How to Shoot a Gun for the First Time

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​If it’s your first time shooting a gun, it does not have to be difficult or intimidating. You just need the proper guidance on how to do so, and I’ll walk you through those steps. Then, when you go to the range or are out shooting, you’ll be prepared, safe, and ready.

​How to Shoot a Gun for the First Time

​Where to Start

​Before I get into the details, remember that guns are potentially lethal tools and must be handled with care and respect. If you are properly handling them, you can safely carry and use them.

So other than just knowing which gun to use, you must also have a safe way of transporting them, and that can be through range backpacks or gun cases.

First, start by learning the basics of gun safety. Along with online resources, local gun shops, shooting ranges, and self-defense instructors are also great sources for learning how to be safe with guns.

You’ll want to make a careful choice for your first gun as well, and I’ll get into that below. This isn’t the time to pick up a high-powered pistol, or a heavy hunting rifle. Instead, choose an easy shooting, light recoiling gun (I’ll discuss a few options below).

man holding gun ready to shoot a pistol

​Selecting Your First Gun to Shoot

​Big, powerful guns can be fun to shoot and certainly are appealing in the sense of feeling like you have a lot of power. But, they are not necessarily the best options for your first gun. While these might seem fun, starting off with a gun that has a hard recoil may turn you off to shooting in the future.

For example, single shot rifles such as .22 Caliber Rimfire Rifles and pistols are very popular for training and teaching shooting. Another great choice is the AR-15 Rifle or the Ruger 10/22, as these are both easy to shoot and can be found most places where guns are sold.

When you are ready to shoot a gun for the first time, a lightweight, easy handling, and light recoiling gun will be a good option. Experienced shooters will encourage you start with these.

The Best ​Gun Case

​Owning a gun means doesn’t only mean learning how to use it, ​but also learning how to keep it. Check out my comprehensive guide on the best gun cases to help you find the perfect one.

​Four Standard Rifle Firing Positions

​There are 4 basic firing positions you should be aware of before shooting. When properly utilized, they will allow you to fire a rifle accurately under various circumstances. You may never use them all, but it is good to be aware of them.

​The Prone Position

​The first is the prone position. Some maintain it is also the best position to practice the four fundamentals of shooting from, especially when you’re just getting started. This is because it is one of the most stable shooting positions.

To shoot prone, simply lie flat on the ground. Angle your body to the right if you are right handed, or to the left if you are left handed. You can wrap the sling around your arm for added stability.

The main benefit of the prone position is that it allows the parts of your body which support your rifle to be fully braced. Think of the ground as a support for your body. It is also popular in some competition shooting. You’ll commonly use it when hunting where a low profile or stealth is important.

​The Sitting Position

​The sitting position is just like it sounds. You are sitting on the ground to shoot your rifle. Sit cross legged in a comfortable position, and then shoulder your rifle. Much like shooting prone, you can hold yourself steady in ways you cannot when standing.

This is also a useful position to use when hunting. The main advantage of it over a prone position is that it allows you to see over short vegetation and other obstacles, while still retaining a stable position. You can also use your sling to further steady your rifle in this position.

​The Kneeling Position

​Kneeling is also much like it sounds. Think of the classic green plastic army man who is kneeling, and you’ll nail this position. In fact, you can use those same toys to quickly understand the prone position as well!

The kneeling position isn’t as stable as prone or sitting, but it is a position that can be quickly taken if needed. The main advantage of kneeling is you can quickly drop to it if needed to keep hidden (from game animals, for example).

holding and aiming a hand gun

​Different Kneeling Positions

​There are several different ways you can kneel and still support your gun:

  • You can go into a half-kneeling position with one knee on the ground and use your opposite foot to stabilize you
  • You can place both knees on the ground
  • If placing your knees on the ground is uncomfortable, you can also try a squatting position where both feet are on the ground (though be aware, you may not be as stable in this pose!). Practice different variants on the basic theme until you feel comfortable with​ this one

​The Standing Position

​The last of the four standard rifle positions is standing, or offhand. Just like it sounds, you are standing in an upright position. From there, prop the rifle against your shoulder and hold it up with your support hand. Right handed shooters should support the rifle with their left hand, or the other way around for left handed shooters.

Standing offers the least support, because you are reduced to supporting the rifle only with your arms, as opposed to your entire upper body and legs in other positions. However, it is a perfectly useful position and quite common for hunters and sport shooters, especially if you’re shooting at a range.

The main advantage of this position is that it is a default state for most people when they are carrying a rifle. It is also the most basic position that is easiest when teaching shooting. Therefore, it is easy to assume the position and be ready to quickly fire if necessary.

​Four Fundamentals of Shooting

​Once you’ve selected the tool you want to use and have an understanding of the various positions you can take when holding it, it’s important to learn the main keys to firing your gun.

While it isn’t hard to pick up a gun, put it to your shoulder, and pull the trigger, doing so in a way that will let you safely operate the gun requires you to thoroughly understand the fundamentals. Learning to maintain your firearm afterwards is also important as it could ​develop rust​ and other signs of aging and misuse.

Remember, shooting a gun your first time should be a fun experience. It’s okay to take your time on each of these steps. After you feel comfortable with the 4 fundamentals of shooting (and using them simultaneously with one another), you’ll be closer to feeling ready to shoot!

​Fundamental 1: The Steady Position

​The first fundamental focuses on how to properly and steadily hold the gun. Mastering this is crucial, as this will set you up for success in the following steps.

You can take a steady position from sandbags or off a bench or other support. It can also be shooting offhand with the rifle securely held and supported with a sling or even with your non-dominant arm supporting the gun.

soldier in camouflage shooting hunting rifle

​Stabilize the Gun

​First, firmly place the butt of the rifle against your shoulder. It should rest easily and naturally. You don’t have to pull it too hard into your shoulder. You want it close enough to give you a firm, stable hold. It should sit in the pocket of your shoulder. When done right, it will reduce the impact of the recoil.

Your non-firing hand (left if you are right-handed, or right if you are left-handed) will support the front of the rifle on the hand guard. This position will vary slightly based on how the rifle is configured and where you find an ideal balance when holding the gun.

The rifle should rest on your hand. Think of it as a support like any ​highly rated reloading press on the market to ammo, not a grip for better control.

How you angle your elbows are important, too. Place your firing arm elbow in such a way as to balance the rifle. The non-firing elbow should be under the rifle to help provide additional support and balance as needed.

​Look Through the Sights

​A good cheek weld is also important. This refers to resting your cheek on the butt stock so you develop a good sight picture and can clearly see through the sights. You should practice holding your rifle and looking through the sights until you can do so consistently and without thinking about how you are doing it.

If you have access to other forms of support such as a shooting bench or sandbags, you can use that instead of shooting offhand (standing up straight). Also, don’t forget to relax your body.

You want to get to the point where you feel comfortable holding a firearm and it feels like an extension of your arm. When practicing the steady position, always do so with the safety cleared, freshly cleaned and an unloaded gun!

​Fundamental 2: Aiming

​Once you’ve mastered the position and are comfortable holding a gun, it’s time to focus on aiming it. Aiming a gun is important not only because you can hit your target with a proper aim, but also so you can control the path of the bullet.

As I mentioned above, you want to develop a good sight picture with a proper cheek weld. The sight picture is where the front and rear sights are aligned with each other and the target.

Exactly how your sights align may vary slightly depending on what types you are using. Consult an owner’s manual or somebody skilled with your particular rifle or smart gun to ensure you do this properly.

The front sights of a rifle are the sights nearest the muzzle. The rear sight is closest to you, the shooter. You must hold your rifle correctly and look through both sights at the same time while looking at your target in order to develop your sight picture.

​Using Scopes

​If you are using a scope or red dot, you need to make sure it is correctly sighted in for the range you are shooting at. Then, place the dot or crosshairs on the target and squeeze your trigger. How well you hold your gun and aim will greatly influence how accurate you shoot.

With your sights properly aligned and a clear sight picture, you usually want to place the top of your front sight just under the target you are trying to hit. You may have to slightly adjust your sight placement. You can adjust your sights for wind conditions (left/right bullet travel) or elevation (up/down bullet travel).

shooting aiming at a target with a scope rifle

​Fundamental 3: Breath Control

​Once you’re comfortable with the first 2 tips mentioned above, focus on your breath control. Surprisingly, how you breathe when you pull the trigger affects your accuracy! Remember, the rifle should be an extension of your body now, and small movements can affect your aim.

Breath control helps you shoot better and more accurately. You can also opt to purchase a gun lock during target practice for added safety when you have children nearby.

When preparing to shoot, breathe normally. When you exhale, stop breathing after you are mostly done exhaling your breath. This gives you a moment when your body is no longer moving from breathing and you are in an ideal position to pull the trigger.

You will notice in time that as you develop good breathing patterns, your accuracy may improve. Practice properly positioning and shouldering your rifle, looking through the sights, and breathing with dry fire exercises. Dry fire training in a controlled setting is an important first part of learning how to shoot well.

​Fundamental 4: The Trigger Squeeze

​With this last step, you want to practice squeezing the trigger. It’s important you don’t pull abruptly on the trigger, but rather, gently press it back until it releases. Pulling the trigger can jerk the gun around and cause you to go off target.

Think of squeezing a trigger like gently stroking something. You want to slowly and gradually apply pressure to the trigger as you move it back. It’s just like shooting a DSLR camera in a low-light environment, where you have to keep it steady and press the shutter softly.

When all the slack has been taken up, continue to gently and gradually apply pressure until the trigger and sear engages, and the gun fires. Reload the ammo as needed.

By squeezing, rather than pulling, you have complete control over the gun. You should be able to see how combining a proper hold, stance, and breath control come together with a trigger squeeze. Properly integrated, these 4 keys will help you properly fire a gun.


After you familiarize yourself with the gun you’re using and the main criteria for shooting, you are almost ready to shoot. Brush up on gun safety, find a safe place to shoot, and then you are ready to go!

Firearms ownership and their use is a big responsibility, but it is also a source of fun and recreation when done properly. Following these simple steps and common sense safety advice will help you prepare to shoot and to use other tactical equipment.

Regardless of what gun you select, remember to work with a trainer or skilled shooter though when you shoot your first time. Good luck and have fun!

James Forrester is a lifelong gun and firearms owner, and an even bigger advocate for gun safety. He created with the purpose of sharing helpful tips and educating others on how to keep guns and weapons safe and secure.