Journey Into Competitive Shooting Ep. 10 Bullseye Pistol

Bullseye stage at the 2017 NRA World Shooting Championship offered a pseudo-bullseye experience.

Bullseye pistol or precision pistol is a perfect gateway into the shooting world.

What makes this iconic discipline perfect for new shooters is, well, a number of things.  It doesn’t require a lot of gear to get started. Due to its popularity, there are local matches and leagues all around the U.S. A lot of people participate so it’s easy to get advice or to find a training partner. It really forces one to learn the fundamentals of shooting.  And any range you frequent probably has everything you need to practice.

Sounds pretty good, right?  Well, before we jump into bullseye pistol, make sure you catch up on the previous episodes of this series. It’s been a joyous journey into competitive shooting if you’ve been reading along and this is the penultimate episode!

Journey Into Competetive Shooting

What is Bullseye Pistol?

Most ranges have a 25-yard or 50-foot firing line, making a reduced distance bullseye match easy to set up and shoot.

Bullseye pistol is one-handed target shooting, in a nutshell.  That’s part of what people love and hate about it.

See, it takes real dedication and time to develop the dexterity and finesse required to consistently hit targets at 50 yards with one hand.  It’s incredibly rewarding when you succeed, and incredibly frustrating when you fail.

The setup for a bullseye match is very basic.  When shooting outdoors a target is placed at 50 yards and 25 yards, and when shooting indoors a target is usually placed at 50 feet.  It does vary but that’s a good rule of thumb.

The course of fire in bullseye consists of slow fire, timed fire, and rapid fire.  Per the NRA’s guide to conventional precision pistol:    

Generally an outdoor match will consist of 20 shots, slow fire at 50 yards (two 10-shot strings, 10 minutes per string), 20 shots, timed fire at 25 yards (four 5-shot strings, 20 seconds per string), 20 shots, rapid fire at 25 yards (four 5-shot strings, 10 seconds per string), and the National Match Course (10-shots slow fire at 50 yards, 10-shots timed fire (two 5-shot strings), and 10-shot strings (two 5-shot strings). This match consists of 90 shots for a possible aggregate total of 900 points. For a 2700 aggregate this match is fired once with each gun: .22 caliber rimfire, center fire, and .45 caliber. Many match programs call for only one or two guns, that is a 900 or 1800 aggregate.

Some points of clarification.  Obviously, the more time a shooter has per string, the more time he or she has to make adjustments.  During slow fire, for example, with 10 full minutes for an entire string, you can set the gun down, break your grip, study your group in the scope and make adjustments.  Not so much with timed fire and especially rapid fire.

Bullseye pistol is traditionally shot with three categories of handguns.  A .22 caliber rimfire, a center fire and a .45 caliber.  Because you can use your .45 for both the center fire and .45 portions of the match, you can get away with only using two guns.  More on this in a moment.

Scoring will then depend on the number of guns required for the match.  One gun would mean a 900 aggregate, two guns a 2700 aggregate and three guns a 2700 aggregate.

If you find this confusing don’t worry. Wherever your match is being held, the admins will explain the course of fire. But you can read more about the different ones on the NRA’s web site or other web pages devoted to bullseye.

The Guns & Gear


A 1911 is the pistol most commonly associated with Bullseye shooting.

Bullseye is low on gear.  All you really need is a pistol and ammo, but a spotting scope is a plus, especially when shooting a .22.

Seeing hits with the naked eye at 50 yards can be challenging.  Knowing where you are grouping and whether or not you called your shot correctly is critical information for a shooter.  

When I think of a classic bullseye match, I don’t think of .22, I think of the vaunted 1911.  John Mosses Browning’s finest design. Still as relevant today as it was a century ago when it made its debut. You’ll find no finer .45 to compete with than a 1911.

Whether your shooting with .22 or a .45 or both, your ability to perform at the pinnacle of this sport will directly correlate to the gun and ammo you are shooting. For the beginner, stock guns are fine. But when it’s time to step your game up to the next level, be prepared to invest some money into upgrading your equipment. 

Sure, a  lot of what you need rests in your trigger finger, but like any shooting discipline, having the right tools for the job is an important piece of the puzzle. Buy a handgun with a nice trigger that can group consistently at 50 yards.  You won’t regret it.  

A few guns I’ve shot are a Ruger Mark II, my husband’s Beretta 92, and a Kimber Gold Match .45.  There are also some very accurate .22 conversions from Marvel Precision for your 1911 frame that I recommend you check out.

Shooting Bullseye

The basic shooting position for bullseye is a great way for any shooter to spend some time working on the principles of marksmanship, like sight alignment and trigger control.

But before we even mention sight alignment and trigger control, shooting bullseye starts from the ground up. Your feet, and a good natural point of aim are how this party gets started. 

Establishing a sold grip, and building a shooting position that starts with a strong natural point of aim are keys to shooting bullseye well.

You will stand with the strong-hand side of your body facing the target (90 degrees to the target), and hold the gun with one hand.  You need to have a solid grip, which means you want as much of your hand in contact with the surfaces of the gun as you can comfortably manage.  A tight, firm grip.   

To adjust your natural point of aim, you can open or close your stance, slide one foot forward or backward, or turn your toe inward or outward.  Find the position that is most comfortable and requires the least amount of body movement to get the gun on target.  This is where a shooter’s style really plays a role in bullseye. Not everyone is comfortable in the same exact position.  

While your strong hand will be holding the pistol to shoot, your other hand may be tucked into your pocket or belt loop. The goal here is to keep your body still and relaxed, and not to affect your sights by having any movement with your other hand.

Building a solid position with a proper grip and learning to adjust your natural point of aim are things that can be done at home with dry fire practice, and that will help you when you get to the range and need to perform all those adjustments on the clock.  

You need to create a consistent pattern of the mechanics.  From taking aim at the target, learning where to take up the slack in the trigger, how long to hold the gun up before you rest, learning where your natural respiratory pause lands before the shot are all things that you’ll have to work on and refine.  

As mentioned, dry firing is great.  I highly suggest you dry fire practice until you can break the trigger without disturbing the sights.

Keys to Shooting a Pistol with One Hand

For most people, shooting a pistol accurately requires two hands.  Which means using one hand makes the task all the more difficult.  But there are things you can do to improve your accuracy with one hand.

First, you need to pay very close attention to your grip and placement on the backstrap of the gun. Just think about the mechanical action of a 1911 pistol. The slide slams backward, and then forward. Having your grip high up on the backstrap, as high as you can without blocking the slide, will put the meat of your hand in the best position to absorb most the recoil.

Think about it this way, the force is coming from the gun, and through your hand, and into your shoulder and upper body.  It’s why shooters stand bladed to the target. They’re using their upper body mass to “back” the gun.  Gripping high means there will be more mass directly behind the recoiling slide, thus making it easier to manage.

The relatively low round count found in Bullseye matches, as compared to many other disciplines, make it easy on the wallet.

Another way to control the recoil when firing a pistol single-handed is to cam your wrist forward.  The amount you are able to do this is dictated by the grip angle of the gun.

When you shoot a pistol with two hands, the left wrist being cammed forward is a big help to controlling recoil.  You can accomplish this, even if it’s to a lesser degree, with one hand, but you need to be aware of the principle.

Other areas to channel your effort when shooting with one hand are focusing on your front sight and accepting the wobble.  Focusing on the front sight is a really broad concept though, to me, it’s more about learning to see where your front sight is in your sight picture and where that lands in relation to the target.

If I’m pulling the trigger while my hold wobbles in a pattern inside the black of the target, as long as I break the shot cleanly with the sights aligned, I should have a hit in the black.  But if my sights are not aligned, if I haven’t paid attention to proper sight alignment, and I break the trigger while wobbling, my shot might go a lot farther from the center.

Aligned sights, but imperfect placement on the target will result in an 8 or a 7, but misaligned sights PLUS an imperfect sight picture will yield a bigger error – maybe a miss.  The ability to keep my sights aligned, place them over the target correctly, and break the shot without moving the sights are the pieces that really matter.

Everything I do with my grip, stance, even down to my mental exercises and visualization — all of it serves to help me break the shot without moving the sights.  What it takes for YOU to do that is what you need to figure out through practice, practice, practice.

Where to Find a Bullseye Match


The distance to the targets in bullseye makes a spotting scope something most shooters will benefit from because they will have an easier time calling their shots, see their impacts, and adjust their natural point of aim.

National bullseye matches have been held at Camp Perry in northern Ohio for over a century.  

For the 2018 shooting season, you can use the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s online calendar to search by type of match, date, and location.

A simple Google search will help you find a local pistol league so you can meet other shooters in your area.  

If you really just want to shoot for fun, you can shoot an NRA Postal match for centerfire pistol on your own, and submit your scores.  Remember, no cheating! 

Get Out and Try It!

Shooting bullseye only requires a few things: your handgun, some ammo, a few targets and a place to shoot.  Yes, also patience — lots of patience.

While some believe that standing stationary and shooting targets with one hand is a pastime reserved for oldies — it’s not as exciting as say 3 Gun or as creative as Cowboy Action — the reality is that it’s a great way to work on the fundamentals of marksmanship

Call it an old guy sport if you must, but to stand at 50 yards and lay down a solid string of fire one-handed is, what the kids today would call, “baller.”  

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • mike November 3, 2017, 5:03 pm

    I totally agree with the fellas below, it will enhance your game no matter what level of shooter you are. My dad started me doing this in 1974 when I bought my first pistol. Ruger mk1.. some called it “Camp Perry Style” and before IPSC and the like…it was just plain old NRA pistol matches. Now there is a huge difference. But doing both will make you a consummate shooter.. both styles are totally different but basic principles are essentially the same, sight alignment + trigger control. In 1991 I started combat action pistol, I felt like I was learning to shoot all over again. About time I went back to my roots now that I read this article.

  • Carl Tests November 3, 2017, 2:36 pm

    Bullseye shooting is a great sport. I think that everyone shooting enjoys the thrill of tight groups and hitting the center dead on (if they can). However, I wouldn’t suggest it as an introduction to shooting sports for those interested in defense and defensive shooting. Start with defensive classes and learn to control your gun to produce effective defensive accuracy.

  • Lee November 3, 2017, 11:04 am

    Bullseye is a blast! Seriously, as a practical shooting competitor (USPSA, IDPA, 3-Gun) I find that the traditional games such as bullseye can push your marksmanship fundamentals and make your a better all around shooter. Plus sometimes its just nice to go shooting without an adrenaline rush. The level of focus you can achieve is unparalleled.

    If your new to shooting and thinking “Oh man, those old stationary position to stationary target shooting sports are boring….” like I used to, give them a try before you write them off. I think you’ll be surprised how much they can enhance your game.

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