Pass Your Pistol Qualification with Less Stress

For many police officers, passing their department’s pistol qualification course is a very stressful event. Although the qual course is probably never going to be stress free, there are some steps that can be taken to reduce the stress involved.

First of all, recognize the qualification course for what it is; a target shooting course. Regardless of how applicable or inapplicable you think it may be to what you do on ‘the street,’ it’s something you have to do to keep your job. What that means is that you have to develop some proficiency at target shooting, like it or not. The more proficient you are, the less stressful it will be.

Second, there are certain fundamental skills that are required for target shooting.

  1. See the sights in the proper relation to the target
  2. Press the trigger smoothly
  3. Followthrough for a short period of time
  4. Get ready to shoot again

You may or may not have been taught these fundamentals adequately in the Police Academy. Instructors vary in their ability to impart knowledge. Your learning style may be different than the teaching style used in the Academy.

Third, target shooting is an athletic activity. It’s not as strenuous as playing football but it does place considerable demands on specific parts of your body. You may not be used to working them in the way necessary to do decent shooting. Consequently, you have to practice the movements necessary in between quals. You wouldn’t expect to not practice any other sport and then step up and do a great job on game day. Pistol shooting is no different; you have to get out of your chair and actually do some work to develop some degree of proficiency.

It also involves considerable mental focus. Focus is a principal component of doing good shooting. The only way to develop focus is to practice it periodically.

A misunderstanding that officers often have is thinking they can go through the Academy’s firearms training and then be they are ‘trained’ or ‘knowledgeable.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. We can only absorb so much information at one time. And, if we don’t practice what we’ve learned, that skill or knowledge slips away quickly. Repetitive reinforcement of our learning is key to developing and maintaining proficiency.

The process of dryfire can help you immensely with fundamentals 1, 2, and 3. Dryfire is the single most overlooked component of gaining proficiency with pistols. The good news is that it’s free and takes very little time. Dryfire doesn’t have to be a long involved process. Fifty good repetitions a week will only take five minutes and will yield noticeable results. You will quickly find out if you’re yanking the trigger when you dryfire. You have to press the trigger smoothly. That doesn’t mean it has to be slow, but it has to be smooth. If you know how to drive a stick shift car, you already know how to work the clutch smoothly but quickly. The principle for working the trigger is the same.

Be careful to dryfire safely. Live ammunition and dryfire simply do not mix, regardless of what some Police Academies teach. Leave your ammo in another room before you go to dryfire. If you have any doubts about how to dryfire safely, there are numerous resources on the Internet that can explain it.

If your department supplies you with even 50 rounds of ammunition a month, you can use that very effectively for practice. If not, invest the $15-20 to buy it on your own. However, that does NOT mean shooting the qual course with your 50 rounds. A good practice drill is to turn the target around so the back is facing you. Then draw 20 circles on it about 3-4 inches in diameter; the lid from a small tub of margarine makes a good template. Or there are commercial targets available.


Set the target at five yards. Shoot one shot at each circle. After you’ve shot all 20, tape up the holes. Now, do 20 draws from your holster, shooting one shot at each circle. Tape up the holes. Finally, shoot two groups of five shots each on two different circles. Doing a fifty round drill like that once a month makes hitting a silhouette seem like child’s play by comparison.

When you are shooting, keep your eyes on the sights; don’t lift your head up to see where you have hit on the target. This is called followthrough; the principle is found in almost every sport. It’s absolutely necessary for good shooting. Good followthrough leads into the 4th principle, get ready to shoot again. If your followthrough is good, you will be in position to fire another shot if you need to.

Following this simple program will make your next qualification shoot much easier and less stressful. If you would like to be notified about when my upcoming eBook about Low Stress Qualification is published, please sign up for my blog.

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