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Exploring the Road to Handgun Mastery

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In this session of Marksman Live! I spent time talking to Josh Shaw, a local USPSA Grand Master, author, and instructor for Green Ops. The focus of the conversation was all about developing handgun skills, a bit about equipment, and some standards to hold yourself accountable to.

You can find him on Instagram at @_yoshi_moto_, and train with him through Green Ops Inc.

Key Takeaways

There were a few things that we kept coming back to during this conversation, so it makes sense to hone in on them as the main takeaways. The first was about a misperception between handgun skills and rifle skills. Second was about modifications to your weapons. Lastly, we talked about the most effective way to develop skill on your own (as well as an achievable standard to pursue).

Handgun vs Rifle Marksmanship

There is a idea that the fundamentals of shooting handguns and rifles are different. This typically stems from the different techniques and difficulty that shooters have with one over the other.

However, Josh pointed out that they really aren’t that different from one another. The fundamentals of marksmanship are completely the same across both platforms:

  • Stability – holding the weapon to provide a consistent base
  • Aim – Continuous process of aligning sights, target, and applying holdover/lead
  • Control – Processes such as manipulating the trigger and safety throughout the firing cycle
  • Movement – Physical placement of the body on the field

We could further break each of these down into components like stance, position, grip, breathing, sight picture, etc.- but you get the point.

The primary difference is that a handgun is far less forgiving of poor fundamentals. As an example, the short sight radius means that errors in sight picture are magnified to a great degree on the target. Poor trigger control translates to more movement of the gun during firing.

Since the pistol only has two points of contact (and sometimes one), it is also far less forgiving of positional instability than a rifle with four points of contact (both hands, your cheek weld, and the stock pressing into the shoulder).

Mastering the fundamentals on any platform translates to others. Josh gave a specific example of long range shooters who have mastered the trigger squeeze process often do quite well with handgun triggers because they understand the mechanics.

Handgun Modification

The topic of buying mods for weapons was a hot one. All too often, new shooters are only doing it because they see others doing the same. This makes them feel like they must swap out parts on their guns in order to be competitive.

The trouble there comes from the very real risk of modifying a weapon so much that it becomes unreliable. 

Josh was not immune to this either. He gave examples of prior guns that he modified to the point of unreliability. He then committed to shooting only factory stock guns, and even used completely factory guns to make Grand Master.

That’s not to say that all modifications are bad. The nuance is that any modification should be carefully thought out regarding why you might need to do it, and then making sure it’s done correctly.

Handgun Training Plan

We spent quite a bit of time talking about dry practice, and just how vital it is to becoming a better shooters. Josh detailed how he made it a daily habit to work through the first ten drills of Steve Anderson’s Refinement and Repetitiona book that’s been recommended to me many times by this point (and I suggest to others as well).

The goal is simply to practice the basics so many times that they become natural and instinctual. Then do it some more. 

Dry practice is about more than just squeezing the trigger, but all of the movements involved in handgun shooting. You have the draw, reloads, target transition, movement, and more.

Minimum Capable Citizen Handgun Standards 

We got to the topic of what a minimum capable citizen should be able to do with a handgun to be considered “good enough” for most situations. Josh was quick to point out that the vast majority of successful handgun defense situations happen with someone who is completely untrained, so a true standard is difficult to judge. That said, he offered two things that he believes indicate someone is quite capable with a pistol.

  • Place a piece of 8.5″x11″ printer paper at 25 yards. Place 10 hits on the paper within 20 seconds.

  • From 7 hards, draw and fire a single shot into the A-Zone of a USPSA or IDPA target within 1.5 seconds

Wrapping Up

Thanks to everyone who was able to make it to the stream and interact with us during the session. It was a pleasure talking with Josh, and I’m looking forward to getting out and training with him over the next few months so I can report back on progress.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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