Learning to Shoot All Over Again at Gunsite Academy


I consider myself a decent shot. I’ve never lost a game animal, save for a turkey that jumped up and ran off after being pelted with No. 5 shot at close range. I shoot more than most and can handle myself around most any gun. One thing I am not, however, is “tactical” by any means—so heading off to Gunsite Academy, one of the premier firearms instructional facilities around, was going to be a trip to say the least.

The invite to travel out to Paulden, Arizona to Gunsite’s training grounds came from the folks at Yamaha Outdoors. They had just released the special edition Tactical Viking side-by-side (check out my review of the “vanilla” Viking here) and the Grizzly ATV. They were joined in hosting us, a group of ATV and gun writers, by Garmin GPS, Ruger, Hornady, Blade-Tech, and a slew of others who donated even more gear for us to use. How could I possibly turn it down, right? If nothing else, I’d have a good story or two to tell you. Yeah, I do it for my readers—really!

Unlearn what you have learned

We all have some bad habits. I’m no different. I had a few bad shooting habits and it only took a few moments for the expert instructors at Gunsite to identify them and start correcting me. First up for me was pistol training, the very foundation Jeff Cooper founded Gunsite upon back in 1976.

The author found the SR45 to be an excellent pistol and a great choice for those looking for a .45 that doesn’t recoil like most other .45s.
The author found the SR45 to be an excellent pistol and a great choice for those looking for a .45 that doesn’t recoil like most other .45s. Image courtesy Ruger.

One of the first things that became apparent was that my “process” for shooting had a critical flaw. In shooting, you see a threat, or target, depending on what type of scenario you’re about to get into. It could be a defensive situation or a hunting situation. The basic thinking is the same—you must first identify the target. Your eyes see it and your brain tells your body to act. What do you do? In the case of shooting pistols, you draw the pistol, bring it into your “work space” and present it to fire.

In our case, we were shooting paper targets using Ruger SR45 pistols. One of the characteristics of the SR45 that I truly enjoyed was that it doesn’t feel like you’re shooting a .45. Recoil is very light, muzzle jump is almost non-existent, and the pistol fits well.

One of the things that you hear a lot of hunters say is, “As soon as I saw the rack, I stopped looking at the deer.” As hunters, we’re often reminded of that fact that “buck fever” is a real thing. But that led to a huge problem that my two pistol instructors, Chris Weare and Range Master Gary Smith, saw right away. Never take your eyes off the target.

I fell into the trap of taking my eyes off-target after I had identified the object of my future ballistic affection and while I was bringing my gun into my “work space.” The work space concept isn’t a new one, but Gary reminded us of it. Your work space is the area directly in front of you where you prepare your firearm for action—in other words, where you load, aim, and fire the gun. What was brought to my attention was that I was taking my eyes off the target and looking at the pistol’s sights.

The instructors told us to bring the gun into your line of sight, so that you never take your eyes off the target. Instead of finding it in the sights, you’re bringing the sights in-line with the target. I thought I was doing that, but after a few wayward shots, I was instructed otherwise. I’m not going to lie, it takes a lot of practice, but it’s something you should consider. Work on always watching the target, keep your firearm or bow close enough so that you can grab it, bring it into your work space, and fire, all while keeping your vision locked on the point you need to hit.

It’s like a golf swing—follow through!

How many times have you taken a shot and immediately dropped the gun or bow from being on the target? Think of that stupid turkey I mentioned at the beginning. I shot it and saw I hit it, so I dropped the gun down and started to jump up. D’oh!

Yamaha’s Special Edition Tactical Viking and Grizzly ATVs were the main reason we were at Gunsight. Both are decked out in tactical flat black colors and accessorized specifically for the tactical crowd.
Yamaha’s Special Edition Tactical Viking and Grizzly ATVs were the main reason we were at Gunsite. Both are decked out in flat-black colors and accessorized specifically for the tactical crowd. Image courtesy Yamaha.

Whether you’re hunting or in a defensive situation, you need to control that moment. If you’re in a gunfight and you have the offending party in your sights and you have to make that terrible decision to fire, you have to think of it in two ways. One, you have to make sure that the target in neutralized. That could take more than just one shot, so you stay on-target until the target is no longer a threat. Two, you have to make sure that the area is clear. Does the threat have friends? If so, you don’t want to have to bring that gun to bear again. You need to already be there, ready to engage.

I didn’t make sure the turkey was dead and it bit me in the butt. What if I had been hunting bears? Now I’m in serious trouble, right? Stay on-target until the target has been neutralized and be ready for anything!

Ruger also loaned us their SR-762 Modern Sporting Rifles. These rifles were the nicest-shooting AR-platform .308 rifles I’ve had the pleasure of shooting. Low recoil, super-accurate, and very versatile—I’ll have more on the SR-762 down the road.

We were shooting rifles at various ranges, from 25 yards out to 300. Coach Mike Moore had us working on how we breathed and how we positioned our bodies for the shot. We all know to control our breathing to steady ourselves. Bracing your body is a big part of it, too, especially if you have no type of rest. If you’re right-handed, like me, from a standing position, your right foot should be behind you and bracing your body. You need to lean into the shot slightly, with your knees bent.

Taking that one perfect shot and being ready to take it can mean the difference in any situation that you need to use a gun or a bow in. I know that I truly appreciated the lessons I learned from the instructors and will be practicing all summer long. Gaining some insight from professional instruction is an eye opening experience. I can’t recommend it enough.

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