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Most shooters go to a gun range to put lead in the center of a target at a given distance. Some do so using carefully considered form: proper grip, ideal stance and controlled breathing. Most simply load, aim and shoot. Check the target. If they succeed in tightening their groups, it’s mission accomplished—especially if they’re shooting with their Significant Other or Best Friend Forever. Yes, but—if you’re practicing shooting for self-defense you need to get out of that mindset STAT. Unless you’re failing, you’re failing . . .

The marksmanship goal for self-defense target shooting: create a hand-sized group. That’s it. That’s all. If your group is too big, you’re shooting too fast. If it’s too small, you’re shooting too slow. If it’s just right, move the target further away. Done. So . . . then what?

Then you have to do whatever you can (within the bounds of safety) to make it as difficult as possible to create that hand-sized group.

There are plenty of ways to put yourself off your game: move and shoot, move and shoot at moving targets, shoot one-handed, shoot one-handed with your weak hand, take your glasses off (especially if you’re as blind as I am), do push-ups to tire out your arms, have someone yell in your ear, do math problems out loud, etc.

To make yourself a better self-defense shooter you have to practice what you’re bad at. Because you’re already good at what you’re good at. In the pursuit of imperfection, mental and/or physical stress is your friend. The more of it you can create, the better.

Bottom line: when it comes to self-defense, you can’t count on perfect grip, stance or breathing. You can’t count on a static targets. And it won’t be about impressing yourself, your Significant Other, your friends or casual observers. It will about being able to do whatever it takes to stay alive in the most stressful situation of your life.

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    • You need to stroke your ego from time to time but yes you MUST be honest with your abilities and your weaknesses.

  1. While the author is true on many points, the place for proper training is not the local range but a professional training session.Quite a few shooters are fortunate to be near an open firing range to begin with, to say nothing of being able to attend one that allows rapid fire or doesn’t mandate other limitations.

    I would save the tactical stuff for a specific training class intended for the purpose, and keep the range sessions on static slow fire practice. Not only is that all most shooters are allowed to do for safety reasons at most ranges anyhow, but it enhances practice. Quite a few civilian -including police-shooters don’t even have the basics on safety and short range shooting down pat.

    I would take issue with one point on this post. Long range pistol shooting tends to be denigrated, but one never knows what tomorrow may bring. The possibility that a shooter may need to draw and render a headshot at long range with a handgun is remote for 99% of people reading this, but having the skill to do so can hardly hurt in the event things go pear shaped and one ends up in “The 1%”.

    • I remember a friend that had much more experience shooting than me at the time shoing me how to reliably hit steel gongs at 100 yards with a 1911-A1 in .45. Long distance handgunning is fun, and certainly worth practicing. Under most circumstances, a handgun is what you use to get to your rifle, or because you don’t have a rifle. It will never replace a rifle, but it sure can be used at distances well beyond the 5 or 7 yards that many seem to practice at.

    • If the only place you “train” is in tactical firearms classes, most people will not be training or practicing enough. Take those classes to learn techniques and practice them regularly on your own. These skills are perishable and only practicing annually at $300-$400 classes will not make you a better shooter.

      If its against range rules to practice as you were trained, or there are too many incompetent people around find another venue.

      • Agreed.

        Attending a class is a good way to learn new skills and get a checkup, but you really need to practice more often than that. There is no way you can expect to only take a class every now and then and shoot only practice square range skills and expect to be proficient enough when it counts.

      • “find another venue”

        Good luck with that. Where I live there are 4 indoor ranges within 1 hours drive (there are a couple more across the state line in the PR of Maryland but the gun transport rules seem to vary in every town/city/village/county…) only one of them, an outdoor unsupervised “range” allows movement while shooting or drawing from a holster.

        • I train on Airsoft guns, shooting weak hand, off hand, transition from shotgun/rifle to pistol, stuff like that. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I have available to me.

        • I train on Airsoft guns, shooting weak hand , off hand, transition from shotgun/rifle to pistol, stuff like that. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I have available to me.

  2. I understand the need to conduct firearms training while the body is under stress. Due to the majority of the population being over fed and under exercised, simple body weight exercises will provide sufficient stimulus to induce the “fight-flight” response. However, as the body eventually adapts to your stress inducing stimulus, it becomes necessary to increase the demands on the body by either increasing the number of repetitions performed or by increasing the intensity, by utilizing a higher resistance. The difference between stressing the body via volume (higher repetitions) or intensity (heavier resistance), means as much as a 7x increase in adrenaline release.
    So, stick with bodyweight exercises and then gradually shift towards adding external resistance.

  3. I’d disagree slightly with the “hand size group” bit. That’s a nice benchmark, but if you’re training for all likely scenarios, what we call Minute of E-Type might have to do . Sometimes you need lead on target, and I recall an old instructor asking us what the best place to shoot someone was. After the class argued for a few minutes, he said “Wrong. The best place to shoot someone is in whatever he’s showing you”.

  4. One disclaimer: if you’re going to take off your glasses to practice, make sure
    you’re wearing some other kind of eye protection [most ranges I’ve shot at allow normal glasses in lieu of protection].
    And of course, make sure you can still see well enough to make sure you can see the target, and if there’s anyone near it.

    I’m legally blind [without correction] in my good eye, and I tried this exercise wearing a laboratory full-face flip-down visor. I learned that I need a lot of work on this [for me, it’s basically point shooting], and that at this point, the safest place for the perp to be is in front of me.

  5. Train at What You’re Bad At.

    I’ve taken your advice to heart. Because I believe in training with a pro, I made an appointment for this evening with a hooker.

  6. I had just left home one morning for the outdoor pistol range, after a couple of cups of coffee. About a mile from my house, I realize I need to “take a dump.” Since no facilities at my local range, I start to turn around. “But wait!,” I sez to myself. “This will be good training.”
    `Cause if I ever actually have to use my handgun in self defense, you better believe I will be crapping my pants. Gotta train the way you’re going to fight.
    (Happy ending: I did not mess myself.)

  7. I now spend 1/2 my range time shooting with my off hand. Last week, I took a friend (ok, he invited himself) to the range. He is a big golfer and I was explaining that as a lefty, I learned to golf right and left handed. He piped up, I bet you can’t do that with a gun. Dumb bet. I put the target at 10 yrds, and had a very nice grouping with two hands (using off hand) and then single handed with off hand. Even the range officer asked me how I did that and over the shooting noise, I just managed to quip “how do you get to Carnegie Hall”?

    I don’t know if they will let me do push-ups, but that is another aspect to incorporate. Going to the range has also motivated me to work out more and train for sudden bursts of time (fight or flight).

  8. I tried to train at what I was bad at, but it turns out I’m pretty good at it.

    That’s the problem with being completely awesome.

  9. I try to practice regularly in my basement with an airsoft version of my 1911. Granted, the recoil isn’t there, but I can practice moving and shooting, drawing and shooting, etc. A lot of that transfers to shooting with the real thing. For those who can’t get to a range regularly, or whose range won’t permit “realistic” training, get an airsoft gun and practice in your home, garage, or back yard.

  10. What is it the Magpul videos say? Amatures train till they get it right, Professionals train till they get it wrong. That fits I think…

  11. I did some offhand shooting with a two hand grip a few days back for the first time. It was like trying to cross your arms the “wrong” way. Very weird.


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