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The Magic Decoder Ring - The Secret to Being a Great Shooter

NOTE FROM AUTHOR: This is my take on how to improve your accuracy. I have been shooting since I was a kid and teaching pistol marksmanship professionally since 2001. This has worked for me and my students and I know many other instructors that teach similarly.

Hope it helps, John Czerwinski.

The Grip

Grip is key whether you are shooting with iron sights or a red dot. As a side note, the biggest challenge in transitioning to a pistol mounted optic (PMO) is locating the red dot during the presentation of the pistol to the shooting position. When using iron sights the eyes will pick up the pistol and sights coming into the sight line and adjustments are made almost automatically for a trained student. The eyes are able to use the front and rear sights to adjust the attitude of the pistol as it is brought into the firing position. With an optic in the way, even if you have suppressor height sights, it isn’t as intuitive.

The thumbs forward grip is essential in making proper sight alignment happen efficiently. Fitting the strong hand to the weapon is step #1 of the draw. The hand is placed on the weapon so that a straight line is formed starting at the front sight and extending rearward through the wrist and forearm with the elbow pointing straight to the rear. Basically, the pistol is an extension of your body.

The webbing of the hand between the thumb and index finger should be placed firmly under the tang of the backstrap. There should not be a gap between your hand webbing and the top of the grip under the slide. Approximately 40% of the force in the two-hand grip will originate in the strong side hand.

Grip the weapon with the thumb, middle, ring, and little fingers, pulling against the front strap with the fingers to seat the backstrap (back of the grip) into the palm of the hand. The trigger finger works independent of the grip to prevent movement of the muzzle when firing.

The premise behind the two-hand grip is to completely encircle the grip of the weapon in order to control its recoil. When gripping the weapon with the support hand, it is important that you bring the heels of the hands together. This allows complete encirclement of the grip surface, with the thumbs overlaying and pointing forward on the same side of the weapon. There should not be a space where your palm heels meet.

The reaction (support) hand heel is placed into the open area of the pistol's grip with the thumb on the frame near the slide stop. As the two-hand grip is attained in step #3 of the draw, the reaction fingers point 45 degrees down and firmly under the trigger guard prior to wrapping around the strong hand. Approximately 60% of the force in the two-hand grip is made-up by the reaction side hand.

Using this method will improve weapon control. Again, ensure when gripping the pistol with the strong side hand that the trigger finger can operate independent of the rest of the hand. To much pressure will cause the whole hand to move when the trigger finger presses to the rear.

Using the support side thumb as an aiming device while it is married to and aligned parallel to the bore axis of the pistol allows you to find your sights quicker. If you haven’t been using this grip, creating tactile points for your thumb is easily done with skateboard tape or something similar.

Drive the support-side thumb towards the target as if it was Bill Clinton saying “I didn’t have sex with that woman” - this will get you on target quicker.

Grip tension must be maintained during recoil or you may lose your sights. You don’t need to crush the weapon but maintaining proper grip pressure is critical. Some have said applying more pressure with the bottom two fingers of each hand on the grip (pinky in most cases) is beneficial. You truly don’t need to hold the weapon any tighter but when the grip breaks, the loss of your sights or red dot may occur and then will not be as quick to recover. Iron sights are typically easier to recover than a red dot when this happens. Do not lock both wrists. You can only lock the main hand on the gun and if you do, the support hand will break free from the locked hand as the pistol recoils.

A “hack” that I have used in the presentation of a red dot-equipped pistol is co-witnessing a laser (inexpensive is fine) to the red dot. Then practice the presentation of the pistol using proper dry fire techniques. The laser will allow you to keep the pistol oriented properly on the target. This is just a training tool to expedite the creation of automaticity or "muscle memory."

Once you have nailed all this 10 out of 10 times without the laser there are two tests to see if you have mastered your new draw stroke. The first is close your eyes and present the pistol to the shooting position. Then open your eyes and see where the sights are located. The other is to go into a dark room and present the pistol and check to see if the presentation is correct.


Not everyone is built the same nor do they move exactly same. In a deadly force encounter you may not get into your fighting stance. Therefore we simply offer guidance on the stance and if the individual can meet this requirement they have found their stance.

  • You want to be balanced, mobile, and stable. Balance means you can stay in position with little to no strain. Mobility means you can move easily. Balance and mobility work together to make us stable. Which allows us to keep sights on target.

  • When possible, weight should be shifted forward so that if you lifted your lead foot you would step or fall forward.

  • Think about how a strong safety, second baseman, or a midfielder prepares for the play to start. They assume an athletic "ready-to-go" stance.


The human eye can focus on only one thing at a time. If you have the target, front, and rear sights, that is three things. What do you focus on? The answer -- front sight. However during a Body Alarm Reaction (BAR)(Aka Fight or Flight) the eye can initially only focus at distance which takes your front sight focus out of the equation. That’s where the big advantage of a PMO comes in. It allows us to focus on the threat and super impose the reticle onto the target with both eyes open.

Sight Picture/Sight Alignment

Traditional iron sights:

Sight alignment is having the front sight centered in the rear sight and level across the top. At the moment of firing, focus is always on the front sight.

Sight picture is the alignment of the sights to the target as seen by the eye. During imminent threats to life perfect sight alignment may not occur. During these type of events a different type of sight picture maybe used. Often called a “flash sight picture” or “front sight proxemics." When this occurs we use our binocular vision. This is a result of the stress response our body uses to protect ourselves.

Front sight proxemics must be used in training to condition the shooter for actual deadly force confrontation. It should be used on targets inside 12 yards where time is of the essence. The shooter positions the front sight within the boundaries of the target and fires at the moment the weapon is stabilized. There is insufficient time for the type of precise alignment described below. Referencing of the weapon within the target shape is required. A PMO allows us this same luxury and when the dot appears we can be even more accurate.

Precision shooting may require monocular vision. With both eyes open there might be too much visual clutter for the brain to focus the eyes as precisely as needed. Time and/or distance and/or cover are normally needed for this type of sight picture. For extreme distance or the need for extreme accuracy, monocular vision may be useful to some shooters. In all of these you just need to float the dot and shoot the shot.


Your sight picture should be constant target focus. Your eyes do not shift from the target focal plane.

Sight alignment has the dot superimposed over the desired point of impact. Your focal point stays on the target.

Trigger Control

Press the trigger to the rear with out disturbing the sight alignment. The trigger finger must operate independent of the rest of the fingers/hand. The first time you pull a trigger on a live round it may surprise you. After a few rounds it no longer should. You should know where your trigger releases the hammer or striker. Practice is the key. Dry fire included.

Pre-Ignition Anticipation

This is believing the weapon is about to be fired and pushing the weapon down before or during shot. Often times this appears as “trigger jerk" or "slapping the trigger." If this occurs continue practicing dry fire and ball/dummy exercises.

Hoplophobia is the fear of guns and ekrixphobia is the fear of explosions. Humans are inherently afraid of or at least startled by loud noises when they are unexpected. Until someone desensitizes themselves to weapons and the force/noise they create, pre-ignition anticipation may rear its ugly head.

Follow Through

After the weapon is fired the thumbs forward grip is used to keep the weapon directed at the target and brought back in line so that the sight(s) are back on target. If another shot is needed, send it. If not, stop shooting.

Always ensure that another sight picture is obtained before going into recovery or follow up procedures. Follow through doesn’t affect the shot you made but it sets you up for a faster next shot.


Shooting during the natural pause in breathing is normally done only when extreme accuracy is needed. Holding your breath for a shot is fine but realize you need to oxygenate your blood to keep your body and brain working properly.

Trigger Reset

As soon as you start to obtain the sight picture after firing, the trigger is smoothly released to its reset point with finger contact maintained. If you release beyond reset, take the slack out and be ready to fire again.

The full shooting sequence is as follows. Sight picture/sight alignment---trigger control---follow through recoil---second sight picture---trigger reset----slack taken back up.

Skipping the second sight picture or switching the order of reset and second sight picture is when you will get flyers on multiple round exercises or in tracking and shooting an assailant. People are pulling the trigger before the sights are locked on target. This doesn’t mean when you have advanced beyond the basics that you wait listen and feel for reset. You eventually will “roll through the link” and that is another page to be written later.

All of this is just another way to skin a cat and it has worked for many instructors and students. Please checkout John Krupa and Dave Spaulding for more on this matter.

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