As the season has changed from the dog days of Summer to the crisp air of Fall, shooters are returning to the range, many for the first time in almost a year. Year in and year out, these forest warriors return to the humble range to sight in their otherwise neglected rifles for another chance at a deer or elk.
You can’t blame them…only the sick and truly demented enjoy the punishment and beating of super velocity magnum rifles and classic big bores. Some may also take a few moments to blow the dust out of the bore on their old trusty pistol while they’re there. Though there’s some carryover in the skill sets between the disciplines, are we making some of the same mistakes as they do when we training for self defense?
I teach and train with a dedicated core of people. These guys shoot a couple times a month and attend classes a couple times a year. I know these guys dry fire and practice their draw at home. They religiously carry their firearms and mentally rehearse their response to every conceivable threat. They spend their little free time training and their hard earned money on equipment. But even we make mistakes and get complacent. Here are some commonly made mistakes we all need to fix:
Not practicing with what you carry
If you always carry a J-frame revolver with you, yet always shoot your full-size M&P 9mm at the range, shame on you. All practice is good. I too am better with my full size 9mm than my Airweight. It’s more comfortable to shoot and requires less work to keep running. With all of these positives, a decision needs to be made…carry the 9mm, or practice with the .38?
Mastering the pull of a DAO revolver is a lifetime’s achievement. Mastering both on a single/double action firearm takes two life sentences. Most can become fairly proficient at a SAO or striker fired trigger pull in a relatively short time.
Failing to train with every gun you carry is a failure and liability. Same goes for training with your holster. I love strong side, belt-mounted outside the waistband holsters. They’re fast, secure, and comfortable. They are also among the least concealable options available. If you carry inside the waistband, inside the pocket, in a fanny pack, purse, or other method, most of your presentations on the range should be from there, too.
Forgetting the basics
Combat or defensive shooting is nothing more than an extension of marksmanship basics. Watch the pre-season practice of your favorite team, an Olympic swimmer, or videos of your favorite SPEC OPS group. All of them practice the basics perfectly and methodically. It doesn’t matter how fast you shoot, or how sexy you look while you’re doing it. You can’t ever do fast enough wrong to make it right.
I start and finish every range session with a basic marksmanship drill. This is followed by one- and two-shot drills from the holster at a talking pace. I start by firing five one-round drills for headshots at 25 yards. This gives me an idea of my cold bore shooting.
That’s followed by singles and doubles to center of mass at 10 yards for 25 draws. Everything else will be fired with movement and manipulations. The last few rounds are either fired at distance (50 yards) or ball and dummy.
Going too fast
We all work hard and practice hard to get fast and accurate. I can’t say that I agree with the old adage that “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” Slow is still slow. Smoothness is key. Slow allows us to be smooth and develop muscle memory. That gives us the trained response to get into the fight without thinking about it.
We all want to prove to ourselves and others that we can work at 200 MPH. The problem is, most of us can’t, especially without working out at 15 MPH for years. I always practice methodically, not slowly. This causes me to slow down, but for all the right reasons. I hit every point with a purpose. There is no “kind of” or “almost”. As I train, I speed it up. I’m not out there to impress anyone. I’m there to learn a skill set that could keep me alive.
Quantity over quality
I know most of us can’t walk outside and shoot off the back porch whenever we want. We also can’t dedicate multiple days a month to range sessions, especially with the demands of work and family. For many, a range day is like a vacation from life. We load every gun and round of ammo we can muster and don’t leave until it’s all gone.
I want to let you in on a little secret every instructor and top level competitor knows. Everyone has a wall they hit. Obviously, this is dependent on a number of factors such as experience level, physical fitness, caliber choice, etc. I learned I had one while shooting PPC. I could shoot hundreds of rounds through my open class .38 in a day, but my results dwindle after 150ish rounds through my GLOCK 21 service pistol.
Don’t be that guy at the range who pays his fees, buys a box of ammo, loads it up, shoots it as fast as the range rules will allow, and leaves. There’s very little training value in that. Grab a buddy, a box or two of ammo, some mags, and a handful of dummy rounds. You can get hours of better practice in for less money. Though it may not be any easier to make time to get to the range, you time there will be more effective.
Not practicing like your life may depend on it
It’s extremely easy to change your mindset from warrior to couch potato on the range. Most ranges make it easy. Covered benches, tables, friends that are bad influences, range rules that don’t allow for movement. Some of have pro shops, lounges, and snack bars. All of these destroy the very fundamentals we’re trying to build when we’re there. Every time you touch that gun it should be as if your life depends on it.
You need to be hyper vigilant in following the four basic firearms safety rules. Every draw needs to hit every step with starched crispness. Every reload must be done quickly. Malfunctions must be cleared without thinking.
There’s no time for hip shooting, slapping the trigger to shoot fast, or not following through for the next shot whether you’re going to take it or not. You aren’t going to have a range caddy or a tactical TV tray during your gunfight. Setting stuff on a bench instead of maintaining it on your person when needed, or holding onto empty magazines while training are scars that rarely get trained out.
Every range trip should be fun, but done with a purpose. Ask yourself, “What kind of ambassador are you being for self defense and the shooting sports?” What are you teaching your children and those who look up to you?
Look at any professional athlete. You can tell the ones who left everything out on the field, versus those who did little more than grandstand. In our world, the question isn’t, “What are the chances?”, but “What’s at stake?”
About the Author
Nick Franssen is a full time police officer, civilian and LE firearms instructor, and the owner of HCTC Firearms, LLC, where he specializes in custom gunsmithing, training, and consulting. For more information on training or custom gun work, see HCTC Firearms on Facebook or email nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.