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How to Shoot a Handgun

How to Shoot a Handgun



Whether you’re new to firearms, want to introduce someone to shooting, or want to know how to become a better pistol shooter, it’s important to understand gun safety, the fundamentals of marksmanship, and how to assume different stances. 

Firearms Safety

If you want to learn how to shoot a handgun safely and effectively, you need to understand the basic rules of gun safety, including:

ALL guns are ALWAYS loaded — ALWAYS

You should never assume that a firearm is unloaded. Whether you find a gun or someone hands you a gun, you should always clear it by checking the chamber. If you don’t know how to clear a particular firearm model, consult the manual, ask the owner or gun store employee, or contact the manufacturer. Even after you clear your firearm and visually inspect it, it should still be handled as if it were loaded, because there is no such thing as an unloaded gun.

Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not prepared to destroy

Always ensure the gun’s muzzle is aimed in a safe direction. Muzzle awareness is critical to safe gun handling. Remember, bullets can pass through walls, and an accidental discharge could lunge a bullet over a mile away causing injury, death, or destruction of property.

Muzzle Control: Always aim the muzzle away from anything you don't want to destroy

Always aim the muzzle down at the ground away from anything you don't want to destroy

Maintain trigger discipline

Trigger discipline is when you keep your index finger away from the trigger on the exterior of the trigger guard unless your sights are aligned on a target, and you’ve made the decision to fire.

Finger Discipline - Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot

Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot

Be certain of your target and anything behind it

Relevant to both firing ranges and self-defense shootings, this rule has two points. First, you should never shoot at a target that you have not positively identified. Second, you should know what will happen to your bullets if they pass through the target.

You should also keep this in mind even when your are not shooting, because it is important to always keep the muzzle away from anything you do not want to shoot — that includes what is behind the wall and where a bullet could land if the muzzle is pointed towards the sky.


Before you can safely handle and operate a handgun, you should be able to both load and unload it. There are four basic types of handguns: Single-shot pistols, derringers, revolvers, and semi-automatic pistols. 

Revolvers and semi-automatic pistols are the most common handguns for law enforcement, private self-defense, hunting, and competitive target shooting. As a result, you’re more likely to encounter these on a range or in the field. 

Loading/unloading semi-automatic pistols

To unload a semi-automatic pistol or check its status, find and depress the magazine catch to remove the magazine. Next, retract the slide fully and lock it open by raising the slide stop. 

Inspect the chamber both visually and by inserting your little finger to confirm that it’s unloaded. The sequence is important. If you retract the slide first, you may inadvertently load another round into the chamber. 

Gun Safety - Always check that there is no bullet in the chamber

Always visually inspect the chamber, even after racking the slide to clear it

After checking the weapon is unloaded and when ready to shoot, insert a loaded magazine into the magazine well — the compartment in the frame — until it clicks. The click indicates that it’s fully seated. Retract the slide and release it, allowing the recoil spring to drive it forward. This will feed a round into the chamber. Don’t force the slide forward, as this can cause a malfunction. 

Reloading an auto-loader pistol

Slide the magazine into the magazine well, then retract the slide

While some handguns, such as the Glock series, have passive safeties, there are pistols with decocking levers and manual safety catches. If you’re unfamiliar with the controls of your firearm, consult the operation and maintenance manual or contact the manufacturer for advice.

Loading/unloading revolvers

When handling a revolver with a swing-out cylinder, there’s usually a latch located on the left side of the frame that unlocks the cylinder. To unlock the cylinder, you’ll slide this latch forward on Smith & Wesson revolvers and rearward on Colt revolvers. If you own a Ruger revolver, such as a GP100, you’ll press the latch inward.

Loading a revolver: insert the bullets into the cylinder

Insert the bullets into the cylinder, then close it gently

To unload the cylinder, swing it out of the frame and depress the ejector rod. This will extract and eject all cartridges, whether fired or not. When you load the chambers, close the cylinder gently — don’t snap it shut, as this can weaken the crane. 

Fundamentals of Pistol Marksmanship

Whether you’re interested in carrying a handgun for self-defense or winning competitive matches, there are several basic practices that you will need to understand, such as:

Aiming and sight picture

Handguns typically have iron sights, consisting of a front sight and a rear sight, that you use to align the barrel with the intended target. Place the front sight in the center of the rear sight with the tops of both sights level. 

Sight Picture on a Ruger LCP

Sight picture on a Ruger LCP 

When you align the sights and place them on a target, you have acquired a sight picture. Modern sights are designed to maximize visibility, using three dots or fiber optics for daytime shooting. Under low-light conditions, night sights, which use tritium, are self-illuminating. 

Grip and stance

The best way to hold a pistol is to place your dominant hand high on the grip with the bones of the wrist aligned with the barrel. The webbing between your thumb and index finger should be pressed firmly against the beavertail or recoil shoulder, and the top of your middle finger should contact the underside of the trigger guard. A high hand position relative to the axis of the bore reduces leverage during recoil, allowing you to keep your sights on target. 

Always use two hands. A one-handed grip affords less control of the weapon, especially during rapid fire. The most common shooting stances are Weaver and Isosceles. 


In the Weaver stance, the shooter assumes a two-handed grip on the weapon and applies forward pressure with the strong hand and rearward pressure with the support hand. This results in isometric tension, which controls the recoil of the firearm. The support hand wraps around the dominant hand with the palms of both hands vertical. 

Weaver Shooting Stance

The shooter’s strong arm may be slightly bent or straight, while the support arm is significantly bent with the elbow pointed toward the ground. The feet should be approximately shoulder-width apart, with the non-dominant foot forward in a boxer’s stance. 

While this stance is more bladed toward the target, reducing exposure, it’s also less compatible with the use of body armor. 


In the Isosceles stance, you stand square to the target with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart and both arms extended outward. Your elbows should be locked. Unlike the Weaver stance, which uses isometric tension to control the recoil, Isosceles relies on your skeletal structure. 

Isosceles Shooting Stance

The grip in Isosceles is also different from that of the Weaver stance. The support hand wraps around the dominant hand and firearm, but many shooters rotate their wrists forward, pointing their thumbs toward the target. 

Trigger control

If you want to learn how to shoot a pistol accurately, you need to know how to press the trigger properly. This is called “trigger control”: pressing or squeezing the trigger to fire the weapon without disturbing the alignment of your sights or the position of the barrel. Never pull the trigger, as the sudden movement can disturb your sight picture. Instead, place the pad of your index finger, or the first joint, on the face of the trigger. 

Proper finger placement to correctly squeeze the trigger of a gun

Ideal contact point for proper trigger control


Ideal placement of your trigger finger to properly squeeze the trigger on a gun

Proper placement of your trigger finger

Press the trigger, applying continuous rearward pressure until the weapon fires. If you’re practicing for speed, you should also practice trigger reset to reduce the time interval between shots. 

Holsters for New and Experienced Shooters

At We the People Holsters, we take shooting seriously. When you learn how to shoot a gun for the first time, you’ll understand the importance of having the right firearm accessories. One of the most important accessories for a handgun is a suitable holster. 

We manufacture high-quality, durable, and safe holsters for open and concealed carry, including IWB and OWB. Check out our range of products to find the holster that’s right for you.