Because I’ve been asked for it so often, I’ve created a Skill Development practice program that goes far beyond my first two books, Concealed Carry Skills and Drills and Indoor Range Practice Sessions. CCSD and IRPS were intended for newer or inexperienced shooters.
The new Program is called Advanced Pistol Practice. It is intended for those shooters who are familiar with their handguns and are serious about taking their skills, both Technical and Decisional, to a much higher level. Although many people would like to take a high level training course, that’s often difficult or impossible because of resource constraints. While it can’t provide the practiced eye of a good instructor, Advanced Pistol Practice provides shooters with a practice approach similar to those used by many good trainers. It uses an integrated approach to Skills Development incorporating both Live Fire and Dry Practice that is found in many high level training courses.
The Live Fire component consists of Technical Drills, Decisional Drills, and Scenarios. While numerous technical shooting drills are widely available, drills that develop the skill of ‘thinking with a gun in hand’ are much less common. The Decisional Drills included in APP are intended to fill this gap. They consist of both Don’t Shoot/Shoot exercises and target identification/follow-up hit assessment exercises. Scenario shooting should be a part of every shooter’s practice but creating realistic scenarios isn’t always easy. The Live Fire Scenarios in APP are based on actual shootings, gunfights, and gunbattles involving both Private Citizens and Law Enforcement Officers, especially off-duty LE incidents.
Snub revolvers continue to maintain a healthy presence as backup and hideout gun among knowledgeable guncarriers. The Snub Revolver Program Of Instruction that I developed and used for many years is included in APP. Snubs are neither “arm’s length guns” nor “one-shot close range shotguns.” Given a structured practice regimen, shooters can learn to accomplish good work with a snub revolver. Dry Practice exercises for the snub are included in the Program, as well.
Dry Practice is often the most challenging practice component of Skill Development because it tends to be unstructured and boring, leading to unproductive “grabasstic gun-clicking.” To combat this, APP includes a series of different structured audio programs in different voices with different sound effects to keep dry practice focused and interesting. Since the space available for dry practice is usually limited, APP also includes reduced scale targets to facilitate the dry practice.
Proficient shooters are frequently asked by new or prospective gunowners to provide an introduction to shooting. To assist the proficient shooter in setting up a new shooter for success, APP includes a short training outline suitable for those with little experience with firearms. Setting up a new shooter for a productive and enjoyable session is an important part of growing our community. The New Shooter Outline can help a proficient shooter do that.
Recognizing that firearms are periodically involved in unfortunate situations, Advanced Pistol Practice also includes the entire Serious Mistakes and Negative Outcomes recording as MP3 files. The potential personal disasters that can result from poor decision-making and not thinking ahead are often overlooked among firearms owners. Serious Mistakes and Negative Outcomes challenges the gunowner to think ahead and avoid the pitfalls that can occur during ownership and incidents.
Advanced Pistol Practice is more than a book and contains many audio files and graphics. Consequently, it’s not feasible to offer it as a download. It’s available on my webstore in two formats; CD and USB flash drive. The CD version is $19.95, shipped. There’s a $3 additional charge for the USB flash drive option.
The Program is about the price of one box of ammunition and will pay for itself many times over by saving time, ammunition, and perhaps even lives.
Becoming reasonably skilled with a handgun isn’t always a fun process. A lot of it is simply repetition of basic techniques until we have achieved automaticity, which is frequently and incorrectly referred to as ‘muscle memory.’
The reason most POlice and CCW qualification courses consist of high round count strings is simply to get the testing over with as quickly as possible. The underlying object is to facilitate the evaluation process, not to ‘train’ the shooter. When we’re practicing on our own, ‘getting it over with’ doesn’t have to be our primary concern, nor should it be.
When we’re practicing for skill development, almost all of our time should be spent firing one or two shots at a time. For competitive shooters, using Bill Drills to practice recoil management does have value. For purposes of personal protection, however, the reality is that learning to put the first shot on target every single time has a lot more value.
When learning to shoot at distance, single shot drills are almost mandatory.
As a refresher, here are some links to previous articles about aspects of learning to shoot well.
Most of the drills in my eBooks are three shots or less. They’re workbooks, which implies to use them, you have to do some work. Work is not always fun. Sorry, that’s just adult life. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun shooting but rather that learning to shoot well isn’t always a fun process.
For those who carry a concealed firearm, Concealed Carry Skills and Drills, is appropriate for you. The link to the downloadable eBook is here. http://concealedcarryskillsanddrills.com
For those who don’t carry a concealed firearm but keep a handgun for home defense, Indoor Range Practice Sessions, is appropriate for you. The link to the downloadable eBook is here. http://indoorrangepracticesessions.com
My downloadable recording, Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make, http://seriousgunownermistakes.com is particularly appropriate when analyzing incidents, not necessarily Defensive Gun Uses, involving firearms.
This is a great article. It contains many useful tidbits that can be applied to those want to improve their proficiency not only with firearms but also to a broad array of personal protection skills.
Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.
Retro posts bring to mind how often the same issues and the same interpretations arise. In this case, someone referenced my post about How many rounds to carry. https://tacticalprofessor.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/how-many-rounds-to-carry/
A comment referenced Tom Givens’ statement “I have never met someone, who has been in a gunfight, tell me they wish they’d had a lot less ammunition”.
My reply to that is something else Tom often says.
“It’s not how much you last practiced, it’s when you last practiced.”
To that, I would add “And how you last practiced and what you got out of it.” It’s easy to pick out one snippet of someone’s philosophy because it fits your purposes and ignore other integral parts of the philosophy. Even if you can’t get to range three times a week, can you spare five minutes those three days to do five draws, five aimed trigger presses with two hands, five with your dominant hand, and five with your support hand? If you can’t be bothered to expend fifteen minutes a week in dry practice, two extra magazines on your person are most likely meaningless.
Another way of looking at it is that it’s not the ammunition on your body that will save your life, it’s the ammunition that you’ve fired in practice that will save you. This is a corollary to something that’s taught in survival training; “It’s not the water in your canteen that will save your life, it’s the water in your body.”
I wish I hadn’t practiced my shooting so much said no one ever.
If you get the ‘go signal,’ you will find that your confidence in your own capabilities is far more important than your confidence in your tools. I am reminded of the police officer who got into a gunfight and had to tell himself “Hey, I need to … shoot better.” Shooting better solved the problem not expending more ammo fruitlessly. But then he drew the wrong lesson and started to carry 133 rounds. I don’t know if he decided to start practicing more and making his practice more meaningful, too. I certainly hope so.
The Miami Massacre is probably the most researched gunfight in history. One of the things that gets glossed over in the analyses was the solution. Ed Mireles pulled out his six shot revolver, used the front sight to aim at his targets, pressed the trigger smoothly, and made six hits that killed Platt and Matix. Ed’s draw was probably not sub-one second, either, but it was fast enough.
The Comparative Standards I’ve been writing about are a good example of “Know your capabilities.”
- What is your gun’s zero at 25 yards?
- What is your ability to hit the -1 zone at that distance?
- What exactly does your front sight look like at that distance?
- How smoothly do you have to press the trigger to make that hit?
- Can you hit the -0 zone (thoracic cavity above the diaphragm) unerringly at 15 yards and in?
I regularly gather metrics about the number of people who are interested in getting a status report of their capability with the handgun they own or carry. The number is extremely small. People would rather place their faith in ‘firepower.’ That’s an incredible mistake because when the firepower is gone, you’ve got nothing left. Your capabilities, if you have them, will solve the problem before your ammo load, whatever it may be, is exhausted. That’s the endgame we’re looking for; solving the problem before our ammunition is gone.
If you would like to purchase my eBook Concealed Carry Skills and Drills, the link to the downloadable ebook is here. http://concealedcarryskillsanddrills.com One of the metrics I gather is how many people are willing to spend the price of a box of ammo to get their personal status report and then increase their personal capability. As I said, it’s not many. Ninety-nine and 44/100ths percent are perfectly comfortable with carrying two spare magazines instead.
Many people find it difficult to dryfire every day because they don’t have access to a firearm. Airline pilots and business people whose job require frequent air travel have a hard time of it. There are different ways of dealing with it.
The first would be to practice every day you do have access to your firearm and start counting. Doing that means you wouldn’t have a consecutive progression of the 1,000 Days but you would still get in 1,000 Days, it would just take longer.
Another approach would be to broaden the focus of your practice, as I mentioned in Part I. That’s one reason I entitled this series 1,000 Days of Practice.
Other skills appropriate to personal protection could be included as part of your mission statement for the 1,000 Days. This wouldn’t be 1,000 Days of Dryfire but it could be 1,000 Days of Personal Protection practice. Many of the most important Personal Protection Skills are soft skills that don’t require equipment to practice. Some that come to mind are:
- situational awareness
- the decision-making process
- incident analysis
- wargaming and decision exercises
- proxemics, and
- human communication and interaction
The memory aid I use for personal protection is RADAR.
- Ready – being prepared, mentally and physically
- Aware – eyes on the horizon, ears not plugged up
- Where am I?,
- Who is around me?,
- What are they doing?,
- What is going on?,
- Points Of Likely Concealment
- What is wrong in my right world?
- Decide – based on your decision criteria
- priorities, and
- the situation
- Act – do what you need to do
- Ready Again – be ready for your plan to need adjustment or the police to arrive.
Dryfire is one component of the Ready stage but it’s certainly not the only one. Understanding the criminal mindset and their methods of operation is also key. How about spending a few minutes periodically reviewing criminal victimizations that occurred to others and wargaming how to either avoid or deal with the situation? I have taken this so far as to go on a field trip to the location of a particularly bad incident and actually observe the lay of the land.
There are games that smart cops used to play to tune up their situational awareness. How common they are anymore, I don’t know. For instance, when in a waiting area, look around the room, then close your eyes and try to describe everyone in the room; clothes, height, weight, etc. That would be Aware practice.
Or, let’s say you encountered something that caused your to Alert and then realized it wasn’t a problem. You could mentally wargame what you thought the original problem and your solution. Take it all the way through to Ready Again, including your interaction with the authorities afterward.
There are many different ways to approach the 1,000 Days and tailor the focus to your personal needs and circumstances.
I’ll be going through a more in-depth explanation of RADAR, including some decision exercises, in the Violent Criminals and You class that William Aprill and I are teaching next month. William will be giving his extensive presentation on the criminal mindset and how differently criminals think.
In response to queries and comments about the Pistol Practice Program, I have created a downloadable eBook called Indoor Range Practice Sessions. It is structured as a PDF eBook that you can download to your smartphone or tablet and take with you to the range. That way you always have your practice session with you. Most (99%) gunowners only have access to an indoor range, so the Sessions are designed with this limitation in mind.
The book contains 12 Practice Sessions and 12 Courses of Fire from various States for their weapons carry licensing process. The Sessions are designed to progressively increase in difficulty so when done in sequence they challenge shooters without overwhelming them. The Courses of Fire were chosen to be complementary to a respective Practice Session. Each Session or Course of Fire is 50 rounds or less. They are all structured to maximize the effectiveness of your range time. It also contains sections on:
- Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling
- Gripping the Autoloading Pistol Properly
- Trigger Manipulation
- Using the Sights
- Use of Force philosophy
- and more!
There are considerably more restrictions placed on shooters at indoor ranges than at outdoor ranges. These Sessions were designed with those restrictions in mind. For example, most indoor ranges do not allow drawing from the holster, so the Sessions work on the general idea that no drawing is possible. Similarly, multiple target arrangements are not possible when shooting in a booth at an indoor range, so the Sessions do not include multiple targets.
These Sessions are intended for people who have purchased a firearm for personal protection. They are directed toward newer gunowners; however, ‘newer’ is a relative term. Many people who have owned, and perhaps shot, firearms for years aren’t as proficient as they think they are. Being a hunter, military veteran, security guard, or even police officer is no guarantee of being competent with a pistol. The difference in contexts is huge and often misunderstood.
Learning to shoot is an ongoing process. A misunderstanding that people have is thinking they can take a short training course, attend a seminar, or read a book and then feel they are ‘trained’ or ‘knowledgeable.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. We can only absorb so much information at one time. 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 skill.
The eBook is available for download HERE.
Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. In a gun fight… You need to take your time in a hurry.
One of the memes in firearms training is “I’ve never seen a timer in a gunfight.” This is hugely misleading in the way it’s often understood. The timer that is present is your life-clock. Don’t think it isn’t running every nanosecond of a deadly force encounter. While we need to be deliberate and make our hits, as Earp stated, we don’t have all the time in the world to do so, as he also stated. So we need to establish some kind of time standards in our practice, at least for some of our drills. The question is how do we do so, both in principle and in practice?
There are two principal ways of measuring time. One is measuring it directly. For instance, a shooter might be able to draw and fire a pistol in 1.4 seconds. To achieve a meaningful level of accuracy in that measurement, we would use a ‘shot timer.’ Shot timers give an audible or visual signal to the shooter and then record the time taken for the task via a microphone in the timer that hears the shots. Shot timers range from fairly simple push a button types costing around $125 to more complex devices with numerous features than run about $200. They all work fairly well. The choice largely depends on the features you want. One downside is that shot timers cost more money than many people want to spend.
On outdoor ranges, shot timers work really well. On an indoor range, not so much. Measuring time is much more difficult in the indoor environment. Multiple shooters adjacent to each other interfere with using a standard shot timer. If your timer is picking up the sound of someone else’s shots, it’s not doing you any good.
This issue brings us to the second way of measuring time, par time. Par time means that the shooter has a fixed amount of time to accomplish the task. Drawing, reloading, and presenting from ready are all tasks that can be accomplished in par time. For instance, we might say that a police officer is allowed 2.0 seconds to draw from a security holster. Par time lends itself much better to mass training, such as in the police and military than individual measurement, which would be prohibitive for training time-wise.
The times in the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program and The Tactical Professor’s Pistol Practice Program are par times. So are most police qualification courses. Some ‘proficiency demonstrations’ that private citizens are required to do to obtain a Concealed Handgun License are timed. Those are par times, as well.
Par time can also be an effective way of practicing on an indoor range because we don’t have to be concerned with the effects of other shooters’ gunfire on a shot timer. Most shot timers will also do par time by sounding a second beep at the end of the par time. Unfortunately, the second beep is easily drowned out by nearby gunfire.
The simplest solution is to have a partner time you using a watch or stopwatch. Your partner can tap you on the back once for go and again for stop. It’s not terribly accurate but better than nothing.
If you go by yourself, an interval, or countdown, timer can provide a workable solution, especially if it has a visual signal or vibrates. This is a good way to get around the noise issue of indoor ranges. The vibration is becomes your start/stop signal
The first solution I used is a vibrating wristwatch. It has a countdown timer function.
Another is the Gymboss that can be clipped to the pants or belt.
The CED Universal Countdown Timer vibrates and also has a visual signal the form of a blinking light. This is the one I find myself using most.
Time is a critical component of defensive training that many people don’t work on for a variety of reasons. Adding in time pressure to your shooting practice is a worthwhile way to increase your proficiency. If you are going to get a Concealed Carry License in a state that times the qualification course, it’s a good idea to practice ahead of time to get a feel for the cadence you’ll have to shoot at.
Without testing, there has been no training
Shooting a pistol is an athletic activity. Like any athletic endeavor, we need to have some performance measurement standards. Measurement is the operative word here. We need to measure our downrange performance, i.e., how well we can hit the target, if we want to become better at shooting. There are numerous variables that can be called into play for measurement.
As an example of athletic measurement, the current US Army standard for my age cohort is a minimum of 27 sit-ups in one minute. More sit-ups means more points scored. The Army Physical Fitness Test has to be taken twice a year.
In weight training, we might simply measure how many repetitions of lifting a given amount of weight we can do until we can’t lift anymore. Over time, our objective is to be able to lift more weight and/or perform more repetitions.
Police officers have to undergo periodic testing of their shooting ability. The period might be anywhere from once a year (mandated by every state I am aware of) to four times a year (LAPD and FBI).
What might be a set of reasonable standards for the average gun owner? I’ll offer the following as a progression that a gunowner could use to see where their skills stand on a periodic basis. It’s less than 100 rounds, so there is some room for remediation, if necessary. Because firearms skills are perishable, I’m more in favor of the LAPD/FBI approach of doing an evaluation four times a year rather than just once.
1) LAPD Retired Officer Course
Shoot 10 shots at a silhouette at 7 yards with no time limit. The LAPD standard is simply that 7 of the ten have to hit. Our standard should be to have, at a minimum, all 10 rounds hit within the 7 ring of a B-27 or an equivalent.
The point of this is to learn how fast we can shoot and still make our hits. Even the LAPD SWAT has learned and trained the cadence they can make consistent hits on a target. It’s not by shooting as fast as they possibly can, it’s by paying attention to what they’re doing while they’re shooting. I got that from Darryl Bolke.
If you meet the standard, then move on to the next component. If not, work on getting your fundamentals in better shape.
2) NRA Basic Pistol
Shoot a five-shot group within a 9-inch diameter circle (paper plate) at 15 feet with no time limit. Repeat twice for a total of three times. All the shots have to hit the plate. My colleague Chuck Haggard commented to me:
I wonder how many people never shoot anything but a full value target [i.e., complete silhouette] at 3-5 yards and call it gtg [Good To Go].
I agree with him completely; assuming that we’ll always have a full body presentation to shoot at in a defensive encounter is a mistake. If you can’t hit a paper plate consistently at five yards, you should work on being able to do that. See the sights and press the trigger smoothly. If you can make the standard, then move on to the next.
3) NRA Defensive Pistol I – Pro-Marksman
Shoot a five-shot group within a 12-inch diameter circle at 21 feet in fifteen seconds. Repeat until you’ve done it four times. The four times don’t have to be consecutive, however the standard of every shot having to be in the circle is. This drill is a lot more difficult than most people think because of the 100 percent hit requirement. Even though 15 seconds is a very generous time standard, knowing you’re on the clock makes it more difficult. Once you’ve made it four times, move on to the next component.
Shoot five shots into a five inch circle at five yards in five seconds. Do it five times in a row. This is a very difficult drill for most people. Only do it once to get an idea of how well you can shoot it. It’s a good practice drill for other times you shoot. After shooting it once, move on to the final component.
Shot at 15 yards on a B-27 silhouette target. Load with six rounds only; you will need another magazine or speedloader loaded with six rounds also. Start double action if your pistol is so equipped. Fire six shots, reload, and fire another six shots for a total of 12 shots from a standing position, no support from bench or wall allowed. The time limit is 20 seconds, including the reload for the second 6 shot string. Score it based on the number value of the rings. The maximum point value for the string is 120.
Although many people think that a Private Citizen cannot legally justify shooting past seven yards, that is absolutely not true. I have a number of incidents in my database where Private Citizens shot at longer distances and it was completely justified. If a gang banger is shooting at you and your children at 23 yards, you are legally justified in shooting back. That assumes you have the skill and are cognizant of the background.
If you don’t need to do any remedial work during the session, you will fire 82 rounds total. That gives you a little left over to play around with as you please. Using a progression of drills that increase in difficulty gives you the opportunity to evaluate where you need to work on your skills to improve. Keep a record of how you did on each drill. Having a record is key to knowing what you need to work on in your practice sessions.
If it all seems easy, you can do the drills one handed; either dominant hand only or support hand only.
Linda Ronstadt made the following comments [3:22] in an interview about how hard she worked at the process of learning to sing as well as she did.
In order to get good, you really have to spend 6 or 8 hours a day doing it.
You have to spend hours and hours and hours, day after day, year after year.
It took me about 10 years to learn how to sing, even after I was a professional.
It took me 10 years until I really had some control of my instrument and I could deliberately do what I wanted to do.
Sometimes, as I continue on with 1000 Days of Dryfire, going to the range weekly to livefire, or taking training from someone else several times a year, I wonder whether I work at it too much. Then Linda comes along and basically tells me that actually I’m only spending a minimal amount of time and effort at it compared to how hard people who are really good at their craft work. Thanks for that bit of motivation, Linda.
My friend Mark Luell, the author of Growing Up Guns suggested I provide a ‘Friday Fundamentals’ post weekly. We got the idea from my colleague Cecil Burch who wrote a blog post about Fundamentals. It’s a great idea to stay in touch with the basics.
The first installment is Session 01 of my Pistol Practice Program – Establishing Your Baseline. As in any journey, you have to know where you’re starting from before you can get to where you want to go.
The objective of this drill is to determine what distance you can make 100 percent hits on the vital area of a silhouette target. My feeling is that we need to work on achieving 100 percent accuracy because errant rounds in our homes or neighborhoods could be a major problem. Since I also think the first shot is the most important, I structured the session with a lot of first shots but also included multi-shot strings. A lot of people ‘walk their rounds’ into the target even with handguns. This is a huge problem and liability.
We don’t count hits on the head in this drill because they are actually misses if you are aiming at the body. The head is more than a foot away from the center of the body, if you hit the head when you’re aiming at the body, it’s just a lucky shot and doesn’t count in terms of performance measurement.
Any silhouette target; B-27, B-21, Q, IDPA, IPSC, etc.
Masking tape (preferred) or magic marker to mark the target.
Pistol, 50 rounds of ammunition
Eye and ear protection
This drill consists of five (5) Sequences of 10 shots each. The Sequences are untimed.
Place target at three (3) yards
Start loaded with five (5) rounds only.
The starting position is Low Ready. This means the pistol is aimed at the floor below the target. For double action pistols, you will decock after each Step.
Sequence 1 (10 rounds)
1) Start with handgun held in both hands, aimed at the floor below the target. Spare magazine loaded with 5 rounds or speedloader with 5 rounds or 5 loose rounds on the bench.
2) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 1 shot at the center of target. Followthrough for one second, then return to low ready. Decock, if appropriate.
3) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 2 shots at the center of target. Followthrough for one second, then return to low ready. Decock.
4) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 3 shots at the center of target. After two shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Reload it and fire the third shot. Followthrough for one second, then return to low ready. Decock.
5) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 4 shots at the center of target. After the shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Hopefully, the slide has locked back if it’s an autoloader.
6) Place your pistol down on the bench.
7) Bring your target back and mark all the hits, preferably with tape but a marker will do.
8) Write on the target how many hits you made in the body scoring area. I prefer to not count the outer scoring area as I mentioned in Why I hate the -3 zone. Use this format, (3) X/10, X being the number of hits. For this drill, do not count any hits in the head, they are actually misses.
Sequence 2 (10 rounds)
1) Send the target out to 5 yards.
2) Repeat Sequence 1 but with the target at 5 yards instead of 3 yards.
3) When you write on the target how many hits you made in the scoring area, it will be (5) X/10. The number in parenthesis is the distance in yards.
Sequence 3 (10 rounds)
1) Send the target out to 7 yards.
2) Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 7 yards.
3) Write on the target how many hits you made at 7 yards. (7) X/10
Sequence 4 (10 rounds)
1) Send the target out to 10 yards.
2) Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 10 yards.
3) Write on the target how many hits you made at 10 yards. (10) X/10
Sequence 5 (10 rounds)
4) Send the target out to 15 yards.
5) Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 15 yards.
6) Write on the target how many hits you made at 15 yards. (15) X/10
When you finish the drill, record your score for each yardage. Make this a part of your practice record. Shooting this exercise will give you a good idea of what your current proficiency level is. That’s an important starting point.