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All my students want to become better shooters. Some aspire to being more than just proficient. They want to develop their skills to the point where they’re confident that they’re more than ready and can perform well, either in a self-defense situation or in competition. In short, they want to become and advanced shooter.

If I had to describe what it means to be an “advanced” shooter, it’s deceptively simple: mastery of the fundamentals. All of them. Then learning to execute them consistently and faster than the other guy. That’s it.

But doing things faster is one thing. Even a rank beginner can usually manage to yank a handgun out of a holster and squeeze off a few shots relatively rapidly. The goal is to do it repeatedly and with precision, and that takes training. Training in the fundamentals of stance, draw, grip, aim and control, followed by lots of practice and repetition.

The Key Is Standards
When we talk speed, the biggest challenge to getting there is achieving consistency and developing standards. When defining standards that a shooter works to attain, they must be observable, measurable and the big one…repeatable.

If you’re all over the place, the biggest mistake you can make is continuing to practice and run your drills at what feels like full speed. You might achieved some intermittent success at advanced speeds, but without mastering the fundamentals and developing consistency, you’re not truly advanced. It’s time to slow down and master the fundamentals.

You won’t truly be an advanced shooter until you can meet minimum accuracy standards, repeatedly and on command, at full speed. That’s when you’ll know you’re dialed in.

Luck Has Nothing to do with it
Early on in our classes, I ask students to only shoot as fast as they can while accurately hitting the target zone. Many mistake my instruction, thinking I want them to shoot as fast as they can, hoping that they’re lucky enough to hit the target. But luck isn’t a strategy.

Instead, I want students to hone in on perfecting good technique with minimal extraneous movement. To work on each part of the draw-and-fire sequence, with economy of motion, executing each aspect of the whole as perfectly as they can. Even if it takes them a full minute or more to complete a draw-and-fire five-shot sequence perfectly, with all five shots in the target zone, I’m happy.

The goal is to perfect the basic techniques so that they’re repeatable to the point where the shooter can’t miss at slower speeds. The light bulb truly goes on when the student recognizes speed is only a byproduct of mastering good technique, practiced until it’s truly second nature.

Only then do I have them begin to dial up the speed, gradually, in a controlled manner. As long as they’re achieving 75-80% accuracy while maintaining good form and technique, I’m happy while they work at gradually increased pace.

It’s Not That Hard
When your technique is dialed in, your mistakes become fewer and fewer. This bring about a higher level of confidence in your ability to perform on command, regardless of circumstances.

The goal is to be able to execute when you least expect it, because you’ve practiced and developed the muscle memory to perform well without thinking. I tell my students the story of a famous sculptor being asked by a student how he creates his masterpieces. The artist’s reply: it is simple, I chip away the rock until only the sculpture remains.

The principle is very similar for shooters. We try to get rid of any unnecessary or redundant movement so all we’re left with is the minimal motion necessary to accomplish the task. Over time, the byproduct of that perfected technique — developed with plenty of practice — is increased speed.

Becoming an advanced shooter is a matter of doing everything, all the essential skills involved, consistently and well. Only then can you go as fast as you can, letting it all out when it really counts.


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 unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at

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  1. @Jeff G.

    Liked the article. Learning is never wasted. However….

    I note that the majority (vast majority?) of DGUs do not involve “advanced shooters”. That is, defenders who have taken some or any training courses. It may be that the reports never carry such information (level of training), so the number of defenders who have no training may be unknown (as it would be with the number who have had formal training of any sort).

    So my question is: What is a person training to achieve? Precision shooting at a threat 50 yards (150ft; where is the imminent threat?) away? Engage multiple threats at extended range? What is the value add of all the esoteric training offered all over the place?

    The reason for asking is that it is all too easy for the message to be, “If you are not a master of the gun, you shouldn’t have one.” Which sorta sounds like the people proposing “common sense gun control”, such as extensive training.

    • Can’t speak for Jeff, but the big thing about being able to consistently ring steel at 50 yards with a handgun is that it makes it much easier to shoot well at 10 yards. Also, it’s fun.

      I agree that most people don’t need training, beyond basic safety and function, for most defensive situations; however more practice, and useful practice is never a bad thing. Unless your spouse finds out you’ve blown your grocery money on ammo, of course

      • Understand the theory (and giggles) of training to hit small targets at distance. My curiosity is flavored by the knowledge that you “fight as you were trained”. That being so, are all these combat training courses setting people up to make risky decisions and shots?

        If you can consistently hit a six inch circle at 150 feet, why not try to take out a human target at 75 feet? Extended range shooting conditions the reflexes to respond to stimuli. If “the threat” is 75 feet away, why is “the threat” a threat? Defensive shooting to save the life of another person might be a situation where extended range competency is useful. However…very few training grounds put “innocents” around, near, behind the six inch circle. Does combat training (which is based on the combat experience – mostly in the sandbox) prep people to take unnecessary risks with their firearm response?

        I figured out that the longest shot I would be willing to take is 30 feet. It is the furthest distance (with clear line of site) I would need to shoot inside the home, and sufficient distance to give me a fighting chance against the ice cream cone attack. My target shooting with the ol’ .22 plinker is at 30 feet, or closer (have not seen poor accuracy at 30 feet improve when shooting targets at 50 feet). 30 feet is also the longest distance I would consider in defending someone else. 30 feet defines “imminent threat” for me, using a “reasonable person” standard.

        Of course, everyone is entitled to shoot as far and as fast as they can (whether they hit the target or not). Just wondering if training for combat in the desert really ups the real world skill most likely to be needed at home or the mall.

        • I”m with 99% of what you said. My one issue is your reasonable person 30ft belief.

          While those of us who have taken to concealed carry understand the Tueller Drill and 21ft as a hard line, I’d argue that the vast majority of the public (you know, those folks who make up the jury) would have a hard time buying the 30ft limit.

          • “I’d argue that the vast majority of the public (you know, those folks who make up the jury) would have a hard time buying the 30ft limit.”

            Not so much a “limit”, as a reasonable approach to the training issue. Since WW2 (which left us with a huge number of trained, long range shooters), we don’t see many reports of DGUs at 100 feet and beyond (like, none?). Or even fifty feet. Indeed, it seems most DGUs happen in 30 feet or less.

            I prefer to base decisions on as much data as can be collected. The available data does not seem to indicate the 75 or 150 foot shot is within the realm of statistical significance. Do I wear a seat belt in the car? Of course, all the time. However, the probability I will be in an auto accident is entirely more likely than being involved in a DGU requiring skill at targets 75 or 100+ feet away.

    • I guess the shooter in Alexandria, VA, who shot at members of Congress at a baseball game with an SKS rifle didn’t count as an imminent threat. Yes, a deadly threat can be 50 or even 100 yards away and pose an imminent danger to your life.

      • Agree. Someone actually shooting at you from a distance can be an “imminent threat”, but is that the most likely threat? Should one under such attack be shooting back with a handgun, or looking to flee the kill zone? Can you (anyone) be 100% accurate at 150 feet, and not pose a threat to innocents? Under fire?

        Looking at the overhead photo of the ball field, and the position of Scalise and the shooter, the surroundings for the shooter would have presented a thorny proposition for return fire (I do not know where the police were when they shot the man responsible for the armed attack).

        Does successfully hitting a six inch circle at 150 feet lull people into thinking they can hit anything, any time at that distance? Is that a mindset that results from “mastering” target shooting? Is that a mindset that should be encouraged?

        • There was no way to flee the kill zone, hence my example.

          The questions you are asking tell me that you do not have adequate training. Whether or not to open fire entirely depends on the situation. Can you clearly identify the target and what’s behind it? (Hmm, where did I hear that before?) Is there any innocent person that could get hurt? What is your level of proficiency?

          I know that I can make positive hits at 50 and even at 100 yards with a handgun. I also know that there is no such thing as 100% accuracy under all conditions. Does that mean I should never train and practice these skills, because there is not a guaranteed 100% success rate?

          If you do not possess the skills when they are actually needed, then you have the rest of your life to think about all the training and practice you should have had to obtain them.

          • Your comment is supporting my skepticism. If you cannot ensure you can hit only your target at 150 feet, you shouldn’t take the shot; no matter how much training. Thus, why spend effort training for a shot you shouldn’t make? (four rules, and all that)

            Really interested in the scenario where, in a non-military environment, you were attacked but unable to escape the kill zone. In evaluating my possible actions when under attack, I have not imagined the scenario you described. Need to fix that.

        • I already presented you with a scenario in a non-military environment. You chose to ignore it. There are others, but why bother listing them if you wont even acknowledge that one. Hint, the others mostly have to do with an attacker with a rifle pinning you down.

          Your comment is supporting my reasoning that you do not have adequate training. There is no such thing as a 100% success rate in life. If you think that you can hit at attacker with a pistol at 5 yards in all conditions 100% of the time, then you are wrong. If you think otherwise, your reasoning requires you to stop training for that.

          We don’t train for shots we wouldn’t make, we train for the ones we would. You just choose to ignore that you would ever need to make such a shot, hence your opposition to training for it. Again, when the time comes, you will have the rest of your life to think about all the training and practice you should have had.

          • ” If you think that you can hit at attacker with a pistol at 5 yards in all conditions 100% of the time, then you are wrong. If you think otherwise, your reasoning requires you to stop training for that.”

            If I can’t hit only the attacker at 15 feet, then you are correct. Which is why my first and primal response would be to evade the scene entirely. If there is a danger that I would hit another person (other than the attacker), I have no business trying to shoot the attacker in the first place. Why? Because no jury will ever acquit a gun owner for shooting an innocent bystander, regardless of the circumstances. Going into a gunfight with the idea that one would shoot even if not assured of hitting the attacker would be, in the minds of jurors, a gun owner who was comfortable shooting innocent bystanders while trying to save his/her own life. Crank in the fact that the shooting of the innocents took place at a distance of 100+ feet, and no “reasonable person” will conclude that such a shot was excusable.

            Fact does remain that being attacked by a bad guy with a rifle is so rare that the probabilities do not argue for becoming expert. The likelihood of being attacked is itself very, very low. Not sure practicing/training for that million-to-one, can’t escape, being attacked by a rifle event is of value. HOWEVER, this is not a screed about shutting down the combat training schools/instructors. Everyone is free to spend money however they like. The question is whether SOF training in preparation for the razor thin probability of long gun attack can be more harmful than helpful. Does that training set expectations that could lead someone to shoot, rather than evade? To shoot when innocents are nearby the attacker? To run ahead of their actual capability?

            A discussion. Not a challenge. Not a chest-thumping. Not an insult.

        • So, you finally agree that the shoot/don’t shoot decision at 5 yards is the same as at 50 or 100 yards, depending on an imminent threat, any innocent bystanders, and the ability to make that shot. The first two factors are situational, as I stated now multiple times. The last factor is skill level, as I stated now multiple times.

          As you state and as I stated, you just choose to ignore that you would ever need to make such a shot due to its low probability, hence your opposition to training for it. That’s your choice.

          A real-life scenario: On the day of the shooting at the recruiting center in Chattanooga, I was on a private range not that far away doing pistol training. If, by chance, the shooter would have driven by that private range, he could have stopped on the road and easily picked us up, one by one, with his rifle on this open, up-hill range. There was no cover and no escape. We were 50+ yards away from the road. We only carried pistols with FMJ ammunition for training. Let that real-life scenario sink in for a moment.

          Again, it is your choice to train and practice for it or not.

          • “…you just choose to ignore that you would ever need to make such a shot due to its low probability, hence your opposition to training for it.”

            Note quite.

            I generally ignore all potential disasters with likelihood of event approaching three zeros to the right of the decimal. Stuff happens; can’t deny, don’t deny.

            I am not opposed to training for anything a person wants. Am questioning the emphasis on combat training for such an unlikely event.

            One might be attacked by a dump truck. Should there be emphasis on training to operate as part of an anti-tank crew?

            Train for anything you want. I am skeptical of the message that if you don’t train to SOF standards, you are somehow incompetent as a POTG.

        • We are talking about the fundamentals of shooting and not some wild-ass ninja move here. Every shooter can learn hitting targets at 50 and even 100 yards with reasonable accuracy. It is really not that difficult, if you have been trained on how to do it. It takes a little practice. That’s it. Learning such fundamentals also helps at closer distances.

          You seem to have convinced yourself that such fundamentals of shooting is some sort of special forces thing. How did you came up with that one? This is not high-speed low-drag stuff, quite the opposite. Modern “tactical” training for civilians that simply want to carry concealed focuses way to much on the “tactical” stuff and not enough on marksmanship.

          • “You seem to have convinced yourself that such fundamentals of shooting is some sort of special forces thing. How did you came up with that one?”

            Looking at quite a number of training courses conducted by former military, one gets an impression that the training is designed to create combat infantry or special forces. The marksmanship (markspersonship?) training for handgun at 150 feet doesn’t seem all that different (for self-defenders vs. competition). The overlooked question is whether such training builds unreasonable expectations. As in, “I can hit a six inch disc at 150 feet, so I can take that risky shot at similar distance in a defensive shoot. Target shooting and self-defense shooting are seriously different. So, are concealed carriers being trained to a level that invites risky responses? Are those wanting to be concealed carriers looking at extreme training, and concluding they really cannot successfully defend themselves without that skill?

            The facts remain: the overwhelming majority of DGUs happen at less than 30 feet. While it is perfectly fine for people to train to whatever standard they like, is the focus on such training helping or hindering? I don’t know the answer; just asking a question.

        • The issue of overconfidence has absolutely nothing to do with distance shots. It is a general issue and actually addressed in a proper training class, which you apparently never attended. Every class I went to had a mindset or attitude class room component that focused on such issues, including conflict avoidance and some version of run/hide/fight (in that order).

          Your line of questioning and reasoning shows me that you have never attended such a class. Properly trained people engage in LESS risky responses!!! That is exactly what these students are looking for in the first place. You have a completely wrong understanding of training.

          The untrained person does not know what he is getting into. The trained person does, and makes the right decisions. Your argument is that a trained person will make a risky shot, because he can. My argument is that a trained person will make a risky shot only when he absolutely needs to. Learn the difference between “Can I shoot this person under these circumstances?” vs. “Do I have to shoot this person under these circumstances?”

          Consider getting some professional training! Ignore all training schools that do not have class room components.

          • I read every comment you made. I detect the same harsh, belligerent, vituperative statements issuing from the most hostile of gun grabbers. Insults do not validate any statement. Presuming to know the skill and training level of someone you never met is presumptive to your detriment. Trashing another’s questioning is a hallmark of the religious bigot.

            I am trying to have a conversation; you seem only interested in validating your own self-satisfaction.

            Over and out.

        • LOL. My assertions about you are entirely based on your comments and your apparent lack of understanding what modern firearms training really is about and what it isn’t. You have presented a view that simply shows that you do not know much about the topic, but have preconceived notions about it that simply do not match up with reality.

          I simply accused you of not having any training. Your reply just confirms that. I simply suggested you to take some training and you replied with insults that make zero sense.

          The joke is on you. I am agnostic. As for the one that is looking for validating his own self-satisfaction, look in the mirror.

          Again, consider getting some professional training! Ignore all training schools that do not have class room components.

    • My view is that we should train to be better than the adversary we are likely to face and to be competent enough to not hurt ourselves or other innocent people while going about our daily business.

      The vast majority of us are never going to do felony stops, clear buildings or take on a compound of angry terrorists. The threat we are most likely to face is the common criminal who is doing good to be able to figure out which end of the gun to hang on to. Good guys win in these scenarios with embarrassing regularity because the average bad guy is just that bad, not because we are just that good.

      Sure wish this comment system worked worth a darn.

    • Ah, but he has The Beard. If you have The Beard, one of the Shooting Fundamentals, you can get away with the pink shirt.
      If you have The Beard and a shaven head, you can then get away with not wearing pants.

  2. Once I master the cowboy bullet throw, nobody can beat me. Ever notice how those cowboys of yesteryear riding horses, slung them pistol barrels down range and dusted the bad guy at 75 yards. Yeah That

  3. Fast is fine, but accuracy is final.
    You need to learn how to take your time, in a hurry.

    Smooth, is fast.

    • In just about any endeavor it’s much easier to learn preci sion first and speed later than vise versa.

  4. You must face Vader. Only then will you be a Jedi Master of the Fundamentals.

  5. Like most fine motor skills repetition will condition. As long as your practice is perfect…

  6. The “real” experts are those who can defend without firing a shot. Flash-bangs, high intensity strobes, pepper spray, whistles, paint ball smoke grenades aren’t as glamorous as the fastest gun in the hood, but they are non-lethal. My attorney brothers at the bar can’t wait to get you in court for any reason. Don’t give them one. The principles of survival on the battlefield [mobility, counter-mobility and survivability] don’t go away just because we can shoot paper at a nice clip. The brain is the most lethal weapon in combat- use it first.

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