September 6th, 2006 03:42 PM
Random Thoughts About Practice (Long)
A few weeks ago, I found myself using a public range. I learned along time ago that while there are a number of great people who enjoy shooting, there are also a disproportionate number of morons. Consequently, whenever I use a range open to the public, I go as early as possible to minimize my interaction with others. I mind my own business, complete my practice and depart.
On this particular day, as I was finishing, an older gentleman (perhaps in his early 70's) arrived at the range and began shooting. He seemed nice enough and was shooting a short-barreled revolver and using .38 special FMJ ammunition.We exchanged pleasantries as I began cleaning up. Curiousity got the better of me and I glanced at his target. He was shooting at a photgraphic target (the one with the man in a ski mask and a shotgun). Although he had been firing relatively slowly (a good deal of it single action) at a range of about eight yards, he had bullet impacts all over the target. I mean all over.
Evidently, he saw me glance at his target. We chatted briefly and he explained that he had just gotten his concealed carry permit and "wanted to make sure he was ready for the street." In retrospect, I believe there was a veiled request for assistance in his comments but at the time I felt awkward making any comment about his shooting, so I smiled and made small talk, continued packing up and departed.
While I was driving from the range, my thoughts kept drifting back to the fellow at the range. In some ways he reminded me of my grandfather and something about his shooting was nagging at me. It dawned on me that what bothered me was not really his poor shooting, but rather the fact that he had no idea of how to practice. I chastised myself for not taking the time to help the man with his practice.
Having had a few weeks to think about it, I have considered what I would have told the man. What follows are my thoughts on how to practice. In an effort to make amends, I thought I would post them here.
1. Accuracy Comes First. You have to hit the target to get any effect. Accuracy requires the successful application of the fundamentals of marksmanship. I consider marksmanship to be a foundational skill upon which all other skills depend. The speed of your draw stroke is meaningless if you can not hit your target.
Accuracy is one of those things that you can never have to much of.
However, we can become so obsessed with accuracy that other aspects of perfomance, namely speed, suffer. The inevitable question when discussing accuracy is "How accurate do I have to be?"
A long time a go, someone (probably an NCO) told me that the size of my groups would double under stress. In other words, if I could shoot 2" groups on the range, in combat the best I could hope for would be a 4" group. I have no idea if it is true, but it seems reasonable and is something that has stuck with me.
The ability of a firearm to incapacitate someone, especially a handgun, depends in large part on the part of the body struck by the bullet. If we consider that most of the vital organs are located in roughly an 8" circle in the torso, and we the aforementioned rule regarding group sizes, we arrive at a figure of 4". I use 4" at 7 yards as a minimum standard for accuracy.
If you can shoot 4" or better groups slow-fire at 7 yards you have enough raw skill to move on to more complex skills. If not, focus on improving your accuracy. Obviously tighter groups would be better. My personal accuracy standard is 4" or less at 25 yards.
2. Focus on Core Skills. I was first introduced to this concept at Mid South and I believe it has done more to develop my shooting skill than anything else. Vince Lombardi said "Some people try to find things in this game that don't exist but football is only two things - blocking and tackling." Similarly, some people try to make shooting out to be more complicated than it is. By directing our practice sessions at the "blocking and tackling" of shooting, we can better prepare for the more complex shooting problems. To borrow another quote, if you focus on the basics, you never have to go back to them.
I have already discussed marksmanship's role as a foundational skill. The ability to hit the target is the preeminent skill, but there are additional core shooting skills. Each individual will have a different view of what core shooting skills should be. I will submit my list as an example of what could be considered core shooting skills in addition to marksmanship.
- Engage a single target from the ready position.
- Engage a single target twice.
- Engage two targets.
- Engage a single target from the holster.
- Engage a single target with the dominant hand only from the ready position.
- Engage a single target with the non-dominant hand only from the ready position.
- Execute an out of battery (speed) reload.
There are additional skills that a shooter might require and that should be practiced occasionally. These include malfunction clearance, use of cover, shooting from various positions, shooting with a flashlight, etc. However, a firm grounding in core skills will contribute to success when one of these ancillary skills is used.
3. Do Not Underestimate the Value Dry-fire. Dry-firing is an inexpensive and effective way to improve your shooting skills. You will note that almost all of the core skills can be practiced by dry-firing. (The exception being "Engage a single target twice.")
Dry-fire practice should be approached as earnestly as live-fire practice. Too often I have seen shooters (who should have known better) execute dry-fire practice as though it were a chore.
"Ten repetitions of the draw. Draw-click, Draw-click, Draw-click, Draw-click, Draw-click, Draw-click, Draw-click, Draw-click, Draw-click, Draw-click. Okay done. I wonder why my draw speed/accuracy isn't improving?"
My dry-fire sessions generally last 30-45 minutes and it is not uncommon for me to break a slight sweat. I try to keep my dry-fire to live-fire ratio at 3:1 or better, though when I am shooting daily it is usually 2:1.
4. Structure Your Practice Session. When I go to the gym I follow a weight-lifting plan. When I run, I follow a running program. When I go to the range, it would stand to reason that I follow a shooting program.
Have a plan. At a minimum you should work all of your core skills. Your live-fire range work should validate your dry-fire practice.
Before I do anything else at the range, I shoot a series of ten drills (each is shot twice) that incorporate all of my core shooting skills. It takes me a total of 36 rounds. I use the additional 14 rounds in the box to work on those core skills where my performance was not up to standard. Then I work additional skills in accordance with my program.
5. Have a Metric. There needs to be a quantifiable standard against which your perfomance is measured. In shooting accuracy is one measurement; speed is the other.
A lightning fast miss contributes nothing to success in a gunfight. Likewise, a perfectly placed shot that takes 10 minutes to accomplish is of no value. The two need to be balanced.
It is important to select a reasonably sized target to measure combat accuracy. I prefer to use humanoid targets because I believe their shape subconsciously programs a point of reference. (I have not met anyone with an A-zone or bullseye printed on their chest.)
I do not consider the entire B-27 silhouette a reasonable target. I believe the FBI Q-target is also too generous. (Though it is popular with a number of agencies.) The X-ring of a bulls-eye target is too small.
Some common targts I like to use are the IPSC target (A-zone hits only), IDPA target (-0 hits only) and the 25-yard Timed & Rapid Fire Target (9-ring and better). If you are on a budget, 8.5"x11" pieces of paper or paper plates are good substitutes.
Measuring speed generally requires a shooting timer. If you do not have one, I would recommend getting one. They are invaluable.
Assign each core skill or drill a par time. If you hit the target in under your par time, you "pass" that drill. As you improve, you may need to reduce the target size, decrease the par time or increase the range to the target. A log of your practice sessions is helpful. Not only can you track your progress but you can identify areas for improvement in your shooting a target them with your dry-fire practice. Additionally there is something about knowing that the results of your next shot(s) will go in the log book that adds a bit of stress.
Initially, I allowed the range or degree of difficulty to influence the par times I used. For example, if the par time to draw and fire one round at 7 yards was 1.5 seconds, the par time to draw and fire one round at 7 yards with my dominant hand only might be 1.7 seconds. Bill Rogers (of Rogers Shooting School) changed my outlook.
Bill gives you a standard to meet regardless of the conditions. At his school you may get one second to engage an eight inch plate. It doesn't matter if the plate is at 5 yards or 20 yards or if you are using both hands, your dominant hand only or your non-dominant hand only. That reflects the real world. The bad guy is not going to give you more time to shoot him just because your dominant hand is injured. While it makes things a bit more challenging and you do not always leave the range happy, it cultivates a more realistic skill set.
I have not been back to the range since the day I saw the old gentleman. Truthfully, I do not know if he would have found anything I might have had to offer of value. Hopefully some of you will.
September 6th, 2006 04:25 PM
Can't fault anything much there at all
If all of us - and all other CCW's also were to run thru that sorta program and make it work for them, they would most certainly be quite well eqipped in an emergency.
I worry a lot about those who decide - ''I need to carry a gun'' - and then go buy something not always suitable - then get a permit and tuck it in pocket or waistband and think they are ready!!
The folks who attend Personal Protection courses I teach will have had to have the Basic Pistol done to qualify for taking it - but even so, it can be an eye opener when seeing how some are hopelessly inadequate at handling, shooting and any semblance of fluency.
I try to impess on all, however much they are time limited to range visits and live fire - to use their dry fire time to good advantage. I am also a believer in dry fire with eyes closed sometimes - in order that people can test their proprioceptive skills bringing the gun up - as well as just clearing leather efficiently.
Repetition is invaluable both as a diagnostic proceedure as well as imprinting some ''muscle memory.''
Chris - P95
NRA Certified Instructor & NRA Life Member.
"To own a gun and assume that you are armed
is like owning a piano and assuming that you are a musician!."
- a portal for 2A links, articles and some videos.
September 6th, 2006 11:22 PM
Very well written Blackhawk6. Lots of good info. I never considered the weak hand time factor.
"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock." Thomas Jefferson
Nemo Me Impune Lacesset
September 6th, 2006 11:49 PM
September 7th, 2006 02:07 AM
Blackhawk6, I am genuinely impressed. That is a well-thought out, well-written post by a man of, both, obvious conscience and conviction.
Your remarks about dry-firing are spot-on! I own dozens and dozens of snap caps, myself, and practice with them almost everyday. Dry-fire practice DOES make a big difference!
Now that I'm approaching the age of the gentleman you're talking about, I have a few opinions of my own for getting someone like him started. (Let him have his big, oversized, targets - They're great confidence builders)
The first question I would have asked this man is, ‘Do you know anything about gun safety and the 4 Cardinal Rules?’ (I would have run him through them, regardless!)
Once he demonstrated good muzzle and trigger finger control – THEN – I’d start to get into combat shooting with him. In consideration of the fact that most SD shootings fit the pattern: 3+3+3 (3 shots, 3 yards, & 3 seconds) I would have moved him up to the target and started him out on point shooting. The reason I do this is because I believe that all truly accurate shooting begins with the gunman being able to bring his whole body into proper, ‘physical orientation’ with the target.
If your body is properly lined up, then, your gun will tend to come up on target, too! It’s no different than in the martial arts when they teach you: ‘center-of-gravity’, ‘center-of-balance’, and, ‘vertical body indexing’.
After I’ve got him lined up and properly indexing the muzzle, I’ll start to work with him on grip and trigger skills. It’s been my experience that most new shooters have more trouble attempting to acquire the proper, ‘dynamic grip’ than they do with either: trigger control, flinching, or missing.
Believe me, if the grip is right, then, the flinch ain’t going to happen and the misses will be reduced, too! Long years of practice and observation have taught me that a shooter has to screw up his grip, first, before the muzzle begins to dip and wander on the shot.
If I’ve got a notoriously poor marksman to deal with, like the man you describe, then, I’m all for sitting him down and, ‘sandbagging’ his wrists for awhile. In any event, keep him no farther away from the target than 7 1/2 yards; and, generally speaking, 5 yards distance is, just about, perfect for someone like this!
Older shooters don’t see as well; they don’t react as quickly; and they don’t have the strength and self-confidence of younger marksmen; consequently, the same set of shooting disciplines can’t be applied to them. I don’t care how fast or slow an older shooter is. What I care about is whether or not he’s able to surprise his adversary and line up his muzzle, properly, on the target. (Remember, 3+3+3)
A GOOD GRIP is an asset in, both, point shooting and aimed fire. After the four Cardinal Rules of gun safety, it’s the one thing I stress more than anything else whenever I’m starting a new shooter out.
My usual drill is, (1) Squeeze the frame from front-to-back as if you’re holding a pack of loose playing cards by the edges in your hand. (2) Place a maximum amount of pressure on the front strap immediately underneath the bottom of the trigger guard. (3) Place even more pressure on the back strap at, about, the half way point. You’ll know you’ve found the right spot when the front sight begins to rise as you squeeze front-to-back on the frame. (4) Squeeze hard! (5) Allow your trigger finger to, ‘free float’; and, let the trigger perfectly bisect the distal joint. (6) Don’t think about pulling the trigger, just apply pressure in one smooth, straight-back motion.
There, that’s it for any new combat pistol shooter. If you can get these ideas into his head the first time out, you’ve gone a long, long way toward making a competent and confident gunman out of him.
I look forward to reading more of your posts. Keep up the good work!
Last edited by Ghost Who Walks; September 7th, 2006 at 02:16 AM.
September 7th, 2006 05:27 PM
Great posts guys!
I've not kept a log though I do practice dry fire (not enough) as I've heard contradicting stories of damage to the gun.
I will be practicing dry fire if you guys say it's ok and will be purchasing snap caps this weekend as well as printing log files to be filled in and incorporating the ideas and suggestions made here.
September 7th, 2006 06:07 PM
When you practice dry-firing you weapon, make sure that you watch the front sight for the slightest sign of movement; AND, notice how your entire hand and arm feel as the trigger releases.
(Did you maintain your grip without shifting or dropping the muzzle?)
THIS is that, 'muscle memory' you're working to build into each shot. Ultimately it becomes, 'subconscious'. When you switch over to live ammunition, if your grip remains correct, you won't have any problem hitting the target.
(Remember, I told you that you have to lose your grip before you muff the shot - OK!)
Once you're, 'on the paper' all the rest is eyesight, trigger-finger placement, and touching the trigger. When you start to think of recoil as something you manage and use as a tool, you have arrived!
You're on the right track, my friend!
October 2nd, 2006 04:40 PM
Great Post And Great Comments. Thank You For Posting It As I Can Benefit From It.
October 2nd, 2006 05:29 PM
On dry firing....
I still use the technique I learned in Basic of putting a dime on the barrel while dry firing. If it stays with out any movement, I did good, if it wiggles at all, not so good. If it falls off....ugg.
I am a little hard on myself with the dry fire practice. Of course this will not work with some of the pistols as they are square and the dime won't move any way.
With my pt99, I practice both single and double action this way. Usually while watching a shoot-um up movie and blasting the bad guys. Of course this does violate the rule of "pointing the gun at something I don't want to destroy" as I don't really want to shoot the TV (at least not often). But then I also try to NOT shoot or point at the "Good Guys" on the TV.
Good Idea or not I don't know.... its just what I do...
October 9th, 2006 12:46 PM
Nice post. Very well-thought out advice.
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