As a firearms instructor who has taught dozens of classes over the past few years one of the more common questions I’m asked is “what should I practice when I go to the range?” This is a very good question, but before I delve into my answer we need to be more specific on what the student/shooter is actually wanting to improve upon. My specialty is “practical” shooting with a handgun but even within that area there are several different avenues. Does the shooter have any interest in competition or are they purely interested in self-defense type shooting? These are all questions that need to be asked.
Let us just assume I am giving this advice to a semi-experienced shooter whose main interest is improving his pistol skills for self defense/concealed carry type shooting. Now again we are talking about “shooting skills” here not tactics, that is another topic entirely. The “shooting skills” required for self-defense are very much the same skills needed to thrive in competitions such as IDPA or USPSA. Put simply these skills are the ability to shoot fast AND accurately with a “real” handgun and put rounds on a human size target under a variety of different circumstances and conditions. The first thing you need to understand is that there needs to be a balance between accuracy and speed. I often find that people with little experience tend to forget the speed part. They spend an entire range session shooting slow fire at a bullseye target. Anyone who has been in some kind of a violent situation realizes the need for speed. Things just happen fast and the ability to get your handgun into action quickly can be paramount. Being able to shoot a slow fire group the size of your fist at 15 or even 25 yards is a great skill to have; but being able to draw your handgun and put 6 shots on a target 5-7 yards away all within 2-3 seconds will likely be even more important in a violent encounter.
Ok so I’ve stressed the importance of balancing accuracy and speed but you’re still probably wandering “so what should I actually practice?” Let’s just assume you’re a person of average means and when you go to the range you can’t afford to shoot much more than 100rds. This is what I would suggest: First off I would recommend starting every drill from a loaded and holstered position (assuming the range allows this). We will start and end the session with more accuracy oriented shooting. First off set up some kind of a human silhouette target rather than a bulls-eye target….remember what you are training for? Put the target out about 15 yards. The first thing you will do is fire several 6 shot groups in the center-mass chest area of the target. We are not concerned about speed here but only about being accurate. When we do this we should be holding the sights as still as we can on the target and then concentrating on gradually squeezing the trigger until the gun goes off. This is mostly about trigger control and if you can master that you should be able to keep all your shots in the chest area of the target.
Next we will move the target in to between 5 and 7 yards. (for simplicity sake and also because of many range restrictions we will keep this session to one target only) Now we will start to bring speed into play. First I will say if you have a timer or have any means of timing yourself it will be very helpful. What you are going to do now is simply draw our handgun and engage the target with two rounds. The goal here is to see how fast you can do this while still keeping both rounds in the center chest area of the target. Imagine or even draw a circle 8-10 inches in diameter in the chest area…..this is what you are going for. If your hits are all in a 2 inch cluster in the center you are likely going too slow, if they are missing the circle you are going too fast. As an example someone who can do this drill (draw and 2 shots) in say 1.5 seconds while keeping everything in an 8 inch circle is probably a better practical shooter than someone who takes 3 seconds to put them inside a 4 inch circle. This is the balance of accuracy and speed. From this simple drill you can expand to many others. Vary the distances from 2 yards out to 15 or even 25 yards and try the same thing, although I would recommend doing the most practice under 10 yards. You can also fire more than 2 shots. I often do a “Bill drill” which is simply drawing and firing 6 shots into one target. With 6 shots as opposed to 2 you will be forced to control the pistol more during recoil and the firing cycle, I call this “running the gun” and it is a very critical skill to have. A failure drill is another variation of this and it is simply firing 2 shots to the body and then one shot to the head, again this can be practiced at different distances. And finally I would also recommend ending the session the same way you started with the 6 shot slow fire group at 15 yards.
So there you go. This is by no means an all inclusive article on what to practice but is simply meant to give some helpful hints to someone getting started in the practical shooting world. Shooting is like anything else, what you put into it is what you get out of it........so get out there and practice!