Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Too Much Fundamentals?

The best instructors in the industry stress the firearms fundamentals as being the key to good shooting. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. It’s drilled over and over, even in the most advanced classes. Is it really that important?

Yep, sure is. There are a fair amount of advanced classes out there. The underlying theme of those? Different situations that apply the fundamentals of shooting. The most advanced classes simply refine all of the things that happen before and after applying those fundamentals. They are the foundry of everything else. Fundamentals are simply the underlying principles of making hits. Regardless of what techniques are applied to accomplish these principles.

Can you get too much of the fundamentals? Not likely. Can you get too many fundamentals? Maybe, let's take a look at it.

How many fundamentals are too many? Thats depends. How many are there? I had somebody once list me 11 fundamentals of shooting. I thought it was some type of parody. Similar to that video of the 21 step draw procedure. I saw an Army list of 8 fundamentals. Is that a bit excessive? I think so. Navy? 7. NRA? 5. Still a bit much. I’ve looked at these lists with a critical eye. Which of these is really a fundamental of shooting. At a recent class, Pat Mcnamara asked “ Is stance a fundamental of shooting?, I dunno. But you should probably stand”  I smiled widely.  We certainly agreed there. But do we need to stand to get hits? Of course not. While standing has some obvious benefits in a fight, we certainly don’t need to even be standing let alone any particular stance to get hits.

Before a bunch of competition guys talk about how a certain stance allows for better recoil management and faster follow up shots, I’m going to go back to what I was taught years ago by James Yeager : That is a technique that allows you to apply the fundamentals in a more rapid manner. Important? Probably. Awesome? Sure. Fundamental?...nah. You don't HAVE to do it to get hits.

For a number of years, I subscribed to a very common list of 4 fundamentals. Sight Alignment, Sight Picture, Trigger Press and Follow Through. OK, those made sense to me. Do those 4 things, good hit every time. I went “all in“ on these. Then Rob Leatham said something that shook my faith in the system. The gist of what he said was “Grip the gun strong enough and your trigger press doesn’t matter” Holy shit! He was right. If I clamp a gun in a table vice, I can press the trigger with the full swing of a broom handle and the bullet will hit where it was aimed. So is grip a fundamental and not trigger press? Before I answer, let me say that I have made perfect repeatable bullesyes holding a gun with 2 fingers, upside down and pressing the trigger smoothly with an ink pen. Is it either/or? Grip or trigger press? Seems like doing at least one of the two is important. But what then is the underlying principle? I had to think on how I wanted to word that. Dont worry, I will before this is over.

Let’s take a look at the first couple on my original list. Sight Alignment and Sight Picture. These two are very closely related. Some people inadvertently lump them together. I’m going to do just that, on purpose, shortly. Barring some sort of mechanical error, the sights come from the factory already aligned on your pistol. Rifles may need to be zeroed, but then they too are mechanically aligned.  So let’s just go ahead and assume that the front and rear sights are mechanically aligned. We certainly won’t be out there turning knobs and drifting sights in dovetails between each shot. So we are essentially taking these two mechanically aligned points and aligning them to a third point, our pupil. Lining up these three things is considered “aligning our sights”.

Our sight picture is taking these three aligned points and aligning them with our fourth point: the target. So we are still aligning, we just add a fourth point to the mix. Ok, I’m down with that. But what if we are using a red dot sight? Are we no longer doing any sight alignment? Or is the alignment of the sight , the target and our eye the alignment AND the picture? I dunno how one wants to describe it, but now we have different fundamentals depending on the gear? Since a fundamental is an underlying principle to making hits, did the principle change with the gear? Or did we change the technique used to adhere to the principle? These were the questions I had to ask of my faith in my 4 chosen fundamentals.

What about Follow Through? Any disturbance of the orientation of the muzzle towards the target while the bullet is still in the barrel has a negative effect on accuracy. What about afterwards? Does excessive muzzle movement afterwards do anything other than make follow up shots slower? How do we know exactly when the bullet has left the muzzle? The easy answer is this: Keep the sights on the target before, during, and after the shot. If they move off the target, drive them back to the target. But if they move off, isn’t it already too late? Maybe. But in an effort to have a sight picture before, during and after the shot, we have a better chance of actually having an acceptable sight picture during, and that will affect accuracy. Sure, having one after is great for those follow up shots, but the crux of that is that the human mind cannot react fast enough to be able to determine the split moment that the we transgress from “during” to “after” the shot. By focusing on the before and after, we inadvertently sweep up the “during” as well. So the search was on to define exactly what the underlying principle was.

Instead of trying to rearrange words to get these thoughts to fit my predetermined fundamentals, I started from scratch. I approached the principles of making hits with a completely open mind. I decided that the underlying principles would be what I would call the fundamentals of shooting.

To the first two, I found the underlying principle was that we wanted to put the sights where we want the bullet to go. Sounds very simple and dare I say...fundamental. Literally that one phrase encompasses the entire principle behind aligning the pair of sights to our eye and the target, or even the singular sight to our eye and the target. It was that simple, put the sight(s) where you want the bullets to go. Eureka! I was happy with that and could move on to the rest of the principles to getting hits.

Down to three, I had to figure out whether it was grip or trigger press. Does it matter? No. Personally, I do both. Or at least I attempt to. So what was the message here? I am trying not to disturb the sights before the shot goes off. That was it, don’t disturb the sights before the shot goes off, but don't I also want to not disturb them during the shot as well? I can help accomplish that by focusing on a before and after “sight picture” but doesn’t that underlying principle directly tie in with not disturbing the sights?  I believe so. I am also not so naive as to believe I can eliminate moving the sights before and during the shot. My principle is to minimize moving the sights, while shooting. No need to differentiate, the before, during and the after. My eye/mind is incapable of differentiating the moment it slips from “during” to the “after”. So it boils down to “while shooting” and that’s what I was trying to do, boil them down to the underlying principles.
Now I had the other two of the traditional 4 fundamentals of shooting boiled down to one underlying principle. So that was it, I had started over with looking for the underlying principles of making hits on a target. Any target, doesn't matter what it is. You are only limited to size by your ability to apply these principles. These …..fundamentals. So that was it,  The TWO fundamentals of shooting:

1- Put the sights where you want the bullets to go.
2- Minimize the movement of the sights while shooting.

Do those two things and you will get a hit, every single time.
Want to know how to do that? Well there are scores of techniques to help you apply these two basic principles. Take a class. You could come out to one that I’m teaching or any of a bunch of other great instructors. They may word it differently, they may break these down to the techniques they recommend and mistakenly call that a fundamental. That's cool, just go out there get your learn on and don’t get too caught up in the semantics. Whether there are 3,4,5,7,8 or 11 fundamentals, we’re all trying to get the student to understand and apply these two principles.


  1. Very well written article, interesting and informative, thank you Garry!

  2. Awesome read! I appreciate your breakdown and explanations.

  3. I like it. Less things to remember and our brains will automatically apply what is needed to maintain the desired condition

  4. I like simplicity of the boiled down results it make sense to me. I will forever be a changed man.


Thanks for sharing.