Setting (and Tracking) Realistic, Attainable Goals

As a shooter you might have watched some videos of other shooters and thought, “man that was fast, I could never do that.” I am here to say you can!  With this post I want to discuss goals, but from a different perspective than you might be used too. Whether you are only concerned with CCW, only competition, or both CCW and competition, we should all have realistic goals that each person reading this can work toward and attain. Goals allow you to judge yourself and your improvement against yourself and not just other shooters; this is a good thing.

Anyone that has listened to Dave Ramsey discuss his baby steps to get out of debt understands the concept. Realistic attainable goals keeps us motivated and excited. If we look at all of our debt at once it can be overwhelming, but if we start small and build momentum we stay focused and the task is less daunting. The same thing applies to weapons training. Someone that just learned to shoot last week should not have the immediate (or only) goal of competing on the same level as Max Michel or responding to a threat like Frank Proctor or Mike Pannone. Those might be your ultimate goals, but temper your enthusiasm with realism; depending on your skill, disposable income, and spare time you might gear there quickly, but it will still take steps and a plan.

We should judge ourselves, with in our own skill level, with different baselines that match our goals.  For instance, using distance to target as one example, we might have close range skills, medium range skills and long-range precision skills. I will elaborate on my range/skill parameters in a bit, but being fast and accurate at 3 yards does not automatically mean you will be fast an accurate at 25 yards.  You might be accurate at 25 yards doing sloooow fire, but that doesn’t equate to being fast at that distance.  Remember, everyone can be fast and miss at any distance.

In a nutshell, this is how I identify skill set weakness and set goals for practice, and in the future I will post some drills I use at each distance.  I try to choose drills, which reinforce skills, that are transferable between my CCW and my USPSA Production gear. The biggest difference between the two is the quickness of the draw from concealment and the need for a more refined sight picture with the shorter CCW weapon. But for this post, the actual drills aren’t important, the methodology is.  The concept of tracking and measuring improvement against yourself is the what I hope you take away from this post – the need for realistic goals.

I want to clarify something before moving on; I am not implying you need only work one skill set to perfection before moving on, but I do feel it is best to decide what your range practice session will entail and stick to one skill or goal set.  We can all agree that at times a trip to the range is for fun and noise, no practice or excuse needed; but when you set out to actually get better, make sure you are clear on what your range trip is for.

I mentioned different distances previously, so let’s break those down now while considering our pistol skills.

I believe the close range skill set is for distances of 7 yards or less. Some readers may find this appalling and they may consider that medium or even long-range. I understand! Once upon a time I considered 7 yards medium range, then I got training and shot my first match. Equally, if you say 7 yards is far away, it tells me two things; one, you need to practice more and two, you have never shot a competition – any competition. If you can’t keep slow fire 10 rounds into a 2 inch circle at 7 yards you need to work on fundamentals. That 10 inch group you just shot at 7 yards is pathetic! Quit getting positive reinforcement by comparing your group to other shooters that fling similar sized groups onto the target.


Medium range skills, in my world, would be anything between 7 and 25 yards. For those bad at math, 15 yards is forty-five feet; and while that may sound like a long distance, what is the furthest shot you might have to take inside your house? Not just across a bedroom, but maybe out of one bedroom and down the hall into another room. 25-30 feet is possible, isn’t it? Now imagine that shot, in low light, while drowsy, and under stress? Suddenly the 15 yard shot, in broad daylight, while wide awake, and possibly wearing corrective lenses, seems easy. Competition shooting aside, if you can’t slow fire a full magazine’s worth of ammo and keep them on a humanoid silhouette target at 15 yards you are NOT a good shot. The truth hurts, sorry.

What about long-range? I view that as anything over 25 yards. The likelihood of needing to make that shot in self-defense is extremely low; but it still exist. With no time limit, can you draw your weapon and put one shot into a 8 inch pie plate at 25 yards? If you have the fundamentals down, your answer should be a resounding yes. If you shoot USPSA you are already familiar with the requirements you must meet to successfully make the 25 yard shot. What about 40 yards? 60 yards? I am not saying you will need to make a 60 yard shot to defend yourself – although you might.  I am saying people who can make the 60 yard shot with no time limit have a much greater chance of making that 7 yard shot under stress.

Time limits are the one thing I haven’t discussed. I am a big fan of a shot timer (no secret there) and I believe you should use it in all of your training outside of static slow fire sessions. You can use a timer to get some baseline numbers for common drills, and while you could compare the times with your peers or even your hero’s on the internet and YouTube, the real value is when you can go back and compare with yourself on previous runs.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t do a certain drill at the same speed as your training hero; it only matters that your times are dropping!

Tracking my skill development is why I keep a log book. With the proliferation of smart phones there is literally no reason you can’t open a notes app and write down your times for review later. If you shot some Bill drills, write down the best time and the average time. Alternately, you can use a written log book like I do. There are several available for purchase, but I made up my own in Microsoft Word and put together a binder.  The one unspoken benefit of the timer is for when you don’t train for extended periods of time.  You can go back and see how much skill you have lost and identify the low hanging fruit.

Like Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, setting realistic goals and then achieving them will help you track your improvements, and the realization of improvement is what keeps things interesting.

When Reality Hits Back

Irony – a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

The day after I wrote my last post, Student or Dry Fire Hero, I went to the range with nothing but my two carry guns and requisite concealment holsters. Since discovering competition in August 2014 I have been directing all of my practice towards that, so I felt I was past due getting in some reps and drills with my carry gear.  I wasn’t really expecting much and when I was finished I had realized even less.

qualification target - you suck

I set out with the goal of shooting Bill Wilson’s 5×5 drill. I had never shot it before and wanted to run it with my S&W Shield from 4 o’clock IWB and my new to me CZ PCR also from 4 o’clock, but OWB. I ran it twice with each gun, alternating Shield – PCR – Shield – PCR. The second time I shot both guns was obviously better, but still shockingly slow. In the end I got mid 28 second times with both guns. I had good hits, but my draws could have been timed with a sun dial.

For reasons unknown, I found this shocking. After all, I can rip 0.8 second dry fire draws and realize 0.9 second live fire draws at 5 yards using my USPSA rig.

Prepare yourself readers, here comes a DUH moment.

I had discovered how glaringly different drawing from concealment is compared to my competition rig. I had issues with my cover garment getting caught in my hand and I couldn’t get a decent grip at any sort of speed. My concealment draws were beginner slow. In a word: pathetic!

The overall experience was as eye opening as it was humbling. Clearly I need to take my own advice and practice with my concealed carry rig. The take-away is simple; everyone needs practice with their carry gear, lest they get killed in the streets.

As I generally don’t have the time to compete during the holidays I have set the goal to improve my concealed (real concealment, not a fishing vest) draw between now and January. I am using my mistake as a stepping stone to improve my CCW fundamentals.

How about you? When did you last draw from your concealment holster?

Now, someone please pass the salt; I’ve got to eat my shoe.

Student or Dry Fire Hero?

Dry Fire. It is both proven to work and often misunderstood. It applies to competition and to concealed carry skills. Many swear by it and some (foolishly) scoff at it. Many times we hear people mention dry fire without actually explaining what it means so let’s get on the same page with regards to what dry fire is and isn’t.

Maggie Reese

Simply put, anything you can do to practice with your firearm that doesn’t require live ammo can be performed in dry fire. Dry fire is NOT aiming at the TV and pulling the trigger. It is not lying in your bed and aiming at the ceiling. You can use dry fire to improve your trigger with the proper regime. Check out the White Wall Drill for more information.

  • Want to get your draws smoother – practice in dry fire.
  • Want to speed up your reloads – practice in dry fire.
  • Want to improve transitions – practice in dry fire.
  • Want to improve recoil control – LIVE FIRE, NOT DRY FIRE!

Dry fire allows us to work on a great many skills without expending any ammo or driving to the range. However, dry fire is not a replacement for live fire.

I dry fire roughly 4 times a week for 30-40 minutes per session. Some will see that as a lot and some will see that as too little. In all honesty, I should be dry firing more to achieve my personal goals in competition. Although with those dry fire sessions, I try to get in one live fire session a week. This isn’t always possible but it is important. It keeps your dry fire honest. It is really easy to fall into the trap of dry firing exclusively and becoming a dry fire hero. In all likelihood, you go to the range and realize the skills are not as polished as you thought.

You might have a sub 1.0 second draw time in dry fire but if you have never got up on the 3 yard line and actually practiced it with live ammo and a timer, you don’t really know. Likely, you won’t be as fast; your conscious mind (see, there it is again) will take too long getting the perfect sight picture vs an acceptable sight picture.

It is easy to dry fire your way to speed, but you must still look for every weakness in live fire and find a way to execute it better. If not, you will be quick in your dry fire dojo but in live fire and/or a match, you will be stuck at your current level.

Don’t mistake this to mean dry fire isn’t important; because it is.  Dry fire without live fire confirmation, in the form of mini-drills against a timer, will not take you to the level you desire.

Are you a competitive student that looks for ways to improve using both dry fire and live fire or are you a dry fire hero; burning down drill after drill in your basement but never verifying a thing at the range?

Are you overlooking some easy improvement in the name of a quick dry fire par time?

Where are you and where do you want to be?

Daily Training Goals #33

Goal Recap for DTG for 08/12/2013

Do 9 pullups, 80 pushups, 109 squats, and 197 crunches – pass
Dry fire draws from concealment, 10 minutes – pass
Dry fire shotgun reloads, 10 minutes – pass

DTG for 08/13/2013

  • Check rifle zero for CTC Midnight 3-Gun
  • Interval training, 2s&2s, 10x. (Run 2 minutes, walk 2 minutes, repeat 10x)

Daily Training Goals #32

Goal Recap for DTG for 08/08/2013

Run 5 miles – Fail. I basically failed all cardio last week.
Grip strength training – pass, worked with CoC grippers for 20 minutes
Dry fire reloads from concealment, 15 min – Pass, in that I did it. Reloads from concealment are kind of a doddle.

Some expansion grip training – last year, I was heavy into training with Captains of Crush grippers, and I was at the point where I could close a number 1 for three or four reps with my weak hand. I fell off the wagon, and when I was reviewing some highspeed video footage, noticed a bit more muzzle flip than I like. So I’m back on the training program with the CoC grippers. No more than twice a week, and I don’t do them on the same day that I do pullups.

DTG for 08/12/2013

  • Do 9 pullups, 80 pushups, 109 squats, and 197 crunches
  • Dry fire draws from concealment, 10 minutes
  • Dry fire shotgun reloads, 10 minutes

The number of crunches my training program is starting to throw at me is kind of silly.

Daily Training Goals #31

Goal Recap for DTG for 08/07/2013

Conditioning workout: 7 pullups, 72 pushups, 97 squats, 170 crunches – success. Got a little weak on the end of the pushups, proving I needed the conditioning. I used to be able to bust out 150 pushups in a single workout.
30 minutes dry fire draws from concealment – Pass.

DTG for 08/08/2013

  • Run 5 miles – I’ve been neglecting my cardio the last couple of weeks, time to get back on it
  • Grip strength training
  • Dry fire reloads from concealment, 15 min

Daily Training Goals #28

Goal Recap
Finish in the Top 5 at Area 3: Success.
Don’t have any penalties at Area 3 (no shoots, mikes, etc): fail, I had one miss.

Fun PT Stats: Ever since starting the simple PT program that allows me to actually work out regardless of where I am in the world (usually with Carmen Sandiego) I’ve been keeping some pretty detailed logs. I started the program on July 12, my 31st birthday. Here’s what I’ve done since then:

  • Miles run: 30
  • 343 pushups
  • 473 squats
  • 704 crunches
  • 12 pullups – I can only do pullups at home, since most hotels aren’t rigged for it. So I just started doing pull-ups on Monday.

DTG For 08/06/2013

  • Run 5 miles
  • 30 minutes dry fire practice: reloads from concealment

Daily Training Goals #27

Goals for 07/31/2013

  • Dry fire reloads – got a major match this weekend, so I need to make sure I still know how to reload my gun
  • Conditioning PT workout
  • If time permits, run three miles to make up for skipping yesterday’s run

That’s it. Keeping it simple, tomorrow I’ll start doing the recaps again. The sales front is really busy lately, and since that’s what keeps the lights on and the bullets coming in, “making mo’ money” will always get priority.

Daily Training Goals #25

Goal Review for DTG for 07/24/13

Dry fire reloads, 10 yards par 1.5 – pass, still struggling with this par
Trigger control – 25 reps no par – pass, worked on trigger control with the new Sig P226 SAO
Basic conditioning workout – pass
CoC training – pass

Good training day. Bored as hell with my current workout routine, but I needed something that will be accessible at home, in a Hampton Inn in Lake Wales, or Germany. I can’t have “gym dependent” workouts, so I had to reboot a lot of my training to fitness bands and PT. It’s lame, but I know it’ll ramp up.

DTG for 07/25/13

  • Get the range if time allows and work on live fire prep for Area 3
  • Run 5 miles

One of my big successes from Steel Challenge was in my mental game and incorporating visualization and self-talk into not just training, but actual match activity.

Daily Training Goals #24

Goal Review for Steel Challenge:
Win Single Stack – Fail
Beat last year’s time – pass, just barely.

This year’s Steel Challenge was actually a marked improvement over last year’s. Previously, I’d put up really good times in practice, then all my stages during the match would degrade considerably. I’d see about 25% performance loss from practice to this match. This year, I actually performed within my performance envelope on 5 out of 8 stages, with only three “bad” stages. This was consistent with how I shot ProAm as well, shooting at or close to my ability for most of the match, with only 2-3 stages causing me issues. Unfortunately, at Steel Challenge the issues were bad enough to keep me from winning Single Stack, but hey – there’s always next year.

DTG for 07/24/13