One of the most common questions I receive from readers or students is, “What should I practice?” It’s a legitimate question, especially with skyrocketing ammunition prices. Recently, I was at the local Wal-Mart buying some Winchester White Box 9mm ammo (the cheapest I can find) and paid $19.23 for 100 rounds. I noticed that .40 S&W of the same brand was $28.12 and .45 ACP was just under $30!
This no doubt affects law enforcement agencies in how much ammunition they can purchase, but also the individual officer who might want to keep his skills sharp while paying the mortgage, car payment, buying groceries, clothing and all the other things necessary for daily life. Since blowing up ammo needlessly is certainly recognized as expensive, we need to shoot our limited ammo supply wisely.
I’m a firm believer in fundamentals, and while many officers get bored practicing basics, these basic skills are necessary to prevail in a fight. I don’t know who said, “Advanced skills are the basics mastered,” (many have laid claim to it), but it’s true. Thus, practicing basics is a great place to start.
A Dry Run
Fortunately, many fundamental skills are mastered without firing a shot. Dry fire is the best way to improve draw, reload, malfunction clearances (using dummy rounds), shooting around cover (with a mirror at the opposing side to see how much you expose of yourself), one-hand manipulation, unconventional shooting positions (kneeling, prone, on the side, “roll back”, etc.) and any other skill that doesn’t require actual trigger manipulation. The purchase of a dry fire training aid such as the Beamhit) can give first shot feedback via a laser fit into the barrel of your carry gun.
Before beginning any dry fire training program, make double, triple and quadruple sure that your gun is empty and that no live ammo is in the room with you. A capable dry fire pad, such as the one manufactured by Safe Direction, is a very good idea. That way, if you suffer a “brain fart,” the round will be captured harmlessly and a valuable lesson learned.
The Real Deal
Now that we’ve narrowed the skills needed for live fire practice, let’s look at when we do need live ammo.
The two skills that must be practiced live fire are trigger and recoil control. Trigger control is the most important skill required for accurate shooting and the most difficult to master. In a nutshell, the index finger on the shooting hand presses the trigger to the rear, working independently of the rest of the hand, without interrupting muzzle to target alignment.
Think about how many times a day you open and close your hand, using the thumb and fingers in concert with one another. Then you can get some idea of how complex this action really is! Taking this into consideration, is it really hard to understand why shooters squeeze their whole hand when they shoot, something I call “milking the grip?”
Independent trigger control requires intense concentration and needs to be mastered before all other skills. It must be practiced regularly, as it’s the most perishable of a skill set that’s already very perishable. Luckily, recoil control isn’t quite as difficult and is really a function of upper body position and applying forward force to a pistol.
To the Range
With the previous thoughts in mind as I head to the range, I start out with a few timed drills to see where I’m at. I like to do these drills “cold,” as I believe they are a better indicator of performance than after I have shot for a while. Remember, it’s unlikely you’ll have just come from a practice session at the range when your gunfight occurs. You’ll more than likely be “cold” as well.
I shoot these drills at 20 feet on the Law Enforcement Targets’ DST-5 target.
Only hits in the 8″ Primary Neutralization Zone in the high chest count. I consider live fire a confirmation of the dry practice drills. I do each drill twice—anyone can get lucky and perform a single session well. One after another is more telling.
These are the drills I perform:
• One shot from ready in 1 second;
• One shot from the holster in 1.5 seconds;
• One shot, reload, one shot in 3 seconds;
• Draw, two shots, reload, two shots on two targets in 4 seconds
• “Bill Drill” of draw and shoot six shots looking for a consistent time between each shot in 3 seconds or less;
• El Presidente’ Drill (10 yards on three targets, turn 180 degrees, shoot two shots on each target, reload, shoot two shots on each target again in 10 seconds or less; and
• John Farnum’s “DTI Dance” (see January 2008 issue of Law Officer)
These drills take 15–20 minutes and consume 70 rounds. You may decide to shorten this test to conserve ammo. To me, they give an idea of where I am lacking and what to work on. But don’t shoot any faster than you can hit! A “lucky run” isn’t educational, only deceiving. These drills should be learning points, not ego gratifiers. Also, you have just spent around $20—make it worthwhile.
I then shoot several magazines focusing on trigger control, which, as previously stated, is one area where dry fire does not suffice. I start at 10 feet, shooting the small dots on the bottom of the DST-5 target, going agonizingly slow, trying to shoot one jagged hole. I focus completely on what my hands are doing, making them control the trigger and not milking the entire grip, find the reset point and then smoothly pressing through the trigger action.
I also take note of my body position, making sure my shoulders are over my toes. I move back 5 feet at a time, shooting 5 to 6 rounds at each distance, trying to stay on the 3″-dot, concentrating on “sight, press.” Somewhere around 30–35 feet, I start to miss the 3″-dot and move to the larger, 5″-dots and work my way back to 50 feet or so. By this time, I have fired 100 rounds, give or take, so if the ammo supply is low, I stop.
If I have additional ammo available, I then work on delivering the gun to the target from one of several “ready” positions, ensuring the delivery is consistent and feels right. The felt aspects of shooting are grossly under-rated. I then move to the draw stroke, making sure it’s consistent and direct to the target. Think of the draw stroke as an upside-down L with the gun coming up and out from the holster, directly to the target.
Lateral movement should be part of this drill. I also work on picking up the front sight in my field of vision as quickly as possible. Make sure you practice with the same carry gear that you use daily, including a concealing garment. Add a few drills, which simulate combat conditions, while kneeling or from extreme close quarters, and you will have a reasonable 200-round practice session.
No, these drills do not account for all of what might happen in a gunfight, but understand there’s no way to prepare for any conflict. History has shown that the person who prevails in armed conflict is the one who can keep his head and decide which of their practiced skills will solve the problem at hand. The officer that never practices is the one who will fail to decide. Stay safe, stay alert and practice your skills often.
Dave Spaulding was awarded the 2010 Law Officer Trainer of the Year award at the “The International Law Enforcement Education and Training Association (ILEETA). He has 36 years of Law Enforcement & Federal Security experience. Dave was a founding member of his Agency’s SWAT Team, and he spent 12 years as its training officer. You can find out about Dave’s Training here: www.handguncombatives.com/