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.
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.
The warm weather is here and I know a lot of folks are going to start carrying snub revolvers for the summer. I love snubs and have spent years learning how to run them well. As far as I know, I’m the only person to ever have won six Sanctioned IDPA Championships with a snub.
At the same time, I acknowledge they’re not the easiest guns in the world to shoot. That’s why I made two DVDs about the best techniques for using snubs and getting the most performance out of them.
To kick off the Summer, I’m offering both DVDs together as a package at a discounted price. Also included is a free bonus CD with two dryfire practice regimens and a reduced scale practice target to help you keep your skills up.
You can tell from the music (DJ Siamey) on this one that I’m a Trance music kind of guy.
None of us can imagine the feelings that must occur in the case of a mistaken identity shooting of a family member. We don’t like to talk about this sort of thing in the gun community but it happens on a regular basis. Don’t let it happen to you, on either end.
I’ve written about this before and probably will again. It’s an avoidable tragedy.
I have seen too many people forget the basics and rely on finding the laser dot instead of looking down the sights on pistols. They became much slower with the laser.
So began a Facebook thread in a closed group of ‘operators.’ There’s an antinomy, a form of paradox, in this sort of discussions that I always find interesting.
The paradox arises from the often parroted statement that most armed encounters take place at night or in low light. This premise is less than provable, but let’s accept it at face value for purposes of discussion.
Now, let’s follow up that premise with dismissal of a sighting system because ‘it doesn’t work’ during periods when gunfights are LESS LIKELY to take place.
In this particular FB thread, I will put myself in the category of ‘highly trained,’ since that’s what their membership group supposedly consists of. Years ago, it didn’t take me long to figure out that there were things I could do with a laser on a pistol that I simply couldn’t do without them. That held true even during the day, unless I was on a brightly sunlit ‘square range,’ which is so often said to be a poor and ‘non-realistic’ training environment. In any indoor environment, there is no issue with ‘finding the laser dot,’ even in a well lit room in daylight.
Once we get into the realm of low light, where the popular mantra says the majority of gunfights occur, most of us will agree that iron sights are fairly useless. We’re largely reduced to point shooting because the sights can’t be seen.
I wondered about the difference between iron sights and lasers during low light. I think of the time frame between sundown and End of Civil Twilight (dusk) as low light. The US Naval Observatory provides specific definitions of these and states
Some outdoor activities may be conducted without artificial illumination during these intervals, and it is useful to have some means to set limits beyond which a certain activity should be assisted by artificial lighting.
Target Acquisition and, to a lesser extent, Target Identification, is still possible during that period. However, between sundown and dusk, night sights aren’t really visible (not bright enough) and neither are the irons (luminous efficacy of the eye’s cones is insufficient).
To establish a quantitative measure for that difference, I chose several parts of the Handgun Testing Program at the elite Rogers Shooting School. The targets were more visible than they show in the video but I couldn’t see the irons. I proceeded to shoot the tests with a laser equipped Beretta. Having taught at Rogers for five years, I’m fairly confident in saying that, without the laser, I would have made the all the body hits (7) and around half of the hits on the number 1 head plate (8) for a score of 15 out of 69 targets. My score with the laser was four missed targets for a score of 65 out of 69.
There’s a reason I have a laser on my house gun.
The issue of parroting something that was heard without questioning, analyzing, or testing is a separate topic that the training community has yet to address adequately. That’s for another time, though.
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.”
Firearms instructors are periodically asked the question “Why should I take training?” The answer often comes in the form of a list of skills that are taught or the reasoning behind using a certain technique. However, these do not address the underlying fundamental reasons for taking firearms training at all.
- You don’t know what you don’t know.
- Much of what you know is wrong.
- It’s good to have some of the answers to the test before taking it.
These issues relate to both technical competency with using a firearm (gun safety and marksmanship) and the ability to use the firearm correctly in a personal protection situation (legal and tactical).
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Shooters who only take their gun to an indoor range once a year “to sight it in” generally have a highly ‘cocooned’ knowledge of firearms. They know how to operate a firearm in a very restricted set of conditions. As soon as they leave that set of conditions, the stage is set for bad things to happen. Although ‘bad things’ can include unintentional and negligent gunshot wounds, it doesn’t have to be anything that newsworthy. A fellow NRA Instructor was once asked by a long time shooter why the shooter should take the NRA Basic Pistol course. The Instructor responded “Do you wear safety glasses when you’re cleaning your firearms? You do know, of course, that most cleaning fluids can irritate or even damage your eyes, don’t you?” The longtime shooter decided to take the class, after all.
Much of what you know is wrong.
Training can mitigate the Dunning–Kruger effect, which is rampant among the shooting community.
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.
Almost every firearms instructor has had numerous students who think they are “good” with a firearm but are not. Among these misinformed shooters are most police officers and, even many SWAT units. Typical longtime gunowners are too. When subjected to a standardized skills evaluation, most of these “good” shooters receive a rude awakening.
We’re the best shooters in our department, by far. That’s why we’re the firearms instructors. Then we come here and find out that we suck.
— A police officer attending the elite Rogers Shooting School
Many of these skills evaluations are not even particularly difficult. In one class I taught, the test was to shoot, starting from a ready position, five shots into a 12 inch circle at seven yards in 15 seconds four times in a row. Only one student out of ten was able to do it. And none of those shooters were beginners; most of them were longtime shooters. This test is the baseline level of the NRA Defensive Pistol I Marksmanship Qualification Program.
More advanced, yet still not terribly difficult, competency standards are beyond the ability of 99 percent of self trained shooters, in my experience., For example, the ability to shoot five shots into a five inch circle in five seconds at five yards five times in a row, a drill I call 5^5.
When a friendly competition was held on a local gun forum for the 5^5 drill, no one was able to do it. Several dozen people thought this test would be easy but even after multiple, in some cases, attempts they found out otherwise.
Every round that doesn’t hit is heading straight for a busload of nuns and orphans being followed by a limousine full of personal injury lawyers on a conference call with the District Attorney. At least, that’s the assumption I make and teach. It’s the reason I make my students account for every round they fire in my classes. And I point out the misses as seen in the cover photo of my blog.
It’s good to have some of the answers to the test before taking it.
Any decent class on the legalities of using deadly force will counsel students about things to do and not to do. An example of things not to do would include chasing a fleeing intruder down an alley and shooting at him while he is running away. In that particular incident, the shooter was lucky to only receive 60 days in jail.
The most significant value of training is that it places someone else, the instructor, in control of the flow of events, either physically or mentally. A criminal encounter will not be initiated in the time sequence desired by the would-be victim, which would be NONE. Nor will the skills required to solve the incident be dictated by the defender. However, by definition, self trained individuals control the flow of their actions when they practice, assuming they practice. This is exactly the opposite of criminal encounters. That’s not how it happens in real life. Good instruction will provoke thinking and questions beyond the student’s own expectations and experience. This helps prepare students to make decisions that can and will affect them for the rest of their lives, either positively or negatively.
The conscious mind does not function particularly well under stress. It tends to revert to subconscious background information and patterns, some of which are primeval. Many of these patterns are counterproductive in personal protection situations and require re-programming. Training helps replace them with background knowledge and patterns that are appropriate. Having appropriate knowledge helps avoid negative outcomes.
You don’t fire guns at people’s houses,” [Judge] Ludy said. “You kept saying you really didn’t know what was going on. If that’s the truth, why in the world would you fire a gun? … It really doesn’t matter if it was (at) Mr. Bailey or the mayor of Dunkirk. You just can’t do that.
Shockingly, some people thought this case should not have come to trial. I know I wouldn’t have been too happy had I been the homeowner down the alley who had bullets launched in my direction. “Judge Max Ludy said he found McLaughlin’s firing of a gunshot in the direction of a neighbor’s home especially reprehensible.”
Instructors, as a group, are constantly looking for examples of situations and incidents that went both right and wrong. And other students in the class ask questions about situations that concern them. Inevitably these discussions become class material, either formally or as side conversations. Because training is our vocation, we tend to analyze those incidents in greater detail than does the average gunowner. Our analysis may not necessarily be what the student wants to hear, or even correct, but relating the analysis provides food for thought that merely reading about an incident in the news will not.
The value of training is to make you think and perform outside of the cocoon that most gunowners are in, the same way real life frequently does. It’s not so much that we instructors have all the answers, because we don’t. However, most of us have a good idea of the questions to ask and that’s a strong start.
Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.
–Aesop’s Fables, The Fox and the Grapes,
Periodically, I see comments in the tactical/concealed carry community downplaying the value of competition for someone interested in personal protection. The commentary usually revolves around “the stress isn’t the same as a two way range” or “competition isn’t realistic; the targets don’t move, you don’t move” or some other blah, blah, blah. Oftentimes, the person making the statement is from the ‘tactical training’ side of the house.
In my role as the Georgia/Alabama Area coordinator for IDPA, I was recently reviewing some tweaked stages for the upcoming 2014 GADPA Georgia State Match Championship. As I was doing so, I was struck by the complexity and marksmanship challenges presented in the match. Some of the aspects of the Championship include:
- Moving targets
- Shooting on the move
- Shooting Strong Hand Only with holding something with the Support Hand
- Shooting from inside and around vehicles
- Head shots at distance
- Steel targets with a concealed hit zone that have to be knocked down to count
- Engaging targets while moving through a structure
Those tasks have to be accomplished with a limited supply of ammunition, requiring a minimum hit rate of about 60%, just to finish. To be competitive at all, the hit rate on a torso sized target (-0/-1) better be 100% or you’re out of luck. Rapid reloading is an integral part of each stage, requiring a high degree of weapons manipulation skills.
In short, it’s a very demanding test of one’s ability to effectively manipulate a handgun. Hitting the target with a high degree of regularity, while being confronted by awkward shooting positions and scenarios is an integral part of it.
I think of Preparation for Personal Protection as having three components; Training, Practice, and Testing. Training is something you get from someone else. The other person or group structures your experience, almost always outside your comfort zone. Practice is something you do on your own, hopefully with some kind of structure, based on training or re-creation of actual incidents. Then there’s the nasty little question: “Where is my skill level at?” Testing is the only way that question can be answered. In his book POLICE PISTOLCRAFT, Mike Conti mentions Police Officers who are so intimidated by firearms qualification that they become physically ill, simply from the thought of having to do it. That’s a good example of how daunting the testing process can be. Those of us active in the competition world often look at police qualification courses in a bemused way because they are so simple compared to the tests we are used to.
Bill Rogers once said to me “You and I are from the last generation that is comfortable being tested.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is quite obvious to me that there is a great deal of cognitive dissonance and ego defense that goes on when discussions about competition v. ‘training’ start. The next time you hear someone disparaging competition, keep The Fox and The Grapes fable in mind. And for those who make negative statements about competition, I invite you to come out and test yourself and see what it’s like. Firearms competition has evolved a great deal since the original Columbia Conference. One of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard is “I never saw a timer in a gunfight.” It was there every time; it’s called your lifeclock and it’s running all the time, at least until someone stops it.
Pointing guns at people you have no intention of shooting to force compliance with your demands is poor business.
–Ed Head in his article Pistol Provocation
I agree with this statement and feel it can be even further amplified from the perspective of training people how to Control a Confrontation. The statement can be, and has been, misconstrued by the inexperienced into “I believe that the first time any bad guy should know you are armed is when he sees the muzzle flash.” As a philosophy, reluctance to display a firearm without firing is a mistake. The majority of criminals are looking for a victimization not a fight. The display of a firearm by the intended victim, along with the obvious intent to use it if necessary, is an indicator that the victimization has the potential to turn into a fight. That’s not what economic predators are looking for.
Let’s consider the Policy (556.80) of the Los Angeles Police Department for DRAWING OR EXHIBITING FIREARMS.
Officers shall not draw or exhibit a firearm unless the circumstances surrounding the incident create a reasonable belief that it may be necessary to use the firearm in conformance with this policy on the use of firearms.
Stated as a positive action when adjudicating Use of Force incidents, the LAPD Board of Police Commissioners generally uses language similar to the following, when the Drawing/Exhibiting was ruled justifiable.
The BOPC determined that all personnel had sufficient information to believe the situation might escalate to the point where deadly force may become necessary. Therefore drawing the weapon was in policy.
Armed Citizens need to practice two Presentations; 1) Challenge and 2) Shoot. I use the term Presentation in a broad sense because the pistol might be in a container other than a holster, for instance, someone at home may have a pistol in a container or safe. The principle still applies. While some trainers would say this violates Hick’s Law, the fact is that the effect of Hick’s Law has been proven to dissipate when training in the various options has been undertaken.
Challenging should be done from a Ready position that does not involve pointing the pistol at the aggressor, just as Ed states. If the necessity to shoot arises, the pistol is then brought on target and fired.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no time difference between bringing the weapon onto target to fire vis-à-vis having the weapon already aimed at the target. Nor is there any demonstrable difference of starting out with the finger on the trigger v. off the trigger.
My experience is that very few gunowners practice the Presentation to Challenge nor firing beginning from a Challenge position. This is a major weakness in their skill sets. Challenging can easily be practiced at home with an inert (blue) gun. Anyone who is serious about improving their skillset should own a bluegun of their real defensive gun.
There is a caveat to this doctrine. A friend of mine lives and works in Central America as a security consultant and trainer. His counsel to me is that, in his experience over the past three decades, Latins rarely find the presence of a pistol unsettling “unless they are looking down the bore.” With the heavy influx of Central Americans into the United States lately, this may be a consideration.
What exactly is Claude Werner’s ‘1,000 Day Dry Fire’ program? Is it published anywhere? Anybody tried it? What were the results? Would you do it again?
This question was asked on a forum I visit occasionally. In a narrow sense, the question refers to an idea I had a while ago. About 12 years ago, a friend was working on his Yoga instructor certification and had to do 1000 days straight of meditation. That inspired me, so I decided to do it with dryfire. He said that dryfire is my form of meditation; I will defer to his judgment on that. Another friend of mine wanted to try it last year, so I’m doing it with him now, my second time, his first. We’ll be finished at the end of 2015 but we both agree it’s become such a habit that we probably won’t stop then.
First of all, the ‘program’ is not any particular drill or set of drills. Rather, it’s the commitment to do dryfire each and every day, without fail, for 1000 straight days. If you miss a day, you have to start again at the beginning. The important thing is do some dry practice every single day, even if it’s just a little. My last trigger press is never more than 24 hours in the past. Days that I practice livefire are not exempt from the dryfire requirement. I like to finish each range session with a few dryfire trigger presses.
The first time I did the program, when I was at the GF’s house, I’d do it in the bathroom by using the tile intersections as targets. She finally figured out what I was doing and had me set up a little dryfire range in the spare bedroom. The range consisted of a reduced size target behind a picture and a cassette tape I had made with a specific regimen on it. Eight minutes and I was done.
The reason there’s not one drill or set of drills is to avoid boredom. I regularly change up my regimen. Run different qualification courses dryfire, practice bullseye shooting, run the NRA Defensive Pistol I & II, etc. It doesn’t matter. I make different targets and reduced size target arrays from time to time to change things up, as well.
The most important aspect of the program is that it represents a philosophy of practicing our skills on a regular basis. Those skills might be shooting, threat management, surveillance detection, pepper spray, unarmed combat, etc. Any physical skill is perishable, meaning after a length of time, it’s not as easily performed on demand. The ‘riding a bicycle’ analogy does not completely apply. When we get back on a bike after a long time, we have some time to refresh ourselves with those motor skills. If someone is attacking you, a refresher session for your personal protection skills is not an option for you. You need to be on your game at that point. Shooting skills are especially perishable for those who have never become Unconsciously Competent at them in the first place. That’s most people, frankly.
I dryfire even when I shoot an IDPA match. When I go through the “Unload and Show Clear” process, I don’t just do a trigger mash at the hip like most people. I pick out a spot on the berm, aim at it, and do a good dryfire trigger press. What I don’t want to do is to ever program myself to do a motor skill in a sloppy or detrimental way.
As a friend of mine once remarked, “Claude doesn’t do anything that doesn’t have a purpose.” My cardiologist told me “You are a very programmatic person.” Both of those are completely true, to the extent I can make it that way.