If you are anything like me it is simply impossible to spend as much time on the range as you would like. Being a Civilian, having other obligations, and not to mention the cost of ammunition these days, it is a treat and what feels like a rare occurrence to hit the range.
Learning how to maximize your range time is necessary to anyone wanting to increase their shooting skill. If you can’t get the quantity of training hours, you had better increase your quality of hours (hint: You must always have quality training. No amount of bad training will make you any better.). Here I will identify some of my methods that I use and teach every chance I get regarding pistol shooting.
Dry Fire, Dry Fire, Dry Fire
First things first though. If you are not dry fire practicing while away from the range, then you are already doing it wrong. Dry Fire is the act of practicing your trigger control by giving your trigger a slow and steady press to the rear while staying focused on the front sight of your weapon with an empty chamber (no ammunition). A general rule of thumb is that 90-95% of all your pistol practice should be dry. Why? Well, that is for another article.
The next step is very important. Chill out. There is no need to be worked up or ‘pumped’ while practicing your trigger control and groups. Remember, how you train is what will take over in a life or death situation. I am not saying you will be calm when there are actual incoming rounds headed your way but it is best to train your body and muscles to be as calm and steady as possible.
The Angry Shooter
You don’t want to be what we call an ‘angry shooter’. ‘Angry shooter’ does not refer to an individuals mood as being agitated or upset. It is simply a mindset that transfers directly into your weapon. You can usually spot the ‘angry shooter’ because he/she is unloading the magazine on a target as fast as they possibly can while not really being bothered with things such as sight alignment and target acquisition. The ‘angry shooter’ is also the individual who pulls their target back and thinks it is a good thing to have 18 million holes in it. Usually saying something like, “I destroyed that target!” Theoretically, you should have one hole on your target that all 18 million rounds went through. Obviously, if you can do this then you should be writing the next article and not myself.
Let’s talk about targets for a minute. It is very common to see shooters, on the pistol range, hanging up massive rifle targets to throw lead at. If that is all you have then go for it. There is however, a better solution. Have you ever heard the saying, “Aim small, miss small.”? Have you ever thought about what it means? If you are shooting at a large 24”x24” target you will most likely get all your shots on paper. If you are shooting at a 6”x6” target you will most likely still score all of your hits on paper. Do you see where I am going with this? I am no doctor but I am convinced that your mind sees a bigger playing field and will adjust your mental goal accordingly to use up the entire area. So where am I headed with this? I started with paper plates to shoot at. They are fairly small, inexpensive, and don’t have funny little grids on them which your real life targets also won’t have. You might get some funny stares from the other shooters at the range as you staple a paper plate to your target backing but who cares. You are the one who is spending two pennies on each target and actually improving your shooting ability. Once your group is consistent and all on the plate switch them out for note cards. You will be amazed at how your group will tighten up immediately with the smaller surface area of the target.
Next, cut the note card in half to have an even smaller target. After you are happy with your groups, take out your pocket knife and cut a small horizontal slit in the target backing (Make sure this is okay with the Range Masters first.) and slide the note card in edgewise. Yes, I said shoot the note card edgewise. At this point, instead of putting bullets on the target you are putting the target on the bullet. With such a small target you will be able to get a real feel of how your sidearm is mapped and how to adjust for varying distances. I learned this method from one of my instructors and it is one of the greatest single pieces of shooting advice I have ever received.
It Isn’t the Sights
I have heard it a million times, “I just bought this pistol and the sites are off.” No, they are not. Well, most likely they are not. Especially if they are non adjustable sites. If you are firing your brand new weapon and repeatedly hitting below your point of aim then you are most likely anticipating your shot and forcing your muzzle down right as the shot goes bang. To prove it to yourself, bench the gun by resting it on sandbags. Aim on your target and slowly apply steady pressure to the trigger until it fires. I bet your shot is much better. Again, this is fixed by dry fire practice and will be the subject of my next article.
Practice the Entire Sequence
Practice as much of your sequence as possible. Most people will bring their weapon up on target, fire, fire and fire again until they empty their magazine. Instead practice your entire sequence. Start with the weapon holstered (if your range allows for you to draw). Get a good purchase (grip) on your weapon, bring it up so your sight picture is in line with your target. Slowly and consistently supply increasing steady pressure to the trigger. After the weapon discharges follow through with the trigger press just like following through with a golf swing. Release the trigger to allow the pistol to reset, return to your low ready position (I will then give my surroundings a quick “search and asses”) and re-holster your weapon. Before you begin again, give yourself a quick mental stop or break (Tell yourself the repetition is over, reset yourself.). If you are going to practice shooting you might as well practice the entire act of getting your weapon on target to deliver the rounds. If you don’t get that part right you won’t have a chance to pull the trigger when time is life.
Dry Fire at the Range
“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” does not only pertain to Scout Snipers. This kind of goes with the previous rule “Chill out.” Take a shot, relax, repeat. If your shots start drifting across your target and your group starts getting larger then slow down and dry fire a few rounds. Dry Firing will cure almost all of your trigger control and anticipation problems with firearms. Again though, this is for a later article. I dry fire in between each magazine of live ammunition while on the range.
If you can’t hit what you are aiming at with every round you fire (within acceptable reason) then stop wasting your time trying to “double-tap.” Learn to score that first round hit every time you pull your weapon out of its holster. The term “double tap” is a bit misleading anyway. Most novice and beginning shooters that I talk to think that a “double-tap” is some special maneuver or technique that allows you to aim once and shoot twice. In reality a double tap (or as I like to call it, a controlled pair) is simply two completely independent aimed shots fired as quickly as the shooter can ensure two hits. So you see, if you can’t hit your target with one shot, you don’t need to be practicing for two. Every shot you miss (in the real world) is a supersonic liability that is completely out of your control as soon as it leaves your barrel. Ensure that first round hit!
This article won’t make you a great shooter over night. But I am convinced that if you follow this advice I have laid out it will get you a couple steps closer. Until next time, keep those barrels pointed downrange.
published 8/25/11. If you would like information on reprinting this article please use the contact information above.