“You are what you practice.” — Ken Hackathorn
The gun business is booming. There were enough guns sold on Black Friday last year to equip the United States Marines (and a couple of extra Army divisions). However, there’s an annoying tendency within the firearms business community to view the sale of a firearm as the be-all, end-all of gun ownership, without helping the customer learn how to use their gun. The fact is, aside from collectors, very few people buy a gun just for the sake of owning one; rather, they buy with a specific purpose in mind. That purpose, according to a 2014 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, is target shooting and self-defense.
Today’s new target shooters tend to live in cities instead of in the country, so their access to large pistol bays or open land where shooting is permitted is limited at best. However, today’s urban gun owners can take advantage of the fast-growing phenomenon of the luxury gun range, or “guntry club,” shooting in a comfortable, well-lit indoor range, or shoot pistols from a bench at a public outdoor range.
An indoor range or nearby outdoor range is convenient, but shooting the traditional multi-target skill-building drills from a booth at an indoor range is usually out of the question. There are many effective practice drills for self protection, such as the classic El Presidenté drill to the Figure Eight response drill that will make you a better shooter. However, most of these drills require an open space to set up multiple targets, such as a pistol bay at a range or public land with a good backstop.
This presents a problem for new defensive pistol owners who want to improve their skills and do more with their range time than punch a ragged hole in the center of their target. It is not, however, an insurmountable obstacle, because there are drills that can be shot from a booth at an indoor range or a bench at a public range that will improve your ability to defend your life with a pistol. I’ve found four drills that can be shot from the bench at any indoor range and most outdoor ranges; these do not ban so-called “rapid fire” from the bench/booth and yet will still help boost your confidence and skill with your defensive firearm.
Shooting drills like these on a regular basis will provide you with at least two benefits: You’ll improve your skill with your defensive firearm, and you can track your progress over time as you go. If your range does not allow drawing from a holster (and many do not), you can start from either “low ready” with your pistol safely pointed at a spot on the ground halfway between you and your target or “compressed high ready” and still get the benefits of these drills. Of the two, I prefer the high ready start, because it mimics the motions you need to quickly pick up your sights after you draw your pistol from a holster and gives you yet another skill to practice while performing these drills.
- Distance: 7 yards.
- Target: Any silhouette target (USPSA or IDPA preferred).
- Start Position: Holster preferred; otherwise a “ready” position.
- Description: Six shots are fired as quickly as the shooter can achieve six hits on the target. The drill teaches sight tracking, proper visual reference, recoil management, and trigger manipulation.
I like this drill because it teaches how to send out an accurate, fast volume of fire. Also, it’s easier to knock out a perfect shot if you have time to think about each shot: Mistakes and poor form show up when you don’t have time to correct in-between shots.
Mozambique Drill (aka, The Failure to Stop Drill):
- Distance: 10 yards.
- Target: Any silhouette target.
- Start Position: Holster preferred, otherwise a “ready” position.
- Description: “Two to the body, one to the head; I’m alive and you’re dead.”
This is a classic drill that is still relevant today. It helps teach that sometimes the bad guy (or gal) doesn’t fall down after the first shot and that an accurate, decisive shot to the body’s mission control center (also known as the medulla oblongata) is needed to stop the threat.* It’s also a good drill to help you evaluate what’s going on with you and your surroundings as rounds are going downrange, because tunnel vision is a very real thing in a stress-filled situation.
F.A.S.T. (Fundamentals, Accuracy, and Speed Test):
- Distance: 7 yards.
- Target: Specific target (PDF).
- Start Position: Hands at sides, gun holstered and concealed if possible; otherwise a “ready” position.
- Description: Shooter loads gun with a total of two rounds. On start signal, shooter draws and fires two rounds at the small target; performs a slidelock reload; and fires four rounds at the circular target.
Created by renowned firearms trainer Todd Green, this drill is traditionally shot with a coat or shirt covering your gun; adjust as needed for the rules of your range. This is a deceptively easy drill. Shooting this with a decent time and full accuracy is a good test of your defensive marksmanship ability because it tests your draw and reload speed as well your ability to deliver a volume of fire and hit small targets on-demand.
- Distance: 3 yards.
- Target: Specific target (PDF).
- Start Position: Varies.
- Description: Start at 3 yards. You have to get all 50 hits to pass. Once you can shoot the whole drill without a single miss, either increase the distance or add time pressure. For instance, try to finish the entire drill in under five minutes while maintaining 100 percent accuracy.
I hate this drill. I love this drill. It looks easy until you try it: Three yards seems close until you realize that 100 percent accuracy is needed to pass and move the target back. After five years shooting this drill, I’m still stuck at five yards, but it has made me a much better shooter. This is the drill I most often recommend to people who want to get better at competition or be more confident in their defensive pistol skills, because it covers almost everything you need to know in just 50 rounds.
A handy tip if you try any of the drills with a built-in reload is to take along a shoebox or plastic container to catch your magazines as they fall out of your pistol so they don’t fall out of reach in front of the firing line. If your range bans rapid fire and/or drawing from a holster, some of these drills won’t work for you, but you can still work on “press-outs” from high ready, or practice table starts with an unloaded gun (something that comes in handy in both competition and in the real world).
Give these drills a shot (or 50) the next time you’re at the range and watch as your skills improve.
* You note that I never use the term “shoot to kill” and neither will any competent firearms professional. No one in the civilian world advocates shooting to kill; we try to stop the threat to our lives and the lives of our loved ones. If that means they run at the sight of a gun, cool. Mission accomplished. If that means we’re nowhere near the threat in the first place, even cooler; that’s a fight we win by default. As always, I am neither a lawyer nor did I sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night: Please consult a legal professional about this sort of thing.
Special thanks to Ben and Luke of Triangle Tactical for their help with this post.