The Defensive Handgun: A Guide for Beginners

By Tony Yeary

Millions of people all across our country are rediscovering their civil right to own a firearm and carry one as a defensive tool. This is great for upholding our civil rights, but a gun is not a magic talisman that wards off evil. Just because you have one does not mean that it will just somehow protect you. You have to learn how to use it and then train regularly. Because we are human and we crawl before we walk, let’s go over the basic components of actually hitting what we aim at: stance, grip, aiming, breathing, recognizing flash sight picture and pulling the trigger.

As you prepare to take a shot, the first thing you will do is put your body into a stance. Yes, shooting a gun can be a recreational or sporting endeavor, but in your hands you hold a lethal weapon that is ultimately designed to protect the life of you and your own. Therefore, you will see that a handgun stance will resemble and feel like a fighting stance because it actually is. The three basic modern handgun stances are the Weaver Stance, the Chapman Stance (Modified Weaver) and the Isosceles Stance.

The Weaver Stance was first developed by law officer Jack Weaver and popularized by Colonel Jeff Cooper. It is generally an easy stance to teach because it looks and feels like a boxing stance. With the Weaver (assuming right handed, reverse for left), feet go shoulder width apart with the left foot forward. Your legs are slightly bent and you head is held erect, high and straight. Your back is also straightened. Your shooting arm will be held straight ahead and your supporting arm will be bent at the elbow and held angled away from your body slightly.

The Chapman Stance, or Modified Weaver Stance, was popularized by Ray Chapman. For those who feel that the Weaver is too ridged and the Isosceles too weird, modifying the Weaver Stance is a perfect solution. A Modified Weaver is different in that the shooting arm is not held perfectly straight, but is bent somewhat. The head leans in, as well as your back. In this way, the stance is less ridged, yet has a natural fighting stance feel, while maintaining good control over the weapon.

The Isosceles Stance has become very popular in the last few years and is commonly taught today. It’s easy to teach because it works with what the body does naturally when startled. It also allows more freedom of movement with when aiming at threats. In this stance, the legs go shoulder width apart, but are even and inline and bent a bit at the knees. The arms go straight out evenly forming an isosceles triangle shape. The head tucks down and you lean your back forward slightly. Practice all three stances and choose the one that feels most natural to you.

Your handgun grip is much less complicated to learn. The shooting hand should grip the gun naturally and high on it. If you have a gun that fits your hand right, this should happen somewhat naturally. The supporting hand then wraps around the shooting hand. Placement of thumbs is the one complex thing. On a pistol, the thumbs stack on each other and point forward. On a revolver, the right hand thumb points downward and the left hand thumb presses on the right thumbnail.

This is the simple part to teach anyone, it just sounds complex when I write it down. When you aim with standard target sights and while looking down the barrel, put the front sight in between the notch of the rear sight. Then even the top of the front sight with the top of the rear and position the front sight in the center of the rear. This is the ideal way to shoot for precision, but remember this if you are shooting to defend yourself at the typical close range distance: if just the front sight covers your target, that will usually place your shots combat accurately with more speed.

I almost hate to bring this up because once I do, people start to overthink it. Your breathing during shooting affects your aim. I’ve seen more than one person shoot high, low, high, low, because they inhaled then fired, exhaled then fired, inhaled then fired, and exhaled then fired. The trick is to fire when you exhale and inhale when your string of fire is done. However- do not put too much thought into this. In a short amount of time, this skill will be second nature and you won’t even have to think about it.

Pulling the Trigger & Recognizing Flash Sight Picture
This is the step that people generally master last. There is a finesse that goes with pulling the trigger properly- you can’t just tap it or jerk it. When you pull the trigger it should be a smooth and even motion- and the shot should surprise you! When you anticipate that the gun will go off, you will anticipate the recoil and push forward to compensate. This will throw your aim off every time. If the gunshot surprises you, then you will not anticipate a thing and the bullet will go where you pointed the gun.
Something that you will develop is recognizing flash sight picture. Flash sight picture is when it is the right time to break the shot. Everything comes into alignment: stance, grip, breathing- and then you aim. The target loses clarity, the rear sight is so blurry you don’t even notice it and your front sight is in high definition crystal clarity- this is your visual cue known as flash sight picture and this is when you shoot. You exhale and smoothly pull the trigger. And the shot surprises you. Master all of this and your sights will go undisturbed and your bullets will go where you ask them too. All it takes is time, practice and upkeep. Luckily, you’ll have a fun time doing it!

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