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How To Shoot A Pistol

A couple of weeks ago, we posted a blog, along with a visual tutorial by Clint, on how to use an AR-15. This was initially done to help new AR-15 owners and those considering an AR purchase. AR-15s and AR-style rifles are selling at a record pace right now, due to the trying times that we are living in. We received a great response from some of you regarding that instruction.

With the great feedback that we received from that tutorial, we decided to do it again. So here is a written and visual tutorial on how to use a pistol.



Pistols top the gun owners preferred firearm lists for a lot of reasons. They’re great for personal and home defense, can come in large or small frames. Smaller pistols are the number one seller for concealed and everyday carry. Pistols offer a higher ammo content, and the ability to drop the magazine and reload with a fresh magazine quickly to increase your ammo availability even more. They are easy to maneuver, unlike most long guns. They are quick and easy to reload, and provide the shooter with more available rounds over a revolver. In addition to home defense and tactical needs, you will likely see more pistols than any other firearm at the range. That is because they are simply great to shoot. They are a lot of fun as a range toy, but as you are shooting a pistol at the range for a little fun, you are actually practicing and honing in on the needed skills should a threatening incident occur. 

The caliber range is also incredible in the pistol world. When someone asks me what my favorite caliber is, I have to answer that it depends on the manufacturer. I have a favorite caliber for several firearm manufacturers. For example, I chose a Bersa Thunder .380 for my concealed carry, but if I want to go to a range, I usually take the lightweight Colt Commander chambered in .45 ACP. By the way, do you know what "ACP" stands for? Regardless of what you shoot, if it requires an "ACP" round, even in different calibers, the "ACP" stands for Automatic Colt Pistol.

Pistols are very personal. Pistol owners tend to bond to their firearms and view them as an extension of themselves in the unfortunate event of an attack, threat, or life or death situation. Wouldn't you want to bond with a manufactured piece of engineered science that could save you and your family's lives? Shoot, I even have names for my pistols!

Beretta M9A3 9mm 17rd Semi-Auto Pistol


First and most importantly of all is safety. So let's get to the housekeeping before we plunge into procedures. Always, always abide by your safety rules. Memorize the ones that I am going to list for you and furthermore, obey range rules. Most are the same, but some ranges may have additional rules. For that reason, always read the range rule signs posted at your local range.

To get a good start, memorize these rules: 

  1. Treat all guns as if they were loaded.
  2. Treat all guns as if they were loaded.
  3. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Imagine that there is a laser on the muzzle of your firearm, and everywhere that the laser goes while in your control could cause injury, damage, or death. It's easy; don't laser anyone!
  4. Keep your finger AWAY from the trigger until you are ready to shoot something.
  5. Know what you are shooting, and what is behind it.

Another safety step is that YOU make sure that the gun is not loaded when you receive it, even if you trust the person that hands it to you. It is nothing personal, it is protection for you and every other person nearby. So first, clear the gun, in this case, a pistol.

Surplus Beretta 85BB .380 ACP 8rd Semi-Auto Pistol


Clearing a semi-automatic firearm, including a pistol, is universal, and while the manufacturer, model, and caliber may be different, the clearing action is pretty much standard. 

  • Remove the magazine. Taking away the magazine cuts off the supply of ammo to be loaded into the chamber. Be careful, however, taking away the ammo supply does not mean that the pistol is unloaded. Always check the chamber!
  • Eject the cartridge from the chamber. Manually run your slide. Pull it to the back and release it to eject the cartridge in the chamber. Whether you think the pistol is clear or not, run your slide to make sure.
  • Lock your slide to the rear. In addition to running your slide to eject a cartridge that may be in the chamber, visually inspect that there is no magazine in the magazine well and no cartridge in the chamber. An even further validation that you can do is to stick your finger in the chamber to reassure your sight check and confirm that the chamber has truly been cleared. The result is a cleared and safe firearm. 
  • Leave the slide locked back. If you are inspecting or performing any administrative actions, leave your slide locked back. If you need to put the pistol down, when you pick it back up again, you can quickly verify once again that the pistol has been made safe.


- Point the muzzle in a safe direction.

-Visually check to make sure that the barrel is not obstructed. Don't look down the barrel, just make sure that sunlight or artificial light is coming through with the slide back.

-While the slide is back, also make sure that the chamber is clear.

-Some folks prefer to fill their magazines at this point, and some folks are always prepared with preloaded magazines. Just remember, the less time that the slide is back, the less debris, dirt, and dust collect in it. If you have never loaded a magazine before, it can be tough, especially if it is new and has a tight spring. Place cartridges in the magazine with the cartridge end, not the bullet end, rearward. Most likely, you will have to firmly press them in, but don't force them. Forcing a cartridge in a magazine could damage the lips of the magazine.

-While holding your pistol with one hand, pick up your magazine with the other hand.

-Insert your magazine into the magazine well until you hear an audible click, then give it a tug to make sure that it is securely in place.

-Pull the slide all the way to the rear and then let it go, the slide will quickly move forward and in doing this, will load a cartridge into the chamber.

-If you were unable to load with the safety on, now is the time to put your pistol in a safe position.

Surplus Yugoslavian M57 TT Tokarev Pistol


The hard work is done, so now you get to reap the benefits of all the hard work. To fire your pistol:

  • A quick "so you know" before you fire your pistol for the first time. A proper grip is critical. Remember that during the firing cycle, the slide is going to move rearward, quickly and powerfully. Make sure that the skin web between your thumb and forefinger is not in that area or in danger of being cut by the slide action during firing. Your dominant hand IS your "gun hand". Place that hand high up on the backstrap of your pistol. Controlling your pistol with this hand will give you more leverage against your pistols recoil. Press your support hand firmly around the remaining exposed part of the grip. Your support hand should be under the trigger guard. A good grip should feel very natural.
  • Get into a good shooting stance. With your feet about shoulder-width apart, bend slightly at the knees. Don't lock your knees or arms while firing.
  • Bring the pistol up to complete your firing position.
  • Use your dominant eye to aim.
  • Align your sights.
  • Get your sight picture.
  • Keep your finger out of the trigger guard and off of the trigger until you are ready to fire.
  • Press the trigger back. Don't pull it or snap it. Complete the entire action of pressing the trigger back as far as it will go. Make sure that the pressure that you are applying to the trigger is placed at the front of the trigger and not to the sides of the trigger. Don't anticipate your shot or the noise or the recoil. Just make a solid, consistent, movement throughout the travel of the trigger.
  • Of course, once you press the trigger, your pistol should fire. And that's it. You have fired your first pistol round!

SAR 2000 9mm 17rd Semi-Auto Pistol


I know that sounds like a lot, however, all of the above actions occur very quickly. It is a lot easier to do than to explain it. Everything from the safety rules, to clearing, to loading, to gripping, to firing will become more fluid the more that you practice. Eventually, the feel of the entire process becomes very natural. The natural feel that you acquire while practicing is called muscle memory. The more that you build that muscle memory while firing your pistol, the comfortable you will become. Even though you will get very comfortable over time, don't take that for granted. Always remember the safety rules and function of firing, especially when it comes to putting the safety on and when to take it off.

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