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Aiming a pistol

Learning to Aim

Learning to aim a handgun is the easiest thing to do but the hardest thing to get right. Aiming for new shooters takes a combination of skills. Learning to aim will be the easiest of the basic steps in handling a gun. The aiming basics are also simple.

Yet, for many shooters, this will be the hardest to get right. Learning to aim is a combination of all your basic skills being done right at the right time. When learning to aim as a new shooter you will immediately see how easy it is. By the time you are done with this article, you will feel confident that you know the aiming basics and are ready to shoot.

To start with, the aiming basics are simple. Align your sights so they are equal height and have equal light, that’s it. So why do so many people struggle with this? Because if your grip is wrong, your trigger pull isn’t perfect, your natural point of aim is off, or you anticipate the shot. You will not hit what you aimed at. Aiming for new shooters is more than just learning to aim or the aiming basics.

Sight alignment

Proper sight alignment on a handgun
Sight alignment

The first step in learning to aim is learning how to align your sights. This is done by making sure the front sight and rear sight are lined up together. You start by making sure the front sight is the same height as the rear sight. If your sights are level than your gun is at the right level.

Then you make sure the front sight is centered. The space between each rear post is the same on both sides. Your gun is now centered and level. You will have equal height and equal light on both sides. Aiming basics 101, now you are a perfect shot.

If only that were true, then nobody would ever miss. Aiming for new shooters is pretty simple, it’s the rest of the process that makes it difficult. Learning to aim is only one part of actually hitting your target. If you have done any other research you will have heard a lot about sight alignment and sight picture. Sight alignment is done by aligning the sights on your gun. Now you need to keep that alignment and get a good sight picture in order to make the shot.

Sight picture

Learning to aim with a good sight picture
Pew Pew’s sight picture

Sight picture is the second thing you need to know when learning to aim. It is the first thing you will see but the second thing you must know. By that I mean you will be looking at your target when you draw your gun.

You will align your sights and then align your sight picture. Most guns are set up to mimic the 3rd sight picture. Meaning the dot on your sight will be where you want the bullet to hit. Think of it as where the laser is pointing at or dot in this case. That is where your bullet will land.

Some shooters prefer the second sight picture because it allows you to see the target better. This is where aiming, for a new shooter anyway, will be how you prefer to set up your sights. Some sights will allow you to adjust them so they can be lower on the sight picture and still hit the center. It’s referred to as a 6 o’clock hold.

My gun came aligned with the third sight picture, combat, or center hold as it’s called. Now you know the basics of aiming. Aiming for new shooters is a lot more complex than just the basics of aiming. Learning to aim, will take a lot of practice and doing everything else right. Now, let’s move onto the what to focus on while aiming.

Front sight focus

While this could be considered still the basics of aiming. It is definitely a part of aiming new shooters must know. Without knowing what to focus on, your shots will not align properly. It will take plenty of practice to get used to.

Imagine you have your target in sight, your gun is aligned and you believe you are ready to shoot. In order to hit your target in the right spot. Your eyes need to stay focused on the front sight alone. The sight picture will be blurred as well as the rear sights. The only thing you will see clearly is the front sight.

If you use the wall drill I posted in learning trigger control for new shooters. It will help you to learn how to stay focused all the way through the shot. You will also hear a lot about keeping both eyes open, which I will discuss more in a minute. The main thing you want to pay attention to when learning to aim is making sure that front sight is the only thing that stays focused. If you try to look to the target before your shot is complete you will likely be off. This is a mistake that I have made a lot as a new shooter. When I was learning to aim, I purchased a laser trainer. I used this to build my own dry fire training system.

Using a laser trainer in my gun, I was able to practice the basics of aiming without costing a bundle at the range. There are all kinds of systems out there and many are a complete set. I printed off my own targets, downloaded a couple of apps, and bought this trainer to save money.

The problem I kept having though, I kept switching to see where I hit while firing. This is where the apps come in. iTarget and G-sight both work with many laser trainers. I had to learn to trust they would show me afterward where I actually hit. In return, I was able to stay focused on the front sight and just check the app afterward.

Aiming with 1 eye or 2

I have read many cases for aiming with both and one eye. The truth is, in a self-defense situation being able to have both eyes open can be crucial. The same as it is crucial to make sure you accurately hit your target, which is easier with one eye. If you are like me, however, you will find that you see more than one front sight with both eyes open.

If you don’t train to use both eyes you will never do it when you need it the most. The reason both eyes open is so crucial is so that you can see other threats around you. Most bad guys don’t operate alone. You will also need to make sure no one is about to dart out in front of your shot. Remember you are responsible for that bullet from the time it leaves the gun until the time it stops. Knowing your target and whats beyond is critical when learning to aim.

You can’t just pick a target and assume you will only hit that target. That said there are advantages to shooting with just one eye open. When aiming as a new shooter you will notice that the front sight is blurred with both eyes open at first. You can shut one eye and get a perfect focus on the front sight. The problem is if you train that way, you will be putting yourself at risk of not seeing that child run out in front of your gun or another bad guy locking his sights on you.

My solution to the whole problem was simple. I squinted my non-dominate eye(I will explain in a minute) so that I could still see but my front sight was focused. There are other suggestions as well. Some trainers will suggest that you bring the front sight up slightly so that it is focused. Then bring it back down to align your sights. This will help your eyes focus on the front sight alone. Over time it is believed it will correct the problem on its own by doing it this way. I went with the squint, it works every time and it was an easy habit to form.

Finding your dominant eye

How to find your dominant eye
The dominant eye triangle

When learning the basics of aiming you will first need to find your dominant eye. Before learning to aim, you will need to know which eye to use to focus on your sights. To do this you will place your hands in a triangle( the smaller the better).

Find a small object on the wall or a knick-knack or whatever. Place it in the center of the triangle. Then close first your left eye and see if the object stayed centered. Then open your left eye and close your right eye. With your right eye closed see if the object stayed centered.

You can also with both eyes open and the object in the center. Slowly bring your hands back to your face. Whichever eye your hands are now over is your dominant eye. The same thing goes for when you were closing one eye. Whichever eye the object stayed in the center for, is your dominant eye.

Learning to aim for new shooters will consist of knowing your dominant eye. It is likely that your dominant eye is the same as your dominant hand(the hand you write with). That said, some people will be cross-eye dominant. The only difference is which eye you want to bring your gun up to. When learning to aim, simply form the habit of raising your gun so that the sights are in front of your dominant eye.

Things to look for

If you have read all the basics. It is likely that once you finished learning to aim for new shooters you will be ready to try them out. If you have practiced each area along the way. Your first shot will likely be pretty decent. If you are like me, you will find your follow up shots start to show a few problems.

If you are shooting left, it’s possible you have less light on the left when your shot fired and vice versa for the right. Up or down will have to do with how level your sights are when the gun fires. While learning to aim, you will often hear the terms windage and elevation. Windage is your right and left on the sight. The elevation is your up and down on the sight.

Some sights have an additional adjustment to zero these in better. One word of caution when adjusting aiming for new shooters. You need to make sure you are shooting from a bench with something to support your gun or hands. The reason is, you will notice that your arms don’t stay perfectly still when you are aiming. Your sights tend to move in a circle around the target. This is normal and is not a problem for shooting accurately once you get used to it.

For adjusting sights though, you need to be 100% sure you are not adjusting your sights do to a user error. This is where the bench and support come in. This allows your gun to stay perfectly still and in place through the shot. If you are shooting low left, this will not be your sights. This will have to do with grip, trigger pull, and or anticipation. If you make the mistake of adjusting your sights to compensate. Later when you move farther away from your target. Your shots will be way off their target.

Final thoughts and helpful videos

Learning to aim and learning the basics are keys to making you a better shot. In the videos below you will find different ways it is explained and different techniques used. Learning your gun and repeatedly practicing the basics, is the only way to improve.

There is no quick secret that is going to immediately make you better. There are plenty of tips to help you improve, but they will all require practice. Sight alignment and sight picture are just one part of the bigger equation when learning to aim. You will also need to lean your natural point of aim. This is the point that you naturally bring the gun up to and where you bring it out in front of you. You don’t want to have to move your head around to find the sights. The sights need to line up in front of your eye when you raise the gun.

There are several videos on youtube that will show you how to find the perfect spot. The first video below will give you some things you can practice to improve seeing your front sight. The second video will give you a visual explanation of aiming as well as a tip or two. The final video includes a drill that will help you to fix accuracy problems and to help identify them.

If you are interested in getting more online training from professionals, as well as coverage in case you do need to defend yourself, click on the banner below. As always I hope this information has helped new handgun owners and we will be posting some more drills and self-defense information in the days to come along with the basic draw.


I am a father, and grandfather, who has a Masters's Degree in IT & a certified USCCA concealed carry & home defense Instructor. I became disabled from work injuries early in my adult life. I also spent most of my life being anti-gun however, after a few years of research and re-evaluation. I switched my focus from anti-gun to learning about guns. I am now the author of "From anti-gun to pro-gun and beyond". My goal is to become an Instructor for people wanting to conceal carry and learn self-defense. I am focused on sharing everything we learn here at RGD Reviews. This site was not set up to make money, although any donations and book proceeds will go to sharing future training. We thank everybody for taking part in our site and hope you find something that helps you in your gun journey.

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