Home » Guides » How To Use a Pistol: Semi Auto Handgun Operation Basics

How To Use a Pistol: Semi Auto Handgun Operation Basics

L.p. Brezny | Updated May 25, 2023 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money

If you are new to the world of guns and weapons, you may feel apprehensive to beginning to use a handgun or carry it. There are many concerns that may arise such as how to carry safely, how to comfort yourself in knowing that you are able to handle the gun if the worst comes, how to properly conceal the handgun, where you are allowed to conceal carry, and how to clean the weapon.

Having these provocative questions and more on your mind can lead you to put away the idea of using a handgun or learning how to protect yourself and your family. The goal here is to find the answers to these questions, give you some basics of how to use a handgun, and put your worries at ease so that you can live life to the fullest.

If you are new to the scene and want to begin carrying your weapon, you may want to consider taking a beginner’s course at your local shooting range. They will go over basic safety procedures, the most proper stance to hold while shooting, and they will give you a place to practice your aim.

This is a fun course to take alone or with a friend, and it will help build confidence in you. Confidence is key when handling a weapon. If you are afraid of handling the weapon, you are more likely to accidentally drop the weapon and/or discharge it. Knowledge is power and will help you to be as safe as possible on and off the range.

The most important part of owning and using a handgun is knowing and following all safety procedures. Here are the main things you need to keep in mind as you approach a handgun, no matter who owns it or where it is.

  • Always assume the handgun is loaded and treat it as such.
  • Never point your muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy. Aim only if you are planning to shoot.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  • Before shooting, be sure not only of your target, but also what is behind it (bullets go through things!).

More Reading: Top 1911 Gun Models of 2023

Once you’re done with this article, I’d suggest you take a look at the top 1911 gun models of 2023, where we discuss some of the top 1911 pistols out there.

Parts of a Handgun

scattered parts of a handgun

If you are going to operate something, you must know what each part is and what it does. This is no different when it comes to handguns. Here are the parts of a handgun:

  • The front and rear sights (to help you hone in on your target)
  • Muzzle
  • Slide lock
  • Trigger
  • The magazine release and magazine
  • Hammer

Some handguns are single action, meaning that you must pull the hammer down before taking each shot. If the hammer is done and the trigger is pulled, nothing will happen. This is a built-in safety measure for these types of handguns.

Striker action handguns have the hammer action built inside the weapon. Many of these have an external safety button or a safety that is on the trigger. The safety on the trigger must also be pressed along with the trigger for the weapon to fire. Becoming familiar with which type of handgun you own will allow you to properly handle the weapon when the time comes to fire it.

How to Load and Unload

Filling a magazine is the first step to loading your handgun. Place each bullet into the magazine, one at a time, ensuring that the head of the bullet is facing the part of the magazine that will be pointing towards the muzzle. Most magazines are impossible to load incorrectly, so you should not have to worry too much about this detail.

If you want to make a firearm safe or if you need to reload your magazine, most handguns will have a small button near the butt of the gun that releases the magazine. This will bring the magazine out and allow you to refill it. In some situations, it will be beneficial to have an extra magazine or two on hand that is already full of ammunition.

Otherwise, you will have to take the time to refill your magazine every time you use it all up. This could be frustrating if you are trying to hone your aiming skills.

Holding your Handgun

man holding a Handgun on the fields with blurry background

When holding your handgun, you will want to ensure you are not going to drop the weapon or have it hit you when it recoils. When first holding the weapon, before you are ready to fire, you will want to keep your trigger finger on the outside of the handgun, away from the trigger. The best thing to do is to keep it flat on the side of the guard.

With safety in mind, you always want to keep your weapon pointing either down range (where there should be no people!) or directly at the ground. Pointing the muzzle in the air can be dangerous, as a bullet being shot upwards must come down and could harm someone if it hits them!

When practicing your grip and becoming comfortable with holding your weapon, be sure it is unloaded. Even though it is unloaded, continue treating it as though it is. This will help you be prepared for when it is loaded and can prevent accidental shootings later.

A few points to keep in mind when holding your handgun:

  • Keep the webbing between your forefinger and your thumb as far up on the grip as possible to help reduce recoil
  • Keep your forearm in line with the movement of the slide
  • Hold your handgun firmly, but not too tightly. Holding the weapon so tightly that it shakes will not help you control it as you fire.

While firmly gripping the weapon with your dominant hand, you will see that there is still some empty space on the grip that your dominant hand does not cover. This is the spot where you will want to put your non-dominant hand to keep the weapon steady.

As you get used to the grip, you may find yourself wondering where you are supposed to put your thumbs. The thumb on your dominant hand can be held in whatever position feels most comfortable to you; either lying flat against the gun facing forward or facing upward.

No matter how you hold your thumb, it is not going to change your grip. Your non-dominant thumb is naturally going to lay facing forward while leaning against your pistol. For both thumbs (and all fingers, for that matter), you want to be sure that they are not going to be caught in the slide of your gun as it is fired.

 Getting pinched by your own weapon could not only hinder your aim and effectiveness, but it would hurt a lot!

Pulling the Trigger

picture of hands pulling the trigger

Finally, you are ready to pull the trigger! It may be natural for you to pull the trigger quickly so that you hit your target quickly. However, this method of madness could cause you to miss your target. Pulling the trigger at a fast speed lessens your ability to control the weapon.

The best way to pull the trigger is very slowly, to the point where you are surprised at the shot. This way you are not inadvertently flinching before, during, or after the weapon fires. Flinching can throw off your aim.

The placement of your trigger finger can vary depending on the size of your fingers and your comfort level. Most use either the tip of their index finger up to the first crease. The best way to figure out what works best for you is to practice and see what way gives you the most control and the least extra movement during operation.

Shooting Stance

man in camo showing a shooting stance

Now that you know how to handle your weapon safely, load it, and fire it, you must learn how to stand properly. Your shooting stance is the foundation of the entire operation, so you must be sure to do it well. You want to make sure that you are stable and sturdy, not wobbly or easy to knock over. This will ensure that you hit your intended target.

The most important part of this is that you are comfortable in how you are standing and are not leaning too far back or too far forward. Too far back and you could be knocked to the ground. Too far forward and the butt of your weapon may be meeting your face.

The rule of thumb tends to be that your feet are shoulder width apart, with the foot opposite of your dominant hand being about one step in front of the other. Be sure to bend your knees and balance your weight between your legs. Having a good center of gravity will help stabilize you in preparation for firing your weapon.

After you have your feet where they should be, you may wonder where your arms should be sitting. The most important part of this is that your dominant arm is facing forward and is in line with the gun and target. The elbow of your dominant arm should be almost straight.

The elbow on your non-dominant hand should be bent at an angle. Both things together will give you more stability and more confidence in being able to hit the target.

Some competitions require you to shoot your weapon with only one hand. In this case, it is most important that you have a firm grip and a steady foot stance. Remember, you never want to hold the gun sideways or with a bent wrist. That may look good in the movies, but it could hurt someone who was not meant to be hurt.

Aiming the Gun

aiming the gun image

All of this is for not if you do not know how to properly aim at your target. Do you remember the sights of the gun that were mentioned earlier? Those come into play now! You have a front and a rear sight. These work together to help your brain focus on the target.

It is important to ensure that the rear post lines up in-between the front sight. This shows you that your gun is level and that you have a good picture sight. The picture sight is what you see that you are aiming at through your sight.

It is most common to aim with your dominant eye and closing your other. This can be easier in the beginning. However, at some point you will need to have extra depth perception to properly hit your target.

The task of being able to focus on one tiny sight picture with both eyes open can feel impossible. With practice and some effort, though, you will be able to master this skill and will be all the better for it. Not only will you have better depth perception, but you will also have less eye fatigue and you will have more situational awareness.

Once you figure out which of your eyes is the dominant eye, then you will want to adjust your shooting stance to work with you. Standing in different positions can make it easier for you to focus one eye or another, depending on how close or far away you are to the sight picture. It is important when doing this that you do not bring the weapon closer to your face, but that you are adjusting your body.


If you are new to the world of marksmanship, do not let yourself feel overwhelmed with all the information that is constantly thrown at you. The most important things you need to remember have to do with safety. Safety is always first.

Then, the rest will fall into place as you take practice shots are learn more about yourself. The basics of shooting a handgun are the same across the board, with a few individual quirks you must figure out for yourself, such as your dominant eye or your favorite shooting stance. Once you figure out these steps and begin target practicing, you will become an expert marksman in no time. Good luck!

Leave a Comment