Diagnostic Shooting Targets–The Big Lie

I was watching former Delta Force Sniper, John “Shrek” McPhee on TriggerTime TV last week and he covered one of my pet peeves…shooting correction charts, like this:

diagnostic_target

The segment was truly epic.  I can’t find it online, but I reached out to John to see if it exists anywhere online so I can share it with you…he’s doubtful since it just aired.

In short, John went through all of the advice shown on the diagnostic charts, and, with the exception of 2 of them, called them “crap” advice.  Now I’m sure this chart didn’t appear from a vacuum and it probably works for some kind of shooting, but it will get a combat/self-defense shooter chasing their tail faster than about any other tool out there.

So, I want you to think about everything on that chart and what you know about how firearms accuracy is *supposed* to work (stance, grip, too much/too little trigger finger, etc.) and tell me how this 200 yard, snub nosed revolver, upside-down-using-a-pinkie shot is possible:

Here’s something to keep in mind.

Having the sights aligned with the target from the time that the primer ignites until the bullet leaves the muzzle is all that affects where the shot goes.

Stance and grip WILL affect how quickly you can get a 2nd round on target, and they’ll absolutely affect accuracy if you’re shooting fast or if you’re point shooting, but they won’t affect the accuracy of a single sighted shot.

With that being said, the fundamentals of marksmanship make it MUCH easier to quickly line up the sights on your intended target and keep them there throughout the firing process.

But if we were to try to create a formula that let us look at holes on a paper and try to dissect them, here’s what we’d find.

If you’re constantly stringing your shots horizontally or constantly shooting to the right or left, the problem is probably all in your head…try shooting again with your left eye closed (if you’re a right handed shooter).

Sighted shooting is not a “natural” activity that your brain knows how to do from birth.  In order to shoot a sighted shot accurately, you need to line up the rear sight, front sight, and the target with the center of the pupil of your dominant eye.

The problem is with how vision works.  Light enters both eyes, is converted to a chemical signal, then to an electrical signal and sent to the optic chiasm.  The signals are split and sent to the visual cortex.  The visual cortex gets 2 images and has 2 perspectives on whatever you’re looking at.

The visual cortex decides whether to suppress one of those images or to combine them to make a hybrid 3rd image that it sends to the rest of the brain for processing.

More often than not you end up with a situation where the brain might use the image of the front and rear sight from the right eye and the image of the target from the left eye and combine them into something that doesn’t really exist and you end up missing to the right or left of the target, even if you SWEAR that your sights are lined up on the target.

You can test this really quickly…if you’re missing to the right or left, shut one eye and see if your groups tighten up.

If you’re constantly shooting low, pie shaped groups, the problem is probably all in your head and is likely the result of anticipating recoil and pushing the muzzle down to counteract it.

Calm down and focus on a clear front sight picture while you slowly press the trigger straight to the rear without a care in the world about when the gun actually fires.

I’ll take shooters who are having problems with this and have them aim the sights at a target with their finger on the trigger while I take their hands in my hands and put my finger in the trigger guard with theirs.  Then I’ll talk with them and encourage them to focus on the front sight while I slowly increase pressure on their trigger finger.  As I’m talking, the gun will go off and the bullet will hit the bullseye…but THEY were the one touching the trigger and THEY were the one aiming so they immediately internalize the positive result of focusing on the sights and their trigger press rather than on trying to control recoil.

If you’re right handed and constantly shooting low-left or left pie shaped groups, the problem likely the result of squeezing your entire hand as you shoot rather than just your trigger finger.

This one may not be all in your head :)  Ideally, you want to have an isometric (not moving) grip with the 3 bottom fingers of your shooting hand and have a relaxed thumb and isolate the movement of the trigger finger so that it presses straight to the rear while the rest of the fingers remain rock solid on the grip.  If your trigger finger is hurt, fatigued, or the trigger is heavier than what your finger can easily squeeze, it will recruit additional muscles from the rest of the hand to squeeze the trigger.  This squeezing tends to rotate the muzzle inwards, or to the left for right handed shooters.

Depending on the situation there may or may not be a short term fix for this.  If you have weak/normal finger strength and you’re saddled with an 11 pound NYPD trigger, you might need to do something horrible and use both index fingers at the same time.

Long term, you want to do grip exercises, try doing pull-ups or pull-downs while keeping your index finger straight, and lots of dry fire practice where you pay attention to pressing the trigger straight back to the rear while maintaining a solid grip and keeping the sights aligned on target.

If your groups are stringing up/down, it’s probably all in your head and is a result of trying to see where your rounds are going too quickly instead of patiently following through on your shots.

Shooting is exciting!  And there is a natural desire to want to see where you’re hitting as quickly as possible after you shoot.  Unfortunately, there is a consequence to being impatient.  It usually causes the head to pop up and the muzzle to point down or the wrist to drop and the muzzle to point up AS the shot is being fired so that you can see where you hit as soon as possible.

If you’re stringing your shots up and down, make sure that you follow through on your shots by focusing on your front sight AFTER the shot is fired and BEFORE looking downrange to see where your shot went.

If your groups are all over the place like a shotgun blast, it’s probably all in your head and is the result of chasing your shots or a cluttered mind thinking of too many things at once.

The siren song of the bullseye causes shooters to do crazy things…especially with pistols at self-defense distances.  When a shooter has a group off of the bullseye, the tendency is to assume that the problem is with the gun/sights and adjust the point of aim.  But if the problem isn’t perfectly consistent from shot to shot (few are), then the shooter either keeps chasing their groups around the target OR comes up with a cop-out like “well, that would stop a bad guy” or “8 inch groups are really all you need within 21 feet” to soothe their bruised ego.

A better approach is to slow down, keep aiming at the bullseye, and start eliminating human variables until your groups tighten up and go where you want them to.

Once you KNOW that you can slow down and put rounds exactly where you want them to go, there’s nothing wrong with speeding up until you’re shooting 8” groups.  The problem is if you slow WAY down and still shoot 8” groups with no pressure under ideal circumstances.

The 2nd reason why shooters get groups that look like a shotgun blast is because they’re getting stressed out trying to focus on too many things at one time or moving too quickly for their skill level.

Get a comfortable stance.  Then forget about it.  Get a good grip.  Then forget about it.  Breathe, but don’t think about it.  Visually focus on the front sight and let everything else disappear from your mind as you slowly increase pressure straight back on the trigger without a care in the world about when it will release the shot.

Your sights are going to wobble.  Don’t worry about it.  Just empty your mind of everything you can, visually focus on the front sight, and gently press that trigger straight to the rear.

You simply can’t focus on several things at once, so don’t try.  And the faster you’re moving, the fewer things your mind can pay attention to…so slow down and only work on one or two components of your shooting at any given time.

There’s no reason to rush a shot.  One perfect hit that takes a little longer is better than a really quick miss.

The fact that most shooting problems have their roots in the brain is awesome for us.  It means that we can work on them and fix them off of the live fire range.  And there are 2 courses that I use personally that have helped me with the mental dynamics of shooting…

First is the “Deadly Accuracy Home Study Program” from Matt & Sherrie Seibert.  It is a step by step process to help shooters master the mental aspects of shooting in general and specifically gives them the tools to be able to deliver precise handgun shots to the mid-brain in dynamic, extreme stress situations.  It’s been proven effective by law enforcement, military, and civilians from coast to coast and in deployments around the globe.

Second is “Speed Shooting And Eye Dominance” also from Matt & Sherrie.  It goes in greater depth on the visual aspects of shooting than any other training on vision+shooting that I know of.  And the speed shooting component builds on the Deadly Accuracy program and reduces the time to the first shot as well as splits between shots.

Both of these are incredible courses and are something that I would consider to be vital for any shooter who’s committed to mastering their craft.

Thoughts or comments on the traditional shooting pie chart, Shrek’s interpretation of it, or my interpretation of it?  If so, please share by commenting below:

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  1. Bill
    5 months ago

    A good read , I have seen similar ( fix it chart`s ) at local indoor range & they didn`t help me . once I admitted that I was the problem & not some lame excuse, I did slow down & shooting improved.


  2. Dave
    5 months ago

    I too, once used these charts until I realized they weren’t helping. When I started having bad groups, etc. I switch to a smaller target. I realize now that this was making me slow down and pay attention to the basic fundamentals. One day my dad was having an off day at 15 yds, so I handed him a sheet with six 3″ red dots on it and told him to put 3 rounds in each dot. It worked. He was dubious at first, but after seeing his results he was much happier and had no trouble going back to his targets. I’ve also found that simply changing to a different looking target will kind of “reset” your mind by breaking the monotony of shooting a target you keep having problems on. You are right, most of it is in our heads.


    • Ox
      5 months ago

      Awesome, Dave!

      I do the same thing…I have guys run a drill on a silhouette target with standard scoring. Then I’ll cut a hole in the center of the chest and the center of the head and put ping pong balls in each of the holes. The drill is to shoot until the balls are gone from the hole (usually only 1 hit)

      I see 2 things…first, group size shrinks.

      Second, when we switch back to the standard silhouette target, they still shoot tighter groups.

      Train hard!


  3. Herman
    5 months ago

    I am a firearms instructor and utilize a simulator to teach. It’s amazing how the technique described above transforms a frustrated or poorly trained shooter into a good shot and happy shooter. Keep up the great work that you do.


    • Ox
      5 months ago

      Keep up the good work, Herman!


  4. Don
    5 months ago

    Excellent info. My low left apparently weak grip confirms what I always knew: there’s Nothin’ in my head. Consistent seems to be one in the bull, six low left, and one in the parking lot. I can’t figure out why that one uncontrolled shot goes wild and hits the bull….


  5. Nicki Poliska
    5 months ago

    I had to laugh when I read this article. You trash the target that lists the possible fixes to shooting errors and then proceed to list all the possible fixes to shooting errors. Too funny! I can only assume you are running out of ideas to print.


    • Ox
      5 months ago

      Hmmm, I apologize if I was confusing in any way. None of the existing diagnostic targets work and I simply gave a handfull of diagnostic tools that shooters can use that actually do work. Where did I lose you on that?

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