Your Handgun Targets And What To Look For

The information your handgun target can provide to you goes a lot further than simply showing whether or not your shots strike the target. Your handgun target can show how you hold your gun, whether or not you flinched during the shot, and how you applied pressure to the trigger. You only need to teach yourself to 'listen' as your target talks.
When your gun is properly sighted and no wind or other environmental factor is affecting your shot, there are eight easy to read errors in shooting that can seen from examining a shooting target. These errors include:
The "target talk" information we will look at next is specific to right-handers but can be reversed to accommodate lefties.
  • Dipping
  • Heeling
  • Thumbing
  • Riding the recoil
  • Too much trigger finger
  • Trigger jerking
  • Lobstering
  • Bad shooting


Dipping is the most common shooting error. This happens when a shooter 'breaks' their wrist at the moment they pull the trigger. This is most likely done in anticipation of the recoil. The movement is mostly unconscious and is an effort to exercise control over the kick of the gun. You can get an idea of what dipping looks like by using your hand to shoot an imaginary gun. Just as you fire your imaginary gun, allow your hand to jerk forward and in a downward motion. When firing a real gun, this motion will cause your shots to string in a vertical pattern beneath your target's bullseye.


This shooting error is pretty much as the name suggests. It happens when a shooter uses his shooting hand to push at the butt of the gun. This causes shots to stray high and to the right of the target.


This is another shooting mistake that happens pretty much as it sounds. A shooter is guilty of thumbing when he or she presses the thumb of the shooting hand against the side of the gun. The push will cause the muzzle of the gun to veer to the right. The shots taken from this position will likely veer to the right also. Evidence of thumbing will be a horizontal line of strikes to the target that is right of the bullseye.

Riding the Recoil

This error is the direct opposite of dipping. A shooter rides the recoil when they flip the muscle in an upward direction right before the recoil occurs. You can simulate this movement also with your imaginary pistol. This time, pretend you are absorbing the recoil when you shoot your finger pistol. This motion will cause bullets to string to the left of the bullseye and strike high on the target.

Too Much Trigger Finger

When a shooter is placing too much of their finger across the trigger of the gun, the evidence of this will be a bullet trail directly left of the bullseye. Too much finger on the trigger causes the shooter to squeeze the trigger at an angle that results in the barrel of the gun moving to the left during the rear motion of the trigger pull.


The lobstering error happens when a shooter continues to grip the gun tighter and tighter as the trigger is pulled. The effect caused is the opposite of heeling. Lobstering causes the barrel of the gun to break to the right in a downward motion. The bullets will strike the target to the right of the bullseye and can trail either horizontally or in a direction that is closer to the 5 o'clock position.


This error pairs the worst elements of dipping with the problems that come along with using an angle to pull the trigger. Your bullet pattern will string low and to the left of the bullseye when you commit the jerking error.

Bad Shooting

Whether you are right or left-handed, the final issue can only be addressed with attention to fundamentals and hours of practice time. If your shots are all over the place and show no distinct pattern, it is likely you are not shooting your gun very well. This is where a coach who is knowledgeable about guns and shooting may be of service to you.

Final Thoughts

It is my hope that I have provided you with information to help you become better at 'hearing' the target. There are exceptions to the following rule at times, however, most of the errors described above happen when a shooter is trying to anticipate the recoil of the gun. If you find after listening to your target that recoil is responsible for the problems with your shot, you can remedy this by reducing your load and addressing the bad habits you have developed.
Joshua Keaton

Joshua is our senior staff writer for and He is an avid hunter, clay shooter and amateur photographer.