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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 [email protected].

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  1. Martial arts: you perform a kata. it’s too sloppy. tighten up. get it right. my grandmother can do it faster. you speed up. it’s too sloppy. you tighten up, while maintaining speed. the instructor is not being a jerk. the instructor is wise.

    • This. Practicing things in repetition is usually NOT glamorous, sexy, or exciting. But practicing correctly, at the right speed, builds skill and confidence.

      Did martial arts as a kid all throughout my childhood until college graduation. Used to hate doing kata / forms as opposed to sparring, but now as an adult, I see how wise and valuable are instructors were to teach it correctly.

      Time for all us to learn… GUNKATA! (cue up ridiculous Equilibrium clips, LOL)

      • Kata’s were taught as your “textbook” of movements. Gun training ‘katas’ , ie practiced routines should be the same. You practice the basics so they are automatic and you don’t have to think about them. You spend your mental energy / awareness on the actual situation and what your next move is.

    • Krav Maga, and MCMAP abandon forms and do the run whatcha brung, go with whatcha got.

      IMHO Practice practice practice, sure, but save your muscle memory for your hands and the weapon, clear it, take it down, clean it, put it back together and function check it, and dry fire.

      Best laid plans are just that – F’d.

      Just make sure the peedadrawers mag dumps are at least just that, don’t fail to cycle your weapon.

      40yds (any further out you should transition to your rifle, no rifle, have two + pistol mags to break contact or close) full mag on a green dog target. “Proficiency” at that is gravy and lesser distances will be easier.

        • Jeez, thank you! I’m sitting here thinking “40 yards?” Shit, man, I’m gonna call the cops and take a nap if the BG is at 40 yards. Shooting at him would be the furthest thing from my mind.

  2. I use two ranges, one indoor and one outdoor, 45 minutes in opposite directions @ interstate speed, so gas and time are a premium. I want my money/time worth in practice. NEITHER range will allow drawing from a container such as a pack or holster. This is apparently not typical of the ranges you are familiar with?

    Because of this I’ve been thinking/researching practice pistols and projected simulation at home as a PART of my self-training. A bit of an investment, but I’d spend it in ammo. Problem is my carry pistols are not represented. Well, one is, but training with a .45 and no muzzle flip to speak of strikes me as mostly a waste of time.

    Suggestions/feedback welcome. Things aren’t getting any better as-is.

    • I’d get a SIRT pistol. The cheapest model w/ plastic slide and red lasers. The lighter weight gives more challenge anyway.

      Shape the grip with a dremel so it approaches your EDC gun as much as possible.

      Buy a Glock holster of the same make and model as your EDC holster.

      Practise the grip, the draw, sight alignment, multiple target transition and trigger control at home. To me it’s money well spent.

    • I use a Laserlyte training cartridge in my firearm while at home. I practice drawing from a holster, presenting with proper grip and stance, and pulling the trigger for the first shot. Repeat.

      The live fire range trips allow me to present the firearm and fire multiple shots.

      I believe my regimen, while far from perfect, is beneficial for me. I’m hoping my new work schedule will allow me to take a couple of classes at the local big range.

      • If I have to state it: no live ammo in the same room. I use a couple of cheap mags without springs and followers and weighted for feel.

        • I use a good airsoft replica that I can practice inside the house with a draw, present, thumbs in position to sweep safety and fire. I can practice movement inside my house this way and fire with a blowbacks feel. Practice some mag changes as well. Pellets and CO2 is fairly cheap, and sticky gel targets can be places anywhere inside the house as target points.

    • Oh and make sure you buy Brian Enos’ book Practical Shooting Beyond Fundamentals.

      That book formed the basis of how I look at speed shooting.

    • RF, help me out, here, what was that group at FF demo-ing the AR and Pistol ammo that actually allowed realistic practice with your own gun, inside your apartment (nearly silent) with tiny paint pellets and artificial recoil. The damn system was expensive (after initial expenses, cost as much as shooting live ammo) but it worked really GOOD! That system, mostly designed for force-on-force training, is just what this guy is asking for, but I don’t recall the name. I have one of the .223 cases in my pocket, I was so amazed, but I don’t recall the name.

    • Ideas appreciated, guys. I think by the end of the week I’ll have an order in for SOMEthing. So far what I see are:
      1. SureStrike laser cartridge and my pistols: + my pistols, – no blowback, – must rack slide after every shot(!)
      2. SureStrike laser cartridge and AirSoft pistol with blowback: + gas for blowback, – not my pistol
      3. Laser training pistol: – not my pistol, – no blowback but + no need to rack the slide
      4. Cool Fire trainer: + my pistol, + gas for blowback, – change out barrel and spring twice for each session, – has not responded to email inquiry for over a week now (deal breaker for me)

      At this point I’m leaning toward #2, second #3. #1 is out because I don’t want to build muscle memory to rack the slide after every shot; #4 is out because they do not communicate even after I told them I anticipated a purchase, not to mention barrel and spring changing seems cumbersome and would probably make me train less.

  3. While I agree with the advice here a lot of this kind of stuff isn’t allowed on many ranges.

    The range I used to use, because it was close to where I was living, would give you the boot for a double tap or presentation from a holster because they said drawing from a holster or “rapid fire” was unsafe. I’ve been to other ranges with similar rules such as “one round per second” and firearms must always be pointed downrange or placed in the provided rack with the action open. In fact most of the ranges I’ve been to have these sorta rules.

    It’s a breath of fresh air to live by a range that allows these things.

    • to be fair to these ranges. A lot of the “IS VERBOTEN!” stuff is because of insurance companies handwringing and knicker twisting. You can bet your ass the company that insures them had some corporate cubicle monkey who runs numbers but also disregards those numbers when he gets a gut feeling of “high risk” and makes things dumb for the folks paying the premiums.

    • My local indoor range has those rules, thus the airsoft practice. My outdoor club range I can do anything I likem but it gets cold in winter months to practice properly, do back to the airsoft for pistol work.

  4. Nick,
    Thoughtful article.Thanks. My one qualm is your statement that combat or defensive shooting is “nothing more ” than an extension of marksmanship training. Well, yes and no. A tranquil, even active range session helps with the fundamentals. Yet it isn’t that grey dim parking garage or deserted parking lot ( you know it– just down the road from the bar) , or the sudden attack on you and your wife while walking in the shopping center. Not as an aside, I’ve had a few close calls in parking lots and malls…in daytime. I never sought trouble, keep to myself, but stuff happens. I don’t want to think about being almost alone on a NYC or Chicago subway car.Stress is the factor we know will creep up on us in an emergency. We can train for it and hope for the best. The BGs and sometimes Bgals (most recently Philadelphia) just pop up….and in most cases if a citizen uses a firearm for those “youths” who didn’t commit a capital offense ( just a mild beating to the head) , he or she will be arrested and prosecuted. So we’ve got to know when and how to react to the sudden storms foisted on us, against our free will and according. Troubling stuff, eh?

    • Tommy, thank you for your kind words. Let there be no confusion though, we are talking about 2 different skill sets. You are referring to MINDSET more than TACTICS or SKILLS. Advanced people like yourself have to complete package. My only point here is that you will not learn any new skills during your gunfight. Learn the basics and apply them based on your sound judgement and situational awareness. You will prevail

      • Nick,
        I appreciate your response . Mindset and skillset merge when everything goes well. I like your delineation because it reflects the reality of what we need in a dynamic unfolding situation. The other factor is to know when NOT to shoot. For the good guy or gal It can make a difference between an arrest and trial and a troubled conscience as well if a shooting could in fact be avoided. I am glad those who trained and counseled me emphasized this. My sense is that your courses are thorough. I hope you’ll write some more articles. Too bad I’m far removed from N. Idaho. Straight anf safe shooting, and take care. Tommy

  5. I’ve been very fortunate this past year – a new range opened up in The Woodlands, TX that allows both draw from holster (after being certified by RSO – a good thing, which keeps the rookies and showboaters from messing things up) and rapid fire. It’s an indoor range only which doesn’t get you more than the static lanes, single target lanes, and no movement to target – but they are working on options – a fairly sophisticated simulator room with at least 20 video options helps, and tactical training classes off-site should provide the bridge from the basics to real-life scenarios.
    Dry fire is great, laser-lite is better, but nothing beats the live-fire practices as described in this article.

  6. As a postscript, training pays off. Without getting into details, I was in two situations where my decision was not to fire. Had I fired it would have been a righteous shoot, but deciding to not shoot made a bad situation better. Sometimes if one can deescalate without using the gun makes it a better day or night for all parties. I had superb guidance and instruction from a superb officer and born leader who, after the events were settled, told me I did the right thing. Sadly, thirty four years ago he put his backup Colt pocket pistol Cal 32 ACP, under his chin and pressed trigger. The bullet lodged in his brain. He lived and suffered for six months before dying. It was his wife who visited daily. wiping his brow. The ” other woman” never visited. I’ll never forget him for his decency, courage, military proficiency and ethics. May his soul be at peace.

  7. Nick,

    What does shooting @25 yards tell you about your bore, cold or otherwise?

    Some good advice here but some is debatable. Training for combat emphasizes closer engagemnets and different drills, typically. But fundamentals are still important. Some instructors say marksmanship is as little as 10% of the self-defense art.

    • Cold bore in this context is not nearly as much about mechanical accuracy as showing the shooter that they can put every thing together and make a first round hit when they need to. Shooting at distance confirms we are doing it right up close. There won’t be an opportunity to shoot some warm up shots prior to making the one your life depends one.

      Everything in every article is debatable. That is the beauty of this site and the free flow of information. I have been fortunate to train with some of the best instructors in the country. I have also paid a lot of money to instructors that were less than stellar. I have learned something from all of them.

      Yes, I am lucky. I live in an area where we have the ability to move and shoot. Most of my time is spent training on LE ranges . As many have said, there are many ways to practice these skills without firing a live round.

      • Your point is well-taken, but firing a 1 (5 times) shot 25 yard head shot drill is not what I consider a good cold test for self-defense preparation. It’s a possible but extremely improbable SD scenario and can affect performance for the rest of the session for all but the most advanced students.

        Drawing from concealment and firing an accurate hammer pair into the cardiac triangle at 5-7 yards is more appropriate. For more advanced students, I encourage a FAST drill at 7 yards or a some friendly “dot torture” at 5-10 yards.

        25 yard shooting has a place in combat training but not as a first drill.

        That’s on of the reasons I love this field. Respectable disagreement. 🙂

        • it’s really easy to have trash trigger control at speed and do what you’re suggesting (maybe not dot torture but that’s kind of a dumb drill due to the fact it doesn’t require time constraints), but you can’t fake it at 25 yards. A guy who can drill upper A headboxes at 25 can likely hose with the best of them at 5-7, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

          This, coming from a reformed hoser who previously thought like you do.

  8. Were it only that easy. Good luck finding a range in an urban area where you have
    1) Ability to rapid fire
    2) Ability to drop a mag without it ending up 4 feet down range
    3) uneven ground to train on
    4) Ability to draw and fire in any way whatsoever

    yes all of these are important, very important in fact, but sadly, unavailable to an urban shooter, and lets face it. Its the urban people who are most likely to NEED to deploy a close combat weapon.

    Best we can do is use a laser and snap caps and shoot at pictures of our mother in law across the room. Its not the same, but ya do what ya gotta do.

    …and who likes their mother in law anyway! (Though i favor the moving target of my wifes dog, but DONT forget the snap caps or you better have a good divorce attorney on speed dial)

  9. I think all the emphasis on taking classes and practicing moving and shooting are good. However, 99.99% of armed self defenders out there don’t have the money to take one of these serious shooting classes or even if they do they have families/jobs/responsibilities that make it impractical to take a long course at the intervals you mentioned. Most probably struggle to spend the requisite time at the range to become good not just dangerous and only slightly more capable.
    I think as far as stacking the deck in your favor for surviving an attack people might be far better served by trading in their gym membership for classes in some sort of hand to hand martial art (I am partial to Gracie Jiu Jitsu). Nothing teaches you how to not freeze under pressure faster than getting choked. You don’t have to move beyond being a white belt to learn something there.
    So many people spend every penny of their disposable income on the latest greatest gun/ammo/gear/training classes and yet would be completely out of the fight if the attacker closed the distance and landed one solid punch on their face or would suffer a massive coronary if they had to run more than half a block to get away from an attacker. Too many people focuse on shooting and carrying a gun but have zero practical self defense training beyond shooting.

  10. “Combat or defensive shooting is nothing more than an extension of marksmanship basics. ” Thanks for driving that home.
    Advanced shooting is nothing more than the consistent application of the fundamentals. The folks that nail those fundamentals efficiently, every single time, those are the winners, just like in pretty much every skilled endeavor. Those fundamentals are the same at contact range, at 25 yards, and at 125 yards. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either inexperienced in actual combat, or just trying to sell you something, or likely both.

  11. “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.”

    Think the last sentence should be amended to read – “One can learn to shoot a stiker fired gun low and left in a relatively short time”.

    A good trigger pull piggy backs on a good grip – striker gun guys don’t realize how bad their grip is usually because they’re content just shooting low and left, or just left.

    But I’m a weirdo, I compete with a 75 SP01 and carry a full size 75B and shoot them about the same. DASA may take more work than strikers to learn, but I genuinely prefer it once I got the DASA bit sorted out.

  12. Thank you for the article. To address a few of the comments…..
    The Dot torture drill should be done with a minimum of a 5 second par time per 6 shot string at 7 yards. It’s a difficult drill to clean (36 for 36) so if adjustment is necessary start at 5 yards, keep the par time of 5 seconds, and move back as you improve.

    Many think that speed is something that will miraculously happen if they practice slow-smooth long enough. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way. Speed must be trained, just like accuracy. Learning to fire accurate follow up shots while the gun is still recovering from recoil, instead of waiting for the sight picture to settle completely, is mandatory. Also mandatory is understanding the quality of trigger press & sight picture necessary for a given target. Ask Rob Leatham, Max Michel, or any of the finest special forces handgunners if they lightly squeeze the trigger until a surprise break happens and then ride the trigger back to reset!

    • Rob Leatham doesn’t give a crap about the quality of the trigger press. He basically advocates “jerking the trigger” and demonstrates that it doesn’t matter by having a student hold his/her gun on target, sticking a pen or something through the trigger guard, and karate chopping it to fire the gun. The hits are always exactly where the student is aiming. He also has the student hold the gun and then he pulls the trigger for them. This way they don’t know when the gun is going to fire and they don’t flinch or otherwise anticipate recoil and move the gun off target. Even with a 3rd party jerking the trigger, the hits are dead on target. His point is that basically nothing matters as long as you can discharge the gun without moving the sights away from your point of aim. It’s grip the gun really tightly, pull the trigger without moving the gun at all, then only after it fires do you control the recoil and get the sights back on target, something that happens naturally when you’re gripping it tightly in a braced stance anyway.

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