March 08, 2023
The first six of the widely acknowledged fundamentals of marksmanship—stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control and breath control—are relatively straightforward. But the seventh and final fundamental, follow-through, isn't as easily understood and therefore tends to be de-emphasized.
Since it occurs after the shot is fired, many view follow-through as merely an afterthought. However, follow-through matters. In armed conflict, lack of follow-through may cause you to miss your adversary, fail to stop him or fail to detect an additional deadly threat.
There are two components to follow-through: mechanical and mental. Mechanical follow-through means ensuring your gun is ready to fire another shot. This entails resetting the trigger and reacquiring your sights. If your gun is empty, mechanical follow-through encompasses reloading. If your gun has malfunctioned, follow-through mandates you clear it and be ready to fire additional shots, as required.
Mechanical follow-through is a “hard skill”—one that's not overly dependent on outside factors. In this case, to fire another round, there's a finite number of options. Resetting the trigger is step one. Then, if the pistol doesn't fire, you need to take remedial action to get the gun back into action—although with a revolver the solution is to simply press the trigger again.
While hard skills require a degree of attention, with practice, you should be able to perform them virtually on autopilot.
The second half of the follow-through is mental. It requires assessment, decision making and adaptation. These are considered “soft skills,” and they are far less predictable than hard skills.
You must master the mechanical aspects of follow-through to free your mind for the harder-to-solve, soft-skill problems you may encounter. After all, if your brain is overly focused on making your pistol run, how can you expect to make appropriate split-second decisions during a deadly force encounter?
Just as mechanical follow-through ensures your gun is always ready to fire, mental follow-through ensures you are poised to deliver additional shots on target. This starts with staying on your sights after each shot.
If you fire once, you should acquire two sight pictures: the initial sight picture you used to take the shot, then another sight picture as the gun comes out of recoil. If you fire twice, it's three sight pictures, and so on.
Staying on your sights is not only important for follow-up shots, but it also helps ensure you hit with the first shot. If you start to look over your sights to see your rounds impact, there's a chance you will alter the orientation of your muzzle enough to miss.
Nowhere is this more evident than on a steel plate rack. A shooter who wants to see the plate fall will often bring his head slightly up and, subsequently, his muzzle down. Depending on distance from the target, the size of the plate and the degree to which this occurs, shots tend to impact just below the plate.
Staying on your sights helps to ensure your first hit and sets you up for additional hits. But let's consider the notion of mental follow-through in real-world defensive application.
Handgun rounds, regardless of caliber, aren't likely to immediately incapacitate unless they are exceptionally well-placed. You need to be ready to fire until the threat has stopped.
There's no way to predict how many rounds that will take. A good indication that your hits are effective is when the assailant's body crumples, but even that doesn't mean he's out of the fight.
Even if he's fallen and has sustained a wound that will eventually be fatal, that doesn't preclude an assailant from shooting you from the ground before he succumbs to his wounds.
Another component to mental follow-through is tracking the assailant to the ground to assess whether he still poses a deadly threat. If he does, be prepared to fire additional rounds. When you've confirmed he no longer poses a threat, it's time to scan for additional threats.
There are several schools of thought regarding the best way to scan. Some scan with their eyes and gun moving together so that if a deadly threat is detected, it can immediately be engaged. Others prefer to keep the gun in a neutral orientation, like a High Ready position, and scan moving only their head and torso.
There are pros and cons to each of these methods, but what's most important is that you actively look for additional threats to break up the tunnel vision that's likely to manifest because of your body's physiological reaction to having been involved in a shooting. Turning your head enables you to compensate for the diminished peripheral vision from which tunnel vision gets its name.
While follow-through is the last of the seven marksmanship fundamentals, it's not necessarily the least important. If you don't follow through, you could miss your target. Even if you hit, statistics bear out that it will likely take more than one hit with a handgun round to end the fight.
During a deadly-force encounter, you and your gun need to be ready to fire additional rounds. When you're confident the threat has been stopped, scan to make sure your world is safe. These are elements of follow-through, the most underrated marksmanship fundamental.