firearms pistol training range personal defense
Pfc. Melanye Martinez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Previous Post
Next Post

What about shooting drills for the indoor range? You can do just about anything outdoors, including all the run and gun you want, but indoors is a different matter.

What shooting drills are the best to work on those concealed carry skills or to get sharp for NRA Action Shooting, IPSC or IDPA if you’re brushing up to start competing?

There are some fantastic drills out there; too many to list. However, what we will focus on here are three very basic drills that work the fundamentals including the draw, sight acquisition, trigger control, follow-up shots and controlled rapid fire.

For the beginner, these drills give you the basics of practical shooting. They’re not complicated, but neither are they easy to perform consistently without regular practice. Once you’ve gained reliable and sustained competence, they are the foundations upon which the rest of your pistol shooting will be built. For the experienced shooter, these drills help keep your skills sharp.

For master-level competitive and other shooters, these are the bread-and-butter pistol drills. Like squats, bench presses and barbell rows to the bodybuilder or competitive power lifter, these drills help keep you strong.

Ratha Grimes [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
But it isn’t as simple as just going to the indoor range of your choice and getting started. There are a few things to know before you go.

Make sure to check your range’s rules. Some ranges forbid drawing from the holster, which all of these drills are intended to be shot from. If you can’t practice them from the draw, start with the low-ready position.

Start a regular dry-fire regimen if you haven’t already. This will give you practice with trigger control and sight acquisition from the comfort of your own home. Add the draw to the equation, and you can build the basic skills of self-defense with a handgun without having to fire a shot.

Granted…it’s a LOT different once live ammunition enters the mix. There’s no substitute for live fire; many shooters are perfect when dry-firing in their basement or garage, but recoil anticipation puts paid all that dry fire work if you’re flinching.

It happens to lots of people, but not me. Okay, there was that one time, but I was really nervous.

Next, let’s talk about equipment (besides your pistol).

First is targets. You might be tempted to use a silhouette target, whether it’s an IDPA or IPSC target or a different type. You may be persuaded to get a bottle target like the FBI uses. These are fine, no doubt about it and if you are about to compete, get the target you will be shooting at in competition.

Ewloskalw [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
However, to keep your skills razor-sharp, get some smaller targets. Six-inch paper plates are excellent and cheap. Good old 3×5 index cards are as well. If you can land all of your shots in these confined areas, you’re on the right track. For the beginner, that will help you develop greater accuracy and help the seasoned shooter keep it.

This isn’t to say that you can’t save yourself in the real world if you can’t put an entire box of ammunition through a 6-inch paper plate at 20 yards, but you’ll be much more likely to come out on top in a defensive situation if you get close to that.

Also, get yourself a timer.

Courtesy Amazon

Just as a musician must practice with a metronome, so should you practice with a shot timer. Start slow and smooth; speed will come from efficiency, which you only gain with experience. That sounds easy, but having the patience to do things slow and right is anything but.

Oh, and definitely make sure you have your ear and eye protection. Safety first, people.

Another thing: don’t warm up before your first drill. If you have to use a pistol in self-defense, you won’t be warmed up. It will not occur under ideal conditions, so it’s important to start cold. This will tell you where your baseline REALLY is.

So, let’s start with a very basic drill first: the First Shot drill.

The First Shot Drill isn’t complicated. You draw and fire one shot from the holster at combat distance, typically seven or fewer yards. This is the range at which almost all shootings occur.

If your goal is sharpening concealed carry skills, run this drill using your concealed carry pistol in your actual holster, and under a typical concealment garment.

It isn’t as simple as it sounds.

You have clear your cover garment (if applicable) and get a good firing grip. You have to draw smoothly and rock the pistol forward into the presentation smoothly and efficiently. You present the pistol and get a sight picture. THEN you perform the trigger press, and re-holster the pistol.

It sounds simple, but placing one accurate shot (inside a 6-inch plate or 3×5 card, or in the 10-ring of a bullseye target) in less than two seconds is not as easy as it sounds. For the novice, you’re likely to do so by luck rather than design! If you can get this drill down to 1.5 seconds or less with reliable accuracy from concealment, you’ve attained considerable skill.

Bill Jordan, the legendary Border Patrol agent, US Marine, gun writer and competitive shooter, recommended this drill constitute 90 percent of a policeman’s shooting practice. In his experience, it wasn’t the person with the first hit but rather the person who landed the first accurate hit that tended to win gunfights. “If the first one’s in,” he wrote, “the rest are sure to follow!”

Next is the Bill Drill, a rapid fire drill conceived of (purportedly) by Bill Wilson. Wilson, for those unaware, is a longtime master-level competitive shooter and gunsmith. He founded Wilson Combat, a company whose products (about the best 1911s money can buy) are of no small esteem.

The Bill Drill seems simple, but like the First Shot drill, this isn’t the easiest of shooting drills to perform perfectly.

You draw from the holster (or go from low-ready) and deliver 6 shots into the target from 7 yards. If using an IPSC silhouette, all six shots should be in the “A” zone. If using a smaller target, all six should be in the black field of an NRA bullseye, inside the 9-ring of other bullseye targets, or all inside a 6-inch paper plate.

This drill works a number of skills. Besides the draw and trigger control, it also practices sight re-acquisition and recoil control, as well as discipline to not shoot without the correct sight picture. With a larger caliber than 9mm, you may find yourself fighting the muzzle rise. Even with a large double-action 9mm pistol like a Beretta or CZ 75, it’s no mean feat to become truly skilled at this drill.

While two seconds is the common goal, completing a clean Bill Drill – with all six in the target zone – in four seconds is still impressive. Don’t be discouraged if you find you have to start at 6 or 7 seconds; even masters have to put in work to stay good at this drill.

Think of this last one ess as a single drill as much as a workout routine. This shooting drill isn’t the squat or the dead lift or bench; this drill is leg day. The Dot Torture drill isn’t done for time, it’s done for score. The drill is a series of shots into 2-inch circles, with a total course of fire of 50 rounds. Speed isn’t the goal, but consistent accuracy is.

Scoring is simple: if you can’t get all 50 in the circles, you fail. Therefore, start close and take your time. If that means you start at two yards, it means two yards until you can do it at three yards.

Get a dot torture target, and put it on your stand. You can order them online, or find a printable one. They look like this:

Dot Torture target. Credit:

The course of fire is as follows:

Draw and fire five rounds into circle 1, like the Bill Drill just shy one horse, so to speak.

Draw and fire a single shot into circle 2. Repeat four more times, five rounds total.

Draw and fire one round into circle three, transition to circle 4 and fire one shot. Repeat this step three teams, for four rounds per circle.

Draw and fire five rounds into circle 5 using only your strong hand.

Draw and fire two rounds into circle 6, and two into circle 7. Repeat this three more times. You should put 16 rounds total into these targets.

Circle 8 starts at low ready. At the low ready position, fire five rounds into circle 8 using only the weak hand.

Draw and fire one round into target 9, and do a tactical reload before putting one round into target 10.

Some shooters modify the Dot Torture drill for double-action semi-autos, by changing the first course of fire to two controlled pairs and the weak-hand drill to three controlled pairs from the weak hand. That much is up to you; while a good idea, the truth is the standard method will work DA trigger skills too.

There are many, many more shooting drills out there, of course, but these three work all the fundamentals. If you can become truly proficient at these, you’ll be head and shoulders above most pistol shooters.

Feel like there’s a better shooting drill for self-defense and competition that I missed? Sound off in the comments!

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. Outstanding. The most useful routines consolidated in a simple format to bookmark for future reference. This short article should be printed and included with the pistol purchase of every first-time handgun owner.

    • No it shouldn’t. Unless you got something against first time gun owners. New shooters have a long way to travel between first shots and honing the skill of shooting. And it begins with the fundamentals and lots of discipline and patients.

  2. Excellent article. I remember many of these fundamentals from my early days. My mentor used to tell me things like, “Slow down and speed up.” “Smooth is fast.” “Herky jerky feels fast, but it’s not.” Years later when I was on the range qualifying my Lieutenant said, “I get that you always score a 100, but you’re so fucking fast!” I was always holstered up before the other guys finished the drill. I told him what I was told when I learned to properly shoot defensively. “I’m not really fast. I just use economy of motion.”

    • My father taught me the same way. He was old an old school hunter and WWII vet. As much as these drills will help people become better shooters. A proper mind set will get you a long way. I’ve never spent much time on specific drills. Most of my time is spent on being one with the firearm. Making it an extension of my body and mind. As odd as that may sound. It has always worked for me. Both on the range and in the field.

  3. Hitting a 6 inch pie plate at 20 yards in 1n1/2 seconds is darn good shooting, if you ask me. I can do that at 2 yards and thats all lI need.

  4. Good article, but worthless to me. I Googled nearest indoor range to my zip code. Not one in Wyoming, nearest is Denver.
    Guess I could try some of the drills in the great outdoor range, if summer ever gets here.

    • I know that you must have gotten a bad search because there are ranges considerably North of Denver but still in Colorado, like FoCo and *gasp* Boulder. (To be fair the ones in Boulder are private).

      But, really why bother? Wyoming is like one giant outdoor range in and of itself.

      • Jesus, I live in Florida and I have access to more public, private and paid private ranges than I know what to do with. And that’s just within a 20 mile circumference. You guys are in the West and can’t draw a pistol from a holster? Uncle Steve has been gone for years now, but I guess things have changed in Ft. Collins.

        • It depends heavily where you are in the West and also what you’re willing to put up with.

          Back in the heady days of ’12 one could go out and shoot at ranges from point blank to 1000+ yards all over the place in Colorado. Now many of the places one used to be able to do that are entirely overrun with [dipshit] campers that will call the cops if they see a gun. Fire a gun in many places and it’s 1) going to get you a visit from the cops (who are usually pretty cool about it, but having coffee/food ready to go always helps that interaction) and 2) generally unsafe because you have no idea where theseCalitards are going or what they’re doing.

          A couple years ago my buddy and I are getting ready for the Darrin Fink up in Wyoming but training in Colorado since that’s easy for us because I live here. I’m looking down the scope of a rifle on a marked public range that’s fenced off when my buddy tells me “You’ve got people to your right. Motorcycle, moving right to left.” I wonder “WTAF?”, put the safety on and bring my eyes up and, sure enough, maybe 30 seconds later I watch this asshole ride right across the rifle range. Then three more people follow him. So, I know there’s a fence there and figure it must be damaged and I should report that because people aren’t seeing it. Damaged? Yeah, in a manner of speaking. It’s been cut specifically so that dirtbikes can crisscross the range. Not only was this deliberate, it was colossally retarded because it was done right at a sign that tells you why the fence is there.

          Then there’s the legality. In some places firing guns isn’t legal for various reasons and in other places it’s restricted by caliber to try to prevent poaching in certain seasons. What’s restricted and where varies so where you go to shoot, say a .308 can vary with time of year. There are places out by Vail that I only carry a 5.56 rifle in the fall because of this. It’s not that I think running around with a Mini14 or a AR is so much fun it’s that a larger rifle and no hunting license/tags brings questions I don’t care to answer. Especially when some retard shoots a moose during elk season and then dips out to avoid the consequences. Then the place is crawling with LE who will definitely make contact with you to try to find the idiot who shot the moose (or cow/steer in some cases). By the time you’re done figuring out what’s legal and safe it’s like looking at the maps for what’s legal on some rivers in Colorado where the bag limit and tackle rules change when you pass a certain distance on the river… which you just kinda gotta know because rivers don’t necessarily have mile markers (some do in Colorado) and being 1 foot past what’s legal is illegal.

          Add to that the sheer number of people now using the wilderness out here. We used to go to some of the valleys around the Guanella Pass area specifically because there were very few people and it’s a decent place for a refresher on map & compass nav thanks to the terrain and density of the woods. Now the roads are paved and the place is so crowded that people are camping illegally, starting fires in the grass. Last time I was there I had a guy flag me down as I was driving. Must be some sort of problem, right? Nah, he wanted to know when the trucks would come by to pick up the trash like they do at his house in the ‘burbs. People were just piling bags of trash at the side of the road!

          Because of all of that the LE and Forrest Service folks are a bit sensitive about things they didn’t used to care about at all which just makes it more of a headache. And, like fly fishing spots, it constricts the area where shooters can go and means a greater density of people where you can go so now sometimes it’s a race for spots. Slept in past 0430? Give up now because you are NOT getting a spot.

          This is why when I want to do some serious long range work I just plan a trip to New Mexico. I can visit my family, not pay for hotel rooms and not put up with this kinda shit. It’s also why I treat this exactly like fly fishing. Tell you my go-to pistol shooting spot? Hells no. Find your own.

        • Strych9, that sounds like a nightmare. My parents are both 90. Not in good health. I always thought when they were gone I would go west. Think I’ll stay in N. Florida.

        • Wyoming is nice if you don’t mind wind. New Mexico is nice if you don’t mind desert. Both are real pretty country, nice people for the most part. Good places to fish, camp, hike, hunt or even just brush up on your nav and survival skills.

          Colorado… the pockets of nice are getting smaller over time but there’s also starting to be a major pushback against that. You can see that in how nearly no LGS follows any of the mag ban laws. Outside Denver and Boulder Counties and outside the big chain stores (Cabela’s, BPS, Jax Mercantile etc) the laws are almost universally ignored.

          North Florida is pretty nice though IMHO. South Florida isn’t my cup-o-tea, but the panhandle and over North of Jacksonville are nice, at least they were when I was there.

      • Thanks guys. Still on the other side of the state. Salt Lake is closer at 3 1/2-4 hours away. So, still not a quick trip to the range.

    • Smokin Barrel in Simi Valley let me rapid fire, but I practiced double taps, a few months ago. Shit you not, this one pistol shooter, a few bays down, rapid fired over 200 rounds, one of the stranger things i’ve scene at the range.

  5. One comment re the instructions.

    It is very important that people realize that re-holstering is not done “on the clock”. No extra points for going fast.

    Re-holstering should be slow and smooth. Its ok to look at the holster when doing it, since you shouldn’t be re-holstering until there is no longer a threat.

    People can and do cause negigent discharges when re-holstering. Its easy to avoid. Careful, slow, deliberate, and always make sure that the muzzle of the gun isn’t pointing into your body.

  6. Never been to a single indoor range that would allow any of these drills. You need to reheadline the article very misleading.

Comments are closed.