negligent unintentional discharge training range
Courtesy Jeff Gonzales
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I see so many folks go to ranges to practice the same drills over and over. Many of these drills are “tests” at various schools to determine basic competency. Some even have clever names and titles. I enjoy shooting some of these drills, but the amount of time, energy and resources devoted to them is irrelevant to my overall training goals.

My goal is to create generalists. People who are well-rounded, capable of adapting their abilities and strategies to many different types of personal defense situations. Can you improve your general performance by practicing a specific skill set over and over? Or does it do more harm than good for your general preparedness?

No prizes for guessing my answer.

The issue I have centers around the time people spend on the firing line practicing rather than training. Practicing is performing a known skill or activity regularly to improve or sustain performance. Training is the action of learning a new skill.

The hard part for many: resisting the desire to get really good at one thing. Most shooters consider mastery of a single skill — such as quickly shooting a tight group at combat distance — a good thing. And it is…until you do it at the cost of the rest of your skills and capabilities. 

Developing your overall range of self-defense skills requires you to acknowledge, accept, and improve both your strengths and your weaknesses. In short, to train to improve overall.

There’s a cost, of course, to addressing your weaknesses rather than reveling and honing your strengths. To me, effective practice requires about ten two-hour range trips a year, firing approximately 100 rounds per trip (that’s not inexpensive these days). If all you have is 1,000 rounds per year to shoot, how many rounds do you want to invest in practicing things that are difficult rather than things that are easy?

If you’re spending 70 to 80 percent of your range time and ammunition budget practicing rather than training, you need to think about how you’re expending your resources. It’s better to spend 20 to 30 percent of your time practicing your existing competencies and the rest training to do something that challenges you (e.g., shooting one-handed).

Having said that, I still want folks to have fun shooting. For many of us, challenging ourselves by working on things we find difficult — even when failure and frustration are more common than success and gains — is fun. If that’s not you, maybe it should be. Maybe your life will depend on it.


Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned to the world at large. He is the president of Trident Concepts in Austin, Texas.

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  1. One reason I found service rifle competition to be the best practice for hunting. Anyone can shoot fine off the bench in your own time.

    Service rifle competition is learning to shoot when you’re not ready and under less favorable conditions.

    My friends sneered at my 2MOA gun. But who scored a hit rate in the 90+% range while the rest scored about 60% at best?

  2. Whenever I go to the range, I try to set challenges for myself. Faster target transitions, more accurate follow up shots, improve one handed or off handed, etc.,

  3. “Practicing is performing a known skill or activity regularly to improve or sustain performance. Training is the action of learning a new skill.”

    Well said. Aligns with the US Army Field Artillery School and the Robert F. Mager Institute programs in which I am certified. This seems to be a difficult concept for many shooters to understand, but one that is essential to progression in improving one’s shooting skills.

  4. The idea of arming oneself to defend oneself against intruders is controversial. It involves the risk of being responsible for the deaths of others, as well as the possibility of becoming a victim yourself. But as gun violence and mass shootings continue to rise, it is clear that self-defense is an important topic. Schools, businesses, and even governments are reviewing their gun policies in the face of growing data and the need for more effective safety measures. Now that I have written this comment, I can imagine how many negative comments I will receive, but I have only stated my opinion and I have a strong case for what I have written. I don’t want to bother readers with listing why this idea is controversial, anyone who is interested can go to the link and read the full version of my thoughts, on this site I have already had a discussion on the subject. The world is a dangerous place. Crimes are committed, wars are fought, and people are harmed. When violence occurs, many people reach for their weapon of choice to protect themselves and their loved ones. But in a world filled with crime, violence, and wars, isn’t it more important to focus on the prevention of harm rather than the response to it?


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