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.


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!


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.


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.

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