Developing A Shot Plan

The key to shooting well is consistency. As you’ve all probably heard or read “If you can shoot a 10 once, then you can do it over and over again.” How do you shoot those subsequent 10s? Simply enough, do exactly what you did the first time, and do that forever afterwards. A shot plan will aid you in this goal.

A shot plan, shot routine or shot sequence are different names for a series of actions that you take to deliver one controlled, accurate shot. It lists every step that you must perform. Think of it as a recipe for the perfect shot. If you skip an ingredient, then the results can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Every time you go to the range, you take this plan, read it over and for each shot, follow the instructions.

The shot plan brings many benefits:

  • You can duplicate your efforts: if something works, you can repeat it. If it doesn’t work, you should be able to determine what the problem is, as opposed to randomly trying something else.
  • Your confidence will increase: you have a plan that has proven itself to work. When you follow it, you shoot well. Luck isn’t a factor in your success.
  • You are focused: a shot plan occupies your mind and keeps negative or distracting thoughts at bay. You stay in the moment of shooting excellence.

Before we go any further, let’s work with two examples of a shot plan. The first example is for slow fire pistol from the Army Marksmanship Unit Pistol Marksmanship Training Guide:

  1. Extend arm and breathe.
  2. Settle into a minimum arc of movement.
  3. Pick up sight alignment in the aiming area.
  4. Take up trigger slack – apply initial pressure.
  5. Hold breath.
  6. Maintain sight alignment and minimum arc of movement.
  7. Start positive trigger pressure.
  8. Concentrate point focus on front sight.
  9. Follow through.

The Junior ROTC Textbook has this suggested prone air rifle plan:

  1. Loading – Use left hand to open and close cocking lever. Use right hand to take pellet from pocket, load and close bolt.
  2. Placing rifle in position – Lift rifle to shoulder, put butt plate on arm-shoulder joint. Hold rifle with right hand, form fist with left hand, put fist under cocking handle, get left elbow under rifle and drop arm and rifle onto side.
  3. Align rifle with target – Start with front sight above target and lower rifle down to bull’s-eye.
  4. Pre-shot checks – Check to be sure left arm relaxes and is directly under rifle. Check balance – weight should be evenly spread on both feet.
  5. Breathing – After checks, take two more breaths, let it out and hold.
  6. Aiming – As soon as I start to hold my breath, try to center the bull’s-eye in the front ring.
  7. Starting to squeeze trigger – Take up the trigger slack when I start to aim. Put about half of the pressure on the trigger immediately.
  8. Hold control – Concentrate on the sight picture, try to hold the bull inside the front sight ring as much as possible.
  9. Completing trigger squeeze – When the sight picture is centered, add another step of pressure to the trigger. When it is centered again, add another step. The shot should go after two or three steps.

As you can see, while each plan describes how the shot will progress, each one varies in detail. The common wisdom for shot plans is that as your level of experience increases, the level of detail in the shot plan decreases. This reduction occurs because you’ve run the plan thousands of time before and you are able to recall each component with just a key word or phrase. For instance, “Take up the trigger slack when I start to aim. Put about half of the pressure on the trigger immediately” could be replaced with “Squeeze trigger”, or simply “Squeeze.” Each plan encompasses the same meaning, but the experienced shooter’s plan is more concise.

When you start off, you may or may not have much of a shot plan. Since each shooter is different, you can’t just use someone else’s plan and expect to shoot perfectly. You have to start off with the basic techniques described throughout the website (stance, natural point of aim, grip, raise, sights, squeeze, follow-through, etc.) and write down how you perform these actions. Similarly, you could take one of the above plans and tailor it for your own use.

Initially, when you create your own shot plan, be as detailed and descriptive as possible. Each time you perform well, describe the sequence in your shooting diary. Similarly, jot down what didn’t work and see how this information can be used constructively. Examine timing, position, pressure points, sight picture, state of mind, trigger, and thoughts: leave no aspect unexamined. Developing a shot plan is almost an analysis of perfection. This takes time and effort. Investigate all avenues that may lead you to that deep “10”. Write everything relevant down. Compile a list of these actions and determine what is a performance factor for you. Incorporate what you learn into your shot plan.

Once completed, try the plan out. Don’t make huge variations, but refine it as required. Try it, test it, improve it. When you reach a complete plan, stick to it. Ingrain the process in your head. Unless there is a compelling reason, neither change it nor vary from it. From this point on, follow the plan for each and every practice, training or match shot. Your consistency is the key to your shooting success.