An online dictionary I consulted defined “athletics” as sports, games, and exercises that require strength and skill. Make no mistake, shooting is an athletic endeavor. Though blessed with a diminutive body and limited athletic abilities, I am my father’s son. Thus, I grew up in a family that encouraged participation in sports and, perhaps even more highly, the viewing of sports as a spectator. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, golf, boxing, lacrosse, motor sports, and anything featured on ABC’s Wide World of Sports were fair game (but never bowling!). As someone blessed with limited athletic talent, I spent a lot (too much) time in my youth—and adulthood—studying the science of different sports.
It is interesting to note the carryovers from one sport to another. For example, the importance of the so-called “athletic stance” is important in so many sports (swimming notwithstanding!). Weight on the balls of the feet, knees slightly bent, nose over toes, etc., are techniques that are taught to boxers, linebackers, batters, and yes, shooters. Likewise, the concept of some sort of follow-through is also regarded as fundamental to most sports. Whether it is striking a golf ball, throwing a football, hitting a tennis ball, or shooting a basketball, follow-through is a key component:
So it is with shooting and, in this article, particularly in handgun shooting. I would posit that, in some respects, follow-through might be the forgotten fundamental. I see so often on the firearms forums and Facebook posts arguments about the best stance or the most effective grip, but very little about follow-through. Is this because those dispensing advice assume everyone knows what follow-through is and how to do it, a la breathing? Or is it because it is deemed less important? I’ll leave it to the reader to try to figure that one out.
What is Follow-Through?
Proper follow-through is what should be done from the moment the pistol is fired and for every shot fired. Obviously, depending on the cadence of shooting, follow-through might take several seconds or need to be done with great alacrity. To do it correctly, focus on the front sight must be maintained from before the shot is broken, through the shot itself, through recoil, and all the way through recovery. During this time, the trigger should also be reset–or let out fully–as required by the type of handgun you are using as well as according to your preferred school-of-thought. That is really all it is, the maintenance of a sight picture throughout the firing cycle.
Where Do People Go Wrong?
Once each year I play golf with my father. This is not because of any love I have for the sport; rather, it is just a father-son bonding exercise. Indeed, I do not even own any golf clubs, and just use an old set of his from a prior age. My father is pushing eighty and not particularly adept at golf, but as with many things in life, skills performed by a septuagenarian several times each week will trump the skills or innate athletic ability of a much younger but completely unpracticed opponent. And where do I go wrong the most in golf? By doing what countless weekend golfers do: I lift my head to watch the ball in flight.
When it comes to shooting a handgun, I must admit that, in my opinion, follow-through is the fundamental with which I struggle the most. The sin I commit when it comes to follow-through is the same as most others who struggle (and the same issue I have in golf): I lift my view over the sights to check the target. I HATE that I do this, yet I do it way too often. This is an incredibly bad habit, one that will lose you time in competition and have more dire consequences in real life.
Rationally speaking, looking for your hits makes no sense. If you have fired the gun before then you know where rounds hit at various distances relative to the sights. As a shooter, you need to trust that, in terms of the mechanics of the gun, nothing is going to suddenly change. The trigger is pressed, and the rounds hit where they always hit. If your eyes lift and “race forward” to the target, then if you have to shoot again, you have to reacquire the sights and essentially start over again. Plus, in an actual fight, even if you do race your eyes forward to the target, you probably will not see the hits that you made (if you made them) or any discernable effect on the target. Better to keep your eyes on the sights, and if the target is still there, you simply press the trigger again (and again) as necessary.
To date, the best instruction I have received on follow-through was in what I usually describe as my first high-quality class. That class was the pistol class I took with Steve Fisher of Sentinel Concepts in the Spring of 2014. By the end of the 500+ rounds I fired in that class, I was, for the first time in my life, successfully tracking my sights almost as if in slow-motion from the moment the pistol fired, up through recoil, and back down on target again.
To date, the best information I have read on follow-through was in “The Art of Modern Gunfighting: The Pistol, Volume 1“, by Scott Reitz. Not only does Reitz describe exactly what follow-through is; he provides a useful slow-fire drill designed to try to instill proper follow-through for every shot, complete with an exaggerated pause post-shot with focus on the front sight. Needless to say, I plan to spend some time on that drill and follow his advice when it comes to follow-through.
My hope is that if you were a person who never used to think much about follow-through, that now you understand what follow-through is and why it is vital. Just as it is critical skill in so many other athletic endeavors, so it is with shooting.
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