Depending on your location, the indoor range may be your only viable option for training and practice. They can be loud, dirty and have more rules than a teenager's mother, but indoor ranges do have something to offer. We're going to examine the indoor shooting range and how you can get the most out of your time at the line. For this discussion we'll primarily consider practice with handguns.
It is always good to start with the fundamentals or the basics. As a matter of fact, any true student of the gun must master the fundamentals in order to achieve repeatable success. It's been said by wiser men than I that there really is no such thing as "high speed" or "advanced shooting". There is merely a mastery of the fundamentals.
When you arrive at the range it's never a bad idea to remind yourself to focus on the fundamentals of clear front sight focus and smooth deliberate trigger press. Check your grip and ensure your trigger finger is placed on the trigger so as to allow a smooth press directly to the rear. Take your time and make every shot count. Think of each shot fired as a pass or fail test. If the shot strikes the center of your target you pass. If it did not, you failed. If your round didn't strike where it was supposed to you must be honest with yourself and consider why.
A miss or a poor shot is not necessarily a bad thing if we learn from it. However, if you are missing the target and can't for the life of you figure out why, it's probably time to get some additional professional instruction.
Single Hand Shooting
One of the benefits of employing a handgun is that during a crisis situation you can indeed operate the gun with only one hand. Obviously we get the most stability from using two hands, but that is not always practical, particularly in a personal defense scenario. You might very have an object in your support hand such as a flashlight. Or, you might be holding something you are not willing to let go of, you child's hand is a good example.
When firing with only the strong or support hand it is more critical than at any other time to focus on your sights and your trigger control. The front sight must be in line with the dominant eye. This is quite natural if your shooting hand and eye dominance coincide. A challenge is discovered when the hand holding the gun is the opposite of the dominant eye.
Again, one of the benefits of the handgun platform is that it allows you to easily cant the gun to align the front sight with the dominant eye. You don't need to wink or blink your eyes. Keep them both open and align the front sight with your dominant eye. When I am working this particular single hand drill, I like to put at least one full magazine of ammunition through the gun with my strong hand only and then with my support hand only.
Drills from the Table
I've practiced at a lot of indoor ranges all over the country and the gun handling rules will vary from one to another. A common thread I have discovered is that few will allow the shooter to come from the holster. You may be fortunate to have a range that allows this but my experience is that most don't.
If this is the case, you can still avail yourself to presentation practice by pre-staging your handgun on the little booth table that is provided for you. I call this the "pick-up" drill. Start with the gun loaded and in the condition which you would actually carry it; de-cocked with any manual safeties that you might have engaged in the holster.
Begin the drill with your hands by your side. On signal or command reach out, pick the gun up and engage the target with a single shot. After you are comfortable that you are hitting the target in the preferred area, move on to controlled pairs or multiple shots. This might not be as valuable of practice as coming from the holster, but keep in mind that you can always practice presentation from the holster in your house with an empty/cleared pistol.
One of the benefits of using an indoor range versus outdoors is the fact that you can conduct practice with tactical lights and laser sights. I doesn't matter how many lumens your tactical light is, on a sunny you won't be able to see the beam and few outdoor public ranges will allow you to shoot after sundown.
The indoor range setting should allow you see the white beam from your light. If I'm alone on the range I like to turn out a light or two or all of them and work the different flashlight techniques. There are a number of different ways to use a handheld light in conjunction with a firearm. The Modified FBI, Neck-index, and Harris techniques all come to mind immediately.
Using handheld light with a live firearm is not a skill you simply pick up. It's always better to get some professional training. After you've received that education and training you'll need to practice to maintain a level of proficiency. When practicing flashlight techniques you should work on form first. Speed will come after the skill is mastered.
When it comes to working with visible laser sights the indoor range offers the best environment for which to see them clearly. The sun has a nasty habit of washing out red lasers. That's fine, of course, because we have iron sights to use in amply light.
I fully understand the pros and cons crowd when it comes to laser sight systems. Some folks go nearly apoplectic when you bring up the subject and that's fine. A couple decades back I recall a crusty old Marine commenting on the then new Tritium sights. He saw them as an expensive novelty with no practical value and referred to them as "nuclear sights".
Laser sights are not the end all be all, but they certainly have their place. Indoors, under poor lighting conditions, and when the shooter is firing from an awkward position are good times to employ a visible laser sight. The problem with laser sights is that far too many gun owners feel that purchasing a set of LaserGrips negates the need to practice. That is not the case. Poor trigger control is poor trigger control, laser or no laser.
Just as with any type of equipment, in order to get the most out of your laser sighting system you need to actually get to the range and practice with it. The indoor range is a perfect setting.
Working the Gun
The indoor range setting provides a good opportunity to work on your gun handling skills. By this I mean the skillful manipulation of all the manual controls unique to that particular firearm.
Depending on the make and model, you will have any number of manual controls on your handgun; de-cocking levers, manual safeties, slide locks, cylinder releases, etc. Every manufacturer puts their special touch on these areas. For instance, the Beretta 92 and SIG P226 both have de-cocking levers but they are completely different locations on the gun. One is located on the slide and the other on the frame.
While at the range take the time to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the controls and practice operating them. I've seen a number of shooters on the range with double-action pistols equipped with manual safeties and de-cocking levers. They'll charge the gun will a full magazine and fire out every round without ever engaging the safety or de-cocking the action.
This is fine if all you ever plan to do is shoot paper targets on the range. However, if the gun is used for concealed carry or kept for personal defense, ignoring the operation of the gun's controls can lead to poor gun handling during a crisis. Take the time on the range, when no one is shooting at you, to completely familiarize yourself with all of the characteristics and controls of you gun.
I know we were focusing on handguns, but this subject meshes with our indoor range topic. Like the holster issue, some indoor ranges will allow you to practice with centerfire rifles, but I've encountered just as many that won't.
If your range allows only handgun ammunition one of the new breed of 9mm carbines might just be the ticket to long gun practice. A number of black rifle manufacturers are producing AR style guns chambered in 9x19mm. I've had tremendous success with the models from CMMG.
Before you whip out your 9mm black rifle/carbine on a "Pistol Calibers Only" range, be sure to let the gun behind the counter know that it is indeed 9x19mm not 5.56x45mm. This should prevent hurt feelings on both sides from any confusion or misunderstanding.
Regardless of whether or not your range allows centerfire rifles, 9mm training ammunition will run you half or better the cost of 5.56mm training ammo. Of course, the 9mm carbine can also be loaded up with controlled expansion ammunition and pressed into service as a home defense tool.
If you take one theme away from this piece it should be that indoors or out, training and practice are the keys to success. Many well-meaning, uninformed indoor range owners will instill more rules than the International Olympic Committee in order to make the range "extra safe". The fact is that the best way to make everyone safer is to have well trained shooters who practice often.
Should you find yourself in a position where the indoor range is your best option with a bit of forethought you can have a valuable practice session and practice is never a bad thing. Until next time, keep shooting straight and shooting safe.
Paul Markel © 2013
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