As many of you know, I’m currently working on my second set of doing 1,000 consecutive days of dryfire practice. The first set was done during 2000-2002. This second set started on March 3, 2014 and the 1,000 days will be finished on November 27, 2016, during the week after Thanksgiving.
The original inspiration came from a friend who was working on his Yoga instructor certification. His final requirement to complete his certification was to do 1,000 days straight of meditation. This represented true dedication to excellence in my mind. Being a strong believer in the value of dryfire, I decided to make the same commitment to dryfire and immediately started my own 1,000 Days program. Just as with his meditations, it doesn’t have to be 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 I missed a day, I had to start again at the beginning.
Reflecting back on both times I’ve done the 1,000 Days, I have to say they were different experiences and I achieved different things from them. This isn’t surprising, given that they started 14 years apart and a lot went on between them.
The first time was largely a mechanical regimen devoted to further development of my skill level at seeing the sights quickly and pressing the trigger smoothly. Those two skills are fundamental to being more than a mediocre shooter. Unfortunately, shooters who insist on doing only livefire practice rarely learn them well. Recoil masks too many flaws in technique, especially when performance measurement, the third key fundamental, is omitted. Dryfire provides a superior method for learning those key fundamentals.
There is no doubt in my mind that doing the 1,000 Days was instrumental in the successes I had in my competitive shooting career at that time. It was also one of the things that led to my becoming the Chief Instructor of the elite Rogers Shooting School because dryfire is an integral part of the School’s program.
The second run of 1,000 Days had a broader conceptual focus than the first. In between the two runs, I had individually read and created two databases of Armed Citizen and Officer Involved Incidents. Combined, they total over 7,000 incidents. This gave the second run a different perspective on the skills, tactics, and techniques that contributed to success or failure in the context of personal protection.
In addition, I did extensive research about:
- the decision-making process
- instructional design
- performance measurement
- incident analysis
- wargaming and decision exercises
- proxemics, and
- human communication and interaction
These all contributed to my perception of what and how to practice, both dryfire and livefire. Some of the skills I practiced the first time remained important while others became either less significant or even irrelevant.
As I approach the end of the second 1,000 Days, several questions that hadn’t occurred to me the first time arose.
What is the focus of the next 1,000 Days?
Is 1,000 Days necessary?
Am I limited to only one focal point?
Does my focus have even have to relate to personal protection?
In answer to the last two questions, I resolved to get back on a daily blood pressure monitoring scheme, which I’ve neglected for a while. Since I don’t care much for apps and found the array of paper based products unsatisfactory, I developed my own blood pressure diary. It’s a printable design that’s more compact and organized than the other products available and gives me a better basis for discussions with my cardiologist. For those who are interested, it’s available here.
More in Part II.
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.
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.
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.]
Firearms Safety Rule #4 – ‘Know your target and what is beyond it.’
Oklahoma City police say a husband accidentally shot and killed his wife thinking she was a home invader early Wednesday morning. There’s no other way to describe this other than a tragedy. It should be noted that their child was in the house, as well. The story is that the child did not witness the incident; I certainly hope that is true.
Sadly, this is not the only incident of this nature in my database. It’s essential that we know what we are shooting at; absolutely essential. There are two possible reasons for this kind of tragic occurrence; 1) lack of forethought and preparation and 2) training scars. I don’t know which one was at fault here but given the small number of people who take any kind of training, my guess is that it’s the former.
Lack of forethought and preparation means when this type of incident occurs, the shooter hadn’t given any thought to the possibility that someone else was home or that a family member might be moving around the house at night. People do get out of bed at night to have a snack, go to the bathroom, or just because they can’t sleep. Anyone who has other people living in their home needs to consider that as a very real possibility. The shooter might not have had a flashlight next to their firearm, either. It’s amazing how many people don’t have any flashlight at all in their home.
The training scar aspect was made apparent to me by a friend recently. He trains and practices quite a bit. When I mentioned about using a flashlight to identify someone at night, he said something that really disturbed me. “I don’t like to do that because whenever we do it in Force on Force exercises, the light draws enemy fire.” That may be a viable concern in military operations. But in the context of Armed Private Citizens and Law Enforcement Officers, we have an absolute obligation to know who we are shooting. My reply to him was “Show me the incidents where that has happened to an Armed Private Citizen because I can show you several incidents where using a flashlight would have prevented the wrong person from getting shot.”
From the practice standpoint, it means that you have to know how to work a flashlight and a pistol simultaneously. It also means you have to learn to verbalize and challenge an unknown person before shooting. In almost every incident of this type, a simple challenge such as “Who’s there?” would have prevented a tragedy. You don’t have to be in the Bureau to recognize a response like “It’s me, Daddy” as a clue.
Get a flashlight. Decent ones are available for less than 10 dollars. Keep it next to your pistol at night. Don’t pick one up without the other, period. Incorporate a challenge into your range practice, along with learning to operate the flashlight and pistol simultaneously. The life you save might be someone very important to you.