The fundamentals of shooting

Every always says “oh, you need to practice the fundamentals” or “my fundamentals are off”.  The problem is, there actually isn’t a clear definition on what the “fundamentals” are.  Sure, everyone agrees that sight picture and trigger control are fundamental skills, but beyond that, what constitutes the “basics” or “fundamental skills”?  To truly examine that question intelligently, you have to first define fundamental – I think we can all agree that “sight picture/trigger control” is a constant across all disciplines, so we’re actually going to ignore that for now.  So our first stop today is my old friend the dictionary, which defines the adjective form of fundamental as serving as, or being an essential part of, a foundation or basis; basic; underlying – such as “fundamental skills”.  Thus, the “fundamentals” are not fixed in their definition, but rather are malleable and determined by the goal of the shooter.  Extrapolated further, I would personally define a fundamental skill as any skill that must be possessed by a shooter to be successful/proficient in the task at hand.  That means that while you can lack the fundamental skills and still perform a task, you won’t do it as well as someone that possesses and has mastered or continues to improve on a fundamental skill.

For example of fundamental skills vs. non-fundamental skills; I would define “reloads” as a fundamental skill for a USPSA shooter.  Without the ability to do quick, efficient reloads you will not be competitive or proficient as a USPSA shooter.  Contrast this with a non-fundamental, or advanced skill such as perfect footwork.  While perfect footwork is important in USPSA, it only becomes a necessary skill at the Grand Master level; it’s not a requirement to be competitive or considered a proficient shooter.

For action shooters and defensive shooters, here’s the list of skills I would define as absolutely fundamental:

  • Presentations from the holster
  • Follow up shots
  • Reloads
  • Multiple target transitions

This is again in addition to the basics of sight picture and trigger control.  Your list might be different than mine.  Also, it can change based on your gear – for revolver shooters, trigger control is the gospel as your match lives and dies by that one little thing.  If you’re a high power rifle shooter, your fundamental skills are going to be different than a Steel Challenge shooter or an ICORE shooter.  The important thing is to find the skills that you absolutely cannot succeed without, master them, then move on to more advanced skills.


  1. Depending on the form of action shooting, presentation from holster just turns into weapon presentation. If you’re looking at long arms, you need to train how to bring your weapon to bear from how you slung it.

  2. Absolutely; since I don’t really shoot that much 3-gun these days that didn’t occur to me at the time.

  3. Can’t forget breath control either. Tough to take a steady shot when you’re wheezing like a broken accordian.

  4. Without the ability to do quick, efficient reloads you will not be competitive or proficient as a USPSA shooter.

    unless you’re a revolver shooter, where that phrase should read:

    Without the ability to do efficient reloads you will not be competitive or proficient as a USPSA shooter.

    Honestly, though, I think you might be overcomplicating things… Why so many boundaries on what is fundamental and what isn’t? At a certain point you should just practice what you are flubbing consistently – that is if you want to excel at whatever endeavor you’re trying your hand at…

    1. Think of it more like segmenting than overcomplicating. It allows me to break my practice up to focus on certain skills; for example last night was all about speed, thus I shot a whole mess of Bill Drills.

    2. Working on your weaknesses is good to a point, but it can be overdone, too. Most people will always be weaker pistol shooters with their weak/support/non-dominant hand than they are two-handed. But you wouldn’t expect someone to stop practicing two-handed and focus on weak hand until his skill leveled out between the two.

      Some things have more practical value than others. You’ll draw and shoot every time you need to draw and shoot; you may or may not need to reload; you may or may not need to shoot or perform manipulations one handed; you may or may not have malfunctions to clear; etc. How you weight each of these things determines how much of your effort should go into them.

      1. Great advice!

        My original point, perhaps not stated clearly, was that each sport has so many variances that trying to list out “fundamentals” for each is borderline pointless – certain sports just require different tasks and compiling a list seems like an overcomplication.

        I just tried to offer what might be a better approach to building skill – I know that Caleb is a sport shooter, hence, his draw, press outs, etc are probably pretty decent. But, what are his weaknesses? Id-ing those and consistent practice of them for a duration until a goal is attained will probably be more beneficial then another session of trying to shave .02 seconds off the draw/splits/etc…

        At a certain point, trying to expensively optimize some tasks, even if they are oft used, is probably not the most efficient use of practice time…

        I guess, in the end, you are right – “How you weight each of these things determines how much effort should go into them.” (Emphasis mine…)

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