Mastering Your Handgun With Chris Cerino

You made the decision: it’s time to buy a new handgun. It may be your first or an addition to your collection. Maybe it’s for target practice, home defense, hunting, or just plinking on the weekends. Either way, you want to become proficient with it. 
Where to start? 


By spending some money, advises Chris Cerino, long-time handgun shooter, competitor, and trainer. “One of the most common mistakes I see with choosing a handgun is simply buying the wrong gear,” says Cerino. “Poor choices of handgun, caliber, and accessories. Newcomers often buy the cheapest holsters, magazine pouches, ammunition, and even handguns. Then, they start shooting, and it all doesn’t work very well, and they are disappointed.” 


Do your research, Cerino advises, talk to knowledgeable “gun” people and plan on spending some real money. The latter because, well, quality costs. “Buy once, cry once, so goes the saying,” Cerino says with a laugh. “But it’s true. Buy good gear and spend the money upfront, and it will last you, and it will work. Invest in training, too.” 


Cerino should know. He began a career in law enforcement back in 1992 and since then has worked at several agencies at the local, state, and federal levels, including a stint as a Federal U.S. Air Marshall.   


Early in his law enforcement career, Cerino became a firearms trainer, first for fellow officers and later for civilians. For many years, he was the lead firearms instructor at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, heading up all the facility’s training classes as well as their tactical operations. “I did everything from revolver instructor classes to submachine gun and precision rifle instructor classes,” he explains. “In tactical operations we presented active shooter response training, SWAT operator basic courses, and tactical team leader classes. All in all, I’ve been a formal trainer since 1998. Training has always been my passion.” 
While he is still a part-time police officer in a neighboring town, Cerino’s main job today is as the director of training at The Cerino Training Group, (chriscerinotraininggroup.com) in Wadsworth, Ohio, with his wife, Michelle, who instructs and handles business operations. 


As a trainer for civilian clients, Cerino’s courses focus on firearms safety, the fundamentals of firearms handling and manipulation, and the principles of self-defense shooting and marksmanship, as well as more advanced topics. He also still teaches a wide variety of law enforcement courses. 


Cerino has also been a competitor on the History Channel’s series, Top Shot. He finished second in Season One and again in Season Five, establishing himself as among the nation’s best shooters. “The fact that I got to do Top Shot for two seasons was beyond comprehension and just an amazing experience,” Cerino says. “Top Shot taught me a lot about competition and the mindset to win. I knew how to shoot, but I never really knew how to compete. Thanks to the Top Shot experience, I still shoot matches all over the country.” 


For the new handgun owner and shooter, Cerino has some definite ideas to help become a better, more consistent shot. “There’s a long list of fundamentals,” he notes. “Between six and eight depending on who you listen to. Personally, I focus on three, especially for the beginner. Grip, sights and trigger.” 


As to how you should grip your handgun, Cerino recommends the modern, high thumbs forward grip as the best method. With this grip, the shooter places his or her hand as high up on the grip as it will go, and then aligns both thumbs on the left side of the frame. This grip offers better recoil management than other options, allowing for faster follow-up shots, and can be used for both semi-automatics and revolvers, too. 


When using the sights, “Most shooters don’t know to use the bodies of the sights to cover half to two-thirds of the target they want to hit. Practicing sight alignment is best done on inanimate objects. Even better is practicing sight alignment and sight picture while dry firing. There are two ways to do this. One is against a blank wall and another is with a target object. Either way, you have to see the sights when the hammer falls.”  


            Triggers can and will vary from handgun to handgun, Cerino notes. “Learn how to press the trigger on your particular handgun,” he says. “Some handguns require more finger and more force or vice versa. Just do whatever it takes to press the trigger with little to no disturbance of the sight alignment and sight picture. Practice! At the range and dry firing, too.” 


Once you are comfortable with your handgun and want to take it to the next level? Cerino has two suggestions. 
First, get some professional training. “Training is best done under the watchful eye of a qualified instructor. He or she will spot your mistakes quickly and get you on track much faster than you could on your own. Training expands the mind and takes you to places you’ve never been and may never go.” 


For the self-defense shooter, training is must. “The street is a poor place to improvise. The first time you need a skill, technique, or tactic should not be when your life depends on it. The body is unlikely to go where the mind has not been, and training and practice can prepare you and your mind for those places.” 


Second? Put your newly learned handgun skills up against other shooters. “If you want to shoot better, start competing,” he adds. “There’s a lot to be learned just from watching and talking with other competitors. Your failures in a match don’t cost anything but a little ego. You’ll figure out what you’re good at as well as finding out what you need to work on. If you need more work in certain areas? Then you can choose the training that best suits you.”  

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