Skill Drills For New Pistol Owners


shutterstock_89863252“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.

Bill Drill:

  • 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.

Dot Torture:

  • 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.

Published in General, Guns
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  1. cirby Inactive

    The problem I have with local ranges is that they’re really strict about “rapid fire.” Basically, anything more than one shot per second is taboo.

    I almost got kicked out of one range for doing Mozambique drills.

    • #1
  2. livingthehighlife Inactive

    cirby:The problem I have with local ranges is that they’re really strict about “rapid fire.” Basically, anything more than one shot per second is taboo.

    I almost got kicked out of one range for doing Mozambique drills.

    Same with my local range.  They require 2 seconds between shots.

    • #2
  3. Hoyacon Member

    Kevin (or anyone else): do you have an opinion on the Walther CCP for a relative newbie?  Male or female.  More generally, is “recoil” as much of an issue for a new shooter as it appears to me?

    • #3
  4. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton

    I’ve not shot the CCP, but it’s a weird duck in the pistol world as it’s gas-operated like a rifle rather than delayed-action blowback. I’ve heard others say it’s very easy to rack the slide but the trigger is a little weird.


    (And I say this as someone who is desperately in love with the CZ75, the ultimate hipster gun), there are reasons why uncommon guns are uncommon.

    As for recoil, anything in the “Compact” 9mm range (Glock 19, et al) is fine to start with. Any smaller, and the gun isn’t that fun to practice with.

    • #4
  5. Hoyacon Member

    My thanks–I’m fortunate enough to have a spouse who’s enamoured of the CCP and me.  And that’s it.

    • #5
  6. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn

    Great, now I have to add CZ to the list…

    • #6
  7. Antipodius Inactive

    I’m a legal handgun permit owner in Australia. Owning a firearm in Australia is no longer a right, but is a privilege. I am a member of a local firearms range where I compete in pistol shooting (the only permissible reason to own a handgun). My handgun permit only lasts one year, is a privilege, dependent on my competing in at least 6 competitions a year and being a member of a gun club. The police firearms branch review my license every year and have the right to terminate it if they feel I am not a “fit and reasonable person”.I cannot discharge my firearm outside of a designated firing range. I cannot store ammunition or the handgun in the same part of my gun safe. I cannot transport or store my gun with rounds loaded in the magazine, or a loaded magazine within the firearm. I cannot own a magazine with more than a 10 round capacity.I cannot use my handgun for personal protection, even when within my own home- as this is illegal and would result in a firearms act violation and the termination of my license as well as legal proceedings against me.My firearm is registered by law. The possession of a firearm means that the police have the right to search my entire house and inspect my safe and firearm on any day- so long as they have a “reasonable” cause to do so and arrive at a reasonable hour. So there……..

    • #7
  8. Quietpi Member

    And this is the model to which BHO, HRC and their ilk aspire.  But they will not take away our shotgun or our rifle, or our handgun.

    Wait.  Wait.  But didn’t they just say…? But then they said…?  I’m so confused.

    • #8
  9. OldGoatWasatch Inactive

    Thanks.  This gives me more to think about than how much fun it is just to pull the trigger. (Have printed the specific targets out and will use them next time I go to the range. Since I mainly shoot revolvers will have to modify somewhat but still helpful.)

    • #9
  10. Ryan M Inactive
    Ryan M

    Hoyacon:Kevin (or anyone else): do you have an opinion on the Walther CCP for a relative newbie? Male or female. More generally, is “recoil” as much of an issue for a new shooter as it appears to me?

    I own a CCP and really like it.  The takedown and trigger are both complaints that many reviewers have, but neither are particularly relevant for most users.  The trigger is not bad.  It is not as good as the Walther PPQ, but it is also not horrible… many compact pistols have long trigger pulls, and the CCP may be gritty but it’s not bad, either.  The takedown is different than most guns and maybe somewhat more complex, but you’re most likely to take it apart at home on a bench.  It isn’t as if you’re carrying a CCP in the field (military, for instance) or taking it down during an active shooter situation.  There’s little reason to complain about that.

    It is easier to rack.  The piston blowback does result in less recoil, and the ergonomics are really great.  All in all, I’d say it is a wonderful little gun.  If you have room to conceal it, all the better.  It is somewhat larger than the competition in concealable 9mm.

    • #10
  11. Hoyacon Member

    Thanks, Ryan.  Most helpful.

    • #11
  12. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible

    Andipodius;  Your entire comment would make an excellent NRA recruiting letter.

    • #12
  13. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible

    I liked the article and will practice some of the drills, but I don’t think most of the are appropriate for new pistol owners.   They need to practice basic fundamentals, stance, trigger control, sight alignment, breath control, etc. and just get over basic fears and anxiety first.

    • #13
  14. E Inactive

    I’d recommend everyone consider participating in USPSA / IDPA events. As far as I can tell, there are clubs in just about every state:

    You will become a better shot, more confident and in most cases, more proficient than >95% of the public.

    When you are new to most clubs, the old timers are almost always eager to provide advice.

    It’s great for kids and ladies too!

    One caution though: many of the participants cuss like Rob on red bull, so if you bring your kids, be prepared.

    One final note, Triangle Tactical produces two podcasts – I only have time to listen to the weekly Q&A and not the long format podcast, but if you start with their early podcasts, you’ll learn a lot.

    • #14
  15. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton

    One that I forgot to add (and is suitable for any range that restricts you to one shot/second) is the 5×5 Drill.

    Five shots
    Five 2″ dots
    Five Seconds
    Five Yards
    Five Times

    Deceptively easy.

    • #15
  16. EHerring Coolidge

    Sounds like the 5×5 is for me.  I usually stick those little circles all over my silhouette target to get something more challenging in addition to the big black chest.  Besides, walk out of the range with a sillouette with bunches of holes all around the edge and they think you are a bad shot….walk out with tight clusters in those little circles and nobody thinks ill of you.

    For SC folks….the state DNR runs some great, free, outdoor ranges.  I visited one up above Clemson that had shooting positions with a table and roof.  Another one in Spartanburg actually has a volunteer on duty to supervise/help who is very nice.  Pistol ranges, rifle ranges, and skeet are in separate areas.  I tried them all.  They have 10 ft concrete culverts in berm that you must shoot through on the rifle range.  That took some getting use to when I shot an AK.  The percussive sound was different.  You must sit to shoot through the culvert.  There is one near Newberry but I haven’t been there.

    • #16
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