Pistol drills for beginners

Can you really shoot group sizes to 3 inches or less at 10 yards with a pistol?

By ingraining the proper sight picture, trigger press and grip into the subconscious so these things become second nature you can quickly improve your accuracy with a pistol.

All of the drills below are focused on improving accuracy. Time is not a factor here.

Ingraining includes muscle memory and brain memory for the right way to execute these tasks. When this is accomplished, the learnings will automatically transfer into improved accuracy in your overall shooting, but especially in tactical shooting for self defense.

Becoming accurate on targets in optimum shooting conditions is a pre- requisite to being accurate in self- defense or combat. The basics of accuracy with a pistol are the foundation. Without having the right basics of pistol shooting ingrained, you don’t stand a chance when you are under pressure. Here are a few drills that will help get you there.

These drills are intended to be done together in sequence. When done in this manner the whole exercise will be akin to a full body work out, only with a focus on pistol accuracy.

What equipment is needed?

No timer is needed for this drill as it is completely focused on accuracy and properly using the 3 fundamentals.

Pistol Sniper Drill

The dot drill – stage 1

It is important to start each training session with drill that reinforces the correct fundamentals of accuracy. The objective is to program yourself to use the correct grip, sight picture and trigger press through the entire training session by completing this drill first.

It is also a good idea to end the entire session with this drill, going home with positive thoughts of tiny groups obtained by focusing on the important fundamentals.

Place a target at 5 yards, 7 if you consider yourself a master shooter. Use a two hand grip and slow fire 10 shots into a 1″ dot. We use the 1 inch dots shown here on Amazon or you could just draw a 1 inch dot on any target.

We use these because we are pretty serious about the outcome of our stages and want no argument about whose dot was bigger.

Take as much time as needed to ensure your most accurate shots. The objective is to have all 10 shots touch the 1″ bulls eye yielding a group size of 1.5″ or less from 5 yards.

When you finish the first round, use the dots that come with the target to refresh the target (cover all of the holes) and do the same drill one handed using your strong hand. Then fire the last 10 shots using your weak hand only onto a refreshed target.

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When you first start doing this drill, you probably won’t get them all within the bull. Your goal is to have all shots touching the 1 inch dot. Do 3 sets of 10 shots each using both hands, your strong hand only, then your weak hand only, and keep them all in the bulls eye from 5 yards. You score 10 points for every shot that is touching the 1″ dot.

The real benefit of this drill is being close enough that you get immediate feedback from your shot. You will then be able to recall immediately what happened that was wrong when you made the shot. This should give you a really good idea of what to do different. Once you know what you did wrong, it’s much easier to correct it.After these 3 drills proceed to the rest of the session.

15 yard bullseye / reload drill – stage 2

Use a six inch Birchwood Casey type bullseye target with numbered rings. Here is the one I use on Amazon. At 15 yards, slow fire a 5 round group, reload, and fire 5 more rounds. Rinse and repeat. Again time is not a factor. The objective is to score higher than anyone else who is shooting. Usually 80 per round is a really good score depending on how good your group is.

As stated before, time is not a factor. The reload is only to force you to take your thoughts away from accuracy for a few moments. You will be surprised ho much of an effect just a simple reload can have.

25 yard bullseye – stage 3

This stage will be shot at 25 yards using a eight inch Birchwood Casey target that has numbered rings. Here is the one I use on Amazon. Each shot will again add the number inside the scoring ring it impacts. Splitting the line allows using the higher number.

You will fire a total of two ten round magazines. Each 10 round magazine will have a dummy round randomly added so the shooter doesn’t know where it is. Because of the dummy round, maximum score will be 90 per magazine or 180 points for both.

This drill should help you see excessive sight movement if you have it. The results in the target will confirm it. If you are consistently shooting left or right, you need to change the position of the trigger on your finger pad. If you are seeing up or down consistently it could be your sights are off (only the case about 1% of the time) or you are flinching during the trigger press.

50 yard bullseye – stage 4

This stage is fired on a 12 inch bulls eye Birchwood Casey target with scored rings at 50 yards. Two strings of 5 shots each are fired for a total of 10 shots. Maximum points per shot is 10 so the maximum score on this stage is 100 points. All shots are scored by the ring where the shot impacts. Missing the target returns a zero.

Scoring the session

The sum of points from all 4 stages are added to yield the final score for the drill. A perfect score is 780 with a total of 78 shots fired. Any score above 680 is a really good score.

Tips for improving your score

Trigger Press

If there was only one thing you could do to improve your accuracy with a pistol, I would perfect the trigger press. Other than pointing you pistol at the target, trigger press effects more of the outcome of your shot than anything else.

The correct trigger press is one that presses the center line of the trigger straight back along the center line of the pistol. No push to the right, no pull to the left. It’s harder to do than you might think.

Try dry firing practice where the objective is to accomplish what is written above. The measure of how well you do it is whether the front sight moves when the pistol activates the shot. If you are pressing the trigger correctly there should be NO movement of the front sight.

Front Sight Focus

The second most important fundamental of shooting for accuracy is front sight focus. Easier said than done. It takes a lot of practice to absolutely focus on the front sight.

Most people have a tendency to focus on the target, and in a self defense situation that is what you will do. It is not your choice, it will be the natural reaction of your brain that causes this. In this situation you should be prepared to shoot with both eyes open. You will probably be using instinctive or point shooting techniques.

When shooting for accuracy, it is ok to close one eye to make focus on the front sight easier. It is ok to do this as long as no one is shooting back at you because if that is the case, you wouldn’t be able to do it if you tried.

Shooting for accuracy requires more focus on the front sight than just putting and holding it as close to the target as possible. You must concentrate on holding the top edge of the front side post dead in the middle of the target.

In addition, you must put the middle of the target in the middle of the sight post horizontally. This is called aiming small to shoot small.

One trick is to put a tiny mark that is easily seen right in the middle of the top edge of the sight post. To apply it I just use ordinary sight paint with a toothpick. A tiny easily seen mark in the middle of your front sight is what you are after.

This mark goes by many names which are not important. What is important is when you are shooting for accuracy learning to use that tiny mark as your actual sight post. This forces you to hold with less sight movement, make a good trigger press to stay on your target and not flinch when the shot goes off. All of the basic fundamentals of proper pistol shooting from one little white dot on your front sight post.

Another trick is not to shoot at the bullseye. Shoot at a flea in the middle of the bulls eye. This forces you to use more of your brain for focus and the results show it.

You will be shocked at how accurate you can be at longer distances, or up close, when you are using this little mark to aim small and forcing your brain to work harder. I routinely shoot fragments of 4 inch clay targets at 25 yards using this technique. Depending on the pistol, I have seen 5 out 10 golf balls hit from this distance using this technique. This is because my focus is smaller. Aim small, shoot small.


I use a grip that I call the one unit grip. It is not different from the standard grip taught by most instructors except in the thought processes you use. Once you get this it will reduce sight movement and therefore increase accuracy. Here is a picture of what the grip looks like from the thumb side.

To get this grip take the standard proper pistol grip with both thumbs point forward. If you are right handed, use your right thumb to press down on the left hand. Squeeze the pistol tightly until you start to tremble then back off enough to stop the shaking. Envision in your mind that both hands have now become one and are functioning similar to a vise.

That’s it, very simple. Try it and see if it helps you as much as it helps me.


Although there are many other drills that can be used to test and improve pistol accuracy, this is the one my group invented and uses consistently. It gives you a full workout both up close and at distance and allows comparison of your abilities to those of others. We have a blast on weekends running through these drills and I hesitate to say, there might few side bets along the way just to make it more fun.

We have been doing these drills once or twice a month for about 6 months and I can honestly say that every single person is a much better pistol shooter today than they were 6 months ago.

Realize that shooting for accuracy and the techniques described above are only to have shooting at tiny little targets or targets that are far away. This is a ton of fun. But don’t give up on your self defense drills or practicing instinctive or point shooting. These may not be as much fun but they will be what you need if your life depends on it someday.