Basic Range Equipment…

Recently I was asked for some suggestions regarding solid range-practice-level holsters and mag pouches, and it occurred to me that given the HUGE range of possibilities now available via the internet, it might be a good idea to actually quickly discuss “suggested” basic starter equipment for handgun technique practice.

Couple of comments, first:

  • The ones I’m about to suggest are not the only possibilities out there–there are PLENTY of other perfectly reasonable holsters and mag pouches by many perfectly decent manufacturers that would work fine.  These are simply ones I’ve found to be durable, reliable, and economical for basic solid range practice.  That doesn’t mean that others wouldn’t be good also.
  • The equipment listed here is meant for basic range practice–meaning that they aren’t optimized for carry, competition, military training, LEO duty carry, or anything like that.  The point is to get a solid reliable holster and mag pouch setup so that shooters can go to the range and work on their technique without either paying a ton of money, or having to deal with poor quality and unsafe equipment.
  • At some point in time, if you plan on getting good at competition shooting or plan on concealing well for carry, you are going to have to buy other equipment, and practice with it.  However, starting with basic range gear to get yourself competent FIRST is a good idea, hence this list of suggestions.

So, equipment needed for good technique practice:

  • Gun
  • Magazines
  • Eye/Ear Protection
  • Holster
  • Magazine pouch

Gun: up to you, though you might take a look at one of my prior posts about How Do You Learn to Shoot and my thoughts on appropriate firearm choice when you are trying to learn good technique.

Magazines:  Most guns come with 2 (though sometimes small guns only come with one).  Truthfully, you probably want to get yourself 5 or 6 magazines for any gun that you plan on shooting very much.  Because A) shooting one mag at a time gets very old, B) you should practice reloading and that is easier with more than two mags, and C) like any other physical object with moving parts, mags are subject to wear and tear and they give out.  (And if you have a revolver, get yourself 3 or so speedloaders.)

Eye/Ear Pro:  I assume you don’t like the idea of being blind or deaf.  ALWAYS wear eye/ear pro while shooting.  For ear pro, good electronic ear pro is now available for reasonable prices and it is REALLY handy to have on the range.  Dampens out loud noises but amplifies quiet stuff so you can shoot without damage and talk without yelling.  Regular glasses are not good eye protection (they don’t wrap around enough, nor do they normally cover high and low enough), and sunglasses normally aren’t much better–and certainly aren’t rated for impact.  Buy (and wear) actual shooting eye protection that has at least an ANZI Z87.1 rating.

Now to the parts that most people really care about:  Holsters, and magazine pouches.

With respect to basic range practice (actually everything, but especially basic range practice) I’m a BIG fan of kydex.  Thin, lightweight, durable, easily molded to specific firearms, if it gets dirty you throw it in the dishwasher—kydex holsters are simply the easiest way to get a solid economical holster for practice.  My top two suggestions for your first basic range practice holster:

CQC1) Blackhawk Standard CQC (Sportster) Holster:

This is NOT a SERPA holster.  Retention is passive only.  Normally comes with both paddle and belt attachments, left or right hand, large range of gun possibilities, covers the trigger guard, passive retention is adjustable—just a great range holster.  (And when I started competition shooting, I used one of these for several years.)

Note:  Link given is just so you can look at them.  Once you know if you want it, check around for the best prices.  However, $22.45 is hard to beat…

KydexPaddle2) Uncle Mike’s Kydex holsters:

Similar to the CQC above, comes with paddle and belt attachments, large range of guns available, etc.  In my opinion, not quite the quality of the CQC, but still a perfectly decent holster, and under $30 is a good deal.

Edited later to add:

3) Blade-Tech Revolution Holster:

Someone just pointed out to me that the Revolution holsters are good choices too, and I had missed that—I have a number of Blade-Tech holsters, but none from the Revolution series (and the other series cost more, so it hadn’t occurred to me). The Revolution ones, however, are excellent holsters and only a couple of bucks more than the two above. (Look on Amazon for better prices, oddly enough.) Comes with both a paddle and a belt loop attachment, like the two holsters above.

That’s it, really.  Sure, there are plenty of others out there—but most cost more money, and either don’t give you anything more than the above two, OR are for more specialized circumstances.    If you know what you want, that’s one thing, but if you are just looking for a holster to use for technique practice at the range, or are just starting to learn in the first place, the above two holsters will do everything you need in a reliable fashion without costing much.

One negative mention:  Don’t buy a Fobus holster. No matter how good of a deal it seems to be.  In my opinion, they are just about the worst holsters out there.  Material is substandard, connection from pouch to hanger (belt or paddle) is weak and breaks easily, retention is normally something that requires a winch to get the gun out of the holster, and I’ve never seen one that actually covered the entire trigger guard like it is supposed to do.  Truthfully, any time I see someone with a Fobus holster I assume they really don’t know what they are doing and have a weak grasp of firearms safety.  That may be unkind of me, but….it’s been pretty true so far.  (If your response was “Well, maybe they didn’t know any better!” I will agree, but if they have to full-arm-yank the gun to get it out of the holster and it doesn’t cover the trigger guard BUT THEY DON’T MIND, then their grasp of firearms safety needs work.)

Sorry if that hurt anyone’s feelings, but if you use a Fobus holster you should REALLY think about whether or not it is a good idea.

Now, that being said, let’s talk about magazine pouches:

351493For starter pouches, I think the Fobus mag pouches are some of the best deals out there.  Specifically, the belt (not paddle) basic double-mag pouches.

Generally, for under $30 you can get a double-mag pouch that will fit your magazine type, and it’ll work (and wear) perfectly well for standard range practice.  If you want single-mag pouches, or don’t mind spending a little more, Blackhawk makes decent double-mag pouches also.

For a bit more than that, you can get Blade-Tech mag pouches (double or single) with Tek-Lok belt attachments, which are nice.  However, those cost a little more.  (Similarly, Blade-Tech makes GREAT range/carry/competition holsters, but again, they cost more.)

For most folks just starting on draws/reloads/transitions–solid handgun technique practice on the range, I just normally say get a Blackhawk CQC Standard holster, a Fobus double-mag pouch, buy a good thick leather belt from Walmart or Target (don’t need to spend the money on a real gunbelt yet) and about 5 extra mags.  Plus a lot of ammo.

That’ll get you what you need to get better.  Later, when you ARE better and have a more precise idea of what you want/need for what you plan on DOING with your firearm (carry/competition/duty) then you can spend more money on something quality in that area.

Help them out…

It is hard to not get incredibly annoyed when someone asks the same dumb gun question yet AGAIN in an online forum.  (Or Facebook group.)

Even when it isn’t a dumb question, we’ve just seen that question 3000000000 times already.

…and yet, we shouldn’t get annoyed, because we’ve been there ourselves.  We’ve all been that guy who didn’t know something, who really wanted to find out so we asked all the questions we could.  And just because the question has been asked before doesn’t mean that THIS guy has magically heard the answer–after all, we WANT to turn new people onto the fun of shooting, so shouldn’t we actually we SUPPORTIVE of new folks asking questions?

XKCD awhile back had a great comic on this, actually:

(If you go there, make sure to mouse-over the comic to get his extra comment.)

And yet—sometimes, it gets really hard to answer the same question time and time again…

So here’s some suggested guidelines for asking gun questions on internet forums and groups, that will get you better (and less annoyed) answers:

1) If you are asking a question of common fact, start by trying to look it up yourself.  (Examples:  What Glock models are 9mm?  What’s the thing on an AR called that you pull on to jack the round into the chamber? What’s the fee for a State of Nebraska handgun purchase permit?)  Google is your friend, and you should take the 30 seconds it’ll require to simply type that in and get your answer.  Questions of common fact are ones that you can answer for yourself.

2) If you already have made your choice on something and are looking for validation of that choice, don’t ask for other people’s opinions of that choice and then tell them they are all incorrect when they don’t agree with you.  (Example: Person asked the following question:  “Which gun should I get, a j-frame revolver or a hi-point 9mm?”  When people gave answers saying the j-frame or suggested other possibilities, the original poster argued with them about their suggestions mostly by saying he didn’t like their choices, and ended by mentioning that he had already bought the hi-point.)  If you are asking for people’s opinions, expect them to be given to you, whether you like them or not.  If you aren’t someone who takes advice, don’t ask for it.

2A) If you are asking for someone’s opinion on something, make sure to include enough details so that people can actually give relevant suggestions.  (Example:  Person posts asking for a good .40 caliber handgun.  That’s it.  No reason why, no details about how it will be used, its purpose–nothing.  It wasn’t until later that it was found that the person wanted to both CCW it and hunt with it, which rather makes a difference in terms of suggestions.)  If no one knows the reasons that you are asking the question, they probably won’t be giving good answers unless it is a question of fact.

3) Make sure you understand the topic well enough to ask a coherent question.  Seeing a question that is effectively similar to “What smell does blue make when it sings?” doesn’t really make anyone want to help–because the person asking the question would have to learn more just to ask an intelligent question in the first place.  (Example:  Person asked if piston ARs could be turned into direct blowback actions like regular ARs. Wait, what?)  Again, Google is your friend for obtaining a basic understanding of objects and processes.

4) Accept what you get.  If you ask for a comparison between two particular things, and everyone suggests a completely different thing–well, that’s sometimes what you get when you ask a community of people to take some of their time and answer your question even though they don’t know you.  If you don’t like the answer, YOU were the one that asked for free advice.  No one is obligated to help you just because you’ve asked.  Many people WILL attempt to do so, and many online communities are incredibly welcoming and helpful for all types of questions.  But maybe…..the choices you came up with AREN’T the best ones possible, and their suggestion might be a better choice…?

In the same vein, perhaps there should be a couple of things that the people ANSWERING the questions should bear in mind…

1) You aren’t the All-Knowing God of the Gun.  So don’t act like it.  You may have knowledge and experience (perhaps even a LOT of it)–that doesn’t make you better, it just means you have more opportunity to be helpful.

2) You might be wrong.  Especially if it is an opinion-based question.  Offer an answer, add some supporting commentary, research citations, or a list of facts.  But….don’t take it personally if people disagree with you.

3) If you have to start your post with “I’m not expert but…” then you probably shouldn’t post it.  Similarly, if you start with “What I’ve heard is…” probably you should just stop and wait for someone who knows directly or has already done the research.

4) Give ’em a break.  Maybe they asked a stupid question.  Maybe they don’t know it is a stupid question.  No matter what, if you react in a calm, helpful fashion, it’ll be more likely to keep someone turned ON to the gun culture, as opposed to turning them OFF.

I know that for me, #4 is often the hardest thing to remember.  But—-we want people to enjoy shooting just as much as we do.  Sure, maybe in our mind we are thinking “this guy has gone full timmie, and they REALLY need to put away that Tapco-ed AK with the $30 red dot” —so what?  How about we instead give them some useful things to think about, and maybe over time they’ll get better?  If they are having fun, hey, let ’em go for it.

More importantly, we can remember to act as politely as we would if we were having the discussion in person.

And we can try to remember “today’s 10,000.”

“Instructor Bob teaches a great class!”

Periodically on the web (whether on Facebook groups or internet forums) someone asks the dreaded question:  “Anyone know a good [various-firearm-topic] instructor around here?”  (It is just as much fun as when someone on a gun forum/facebook group asks “What gun should I buy?“)

…after which tons of people chime in with their favorite local guy.  Often, said chiming includes comments like “class was fantastic,” “learned so much,” “best instructor around,” “an awesome instructor who cares about his students needs,” and “they’re good people and know their stuff.

The question is, why are you trusting these people’s opinions?  Do you know them?  Are they knowledgeable about the topic, enough to be able to tell the difference between a good instructor and a bad one?  Have they had previous classes to compare to this new one?

Or is their opinion based merely on the fact that they enjoyed the class, or that it seemed really high-speed/low-drag, and it was cool?  Or that the instructor was really nice and personable?  He/she was convincing?  They had a really good line of talk?

How do you know that what you learned in the class was decent?  Was correct?  Was relevant?

Lately I’ve seen several unrelated people (I assume unrelated?) tout firearms training classes for a local group that is known to be unsafe.  Not merely slightly unsafe, but “not wearing shooting glasses while standing in front of the line as people are shooting” unsafe.

Actual “people pointing guns at each other’s heads in the classroom during dryfire practice” unsafe.

People are saying “These were great classes, the instructors are really knowledgeable, great material, learned a ton!” about these classes–and I think that from a safety perspective it is the worst class I’ve ever seen.  I have no idea what was taught in terms of technique (though from some of the shooting stances shown in their website’s photo gallery, I’m thinking they don’t teach anything well) but if it was on par with their safety training, I expect that their students will be missing the target by miles and shooting each other every time they are at the range.

If a person has nothing to compare it to, if they have no prior experience or information basis–then their opinion really doesn’t tell you anything other than whether or not the class was fun and they liked the instructor.

While those things are important, what is MORE important is whether or not the class curriculum, and the ability for the students to learn the curriculum, was any good.  Was it realistic?  Correct?  Based on facts, not opinion?  Taught in such a way that the student could internalize the knowledge and retain (and perform) the techniques?

“He teaches a great CCW class—I learned so much about shooting!”

…really?  In Nebraska, at least, what you should learn MOST in the state-required CCW class is about the LAW, specifically regarding use of force.  The class itself only covers the most basic elements of actual shooting technique–and if you only spend 6 hours on the whole class, you don’t have time to teach much more shooting technique than the basics if you want to do a good job covering the curriculum you are required to teach.

So the person may have enjoyed the class, and learned a ton of stuff–but was it the material they were supposed to learn?  Was it the material they actually paid to learn?

When asking other people for opinions regarding instructors, take pretty much everything with a SERIOUS grain of salt.  (Or more.  Like “the Dead Sea” more.)  You should pay most attention to people who have experience in classes of this type, with experience and information about the topic being taught.

The following picture was used as part of a slideshow on the CNN website about teachers who were taking CCW classes to potentially be armed in the classroom.

Poor Teaching Happened Here!

Poor Teaching Happened Here!

Considering the grip she is using, would any knowledgeable shooter think that the class she just took was any good?  Obviously not.  But I’d bet (considering this was her idea of a good pose for a picture after the class) that she’d say it was a great class.

You shouldn’t pay attention to people who gush “It was great!  I loved it!” because WHO KNOWS what that opinion is based upon.

And, of course, my personal favorite:  “This class was taught by the best instructor in the area!”  Really?  You’ve taken classes with every instructor in the area?  You actually have the basis for that comparison?  Have you even taken more than one class?

People who say stuff like that?  Please stop, at least until you have enough knowledge to make a comparison to a class that had a good curriculum and was competently taught.

People who are reading stuff like that?  You are going to want to disregard those, and look for after-action reports or class evaluations from people who actually know what they are talking about.

What Gun?

I don’t care what gun you buy.  Really, I don’t.

—Well, I DO, but I’m only going to bother making suggestions or talking with you about it if you are going to 1) actually listen and act on my advice, and 2) plan on having your firearm be more than a talisman held to ward off evil things.

Lately, I’ve seen all sort of people asking some version of the extremely common question:  “What gun should I get for self-defense/carry/home defense?”  Variations on this also include “What gun should I suggest for my friend…” and “What gun is BEST for….”

Gun1After which, you get the common answers of “revolver, because reliable” or “.380, because less recoil” or “.45, because stopping power.”  (Though my favorite is “Jiminez, because you don’t need to spend that much–you’ll only shoot it a couple of times.”)  A couple of groups I’m in have a lot of these conversations happening.

And almost all answers to questions of this type are nonsense, from people who have no idea what they are talking about with respect to firearms (though they are completely well-meaning!) who also don’t understand anything about ballistics, violence, and self-defense.

If someone gives an answer before anyone asks the following questions, then those answers are nonsense that may not be even remotely relevant:

  1. Is this for daily carry, range practice, or home defense?
  2. What experience do you have with guns?  With rifles, shotguns, or handguns?
  3. Are you actually going to practice with this?

There are of course more questions needed if you really want to help someone choose a good firearm for their situation–but if no one has asked even those basic three, then no one has any idea what they should suggest which means that their suggestions ONLY relate to what THEY happen to like no matter how much those suggestions are completely inappropriate for the situation.

So if you ask me–sure, we can have a conversation about finding an appropriate firearm for your needs and requirements that is reliable and accurate for you to use competently under stress.  I am happy to talk guns, and am fine with helping you choose one that fits your needs as well as possible.

hipoint0But if you aren’t going to practice with it, or don’t plan on actually following my advice because you actually just want validation of your own choice (most likely based on cosmetic details and marketing hype)—we don’t need to actually talk about it.  Sure, go buy that Judge.  Or that Jiminez.  Or that Hi-Point.  Whatever. If you have it on you and can get it out in time during a self-defense situation, and it goes bang at least once, it really won’t matter which one you have.  All guns will be equally poor choices for you. You’ll be equally as unlikely to hit anything no matter what gun you have, and many self-defense situations end with just showing the firearm or after the first (defensive) shot.  So you’ll have a chance at getting equally lucky with your defensive actions no matter what gun you decided to buy.

People ACTUALLY interested in self-defense wouldn’t rely on that, of course.  But those people would practice and make good choices with respect to equipment.  If you aren’t one of those, and plan on having your firearm-shaped talisman simply create a magic bubble that doesn’t allow evil near you…

…buy whatever you want.  I can’t help you. So I don’t care what gun you get.  (If I did care, all it would do is frustrate me because you aren’t actually interested in being able to defend yourself.  You think that the gun will do that for you, and I can’t help that type of thinking.)

So I don’t care what gun you buy.

 

I have to include the Dynamic Pie Concepts Ultimate Hi-Point video, because it is brilliant.

Learning to shoot, part IIB….how to PRACTICE! (live-fire section)

Keeping on with the thread of learning how to shoot, let’s talk about live fire.  We’ve discussed the general process of learning, we’ve talked about the effectiveness of dryfire practice in general—so how do you make sure that your live fire practice actually makes you better?

First:  HAVE A PLAN.

Hopefully, you’ve already done enough dryfire practice to both know your current strengths and weaknesses, and even better, your limits with regard to various skills.  If you’ve been practicing, then you will have made gains in your dryfire skills that need to be tested in live fire.

Which means that you should know what skills you should be testing in this range trip.  Prior to going to the range, check your dryfire practice regimen and look at what needs to be tested in live fire.  I generally TRY to work on no more than three skills per range trip–because I tend to attempt to verify my dryfire practice skill level in isolated drills, then work on combining those skills with others to make sure the skills are integrated correctly.  (In other words, that I can do it on demand no matter the circumstances, as opposed to only when I’m set and ready to perform solely that skill.)

Which means that I’ve already got quite a practice session set up.  While there is occasionally some value in a marathon 1000-round all-day practice session, MOST people hit their concentration limit at 2-3 hours.  (Some sooner than that.)  If you can’t concentrate, focus, and control your motor skills, you are just making loud noises for fun.  Nothing wrong with that—but it doesn’t help, and may actually cause you to practice poor technique.

So:  Plan to test a limited number of skills first in isolation, then in combination.

Second:  ALWAYS PRACTICE ACCURACY.

USPSA Grandmaster Manny Bragg has a dot drill that he uses to start every range practice, which requires nothing but the ability to draw and repeatedly make accurate shots on a single target within a par time.  It isn’t an incredibly difficult drill, but it does require that the shooter demonstrate the ability to have solid sight alignment and manage the trigger correctly.  He keeps shooting it until he passes the drill—whereupon he goes and works on whatever he had planned for his range practice that day.

His contention, which I completely agree with, is this:  If he can’t be accurate enough to hit 3″ circles at 10 yards under a slight time pressure, then he isn’t shooting well enough to practice anything else live.  (After all, anything NON-shooting can be done in dryfire, and if you are shooting, you have to be accurate.)

He’s had at least one occasion where he never got to his actual practice plan—he kept not being able to keep his concentration, would blow the drill, and finally just stopped and went home.

If you can’t shoot accurately, then not much else matters in live fire practice.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot drills at 3 yards with only a target focus, or anything similar—it simply means that at the start of your practice, if you can’t manage the concentration and discipline necessary for solid accurate shooting then it isn’t a day where anything more complicated will be improved.

Third:  DON’T DRILL IT INTO THE GROUND.

Performing 1000 reps of a particular drill won’t actually make you better, if you do them all in a row.  For most people, by about rep 10 their concentration will start to wander (if they have done all the reps in a row in the same fashion) and it simply won’t help.

Yes, to be skilled you’ll have to practice a drill 10,000 times.  But like dryfire practice, it’ll work a lot better if you do that in chunks of 10 reps, interspersed with other things.  Do 10 good, solid, disciplined reps–then do a different drill.  Then come back, and perhaps do 10 more, in a slightly different fashion.  Same skill, but different enough situation that you still have to concentrate fully on it.  Work on another drill for awhile, take a break, then do your original drill for 10 more reps.

You’ll see a LOT more skill gain doing it that way compared to doing 30 reps in a row.  And you’ll be more likely to retain that skill gain.

Fourth:  VERIFY YOUR SKILLS.

In general, dryfire is where you push your limits.  Live fire is where you verify your skills.  You know you aren’t going to draw as fast as you possibly ever can in live fire, because if you screw up the gun will go flipping downrange.  Instead, you push yourself in dryfire, and then in live fire find what you can do consistently and accurately.

Part of that is of course working skills in an isolated fashion, for example working on your ability to draw to an upper A-zone hit (the “ocular window” area, for those who don’t USPSA) in less than 1.5 seconds.  Or working a 7-yard A-zone hit, reload, to a second A-zone hit in less than 2 seconds.   That’s isolated, specific skills.  (Perhaps your times are better.  Or worse.  It depends on what your skill level is.)

But you also need to work on integrating those skills with others–and practicing your recoil control while switching skills is something you can only do in live fire.  So don’t neglect it!

Practice a draw-to-one-shot drill.  Then a 1-reload-1 drill.  Then a draw-to-one-shot drill while taking a step.  Then a 1-reload-1 drill where you transition from one target to another while reloading.  Then practice a stepping draw-to-one-shot, reload-while-transitioning to a second target, one shot drill.  Lastly some more reps of a draw/shot drill, a 1-reload-1 drill, and then end that sequence with a basic draw/shot/reload/shot drill on the same target—but at 15 yards instead of 7 yards.

That’s 8 drills, two skills, with a combination of isolation and integrative practice.

The skill stays the same.  But the differences require you to keep concentrating, and sequencing the drills mean that you have to keep yourself honest about your recoil control and ability to handle the firearm.

Pistol-training.com (Todd Louis Green) created an outstanding general purpose target awhile back, available from National Target.  If you don’t have much time or equipment, you can EASILY get in a solid 200-round practice session using only one target.  Obviously, multiple targets of the type you are most likely to shoot (IDPA, IPSC, silhouette, bullseye, whatever!) at different ranges and angles are best—but it is also true that occasionally shooting at something different is a good thing, and the P-T.com target gives you LOTS to work with.

When working on getting better, remember:  if you can’t work the gun, then you’ll never have a chance to shoot.  If when you shoot you can’t hit anything, it won’t help.  So in terms of skills, those two are the most important. If those are solid, work on keeping those going while doing other things like transitioning, shooting one-handed, weak-handed, turning, on moving targets, while moving backward….the possibilities are endless.

Have a plan, keep your accuracy high, drill intelligently, and verify that your dryfire practice is working.

Other posts in this series:

Learning to shoot, part IIA….how to PRACTICE! (dry-fire section)

So, you’ve got the fundamentals down pretty well, you’ve got the basics of a safe, efficient draw and reload, you’ve practiced transitions, worked on your splits, done some practice with effective movement and a bit of shooting on the move…

…how do you get better without paying for more training?  In other words, how can you set up dry and live fire drills to give you the maximum improvement for your time?

Well, first you need to figure out what exactly you need to improve.  What are your goals?  Better competition shooting?  Better self-defense techniques?  What exactly are you trying to learn?  Creating a list of specific skills you wish to improve will help you organize your practice in an efficient fashion.

Here are a few skills that should be on everyone’s list, no matter how skilled they think they are–and these skills should STAY on your list, no matter how much better at them you get:

  1. Drawing to a close, high-percentage target
  2. Drawing to a distant, low-percentage target
  3. Emergency (slide-lock) reload
  4. Speed reload
  5. Transitions
  6. Trigger control:  freestyle, SHO, WHO

(These are NOT in order of importance, by the way.)  Now, obviously there are other skills that should be added, depending on what your goals are for practice.  However, no matter what your goals, you should be practicing the above skills.

So let’s talk about how to practice…

Brief discussion about practice theory, regarding the best way to ingrain habits:

  • Frequent short practices cause more effective retention than longer practices that occur less often.
  • Imperfect practice does not improve skill—and it may actually worsen the skill.
  • And yet, if you don’t push yourself, you will not get better nearly as quickly (and your “best” level will be lower than it should be).
  • Focusing consciously on the skill you are practicing will increase skill retention.
  • It is extremely difficult to consciously focus on a particular skill for very long.

For most effective results, a combination of dry fire and live fire practice should be done—in particular, dry fire practice on a continuing, regular schedule (multiple times per week) supplemented with live fire practice.

The goal of the dry fire practice is to ingrain proper technique, and push yourself.  The purpose of the live fire practice is to test your skill, monitor for dry fire practice errors or issues, and practice usage of those skills.  (Yes, you also want to push yourself in live fire—but pushing yourself too hard results in unsafe practice, and shooting yourself is not a good way to increase skill.)

Ben Stoeger has an interesting comment in his video Training to Win, discussing one of the shooters:

“He saw something in his technique that he needs to change.  So he needs to take that back home and dryfire and then he’ll be able to make that change.  You can’t really change anything out on the range. You only have time to fire maybe a couple hundred rounds, maybe you can only make it out once a week--all the repetition has to be done at home, he has to do the dryfire.”  [Emphasis added.]

And he’s got a point.  Unless you get to the range 3-4 times a week, AND have plenty of ammo, you simply aren’t going to get in that many reps of any particular skill drill.   Compared to what you can do with dryfire, live range work really should be for testing skills, and practicing skill chains.

At home in dryfire is where you ingrain those basic physical skills.  That’s where you do the reps to make your movements smooth, fast, and precise.  That’s where you work to make the changes, and do them enough times to make them automatic.

And only THEN do you go to the range to test what you’ve done.  For most people, your capacity to learn physical skills during dryfire is MUCH higher than your capacity to learn them during live fire.

So how can we optimize our learning in dryfire?  Well, first off—have the self-discipline to dryfire every day.  No, you don’t have to set aside an hour every day–even 5 minutes can count.  Try for three times a week of at least 30 minutes, and at least 5 minutes a day the rest of the week.

What do you do for that 5 minute practice?  Wall Drill. Freestyle, SHO, and WHO. (Strong-hand-only and weak-hand-only.) Don’t even need to have your holster or any other gear on, just need the gun, don’t even need to have a magazine in it. 10 reps freestyle, 10 SHO, 10 WHO. Then do it again (10/10/10) but this time, practice bringing up the gun from a low extended ready position. Then do it one last time (10/10/10) but this time, practice extending it out from a compressed center ready position. Whole thing gives you 30 reps of each shooting style, and 90 as-perfect-as-you-can-make-them trigger presses. Takes under 5 minutes.

And it’ll make a huge difference in your shooting, all by itself—BUT you have to concentrate on being perfect for the entire time. Don’t just do the reps to get them over with. Concentrate on what you are doing. Focus hard on that front sight. Watch what it does when the hammer/striker falls. Know what the sights did when the gun went click and afterward. 90 reps total.

Does this get boring?  Only if you let it.  You need to have the self-discipline not to slack off and blow off practice in the first place–but ALSO to make sure you pay attention and focus for that five minutes of reps.  If you are having trouble focusing, strap on a holster and do the wall drill by drawing from the holster, instead.  (Freestyle, SHO, and draw-transition-to-WHO.)   If you have time, periodically switch from holstered to extended low to compressed ready start positions.  Work that trigger press.

Okay, how about the rest of the time–those 30+ minutes of practice?

That depends on your goals, and how advanced you are at your skills.  (In particular, how efficient your movement already is, and how automatic your basic skills are.)  In general, there are roughly three levels of dryfire practice:  basic skills, chained skills, and multitasking.  And most people should NOT work much on chaining or multitasking until their basic skills are solid.

So let’s talk about how to practice a particular basic skill.  Basic practice progression:

  1. Practice it perfectly without time reference
  2. Practice it slightly slower than your normal best speed
  3. Practice it at your best speed
  4. Practice it slightly faster than your best speed
  5. Practice it perfectly without time reference

Let’s say a person’s normal “par time” on a draw from a holster to an A-zone hit at 7 yards is 1.5 seconds.  This means that about 85-90% of the time, that person gets the draw finished with a good sight picture and prepped trigger in 1.5 seconds from an audible start signal.  (The other 10-15% of the time, there is a fumbled grip or a lack of sight focus, or something similar.)  Basically, when the shooter is doing their job, they can complete the skill within the par time consistently.

So, in dryfire, this skill should be practiced something like:

  • 5 reps with a start signal but no par time
  • 10 reps timed at 0.2 above the par time
  • 10 reps timed at the par time
  • 5 reps timed 0.1 below the par time
  • 5 reps timed 0.2 below the par time
  • 5 reps with a start signal but no par time

You get a total of 40 reps, the first 5 and the last 5 of which should be perfect, 20 of which should be solidly correct, and 10 of which are pushing you to be faster.  In general, the above will take somewhere along the lines of 5-10 minutes.

After some practice, you are going to find that you are now hitting 85-90% of the drills at 0.2 below your par time.  So—time to reduce the par time.

So to do this, you need to keep yourself a log of par times for various drills.  Periodically, re-evaluate your par times and adjust them.  (Don’t adjust them each time you practice, unless your par time is too fast and it is making you sloppy.)  Unless something is ridiculously easy, don’t change a par more often than every 6-8 practices.

Now—when doing this, it is incredibly important that you are HONEST with yourself.  Did you really have the correct grip on the gun?  A proper trigger prep?  A clear, focused sight picture?  Just throwing the gun around won’t make you better.  (Matter of fact, unfocused dryfire practice will make you worse pretty quickly.  You’ll feel faster, but you won’t be able to hit anything, and your control will go downhill fast.)

So—pick three different skills and work on them.  That’ll give you about a 30-minute practice time.  Set your par times, log them, and make sure to track what you practice.  Keep a “comments” section in your logbook to add sudden insights, problems that crop up, or questions that you want to think about.  If you suddenly make a change that makes a world of difference, write it down!

Next time you practice, pick three skills—two of which you practiced last time.  (Practicing a skill once, then not getting back to it for another month doesn’t actually help much.)  Keep practicing, and rotate those skills.  Get in reps.  Remember, shorter practices that occur more often are better than long marathon practices that only occur once in awhile.

If you have 15 minutes, do a full drill on one skill, plus the Wall Drill.  Every day you don’t do any other practice, do the Wall Drill.

Now, there are plenty of other things you can do in dryfire practice, but this isn’t a book, so I’m not doing to type them all out.  For those interested in basic skills, Steve Anderson’s first dryfire book is a great way to start.  For those interested in chaining or multitasking, Ben Stoeger’s dryfire books are excellent also.

And after all that, go out to the range and check yourself in live fire.  (Discussion on that will be forthcoming in the next post.)

Other posts in this series:

How do you learn to shoot? (Part I)

Note:  the following is for people interested in pistol shooting—specifically, people interested in self-defense pistol skills.  While elements of this will be true for rifle, shotgun or bullseye pistol also, that isn’t the focus of this writing.

How do you learn to shoot?

I know lots of people have a friend take them out and teach them a bit about guns.  Or learned from their parents or relatives, perhaps have gone hunting, tried a shotgun, a .22 rifle, or an airgun at some point in time.

But how do you actually learn how to shoot a pistol?  Meaning, what do you need to do to build solid safety habits, learn efficient, effective technique, and build significant competency?  Especially if you want to learn for self-defense purposes?  Or competition purposes?  For any actual purpose that involves more than plinking at aluminum cans at 15 feet with a group of friends?

I get asked this question (or variants of it) quite a lot, and so I thought I’d make a comprehensive reply for once.  In particular, a reply in which I can explain WHY you’d want to make certain specific learning events take place.  Because, quite frankly, most people don’t know how to shoot.  Yes, they CAN shoot—but they don’t really know how.  And then they “teach” other people to shoot (badly, and an in unsafe fashion) when they don’t know how unskilled or unsafe they are–and they tend to also have an inflated view of their own competency, which means that the people that they teach have an incorrect view of what “competency” actually means.  (For people who are thinking I’m too harsh, do a search on “first time shooting” or “new shooter” on YouTube, and watch how people are “taught” to shoot.  You’ll then end up thinking I’m not being nearly harsh enough!)

It is NOT hard to become competent with a pistol, from a self-defense or competition perspective.  (I’m going to focus on those two perspectives, as their goals are easy to describe.  If you have any other particular shooting goal, feel free to substitute it.)  However, the path to competency requires that 1) you realize what you don’t know, and 2) you practice.

Most people aren’t exposed to good shooting skills, so #1 doesn’t happen, and movies, media, and popular culture have misled people to believe that #2 isn’t necessary, that shooting is something you can just pick up and be good at immediately, unlike ANY other physical skill you’ve ever tried to learn.

And the path to competency requires also 3) learning efficient, effective technique for skill-building as opposed to making a habit of poor technique.

So how to you learn to shoot?

In the first part of this particular series of posts (this one) I’ll be talking about how you get started—what do you need to get a solid grounding in safety and fundamental technique so that later learning (in the correct mode, without having to break old bad habits) can occur–in other words, how you start on #3.  After that, in the second part, I’ll talk about how you can manage practice even if you don’t have time to get to the range–and how to practice if you can live fire.  The third installment will be about how #1 can always help you get better–and how not paying attention to it will cause your skills to (at best) stagnate, if not actually decline over time.

So yes, I’m taking those three points in reverse order.

I note that you don’t HAVE to do it this way.  I taught myself to shoot a pistol, and it worked out.  That being said, I know for certain that if I had done it the way I’m about to describe, it would have taken me a LOT less time to reach my current level, and I’d have had many less headaches and restarts throughout.

So, how to start:

First?  Take an introduction to handguns class from an NRA instructor.  Yes, there are other possibilities, other instructors, or your friends really MIGHT know what they are talking about when they try to teach you.  And yet—they probably don’t.  And if you don’t already have experience at shooting, you won’t know if a non-NRA instructor is any good or not.

This isn’t to say that the NRA Basic Pistol class is the best, most amazing thing in the world—it isn’t.  However, it IS a comprehensive, informative course that gives you a solid background in firearms, teaches good safety techniques, and the NRA method tends to mean that no matter what class you take (from whatever instructor you have), you’ll still be exposed to all of the information you need, plus get practice in good safety habits.

That being said, it is true that when I teach the NRA Basic Pistol class I add more practice time with inert practice firearms, plus more time with actual firearms.  In addition, I teach the “NRA Way” with respect to shooting technique—and then I teach how it has changed over time and what is currently considered the more effective, efficient way to shoot.  And I hammer on safety practice throughout.

And yet–the basic class (without any extras) is still probably the best place to start for just about anyone who has no shooting experience.  (And even for those people who already “know how to shoot” because their friend taught them in the backyard one weekend.)

Learn how to be safe every time you pick up a firearm.  Ingrain habits such that safety procedures are normal, everyday things, not things you do just when you “think it might be loaded.”  Don’t let yourself treat the firearm differently if you “know it isn’t loaded.”

Once you’ve got that, plus a solid grasp on shooting nomenclature and history, plus some basic practice at standard marksmanship (all of which you get from the NRA Basic Pistol class) next thing is to get yourself a full-size .22 pistol like a Ruger 22/45.  (And keep it—you’ll enjoy having it for the rest of your shooting career/life.)

Practice with the .22 pistol until you can comfortably shoot accurately.  (You’ll do more later, but for right now, learn and ingrain the fundamentals of safe handgun shooting so that you can hit the target consistently.)  A decent goal for this part, at this level, is to be able to consistently hit a 3″ circle at 10 yards.  This practice might only take you a month, if you go every day.  (Unlikely, yes?)  It may take a number of months of practice if you can only go once every two weeks.  How long it takes is up to you.  But no matter what, ALWAYS practice safe gun handling.

Next:  Buy a common, reliable, full-size pistol in 9mm with a decent trigger.  Pick a Glock 17, a S&W M&P, even a Springfield XD.  Full size.  No compact, no subcompact.  No LC9,  LCP, snub-nose revolver, or anything like that.  Full size, common, basic 9mm.

Buy basic range ammo (Winchester White Box, PMC, or Remington bulk ammo), then go to the range and practice the exact same things you were doing with the .22:  safety and fundamentals of shooting to include proper stance, grip, sight picture, and trigger control.  Don’t worry about speed, draws, or reloads yet.  Work on the ability to put hits on target correctly.  The rest will come AFTER you’ve practiced hitting the target.

Get to the point where again, you can consistently get hits on a 3″ circle at 10 yards using proper fundamentals.  Then get it so that you can do it without taking 3 minutes per shot.

Next:  Buy a decent range holster and some magazine pouches.  (Example:  Buy one of the Blade-Tech Revolution Combo Packs—there was a REASON we had you buy a common 9mm full-size pistol, because there are tons of equipment and accessories for those common pistols.) Buy some extra magazines, too, enough so that you have five or six of them.  Then take a class like the PRT Handgun Technique class, that teaches you how to correctly and safely draw from the holster, reload, and shoot at speed.  Learn proper transition technique, work on your trigger control at a faster rate.  Learn how to dryfire these techniques, so you can practice on your own.  Join a local gun club that allows drawing from a holster on the range.  Don’t just “teach yourself how to draw” — actually learn how to do it CORRECTLY.  (Because there is a right way to do it, and many wrong ways to do it.)

Go practice.  Dryfire.  Then live fire.  Dryfire 3 times a week (more, if you like).  Don’t know how to dryfire?  Well, hopefully that mid-level class you just took showed you how to perform good dryfire practice.  Try to live fire at least once every two weeks.  (Even 50 rounds at the range can be a seriously good training time, if you know how to practice.)   Make sure that when you practice, you are continuing to ingrain proper safety.

Buy a shot timer.  Yes, it’ll cost you $100.  It’ll be worth it.  Sure, you can potentially use a free shot timer on your phone, but it just doesn’t work very well.    Use decreasing par times in your dryfire and live fire practice to push yourself.  Don’t ever sacrifice safe technique for speed.

Once you have solid technique in drawing from the holster, reloading, and shooting, try a Steel Challenge match.  All you do is stand there, draw, and shoot with accuracy at speed.  It’ll test your abilities under a little bit of stress, and give you a realistic appreciation of your skill level.  And probably give you a reason to practice more.  Plus, it is just FUN.

After that—well, it depends on HOW good you want to get with a firearm.  And what breadth of skilll you wish to have.  There are of course additional shooting skills classes you can take, along with concealed carry and defensive tactics classes (from all sorts of people).  You can try USPSA action pistol shooting, IDPA competitions, or Multigun.  (If you are in the Omaha area at all, the Eastern Nebraska Gun Club runs USPSA, Steel Challenge, and Multigun matches.  Check out the Eastern Nebraska Practical Shooters site for details.)

No matter what—practice.  Dryfire.  And periodically practice using live fire.  Like every other physical skill, shooting well is perishable.

AFTER all that—then, (since you now have an idea of how to shoot, how YOU shoot, and what you like to shoot) —THEN go ahead and start thinking about what gun you should get for concealed carry, if you plan on doing so.  By now, you should have some solid experience with shooting, and you know your capabilities–which means you should be able to make good choices regarding a CCW firearm.

Short form:

  1. NRA Basic Pistol Class
  2. .22 pistol — go practice until competent at target shooting
  3. 9mm pistol — go practice until competent at target shooting
  4. Get good instruction on correct technique for draws, reloads, transitions, and movement
  5. Practice more, then push yourself with some competition.
  6. Keep practicing.

Then practice some more.  Continue to get good instruction on further shooting topics of interest to you.

In part II of this series, I’ll talk about HOW to get in good practice, both in dryfire and live fire.  (No, going to the range and just blasting out 100 rounds at a full-size silhouette target at 7 yards is not effective practice.)  Later, in part III, I’ll discuss how to make sure you never stop learning, and never get complacent about how much you know.

Thoughts?  Anything missing from this progression of training?

Other posts in this series: