How to Shoot a Double Action Auto Accurately

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Double-action semi-auto pistols are frequently avoided by handgun enthusiasts, especially competition shooters, because they are thought to require more time for breaking a shot and are believed to be less accurate weapons. These pistols by design are neither slower nor less accurate than single-action semi-auto pistols. Achieving accuracy with them simply requires learning and skillfully employing proper techniques. Many of the same fundamentals required to accurately shoot any handgun apply equally to double-action semi-auto pistols. The primary difference is found in proper trigger control and manipulation.

Practice assuming a proper grip on the pistol. To achieve maximum steadiness and support, U.S. Army pistol marksmanship doctrine recommends two-handed grips for all pistol firing (FM 3-23.35). There are a number of variations for two-handed grips. One effective grip is the palm-supported grip. Grip the pistol with the firing hand by forming a V with thumb and forefinger and wrapping the three bottom fingers around the pistol grip. Exert equal pressure with the three bottom fingers and allow the thumb to rest alongside the pistol without pressure. Place the butt of the pistol in the palm of the non-firing hand. Wrap the fingers of the non-firing hand around the back of the firing hand and place the thumb over the middle finger of the firing hand.

Practice assuming a proper stance. Jim Williams, handgun editor for Shooting Times Magazine, noted in his article "Staying Alive--The Combat Shooting Stance," that of the three most popular shooter stances, the isosceles, the combat isosceles and the Weaver stance, the Weaver best deals with weapon recoil, which allows rapid firing of multiple, well-aimed shots. Assume the Weaver stance by standing erect with feet slightly quartered away from the target. With a two-hand grip on the pistol, bend the elbows slightly to absorb the recoil with the non-shooting arm perpendicular to the ground. With the muzzle on target, apply isometric tension by pushing with the shooting hand and pulling with the support hand with equal pressure.

Practice correct sight picture acquisition and sight alignment. Point the pistol muzzle at center mass of the target. Center the front sight in the rear sight and level the top of the front sight with the top of the rear sight by raising or lowering the muzzle. Correct sight picture results when the front sight is on center mass of the target and the front and rear sights are level and centered. "Since the human eye can only focus on one object at a time at different distances, focus must be maintained on the front sight to maintain correct sight alignment," according to FM 3-23.25.

Think of pulling the trigger on a double-action semi-auto pistol as completing a trigger stroke rather than simply pulling the trigger because the length of travel is greater than with single-action pistols. Ernest Langdon, in his article "Fear Not, The Double Action Shot" published at the Pistol-Training website, observed, "The key to double action accuracy is keeping the trigger moving. Don't try and stage the trigger to the point right before the hammer drops. Keep the sights in your 'aiming area' and keep the trigger moving." Place the index finger of the shooting hand on the trigger between the tip and second joint and concentrate on pulling the trigger and taking up the slack with one smooth stroke of the trigger until the shot breaks. Breath control, also key to accuracy, is a part of trigger control. Learn to inhale, exhale normally, and hold the breath at the moment of the natural respiratory pause, and then fire the shot before any discomfort occurs from not breathing.

Spend time dry-firing a double-action semi-auto pistol to master the trigger pull before ever loading it and firing it at the range. Dry-firing means assuming a proper stance and grip, presenting the weapon, acquiring a target sight picture and pulling the trigger with no live ammunition in the weapon. Dry-firing is not only an effective way to practice and master proper trigger pull, but in the opinion of Tom Perroni, tactical shooting instructor and owner of Perroni's Tactical Training Academy, all seven fundamentals of good marksmanship (e.g., grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, breath control, follow-through) can be practiced and shooting skills enhanced with as little as 10 to 15 minutes of dry-firing a day.

Hone your shooting skills with the double-action semi-auto pistol at the range with live ammunition once you have practiced the seven fundamental skills of marksmanship by adequate dry-firing. Ernest Langdon recommends shooting at a close target (e.g., seven to 10 yards away) at first until you obtain satisfactory shot groups. Once the groups get smaller, move back further, continuing to practice the fundamental skills reinforced during dry-firing practice.


  • Treat all firearms as if they were loaded. Before dry-firing a pistol, make sure the handgun is unloaded by visual and physical inspection of the chamber and magazine. Remove all live ammunition from the room where dry-firing is practiced. Ensure that there is a suitable backstop before pulling the trigger. Never point a firearm at anyone or anything that you are not willing to shoot and destroy. Observe all safety rules at firing ranges. Always wear eye and ear protection when firing a handgun.


About the Author

Based in Arlington, Texas, Larry Darter has been writing articles on a broad range of topics including building and construction, outdoor recreation and personal finance since 2009. His articles have appeared on Suite101 and Associated Content. In addition, Darter writes content regularly on assignment for private clients. He holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma.

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