Aim Small, Miss Small – Meaning, Origin & Examples

If you’ve ever been given the advice “aim small, miss small” it might have left you a little bit confused. You have grand ambitions; surely you want to aim big and hit big!

Don’t worry, we’ll explain it to you. You can thank us later.

Aim Small, Miss Small – Meaning

“Aim small, miss small” is an instruction phrase used by people who shoot guns. It means that, when looking at a target, you should pick a smaller point to aim for within that target. In that case, if you miss, you’ll still hit the target. 

Aim Small, Miss Small - Meaning

The phrase “aim small, miss small” is also used metaphorically to discuss focusing on small targets while working on long, time-consuming projects.

How to Use “Aim Small, Miss Small” in a Sentence

Let’s look at some examples of how to use “aim small, miss small” in a sentence so that we can better understand how it works:

  • Try aiming for the bullseye instead of the whole board; aim small, miss small.
  • When managing a long-term project, set yourself little deadlines to meet along the way – aim small, miss small.
  • Aim small, miss small is my rule for shooting; choose a spot on the bird to hit, not just the whole bird.
  • You need to turn your grand ambitions into smaller, obtainable goals. Aim small, miss small.

Aim Small, Miss Small – Origin

“Aim small, miss small” comes from the 2000 movie The Patriot, which is set in the American Revolutionary War and stars Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. In the film, Gibson offers this advice when teaching his son (Ledger) how to shoot a musket.

It was actually one of the movie’s firearm instructors, Mark Baker, who said “aim small, miss small” while training the actors. The writers liked the line and decided to add it to the film. 

Now, that’s not to say that Mark Baker himself coined the phrase. It appears to be popular advice among the shooting community, with people online fondly recalling being given this tip by their grandfathers before they killed their first deer. Beautiful.

There’s no definite information on where “aim small, miss small” could have come from before The Patriot though, and this movie certainly seems to have spread the phrase and become closely associated with it.

Does “Aim Small, Miss Small” Work?

We haven’t been to the shooting range to test this one out ourselves (we’re pacifists), but word on the street (and by street we mean the internet) is that “aim small, miss small” is solid and popular advice for shooting.

If you’re firing a weapon, when you focus on a small target, your shots are likely to be more tightly grouped.

When it comes to project management, setting multiple, smaller deadlines is a great way to keep on top of your tasks and stay on track.

Aim Small, Miss Small – Synonyms

There aren’t many synonyms for “aim small, miss small” as it relates to shooting. There is, however, this quote from the 2014 biographical war film American Sniper:

  • Don’t aim for the chest, aim for a button on their shirt.

This phrase is a different way of explaining the same concept. If you aim for the buttons and miss, you’ll still hit the chest. If you aim for the chest and miss, you won’t hit the man at all. Which will be nice for the man.

  • Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.

This quote by Emily Dickinson probably didn’t originally have guns in mind. However, it works well as a synonym for “aim small, miss small” as it pertains to project management, which is much more exciting than guns anyway.

Phrases That Mean the Opposite of “Aim Small, Miss Small” 

Now, let’s look at a phrase that expresses the opposite idea of “aim small, miss small”:

  • Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land in the stars.

No one seems to be sure where this quote originates from, as it’s frequently attributed to either Les Brown or Norman Vincent Peale. However, the idea encompassed is that you should aim big, huge even. This would be more of a “spray and pray” method of shooting.

  • Aim big.

Correct Ways to Say “Aim Small, Miss Small”

One variation of the phrase “aim small, miss small” is:

  • Hit small, miss small

In What Situations Can You Use “Aim Small, Miss Small”?

You can use “aim small, miss small” when you’re giving somebody shooting advice or trying to help them manage their goals. You can also use it when quoting The Patriot or when singing along to this song by Prince of Eden.