Why a Practice Program and not a training program?
I created the Pistol Practice Program (PPP) to fill a need for many gunowners. Most gunowners are self-taught and generally are not familiar with a structured approach to skill development. There is a great deal of information available now on how to shoot a pistol. However, there is much less information available on how to practice firearms skills over a period of time to achieve greater confidence and proficiency. As Aristotle said:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
My goal was to create a program that would get gunowners into the habit of shooting well. I created a step by step approach tailored to the needs of the casual shooter but challenging enough to satisfy the enthusiast. Designed as a series of range sessions, you can practice at your own pace as your schedule permits.
In the case of those who have attended training, your instructor probably said that a firearms class only provides a foundation of skills. To maintain those skills and improve, people who own pistols need to practice after training. Having a program also makes shooting more fun because the shooter develops a sense of accomplishment from the practice. This program is not concerned with what particular technique the shooter uses. Over time and by working the PPP, shooters will determine what works best for them.
The vast majority of gunowners only have access to indoor or public ranges where the type of practice they can do is rather restricted. The PPP takes that constraint into account and presents drills that are indoor range friendly and yet relevant to skill development. The livefire range sessions are then supplemented by dryfire sessions that can be done safely at home. Doing so allows you to develop skills that usually cannot be practiced at an indoor range. How to practice at home safely is thoroughly explained.
The PPP is available on CD. Its contents are mobile device friendly so you can copy the drills to your smartphone or tablet. If your device can access a PDF reader, you can easily take the exact drills to the range with you without having to lug along a book or write down the contents of a DVD. You can also put the dryfire audio sessions on your device for maximum convenience.
Those who are teaching a friend or loved one how to shoot a pistol will find the PPP provides a solid structure for their time at the range. For those who have attended a training class, the PPP provides a way to maintain and build the skills they learned in class. Law enforcement officers can use the PPP to keep your shooting skills tuned up in between qualifications and make qualifications less stressful. Put whatever practice ammo you receive from the department to good use instead of frustrating yourself by shooting the qual course over and over.
Contents of the PPP
- A Program Guide to get you started
- A Log Sheet to keep track of your progress
- 12 Primary Livefire Sessions (50 rounds and Indoor range friendly)
- 12 Secondary Livefire Sessions (50 rounds) for those who want more practice activity each time at the range
- 12 Structured scenarios designed to emphasize and train the interactive aspects of personal protection
- 6 audio guided Dryfire sessions (less than five minutes each)
- Tip sheets on firearms safety, interacting with law enforcement, common mistakes, etc.
I have drawn on a wide range of training experience, from teaching NRA Basic Pistol classes to my time as the Chief Instructor of the elite Rogers Shooting School, to create this Program. There is no doubt in my mind that shooters at all levels of skill and experience can benefit from it.
The PPP CD is available on my webstore. At $19.95, it’s about the cost of one box of centerfire ammo. Bonus: the first 100 orders will receive a Rogers Tap-Rack-Training aid, a $5.00 value, at no charge.
Several times, I have been pointed to an article about a cop who decided he needed to carry a lot more ammo on the job. The story is an excellent example of having the answers right in front of you and then ignoring them. While I don’t disagree with the idea of having plenty of ammo, it wasn’t the real solution to the problem in his case.
The nitty gritty of the story is that a cop got into an extended shootout with a determined attacker. The shootout went on for quite a while with a lot of spraying and praying on both sides. Eventually, the cop shot the suspect in the head and the situation was over.
As the incident progressed, he figured out that the answer to his problem was a software solution.
Then I told myself, ‘Hey, I need to slow down and aim better.’
My mother used to frequently comment about life in general, “If you don’t take the time to do it right in the first place, what makes you think you’ll have the time to do it over?” That’s a good commentary about situations like the one the officer encountered.
In retrospect, the officer mentioned that there were also other software solutions available. “ ‘I didn’t have time to think of backing up or even ramming him,’ Gramins said. ‘I see the gun and I engage.’ ” I’ve never put it on a timer but I bet that stepping on the gas pedal is faster than drawing from a security holster while seat belted in a car. Just recently a police officer proved the efficacy of this solution. As Massad Ayoob said many years ago, “What is a car to a pedestrian? A multi-ton high speed battering ram.”
But the officer’s overall conclusion about his experience was a hardware solution, i.e., ‘Be ready to do a bunch of spraying and praying’ by carrying 145 rounds of ammo on his person. His conclusion doesn’t follow from his self-evaluation of the solution to his problem. Perhaps, despite being a “master firearms instructor [I’m not sure what that means] and a sniper on his department’s Tactical Intervention Unit” he needs to learn to shoot a handgun on demand in a way that gets good results.
He did draw one conclusion I agree with, to wit: the mighty .45 ACP isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The officer switched from carrying a Glock .45 to a Glock 9mm. He’s not the first police officer I know of who has drawn that conclusion after a gunfight.
In one of the incidents my colleague Tom Givens describes in the DVD Lessons from the Street, the citizen came to the conclusion that he needed a larger caliber pistol. My analysis in that case was similar to the solution the author of the story about the police officer’s situation drew, “Practice head shots.”
I often see people draw erroneous conclusions from their experiences. While we think about ‘the fog of war’ as occurring during the battle, it often sets in afterward, too.
Living in California, I think it may be in my best interest to consider the worst-case scenario.
–a person who shall remain anonymous
I’ve previously mentioned my issue with planning for the worst case, but since ‘worst case planning’ comes up so often, the topic bears some further discussion. The essential problem is assuming that planning for the worst case is merely planning for the most likely case taken to a greater extent. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. The optimum solution in worst case planning may actually be a less, or even least, optimal solution for the most likely case.
The questions of competing probabilities and definitional issues rear their ugly heads again in this decision process. As an example, the worst case scenario that people imagine in a home defense scenario consists of multiple intruders, armed with projectile weapons, with their weapons in hand, ready to shoot the defender in reaction time. While that’s certainly possible, it’s definitely not the most likely case, if the bump in the night is really a burglar. And even the definition of ‘worst possible case’ is open to question in the context of home defense, as is the definition in many contexts.
The question I posed previously was “Is ‘the worst possible case’ having a dangerous armed intruder in your house or shooting and killing a family member by mistake?” Therein lays the definitional issue. The statistical/tactical issue is that the most likely case is probably a lone intruder, not armed with a projectile weapon, who is preoccupied with stealing your stuff and not waiting in ambush for you.
Let’s address the statistical/tactical issue since I’ve already mentioned the definitional issue. In the past, I have, in fact, planned for the worst possible burglary case envisioned by people. My plan for a late night, already in bed, worst case scenario was as follows:
- Put on my M17A1 protective mask
- Place my pistol (then a 1911A1) in hand
- Open the bedroom door slightly
- Pick up an M7 CS grenade and pull the pin, using a small hook I had placed on the door frame
- Have my then wife grab onto my clothing, close her eyes, and stop breathing
- Roll the grenade out into the kitchen and let it fill the house with CS gas
- My house was small and
- would have completely filled with CS gas within a few seconds
- Go out the door and move toward the back door as an exit
- Shoot anyone who was in my way in the head, whether they were standing or laying on the ground prostrate from the effects of the gas
- I’ve been in a confined cloud of CS from a grenade; it’s incredibly incapacitating.
- That’s where I got the idea.
- It’s not like the CS chamber most veterans have been exposed to.
- Exit the house, regroup, and plan my next move to a safer location
I was certain of the efficacy of this plan, since even a hardened group of assassins would be unlikely to expect a counterattack that would have made John Wick look like an Eagle Scout. However, I did consider that there were several downsides to the plan.
- Most likely, the grenade would have set the house on fire and burned it down. My landlord would have been unhappy and the couple who lived upstairs might have burned to death.
- The authorities probably would probably take a dim view of my executing a bunch of people, even if they did have nefarious intent.
- If my then wife had been accidently overcome by the gas, I would have been faced with the choice of finding her, picking her up, and carrying her out of the house, or leaving her behind with the rest of the deaders while the house was burning. (I would have carried her out, but that is a decision, not a given, in a serious house fire.)
I had also planned a lower intensity response for the more likely scenario of one guy with a screwdriver stealing my stuff. That plan was to challenge him from whatever concealment was available and tell him to get out. If he took one step toward me, I would have shot him. If I could see he had a projectile weapon, in hand or not, I would have shot him immediately.
Note that even in a simple scenario, there’s a decision tree (if, then, else). Those kinds of decisions are best made ahead of time. Making decisions before the situation arises is part of the Orient phase of the OODA process. Forward looking decisions are what allow you to speed up decision-making in the moment, not trying to think faster on the spot. Trying to construct a decision process in the midst of an incident will force you back into the Orient phase and actually slow down your decision-making.
The issue with worst case planning is that it usually ignores both the direct and opportunity costs implicit in the plan. Worst case planning also frequently lacks any branching or contingency aspects, which is not the way life works. Consider carefully ALL the ramifications of worst case planning in light of most likely case possibilities. What you may find is that it’s best to plan and prepare for the most likely case. Then, think of how that plan can be adapted to a much smaller probability of the worst case scenario.
A completely irrelevant post on Facebook (a new flamethrower) brought something to mind that I hadn’t thought about in a couple of decades. It relates to the concept of defining the mission, desired outcome, and possible consequences. Those are things integral, yet unstated, to the Orient phase of the OODA process and fundamental to achieving success.
Most discussions about OODA get caught up in the speed aspect, which is actually a tertiary part of the process. It’s not just a simple speed-based looping cycle, as is often depicted.
Years ago, I had a friend who didn’t care for guns but kept a flare pistol for home defense. She mentioned this to me in conversation. Her logic was that she didn’t want to kill someone. My response was “So you don’t want to kill someone but you’re okay with launching something into him that burns at several thousand degrees and might burn your house down?” She said she hadn’t thought about it that way. It certainly would have been possible for her to Act quickly but would it have been a good decision? I don’t think so.
It’s easy to get caught up in a linear process from the starting point without looking far enough down the path to a likely result and consequence. One component of Awareness is to keep your head up and look far down the road, just as you should when driving, rather than being fixated on the bumper in front of you.
It’s important to note that what is considered the most successful recent example of Boyd’s thinking was the planning of the First Gulf War. It took months and involved several different iterations of the strategic plan. In Boyd’s original hand drawn diagram of the OODA process, he actually had three different loops; one depicting planning, one depicting execution, and a third showing an overlay of the previous two. The third version is the popularized full diagram but it obscures the importance of the analysis/synthesis part of the process. There are many inputs necessary, including consequences, before an effective decision can be made. That planning is what makes rapid, effective Action possible.
Keeping in mind the desired outcome has to always be part of our decision-making. ‘Outcome Based Decision-Making’ should be an integral part of our thought process. As they said in DEA:
Focus on the object, not on the obstacle.
- At night, have a flashlight next to your gun.
- Pick them both up at the same time and identify the person before making the shoot decision
- Flashlight usage implies the need for one handed shooting
- Competing probabilities are in favor of it being a family member
- Thinking the light is a ‘lead magnet’ is a problem
I emphasized very strongly about the need for keeping a flashlight next to your ‘nightstand gun’ during my Negative Outcomes presentation at the Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference. Although I practice dryfire with a flashlight regularly, it occurred to me that I don’t have a structured regimen for doing so. Tonight, I thought I would work on that a bit.
At first, I started doing my 12 shot drill on my dryfire range with the flashlight. I used the left column to practice with the Harries technique as my ‘outside’ technique. For a general search and ‘inside’ technique, I used the right side column. I just did it this way due to habit because that’s similar to the way I shoot the drill livefire.
By ‘outside,’ I mean the flashlight is outside both my body and the pistol. ‘Inside’ means the flashlight is inside of the gun and toward my body. It’s necessary to have both an inside and outside technique so that you can use the light on either side of a piece of cover or concealment. For a right hander, the outside technique is used when using the light around the right side of cover and the inside technique is used around the left side. Left handers reverse that.
It occurred to me that I could use the same setup I use for the Air Marshal Tactical Pistol Course. I’ve modified that target setup slightly so I get more traverse on the multiple target strings. My setup also allows me to use both inside and outside techniques because of the arrangement of my apartment.
I started the Harries practice with the light pointing toward the target but the pistol down at low ready. Even when we’re identifying a target, we don’t want to muzzle them until the shoot decision is made. Then I practiced bringing the pistol up on target while keeping the light pointed at the target. At first, I did this in the hallway, just to get my mechanical movement correct.
For the cheek practice, once again, I started with the light pointing toward the target but the pistol down at low ready. Since I use the cheek technique as a general search technique, this means I’m going to be shooting one handed, if the shoot decision is made. I like the cheek technique as a general search technique because it allows me to use the light as an impact tool, if necessary. Because there is a possibility during a general search, I would be in a hallway when shooting started, I incorporated turning off the light after the shot and taking a sidestep. But, there’s not much maneuver room in a hallway, so don’t think this is some magic potion that prevents getting shot.
Once I was satisfied I had the mechanicals down pat, I moved to positions of cover, both left side and right side. I practiced on both sides, making sure I didn’t splash the light off the wall and into my face.
Note that in the photographs I took, I was using a flash or the regular lighting for clarity. When practicing, the place was completely dark. Also note that the camera wasn’t positioned exactly where the target was, so I look more exposed than I actually was.
I’m glad I developed this as a more formal program. I’ll be doing it at least once a week from now on as part of my 1000 days of dryfire.
The Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference is over and I am processing the things I observed and learned from it. The Conference has a long history, dating back to the early days of IDPA in 1998, when it was a sanctioned IDPA indoor Championship. Over the years, it has evolved into the foremost tactical training conference for private citizens in the United States. It is held annually, early in the year, in the Memphis area. The venue for the 2015 Conference was the Memphis Police Training Academy, a truly fine and modern facility.
This year, three dozen of the top personal protection trainers in the country, many of whom are referred to as “T-Rexes,” came together to present or conduct training blocks of two to six hours over a period of three days. The agenda has grown so large that it’s not possible to take in all the training that is available, since sometimes five blocks are going on simultaneously. Some of the training is classroom lecture, some is hands-on with sterile weapons, and some is livefire. There is also a shooting match, for those who choose to participate.
There were a wide variety of topics, ranging from psychology and communications to contact based skills to firearms manipulation. I was able to attend nine sessions.
- Yes, I Shoot Like a Girl, Would You Like a Lesson?
- Surviving Lethal Encounters
- The Law of Self-Defense
- Practical Small Knife Principles
- Performance Under Fire
- Rehabilitating the Experienced Shooter
- The Training/Reality Mismatch
- Kneeling Positions and Combining Them with the Use of Cover
- Women’s Holsters and Accessories
In addition, I was able to make two classroom presentations.
- Tactical Communications for Couples, with my co-presenter Linda Hoopes, President of the Resilience Alliance.
- Negative Outcomes of Firearms Ownership
Upon my return, several people have asked me what my most significant takeaways were. As usual, I learned a great deal, so it’s difficult to say what were the most significant, but here are a few that stand out in my mind, in no particular order.
- A conversation with a mentor of mine, John Farnam, elicited from both of us the experience that when approached for help in a parking lot, it’s almost always a scam or criminal ambush. Fellow trainer Melody Lauer pointed out that there are a few legitimate exceptions, but John and I both feel they are the exception rather than the rule. This indicates that a default response should be formed to immediately and firmly decline the invitation to be a victim and then rapidly vacate the area. Exceptions to that rule should be based on specific articulable reasons and conscious decision-making, rather than by default.
- The T-Rexes are constantly working along the path to excellence. That path includes attitude, skills development, tactics, and a host of other areas. Recognizing that there is an element of chance in every encounter, we work hard on stacking the deck in our favor. ‘Doing the work’ means training regularly and practicing on a daily basis. ‘Good enough’ is never good enough for us. That’s probably why we’re regarded as T-Rexes.
- There is an enormous amount of erroneous, misapplied, or misinterpreted information floating around in the broad firearms and personal protection community. This is especially true in relation to prioritization, legal issues, and skills development.
- The community has a lot to learn about integrating women into it. There was a record turnout of female attendees and women trainers at the Conference this year, my co-presenter being one. Conversations with them, as well as the presentations, were highly enlightening. Many male paradigms either don’t apply at all or don’t work particularly well when used by women. My own presentation was an eye-opener to me in that regard. The Women’s Holsters and Accessories presentation, which was presented by a woman, gave several good examples. A pet peeve expressed by several T-Rexes is men who have women shoot excessively powerful firearms and then laugh when they fail. Our universal attitude is along the lines of the desire to give such jerks a knee lift in the crotch followed by a crack in the jaw and then laugh when they fall down writhing in pain.
I have several pages of notes but those jump out at me. Undoubtedly, more will occur to me as I reflect on the event. I will have more thoughts on specific topics in the near future. There is a photo gallery of the Conference training blocks available on the Rangemaster website.
While I was teaching a private lesson last week, my student was struggling with improving his times, while maintaining an acceptable degree of accuracy. I could tell by the size of his groups, which were quite small, relative to the speed he was going, there was a fundamental that he didn’t understand. The front sight does not have to be perfectly aligned in the notch to produce good hits. So, I had him do a drill to demonstrate the acceptable degree of sight misalignment that will still result in hits on target.
The drill is to fire the pistol with the front sight on the target but with the rear notch deliberately misaligned. It is conducted in four parts consisting of two shots each.
- Front sight half way above the top of the rear notch,
- Front sight lowered so that its top edge is half way down in the rear notch,
- Front sight pushed to the right so that its right edge is touching the side of the rear notch, and
- Front sight pushed to the left so that its right edge is touching the side of the rear notch
This is the diagram I drew to show him what it should look like.
The front sight is aligned correctly on the target with the misalignment done to the rear sight. I prefer to use a dot as the target to get the most graphic result. In this case, I used a 1 ¾ dot. There’s no magic to that number; it just happens to be the size of the template I had.
I had him shoot the drill at seven yards. This was the result. His group measured about four inches at that distance. For many people, trigger manipulation issues will have a greater effect on their accuracy than will sight alignment.
Once he understood that he didn’t need a perfect sight picture, the speed of his shooting picked up and his accuracy remained well within acceptable limits. As long as the front sight is close to the center of the target, a certain degree of misalignment will still produce a good hit. Not worrying about getting a perfect sight picture will result in a noticeable increase in speed.
Incidentally, this drill is a part of the NRA Personal Protection In The Home Course. Experienced shooters like my student usually think they have nothing to learn from NRA Courses. Often, this is a misconception on their part. [Thanks to those who pointed out that I had misremembered the NRA Course the drill is part of.]
The house alarm sounded and the wife shot her husband through a closed bedroom door thinking he was an intruder, according to Fayetteville police.
Obviously, that was a ‘negative outcome.’ Therein lays the problem with simply having a gun without doing any scenario training with it. My research has brought me to the point where I am less concerned with the marksmanship aspects of personal protection than I am with 1) proper gunhandling and 2) appropriate decision-making. Those two items are almost completely absent from most gunowners’ repertoire.
There are a competing set of probabilities we have to consider in a home defense situation. If you have anyone else living in your home, the most likely probability is that the 3 a.m. bump you hear or shadow you see is, in fact, a member of your household. For sake of argument, let’s put that probability at nearly 100%. There is, however, a competing probability that it is an intruder. That probability is much lower, somewhat above 0%, depending on where you live. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the burglary rate in the US was 27.6 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2011, or 2.76%, so let’s round it up to 3%. Assuming it’s an either/or situation, which it’s not, that would make the likelihood of encountering a family member, rounded, at 97%. Graphically, this is what those competing probabilities look like.
Looking at it this way makes a very strong case for why we have to positively identify before we shoot. It is 32 times more likely that the sound or shadow is a member of the household than it is an intruder. Las Vegas would really like those odds. If we’re going to be the slightest bit responsible, we have to look at ALL the possibilities, not just the ones that scare us the most. Shooting through the door without doing any kind of identification is just plain wrong.
Verbalization is so important in personal protection scenarios. And it’s something very few people practice on the range, or any other time, for that matter. I’ve had female clients tell me “I can’t say that.” Well, you better learn to say something. At home, the verbalization doesn’t have to be complicated. “Who’s there?” will probably suffice. You do have to be able to talk with a gun in your hand, though. Once again, hearing “Honey, it’s me” should immediately trigger a stand-down response on our part.
Stand-down is another thing that’s uncommon for people to practice but really important when you look at the probabilities. In a home defense encounter, ‘Stand-down’ should most likely mean immediately physically placing the gun down and moving away from it to avoid unpleasant after-effects of a startle response. Having to do so brings up those proper gunhandling and muzzle direction issues again.
This also bears on the issue of ‘training for the worst possible case.’ A serious definitional issue has now arisen in my mind regarding that concept. Is ‘the worst possible case’ having a dangerous armed intruder in your house or shooting and killing a family member by mistake? I don’t have an answer for that question but it has now become a relevant issue for me, as it should be for you, too.
It’s a sad fact that people shoot other people unintentionally. I’m not talking about mistaken identity shootings but completely unintentional shootings. Probably the most famous incident was when Vice President Dick Cheney shot his hunting partner. However, that was far from an isolated occurrence. Reading the news reports provides plenty of such incidents.
We absolutely don’t want to shoot someone unintentionally nor let someone get shot unintentionally. A firearm is an instrument of ultimate personal responsibility. It’s not like a car, where sometimes we can blame someone else for negative outcomes. When a firearm we are handling goes off, we have to bear the consequences, period. If we leave it sitting around unsecured and someone else makes it goes off, we have to the bear the consequences, period. Sometimes, the consequences are tragic, in either case.
A writer from Gun Digest contacted me about the Five Year Armed Citizen study TAC 5 year w tables I did a while back. He asked if I would give him a quote about it, so this was my reply.
“Analyzing incidents involving Armed Private Citizens, rather than LE/MIL situations, leads to different conclusions. Common discussion topics among Armed Private Citizens, such as equipment and caliber issues, rarely are the cause of Negative Outcomes. Negative Outcomes result from 1) lack of conceptual understanding leading to poor decision-making, and 2) lack of appropriate and necessary skills, techniques, and tactics.
Carrying and being capable of using a small gun adequately will yield much better results than owning a large pistol that isn’t carried or shot well. More criminals have been planted in the ground by .22s that hit than by .45s that miss.”