Learn to Shoot a Gun – A Skill Every Man Should Possess

Learn to Shoot a GunFour Fundamentals to Learn to Shoot a Gun

When I first joined the Army I had about as much experience shooting a gun as any other recreational shooter. The only rule to gun shooting that I needed was hitting the target and being safe about it. When I was handed my first M16A2 I thought, “Piece of cake.” I ended up hitting 20 out of 40 targets. 23 was required to pass. I needed to learn to shoot a gun ASAP. I drilled down, studied and practiced these 4 fundamentals. Within a couple months I was hitting 36 to 38 out of 40. After being promoted to Sergeant I instructed new recruits to our unit and used these 4 fundamentals to help them qualify with multiple weapon types.

These 4 fundamentals every man should know. They can be applied to all types of weapons and can be used from the standing, kneeling or prone (lying down) position. Obviously hand guns, rifles and machine guns will be slightly different because of size, purpose and firing posture. But most of the principles remain the same.

Steady Position

Your positioning should be comfortable and stable. This is the first thing you should master when you learn to shoot a gun. If you’re uncomfortable you’re going to end up wiggling and moving trying to get comfortable. Your weapon is held close and tight to your body and it will be impossible to hit the target if your body is moving your weapon around.

If you’re firing a rifle or M249 Light Machine Gun (LMG) then the buttstock should be placed in the pocket of your firing shoulder. Pull it in; nice and snug. This will reduce the impact of recoil and help keep the weapon steady for your next shot. You can also use your firing hand’s fingers (minus the trigger finger) to pull the gun in towards you.

Place your cheek gently on the buttstock. We called this “Cheek-to-stock.”. Relax your neck and tilt your head. Once your cheek is laying on the buttstock it should provide a line of sight (LOS) down the firing line.

Your elbows should be in a V shape and pointed downwards tucked into your side. In the movies you’ll see them walking around with their elbows pointed outwards. We used to call this position “Chicken Wings.” This is not what you want to do. Not only does it not provide the support your elbows should, but it also increases your physical space and chance of bumping into objects.

Your non firing hand/arm should provide weapon support. A gun is not as light as it looks and trying to use your firing arm to provide support will only make it harder to keep the gun steady. If your muscles are tense and not relaxed, you will end up missing your target.


Next step when you learn to shoot a gun is aiming. Now that you’re in a comfortable position it’s time to look down the firing line. Every gun has its sights. When I was in the Army we had Iron Sights for our M16’s and Holographic Sights for our M249’s. You should identify your sights when you first receive the gun. The iron sights consist of the rear apenditure and front post. Place the front post into the middle of the rear apenditure.

To place the target between my sights I liked to use the method called “Side Aiming Technique” because it gave me a couple seconds to focus in on my target. It is very simple. All you have to do is initially place your sights to the left of the target and then traverse right. You’ll use your supporting arm to traverse right and left; up and down.

Aiming and getting that correct “sight picture” can be easily practiced almost anywhere.

Breath Control

Controlling your breathing pattern is important when you learn to shoot a gun because it can typically indicate why your rounds are going too high or low.

Look at the image below and notice where it says “hold breath” and “shoot.”. Notice the trigger squeeze is right in-between. This is because your natural breathing rhythm moves the weapon slightly. You can’t stop this and the only way to control it is to stop breathing for a moment. Some are able to use the “natural respiratory pause” but for most there isn’t enough time here. It’s better to learn the Hold Breath technique first.

Trigger Squeeze

Trigger squeeze is important when you learn how to shoot a gun because it can typically dictate whether your round goes too far left or right. If you yank on the trigger you will inadvertently pull the barrel to the right and your round will go too far right. If you push with your trigger finger then it can end up too far left.

There are two different spots of your trigger (index) finger that you can place on the trigger. I prefer method “B” because of the soft spot, but to each his own. The principles remain the same. After placing your finger on the trigger do not pull, push or yank on it. Slowly squeeze the trigger till a “half way” point. On a M16 and M4 you’ll hear a metallic click. Pause here and then squeeze it all the way. Do not anticipate the round or your bodies reflex will move the gun and you’ll miss the target.

One method I learned in Basic Training was placing a Nickel on the end of my barrel and squeezing the trigger. If it fell before I squeezed then my problem was most likely Steady Position or Breath Control. If it fell after I squeezed then it was Trigger Squeeze I needed to work on. If I got through all 4 steps then I was ready to graduate from dry firing (practicing without live rounds) to live firing.

Keep in mind, if your shot ends up to the left or right of the target it’s probably incorrect Trigger Squeeze. If it goes too far above or below than probably Breath Control. If you’re wiggling around then you need Steady Position. If your sight is all blurry and jumping around then work on Aiming.

Lock and Load!

Fun fact: In the Army we called the M16, M4, M249, .50 cal, etc weapons, not guns, and pistols were hand guns.

A long long time ago…….in a country far far away.








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About John

Passionate. Life Learner. Thinker. Christ Follower. Investor. Conversationalist. Army Veteran. Dog Lover. Corporate Colleague. Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs fan. Follow me on Twitter.


  1. Awesome topic! I actually never fired a gun until last year. Guns have become my Dad’s new hobby and he invited me to go to the range with him. I will admit it was a lot of fun and harder than I thought.

    • Thanks! Which guns did you fire? You thinking of going more often? We’re planning to write more articles on specific types of guns. It’s going to be exciting!

  2. Thanks for the tips!

    I’m a girl and I’ve never shot anything more than a nerf gun in my life. One of my best friends, a guy, is taking me shooting next week knowing full well that I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about guns….until now. Thanks to you, hopefully I’ll impress him with the knowledge I now have. :)

    Thanks for serving too!

  3. Men and women should learn how to use at least a revolver. As I tell people when often asked ‘what kind of gun should I get for home defense” my answer is if you only want a gun for home defense simple is better. A .38 special revolver, skip all of the bells and whisles. It holds six rounds and it’s easy to use. The second thing and the most important is don’t just buy a gun, take a class and learn how to use it. When an intruder is breaking into your house that’s not the time to read the little book that comes with the gun. Most indoor ranges teach classes for men and women. Most stores now sell self defense ammo. It’s made for close range situations, it’s deadly and if you miss it what go through the wall into your neighbors house.

    • Todd Mayfield says:

      Great advice DAD! You should be writing the next post!

      That is good insight, especially encouraging people to take a class on how to use it (should they not already be experienced).

    • Those are some very good points to remember. Especially taking a class, and I’d like to add that six shooters are very reliable. Thanks Tim!

  4. Great breakdown. People tend to forget how important the trigger squeeze is. People have to stop saying “trigger pull.”

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