Anyone who wants to use a firearm responsibly must recognize the principles and key fundamentals involved in shooting. First, he or she should know the five rules:

  1. Handle all firearms as if they are loaded
  2. Keep your weapon unloaded until it is ready to use
  3. Do not point the weapon at anything you don’t intend to destroy
  4. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire
  5. Know your target and what is beyond your target

Anyone who violates these rules is a potential danger to themselves and others. Typically, common offenders are teenagers who pose for photos, cosplayers who have never held a real weapon in their life, and brand new shooters.

The first two types of people cannot be saved. The third, however, is usually open-minded. If that sounds like you, then read on.


The military teaches three fundamental firing positions. In order of ascending accuracy, these are standing, kneeling and prone.

The standing position is the least accurate, but the fastest to get into. It’s also the only one that can be used while moving. Generally suitable for short ranges or home defense, this position relies solely on your own strength to steady your weapon. Heavy long range precision rifles should not be expected to have any accuracy from this stance. However, in a pinch, a rifle sling can work as a type of support in this position. By passing your support hand under your sling, you offer a place for it to rest. However, the same accuracy can be achieved with experience and muscle control.

Basic Shooting Positions Every Hunter Should Master - Petersen's Hunting
Kneeling position with the hasty sling.

Kneeling behind a waist-high object offers the opportunity to rest your weapon on a stable platform, offering excellent stability. Kneeling in tall grass offers partial concealment, while kneeling in a tactical environment reduces your size, making you harder to hit. For the best possible results, try using your knee to support the elbow of your supporting hand while sitting on your non-supporting foot. Take great care not to rest your elbow directly on your knee. Bone-on-bone contact can make your aim unsteady.

Shooting prone is the most accurate position. However, the position is situational. It cannot be done with any great effect in tall grass or uneven ground. It’s also hard to find support for your rifle without placing it on a rock, log or backpack. However, when the conditions are correct, the prone position allows shooters to brace a rifle’s recoil with their entire body weight, while vertical recoil is virtually non-existent if the weapon is supported.

Trigger Pull

It is a mistake to think “all triggers are the same.” Just like firearms, there are good triggers and bad triggers. For every 1lb match grade trigger made by CMC or Geissele, there are a dozen 12lb stock triggers which make you feel like your finger is doing a deadlift just to fire a round.

While heavy triggers are considered a safety feature that prevent the weapon from discharging at the lightest touch, lighter triggers can improve accuracy. Trigger weight dictates how much pressure you put on the device before it fires. A lighter trigger allows less time for a shooter to anticipate his recoil while also lessening the time it takes to squeeze the trigger and fire. If he wants to be accurate, a good shooter squeezes with gradual force and does not press the trigger like a button. Pressing down on the trigger like a light switch causes the user’s grip to shift very slightly, which affects the weapon’s accuracy.

To ensure the greatest possible accuracy, you also need to use the correct part of your finger. It’s actually the middle of the first joint of your index finger, and not the second, which feels more natural to some people. Using the second joint has the chance to sway the weapon slightly to the left, which pistols are especially vulnerable to.

Following through is another one of the shooting fundamentals most new shooters neglect – the shock of the recoil causes people to immediately let go after they pull the trigger. This causes the weapon to jerk. Instead, the finger should be held down for a moment after the round is fired to ensure the weapon remains steady as the bullet leaves the barrel. This is true for both pistols and rifles.

To properly squeeze your trigger, hold it down until you feel some resistance. After this point, know that the next action will trigger your shot. Never anticipate the recoil, and simply maintain your sight picture and continue to squeeze until your round is fired.

Dry fire training can help maintain a steady aim and trigger pull. One of the exercises I learned practicing shooting fundamentals as a child was the coin test. In it, a coin is placed on the barrel of a racked, empty weapon. The trigger is pulled to the best of the shooter’s ability. If the coin fell off after dry firing, the shooter had a bad habit of jerking the trigger, or his trigger pull wasn’t steady enough. Once a shooter can dry fire without moving the coin, his trigger pull is considered steady.

The Scope

Some of the uninitiated believe that using a scope is as simple as mounting it to a rifle and pulling the trigger. Nothing could be further from the truth. A scope is a fickle precision device, and a hundred things could go wrong when using one.

If you pick up someone else’s scoped rifle, you might see a little shadow around the rim of your scope. This is because the optic’s eye relief is not set up for your particular eyes. An optic that gives you a clear sight picture might look like a blurry mess to a buddy. This phenomenon is referred to as “scope shadow.” It can be mitigated in two ways – the shooter can either adjust the scope’s diopter dial or move his face closer or further away from the optic. It should also be noted that scope shadow may increase or decrease based on the magnification of the optic.

Another problem solved by proper shooting fundamentals is scope-eye. This happens when the scope is placed so far to the rear that it strikes the shooter in the face when the weapon is fired. Despite being touted as a newbie issue, scope-eye can happen to the experienced and careless. Those who underestimate the recoil of their brand new high caliber rifles are particularly vulnerable. The obvious solution would be to move optics forward.

Other times, hunters who are used to iron sights who have mounted an optic for the first time find that their cheek alignment is thrown off by their new riflescope. Some adapt by raising their eye level to the optic’s ocular lens while ignoring cheek alignment. For those with steady hands, there’s no true drawback to this. Others prefer to use cheek risers. Homemade or store-bought, a cheek riser does exactly as its name implies. Resting on a buttstock, it elevates your eyes to the level of your optic’s ocular lens by providing a higher cushion for your cheek to rest. This is very valuable for long-range shooting since its stable platform for your cheeks helps to reduce scope sway.


Shooting fundamentals provide a good basis for excellent marksmanship. Without foundations or the willingness to learn them, a man with a rifle might as well be trying to hit the moon. However, with the proper technique and the right equipment, a novice will be able to make tight MOA groups after a few days of practice.

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