Four Fundamentals

magazine being loaded into a handgun

New to shooting? We explain four fundamentals you’ll need to master to start your journey into the shooting sports.

1. How To Load

How you load a firearm depends on the action and to some extent the specific model. But there are some general guidelines newcomers can follow to get the job done.

For a semi-automatic handgun, shooters generally push cartridges down into the spring-loaded magazine on top one another until full, while revolvers require the cylinder to be swung out, and the cartridges dropped in.

Syntech Training Match being loaded into a magazine

Semi-automatic or bolt-action rifles can feature a detachable magazine like the one just described, or a hinged floorplate magazine built into the firearm. With these, shooters load the gun by opening the action and pushing cartridges down into the magazine. Lever-actions are loaded by sliding cartridges nose-first into the tubular magazine's loading port, which is usually positioned on the side of the receiver.

Most semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns feature tubular magazines that run along the bottom of the barrel. Shells are pushed into the spring-loaded rear of the magazine through the bottom of the receiver. Break action shotguns are much simpler. The action is simply opened at the breech, shells are dropped into the chamber and the action closed again.

2. Sights & How To Use Them

Sighting systems take many forms—ranging from a simple bead at the top of a shotgun muzzle to complex variable power riflescopes that can be dialed to specific distances to hit targets at extreme long range. The sights used depends on the desired application, as well as the preferences of the individual shooter. For example, if you need to take precise shots at long distances with a rifle, then a scope is the best choice.

Woman pointing a handgun at the camera

Most handguns are fired with open iron sights consisting of a rear notch and a front post. The post must be lined up within the rear notch and aligned with the target. However, there’s an increasing number of shooters opting to install red dot or reflex sights, through which the shooter sees a dot or other indicator on the target.

3. Recoil Management

All firearms produce recoil, also known as kick. The challenge for shooters, especially newcomers, is managing it. This requires a proper grip and stance, as well as practice. It's important to resist anticipating the recoil and pushing the firearm downward to counter it. Rather, concentrate on holding the gun steady while keeping the sights on target.

Man shooting a handgun at an indoor range

4. Trigger Control

When shooting a rifle or handgun, it's important to slowly squeeze the trigger at the first knuckle of your index finger. This ensures a smooth pull that pushes the trigger straight back without pulling the gun off target. And as always, your finger should not go inside the trigger guard until you’re prepared to shoot.