Learning a New Handgun

So you decided it’s time to change competition guns? Maybe you saw your favorite shooter laying down impressive rates of fire and want “their” gun. Maybe you were shooting your carry gun and wanted a competition oriented gun. It could be that you carry a Glock but really love the 1911 and want to shoot Single Stack. Perhaps you are like me; you wanted your USPSA Production gun to be steel, ensuring a venture into DA/SA territory.

The reasons we might change competition guns are as myriad as there are actual guns suitable for competition. In 2015 I changed from a 9mm XD Tactical to a 9mm CZ P-09 and then to a 9mm Tanfoglio Limited Pro; all in the span of 6 months. In doing so I learned three glaring pieces of knowledge.

  1. You will waste lots of money on ammo, holsters, mags, and accouterments; all while you never grow beyond your baseline skill set.
  1. Unless you are just changing to a larger version of your current gun (Glock 19 to Glock 34), you will always be working to gain your skills back to where they were prior to the swap.
  1. The top shooters in the world can go from a 1911 too a striker fired gun, then too a revolver with little training fanfare.  Odds are very good that you are not one of the top shooters in the world!  It will take more time for you to “relearn” each time you change.

I firmly believe the best shooters in the world got there by sticking to one gun or platform during the formative years of their competitive shooting. Once you have a good baseline skill set and can develop a solid stage plan, then the effects of a gear change are less obvious to the observer. Still, changing competition guns are an inevitability for many. Some are just chasing the newest fashion; others do so for more legitimate reason. I offer this to help you learn your new friend as quick as possible.

Draws

The first thing you will notice after changing guns is the difference in the draw. The gun may weigh the same but other factors come into play. The grip angle, the slide length, hell, even the actual holster design can befuddle us. To offset this I like to start over and go slow.

When learning a new competition gun I will put the timer away for a couple of weeks. I will take 3 or 4 dry fire sessions, approximately 15 minutes each, and  only work on the draw stroke. I am not one to believe “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” but in this case we are trying to achieve slow AND smooth excellence. I like too do a controlled draw AND a controlled re-holster. This is a good time to “tune up” your fundamentals and identify any bad habits you may have had. There is no reason to transfer the bad habits over to your new gun!

Does your support hand meet the gun at the appropriate place? Are you sure?

Clap your hands. Feels natural doesn’t it? That is where I like for my hands to meet. Some people like to race the support hand to the holster. I have tried that and noticed no measurable difference on the timer; so, I went with what felt more natural and relaxed. Of course, your mileage may vary.

After doing slow draws for a few days I speed up. I take my last known dry fire draw time, add 0.2 seconds and start working it out. Within a session or two you should be really close.

Magazine Changes

No, I don’t mean putting new reading material in the bathroom. Although that is important!

I mean mag changes in the gun. To be honest, this may or may not be an issue. When I went from the XD to the P-09 my times actually improved as a result of the P-09’s generous mag opening. Going from the P-09 to the Tanfo was an absolute train wreck. I have heard countless people say loading a metal gun is more difficult and they are correct! It is not the mag opening that causes problems though; no, it is friction on the sides of the mags when you aren’t precise with your insertion.  How do we get better at mag changes?

Two words: Burkett Reload!

The Burkett Reload was designed by Matt Burkett and it works. You can read more about the drill here. But when starting after changing guns, I like to do Burkett Reloads slow and smooth. I will generally do 5 minutes of slow Burkett Reloads followed by 5 minutes of slow, full-on reloads and return to sight picture. I will do this for 5 days. The improvements are astonishing!

Transitions

Similar too mag changes, you may find your transitions are not affected. Then again you may find them to be slower. This is especially true if you changed to a heavier gun. To quickly learn (relearn?) transitions I steal the advice of Steve Anderson. Use a metronome. If you don’t play musical instruments you probably don’t have a metronome lying around. Don’t fret! Apps abound and they are often free.

Metronome

I like to set the metronome at a slow and comfortable pace and then set a regular countdown timer for 3 minutes. Start on a target and then transition to another in rhythm with the metronome. I promise 3 minutes will be enough for one session as your arms and shoulders will now hate you!

Doing this for a week should be good enough. Each session try to go a little faster.  I don’t use a metronome regularly, but I find it helps build muscle and help you brain learn the transition influences of your new competition gun.

There you have it. Three methods I have used with great success when changing competition guns. You will notice the absence of trigger training. That is by design. Learning the new trigger will be dependent on the type, the quality of the trigger and what you were used too.  Once I finish these drills I resume regular dry and live fire and really get to know my new gun.

Changing gear often drives us to practice more. Hopefully these tips will help you make your practice productive, quicker.

Training for Match Mode – Part 2

In Part 1 I discussed the concept of building a Match Mode and a method I have been using to train. If you remember this concept of match mode comes from Steve Anderson and I believe it is a core concept to consistency.  When I left off I alluded to a couple of other benefits to the act of calculating hit factor during your live fire practice and a way I have been able to equalize and bring my best and worst runs closer together.

Practicing a match mode is really another way of saying we are working towards consistency in our shooting. During “speed mode” we try to go faster. In “accuracy mode” we try to be more accurate than ever before. But match mode is the enemy of “try”. The goal in match mode is to shoot to your level. Rushing in a match is natural while being consistent will seem slow. That is why it is so important to train and get use to a match mode. Remember from last time; consistency – it matters.

Ask yourself this – during a match would you rather have a 1.2 draw that you can achieve EVERY SINGLE TIME or would you prefer a draw that ranges between 0.8 and 1.0 but is not repeatable and you are always operating at the edge of failure?

By calculating the hit factor we can grasp other concepts that are beneficial to both our learning and understanding of this game. For starters, you will find that a lot of what we track in dry fire and specific drill training is irrelevant when viewed solely through the perspective of the match. Your draw time, reload time, and transition time are important, but not as important as consistency. The goal is to be quicker across the board. We use drills in live fire and dry fire to isolate specific skill growth; but in a match we not only compete against others, we test our overall skill. To put it another way, a 0.8 draw doesn’t mean a damn thing if you rush and blow a reload or throw a mike during the stage.

Platerack

Calculating hit factor will also illustrate how speed and accuracy combine to affect the overall score. Too many people look (and listen) to other competitors and zone in on their speed while failing to regard their accuracy as a factor. By tracking your own hit factor it becomes obvious when an extra 0.10 seconds spent aiming could have given you a better score. Equally, we can better understand how it negatively affects our score when we post up and shoot bullseye mode on 3 yard open targets.

NO TIMER

Before I wrap this up I want to discuss another method. One that I have only recently begun to use, but the results have been promising.  The method is to simply shoot your live fire drills without looking at the timer. Yes, I said shoot a drill with no regard to the end time. I use the timer for the start beep and that is all. To ensure I don’t cheat I put tape over the screen on the timer.

The goal of practice without a timer is simple – realize that rushing equals failure. The goal is not to slip into bullseye mode but to move as fast as possible, while maintaining as much accuracy as needed and finish sooner.

This is not something I believe should be done at length, but let’s say we have set aside an entire live fire session to run mini-drills and calculate hit factor. After we calculate our average, apply some masking tape over the timer screen and run the same drill once or twice without any time pressure. Feel the recoil. Watch the sights lift. Maintain a hard front sight focus when necessary. Let the sight picture drive your shooting.  Afterwards go back and run the same drill 6-7 times and calculate hit factor average. You will likely find your average run is closer to your quickest time.

Ultimately there are many different ways to get faster and more accurate, but working toward increased consistency is a worthy goal.  The next time you go to the range set aside some time to practice using hit factors and without a timer. Who knows, you might learn something about your shooting and yourself.

Training for Match Mode – Part 1

Before we delve into this subject I want to make it clear that what I am about to say is specific to competition and is something I been experimenting with and developing; and, it is based on Steve Anderson’s Match Mode, Speed Mode and Accuracy Mode concept. I offer this as food for thought and something you might want to experiment with.

Live fire training is a necessity for competitors. While dry fire practice is a great way to increase certain skills, you still need to feel the recoil of the gun. You need to hear the noise and you need to see the smoke. You can’t learn to mitigate the urge to blink and flinch in dry fire. You can’t learn how to watch the sights lift and settle in dry fire. Live fire training is a necessity for all competitors that care about improvement.

I put out an article recently discussing the concept of comparing your skill development to yourself through trending. I followed that up with two articles with a variety of drills to help you to increase your shooting ability. But what about trending ourselves on larger drills or mini-stages? We could perform a baseline run with the timer and then repeat the drill over and over. As long as you repeat the drill setup exactly every time and change nothing, then it is feasible. But let’s be realistic; the time trending on small drills works because the setup is repeatable. Once you get to drills larger than the El Presidente’ your trending is at the mercy of your accuracy with a tape measure, the sun, shadows cast on the target, ground elevation and even the ambient temperature.

But there is another issue at play. When we are practicing for time there is a tendency to go all out. This is actually a good thing and is what Steve Anderson calls Speed Mode. This is important because it allows the shooter to know what if feels like to “go fast”. But it has a humongous drawback – the tendency to train yourself to always go all out. In a match you should be shooting at the level you feel most comfortable and most consistent, you should level, not rushing and trying.   On bigger drills what is needed is a way to trend our improvement while also ensuring we are not rushing or “trying” to do more than our skill allows.

If trending time alone is less than practical on larger drills what are we to do? We score the drill, the same way we do in a match. We still use a timer but the only thing that is important is the start beep and the final number.   But let’s delve deeper and look at why this is important.

As noted above, Match Mode is a term that also comes from USPSA GM Steve Anderson and it makes total sense. If we want consistency in our match performance we need a method to train that consistency. When we score a drill and compute Hit Factor we are balancing speed and accuracy – exactly like in a match. We can take the hit factor data and see how we would have performed in a match.

Remember, in a match we should only shoot when the sights “tell” us the shot will be scored well. When we try to go faster we get poor shots, missing and a gaggle of no-shoots with holes in them. Trying to exceed our current level in a match is foolish.

Example: imagine we have two USPSA Metric targets in close proximity to each other that are 10 yards away from the shooter. Then we have a shooters box 10 yards to the right with two Metric targets 7 yards from the box. The shooter must engage the first targets then move to the shooter box and engage the second set of targets. It is fair to say that the first run people make will be the slowest, but using the method of tracking that is a good thing. After the run, score the targets and compute the hit factor.

If you are unfamiliar with Hit Factor you will find a really good article by Travis Tomasie here.

Hit Factor = Points Per Second

What does that mean?

Simply put, Hit Factor = Points / Time

metrictarget

Now run the same drill 6-8 times. If you are like most people you will have one run that stands out from the rest – the YouTube run. For our purposes this run, your fastest run, is the stage winner. Now use the remaining hit factors (minus the fastest time) to calculate your average score. Comparing your average score to that one your fastest run you can see how far off your average is to absolute best.

Using this method we can trend the development of our match mode without having to mimic the same drill each time. Neither the raw time, nor the drill is important. The difference between the best run and your average is the key data point. With time you should see your average is closer to your peak run. The closer the average is to the best run the closer you are to performing at your peak level consistently.

I will stop here – for now. In Part 2 we will explore a couple of other benefits of this method and a way I have been able to equalize and bring our best and worst runs closer together.

Consistency – It Matters!

Gamer, Timmy, Neither or Both?

I will likely offend legions of people with this post, but so be it, it’s an editorial and my current opinion. 

When I started shooting competition I had the intent to make IDPA Master in SSP and ESP.  That was in the fall of 2014; now it is 18 months later and I find myself no longer concerned about it.  Oh, it is still a goal of mine, but in working towards that goal I have learned a few things.  Things that have changed how I train, my gear and my overall point of view.  What follows are some things I wished people would have explained to me when I first started shooting competition along with some observations I have had.

I’ll start with International Defensive Pistol Association, or IDPA.  I will openly admit I have only shot a few IDPA club matches, but it left me cold.  Perhaps my exposure was an oddity, but nevertheless, it influenced me.  Here is what I have learned.

  1. The IDPA Classifier is a decent means to track skill growth and improvement, especially with a CCW weapon concealed under street clothes.
  2. The IDPA Classifier has virtually nothing to do with IDPA Match skills.
  3. Within the ranks of IDPA you will find good people; unfortunately you will also find Tactical Timmie’s of the highest order.  These are the people who consider it to be training for the streets – more on this later.
  4. IDPA is now, and always has been a game; although, a lot of the membership would seem to believe it is not, even though the rule book states it on the first page.
  5. USPSA shooters take themselves less seriously.

In my time shooting competition I have found myself identifying with the gamers more than the tactical guys. I do care about self-defense and defending both myself and my family.  I carry my CCW as often as permissible.  I also carry a flashlight and small locking folder because, unlike the CCW, I find myself using those items on a daily basis.  I do not live in fear of a ninja attack or zombie apocalypse but the simple fact is the firearm is the best tool to defend ones self, if circumstances both require and allow it. Thus I carry a firearm, but I digress.

Let me address those items I listed above in more detail.

The IDPA Classifier test multiple skills against a set time. You are only judged against the clock. There is very little movement and the Classifier never changes. This is good for tracking growth and skill development.  Oddly enough, you are not required to use a cover garment and most people seem to despise shooting the classifier.

In an IDPA match you will have no-shoots, hard targets, movement, swingers, ports to shoot through and a you often have to wear a concealment garment, which is normally the vest. The vest, I hate the damn vest! People have told me, to my face no less, that IDPA is proper training for CCW.  Perhaps so, if you wear a vest around town.  If there was ever a piece of shooting equipment specific to a game it is the IDPA vest.

I wonder if the founders of IDPA had a conversation similar to this, “Let’s all wear this vest and game concealed carry, then we’ll claim it is real and that we are different from those dirty IPSICK gamers.”

Let’s review:

  • Shoot USPSA while wearing Salomon shoes and khaki shorts? Sure!
  • Wear those same shoes and shorts on an informal date?  Sure!
  • Wear them while hiking? Absolutely!

When, oh when, do you wear the IDPA vest out in public?  Who’s the gamer????

Some people have actually told me that IDPA is training! Too my face! Yes, seriously! I responded by asking who the instructor was; which went over well. I was also informed that I was just a gamer and did not appreciate the concealed carry weapons skills that IDPA trained.

These same people who claim IDPA to be training are often seen competing with a specially designed IDPA vest concealing a Glock 34, S&W Pro, or some other gamer gun.  A gun that has a light weight trigger, held in a IDPA legal OWB “race” holster.   I will openly admit that would be perfect practice if that is how they actually carried, but it is not training.  For training you need an instructor.

In fact, the individual mentioned above, that commented on the training aspect, well he put his Ruger LCP back in his front pocket in the parking lot following the match.  I am sure he felt bravado and security in the training he had just received. Anyone else see holes in this thought process???

What about those dirty USPSA gamers? 

you play to win the game (300x225)

USPSA competitors are shooting in a game.  They know it, IDPA shooters knows it; hell, people that don’t know anything about guns can look at a photo of a USPSA competitor in mid-stride and recognize he is competing – IN A GAME!

USPSA shooters don’t take themselves seriously. Look at what some of them wear. Go to an IDPA match and you’ll see 5.11 pants, Blackhawk!, a great many shirts with logos or sayings from the Spartans, Trojans, Romans, etc. Go to a USPSA match and you’ll see cargo shorts, golf shorts, ugly shoes and comical tee shirts. Of course in both competitions you’ll find the person wearing a jersey because sponsors.

I am a gamer. It took me less than 3 IDPA matches to determine I am not a Tactical Timmy, which is odd because I do enjoy my AR and self-defense classes. But there is a time to be serious, a time to be realistic and a time to play the game.  You can be a student of self-defense without being an over the top Timmy.  Equally you can be a competitor and still take self-defense seriously.

From my view-point we have two action pistol shooting competitions that are diametrically opposed on how they view themselves. This is not to say there are not gamers in IDPA, because there are. But the real gamers generally migrate to USPSA.  As Caleb once said in a Ben Stoeger podcast, running and shooting a pistol is fun and USPSA does running and shooting better.

Since I have just expended 1000 words berating IDPA I must hate everything about IDPA, correct?  Actually no!  For actual gamerness (new word) and competition, yes, my focus is on USPSA.  As for IDPA, I plan on actually rejoining and shooting some matches using my real CCW, from my real carry holster, in my actual street clothes.  Being a person of logic I am going into those matches with the understanding that while IDPA is not training, it is a good means of practice with my carry gear. 

Practicing with the gear you actually plan on defending yourself with – that sounds an awful lot like the original intent of IDPA to me.

So what are your thoughts?  Do you think I am completely off base here?  Did I offend you?  Do you disagree?  Do I care?

Pistol Drills 7 Yards and Beyond

For this post I decided to combine both medium and long distance pistol drills. For those confused please see this post for more information on what I am talking about regarding distance.

The simple fact is that a decent pistol shot can make hits at 7-10 yards even without having a perfect grasp of the fundamentals; but, the further out you go, the more important those fundamental skills become. Many, many people have a response of awe when I discuss making 15 yard hits on a 3”x 5” index card. IT IS NOT THAT HARD! Especially with no time limit! But I will admit it will require some practice and effort.

Remember that all of the close range drills in my last article can be performed at longer ranges, and I often do so. But some drills are just better suited for specific distances. You wouldn’t do the doubles at 50 yards with the same PAR time as say 3 yards.

Draw to One Shot

In my previous article I made mention that drawing to one shot leads to cheating, and through the lens of close range shooting I stand by that statement. However, the further back you go, the more you can learn from a one shot drill. At 3 yards you can sling a round at an IPSC Metric target (or IDPA target) and get close to the center. At 10 yards you might hit the target. At 25 yards you will miss. This is why we should understand the reason for each drill.

This drill is simple enough. You draw the gun and shoot one round at the target. I like to start doing this at 10 yards and if I clean it 6-8 times, I start walking back to the point of utter failure and practice at that distance. I also prefer to shoot steel to minimize walking to the target to verify hits. I have a 6” x 8” piece of steel on a pole that I use for this drill.  Below is a video of me running the drill once – it is worth mentioning that the piece of steel is 8″ squared in this video.  I have since torched 1 inch off the sides to better mimic an IPSC A Zone.

Head Boxes

This is similar to the Doubles drill in the first article, but we make it harder by moving further back and using the head box as the target. Starting at 10 yards the goal is to draw and put two rounds into the head box or similar sized target. If you can meet a reasonable PAR time at 10 yards, move back to 15 or 20. This drill is tough and that is the goal. You will have zero success even getting the rounds on target without a proper sight picture. Your trigger press must be spot on and a flinch or anticipation will lead to a miss.

When working this drill with my CCW I like to mix it up, with a minimum of 2 and sometime as many as 6 shots per run.   Don’t expect hero status the first time you do this drill, but keep at it and you will realize improvement. I can assure everyone reading this, solid head box hits at 15 yards will make a 5 yard center of mass hit seem like child’s play.

Bullseye

1904infaimpistol

15, 20 and 25 yards are great distances for working on untimed accuracy. You can purchase some NRA B8 targets or print out something similar.  Staple them up and have at it. The goal is simple – the smallest group possible with no time limit. Repeatability is king. I like to run four strings of five shots each and actually measure the group. I write down the average group size as well as the smallest size. Keep in mind that at 25 yards you might find yourself at the accuracy limit of your weapon, especially if it is a run of the mill service weapon or small CCW.

The name Bullseye might be misleading to some readers that are familiar with NRA Bullseye competition. I am not implying you shoot this drill in classical 25 yard Bullseye stance, but instead a normal two-handed grip. If you are feeling saucy, try it strong hand or weak hand only!

El Presidente’

I did not include this in the original article because frankly most ranges won’t allow it. But if you can perform a standard 7 yard El Presidente’ you should. But I also recommend you perform this drill at 14 and 21 yards, if you have the facilities.

The drill is simple. 3 targets, 1 yard apart edge to edge. The gun is loaded with six rounds and the shooter faces up range away from the target with their hands at the surrender position, or above the shoulders. As originally designed the gun would be concealed, although us dirty, dirty gamers don’t use concealment with our competition gear. At the beep the shooter turns, draws and engages each target with two shots, then you perform a slide lock reload and shoot each target with an additional two round.

This drill works many things, including target transitions and reloads. By stretching the distance we can really grasp the difference distance to target makes on transition speed and accuracy. In my personal experience my shot times are slower, but the transitions are quicker as I increase the distance.  The distance makes the required target to target weapon movement less than at closer ranges.

As I said above, all of the short-range drills can be performed at the medium and long-range distances, but I rarely shoot the drills above at less than 10 yards. I have some additional drills for those who shoot competition and I will cover them at a later date.

Whether a competition shooter or you are only interested in practicing for CCW or self-defense, you will likely find these drills will help build skill. If you can master the drills given here and in the short-range article you will likely be among the best shooters you know.  Now, get out there and burn some powder – with a purpose!

Pistol Drills – 3 to 7 Yards

As a follow on to my last article,  Setting (and Tracking) Realistic, Attainable Goals, I wanted to give some drills that will improve your pistol shooting with a target distance of 3 to 7 yards. Some of these will work at a stodgy square “bowling alley” range and others require a more permissive environment.

Bullseye Mode

This is the simplest and works at any range. The goal is to shoot the smallest group possible at any distance. For this drill I recommend cardboard because paper will have a tendency to tear out and make the group appear larger than it actually is. Start close and work your way back. I normally do a run of 6 rounds. You will not get fast with this drill; you need not draw from a holster. The goal is sight alignment, trigger press and breathing.

3 yards

If your target looks like this at 3 yards, you need more practice!

This is the number 1 static range drill and everyone reading has probably done it, but I would suggest you try it again, but set a minimum time between shots. Say 10 seconds. That is enough time to bring the gun down, take a few breaths and aim again. You might find you are capable of better accuracy than you thought!

Dot-Torture Drill

This drill was created by David Blinder at personaldefensetraining.com and can be found here. The instructions are printed on the target, so I won’t waste our time repeating them here. With no time limit required this drill is good for a static range that doesn’t allow rapid fire. If you can’t draw from a holster, use low ready. Once you can clear it at 3 yards, move back to 5. This drill requires a decent understanding of sight alignment and trigger press fundamentals.

Garcia Dots (or The Dots)

This drill was created by Frank Garcia and is recommended by many USPSA shooters and trainers. It is often confused with Dot-Torture but the only similarity is the size of the dot. This drill uses six 2 inch dots arranged in two rows of three. You need a shot timer and you must set the par time to 5 seconds. Upon the beep you draw and shoot 6 rounds into a single dot. You then continue with each remaining dot using the same par-time. Your actual time is irrelevant as long as you can beat the par beep. The goal is all six shots either within or touching the 2 inch circle. The drill is a total of 36 shots and it is scored as misses/shots fired, or 30/36, if you had 6 misses.

The drill is designed for 7 yards, but you should start at 3 yards and work back. Consistently cleaning the drill at 7 yards is difficult for the best shooters, so don’t get discouraged.

You can mix it up and shoot some dots strong hand only, some weak hand only, etc. When modifying the drill I shoot it a few times and see what my average time is, and then I set the par for 0.5 seconds less.

In all honesty I shoot this drill virtually every time I go to the range as a means of warm up. I feel it is a much better training aid than the Dot-Torture, but with its draw and rapid fire requirements it is not useable at most static ranges and it is not for beginners.

Doubles

This is simple drill that helps build speed. It can be done at any distance, but for maximum speed training I use 3 yards. The drill is simple; you draw from concealment and put two shots into the target as quick as you can identify two sight pictures. This is NOT A DOUBLE TAP! A double tap is two shots with one sight picture and normally leads to one shot in the center of the target and the other in the upper region of the target.

It is worth mentioning that some people like to perform a similar drill but only shoot a single round. I have done that and found you can cheat your sight picture and get lucky. Shooting two shots requires you identify the sight picture with each trigger pull.

With this drill you see a flash of a sight picture, fire and the moment the sights are aligned you pull the trigger again. For a target I use a USPSA Metric target or a 6” x 10” box on a piece of printer paper.

My first attempt at this drill was in Ben Stoeger’s Fundamentals class and he made a joke about using a sun dial. Now, using my USPSA Production gear I can average a 1.05 on the drill with good center A-zone hits. From concealment my speed drops to around 1.5 or so, but that is a function of a concealed IWB draw. I promise I didn’t start off that quick – this drill works!

If your range won’t let you draw from a holster you can start at low ready and practice the draw in dry fire. You don’t get the full effect of grip and draw, but you still get the training on sight alignment at speed.

Bill Drill

What type of 7 yard drill list wouldn’t include the quintessential drill? The original Bill Drill, as told by Rob Leatham (go to 1:32 on this video to hear Rob talk about the creation of the drill) was to draw and fire 6 shots into a IPSC A zone as quick as you can get the hits. This drill works on the draw stroke, sight alignment, recoil control and trigger press. You must have all of the fundamentals squared away to accomplish this drill in less than 2.5 seconds.

Personally, from concealment using my S&W Shield, I generally turn in a 2.2 – 2.3  second run. With my USPSA rig I get 2.00 flat. I have gone faster, but that is not the average.

This drill is really fun but there are some downsides; you must have a rather liberal ran to do this drill for one and this drill will eat ammo. 10 runs, which is my minimum for this drill, will eat 60 rounds. But what a way to burn ammo!

For more information here is Caleb explaining and shooting the Bill Drill.

Four Aces

This is the final drill I consider a close range skill builder. It tests your draw, sight alignment, recoil control, ability to quickly change a magazine and then get back on target.   This drill is performed at 7 yards and consists of drawing and firing two rounds into an IPSC A zone or similar sized target, performing a mag change and then firing two more rounds at the target. As designed the gun does not go to slide lock during the mag change, but it is entirely acceptable to do so, just ensure you are consistent each time.

So there you have it, six drills that I have found work wonders within the 3-7 yard range. This list is not comprehensive and a quick search on the internet will reveal an overwhelming amount of drills. Frankly a great many of those drills are crap! The goal of this article was to give the new shooter, or any shooter looking to improve, a solid set of drills to start with. In the next article I’ll give some drills that build your skills at what I consider medium and long-range.

Pistol Drills – 3 to 7 Yards

As a follow on to my last article, Setting (and Tracking) Realistic Attainable Goals, I wanted to give some drills that will improve your pistol shooting with a target distance of 3 to 7 yards. Some of these will work at a stodgy square “bowling alley” range and others require a more permissive environment.

Bullseye Mode

This is the simplest and works at any range. The goal is to shoot the smallest group possible at any distance. For this drill I recommend cardboard because paper will have a tendency to tear out and make the group appear larger than it actually is. Start close and work your way back. I normally do a run of 6 rounds. You will not get fast with this drill; you need not draw from a holster. The goal is sight alignment, trigger press and breathing.

3 yards

If this is what your 3 yard group looks like, you need more practice!

This is the number 1 static range drill and everyone reading has probably done it, but I would suggest you try it again, but set a minimum time between shots. Say 10 seconds. That is enough time to bring the gun down, take a few breaths and aim again. You might find you are capable of better accuracy than you thought!

Dot-Torture Drill

This drill was created by David Blinder at personaldefensetraining.com and can be found here. The instructions are printed on the target, so I won’t waste our time repeating them here. With no time limit required this drill is good for a static range that doesn’t allow rapid fire. If you can’t draw from a holster, use low ready. Once you can clear it at 3 yards, move back to 5. This drill requires a decent understanding of sight alignment and trigger press fundamentals.

Garcia Dots (or The Dots)

This drill was created by Frank Garcia and is recommended by many USPSA shooters and trainers. It is often confused with Dot-Torture but the only similarity is the size of the dot. This drill uses six 2 inch dots arranged in two rows of three. You need a shot timer and you must set the par time to 5 seconds. Upon the beep you draw and shoot 6 rounds into a single dot. You then continue with each remaining dot using the same par-time. Your actual time is irrelevant as long as you can beat the par beep. The goal is all six shots either within or touching the 2 inch circle. The drill is a total of 36 shots and it is scored as misses/shots fired, or 30/36, if you had 6 misses.

The drill is designed for 7 yards, but you should start at 3 yards and work back. Consistently cleaning the drill at 7 yards is difficult for the best shooters, so don’t get discouraged.

You can mix it up and shoot some dots strong hand only, some weak hand only, etc. When modifying the drill I shoot it a few times and see what my average time is, and then I set the par for 0.5 seconds less.

In all honesty I shoot this drill virtually every time I go to the range as a means of warm up. I feel it is a much better training aid than the Dot-Torture, but with its draw and rapid fire requirements it is not usable at most static ranges and it is not for beginners.

Doubles

This is simple drill that helps build speed. It can be done at any distance, but for maximum speed training I use 3 yards. The drill is simple; you draw from concealment and put two shots into the target as quick as you can identify two sight pictures. This is NOT A DOUBLE TAP! A double tap is two shots with one sight picture and normally leads to one shot in the center of the target and the other in the upper region of the target.

It is worth mentioning that some people like to perform a similar drill but only shoot a single round. I have done that and found you can cheat your sight picture and get lucky. Shooting two shots requires you identify the sight picture with each trigger pull.

With this drill you see a flash of a sight picture, fire and the moment the sights are aligned you pull the trigger again. For a target I use a USPSA Metric target or a 6” x 10” box on a piece of printer paper.

My first attempt at this drill was in Ben Stoeger’s Fundamentals class and he made a joke about using a sun dial. Now, using my USPSA Production gear I can average a 1.05 on the drill with good center A-zone hits. From concealment my speed drops to around 1.5 or so, but that is a function of a concealed IWB draw. I promise I didn’t start off that quick – this drill works!

If your range won’t let you draw from a holster you can start at low ready and practice the draw in dry fire. You don’t get the full effect of grip and draw, but you still get the training on sight alignment at speed.

Bill Drill

What type of 7 yard drill list wouldn’t include the quintessential drill? The original Bill Drill, as told by Rob Leatham (go to 1:32 on this video to hear Rob talk about the creation of the drill) was to draw and fire 6 shots into a IPSC A zone as quick as you can get the hits. This drill works on the draw stroke, sight alignment, recoil control and trigger press. You must have all of the fundamentals squared away to accomplish this drill in less than 2.5 seconds. From concealment, using my S&W Shield, I generally run a 2.2 – 2.3. With my USPSA rig I get 2.00 flat. I have gone faster, but that is not the average.

This drill is really fun but there are some downsides; you must have a rather liberal ran to do this drill for one and this drill will eat ammo. 10 runs, which is my minimum for this drill, will eat 60 rounds. But what a way to burn ammo!

For more information here is Caleb explaining and shooting the Bill Drill.

Four Aces

This is the final drill I consider a close range skill builder. It tests your draw, sight alignment, recoil control, ability to quickly change a magazine and then get back on target.   This drill is performed at 7 yards and consists of drawing and firing two rounds into an IPSC A zone or similar sized target, performing a mag change and then firing two more rounds at the target. As designed the gun does not go to slide lock during the mag change, but it is entirely acceptable to do so, just ensure you are consistent each time.

So there you have it, six drills that I have found work wonders within the 3-7 yard range. This list is not comprehensive and a quick search on the internet will reveal an overwhelming amount of drills. Frankly a great many of those drills are crap! The goal of this article was to give the new shooter, or any shooter looking to improve, a solid set of drills to start with. In the next article I’ll give some drills that build your skills at what I consider medium and long-range.

First Time Competitor Mistakes

In my last article I mentioned I was humbled at my first match. Here are three simple and common errors I made that you can learn from. I am referencing the IDPA target, since my first match was IDPA. The same principles apply to USPSA.

My draw to first shot times were slow!

Slooow! I mean glacially slow! In practice, using my Shot Timer App, I could nail a 0.80 second draw (or so I thought, click here to learn how the app was misleading); but in the match, not so much. Even at my first match I quickly identified opportunities for improvement, thus I took a photo of the score sheet for evaluation later on.

The first the three strings of the IDPA Classifier are Mozambique drills, also known as two to the body and one to the head. My times were 3.37, 3.00 and 3.01 respectively. That sucks!  My first “body” shot was slow and my “head” shot (third shot) was pathetic. My second shot was also comical as it was a true double tap, meaning two shots off of one sight picture. It was sheer luck I got -0 on all three targets. In short, I was staring at the front sight in bulls-eye mode.

I have since discovered THIS IS NOT UNCOMMON! If you have only shot at a square range, you will very likely perform the same! You can learn to draw fast with dry fire, but to truly learn how fast you can draw and make a good shot you must practice it in live fire.

Find a place you can both draw from a holster and get close to the target. With the target at 3 yards draw and put one round into the -0 zone. Go as fast as possible! Let it all hang out! Go until you are shooting misses then slow down a bit. In less than 50 rounds you will see real improvements and you will be instantly better. In the words of Princess Elsa, Let It Go.

After the first shot, I lost my front sight focus!

Mel-gibson1

For all the time I wasted staring at the front sight before the first shot, I would instantly shift focus to the target afterwards and for the remaining shots. For my first match this was a combination of training and garbage sights. I was using the stock 3 dot sights on my XD Tactical. I have learned to hate three dot sights and thick front sights in general. Even so, I wasn’t even trying to watch the front sight. Target focus works if you are close, don’t fall into the trap of using it at long distances. It leads to FAIL. Again, get up close at the 3 yard line. Don’t use a target at all, aim and put 50 rounds into the backstop or berm with the sole goal being to see as much of the front sight as possible for each shot. This can be fast or slow, just make sure you see what YOU need to see.

Over-compensating on transitions!
This is an error with a seemingly simple solution that takes dry fire practice to actually reinforce. When transitioning from left to right (or right to left) you must lead with your eyes. If you move your eyes and the gun in unison you will pass the intended target. If you notice it and come back onto the target, you have a monumental time waste on your hands. If you don’t recognize it you will place shots soundly into the -1 or -3 zone or worse, you’ll miss! That’ll help your score. To work this in dry fire set up a few scale targets and practice the transitions, going whatever speed your eyesight requires.

So there you have it; three mistakes that are easily corrected once identified. Ironically correcting each of these mistakes will help those that CCW as well.

Your First Match

I often recommend competitive shooting – specifically action pistol type matches – to anyone with a CCW.  Even so, there is always apprehension in people’s eyes.  What will they encounter?  Are they good enough?  Will they be laughed at?  Judged?  Yelled at?  With that in mind, here is a brief synopsis about what you can expect at your first match.

ricky bobby i want to go fast

First things first, you should show up early, find a range officer/safety officer or the match director and let them know this is your first match.  Expect them to give you a safety briefing.  In fact, most sanctioning bodies, such as IDPA or USPSA, have specific requirements for such safety briefings.  While safety is paramount at any match it should be your only concern at your first match.  You will have fun, I promise; but safety first.  You will likely be doing task and maneuvers that are new to you, all while holding a loaded hand gun.  Ensure you do it safely.

Don’t worry too much about gear; you can shoot what you have, provided you own a holster.  The mags can go in your back pocket.  I am planning on writing a post on beginner gear just too illustrate how cheaply you can get started.

Your first match experience will likely be similar to everyone else – mine was.  I showed up cocky and confident and left humbled and craving more.  If you have never shot a match before you might be surprised how quick some of the other competitors can be!  Don’t try to equal their skills, you will only do worse.

For example; my first match was an IDPA Classifier and I was supremely confident I would burn it down.  When it was all said and done, I had rushed, made stupid mistakes and even had a few misses.  I finished as SSP (and ESP) Sharpshooter which wasn’t bad but I was less than 2 seconds from Expert; had I shot to my skill level the misses likely wouldn’t have happened and that alone would have gotten me to Expert.  My cockiness got in the way; the experienced guys went fast, I wanted to go fast!

Even with my mistakes, I did some things correct.

As I mentioned above, I arrived early and immediately let everyone know I was a new shooter.  Doing so allowed me to quickly identify the proper people to talk with and ask questions.  There were 3 other new shooters that night and after completing registration, they pulled us aside for a 30 minute safety briefing.  If you read the rule book(s), none of what they say will be new or shocking.  Muzzle awareness, keeping your finger off the trigger during reloads, keep the gun in the holster unless directed to Load and Make Ready, where is the safe area and what is it for, etc.  It is all basic stuff, but they take it seriously!

After we got our assignments I began to load mags while waiting my turn.  Being an IDPA Classifier I knew the course of fire and had dry fired it once or twice, thus I felt prepared. What I wasn’t prepared for was jitters as it came closer to my time to shoot.  I became nervous because of match pressure.  I have written about it before and I feel it is worth repeating.  Match pressure is real and it brings stressors into your shooting you just don’t get on a square range.  If you want to read more about it, I suggest you give this a quick read: match pressure.

When the night was through and we were tearing down the stages I realized how much I had learned in a few hours and how much fun I had.  I was able to identify specific areas to improve on and came to terms with my own short comings.  It was a pivotal experience in becoming a better shooter.  It was FUN!

We can always improve our skills, but first we must identify those areas that need improvement.  A match is a perfect way to identify weaknesses and improve.  I recommend everyone go shoot a match, especially if you possess a CCW and chose to carry a gun for self-defense.  Even just one match will open your eyes to weaknesses and just how much fun you can have with a handgun.

Oh, and for those worried about being made fun of – Fuhgeddaboudit!  No one laughed at me, and short of a club composed of nothing but assholes, no one will laugh at you either.

The Folly of Chasing Gear – Competition Version

In the last 18 months I have changed my competition gun 3 times while chasing the elusive “perfect” pistol so allow me to spin you a yarn on what not to do.

First, I must note that I am FAR from the first person to write or talk about this subject.  Ben Stoeger had a Podcast about it and the guys at Triangle Tactical have warned against this more times than I can count. But I can be stubborn and had to learn these lessons hard way.  It is my hope that you are not as stubborn as I am, and that you won’t repeat my mistakes.

Oh the circuitous path I took.

When I started in competition I wanted a gun that would work for competition, but also work as a defensive weapon.  With that fallacy firmly in mind I went out and bought a Glock 34 – a fine competition gun by the way –  then I sold it almost immediately for the XD-9 Tactical I wrote about in “My Time With An XD”.  With my “competition” gun on hand, I geared up with a Comp-Tac International Holster, a cheapo mag pouch and a 5.11 Belt from Bass Pro Shops.  The gun worked fine (the cheap mag pouch – not so much) but after a few matches I had a nagging “what if”; a “what if” that was only fueled when I got to dry fire Ben Stoeger’s Stock II and then shoot both a Stock II and a SP-01 that belonged to other people.

IMG_4830It was with dreams of greatness that I sold the XD and proceeded to buy a CZ P-09. (the one in the photo)  I had decided that I “needed” a DA/SA competition gun and already owning a 2nd generation P-07 I knew of CZ P- series awesomeness.  Truthfully, deep down I knew I would end up with a metal gun, but I wanted to prove the DA/SA was something I could master and compete with first.  What better than the bigger brother of a gun I already owned, right?  It didn’t take long to fall in love with DA/SA and prove to myself it was the way I wanted to go.  Thoughts confirmed, I pulled the trigger (pun intended) on a Tanfoglio Limited Pro.

In all of that swapping and monkey motion I learned some valuable lessons.

Losing money (gun) – I liked the XD, but it was never going to be what I really wanted.  I knew if I fell in love with competitive shooting I would want a metal gun. I should have bought the CZ P-09 first.  That would have given me a chance to run a DA/SA at the high round count class with Ben Stoeger and I would have ultimately saved money.  I don’t regret buying the P-09; but I do regret the money I spent “learning” the XD, only to part ways with it 9 months later.

Losing money – ancillary equipment – You just changed guns?  Great! Now you can buy a new holster, spare parts, sights, trigger job, extra mags, and grip tape.  If you are really lucky, your existing mag pouches won’t work (read: Tanfoglio Large Frame) and you get to modify what you have or order new ones.  If there is a shining spot it is the fact you can re-coup some of that gear cost by including it in the sale of the gun.

Ammo “wasted”?–  It is nice to say we learn from every round shot, but wouldn’t it be nice to do that learning on a platform you will keep?  Then you gain both the knowledge, as well as trust in the platform.  I put about 1k through the P-09 before I moved to the Lim Pro and while I love the P-09 and plan on keeping it, it would be nice to have that ammo back to live fire practice with the Lim Pro.  This desire to have the ammo back is an order of magnitude greater when thinking of the XD.

Tracking Improvement –  I am better now than a year ago, but I know it is not all the gear.  I will proudly admit a 44 ounce gun with a 2.5# trigger is amazing and make for easy controlled pairs, but I must also admit that much of my improvement has been due to a refined trigger control, more efficient movements, and seeing what I need to see.

To better illustrate, you can’t go back and start over with your beginner skill level every time you change gear.  As you run and learn your new gear you are also adding to your current skill level.  The simple fact is the improvement you realize from the gear change is over-stated in your mind.

Rebooting, again and again –  Oh, you have your mag changes down to 1 second?  Great!  Now change platforms and tell me what happens!  Every time you change gear, you back up some and have to relearn draws, mag changes, transitions, and on, and on.  Sometimes it is small – like going from the P-09 trigger to the Lim Pro and sometimes it is brutal.

Pick a gun and stick with it – It seems that in most cases this is the best bet.  But as with most things in life, there are concessions to be made.  If you are starting out with a Ruger P89, you would probably benefit more from a gear change (update?) than someone starting out with a Glock G17.  Similarly, if all you own is a G27 then by all means shoot it while planning for an upgrade; but I suggest staying with a G22 or G35 so the familiarity remains.

Are there gains to be made by changing gear?  Sometimes; but, first you need to evaluate your current skill level against the gains you will realistically see in the near term.  I have dry fired an awful lot this year, likely enough to be a high A class in USPSA, but I am not because most of my dry fire time was spent learning new gear and not refining a specific skill.

My advise?  Decide if what you currently own will work and be realistic about it.  A Glock 17 will take you to Grand Master in USPSA and Distinguished Master in IDPA, where as a Hi-Point probably won’t.  If you want something better that’s fine, but I suggest you shoot what you have and save up to get what you really want the first time to minimize the re-learning.  Bouncing around only waste time and money.

If you don’t want to listen to my experience, that is also fine; I just ask you withhold your shock when you look back and realize the money and/or ammo spent.

Lest anyone think this applies only to competition shooters, I have done CCW swapping as well; but that is a story for another day.