aiming down sights

Common Shooting Mistakes and How to Fix Them

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All shooters should know what to look for when it comes to the most common shooting mistakes.Not only will this make you a better shooter, but it will also help to increase the accuracy of those around you. So being able to quickly identify and offer the correct remedies to a shooter is an important thing to be able to do whether it's shooting with friends or teaching a new shooter.

With my background in the United States Marine Corps, I can attest that they take shooting very seriously. At Marine Recruit training you spend almost every waking minute with your firearm, and halfway through the training, you spend a week known as grass week practicing the fundamentals of shooting.

This is all done before you go to the range and shoot your firearm, you spend hours in the classroom learning everything from sight alignment to sight picture, to proper trigger control. This program in place can take a person who has never shot before and turns them into an expert on the Rifle range.

I learned a lot from the shooting instructors throughout my time in the Marines. I learned how to spot common shooting mistakes and offer the advice on how to fix them. I believe that any shooter no matter their skill can improve their shooting. Also, I believe that every shooter can better themselves by regularly practicing the basic fundamentals of shooting. So below I have listed some of the most common shooting mistakes and few ways that you can fix them.

Trigger Control

The most common issue with new shooters is trigger control. You can tell if someone has poor trigger control by looking at their target. If they generally have a good group that is to the left or the right of the target, then it is safe to assume that they’re not squeezing the trigger properly.

To remedy this problem, it is pretty simple. They are most likely either using too much of the tip of their finger or they are going farther down their finger. You will want them to focus on placing their finger in between this area. They should be looking for that sweet spot that allows them to control their trigger.

The best thing you can do is to tell the shooter that they should focus on a slow even pull. The pressure that is applied must be smooth, firm and consistent. This will allow you to provide the correct amount of pressure without jerking the trigger in either direction. This will come with time and practice, but it is one of the best ways to increase your overall accuracy.

pistol sights

Proper Sight Alignment

One of the simplest problems that can often throw off new shooters is finding proper sight alignment. Often times this is discussed with sight picture, but the two are very different. Sight alignment refers to how the sights line up with one another.

Basically, all of the sights must be level and in the middle. To achieve this is generally pretty simple, but if some people are not gaining the proper sight alignment on every shot, whether it's due to movement or failing to properly aim before shots, then the shots will be all over the target. It is typical if the shooter is shooting low, then they have the front sight post too low on the target. If the shots are going high, then the shooter has the front sight post too high on the target. If the shot is to the left, then the shooter has the front sight post skewed to the left, and vice versa for the right. You will be able to pick this up, and there are a few ways to fix this.

The best way I learned proper sight alignment was to have it drawn out for me. So every time I could think back to the drawing and ensure that my sights were always properly aligned on the target. Also, it helps some shooters to close their non-dominant eye to get a better sight alignment. Here is a quick way to determine which eye is your dominant eye. It is important to point out that the NRA suggests you learn to shoot with both eyes open, as this is more effective for shooting, especially in tactical situations. However, with different medical conditions and preferences, you may find that shooting with an eye closed will help.

Proper Sight Picture

Proper sight picture can be a tougher concept for new shooters to grasp. As it can be a little confusing that you would want your surrounds to be slightly blurry. When the shooter is not focused on the tip of the front sight post and is focusing on the target, the shots will be off. You can notice this type of error by watching the shooter, most of his shots will be all over the target and there is no pattern for how they are shooting.

So, it is important that you drill what proper sight picture is into the mind of a new shooter. One way that I was taught was that one should hold their finger out in front of them. Focus solely on the finger, and once you see that a shooter will understand how the front sight post should look when shooting as well as his or her surroundings.

Another thing that is helpful is having a white dot on the end of your sights. This will allow you to focus directly on the front sight posts. Most pistols have this feature, or it is something that you can add with a little paint of your own. Also, some rifles will have this as well, but I have found that less and less actually have this on their front sight post.

Other than the tips above, the shooter is going to have to remind themselves that they must focus on the front sight post. This will take time, as it feels unnatural for most shooters because they want to be looking at the target when they shoot. I like to remind the shooter before they shoot that they should be focusing on the front sight post each time. You can read more about proper sight picture and sight alignment here.


Another very common problem among shooters is flinching.  This is the involuntary movement right before the shooter shoots his or her rifle, and it will throw the round off each time. This is especially common among new shooters who are not comfortable around firearms and they fear the recoil of the gun, and they are more focused on protecting themselves from the recoil then they are of where his or her bullet is going.

This can be helped though, as with most new shooters it is important for them to get comfortable with the firearm. If they are not, then the likelihood of flinching is going to increase and this is going to teach them bad habits.

Instead, you should focus on mastering the fundamentals of shooting, and this can be done on a .22 or some other smaller caliber rifle or pistol. This allows the shooter to focus on the task, and not worrying about the recoil.

If the problem persists, you can also use a dummy round or dry firing to help stop the shooter from flinching when they shoot larger caliber weapons. Make sure that this is done in a safe setting, and also make sure that the rifle is unloaded.  All of the weapons safety rules should be followed when using this method.

After you ensure the weapon is unloaded the shooter can focus on proper sight picture, alignment and trigger control, and not have to worry about the recoil, and they can pull the trigger. Another method is the ball and dummy technique. You can have the shooter look away and then you can put an empty round or a live round into the chamber and allow the shooter to pull the trigger. They will not know whether a live or dummy round is in the chamber, so you can monitor to see if they flinch or not. This will help them to overcome their fear and not anticipate the recoil.

One last note about flinching, if you know that the recoil is too much for a new shooter, please don’t have them shoot the gun. It is important that we bring as many people into shooting sports and having a poor range experience that ends in a sore shoulder is one way to turn a shooter from this sport. So make sure that the weapon matches the shooter, and start all new shooters with a smaller caliber.

Follow Through

Just like in baseball a good follow through is also important for shooting. Often times shooters like to shoot and immediately check the target to see where they hit. This does not allow them the time to have a good follow through and it can throw the shot off or the follow-up shot off completely.

One way to fix this is to make sure you wait for the click, that sets the trigger back in place. So after you pull the trigger, make sure that you maintain the pressure on the trigger. While you keep your pistol aimed at your target you slowly let the trigger off. You will hear an audible click, and the trigger will go back into place and allowing the trigger to set and you can pull it again.

The follow-through is important, and it is better to have a good consistent grouping, then having a few shots that hit the bullseye. If you focus on the follow through and listening to the audible click when the trigger resets, you should increase your overall accuracy, and regularly have tight groupings.

proper shooting stance

Shooting Stance

Another key fundamental that is often overlooked is the shooters stance. The stance can have a major effect on how you are shooting, if it isn’t comfortable, or doesn’t provide the necessary support you will have rounds that go all over the place.

The most important thing that you should do when shooting from the standing make sure you have  a good football stance.  Make sure you are square with the target, have your knees slightly bent, and be slightly forward in your toes. This is the best stance for most standing positions, as it allows your body to absorb the recoil.

When you are in any other position you want to make sure that your joints have solid contact with the ground. The more points of your body that you can have on a solid surface the better stability and balance that you will have.

This is all a comfort thing, but it is pretty easy to tell when someone is in the wrong stance. So, make sure that you make corrections to the form as you deem necessary, but it is also important to watch how they are shooting. If they are hitting their target and their stance is slightly different then yours then this may be the stance that works best for them. You can watch more videos about shooting stances here.


These common mistakes are something that all new shooters will have to overcome at some point in their shooting experience. Being able to recognize the common mistakes and diagnose them before bad habits are formed is a very important tool in the shooting process.

Make sure that you are taking the time to explain each of these common mistakes to a new shooter, or if you are trying to correct your shooting skills make sure that you look at your own shooting and judge it impartially. If you remember some of these key problems and mentally address them each time you shoot, you will be surprised at how you will improve.

This is like anything else and the more you work at it the better you will become. As you progress past each point and after you have established good technique you will notice that it becomes almost second nature. You shooting will begin to improve, but it takes mastering the fundamentals first.

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Jay Parks is an avid duck hunter and Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan.

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