Working on a better follow up shot

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The earliest Western example of a repeating firearm is a revolving arquebus, produced by Hans Stopler of Nuremburg in 1597. While I can't tell you what Hans did two days after that invention, I am willing to bet that the first day after he invented it was dedicated to finding out how to come up with a faster follow up shot. As technology and our knowledge of firearms manipulation has evolved over the years, so has the techniques to get that faster, more accurate, follow up shot.

Working on a better follow up shot - Editor - eger-range-2-390.jpg
(Author, with towel, spending some of many long hours on the range)

These techniques can be divided into learned physical training, tactical foundations, and firearm modifications.

Physical Training

Before you move into manipulating any firearm, be sure that you are physically capable of its safe handling.

1. Do not limp-wrist your firearm. If you notice lots of failure to feed malfunctions while shooting a semiautomatic handgun, odds are you are limp-wristing. If you have a solid, stable grip on your firearm and are still seeing this problem, then you may need to work on your grip strength. This can be done through any number of grip exercisers available over the counter. These work by exercising the specific contracting muscles in your hand, wrist, and fingers, providing an increase in overall strength to those targeted areas. Remember, this in only a basic step, your primary areas of concern for in tactical foundations and firearms modifications.

Tactical Foundations

Now that you are sure you can hold and handle your firearm properly, work on the tactical foundations. These can be done in both safe unloaded dry firing and in live safe range practice.

1. Proper grip is possibly the most important foundation in firearms accuracy and manipulation. A good, safe, two-handed grip that is solid is fundamental. Most shooting doctrines advocate that the shooter should not force the firearm into one hand or the other, ideally keeping the weapon balanced with about 50% of the weight on each hand. Alternatively, some grips use a 60/40 balance but no more. Steady and reliable control of the firearm does not need a death grip or arms that look like Lou Ferigno. It needs firm and natural control from both hands, ideally with thumbs towards the target, with no 'tea cupping' tolerated.

2. Proper stance is right behind having a proper grip in your foundations. The most correct stance has been a matter of firearms writer's articles bread and butter for decades. There are schools of thought that only the isosceles stance is the one to use. Just a large a group will preach that only the weaver and its modifications can be the one true stance of all 'real' shooters. No matter what stance you prefer, the best one is the one that makes you feel comfortable. Range practice with several different stances and evaluating the effects of each downrange will help you decide. Be able to move in your stance with multiple targets. You should be able to move to the left, with your left foot or to the right on your right foot and keep your sight picture stable. This only happens with a proper stance after the correct grip is obtained.

3. Sight alignment is essential in any aimed fire, and all fire should be aimed. Anyone can blaze away and empty a magazine in seconds, but are they actually hitting anything? Keep your eye on that front sight. Remember, it is impossible to keep the target, the rear sight, and the front sight all in sharp focus at once. Your front sight should be clear while the rear sight and properly identified target is slightly fuzzy. Once your first round fires, the sight will move, realign it as fast as possible and take your second shot as soon as the firearm levels back out and you have reacquired your target.

4. Trigger control will help any shooter tremendously throughout their shooting career. A steady and slow squeeze to the rear on the trigger with a proper sight alignment, stance, and grip should not move the muzzle of the firearm even slightly. The best way to judge if your trigger control is a problem for you is in dry firing. Take a safe and unloaded firearm and squeeze the trigger. If you are moving the firearm, you are pulling your muzzle off target. When making rapid follow up shots, many shooters forget this fundamental and slap the trigger to get that fast second shot. Always squeeze, never slap or your rapid-fire group will be all over the place. If your follow up shots do not have the same level of calm control that you showed with your first, slow it down and look at your trigger control.

5. Trigger reset, especially on double action firearms, is a pitfall that many shooters never even think consider. On the first shot of most DA/SA firearms, the trigger will have a much longer radius of movement and heavier breaking point. Once the shot has fired and the slide has cycled the trigger needs a much smaller movement and less pressure to fire since the hammer or striker has now been fully cocked by the recoil of the slide. Practice firing taking full advantage of this. Think of it as bang (let out trigger until you feel it click) bang (let out trigger until you feel it click) bang... instead of bang (let your finger all the way back up) bang. Once you figure this out, it makes your follow up shots cake.

Firearms Modifications

With you being fit enough to hold and fire your firearm, and having all the tactical foundations laid, there are some firearms modifications that can help speed up your follow on shots. It can be argued that if you have extra funds for your firearm that these should first be used in extra ammunition, range time, and training opportunities rather than in modifications. However, once you have the basic tactical and physical foundations, firearms modifications can help shorten your time between follow up shots further.

1. Recoil buffers have long been sold for semiautomatic handguns, shotguns, and rifles/carbines. These range from $7 small plastic cutouts the size of a dime, to 11-ounce heavy stainless steel tungsten buffers for AR-10s's that can cost $135 or more. These buffers have been around for decades with mixed reviews. However, if you are trying to shave off microseconds and the buffer does not interfere with the mechanical reliability of the host firearm, they are an option.

2. Compensators and recoil reducers can be added to all three firearms types: shotguns, rifles, and handguns. Do not confuse a flash hider with a compensator/recoil reducer. A flash hider simply shields the muzzle flash but does not necessarily modify felt recoil. The reason for a flash hider is to reduce the dust and flash signature, such as on military style rifles, as seen from your target's point of view-- not to help the shooter.

Compensators and recoil reducers direct the gas escaping from the muzzle, typically upward and outward, forcing the muzzle not to climb as much as normal. This helps regain sight picture and faster and enables a more rapid follow up shot. However these compensators, since they do project the muzzle gasses outward are decidedly unfriendly to bystanders and extra care is needed when on the range as well as in real life tactical scenarios.

3. Ammunition selection is important in factor in preparing for a quick follow up shot. Smaller caliber rounds in heavy platforms, such as heavy barreled .22LR pistols, pistol caliber carbines etc. have long been seen as causing an almost unfair advantage in rapid-fire situations. In situations where caliber cannot be changed, the ammunition itself can be downloaded. In recent years law enforcement agencies around the country have switched from standard buckshot and slugs to specially developed reduced recoil rounds.

For decades, competition shooters have relied on wadcutters and other low-powered target rounds to speed up their shooting. Manufacturers such as Remington and Federal are now producing an ever-expanding field of reduced recoil ammunition that is still viable for defensive purposes. For example, if a .357 wheel gun user wants to shave an extra half second off their follow up shot, they can switch to Federal's Premium Personal Defense Reduced Recoil 38 Special 110-grain Hydra-Shok that still has 244 ft-pounds of energy on target which compares nicely to the same company's 129-grain +P loading's 258 ft.-pounds.

4. Modern engineering improvements on firearm designs should be evaluated for their increased availably in reducing felt recoil, which translates into faster follow up shots. In handguns for instance, the .380 subcompact has been around since 1908 arguably. However new designs such as the Keltec PA3T and the Ruger LCP use a locked breech design when helps reduce muzzle flip over legacy platforms like the Walther PPK and FN 1922.

The opposite can be seen in shotguns where new design inertia drive shotguns, being more advanced and easier to clean, actually have more recoil than 1960s era gas guns. In modern sporting rifles (.223/5.56mm AR platforms) piston rifles are all the rage, however mid-length direct impingement gas operating systems usually have a shorter linger time than long piston rifles, which of course can translate into a faster follow up shot.

5. National match and competition triggers with a short reset can also help with rapid shooting. Use that front sight, even at close range.

It sounds like a lot, but the follow up shot you perfect is one you can be proud of and just may save your life one day and of course, your mileage may vary. If you have a tip to help, please and by all means, drop it below.

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