In times of high stress nobody “rises to the occasion”. Instead, we all sink to our training and competency.
Everyone has heard this statement in one form or another, but it is worth repeating. Competency of a skill requires repetition. I have spent significant range time with individuals in law enforcement. I do not remember a single encounter when I have, not only been more competent, but also been complemented on my level of skill. I do not say this to brag but to help other individuals with a preparedness mindset because I believe everyone can achieve a high competency with a modern carry pistol. The way this is accomplished is through “brief yet frequent” practice sessions. I define this concept more definitively as, “A brief practice session between 30 and 45 minutes, typically alone, in which one expends approximately 100 rounds of ammunition”.
Why such a brief time? Simply put – if you don’t use it you lose it. The goal is to conduct this session at least twice a month. Studies have proven that we all lose interest after a certain amount of time and then diminishing returns set in. Also, the use of ammunition will be more cost effective if you focus on certain drills which we will explore later. To summarize, handgunning is a quickly perishable skill. I guarantee that without regular practice the individual who pays for a top shelf intensive training will have highly degraded skill after just a few short months if they are not regularly getting trigger time.
Why alone? This is your time. Inevitably your focused practice session will become a social hour (or two) when company is along. You start competing, tell stories, whatever. This range time is for you to do one thing – personally get better. Yes, the range sessions where you clear out the safe and give everyone a run is extremely fun and exhilarating. But generally, it isn’t building the long-term skill that can make a difference in time of need. Instead you should look at this as time for yourself. Focus.
Don’t take more than two pistols with you but don’t take less than two. Having many with you will screw up the muscle memory. Why not one? Well while you’re shooting you should also have another loaded (more on safety at the range later). The goal of these practice sessions is to familiarize yourself with the tool to the point that it is second nature. Nearly an extension of your body. Pride yourself in knowing your skill is improving and that you don’t have to show it every time. That’s what concealed carry is all about anyway right? Make sure your training complements the hidden nature of your weapon.
Budget yourself. This “regular yet frequent” concept requires at minimum 2,000 rounds per year of your chosen caliber. For better results it’ll probably turn out to be near 2,500 or 3,000. This is approximately $350 (at least in 9mm for current prices at the moment). Start thinking about your budget. What can you cut out easily? We all are guilty of being frivolous with our hard-earned cash at some point throughout the year. Cut out the coffee, impulse buys, etc. and you easily have enough for your yearly skill maintenance as well as additional to put away for the rainy days ahead.
Last comment about money – the price is still right for most ammunition right now – stack your practice ammo deep. Also, budget the time in your schedule. Be efficient with errands, chores, work, and family time and you can make it to the range more often. I also am a proponent of carrying “fresh” carry ammo. Not so much for the fact that modern ammo “goes bad” (it doesn’t) but this allows you to fire a couple magazines of high-octane defense ammo two or three times a year. Furthermore, running your defensive round will ensure that it cycles well in your gun. As for the training ammo you will want to at least go for the same bullet weight so that recoil is at least relatively the same (yes, I’m aware there are many other factors that go into that formula).
There has been plenty of talk of who “should have” had a gun in that church in Texas (everyone undoubtedly has seen the video). But the facts remain – the incident ended more quickly than if police alone were depended upon. First things first, you need to carry all the time. Determine what you will carry and when – this isn’t a debate on hardware or tools. I know that some people stress the need to “carry one pistol, all the time, end of story”. I don’t think that is realistic because we often find ourselves in different situations that may require different attire, physical exertion, etc. What I do recommend is having a strong skillset with whatever you choose to leave the home with. Each scenario may require a different tool. The main point here is – pick your pistol for each scenario and stick with them! Don’t forget a solid holster…especially pocket holsters. What this does require is a dedication to regular training and some planning. For example, if you know you will be forced in a non-permissible environment and need to have a tucked in shirt then practice with the pocket .380 ACP more regularly.
My only main comment about specific gear in this article is this: Don’t shy away from the small frame guns. So long as you have it on you then you are ahead of the game. Three reasons I recommend this. First, a .380 at the ready in a pocket is infinitely more useful than a full size 10mm in the glove box 10 feet or even 3 feet away! Defensive scenarios happen very quickly so what you have on you is what you need. Back to the Texas church shooting – I believe all the action was over within 5 or 6 seconds. So if you are going to carry the small pistol more often then by all means don’t even listen to the haters – skip over the “caliber war” articles and comments online.
Carrying is better than not. Second, the small gun is a good to have on the range because they are simply more difficult to shoot. This inherent challenging attribute will make you a better shooter. Short sight radius and snappy recoil builds up skill. Once you go to a larger gun you’ll be amazed how much better you shoot. So you carry a full size all the time? Good for you! Start taking that pocket rocket to the range. You know the snappy-recoil-unpleasant-to-shoot-pocket-rocket? When you go back to the full size, then I promise you’ll shoot even better. Third and finally, limited round count makes you make them count while on the range. Instead of continual blasting you will find yourself slowing down and more deliberate with your shots. Next, I will explain a few simple drills I do that help stretch rounds (and your wallet ultimately).
Before getting to the range you should have a basic outline in your head on what you’re doing. My recommendation is to focus on two main areas: drawing and transition. Your draw is critical. Get good purchase on the gun and make some hits. First typically wins. Smooth is fast and fast is smooth. You don’t have to be Doc Holiday (or John Wick for a more contemporary comparison). This is where steel targets can be useful to have audible feedback. Draw and fire no more than three rounds at your 8-inch disc steel target (suspended from chains to limit ricochet) from no more than seven yards. If you hit on first round then do you 360-degree scan and go back to holster slowly and carefully. Yes, I believe the 360-degree scan is important even though they can look silly. It is important to force yourself to eliminate tunnel vision. If you miss the first shot then fire again. If you miss a third then move yourself laterally left or right. If it is an indoor range you go to (I do not) then at least move yourself as much as possible or contort yourself so you are firing slightly off balance.
The point here is if you don’t make quick hits then odds are you (and the bad guy) will be on the move. Practice for this. As for transition drills – the odds of you having multiple targets are slim. The benefit again here is for movement. If you can quickly hit multiple targets stationary then your same motor skills are improving in other areas. I recommend “El Presidente”. Just do a quick web search for: “El Presidente shooting drill” and you can use literally any of these for a general idea of this and other transition drills. Before leaving the range expend at least one magazine each left hand and right hand only. In defensive situations you might be unable to use the support hand or even your dominant hand. Doing this regularly keeps muscle memory on the recoil. Leave the range prepared. This requires you to make sure you have a loaded firearm. It amazes me how many people I’ve seen practice defending themselves and then walk away without a viable way to actually defend themselves. Good habits will keep you in a mindset of defense…for example if you have some empty magazines don’t put them even close to your loaded ones which could be grabbed inadvertently during the fog of a real defensive scenario.
Returning home from the range you need two things. Clean them immediately! This is just good habit. No reason to put a perfectly good tool away dirty. This is an investment – take care of it. Secondly, don’t neglect dry fire practice. This again reinforces your muscle memory. Visioning can be a powerful thing. Remember back to the “fliers” you had on your targets. You know, the one or two that were “wayyy off” from center. Dry fire immediately after cleaning ensures you properly cleared the gun. Again, you can look up some videos on how to dry fire practice. (Reid Henrichs has a good one). Draw stroke is important here too.
I will end with two final thoughts. First, you should have a small individual first aid kit IFAK (aka trauma kit) with you every time you go to the range. Not only have the equipment but also some basic knowledge how to use it all. Secondly, I highly recommend getting “professional” shooting training. No, I don’t own a shooting school. I’ve been to several however. No matter how you slice it you’ll gain valuable insight during a full weekend of shooting (most over 1,000 rounds). Typically, training courses are around $500 for a weekend and are well worth it. Don’t overthink it – just go.
Good luck, stay safe, and keep practicing frequently!