If you have been shooting for any length of time you have likely witnessed the following scenario. Perhaps you have done it yourself. A shooter posts a bull's eye target out at five, seven, maybe ten yards. They then proceed to slowly and deliberately fire a magazine or two into the target. Retrieving the paper they hold it up and are heard to observe, "Not too bad, huh?" Yes, keeping ten to twenty rounds in the center of the target is very good. My question is this; does your practice stop there?
Skill with arms involves a number of components. Naturally, you first must learn the fundamentals. When we are talking about a handgun these basics would include sight alignment and trigger press. You then can move on to breath-control and follow through.
With a few regular practice sessions it should not be long before you have the fundamentals down. You will be able to repeatedly put rounds into your target when time is not a factor and conditions are good. The driving theme of this review is that for far too many handguns shooters, particularly those would shoot defensive guns; this is as far as their practice goes. I call this "Square Range" thinking.
Square range thinking will only take you so far. If you have aspired to defend your life or that of another with a handgun you need far more than basic mechanics. I was recently considering this issue and decided to put together a piece that would offer advice about how to improve your skill not just maintain it.
Thinking outside of the Square
I suppose the first step is to tell yourself that you are not going to be satisfied with the minimum. By the minimum I mean the baseline training or qualification. Too great a number of armed professionals, police and military personnel included, allow themselves to be satisfied with baseline training. They qualify with this firearm or that, or the go through a "Fam- Fire" (familiarization) and this is as far as the learning process goes. Initial qualification is the baseline, the beginning, not the end of your firearms skill journey.
But I digress; when you hit the range to practice or train make it your goal to leave with a bit more skill than you arrived with. Yes, everyone has a bad day and the more skill you acquire the slimmer the progress margin will be, but this is still a worthwhile goal.
Organized competitions are valuable as they put the pressure on you to perform and you can gauge your skill level against other shooters. For the purposes of this review consider that you are competing against yourself.
One of the best ways to gauge how you are doing on a given day is to keep a record of your various skill drills. For this you will need a notebook and one of two other items. You will require either a stop watch that measures in hundredths of a second and a shooting partner or a digital shot timer. Obviously the margin of error with a shot timer is going to be much less.
Start off with a basic drill such as drawing and firing one round into the preferred zone of a target at say five yards. Run through a few shots to see where you are at. There is a saying that going something like this; "Wherever you are now is where you need to start." Keep that in mind.
If you are averaging around two seconds per shot you might want to set a practical goal of say 1.75 seconds. If you are at 1.5, set your goal for 1.25 or 1 second. Keep your goals practical. It's not likely that you are going to go from a 2 second draw and shoot to less than one second in a single training session.
Also, beware of the other big temptation, that being comparing yourself to others. This can cut two ways. If you have a range partner with a lot of training and experience you might feel that you are way behind and get discouraged. On the other hand, if you have better scores and times than your fellow shooters you may be tempted to be satisfied and not push yourself to improve.
Using the draw and shoot as your baseline, work on other skill drills. Increase your shot numbers. Where you were once satisfied to get one shot on paper in less than two seconds, now try and get two shots in under two. Move up to three shots in under two.
To really give yourself a challenge, try running through magazine change/reloading drills. With a single round in the pistol, fire one shot, reload and fire a second on the clock. This will give you a good indication of just where your gun handling skills are at. The number of skill drills you go through is only limited by your motivation and imagination.
Rev Up your Training
We've talked about how to shoot. Now let's talk about what to shoot. Firing at paper bull's eye targets is valuable when you are conducting basic marksmanship training. Any time your weapon's sights are changed or modified in any way you need to get on paper and verify that the rounds are going where they are supposed to go.
Shooting paper bull's eyes is fine for beginners or the occasional sight check, but it's not all that exciting. Defensive shooters need to stimulate or rev up their range sessions with a variety of targets.
Paper and cardboard targets don't have to be black and white circles. There are plenty of companies out there making full color paper targets that represent "bad guys". Just off the top of my head Thompson Targets and Law Enforcement Targets, Inc. are two of the big ones.
Thompson Targets has been making waves with their Crazy Bones targets. These are full-size skeletal images set up in "bad guy" poses. One of my favorites is the terrorist Crazy Bones that closely resembles OBL.
Law Enforcement Targets, Inc. has been in the full-color bad guy target business for a long time. It seems that each year they add a few more of these to their extensive line. In the last few years they have introduced a line of terrorist targets and airline hostage / hijacking targets.
If you are truly serious about saving your life with a firearm, you need to spend a bit of time conditioning your mind to engage something beside little black circles. Full-color / full-sized silhouette targets are a good way to get this practice done.
The next part of this discussion deals with reactive targets. If you don't incorporate some kind of reactive targets into your shooting program you are seriously shortchanging yourself.
Reactive targets are simply anything that "reacts" when struck with a bullet. Most all of use grew up shooting reactive targets. These were the tin cans we used to shoot off of the tree stumps and fence posts with our BB guns. Do you remember how fun that was? The first time you shoot your pistol on steel you will relive that feeling.
In these few pages we have discussed numerous ways to raise the bar and improve your shooting ability. Skill with arms is perishable. If you don't practice you can't expect to maintain the skill level you once had. The bottom line is that your range sessions should be enjoyable, challenging, and productive.
By adding a few new drills or targets to your practice sessions you will be on your way to greater proficiency and skill. For those who own a defensive handgun, this investment just might pay off a thousand for if you are called upon to save a life.
Paul Markel © 2013
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