Overcoming Range Habits

It’s that time of year again, when we make promises to ourselves about what we will change, do more (or less) of, and how we will improve ourselves and our circumstances in the coming year. We risk frustration, disappointment, or failure by making them in the first place. Experts often advise us not to set goals that are unrealistic, but instead to take a series of steps toward a higher end. If you are like me, some of these goals involve personal defense readiness, and they’re usually pretty straightforward: “This year I’m going to get off my butt and … take that class/those classes … buy that gun/gizmo/gadget … join/spend more time at the range/gym/dojo …”

You get the idea.

Combine my having “resolutions on the brain” with the fact that I’ve been training students and working with shooters on the range, and you’ll see where this is going. Here are some little things — not giant steps — you can resolve to start doing today that will improve the value of the time you spend in practice with your defensive handgun.

Typical range habit: all gear neatly laid out on the bench.

Typical range habit: all gear neatly laid out on the bench.

Range Habits

This is the one area in which the smallest changes will have the biggest effect. By definition, a “range habit” is something I do with my pistol when I’m on the firing line or in the shooting booth at my local range that is different from (or inconsistent with) the way I would handle the pistol in a defensive shooting situation. Obviously, it is to my benefit to reconcile these differences. In other words, I first compare the way I work on the firing line (my range habits) with the way I train for a worst-case scenario. Then I make the changes needed so that I always default to the defensive training model.

Let’s look at some typical range habits and see how they can be modified to get into agreement with our defensive training. Our example scenario involves a shooter who has already arrived on the firing line or in the booth at the local range and is getting ready to do some defensive shooting practice.

Although shooter did not draw from the holster, he can complete a good rep by starting as near his holster as rules allow.

Although shooter did not draw from the holster, he can complete a good rep by starting as near his holster as rules allow.


First comes the presentation: if the shooter is fortunate enough to frequent a facility that allows drawing from the holster, great! If not, then the gun is coming out of a gun case or a range bag there on the firing line, and this is where our range habits begin. The gun, ammo, magazines, etc. are all sorted out and arranged on the bench in front of the shooter. Because he is denied drawing the weapon, he will likely ignore the entire process of the presentation, including its athletic movement and sense of urgency.

These things tend to get lost when we are compelled to relax and pick our gun up off the bench. In order to maximize the benefit of the range session, the shooter should, to the degree that local regulations allow, begin his training rep at the first available point after the gun has cleared the holster. In most cases there will be an opportunity to train with the eyes locked on the threat and the gun still on its way to the extended firing position. Although it may look a little funny to casual plinkers and the bullseye bunch, the benefit of a correctly completed repetition is undeniable. Combine that with some dry-fire practice from the holster and we create an experience that, while imperfect, is far better than not training our holster work at all.

Eyes are on threat and magazine has dropped from gun…

Eyes are on threat and magazine has dropped from gun…


After a few reps of this, the gun will run out of ammunition, giving us another opportunity to change our practice for the better. We all know the slide is going to lock to the rear when the last round has left our semi-automatic pistol. In defensive training, our recognition that the gun has gone to slide-lock is a voice that roars “Do something!” in our ears. In training, this means to get the empty gun up and running again fast, preferably while keeping our attention focused on the threat and moving off the line of attack. But when range habits kick in, it usually means our shooter will remove the empty magazine and set it aside (maybe even set the gun down, too!) while looking away from the target and finding another loaded magazine there on the bench.

...support hand is already reaching for the next magazine.

…support hand is already reaching for the next magazine.

Two little changes can make a big difference: first, always train to hit the magazine release and allow the empty magazine to drop. All the way. To the floor. Every time. The off hand should not be allowed to help the magazine out of the gun or catch it on its way down. Rather, it should be going after the next loaded magazine which, due to the second little change, isn’t on the bench – it’s in our shooter’s magazine pouch or back pocket or anywhere else except lying on the bench. Thus, the off hand is already moving toward a loaded magazine before the empty magazine has hit the floor.

I have yet to see a range where a prohibition against drawing from a holster included drawing magazines from a pouch! Revolver users are welcome, too. Simply dump the empties rapidly while remaining focused on the target and complete the reload from pocket or pouch. It goes without saying that our shooter should do this without looking at the gun, because that requires taking his eyes off the threat.

Over to You

There are no doubt many other examples of the typical range habit, and I invite you to help me ferret them out. But these are the two gremlins that pop up consistently when I observe shooters who want to be, or claim to be, training or practicing “defensively.” I myself am guilty of them and only became aware of their potentially serious effects recently.

Under the extra stresses induced by realistic training, I had created some confusion within my own mind. In essence, I had unknowingly “trained” myself that there were two different and correct ways of performing a given task. Naturally, I needlessly slowed myself down by trying to select the appropriate one while in the moment.

I do not believe that the limitations placed upon shooters at their local range, such as prohibitions against drawing from the holster, are put in place to hamper their defensive training. Nor would I suggest that a relaxed session of casual shooting for the sheer enjoyment of it is inappropriate for the defensive-minded shooter. I would, however, have to acknowledge that some of us are going to have to accept such things as reality and find good ways to live with them. I encourage all who read this to begin comparing your own range habits to the way you train for self-defense. Then simply add the result to your own New Year’s resolutions: lose those extra pounds, get with that instructor and take that class, give up those cigarettes, and incorporate defensive training skills into each and every visit to the range.

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12 Responses to “Overcoming Range Habits”

  1. Eldred

    Since the lane is open to the range, there's a risk that a dropped mag will bounce forward of the firing line, calling for a cold range to retrieve it. So what I've started doing when I'm specifically doing reload practice is put my range bag on the table. I can usually drop the empty mag into the bag without it causing a problem. I've also practiced the mechanics of reloads at home during dry fire practice. Not perfect, but it helps.

  2. Robert Galloway

    Thank you for the importance of rembering the little things we don't do. It's always the little things that have the greatance impact on us and those arround us. I must change my old habit's!!

  3. Chad Hendrix

    I got tired of, NO drawing from the holster, and NO RAPID Fire! As a concealed weapons holder, if I can't practice, the skills I am going to need on the worst day of my life (God Forbid), then as Rob Pincus once said, "your shooting, not even training". I found another range and I can actually train now! That's my suggestion. Find another range to use!

  4. andy loeffler

    Thanks for reading and taking a moment to comment, Thunder! I always try to ask myself if the thing that I am doing on the range (while training) is what I could (or would) do during some kind of worst case scenario. If not, I fix it and keep training. Thanks again.

  5. Thunder

    Excellent article. I do both of these things the wrong way, plus when knocking down steel targets I was watching the target fall before moving on to the next one. Hard to break bad habits, but I am trying.

  6. andy loeffler

    Thanks Kim and Kenny! It's the little things that are going to have the most profound effect on whatever it is that we're trying to accomplish.

  7. Kenny

    Awesome article. Practicing is the only way to be able to feel comfortable with your weapon, whether it is at the range or home. Your personal defense weapon should be an extension of yourself. Hopefully it will never be needed, but if it is needed, it should be a very natural action to use it. I practice and handle mine alot while watching tv, trying not to look at it, but releasing the mag and re-loading the mag, breaking it down and putting it back together and just physically holding it and practicing dry firing and xxxxing and dexxxxing etc. When I get to the range I then feel better prepared to shoot and handle my weapon. I too have laid my mags out neatly and looked for them to reload. The next time out I will keep them in my pocket or belt holder and try these new lessons out.

  8. Kim

    One of the issues that was pointed out to me was after I shot my rounds I'd check my target, then I'd pick up my empty shells. My friend was telling me stories of how policemen were killed because of such a range habit. Now I am working on ignoring the brass until much later!

  9. Andy Loeffler

    Thanks for reading the article and the comments. The ranges at Black Wing Shooting Center, where I work (and shoot) have some flexability built into the rules. We train our Range Officers to a high standard and then empower them to use good judgement. For example, they have the discretion to allow drawing from a strong-side hip holster as they deem appropriate. Also, we don't have an objective limit on how fast you can pull the trigger: we simply have a rule that states that all fire must be controlled. The Range Officer can make adjustments from there. This system has worked well for us and gives us the ability to accomidate a wide variety of skill levels safely.

  10. Ernie

    I like to go to my friend place who live out in the country where we can set up targets to do our training. We will train for an hour or so. There we can both draw from our holster for better training. My range does not like us to do this.