then…”press” the trigger when shooting, it will help your effectiveness in shooting.

To understand the trigger pull (press) one must understand that there are two methods of doing so.  The “revolver” method and the “semi-auto” method.

1. Revolver Pull – Revolvers are known as being much harder with the trigger pull. Most revolvers today, are all double action. Meaning…you can just pull the trigger and the hammer will come back and release as you are pulling the trigger through its full range…OR…you can cock the hammer and be pulling the trigger you are simply releasing the hammer at that point.  Revolver trigger pulls are generally set at about 10 -15 pounds of pressure.  Or, it needs 10-15 pounds of force to pull the trigger until the hammer is released, thus firing the gun.  In doing that, most people will place their finger on the trigger at the first joint or knuckle of their fingers. Requiring more force, pretty much says there will be more movement of the gun, thus the accuracy will decrease.  This is the reality for the majority of shooters out there.  Triggers can be adjusted of course…but factory set is what I am referring to here.

2. Semi-auto Pull – Can also be known as “single action” trigger pull, and the thinking here is that since you are pretty much just releasing the hammer, the trigger pull is easier.  Well…it certainly is easier. Which is probably one reason the semi-auto’s are as popular as they are today. I have observed that most women like the lighter trigger pull, because it is easier to shoot.  Having an easier pull, with less gun movement, and more accuracy overall, makes the first time shooting experience a pleasant one, thus the beginner is more likely to continue in the industry. The semi-auto (sometimes called the automatic or just auto) usually has a factory setting of about 3-5 pounds of trigger pull.  The finger placement for the semi-auto is a little different in that respect.  Pulling the finger out a little, until the fingerprint portion is on the trigger, sometimes it is described as the “fatty part” of the finger.  If you look at your own fingerprints, you tend to look at one part of your finger, the tip of the finger, where the prints are. Not a single law enforcement agency will take a fingerprint near the inside middle of your knuckle on your finger…OK..we beat that like a dead horse..hahaha  Moving on..

Understanding the differences between the two types of trigger pulls is very important.  I once had a guy at a local gun show try to sell me his Kahr.  After expressing my disinterest in that gun, a friend that was with me asked him about something…and then the “lessons” came out like the dam had just broken free and the waters were coming with vengence.  He continued to tell me that revolvers are more accurate then semi-autos, because when you locked the action back, the semi-auto barrel moved a little bit and that the revolver was a “fixed barrel” gun and that was why it was more accurate.  He just couldn’t get his shots to group well with a of course it was the gun…hahahahahahahahahahahahaha…  That is what 20 years of the Army had taught him…is what he explained to me.  WELL…I understand that the Army doesn’t teach such principles and that this guy was an “exception” to the rule. I have a deep respect for the military and for law enforcement as well.

What I then explained was the difference between the trigger pulls he was applying.  The same trigger pull for two different types of pistols.  Puzzled…he just sat there thinking about it…so I moved on to look at other boothes in the show.  Just an example story for you…but it shows how easy it is to miss the mark on trigger pull.

SO…Let’s summarize shall we:

1.  Go over 4 basic safety rules before you get to the range.

2. Go over operation of the gun they will use.

3. Go over the range rules and etiquette.

4. Go over ear and eye protection, noise levels etc.

5. Go over stance, grip, breathing, sight alignment, trigger pull. (press)

6. Use a dime or nickel to further demontrate sight alignment.

7. Dry fire mulitple times, demonstrating trigger pull differences.

8. Make sure they feel more comfortable and then load it and move to the next step of your teaching process.

I sure hope that helps some people out there.  Be sure that if you are dealing with the “timid” or “fearful” student, that you take it slow and don’t push them too hard. Make sure you take it at the pace in which they will learn the best and with the most positive and successful results.  One example of doing this is starting their shooting experience with a .22 caliber.  The recoil is low and they will be able to handle the gun without problems.  Successful experiences will lead to more successful experiences…just like life!

Stay safe, and remember P4: Purchase a gun, Practice center mass, Protect yourself, family and others, PRAY you never have to use it!

Damon Thueson

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