During your shooting practice, your target will often tell you what you are doing whether it’s right or wrong. The targets in the picture below were the result of a practice session where my friend Steve and I were shooting the IDPA 5x5 classifier.

Each target shows the results of six classifiers and we only taped the shots that were outside the zero-down scoring ring. Steve was shooting a CCP pistol for all six classifiers. I shot a 9 mm back-up gun (BUG) for the first two and a CCP for the next four classifiers.

The IDPA 5x5 is shot on a single target placed 10 yards from the shooter as follows:

String 1: Draw and fire 5 shots freestyle.

String 2: Draw and fire 5 shots using primary hand only.

String 3: Start with only 5 rounds in your pistol. Draw and fire 5 shots, emergency reload (slide lock) and fire 5 additional shots freestyle.

String 4: Draw and fire 4 shots to the body and one shot to the head freestyle.

Feedback is an important part of learning, and learning to read your target will give you the feedback you need to identify and then to fix problems and improve your shooting.

Steve’s target on the left shows a relatively normal distribution of shots around the zero-down scoring ring. Some of the down three and misses were a result of speeding up to ensure we were shooting master times while doing our best with points.

Steve fired one String No. 1 in under 2 seconds — really quick; however, points were not so good. Steve’s target shows that he probably is executing the fundamentals correctly and just needs to tighten up his stance and sight alignment.

My first two classifiers with this particular the BUG were Expert runs. I am getting better with this pistol and beginning to shoot Expert on demand without warm-up. I still do not have a proper holster (working on it), and that is causing a few issues.

I then switched to the CCP. Out of four classifiers with the CCP, the first was a Sharpshooter (a long time since I put one of these in my shooting log) and three solid high Expert for the next three as I applied a more deliberate focus.

My only excuse for the Sharpshooter was I was not properly applying the fundamentals — I am appropriately ashamed.

Most of the shots on my target (on the right) show a distribution to the lower left of the zero-down scoring ring. Although some of the down threes were also a result of me speeding up to ensure I was shooting master times, the target indicates that I am tending to jerk the trigger.

When a right-handed person (me, for example) groups low left or a left-handed person low right, they are exhibiting the classic trigger jerk. As I speed up and if I am not disciplining myself, I tend to want to make the gun shoot NOW and jerk the trigger.

This pulls the sights down and to the left. It’s a common error and one many shooters must fight. This problem that creeps up on me when I have not been practicing as often as I should, and practicing with a deliberate focus.

A vertical string upward from the center often indicates an incorrect sight picture with the front sight too high in relation to the rear sight or “peeking,” as Steve calls it.

A vertical string downward from the center often indicates either an incorrect sight picture with the front sight too low in relation to the rear sight, tightening your grip on the pistol as you pull the trigger, or in extreme cases an indication that the shooter is anticipating the recoil and jerking the pistol downward as they pull the trigger.

To cure this, you must maintain a consistent grip on the pistol while only your trigger finger moves.

A horizontal group to the left or right could be sight alignment as well (you want equal light on either side of the front sight — see picture below). This type of grouping may also reflect the way the pistol fits your hand.

A right-handed person with a small hand might be pulling the pistol slightly to the right as they press the trigger. Obviously, the reverse is true for a left-handed person.

When shooting two-handed, if we do not have equal push/pull isometric pressure on the pistol, we can pull or push the gun to the left or right. Shooters pulling back too hard with the support hand will also tend to pull the sights in the support hand direction.

Trigger finger placement may also be a factor. Too much or too little finger on the trigger can cause pressure to one side of the trigger or the other and this will move the barrel horizontally sideways.

Working with a coach or taking a class with an instructor who knows his business is probably the best way to improve your shooting; however, you can help yourself if you know how to read what the target is telling you.