Teaching The Newb

16-Jan-10 – 19:54 by ToddG

While every red-blooded American male has an innate understanding of masterful firearms operation, once in a very rare while you may find yourself face to face with someone who was not born an expert marksmen. Hard to believe, I know. But it can happen.

Whether you’re teaching a formal class or just bringing a buddy to the range for his first time, there are some basic building blocks that are useful for any new shooter.

First, obviously, is safety. The important thing to remember here is that many people don’t believe guns are dangerous. Sure they know a gun can kill, but all they ever see on television is people purposely shooting one another. The truth is that with less effort than most people use to turn the ignition in their car, a gun can be fired. And once the gun goes off, there is no reset button. Instilling a serious respect for the deadly nature of firearms needs to be the instructor’s principle priority.

Next, make sure the student understands how to operate the gun. Far too often I see CCW instructors or “Basic Pistol” instructors go into great length about stance, breath control, trigger control… and then when the student is ready to fire the first shot, everyone realizes he doesn’t know how to load the gun. The student should be able to load & clear the pistol and operate all of the gun’s controls before firing the first shot.

Another good step before touching off the inaugural noisemaker is some dry fire. It doesn’t have to be excessive. You don’t want to bore the student, because bored students don’t listen and they tend to make mistakes. A half dozen dry trigger pulls, however, gives you an opportunity to examine a shooter’s form (grip, trigger press, stance, etc.) before the noise and the stress of “did I hit?” comes to play.

When the big moment comes and the student is going to make the gun go bang for the first time, load a single round in the gun. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Many people have weird reactions to firing a gun for the first time, and that weird reaction can often involve swinging the gun in an unsafe direction out of surprise, fear, or an innocent “Hey didja see that!” moment of absentmindedness. It’s harder to make a mistake with an empty gun, so by giving the newbie just one round to start with, you guarantee he’s got an empty gun in his hand when the excitement floods his system.

Finally, use your head and keep the lessons simple. A sheet of paper at 15 feet makes a perfectly good target for a first time shooter. Eliminate scoring zones, so don’t use a bullseye target. Take performance anxiety out of the equation. Hits are hits. Refinement of skill — and accuracy — comes later. For now, let the shooter get comfortable just controlling the gun before, during, and after the big loud noise.

Remember that a new shooter is approaching the range session with a completely different perspective than yours. Keep things safe and simple, and you’ll both be ahead of the game.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 17 Responses to “Teaching The Newb”

  2. Quality article. Very needed and always relevant. Thanks!

    By Stephen on Jan 16, 2010

  3. when are you going to start getting published in print mags Todd? your articles would certainly be welcomed I’m sure.

    By Rob Engh on Jan 16, 2010

  4. Great stuff! Loading one round is something that you don’t hear from instructors near enough these days.

    Do you mind if I copy that and pass it around (with pistol-training.com listed front and center of course)?

    By Steve Van Dis on Jan 17, 2010

  5. Steve — You’re welcome to pass it along with attribution, absolutely.

    By ToddG on Jan 17, 2010

  6. i find that once the new shooter gets past their first two or three negligent manslaughter charges safety is second nature.

    By David on Jan 17, 2010

  7. I always break in the newb’s in with an afternoon of air pistol or air rifle. Master the basics of safety and marksmanship and the trip to the range is a lot less stressful.

    By Joe on Jan 17, 2010

  8. Having a few practice (inert) rounds for a newbie to practice with while familiarizing themselves with the pistol is a good idea. They can load a magazine, cycle the action a few times, etc. without any misteps making it go bang.

    By hist_ed on Jan 17, 2010

  9. The one round idea should really be given greater emphasis. I had a female friend who I was instructing and on a hunch I did just that. On the first shot out of a G19 (having started with a 22LR earlier) she literally dropped the gun in surprise. No harm done but people have a tendency to try to catch items they have dropped. It’s probably not a bad idea to stress “do not attempt to catch a falling firearm”, as the consequences could prove fatal. If you’re ever in the Philadelphia area I’d like to attend one of your classes.

    By Joshua on Jan 17, 2010

  10. Sounds like another advertisement for the NRA F.I.R.S.T. Steps Program….

    By Homer on Jan 18, 2010

  11. Those are all excellent points. I’ve been teaching beginners to shoot for a couple of years now and those are all things I’ve incorporated. The value of loading one round is not truly understood until you see someone drop a gun or spin around to tell you they hit the target.

    The other point that might should be mentioned, particularly if you are teaching beginning women shooters, is to take all the tactical-speak out of your vocabulary. Treat the gun as a mechanical device that they are simply learning to use safely. A lot of guys cloud the issue by incorporating some half-ass mindset and tactics lessons. Just teach them to use the gun first. Keep in mind that if someone isn’t familiar with how to use a gun yet, talking to them about using it in life and death circumstances is just going to intimidate and stress them. Let them build confidence with the gun purely from a marksmanship and gunhandling perspective. Those other things can come later.

    By Justin on Jan 18, 2010

  12. Todd, You have the knowledge, good one,
    I will apply the method.

    By svega on Jan 18, 2010

  13. Justin’s comment is excellent.

    I also second the unpredictability of new shooters’ reactions. I once had a young woman burst into tears on the skeet range. I hadn’t done anything different with her than I did with any of the dozens of other people I’ve taught to shoot a shotgun, including several of her friends that same day. And she definitely would not try again.

    By John Frazer on Jan 19, 2010

  14. John — I’ve had the “crying girl” thing at the range before, too. Though in my case, it was a girl who decided to push a .308 rifle off her cheek at the moment she pulled the trigger, causing the stock to recoil and smash her in the nose. Doh!

    By ToddG on Jan 19, 2010

  15. I’ve had a couple women students cry after shooting. One, who’s gotten quite good, found it very emotional for about the first 3 months. It was the first thing she’d decided to do after she broke up with her husband. He’d been very dominating and abusive, and she decided she needed to be able to protect herself. It was a huge step for her, and now she’s more confident, and not just shooting. It’s really changed her life.

    By Rob Engh on Jan 19, 2010

  16. VG article and thanks for posting it for everybody’s safety.Shooting sports is a very challenging sport and requires all the discipline for the participants and enthusiasts.

    By rico santos on Jan 23, 2010

  17. Another excellent article.

    Although I prefer to leave the training to others, due to witnessing events as Rob Engh described, I’ll save a copy for later reference, just in case.

    By Suburban on Feb 27, 2010

  18. This really ought to be linked on the ‘Articles’ tab. Excellent post!

    By MichaelD on May 22, 2011

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