Practicing in the Resource-Constrained Environment

Target marked with bingo marker after each string. Hits for each string of fire can be seen.

Target marked with bingo marker after each string. Hits for each string of fire can be seen.

Physical skills cannot be learned well by reading a book or watching a video; they need to be physically practiced. We firearms instructors would like you to do three practice sessions of 200 rounds each week working on various marksmanship, movement, and tactical drills. However, that’s not a realistic expectation.

Most people, myself included, live in what I call the “resource-constrained environment.” While some people have access to a good training facility, or at least a gun club, that’s not usually the case. Generally, people who own firearms for personal defense have limited resources to train and practice with. Those resources consist, for the most part, of one lane on an indoor range, one or two boxes of ammunition per month, and a couple of hours or a few minutes here and there when they are away from the range.

There are several ways to maximize the resources we do have:

  • Visualization
  • Dry fire
  • Effective range use
  • Inert guns
  • Lasers and laser training devices
  • Role play
  • Shooting events

Visualization

The hardest fight is the one you haven’t thought about at all. Visualization is the process of seeing yourself doing what you need to do in an incident. When you see an unfortunate situation on the TV news, try to figure out how you would have done it differently. Then sit back in your chair, close your eyes, and picture yourself handling the situation the way you think it should have been handled. If you do this a few times a week, pretty soon you will have a good database of programmed responses. There’s a comprehensive video about visualization in context right here on PDN.

Dry Fire

Handling and practicing with your firearm without any ammunition is called dry fire. I am a strong proponent of regular dry fire. It doesn’t have to be a lot but it should be done on a regular basis. Dry fire should always be a formal structured process. Casual dry fire has the possibility of Negligent Discharges, which can be tragic. Structured dry fire is a powerful training tool used by many accomplished shooters.

I have a 2.5-minute regimen that I do a minimum of three times a week. I call it the “out the door” session because I can do it right before I go out the door, and then I have had at least a little practice before I leave my house. A friend said of my structured dry fire regimen: “We should have had this in the Company (CIA). Overseas, we couldn’t get to a range at all.” If dry fire makes you uncomfortable, use a Blade Tech training barrel or other safety device to alleviate your concerns. PDN’s Rob Pincus has an excellent DVD about structured dry fire and how to do it safely.

Target shot without marking.

Target shot without marking.

Effective Range Use

Most people waste their resources when they do get to the range, which is usually an indoor facility of which they occupy one lane. The typical “practice session” consists of getting one silhouette target and punching 50 holes in it. The only thing this accomplishes is becoming accustomed to recoil and concussion.

Target marked with masking tape to track hits for each string of fire.

Target marked with masking tape to track hits for each string of fire.

Bring a roll of masking tape to the range and tape your target after 6 to 10 shots. A bingo marker also works well. You’ll be amazed at how your skill improves when you don’t have 50 holes in the target to hide your bad shots. And if the range has dot targets, such as the DEA Dot, use one of those as well as a silhouette. Some silhouettes also have smaller targets along the sides of the silhouette, which are a great combined training aid. Think of any shot that misses a silhouette as having a lawyer attached to it and a busload of nuns and orphans in its path. That will help emphasize the requirement for accountability of every shot you fire.

Dummy ammunition included randomly in magazine.

Dummy ammunition included randomly in magazine.

You should practice the first shot more than anything else. Many indoor ranges don’t allow you to draw from the holster. That’s OK — you can practice draws dry fire. On an indoor range, one of the most valuable drills you can do is one-shot presentations from the high-ready position. Tape your target regularly; this drill will yield large dividends.

Get some dummy rounds and practice ball and dummy drills as part of each range session. This is especially true for revolver shooters. All revolver shooters have to do is open the cylinder and spin it several times each cylinder; you’ll get lots of ball and dummy that way. Autoloader shooters should put at least one dummy round in each magazine and then mix up the magazines so you don’t know where the dummy is. In either case, if you’re watching the sights, you will see the pistol nosedive if you have a flinch. Then you can work on eliminating it.

Silhouette and dot target. Use and mark both for maximum training value.

Silhouette and dot target. Use and mark both for maximum training value.

Timing your shots is a key component of effective practice. Not all, or even most, of your shooting has to be timed, but if you never time yourself, you are shortchanging your training regimen. Some ranges have programmable targets that can be set to display only for a given period of time. If that resource is available to you, you should definitely learn how to use it. Where turning targets aren’t available, it’s important to use some other method to time your shots. Unfortunately, conventional shot timers tend to be less than useful on indoor ranges because of the gunfire in adjacent stalls. An interval timer that vibrates, such as the Gymboss, is a much more workable solution, in my experience.

If you don’t do anything else, practice your state CCW qualification course once a month. Record your results and have someone else witness it, if possible. If your state, like mine, doesn’t have a qual course, pick one you find appropriate. I like the Arizona and Nevada qualification courses, but pick whichever course you feel fits your situation. An Internet search will turn up various state qualification courses.

Practicing house clearing with inert gun.

Practicing house clearing with inert gun.

Inert Guns

Anyone who is serious about self-defense with a firearm should have an inert (blue) gun of their primary weapon and backup gun, if they use a backup. When I practice clearing my house, I prefer to use an inert gun. I can set up targets and practice working corner angles and other aspects of room clearing using a blue gun without fear of having a Negligent Discharge in my home.

Inert guns are also a good way to introduce friends, family members, and significant others to gunhandling, even if they are reluctant. I have had a lot of success in Basic Pistol classes by using inert guns prior to the introduction of real firearms. Learning how to grip a gun without worrying about the implications of using a real gun makes many people more comfortable with their initial firearms experience.

Lasers and Laser Training Devices

Lasers have quite a bit of value as marksmanship training tools, in addition to their role as tactical tools. Using a laser allows you to practice whenever you have a few minutes available at home. For marksmanship training, proper trigger manipulation can be practiced very effectively by using either a laser training target or laser sight.

There are pitfalls to using lasers as training tools. When using them to practice sighted fire, it’s very important not to lift your head to look for the laser dot. This requires discipline while using a laser trainer. There’s an excellent video on PDN about how to use a laser training target correctly. When using a laser sight to practice marksmanship, the laser should be adjusted so that the sights give a six o’clock hold on the laser dot. Set up this way, it’s not necessary to lift the head to see if you are pressing the trigger correctly. When using a laser sight, it might be necessary to adjust the laser’s point of impact differently than its normal operational setting, depending on the distance you practice at.

Also keep in mind that lasers are not eye safe, and sunglasses do not provide eye protection from them. Never practice with a laser where a person or a pet could get into the path of the laser beam.

Role Play

If you have a training partner, interested friend, or willing significant other, you can do a lot of self-defense practice through role play. Take your visualizations and act them out. Blue guns are tremendously useful when doing role play. Use a blue gun and there is little danger involved.

Remember that very few incidents actually involve shooting. Most incidents are threat-management scenarios. Practice holding someone at gunpoint or simply telling them to leave the area or your home. Also practice interacting with the authorities. If there is a shooting, you will have to interact with the police. To reiterate, the hardest fight is the one you haven’t thought about or practiced at all.

Shooting between cars at IDPA match.

Shooting between cars at IDPA match.

Shooting Events

While most people aren’t members of a gun club, many gun clubs have regular shooting events that are open to the public. It doesn’t matter if it’s International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA), Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF), or some other event: attend them. Go to an event three or four times a year. First of all, you might enjoy it, and second, it requires you to shoot your gun in someone else’s scenario. In self-defense situations, you don’t set up the scenario. Someone else sets it up, and you get to react. I can’t count the number of times people who had equipment reliability problems at a match have said to me, “My gun never malfunctions when I practice with it.” Stress does funny things to the human/machine interface. Get used to it and work on it.

Summary

Effective practice isn’t impossible in the resource-constrained environment; it just requires some thought and creativity. As my colleague Tom Givens puts it, “How much you last practiced isn’t as important as when you last practiced.”

Discussion
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15 Responses to “Practicing in the Resource-Constrained Environment”
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    I love any article that may help me be a better shooter. This article has some good tips in it.

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  2. John

    I have to thank you for this article, I tend to shoot 100-150 rounds a month, and I thought that was a lot. Nowhere close to 2400 rounds a month had you said in the beginning.

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