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10-Meter Pistol Shooting

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Author Bill Clarke

10-Meter Pistol Shooting by B.B. Pelletier

Other helpful reports on this subject:

Converting an anti-gunner AND teaching a person to shoot 10-meter pistol
Introduction to 10-meter pistol - Part 1/An instant tutorial!
The Gamo Compact cs the IZH-46 series:

The philosophy of the air pistol

Air pistols shooters are those people who were in the high school band. When they first saw the Sousaphone they asked, "Can I play the piccolo?" They see air rifle shooters showing up to a match with two large wheeled suitcases of equipment and they want everything to fit in a lunchbox. They shun shooting leathers for comfy sweatshirts and blue jeans. They wear running shoes, but for gosh sakes they never run in them!

Only after signing up for the air pistol were they informed that it is the most challenging discipline in all the shooting sports. But they figured the tradeoff was worth not have to drag around all that equipment.

Stance is the first consideration for shooting the air pistol. How you stand determines where you'll shoot, just as it determines where you can throw a ball. While it's possible to stand facing the target, with the line of your body parallel to the target, that's the wrong way to stand when you want to be accurate. If you had an arm coming straight out of your chest it would work well, but please notice that your arms are on either side of your body. Therefore, they cannot point straight ahead without a lot of muscles getting involved. We don't want that.

We want a stance that uses your skeleton for support, with minimum reliance on your muscles. Rather than talk about it, I'll show you. My illustration and discussion are for a right-handed shooter, but lefties need only reverse the instructions.


The placement of the feet determines where the shooting arm points. Your feet are shoulder-width apart, or perhaps slightly more.

Try this at home
Even if you don't own an air pistol, you can try this stance. Once you get the hang of adjusting your feet, you'll be amazed at how the stance determines how you shoot. Pick out an object far enough away that you can tell when you are or are not pointing at it. Now, adjust your feet like the illustration and point at the target.


This woman shows the classic stance. Note the blue jeans. An almost universal 10-meter pistol champion's uniform. No tight jackets here! Her other hand is anchored with a thumb through the belt loop - also pretty common.


This man shows the same stance. He sticks his free hand into his pocket. This is a rare competitor who doesn't wear shooting glasses. Even shooters who do not need correction wear shooting glasses because of what they do for their depth of field.

Tension your legs by turning your toes inward, starting with the left foot. Pivot on your heel, so your foot remains in place. Your stance will become more rigid as you turn the toe inward. Then, close your eyes and point naturally. Keep adjusting your foot placement and toe rotation until you're pointing at the target naturally. Turn the right toe inward last of all. It adds tension to your stance, but it also throws your aim to the left.

Once you find your stance - stay put!
I can always spot the shooters I'm going to beat at a match. They're the ones who keep moving around. One of our readers remarked several weeks ago how slow and deliberate 10-meter shooters seem to be. Well, that's partly because once they find the right stance, they don't move! I can take a new shooter and actually move his groups from side to side on the target, just by changing his stance.

Anchor your free hand!
The hand that doesn't hold the pistol has to be still or it will affect the whole body. Either stick it in your pocket or hook a thumb through a belt loop.

With the right stance, it should be very difficult for you to miss the bullseye to either side. All you need to concentrate on is the elevation of the pistol, and I'll cover that in the next report. Stay tuned!

Let's talk about vertically aligning the pistol with the target. In the last, segment we learned how our stance will keep the pistol within a very narrow segment of lateral space. The key to the vertical is your grip and the grips on the pistol. This is where the less-expensive 10-meter pistols such as the Gamo Compact let you down a little...and the Daisy 747 abandons you entirely. It's also a huge reason you can't shoot real 10-meter with guns like the Beeman P17 and the Crosman 1377.

Get a real grip
A real 10-meter pistol has a grip that's angled so far back that you must rotate your hand forward to align the sights with the target. When you do this, you also lock the muscles in your arm. This is what gives you the steadiness on target vertically. The IZH 46 has some of this rotation; but, on guns that cost a little more, the grips are a huge help in stabilizing the pistol vertically.


When I hold my hand in a relaxed posture, the pistol points upward. The backward rake or slant of the grip determines this.


When the sights are lowered to the target, the wrist locks up. It cannot move much lower than this because of the fit of the grip and the palm shelf.

But wait - there's more!
Good 10-meter pistol grips also have a small amount of outward slant to their grips, which further forces your arm into a locked position when the sights are on target. A few of the really top ones like the Steyr offer the facility to adjust both this outward slant AND the backward slant, so you can actually adjust the pistol to your body. These pistols turn you into a shooting machine. At almost $2,000, they're quite expensive, so I've never popped for one, despite knowing they could potentially add 10 points to my score in a 60-shot match. I shoot a Czech Republic Chameleon, which can still outshoot my ability, and I could never bring myself to spend the money to upgrade.


I propped up the grip with a laser, but the gun is lying flat on the table. This is how much the grip slants to the right.

The grip that keeps on giving
Once you rotate your hand forward to drop the front sight into alignment, the palm shelf digs into the heel of your hand and provides what feels like a solid support. When you have the palm shelf adjusted properly against the heel of your hand, it feels like you couldn't possibly lower the pistol any more by just rotating your hand. The Diana model 10 that I started out with in the 1970s actually had a sliding piece on the palm shelf that could be adjusted back to hit your wrist to further enhance this feeling. That may no longer be allowed in competition, because it worked very well yet the modern guns don't have it.

The rest is up to your arm
This is where that stance I showed you last time really comes into play. Your arm will now gain strength from the bones of your back and shoulder, and you'll be amazed at how steady you can hold that pistol at arm's length. For owners of the Daisy 747, this isn't going to happen for you because you don't have the adjustable palm shelf.

DIY grips
Nearly all pistol grips must be modified to fit their owners. The owner will use a wood rasp to remove wood or wood putty to add wood. I've done both on my grips, which is par for the course. I don't know how to explain how you can know what to remove and what to add, but after spending 50-60 hours with a set of grips, you'll know by the feel what needs to go and what needs to be added.


The wood putty at the rear of the grip fills a gap where the grip didn't contact the heel on my hand. Notice the adjustable palm shelf that must be tight against the hand.


A wood rasp deepened the finger grooves on the other side of the grip. I recut the coarse stippling pattern to keep it "grippy."

When I was at the Little Rock airgun show, Dennis Quackenbush showed me a Russian TOZ35 free pistol. I've never held a free pistol before and always felt that it would somehow be more stable than an air pistol, but I must tell you that it isn't. The modern 10-meter target pistol grip is so refined that it feels nearly as nice as a free-pistol grip, despite not wrapping all the way around your hand. Air pistol grips actually have to fit inside a special 50mm box to demonstrate that they don't violate the ISSF regulations. But, what they can do within those 50 millimeters is magic!


The Olympic .22 caliber free pistol is considered to be the finest target pistol ever made, but I find modern 10-meter air pistols to be almost as nice. The wraparound grip is not permitted on air pistols.

And now - wax on, wax off!
Now, instead of pointing your finger at the target, you grasp the pistol and align it with your eyes closed. Then open your eyes and make your fine leg and foot adjustments until the sights align with the bullseye. And, nobody better ask me what wax on, wax off means. That was a homework assignment, and I warned you I would be testing you on it.

The grip on a 10-meter pistol is so important to a shooter's success that top competitors will often not upgrade to a new pistol (at no cost to them) unless their grips will fit.

Let's talk about aligning the pistol prior to sighting, breathing and how long before you abandon the shot and start over. In a formal match, you have 1.5 minutes for each shot. That's plenty of time, yet it keeps a match rolling right along. I keep a stopwatch going so I always know where I am, time-wise, and I use a pellet counter to track which shot I'm on. I'll cover the pellet counter next time.

Breathing and aligning are part of the same procedure
Breathing during a match is part of a rhythm or cadence the shooter gets into. Every shot is performed in exactly the same way, with exactly the same steps between the shots. I'll describe how to breathe and how to raise the gun and align the sights. I didn't make this up. I learned it from an excellent video RWS published about 15 years ago, where a world-class German shooter describes every step of how he shoots. After memorizing that procedure, I now see that all world-class shooters follow it. Only at regional matches do I ever see departures from this procedure.

The shooting table
Every 10-meter shooter has a table in front of him. It holds his pellets, and he rests his pistol there (but doesn't let go of the grip) when not shooting. The table also keeps the shooter behind the 10-meter line.

Get ready
Rotate the pistol up on its muzzle in preparation to raise it. Take two or three deep breaths and let them out. Take one more deep breath as you simultaneously raise the pistol slightly higher than the target. Let out half of your breath as you rotate your wrist into the locked position and lower the sights just below the bullseye. Next, refine the sight picture and begin your trigger squeeze. This entire procedure take less than two seconds.


The pistol is rested but ready to raise. From this position take a deep breath and raise it straight up as you breathe in.


The pistol is up above the bullseye and the wrist is held naturally. Let half of that breath out and rotate the wrist down to the locked position. Lower the pistol, if necessary, to get on target.

The sights are now at a perfect 6 o'clock hold on the bull, and you're squeezing the trigger. The shot should break within five seconds. If it doesn't, relax your trigger finger and then lower the pistol. Five seconds is more than enough time to take the shot. Any longer, and your heartbeat starts moving your shooting arm. Don't tell me how long you can hold your breath. I can hold mine for three minutes, twenty seconds, and it still makes no difference. Five seconds for the shot or you stop and start the procedure all over again.


You have 5 seconds in this position, holding your breath. If the shot doesn't break, release the trigger and lower the pistol to the ready position. Start the procedure again.

If you did exactly as I said, there would be no reason to continue this report; of course, you won't in the beginning. Even I have a hard time, sometimes. I think, just another second - my sight picture looks SO good. That's where the trouble begins. If you do that, you'll soon be sniping at the target. Sniping (pulling the trigger in the hopes of hitting the target) will cost you big points in a match. Discipline is the lesson to be learned, and it's a hard one.

The willingness to abandon a shot and start over will add oodles of points to your score once you can combine it with perfect concentration on just the front sight...but there's a conflict. Perfect concentration means not thinking about anything else, while the willingness to give up means always thinking of the time. Each of us finds his own way to deal with this, and the ones who deal with it the best go on to become champions.

What's a deep breath?
Your aren't hyperventilating for a deepwater dive. You're just breathing deeper than usual. The next competitor who stands 4-5 feet from you shouldn't hear you breathe.

The imperfect body
The 10-meter stance is where you learn all about your physiology. As in, it's time to give up caffeine. It wouldn't hurt to run a mile or two every day. You may need to start weight training to strengthen your arm and shoulder muscles.

This is also where that less-than-perfect trigger makes itself known. The trigger on my pistol feels wonderful to a new shooter, but get used to it and every flaw pops out while you're squeezing off the shots.

How the target is lit is very important to all kinds of target shooting, not just 10-meter. You need a bright target against which your sight picture can appear sharp and black. It's essential that you see daylight on both sides of the front sight post, because a tiny error there will throw off your shot at the target much more than if your sights move to one side of the bullseye.


Although it is difficult to comprehend, the top sight picture will throw your shot wider to the left than the bottom sight picture. The spacing on both sides of the front post must be identical. To see it, you need a well-lit target.

Real shooting glasses
Real shooting glasses have only one glass lens, on the side of the shooting eye. They may have glass on the other side, but no prescription, because the shooter doesn't use that eye to shoot. The frames are very adjustable, so the glasses can be fitted to the shooter's face exactly.

Shooting glasses have an extremely adjustable frame on which all manner of optical shooting aids can be mounted. White blinder on the right (on left when glasses are worn) flips up for better vision when not shooting.

The shooting eye
The shooting eye has a lens ground to the shooters prescription for distance vision. It typically focuses from 18" to infinity, but follows the shooter's prescription. If the shooter wants no prescription, the glass can be clear. There is also an adjustable diopter over the lens that the shooter adjusts for the lighting at the range where the match is shot. The goal is to use as little light as needed to see the sight picture and the bullseye in sharp contrast. Because the light is reduced, the shooter's eye acts like a camera lens and adjusts the depth of field (range of distances at which objects appear in focus) to the maximum. That's what keeps both the sight picture and the bullseye in sharp focus, but the shooter wants the front sight to be in the sharpest focus, because it's what he focuses on.

Iris on master eye adjusts from small...

Image:09_18-07_shooting_glasses1.jpg very large.

The other eye
The other eye is covered with a flexible plastic blinder, so the shooter can keep both eyes open but only see through the shooting eye. Both black and white colors are available. I chose white to allow more light to get to that eye, which helps the other eye focus more sharply. The blinders are in front and on the side, so the eye is isolated from most of the light coming in. They're made to flip up easily when you need to see to walk or to find something on your shooting table.

The benefits of shooting glasses
Shooting glasses really focus your attention on the target. They also cancel distractions from your non-shooting side. The thing they do best is sharpen the sight picture. I found they added about 10 points to my score when I was shooting at the 520/600 level.

How to score a target
There are two scoring systems in 10-meter pistol shooting: the American NRA system and the international ISSF system, which is harder. In the NRA system, a hit counts by the highest scoring ring the pellet touches. Because we use only wadcutter pellets, this is normally easy to see. Nevertheless, a magnifying scoring gauge will expand the hole to true .177 size, which is slightly larger than the hole left by the pellet. If you shoot matches in the United States, you'll be scored this way.


This gauge is inserted in the hole, where it magnifies the relationship to nearby scoring rings.

International scoring
The scoring used by the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) is more stringent than NRA scoring, because they require the pellet to break through the scoring ring to get the higher score. Though that may seem like a trivial matter, it can subtract 2-3 points per match. At major international matches, the pellets are scored by sound rather than by gauge. Three sensitive sound transducers are positioned around the bullseye and they register the time of the tearing of the target from the pellet passing through. Then they triangulate a center position (where the center of the pellet had to be to produce the sound) and draw a pellet-sized ring around that center. That's overlaid on the image of a 10-meter pistol target and the score is automatically entered into a database. The shooter has a video monitor at his or her shooting position that displays the image of the shot. Only one shot at a time is displayed.

Final 10 shots
At the end of every major international match, the top-scoring shooters (8 shooters in the Olympics) have a 10-shot shoot-off to determine their standings in the match. For these 10 shots, each scoring ring is given an additional set of decimal points up to 0.9. So the best possible shot will be scored 10.9. How much additional the shot gets is determined by how much of the scoring ring it cuts, which is where the sound transducers really come into play.


The 10 shot is solid and not in question. In a decimal scoring round, it would be about a 10.3. The 9, located at 10 o'clock, is also a solid hit in both NRA and ISSF scoring. But the shot at 6 o'clock is doubtful. By eye we would score it as an 8. but if that were my shot in an NRA-sanctioned match, I would ask for a re-score. With a scoring magnifier, that might be a 9. The magnifier shows the full diameter of the pellet, which is ever-so-slightly larger than the hole it leaves. The magnifier reveals whether the pellet that left this hole really did touch the 9-ring. In ISSF scoring, it is clearly an 8.


When the hole is magnified, the relationship to the nearby ring can be seen clearly. Frosted ring is the pellet and this one, which is not the same one shown on the target above, is out.

How did I get here?
Let's review your 10-meter progress to this point. When you started shooting 10-meter pistol, your score for 60 shots ranged between the high 300s and the low to mid-400s. You were all over the place, and often threw shots into the white. Go look at a target here if you forget what one looks like. Better yet, buy a couple hundred because you're not getting into the 500s without them.

After a period of regular practice, your scores were always in the 400s, and sometimes above 450. By then you were getting critical of your trigger and you had the sights adjusted to a fair-thee-well - unless you're like old Ed. Old Ed was a shooter who shot 10-meter with us every Monday night. He shot in the mid-400s, but he was consistently a little low and left. After watching him for a couple weeks, I asked him about it. Turns out, he'd put his pistol in a bench vice and sighted it in that way. He knew he was shooting low and left, but in the vise the gun was drilling the center.

Several months later, I convinced Ed to adjust his sights. Lo and behold, he shot a 520 that evening! I don't know what that did to his bench vise's score, but who cares? It never showed up to any of our matches, while Ed was a regular. Believe it or not, there comes a point in almost every shooter's life when a simple sight adjustment will add points to his score. Maybe not 30-40 points, but take what you can get.

Breaking 500
Breaking 500 is usually a tough nut for most shooters. But, after adjusting your sights, the one thing that'll add more points than any other is the front sight. By which I mean learning to concentrate on the front sight to the exclusion of almost everything else. At this point in the game, you've mastered the grip, mount (raising the gun before shooting) Part 2,Part 3, stance Part 1, ...and you've found the best pellet. From this point until you are averaging 550, the front sight will add all your points. Non-target shooters cannot understand this, and world champions talk about little else. Let's see why.

A perfect diagnostic
When you concentrate on the front sight to the exclusion of almost everything else, you start to notice little things that were previously below the radar. Things like how the pistol pulls slightly to the left just before the second stage of the trigger breaks (yep - gotta get a gun with a better trigger). You notice when the front sight starts diving below the bull and nothing you do with your arm can hold it up (holding the gun on target too long). And you start getting real good at calling your shots - as in, "That was a nine at 9 o'clock." You used to be happy about just knowing which way the pellet went; now you're scoring the target that's too far away to see clearly. "Oh my gosh, I just flipped at 8! What's wrong with me?"

A month ago, you went down to the target like a gold panner - anxious to see what you had. Now you go down having scored your five or ten shots to within one point - all without being able to see them from the firing line.

Then, a day comes when you CAN see all your shots, because they all touch and they're all inside the nine-ring. Now you start to put pressure on those around you who see the same thing. You're averaging 525 points out of 600, and you finally grasp the importance of the front sight. Now you'll have to practice daily to get the next 25 points.

Practice make nearly perfect
Daily practice consists of a routine of at least 100 dry-fire shots followed by a full 60-shot match. Your score floats upward five points at a time until it starts bumping into the number 550. As you practice, you realize that all you're doing is becoming more intimately familiar with that all-important front sight. It now dawns on you that practice has revealed that the front sight may be the secret to shooting, which is what I meant by these two things being the same.

What I'm not saying, but what is happening just the same, is that your stance is now perfect. You can no longer stand any way but the right way, with the right amount of tension in both legs. Your grip and raising of the pistol are perfect, as well. You start shooting perfect scores of 50 with five shots - and believe me when I say that the first time you do it will be no less of a celebration than a golfer's hole-in-one or a 300 game in bowling. As you approach an average of 550, you'll shoot a lot of 50s - many more than any golfer ever shot holes-in-one.

Now, grasshopper, this is as far as I can take you from my own experience, because I never had a 550 average. My best score in practice was 545 and in a match 537. I got to the place I'm now describing, but I never went on. However, I do know how to go beyond 550, because several world champions and Olympians have written descriptions of the journey. Maybe I'll tell you how to do it next time, though I must warn you, it does sound very strange and new-age.

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