Putting bullets where you want them to go is a good thing. It gives you warm fuzzies and positive reinforcement. Where you get the lessons, though, are the bad shots.  However, it’s only a lesson if you figure out what you did wrong, with a view toward keeping it from happening the next time.

I was reminded of that last week, when I was out of town teaching a class.  On the last day of the 40-hour course, the students shoot a police-type qualification. The staff shoots it first as a pace-setter, so the students can see what’s expected of them, and in what time-frames. I was on my second magazine at the fifteen yard line when I realized that my gun hand was relaxing its grip on the Springfield Armory 1911 Range Officer pistol I was demonstrating with. I started to tighten the grasp, but forgot that my trigger finger was already moving, and actually saw the front sight twitch to the right as the pistol bucked and the .45 slug went downrange. The other 59 shots all went where they needed to, but that one landed “one scoring ring too far,” and cost me a point. The deal I make with my students is that if they tie me, they get an autographed dollar, and if they beat my score, they get an autographed five that says right on it, “You beat me at my own game.”  Two of the staff and three of the students shot perfect scores, and one more from each group tied me. That single disconnect between brain, grasping hand, and trigger finger had cost me $27.

On the street, it could have cost me incalculably more.  As we say in the trade, we sweat in training so we don’t bleed when we do it for real.  Lesson learned. It’s the second time this year that I’ve shot sub-100% on a pace-setter qual. Next time I’ll try harder to (a) not relax the grasp in the first place, and (b) not continue applying trigger pressure while I’m re-adjusting my hold.

From the range to the hunting field to the street, have you ever had a bad shot that cost you something? Were you able to diagnose it and learn from it?  Share here, for the thought-provoking good of all…


  1. We learn nothing from success. EVERYONE who shoots has “flyers” and those with integrity own up to it. Attention wavers for a moment and stuff happens. Competitive shooting teaches one to get over it and get on with it. Scorekeepers make us face the fact that to err is human.

  2. Mas, as a newcomer to the world of gun ownership, I’ve just started competing in USPSA within the past few months, and the main thing I’ve learned is that there is no substitute for training and experience. When the buzzer sounds my normally calm demeanor disappears, and my carefully crafted stage plan goes out the window. Mistakes follow.

    Breaking down my match performance later, identifying problems, and developing a plan for addressing them is, of course, part of my routine. But more than anything I realized what a deep mess I’d be in if confronted with a real self-defense shooting situation with real bad guys and real consequences. I’m already signed up for a couple training classes, and with more matches under my belt the moments of panic have subsided somewhat. Still a long way to go.

    So I guess my point is that some of us are on one side of the bell curve where we’re nervous because everything is new and that causes mistakes, and experts such as yourself are on the other end of the spectrum, where maybe shooters are battling complacency or boredom?

    (In no way is this comment meant to suggest that you are over the hill!) 🙂

  3. Thankfully nothing more than reshooting a shot for youtube or something like that. But you are definitely correct, they make you stop and reanalyze (always a good thing).

  4. …if they tie me, they get an autographed dollar, and if they beat my score, they get an autographed five that says right on it, “You beat me at my own game.”

    I like that. It’s a way to simultaneously give affirmation to your students and humble yourself a little bit. We could all use just a little bit of humility every now and then, couldn’t we?

  5. Wondering if you’re a believer in the golf adage that you can “only have 1 swing thought”? A reference to when you are executing complicated body movements it really is difficult to be thinking of stuff that modifies those movements on the fly. Controlling one variable is pretty much it.

    When I shot competitively in college many moons ago, I thought that pretty much was the case. In fact a good amount of the time I zoned out and I was operating out of my subconscious mind.

  6. I learned that I lose focus at the end of a stage. Running a test, the only fliers I had were on the very final shot of a particular stage.

  7. I had an incident nearly 20 years ago that I still think about today. Fortunately no one was hurt, but it made me think.

    I was practicing for an upcoming IPSC match at an indoor range with a relatively new to me gun. It was the first full race gun I had ever owned. A beautiful Colt .38 super single stack that one of the local master shooters was selling after moving up to a double stack. To him it was worn out, but to me it last a long time.

    I would frequently go to the local indoor range at lunch and put in a quick 45 minutes of practice before heading back to work down the street. At the end of one session I was in a rush to leave and I did a quick clearing of my firearm. I hit the mag release, racked the slide, and as I was turning to leave with the gun still pointed downrange I pulled the trigger expecting a click, but instead hearing the scariest noise ever. I put that 130 grain bullet right through the front of the plastic tray of the shooting lane.

    Apparently I had racked the slide so close to the time I dropped the mag that it was still able to strip the top round and feed it into the fully ramped barrel. Every time I went back there I looked at that hole in the table and remembered how close I had come to possibly shooting myself or someone else. Now I take my time and never take anything for granted when handling firearms, and have never had another AD.

  8. Unfortunately, I have had more than I care to think about … fortunately they were under similar circumstancs as yours .. on a training range. I was usually able to either realize it happened without even really seeing the target, or to recall afterward what had happened to cause it. As I approach the big SIX-ZERO … I hope these do not become more frequent.

    Good article, sir.

  9. My dollar bill from Winimac, IN (APR ’99) is inside my well worn copy of Cooper’s Another Country, which I read to my son nightly after the Bible during his childhood (he’s made a fine young man). My buddy Mark (KSP Detective) still has his $5 from that week.

    It’s a damned tradition I’m proud to be part of. Thank you, Sir.

  10. I can relate to what Long Island Mike is saying.

    Back in my youth, when I rode bovine critters, the best rides I made I have little, if any, recollection of. In shooting those times where I’ve performed my best have been when all I do is focus on the FRONT SIGHT!

    All else, for me, is extraneous. If I relax my grip, jerk the trigger, or fail to focus on the front sight then my target shows the result. The subconcious mind has the ability to to the task if you let it. We each have to find what we need to focus on to achieve that on demand.

    Last week in a four shot rifle string, testing a new load, I fired the best three shot group of my life sans bench. The problem was I had fired four shots. I lost my focus on the second shot. Oh well, learn and move on. In my case it was a case of using a different grip and too much trigger finger on the trigger. You can’t call a bullet back and the paper shows it.

  11. i usually know a split second after I’ve made a bad shot…..
    sometimes i knew before the recoil was felt.
    i almost always know exactly what went wrong and it’s always while making a shot that’s in my comfort zone.

    a rushed shot or bad breathing technique are my most common errors.
    on difficult shots I’m forced to apply all that i have learned. I’m more focused and in tune with the environment around me.

    a lack of focus on the task at hand has cost me some deer, but I’ve found that visualization of my technique before my hunts has helped me recently. picturing in my mind a shot from start to finish.

    I’ll do it while prepping for the season. while laying in bed the night before heading out and during my drive out to the field. whenever i have distraction free time to myself.

    though i may only shoot a dozen rounds at the range before a season, Ive shot hundreds in my mind leading up to it.

  12. To error is only human, and NOT something we can totally eliminate. Throw in a healthy dose of stress on top (a real life scenario) and anything is possible. Congratulations on being human!

  13. My aim is perfect, but sometimes the target refuses to be hit.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it !

  14. One mistake / badshot that I really recall is when I learned about “riding the link”. First time I tried it, my second shot broke before I was ready for it. Was still aimed down range and on target. But it still caught me off-guard. I didn’t realize how short the reset was on my XD. Anything new/different I try, I’m extra careful with.

    Another badshot was first time I tried shooting my SW442 support side (with +Ps too). Grip was a little off and I must have got a nerve in my thumb cause I felt that shot all the way up my arm. The sensation lingered around for a bit too.

  15. You saw, you knew, you know what to do to avoid repeating this. Lessons learned from experience, not from denial and going out to buy the next “wondergun” that I have seen too often. It has been my experience that generally, the folks that win are those with the worn gun, the leather that’s seen better days, and the comfort that is obvious in wearing both, not those who are hitching the belt or squaring things away; they seem to maybe shoot fast, but not particularly well. My 2 cents.

  16. For me, calling a bad shot during a match was usually attributed to lousy trigger control if I thought about it at all, as time was in short supply. Most of the time I do a better job at analyzing a bad shot during practice.

    I believe that anyone who spends enough time around guns will eventually have an AD. Just like driving, spend enough time behind the wheel and the law of averages catches up and wham-o. A thoughly trained individual in firearms will have a safe AD, as they are always aware of the muzzle, regardless of other factors.

  17. Mas, I’m surprised that you actually missed a shot because I’ve seen you shoot & I know how good you are. I was fortunate enough to receive an autographed dollar bill from you for “tying” you by shooting a perfect score on that same qualification course at the LFI-1 class I took with you in 2005, although your group was tighter than mine. One of the things that I remember about that class in Connecticut was that it rained almost the entire time we were on the range each day. Despite the rain, it was a great experience & one of the best investments of time & money that I’ve ever made.

    Among other things, I learned from the range time there that my Glock became surprisingly slippery during recoil when wet. I also learned that with a tighter (crush) grip & a little more concentration I could control it anyway, which is good to know. I don’t think I’ll be surprised by a wet gun ever again, as I will expect it to be slippery.

    This is a good example of why it’s important to practice shooting from different shooting positions in all kinds of weather conditions, while wearing different types of clothing. As you know, shooting from concealment with winter gloves on, while wearing a heavy winter coat, on a windy New Hampshire day in February is a lot different than shooting from concealment wearing rain gear & wet, foggy eyeglasses during a torrential downpour on a hot, humid, July day in Florida. Since it’s unlikely that you will ever know well ahead of time when & under what conditions you may have to defend yourself, it would be a good idea to practice for as many eventualities as you can think of, so that there won’t be any nasty surprises regarding your preparedness, if that time ever comes. It would also be a good idea to do this at different distances, under different lighting conditions, with several different types of gun, if you can. Shooting in the dark or at moving targets can be extremely difficult, especially if you’ve never done it before.

    Something else that I was reminded of more recently is that whenever I go to the range for practice after a long layoff (a month or more), my first shots on target never group as well as they did when I was able to practice every week, whether shooting close range rapid fire from concealment or long range slow fire from behind cover. Usually, I can correct this within a few minutes when my aim concentration & muscle memory improve. Still, it does concern me as to how well I would be able to shoot in a sudden, life-threatening emergency. Obviously, the more often I practice, the better I will be.

    In addition to that, I’ve noticed that because of my eyesight, it’s becoming more & more difficult to see iron sights when I’m shooting. This has led me to put lasergrips on several of my handguns, which are extremely helpful, even if your close focusing ability isn’t deteriorating. I know that even if my eyeglasses got knocked off or broken, I would still be able to put shots on target with the lasergrips.

    As you pointed out, it’s better to learn all of these things during practice on the range than it is to learn them during a life-threatening situation on the street.

  18. Come to think of it, I can remember an errant shot many years ago. It was my first or second I.P.S.C. match and during a tactical reload under time, my fresh magazine jammed half in and half out. I had been using round nose lead bullets and the top bullet in the mag had worked its way slightly forward. I should have banged the back of the mag against something to reseat the cartridges, but didn’t. Anyway the magazine jammed. Not wanting to fumble and manhandle the firearm with a loaded round in the chamber, I pointed the piece down range and fired it to get rid of the round. The range officer called it an AD and disqualified me. I pitched a bitch, but had to take my lumps.

  19. When I trained to shoot a revolver in the Sheriff’s Department, my instructor told me that in the event that I was ever involved in a use of force shooting, I would have to account for every round fired.

    He also explained that I only had six to get the job done without having to do a reload and I had better make them count. His advise was never far from my thoughts when I approached a vehicle I had stopped on a dark country road.

    I have oftened wondered when I read about officer involved shootings where a couple of clips are emptyed if that many rounds would have been expended if the officer only had six and two speed loaders like we carried back when I was working?

    Wyatt Earp was once asked what to do in a shootout and he replied with the following advise, “Take your time in a hurry!”

  20. I’ve just purchased my first firearm a few months ago. As my experience with semi-automatic pistols is nearly null, I elected to go for the Ruger LCR as my choice. It’s fun to shoot, and capable of being comfortably carried, not to mention .38 is one of the cheapest pistol cartridges to be had nowadays. (Which is always gone from Wal-mart…someone must be reading this blog, too!)

    I was a the range recently (very recently) and noticed that I was shooting great groups for my skill level (5″ or so at 7 yards. Not great, but give me a break.) but were all low and to the left.

    Now, I shoot with my index finger like almost everyone else on this planet, however I do not use the actual tip of my finger. Instead I use the first joint, which is fine as long as you teach yourself to correct it and not just let my hand pull it to the left and low.

    After correcting the mistake, I was then certain that if I were in a shootout, and it happened to be on a gun range with my armed buddies and I was completely and utterly calm (For some crazy reason.) I would be able to pepper the assailant in the 4 circle.

    I think that means that I have taught myself the most I’m going to be capable of without creating bad habits. AKA, time to get myself some instruction.

  21. Deciding to CCH, even after 12 years of competitive shooting and an RSO certification, has put the thought of a “miss” in a defensive scenario into a new and wholly frightening dimension because of its potential consequences.

    Shame on those of us who carry and haven’t embraced that reality and then train like hell to prevent it.

  22. As a reserve officer for a major city in the midwest, I’ve been required to qualify semi-annually for the last 8 years. I usually shoot the course well but had never qualified with a score of 100%. I can shoot the course with 100% with some regularity when there is nobody else on the range but when there are 20+ other officers standing on the line I usually seem to rush at least one or two shots.
    A couple years ago it came time to qualify and I found myself standing on the line for the first of three allowed attempts. In our department three non-qualifying rounds in row spells remedial firearms training, something I’d never thought was even a possibility for me.
    After the first round I watched as the line officer counted my hits and was astounded to see that I’d scored one shot less than a qualification. I was irritated but not yet worried. On the next round I shot the exact same score. I was really scared now. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing so wrong.
    Back then, the course began with you standing 1 yard from your target and firing 3 rounds to the chest from a one hand close quarters hold (basically you clear leather, present the muzzle towards your target but don’t raise your arm and you keep the frame of your weapon close to your body). My department issues the Glock 22C so I have become accustomed to canting the top of my weapon away from my body so as not to have hot gas and burning powder spraying me in the face from the compensator ports. On this particular round, I didn’t.
    My right eye (what I always assumed was my dominent eye) was burning horribly and I couldn’t open it at all. I thought my face was on fire. In fear of having people think that I was trying to get out of the dreaded 3rd attempt, I completed the qualification course.
    At the end of the course as we walked back to the front of the range from the 50 yard line, I could see my target had a surprisingly nice group right in the middle.
    The line officer finished counting hits and pulled out his black marker and wrote 100% across the top of my target.
    The point is, I have a tendency to get nervous at having people watch me shoot, I don’t know why but I do and I always have. The pain in my eye caused me to forget about people and quit focusing on doing anything other than shooting and getting done with it and quite frankly took all of my nervousness away.
    Sometimes I believe we way overthink what is going on when we shoot. We get given all these rules about shooting; control your breathing, grip lightly with your right hand, grip harder with your left hand, thumbs along the bottom of the slide, web of hand high up on grip, breathe, front sight, squeeze until the gun goes off by surprise……
    On that particular day, during that 3rd qualification attempt the only thing going through my mind was that my eye was really burning a lot and I was a little concerned that it may cause permanent damage…. That is all that I could process really. I’ve been shooting since I was 5 years old. I just let the training take over and handle the gun.
    Maybe my thought process is wrong and the 100% was a fluke but it was one nice looking fluke.

  23. After re-reading “In The Gravest Extreme”, “I was two people”. This was in relation to the 2 punks in the Holiday Inn parking lot incident in the book. This is as valuable a skill as marksmanship in my opinion. The proper mindset to separate the threat from the mechanics has worked for me also and will enhance the chance of a favorable outcome. Practice is important but the right mindset doesn’t hurt.

  24. Does an intentional shot that shouldn’t have been fired count as an errant round? If so…here’s one: Shooting a 2nd Chance Style bowling pin match at sister-agency pd range in 1980s with a really slick S&W Model 25-2 (trigger courtesy of Earl Long of Houston, Lord rest his soul). Anyway, I was cruising along and dropped first 4 pins off the table with four rounds. I winged pin 5 which caused the dreaded table spin, but it began to roll toward the edge of the table. I watched in slow motion, my mind racing between putting round 6 into it to insure it left the table, and waiting for it to fall off…knowing that my time stopped with the last round. Impatience won over experience and I sent the last 200 grain Speer “flying ashtray” into the pin, sending it flying off the table. Time: round 1 to round 5,..2.4 seconds. Round 5 to round 6…, 1.9 seconds. Result: loss if first place. The only redeeming factor is that round 6 hit the spinning pin dead center of the top. I couldn’t replicate that shot if I had to.