Bullseye shooting technique question


January 18, 2014, 06:52 PM
A friend invited me to a casual bullseye style competition at a local range, and I enjoyed it. I did OK for a newbie but naturally want to improve. Years ago I shot 4 position .22 rifle competition in high school, and presently spend most of my time and money shooting cowboy action matches with black powder guns. For this once-a-week casual geezer league, I will be using my old Ruger Mark 1 with iron sights. For this fun match, we only use one handgun. This league permits 2-handed and 1-handed shooting styles and I shot 1-handed just because I am a traditionalist (blackpowder shooter, you know). Obviously this is not an NRA sanctioned competition; it is just for fun on cold winter afternoons.

So the gun is going to move around, holding it 1-handed, while you are trying to squeeze off a shot. But I figure you guys with experience have some techniques to minimize the error. Six-o'clock hold, or center of bullseye; move the sights horizontally into the target, or up from the bottom, or down from the top...?

Care to share your tips for shooting a good bullseye score, please?

Thanks for your help.

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Pete D.
January 18, 2014, 07:15 PM
So the gun is going to move around, holding it 1-handed, while you are trying to squeeze off a shot. But I figure you guys with experience have some techniques to minimize the error. Six-o'clock hold, or center of bullseye; move the sights horizontally into the target, or up from the bottom, or down from the top...?
You will find practioners of every one of those methods of breaking the shot..
They all work.
The idea is to minimize your arc of movement (the little circle that the muzzle of the gun describes as you hold it on target. Then break the shot in a natural way -----yeah, what does that mean anyway?
Pay attention to your thoughts....that is more important. If you start thinking about maybe putting the gun down - don't wait, put it down.
Think always of the center of the target.....avoid the negatives like "don't jerk the gun" "stay away from the six ring".....start thinking like that...put the gun down. Always positive thoughts......"gonna be a ten".
Look for Gil Hebard's "A Pistol Shooters Treasury" and if you can find it A.A. Yur'yev's "Competitive Shooting".

January 18, 2014, 07:20 PM
We break down the fundamentals into five areas:

Sight Alignment
Trigger Control

I will go over each one as I have learned them.

Stance: A lot of guys stand about 45 degrees to the target, some stand almost sideways to the target, others completely flat. Here's how you find out how to stand: gripping the pistol raise it up to the target and align the sights. Now close your eyes and lower the pistol. Raise it back up with your eyes closed. Open eyes. If you are left or right, shuffle your feet so your are on target. Repeat until you consistently raise the pistol to the target. Once learned, stance is easy. Don't lock your knees either.

Grip: To find the proper grip tension, hold the pistol towards the target and align the sights. Slowly increase your grip pressure as if you were squeezing a wet rag. You should notice at some point the sights will start to shake. Slowly back off your grip pressure until the sights return to stable. This is the pressure you should strive to always put on the gun when you hold it. When you step up to the line, put the gun into your shooting hand with your off-hand and make sure you seat it well and get a good grip and find that pressure.

Breathing: On slow-fire, I take two or three very deep and slow breaths, slower on the exhale side, then I breathe in as I raise the gun. On timed fire, I do the same thing, only I get all my shots off as I slowly exhale. Do not hold your breath at any point.

Sight Alignment. Since you are shooting irons right now, the sight alignment goes like this: focus on the front sight, the rear sight and the target will be blurry; this is ok. Most bullseye shooters setup their sights so that you 'dot the i' with the front sight to put rounds on zero. This means holding what they call 'sub-6' or just below the black. You put the black on the top of the front sight like a dotted 'i'. Personally, I don't like that method, and I put my front sight in the center of the black. But that's just me. Both methods work well. The dotted-i method has the advantage of more contrast on the target.

Trigger control. This is the hardest to master, which is why I keep suggesting focusing on one gun. You need to learn your trigger and all its intimacy. It needs to be consistent, and you need to have confidence in when it will break. Some people use the pad of their finger to pull the trigger (me), some people (Zins) use the crook of their first knuckle to pull the trigger. Neither method is 'right'. I like to feel the trigger on my pad as it gives me more sensitivity to when its going to break. Some people will tell you that you should look for the surprise break. That's sort of true. When I shoot with a dot, and this applies to irons as well, I say 'watch the dot, wait for the bang'. This means align the sights on target, and slowly increase trigger pressure. Positive trigger pressure helps sight alignment.

January 18, 2014, 08:08 PM
Pete D;

I enjoy reading so thanks for the book references.


Exactly what I was hoping for! Thanks for such a complete response.


January 18, 2014, 10:18 PM
Hello, I have been shooting Bullseye for 45 years. I prefer to come down
from the top and take a center hold. It is a lot more relaxing to me.

Mat, not doormat
January 20, 2014, 06:50 AM
Hey J-Bar (Binks?),

Fellow cowboy shooter here. I've also been playing around with bullseye, sort of as winter cross training. While I'm hardly a 45 year veteran, I have read into it some, and can tell you what's helped me.

The first and most basic thing to realize, is that the gun starts to move in recoil the instant that the bullet starts down the bore, long before it clears the muzzle. If you want the bullets to hit in the same place every time, then your job as a shooter is to ensure that the gun starts out pointed in the same place, isn't disturbed when you trigger the shot, and then that it moves the same way in recoil each time. Small differences in grip, muscular tension, or bodily position can make for quite large shifts in point of impact. Thus the key to accuracy is consistency. If you try a few shots one way, then change something, and try something else, then shift around and try something else again, your bullets will be all over the paper. If you make your body a consistent launching platform, then they should all stay in one group. All that's left is to adjust the sights.

First is stance. The big idea here is called neutral point of aim. This is the position that allows you to hold on target with the least muscular effort, and therefore the least fatigue, and least potential for variations. Also, if your position is natural, you save time in the timed and rapid strings, as the gun lifts in recoil, then settles back where it was, without you having to fight it back into position. The way you find this natural position is to stand in something like a stance, and close your eyes. Then lift the gun. Let it sway right and left a bit, until it finds a place it wants to "hang." Now open your eyes. It probably won't be pointed at the target. That's fine. Instead of muscling it around, out of its nice, natural position, shift your feet around until it does point at the target, naturally. That's your stance. Stand as relaxed as possible, and anchor your non shooting hand somewhere, like in your pocket, or hook your thumb through a belt loop. That keeps it from swinging around, and acting like a lever to move the rest of the body around.

Next is grip. The 22 isn't as sensitive to variances in grip as the 45, since it moves so much less, but it's still a pistol, and they're just about all as sensitive as fiddle strings. Obviously, it's still a good idea to get as consistent a grip as you can. Instead of just picking the gun up off the table with your shooting hand, place in in the shooting hand with your off hand. Watch carefully where your fingers go, and put them there again next time. There's lots of argument about how hard to grip the pistol, but since consistency is the goal, I think the guiding principle should be how hard can you grip it all the way through the match? If you start out with a nice firm grip, but your hand gets tired over the course of the match and eases up, your POI is going to wander around. So, as firmly as possible, without either tensing or tiring.

Breath control isn't an area to which I've devoted a lot of attention as yet, so I'll just say what I've been doing. I take a few deep breaths before raising the gun, then exhale slow and smooth while raising it, stopping as the sights start to settle. I just extend the natural pause between breaths, rather than sucking in and half out, anything like that.

Sight alignment pretty much comes in two flavors: 6 o'clock and center hold. Although I use center hold for everything else, (cowboy, practical, defensive, hunting, etc) I use the classic target shooter's 6 o'clock in bullseye. Because the black iron sights show up clear against the white target paper, and the sharp edge of the bull provides a precise place to hold, it seems to work better. Black sights on a black bull just run together for me, and I get no definition, nor can I easily hold the same place in the center. As always with iron sights, focus is on the front sight.

There are at least three schools of thought about trigger control. Let's call them steady squeeze-surprise break, interrupted squeeze-surprise break, and trigger prep-intentional break. The first, the steady squeeze, is the simplest of them all. In it, you basically accept your wobble zone, and squeeze. At some point, the gun will fire, and the bullet should strike within the wobble zone.

The second, the interrupted squeeze, is a refinement of the first. Instead of steadily squeezing through, you only add pressure as the gun is wobbling toward the center. As it passes, you stop squeezing, but do not release. Hold what you've got until the gun starts to come back, then begin adding pressure again. This should reduce group sizes, as the gun should only fire as it's moving toward the center.

The third, the trigger prep-intentional break, does away with the surprise element of the first two. This means you have to be able to trigger a shot intentionally, without blinking, jerking, twitching, or flinching. If not, stick with the surprise methods. As to how it works, if you have, say, a three and a half pound trigger, as you're letting the sights settle on target, you take up about three pounds of tension on the trigger. When the sight picture looks right, you add the last few ounces and break the shot. As Elmer Keith said, "When you see a 10, shoot it." Ideally, you want breaking the shot to be a subconcious reaction to seeing a perfect sight picture.

As for how to bring the gun to the target, it's something else I've not given much thought to, but so far I swing up into it from the bottom. It works. I imagine down from the top would too, but I wouldn't want to mess with a careful stance by introducing unnecessary lateral movement.

The final, and probably most important aspect of the game is mental. If you don't plan what you want to happen, there's not much chance that it will. Most shooters tend to develop rituals, sort of like a checklist or mental program that they go through to prepare. First place the gun for the grip, then check the stance for NPOA, then mentally rehearse the next shot or string. By then the range commands will be starting, so load, breathe, raise, prep, and then let go and let the subconcious run things.

January 20, 2014, 10:20 AM
Mat (not doormat):

Thanks for such a lucid essay. Good stuff.

J-Bar (The original, NOT Binks! That copycat is in Montana!!)

January 20, 2014, 10:55 AM
Testing has been done where the trigger pressure is applied by machine. The shooter firing 1 handed, with focus only on the sights. Groups/score is much better when its unknow when the handgun will fire. You may find your score is better if you shoot the slow fire target like its timed or rapid fire. (steady squeeze-surprise break) http://www.bullseyepistol.com/ Scoring System for Club shoots - http://i338.photobucket.com/albums/n420/joe1944usa/Firearms%20%20and%20%20Reloading/Bullseye%20%20Scoring%20System/BullseyePistol01.jpg http://i338.photobucket.com/albums/n420/joe1944usa/Firearms%20%20and%20%20Reloading/Bullseye%20%20Scoring%20System/th_ScoreBullseye.jpg (http://s338.photobucket.com/user/joe1944usa/media/Firearms%20%20and%20%20Reloading/Bullseye%20%20Scoring%20System/ScoreBullseye.jpg.html) Click for larger photos.

Mat, not doormat
January 20, 2014, 04:20 PM
Thanks J-Bar. I've seen you post here, and him over on the Wire, and often wondered if you were the same guy.

January 24, 2014, 05:34 PM
The movement of the gun is called the "area of wobble". It can be minimized with practice, diet, exercise and training. The way to properly control the movement is to apply constant reward pressure on the trigger and to avoid trying to jerk the trigger when the sights are lined up perfectly.

If you are working the trigger correctly, it will break when your movement is heading back towards the bullseye and your shots will tend to break more towards the middle of the target. I keep pressure on the trigger and work hard at keeping the sights lined up where they need to be. With irons I prefer a 6 o'clock hold and a center hold with a dot sight. I tend to work harder on sight alignment and trigger control and let the area of wobble work itself out.

Proper trigger control for a bullseye shooter is smoother and a lot less jerky that the typical action shooter or cowboy shooter. The difference is that the target is more precise than the average IPSC target and speed is not a deciding factor.

Breathing, trigger control and sight alignment. If they are calling the line correctly, take the time to bring the gun up and get the first shot off as quickly and accurately as possible. Then follow through and repeat four more times.

January 24, 2014, 06:08 PM
The movement of the gun is called the "area of wobble". It can be minimized with practice, diet, exercise and training. The way to properly control the movement is to apply constant reward pressure on the trigger and to avoid trying to jerk the trigger when the sights are lined up perfectly.

I recently practicing for bullseye, hoping to shoot some matches this year. What I quickly discovered is that an 8-ring wobble can easily turn into a 6-ring shot if one's release and followthrough aren't perfect. IOW, it ain't the wobble per se that seems the big challenge.

January 24, 2014, 08:05 PM
The reason I come down from the top is when I come up from the bottom to
the Bull and try to hold it, seems like the Bull is pushing down on the front sight.
I can "Almost" feel the weight. It's like I'm trying to hold the Bull up. Comming
from the top down, there is no weight to hold up. I just let the front sight settle
in the "Black" and apply squeeze until she breaks. A lot easer to hold . The nice
thing about a center hold is the worst you will get is a "9". Usually the wife and
I will get a 99 or 98 at 25 yds. Using this system a couple 9's are bound to pop
up. I am in my 70's so I don't hold as good as you young guys. I've got to have
things easy. I don't think the center hold is quite as pricise as the 6:00 but it
is so relaxing. The wife and I have "cleaned" targets with the center hold tho.
She having a 100-8x couple years ago.

Some of the wife's targets with a center hold Mine is bottom left.


January 29, 2014, 10:13 PM
Well, I've read it and now I have seen it, thanks to all your comments. Now I have to apply it!! Awesome thread too.
I have shot in 2 events so far and Like J-Bar, they have been local, not strictly by the book events. While I have 3 pistols to choose from, they're all 9mm. I have borrowed 2 different .22's with sweet triggers. Big differences compared to the 5 to 6 lb triggers for my duty and backup weapons.

February 2, 2014, 02:39 PM
I'm late to the party, but will repost some material I posted on another forum...

There are many good resources on line. http://bullseyepistol.com/ is a whole Web site dedicated to NRA Bullseye Pistol. YouTube has some really good videos put out by the Army Marksmanship Unit. And there's an enormous amount of information at http://pilkguns.com/menu_coaching.shtml .

Now, I know some of you will be wondering why I'm showing you sites on precision shooting. It's because the precision disciplines are to shooting what ballet is to dance - they teach the fundamentals. Dig into the combat shooting books written in the 1970s and 1980s (before it became big $$ to run schools), and they all said the same thing...Spend a year on bullseye first. Get those solid fundamentals. THEN add speed, movement, and shooting from the draw. But there is no way you can miss fast enough to save your life in a gunfight. Firepower is bullets hitting people.

But let's begin with basics. Firing a good shot requires three things.
1. Align the front and rear sights with each other.
2. Align the sights as a unit with the target.
3. Release the shot without disturbing the sight alignment.

Do these well enough, and you can get yourself an all-expense-paid trip to the Olympics.

Part 2 - Sight Alignment

Sight alignment is essential. I'm short of graphics here, I'll assume everybody has been exposed to the basic idea of aligning the front and rear sights and go on to some Useful Tips...

It is critical that the shooter focus on the sights. Not, repeat not, the target. I suspect that many people lose track of this. A minor error in sight alignment will produce major errors in your shooting, just work out the geometry. This is why Olympic Free Pistols have a long sight radius, often more than a foot between front and rear sights.

Then you have the question of where the sight unit (front and rear) should be placed in relation to the target. For defensive arms, a center hold (bullet goes where the center of the front sight is placed) is customary. For target pistols? You'll get a debate. Some shooters like a center hold. Others favor a 6 o'clock hold, putting the bullseye on top of the front sight. But many of the best shooters have gone to a deep sub-6 hold, with a substantial amount of white target between the top of the front sight and the bottom of the bullseye. This encourages the shooter to focus on sight alignment, leaving placement of the sights in relation to the target as a secondary focus. It works.

Me? I use either center or a deep sub-6, depending on the gun. My preference is the latter.

Part 3 - Shot Release

OK, you've got the sights aligned, now it's time to fire the shot.

The key is doing so without disturbing the sight alignment. And that is where a lot of people make their big mistake. You cannot jerk the trigger fast enough to avoid disturbing the sight alignment - yet I see plenty of people get the sights on target and jerk the trigger with just that hope.

No. The key is a smooth pressure, straight back. Keep the pressure building. Even when your sights wander...unless totally off target. Even in slow fire, if it's taking more than 6-8 seconds to get the shot off, it's taking too long. Either speed up your release, or put the gun down (a skill I'll address in detail later). If you need to shoot faster, speed up the process. Jeff Cooper laid tremendous stress on the "compressed surprise break" - the classic bullseye trigger pull, but at a faster tempo.

This is where dry fire comes into play. Unload the gun. Aim at the target. Release the shot. Note what happened to the sights when the shot released. If the sights moved, that shot would have gone wild. Try again. Work on pressing the trigger straight back. You may have to adjust the position of your finger on the trigger to get this to happen - that's fine. Memorize that position (or write it down - most top shooters have a shooting notebook for that sort of thing).

Dry fire is the cornerstone of accurate pistol shooting. People keep asking me how I became such a good shot. There are many factors, but the foundation was that I dry-fired 30+ rounds per day, every day, between my 14th and 17th birthdays.

And dry fire is cheap. Very cheap. And you can do it at home, where it's cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

There's a YouTube video up by Keith Sanderson, an Olympic shooter from the Army Marksmanship Unit, about dry fire. Turns out he spent a 6-month period where he only shot about 500 rounds of ammo, then turned around and won a National Championship. Because he was dry-firing every day.

It's something we should all be doing.

February 3, 2014, 12:43 PM
I'm starting my second Bullseye season this year and had a practice that you may find useful.

NRA Conventional Pistol (Bullseye) seems to fit between International Air Pistol/Free Pistol (60 shots in 1.5 to 2 hours) and International Rapid Fire (5 shots in 8-6-4 seconds). In International slow fire events raising above the target and lowering to a sub-six hold is common. In International rapid fire a raise above the target and lowering is used to verify stance, and then the event is shot by raising up to a center hold. At that level of competition crossing disciplines is uncommon.

The practice of raising slightly above the target, looking at the back of my hand then aligning sights by focusing on the front sight while taking up trigger slack, lowering aligned sights through the center of the black to a sub-six hold (line-of-white) and firing at the first good sight picture has improved my scores. To do this well requires a very fine natural point of aim stance so the lowering is straight down. If the drop requires any side correction recheck stance and natural point of aim and try again. If the drop goes below the normal sub-six hold start over instead of trying to lift the pistol up. The goal is to use the least amount of muscle strength to get a good shot and to fire the shot between 4 - 8 seconds while the wobble is at it's minimum dwell. If your eyes wander from the front sight and focus on the target start again. This should feel like fencing; if it feels like wrestling start the shot process again.

You'll be able to see the effects of this minimum muscle technique in Timed and Rapid Fire as your string will be a tight group displaced left or right by where your natural point of aim is minus the recoil effect of what you are shooting. (Recoil plus the angle of stance to the target makes the pistol want to move across the target. Max effect 90 degree facing to target, min effect inline with target)

A few hours with a coach can save you months of training on your own.

When dry firing you should feel tired afterwards, otherwise you weren't training/concentrating hard enough. A dry fire drill that will make you sweat is place a small target (circle on paper) across a room, take a laser boresighter, pointer or sighter, and try to lower to the target smoothly and hold for ten seconds. This will illustrate a smooth drop and a hold area, kind of a poor man's SCATT training system. www.scatt.com

February 7, 2014, 10:28 AM
I have not yet joined a league but have been practicing on my own.

This is the US Army Marksmanship Unit manual, as in one handed handgun competitive marksmanship - extremely detailed info. on stance, grip, sight picture, etc. Very worthwhile reading.


February 14, 2014, 10:30 AM
Thanks again to all of you for sharing this info.

This thread is good enough to be a sticky!

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