8 Shooting Tips: How Not To Look Like An Amateur Shooter

Even if you’re new to shooting, you may have heard names like Julie GolobRob LeathamSara AhrensIain Harrison, and Tori Nonaka. Whether you know them from the competitive circuit, see them on shows like Top Shot, or your obsessive shooting sports fan neighbor just can’t stop rattling off stats about them, one thing is clear. They have a reputation of being experienced, no make that expert, shooters.

But wait, you’re new to this whole thing. How do you make that first trip to the range, gun store, or even a friend’s house to check out a gun or two without looking like a total doofus? Admit it, we all want to be cool and look comfortable and confident when learning new shooting tips and gun handling skills. Like all new things, learning how to handle guns can be intimidating. But how do you take the first step and learn basic gun and shooting technique now that Miss Manners’ Sooper Dooper Guide to Shooting Etiquette is out of print?

Check out these shooting tips and you’ll be safe AND looking like an pro shooter, or at least a well-rounded intermediate, in no time flat.

1. Gun Safety Tip: Practice ‘Open sesame’

When someone hands you a gun, whether it’s in a store, at the range, in their house, or at an armory in Kandahar, Afghanistan, point it at something safe, like the floor, and immediately open the slide (or cylinder if it’s a revolver) to verify that it is in fact unloaded. (Tweet This!)

Do remember to keep your finger off the trigger while doing this. That alone will get you 12 extra bonus points! But still remember, a gun is ALWAYS loaded. Even after you’ve opened it to verify that it’s empty. We know, it’s kind of confusing. Just trust us on this one. If you pretend that it’s always loaded, you’ll never do something silly like pointing it at someone or something you really don’t want to shoot.

2. Proper Handgun Grip: Don’t drink tea at the range

How not to grip a gun - the teacup or cup and saucer handgun grip

A teacup, or cup and saucer, grip is about this effective. Hint: Don’t do this.

Friends don’t let friends enjoy tea while shooting. Save it for the post range outing ice cream social.

If you watch some of the faux shooting shows on TV, you might hear someone mention a teacup grip. Some call it a cup and saucer grip.

Just to be clear, a cup and saucer grip is not a compliment or indicator of social refinement. It’s an observation of poor shooting form. (Tweet This)

If you’re going to use two hands to shoot a handgun, you might as well get some benefit out of the support hand. Rather than cupping it under the base of the grip like a teacup saucer, how about snugging it right along side the grip so your support hand fingers can reach around the front? You’ll be amazed at how little your feisty little pistol or revolver jumps when you use a proper grip.

Lack of recoil control is a malady that affects millions of Americans. Only you can help by using a proper grip. (Tweet This)

Here’s a great video that shows how to achieve a proper grip.

3. Safe Shooting Tip: Know that eye and ear protection IS cool

OK confess. You don’t particularly like to wear helmets while riding a bike either. It looks kind of dorky. And you’re probably not going to fall on your head right?

When it comes to the need for hearing protection at the shooting range, there is no probably. There is only absolutely. As in positively.

Every shot you fire without ear protection WILL permanently damage your hearing. (Tweet This)

And each additional shot after that WILL damage it more. You probably won’t know it for a while. Maybe years. But it WILL happen. Same thing with eye protection. If you shoot, stuff WILL bounce back at you and hit you in the face. Bullet fragments. Target fragments. Backstop fragments. Irritable forest critters. And who knows what else? While every shot without eye protection does not result in vision loss, it’s only a matter of time before something wrecks one or both of your eyes. They don’t react well to metal fragments and flaming powder gasses.

The easiest way to spot a new, and foolish, shooter is to look for those too cool to wear shooting glasses and ear protection. There are thousands of stylish eye and ear protection options out there so you can even look cool sporting your common sense safety gear.

4. Handgun Grip Technique: Don’t be all thumbs

Crossed thumbs shooting grip

This grip technique may cause you to bleed all over the shooting range. We don’t recommend it.

I can share this new-shooter tip from a vantage point of, ummm, let’s call it personal experience.

Remember Ghostbusters? And how it’s really bad to cross the streams of the Proton Pack particle accelerators? Well there’s a similar rule of thumb (pun fully intended) for shooting semi-automatic pistols. Don’t cross your thumbs. See the picture in this article? Don’t do that! Sooner or later, that thing called a slide is going zoom backwards at Warp 17 and slice the dickens out of the webby, sensitive skin between your thumb and your index finger. If you want to splatter copious amounts of blood around the range, feel free, but once is enough for me.

Fortunately there’s an easy way to avoid bleeding all over your range. Don’t cross the streams.

When shooting a semi-automatic pistol, never cross your thumbs! If you do, you will get blood all over your gun! (Tweet This)

Point both thumbs forward and keep them on the weak hand side of your handgun. Your hand, and your local drug store, will thank you.

The video linked in Step 2 above shows excellent thumb form.

5. Gun Safety Tip: Learn to be cold to your shooting range companions

Being cold at the shooting range isn’t rude. Or event anti-social. In fact, it’s not Cruel To Be Kindit’s cool to be kind.  Kind of cold that is.

How can you be cold at the range? When you hear “Range Cold!” that means it’s not hot. Which means there is no shooting. Or even pretending to shoot. Which means put your gun on the table. Which means don’t play with it or show your friends anything about it that involves touching your gun. The table and the gun become one. A hot item. And you’re suddenly the third wheel in that relationship. Keep it that way until you hear “Range Hot!” Then, and only then, you can try for a threesome with the gun / table love festival.

When the range is cold, do NOT touch your gun. At all! Step away from the shooting table until the range is hot. (Tweet This)

Bonus tip: If you want to look like a real pro, then don’t just put your gun(s) on the table when you hear “Range Cold!” Step away from the shooting table and stay there the whole time the range is cold. This is a sooper dooper move that let’s nearby shooters know that you are not messing with your gun(s) while the range is cold. It’s very considerate and they will love you for it. Who knows? You might develop your own new relationship while your gun and the table are focused on theirs.

6. Shooting Terminology Tip: Ban the word “Clip” from your vocabulary

You know how you can spot a high school prom couple at an exclusive restaurant? Like when the pimply mannish boy requests A-1 Steak Sauce with his Chateaubriand?  Well, there’s a similar thing in shooting – when people carelessly throw around words like clip.

Clips and magazines are both legitimate shooting related objects. While sometimes subtle, there are differences.

A clip is a device used to hold cartridges for the purpose of storage, packing, and easy loading into a magazine. Clips were a big deal back when the world had anger issues expressed by frequent large-scale wars. Five or ten rounds of ammo might be attached to a clip, which would allow a soldier to slide the rounds into the magazine of his rifle or handgun quickly and easily. Clips are still used today. Some .223 or 5.56 ammunition comes on clips to make it easier to load lots of rounds into a magazine at once.

A magazine is the container that holds cartridges for the purpose of feeding them into the chamber of a firearm. Magazines can be built into the gun, as with many rifles, or they can be removable, as with most semi-automatic pistols and AR type rifles. That thing that falls out the bottom of a Glock? That’s a magazine.

Confused? No problem. We’ve got a near fail-safe tip for you. These days you’re pretty safe referring to most things that hold bullets as a magazine. More often than not, you’ll be correct referring to it that way.

Mixing the words ‘clip’ and ‘Glock’ in the same sentence is a sure-fire way to show you’ve still got a few things to learn.

7. Shooting Tip: Don’t do The Bernie

While the movie Weekend at Bernie’s qualifies a cult movie and spawned it’s own cool dance moves, it really doesn’t play well at the range. Dancing tends to throw off your aim.

Nor does leaning way, way, way backwards when you shoot have any practical value. You see, there is little chance that your gun will suddenly turn around and start chasing you, so the backwards lean position really provides no tactical advantage.

Leaning backward while shooting a pistol provides no tactical advantage. And it makes you look like a n00b! (Tweet This)

if you want to look awesome and skilled like the pro shooters, lean forward into the gun, and towards your target when you shoot. If your shoulders are just a tad in front of your belt buckle you’re in great position. Not only do you look tough, all that aggressive body position really helps to control recoil and keep your shots on target.

After all, you never see Chuck Norris leaning away from those nameless henchmen do you?

8. Last but not least: Don’t be shy about asking questions!

The best way to look like a pro shooter? Even if you’re new to the whole thing? Ask questions! If you’re not sure about something, just ask. You can even ask a pro. We’ve found them to be nice and helpful folks. It’s OK. One of the most pleasant surprises from getting involved in the shooting community has been the overwhelming friendliness of the people. You just might be surprised how far people will go to help a new shooter.

Have fun, be safe, and ask a question if you’re not sure!

Be sure to check out our latest book, The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition. It’s available in print and Kindle format at Amazon:

The Rookie's Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

Find gun holster options in our new book, The Insanely Practical Guide to Gun Holsters – available at Amazon.com! Learn more about our Insanely Practical Guides!

Insanely Practical Guide to Gun Holsters



  1. Dale says

    Oh for the love of…

    If you’re going to post an article on how not to look like an amateur shooter get your finger off the trigger.

    • says

      Well, novelty was prtety much the only reason why I tried printing and using a lower in the first place it’s not reliable with .223 at this point, but it’s been fun to experiment with. Having fun and experimenting is prtety much the whole point of the endeavor!

  2. Forey Ratliff says

    “4. Hangdun Grip Technique: Don’t be all thumbs” Ummm … does “Hangdun” really mean “hanged on” or something else?

  3. Jeff says

    In the classes I teach, I tell students that if anyone ever makes a big deal about using the word clip vs magazine, they are a snob and you should avoid them

    Don’t make newbies feel bad about being newbies.

    • John says

      Thank you. I’ve found that most people who make a big deal over the use of “clip” tend to be blow hards. And for you blow hards out there who insist on correcting folks who say clip, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Unlike the young fella who tried to correct my verbage when I dropped off some Mosin clips to a gun store owner. “I’m pretty sure you mean Magazine,” he told me, “guns don’t use clips.”

    • says

      Very cool! I’ve been testing my lower out relglaruy. So far it works great with .22, which is a no-brainer. I’m not sure I would use it with .223 though seems novel, but I question the reliability of a polymer lower, especially a printed one, with high performance centerfire ammo. There are plenty of 80% aluminum lowers that work great for that.

  4. GRAYWOLF says

    As a noob….
    I understand why “tea cupping” is bad form for controlling recoil, but…is it still considered bad form when it is done only to stabilize the “floating” during aiming?

    • says

      Thanks for the note! Some thoughts:

      The sight will always wobble on the target. The idea is (through practice and good grip and form technique) to decrease the radius of the wobble and smoothly release a shot while the sights are in an acceptable area of the wobble zone. Not to try to “time” a quick shot at the instant the sights are perfectly aligned, but to get better and better at decreasing the amount of wobble so a smoothly fired shot will hit somewhere in that small wobble zone. Over time, your wobble zone will get very small, so any shot in that will be “right on target” from a practical perspective.

      There are a gajillion minor varieties of grip, but most all focus on a method similar to the video that Pro Shooter Doug Koenig demonstrates in the link in this post. Firm strong hand grip with support hand properly placed. Some like equal pressure for strong hand and support hand and others like to “push” a little with the strong hand and “pull back” a little with the support hand to create some stabilizing tension. No single right answer, just experiment to see what works for you.

      What you don’t want to do is use the teacup to get on target and then switch to a firing grip. But I may have been misunderstanding your question :-)

      Keep working on that grip per the video and focus on a really smooth (not quick and jerky) trigger pull and you’ll be jazzed about how your shooting improves!

      Thanks for the question! One of the main reasons we do this is to help share best practices and teaching in a non-threatening, non-judgemental, but fun and entertaining way.

      Have fun and safe shooting!

        • says

          You’re welcome! And I totally agree – self imposed pressure can really mess us up :-) Just focus on a smooth trigger pull and the wobble will take care of itself over time.

  5. says

    Magazines have followers, that is what distinguishes them. The entire rigmarole about clips and magazine is a source of irritation since people who don’t know the difference between the three kinds have force redundant language in the form of “en bloc clip” and “stripper clip” when it’s technically clip and charger.

    When a new shooter mixes them up I’m not surprised or offended any more than someone saying “stomach” when they mean “abdomen” or “skull” when they mean “cranium”. The purpose of language is to convey information. If the receiver understands the message then the sender has done a proper job.

    As for the finger on trigger, the rule is keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. As you don’t point guns at anything you’re not willing to destroy I would have to know if the sights were on the target before being petty about index,

    The combined tension of the two arms is what stabilizes the pistol, tea cupping does not provide the tension needed.

  6. Larry Weeks says

    In keeping with the “snob” thing: you don’t load “bullets” into a magazine, clip or anything but a muzzleloader. The bullet goes into the case, along with the powder and primer to create a “round of ammuntion”, “round”, “cartridge” or even “ammo”

  7. Carlin says

    Always enjoy your articles Tom! Never mind these nit pickers, hair splitters and bean counters! The one thing they love to do is critique critique critique. Then afterward, for a change of pace, they usually critique. Forget about ’em! Keep up the good work on these articles! Know that there are plenty of people enjoying these articles for every one of these annoying people saying things like, “Umm… Does hangdun really mean hanged on or something else…” Come on..



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