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:

Timers and Practice…

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I’m a big fan of using a timer for shooting skills practice.  HUGE fan.  I believe strongly that if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you need to go.

And yet, I almost completely agree with John Wallace in his blog posting about Randomness in practice:  Things to Consider Before Chasing the Timer (Part V: Randomness)   In it, he suggests doing a whole LOT of things that mean you can’t actually track your progress over time, and sometimes can’t even use a timer in the first place.

So how can I agree with both of those perspectives without demonstrating some significant schizophrenia?  (And we are going to leave my mental health out of this, thank you very much.)

Simple:  one of the above methods is for practicing shooting skills.  The other is for practicing applications of shooting skills.  There is a bit of grey area in there (for example, when practicing the skill of using cover, you still don’t try to beat the timer) but for the most part, the issue of randomness should occur when attempting to prepare for real-life self-defense (or military, or LEO) applications–not when learning the skills in the first place.

When do I use a timer?

  • Practicing my draws (hands at sides, surrender, concealment 2-handed, concealment 1-handed, WHO draw, sitting, prone, supine)
  • Practicing my reloads (emergency, speed, one-handed SHO, one-handed WHO)
  • Working transitions and splits
  • Practicing explosive movement into and out of positions onto near/far targets
  • …and many other specific physical skills.

Put it this way—specific skills, practiced in isolation, make you good at those skills, such that in terms of applications of said skills, you don’t have to think through the skill itself.  In application, you can then use the majority of your brain to concentrate on the situation, instead of having to devote part of it to remembering (for example) how to get a good draw using only your strong hand.

When you first learned how to work a manual transmission, you had to think about it a lot—at the expense of paying attention to your surroundings.  Someone ever try to talk to you when you were first trying to go from a stop into first gear uphill?  How’d that go?  Did you tell them to shut up until you got the car moving?  (I’ll bet you did.)

And yet, as you got more comfortable with the transmission, the amount of brainpower you had to spend on it became less—so that you could spend more time watching the road, and paying attention to the situation around you.  And talking with friends.

In a similar fashion, If your shooting skills are good, it’ll make your ability to apply those skills far greater.  You’ll have more brain capacity available for problem-solving, as less of it (less of the conscious part, at least) will be needed for the skill itself.

Using a timer for building skills means you have a way to measure your practice–what works, what doesn’t, what helps you improve most.  It gives you a standard against which to practice, a point at which you can say “okay, this skill is pretty good, time to change training priorities.”  (We don’t want to say “good enough,” unless it is “good enough that I should be practicing something else before I try to get this one better.)  For example, if your draw from concealment on a target at 7 yards is already 1 second, you might be better served by practicing other skills as opposed to trying to drop another 0.15 seconds.

But after your skills are solid (and while you continue to practice your skills), you should be practicing applications of those skills.  Say that you can already draw, reload, and shoot on the move.  Now, (with a training partner) set up a situation in which there are three targets in front of you, with varying (and mixed) colors, numbers, and shapes on them.  Have your partner yell out a combination that you have to recognize, and only shoot those targets.  Or maybe only NOT shoot those targets.

Too easy?  Have the targets appearing, (visual start, instead of an audible start) and also require that you shoot on the move to cover.

Still too easy?  Have your training partner give you a magazine that has an unknown number of rounds it in, forcing an emergency reload at some point in time.  Or instead, include a dummy round in the magazine somewhere to force remedial action under stress.

Those applications really aren’t made for timer work.  (You could use one occasionally if you want, but it won’t really tell you anything.)  The purpose of those applications is to train your brain to make appropriate situational choices—in which you need as much free brainpower as possible.  (As opposed to training your body to perform physical skills.)

If your skills practice was solid enough, then you should HAVE free brainpower available.  If, on the other hand, you haven’t put yourself on a timer for basic shooting skills, chances are that your skills are weaker than you think, and your shooting application success level will be far lower.

We use bullseye targets to measure accuracy, don’t we?  In a similar fashion, you should use a timer to measure speed.  (Unless, in your lifestyle, shooting is all bullseye and never self-defense.  No, there isn’t a timer in a self-defense situation.  There is another guy there who really is trying to be faster than you, however.)  And you should use a timer in your practice fairly often.

But you should also NOT use the timer fairly often, because in addition to training your body to handle specific skills, you need to train your brain to handle varying situations.

You are practicing two different things.  And unsurprisingly, the best methodology to use in these two different things, with two different goals—-is different.

What a shock.

Use a timer on known drills.  Also—incorporate randomness in your training.

(I will note my biggest disagreement with John is in his title.  He calls it:  “Things to Consider Before Chasing the Timer” —I think that Randomness and situational training actually should start occurring AFTER you’ve been chasing the timer for awhile.  Get good at specific skills.  Then, start practicing occasionally with randomness.)

Targets—size DOES matter…

This is not the post (referenced in the last entry) “in which I completely agree with [John] about how “chasing the timer” is a bad idea, and offer some suggestions for pistol shooters in terms of how to maximize their ability curve while using a timer.”

I’ll get to that one later.  In this case, I need to vent about something I saw at the range this past Sunday.  And have seen in the past…

John Wallace, in his series of posts on “Things to Consider Before Chasing the Timer,” started off by commenting about targets—specifically, that “If you train for these small presentations, or “worst case scenarios” then you are prepared for them, as well as getting sure hits on the idiots who stand in the open (giving you full presentations).

He also commented that a number of people practice on huge, open targets.

I was at the range the other day, and observed one male individual “teaching” a tiny woman  how to shoot a handgun.  He was there in his 5.11 pants and operator polo, full war belt (including multiple pouches and a huge drop bag) with a drop-leg holster.  (She was wearing shorts, a tank top, and flip-flops.)  I’m not sure what the gun was as I was quite a distance off, but it looked like a regular full-size handgun.  (I hope he wasn’t teaching her on a .45 or a .40, because I could see that this was probably the first time she had ever held a handgun.  Of course, he wasn’t actually fixing anything about her stance or grip, so maybe it wasn’t her first time and she’d been shooting with the leaning-back stance and teacup grip that he had taught her for quite some time.)

The target was a full-torso, full-size silhouette.  It literally was larger than the woman.  And it was placed all of 5 feet in front of her.


A year or so ago, I was on a bay practicing my transitions, and monitoring a couple of people who were with me working on their basic accuracy.  A couple of guys drove up, and started to unload their gear on our bay.  There was a discussion about that, and after the RO had a talk with them, they decided to wait until we were done.  (They did say the famous line “You are doing that competition stuff, we are practicing for COMBAT” which they thought excused the fact that one of them swept all of us as he walked up to our firing line swinging his handgun in one hand.)

As we were leaving, I saw them setting up a target approximately 10 feet in front of the shooting table (in a 50-yard bay).  It also was a full-torso, full-size silhouette target.  As I watched in fascination, they began shooting slow fire (resting the gun on the table between each shot) while sitting at the table.


My personal favorite, however, is the guy who brought his girlfriend (wife? not sure) out to “teach her how to shoot” (I will explain why I keep putting those all in quotes in a different post).  He took one of the range barrels, placed it 12-15 feet downrange, and commenced shooting at it to (and I quote) “show how it’s done.”  (No, he didn’t staple a target to it.  The barrel itself was the target.  At 15 feet, tops.)

I wish I could give you that quote in the self-satisfied tone in which he delivered it.

We then had a little talk about shooting the range equipment, and he decided to stop.


Why do people think that shooting at huge targets helps them at all?

When I teach someone completely new to shooting, I start with a standard-sized paper plate at 15 feet.  Using a .22, a newbie to shooting can quite easily get all shots on a paper plate if they are taught correctly.  After that, we move to 12″ steel plates at 10 yards—which they can ALSO do perfectly easily.  (And everyone loves hearing that “ding” of a hit.)

The target is big enough so that with a modicum of discipline, they’ll hit it every time.  At the same time, it is small enough that they actually have to use correct fundamentals to get those hits, plus they can work on shooting groups smaller than their target.  (I realize they can do that on any target, but if the target is huge and irregularly shaped, it makes it harder for new folks to actually center a group in the middle of the target.)

Why anyone would start a newbie on a huge target at such a close distance that hits are meaningless is beyond me.

And as for experienced shooters—WHY?!

Yes, I do occasionally practice on open targets at 5 yards—but that is when I’m timing transitions (and shifting gears) from near to far targets.  Or working on correct gears for draws to close targets versus far targets.  Or working on shooting on the move and finding the correct movement speeds at different target distances.

But when I’m practicing 1) the fundamentals of accuracy in a direct, singular fashion, or 2) self-defense related drills and scenarios, a wide-open target at close distance simply doesn’t make me any better.

Sure, it is interesting to see how fast you can get your draw-to-first-shot from concealment.  But once you can do a consistent 1.0 second draw on the upper half of the lower A-zone of an IPSC target at 7 yards, there are other drills that will be more useful to your self-defense ability than working on cutting that extra .15 from your draw in a very unrealistic scenario.

Sure, in real life often you really DO get an open target in citizen self-defense situations.  However—sometimes you don’t.  And even if you do, a peripheral hit most likely won’t stop the attacker.  Using minute-of-IPSC-target as your accuracy level simply isn’t good enough.  And if you are disciplined enough to practice in the first place, perhaps you should practice on targets chosen to increase your skills.

I’m not saying you should only practice shooting dimes at 10 yards.  (Though it is true that periodically, working accuracy on 1-inch dots at 3 yards, then 5 yards, then 7 yards, then 10 yards if you manage it, REALLY teaches you the importance of front sight focus and trigger control.  Or it gives you practice at dealing with a lot of frustration.  Or both.)  But instead of open targets, overlay a credit-card-sized box on the head as a brain box, a 2-inch column from the brain box down to the upper thoracic, a 4″ square centered at the height of the top of the heart, and force yourself to hit it every time.  Have one day be a “headshot-only” day.  Put targets far away.  Turn targets at an angle, and add a line of tape showing where the hardcover blocks any hits below a certain point.  Make the target something that requires you to shoot well to hit it.

If all you do is practice on the easiest target possible, well—-at least you are practicing.  But if you have the discipline to practice in the first place, use targets that actually help you get better.  Yes, you should periodically use targets of different sizes and shapes, some of which should be full-size.  And yes, you should periodically use target distances of different ranges, some of which should be nearby.

However—for the most part, you should practice on targets that match (or slightly exceed) your current skill level.  So quit using easy simple targets that don’t help you get better.  You are practicing to increase your skill, not merely make yourself feel good about your 0.85 draw and 0.14 splits on a 3-yard open target.