Be Prepared! A Day at the Range Can Hone Your Defensive and Shooting Skills

By: Chuck Smick

Regular training is critical if you plan to carry a defensive handgun for protection, or if you keep a defensive handgun (or other gun) in your home for protection. Training takes time, effort, planning, preparation, (and dollars too) for the training to be effective. Firearms training is important, even if you only shoot a gun to hunt. Training will improve your accuracy and success afield.

You will need to plan and to set goals for your firearms training sessions. What do you want to accomplish with the training session? Improve your speed from the holster? Improve your accuracy? Try a new drill you learned from a video, DVD, or class? Set your goals and work towards accomplishing those goals.

I recommend dry fire practice before you go to the range and shoot live ammunition. Dry fire practice will help improve your basic shooting skills – grip, draw, sight alignment, target alignment, and trigger control. Dry firing regularly, will help you develop your basic skills so that you become smooth and confident. Remember, Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast. I dry fire with a LaserLyte Training cartridge and a miniature silhouette “bad guy” target regularly to keep my defensive skills sharp. This type of target gives you some sense of realism during your practice sessions. Determine what you want to accomplish at the range well beforehand, then practice doing these skills while dry firing regularly at home. You will be amazed at much your live fire accuracy will improve!

SAFETY: No firearms training article would be complete without a discussion about safety at the beginning of the article. Religiously practice the four basic firearms safety rules and insure that others do the same, at home and on the range:

  1. Treat all guns as if they are loaded. Period! The only time a firearm is technically “SAFE” is when the action is open, the magazine is out (or cylinder is open), and everyone can visibly see that. I check by sight and feel – look at the action and stick your finger in the mag well and breach. When I dry fire, the ammo goes in another room, or in a drawer, if I’m staying at a motel.
  2. Keep the gun pointed down range, when on a range, except to case (or holster, or un-case/unholster the gun), and never point a gun at anything you don’t want to shoot or destroy! NOTE: I had to take my new Sig Sauer P-220 10 mm pistol away from my brother-in-law one day, after I cleared it and handed it to him, he pointed it at me. I yelled at him not to do that, and his excuse was, “Well it’s not loaded”. “Unloaded guns” KILL PEOPLE or DAMAGE PRPERTY!!!! Remember, you are responsible for every bullet that leaves the barrel of your gun, if you pull the trigger.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. When I train, my finger goes on the trigger as I am pressing out to shoot. You should train to do the same thing, whether you are shooting live ammo or dry firing. Otherwise, my finger stays along the slide until I am pushing out and acquiring the target to shot. Build the proper “muscle/mental memory” for this and practice this skill often.
  4. Know your target and what is behind your target. Check the range and inspect it if at all possible before you shoot. Know where your bullets are going. Follow range commands if there is a Range Safety Officer at the range, and in charge of shooting. NOTE: Number 4 is difficult to do, when I am dry firing in my motel room. I try to set my target up so I am “shooting” in as safe a direction as possible. I religiously follow ammo protocol when I dry fire, without exception! I don’t want any accidental discharges at home or in my motel room.

Plan your range time to accomplish your goals. Determine what you want to accomplish and insure that you have sufficient time and ammo for what you plan to do, even if you plan to just target practice and shoot for fun. Challenge yourself to improve at least one thing….trigger control, grip, precision, or speed……but have fun too!

DRILLS FOR SUCCESS: I start with the basics – presentation from the high ready position. Make several shots (or more if necessary) to get your shots where you want them to go. I typically do 10-15 shots from the high ready position. Next, I present the gun from the holster and perform that drill 10-15 times until I am satisfied with the results. You need to strive to consistently achieve good, combat effective hits….then try to tighten your groups. I strive to use “Bad Guy” targets to add a bit of realism to my shooting. I almost never use bullseye targets unless I am target practicing and trying to improve my marksmanship and precision. NOTE: Most indoor ranges are not set up to, nor will they allow you to present from the holster. I prefer to shoot at outdoor ranges when I can find one and join it.

Then you can proceed to multiple shots – 2 to 3 to the chest-center mass, and one to the ocular cavity (between the eyes). This drill was termed the “Mozambique Drill” by the late LTC Jeff Cooper, USMC, founder of Gunsight Academy, in Arizona. This drill essentially is a “failure to stop” drill. If a bad guy is wearing body armor, or is high on drugs or his senses are dulled by alcohol, it will be important to practice this drill. This drill becomes critical to stop the threat that is attacking you, if one or two shots to the chest don’t do the trick.

The shots to the chest, center mass can be fast, but the ocular cavity shot will force you to slow down a bit and take a more precise shot (or two). Practice this drill slowly at first, until you can place all your shots properly and achieve combat effective hits consistently. Then work on your speed, and continue to strive to make accurate shots.

Once you have become consistent with the drills above, add additional targets to the mix. Start slow and insure that you achieve combat effective hits, consistently. NOTE: Accuracy rains supreme, with speed a second goal. Speed without accuracy is wasted ammo, and could cost you your life if you miss in a dynamic critical incident (violent attack on yourself or loved ones). Also, remember, you are accountable for every shot that leaves your barrel!

If you shoot and miss, and hit an innocent bystander, you could be in big trouble, too.

Once you have become consistently successful with the drills laid out above, work on drills that get you “off the X.” Train to move, draw your gun while moving, and shoot. Start with one target and one shot, then work toward multiple shots, and then add multiple targets. Bad guys work in pairs or more, so it is important to plan for such an event, in the real world. Thugs are cowards that prey on the weak, the elderly people, and people that look like an “easy target.” Don’t be that easy target. Stay alert and in condition “Yellow” when you are out an about. An attack by a violent criminal predator thug can happen at any time or place. Keep your awareness up at all times, and stay alert to potential danger.

The purpose of the “get off the X” move is to break the attacker’s “OODA LOOP”- mess up his concentration when he (or she) is initiating their attack, and forces them to change directions ( and throw off their aim), if they are attempting to shoot you. This maneuver may also allow you to break off the attack, or get to cover and concealment to better protect yourself.

Training is essential if you plan to carry a gun, or keep one at home for your home defense. Get formal training and take classes when you have the time and finances. Research and look for qualified instructors in your area, or plan a short vacation to take a class. You can also purchase and watch DVDs and dry fire practice the techniques that you learn from the video/DVD.

You must be unwilling to accept “HOPE,” because “HOPE” is the last thing a man does before he dies! You cannot “HOPE” you will win in defense of an attack by a bad guy; you must be as committed, and as willing as he is, and know that you can win in a fight to defend yourself and family….and your training will prevail!

USCCA offers on-line training and live courses to its members…..I highly recommend that if you plan to carry a gun, or even keep one at home for self-defense; but definitely become a member if you plan to carry!

Chuck Smick is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer from Paducah, Kentucky, and served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves as an Infantry Officer and Paratrooper. Chuck is an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor and Personal Protection Instructor as well as an NRA Certified Range Safety Officer. Chuck works full-time in construction safety and loves to hunt, fish, and shoot in his spare time. He can be reached at [email protected]