Learning to shoot, part IIA….how to PRACTICE! (dry-fire section)

So, you’ve got the fundamentals down pretty well, you’ve got the basics of a safe, efficient draw and reload, you’ve practiced transitions, worked on your splits, done some practice with effective movement and a bit of shooting on the move…

…how do you get better without paying for more training?  In other words, how can you set up dry and live fire drills to give you the maximum improvement for your time?

Well, first you need to figure out what exactly you need to improve.  What are your goals?  Better competition shooting?  Better self-defense techniques?  What exactly are you trying to learn?  Creating a list of specific skills you wish to improve will help you organize your practice in an efficient fashion.

Here are a few skills that should be on everyone’s list, no matter how skilled they think they are–and these skills should STAY on your list, no matter how much better at them you get:

  1. Drawing to a close, high-percentage target
  2. Drawing to a distant, low-percentage target
  3. Emergency (slide-lock) reload
  4. Speed reload
  5. Transitions
  6. Trigger control:  freestyle, SHO, WHO

(These are NOT in order of importance, by the way.)  Now, obviously there are other skills that should be added, depending on what your goals are for practice.  However, no matter what your goals, you should be practicing the above skills.

So let’s talk about how to practice…

Brief discussion about practice theory, regarding the best way to ingrain habits:

  • Frequent short practices cause more effective retention than longer practices that occur less often.
  • Imperfect practice does not improve skill—and it may actually worsen the skill.
  • And yet, if you don’t push yourself, you will not get better nearly as quickly (and your “best” level will be lower than it should be).
  • Focusing consciously on the skill you are practicing will increase skill retention.
  • It is extremely difficult to consciously focus on a particular skill for very long.

For most effective results, a combination of dry fire and live fire practice should be done—in particular, dry fire practice on a continuing, regular schedule (multiple times per week) supplemented with live fire practice.

The goal of the dry fire practice is to ingrain proper technique, and push yourself.  The purpose of the live fire practice is to test your skill, monitor for dry fire practice errors or issues, and practice usage of those skills.  (Yes, you also want to push yourself in live fire—but pushing yourself too hard results in unsafe practice, and shooting yourself is not a good way to increase skill.)

Ben Stoeger has an interesting comment in his video Training to Win, discussing one of the shooters:

“He saw something in his technique that he needs to change.  So he needs to take that back home and dryfire and then he’ll be able to make that change.  You can’t really change anything out on the range. You only have time to fire maybe a couple hundred rounds, maybe you can only make it out once a week--all the repetition has to be done at home, he has to do the dryfire.”  [Emphasis added.]

And he’s got a point.  Unless you get to the range 3-4 times a week, AND have plenty of ammo, you simply aren’t going to get in that many reps of any particular skill drill.   Compared to what you can do with dryfire, live range work really should be for testing skills, and practicing skill chains.

At home in dryfire is where you ingrain those basic physical skills.  That’s where you do the reps to make your movements smooth, fast, and precise.  That’s where you work to make the changes, and do them enough times to make them automatic.

And only THEN do you go to the range to test what you’ve done.  For most people, your capacity to learn physical skills during dryfire is MUCH higher than your capacity to learn them during live fire.

So how can we optimize our learning in dryfire?  Well, first off—have the self-discipline to dryfire every day.  No, you don’t have to set aside an hour every day–even 5 minutes can count.  Try for three times a week of at least 30 minutes, and at least 5 minutes a day the rest of the week.

What do you do for that 5 minute practice?  Wall Drill. Freestyle, SHO, and WHO. (Strong-hand-only and weak-hand-only.) Don’t even need to have your holster or any other gear on, just need the gun, don’t even need to have a magazine in it. 10 reps freestyle, 10 SHO, 10 WHO. Then do it again (10/10/10) but this time, practice bringing up the gun from a low extended ready position. Then do it one last time (10/10/10) but this time, practice extending it out from a compressed center ready position. Whole thing gives you 30 reps of each shooting style, and 90 as-perfect-as-you-can-make-them trigger presses. Takes under 5 minutes.

And it’ll make a huge difference in your shooting, all by itself—BUT you have to concentrate on being perfect for the entire time. Don’t just do the reps to get them over with. Concentrate on what you are doing. Focus hard on that front sight. Watch what it does when the hammer/striker falls. Know what the sights did when the gun went click and afterward. 90 reps total.

Does this get boring?  Only if you let it.  You need to have the self-discipline not to slack off and blow off practice in the first place–but ALSO to make sure you pay attention and focus for that five minutes of reps.  If you are having trouble focusing, strap on a holster and do the wall drill by drawing from the holster, instead.  (Freestyle, SHO, and draw-transition-to-WHO.)   If you have time, periodically switch from holstered to extended low to compressed ready start positions.  Work that trigger press.

Okay, how about the rest of the time–those 30+ minutes of practice?

That depends on your goals, and how advanced you are at your skills.  (In particular, how efficient your movement already is, and how automatic your basic skills are.)  In general, there are roughly three levels of dryfire practice:  basic skills, chained skills, and multitasking.  And most people should NOT work much on chaining or multitasking until their basic skills are solid.

So let’s talk about how to practice a particular basic skill.  Basic practice progression:

  1. Practice it perfectly without time reference
  2. Practice it slightly slower than your normal best speed
  3. Practice it at your best speed
  4. Practice it slightly faster than your best speed
  5. Practice it perfectly without time reference

Let’s say a person’s normal “par time” on a draw from a holster to an A-zone hit at 7 yards is 1.5 seconds.  This means that about 85-90% of the time, that person gets the draw finished with a good sight picture and prepped trigger in 1.5 seconds from an audible start signal.  (The other 10-15% of the time, there is a fumbled grip or a lack of sight focus, or something similar.)  Basically, when the shooter is doing their job, they can complete the skill within the par time consistently.

So, in dryfire, this skill should be practiced something like:

  • 5 reps with a start signal but no par time
  • 10 reps timed at 0.2 above the par time
  • 10 reps timed at the par time
  • 5 reps timed 0.1 below the par time
  • 5 reps timed 0.2 below the par time
  • 5 reps with a start signal but no par time

You get a total of 40 reps, the first 5 and the last 5 of which should be perfect, 20 of which should be solidly correct, and 10 of which are pushing you to be faster.  In general, the above will take somewhere along the lines of 5-10 minutes.

After some practice, you are going to find that you are now hitting 85-90% of the drills at 0.2 below your par time.  So—time to reduce the par time.

So to do this, you need to keep yourself a log of par times for various drills.  Periodically, re-evaluate your par times and adjust them.  (Don’t adjust them each time you practice, unless your par time is too fast and it is making you sloppy.)  Unless something is ridiculously easy, don’t change a par more often than every 6-8 practices.

Now—when doing this, it is incredibly important that you are HONEST with yourself.  Did you really have the correct grip on the gun?  A proper trigger prep?  A clear, focused sight picture?  Just throwing the gun around won’t make you better.  (Matter of fact, unfocused dryfire practice will make you worse pretty quickly.  You’ll feel faster, but you won’t be able to hit anything, and your control will go downhill fast.)

So—pick three different skills and work on them.  That’ll give you about a 30-minute practice time.  Set your par times, log them, and make sure to track what you practice.  Keep a “comments” section in your logbook to add sudden insights, problems that crop up, or questions that you want to think about.  If you suddenly make a change that makes a world of difference, write it down!

Next time you practice, pick three skills—two of which you practiced last time.  (Practicing a skill once, then not getting back to it for another month doesn’t actually help much.)  Keep practicing, and rotate those skills.  Get in reps.  Remember, shorter practices that occur more often are better than long marathon practices that only occur once in awhile.

If you have 15 minutes, do a full drill on one skill, plus the Wall Drill.  Every day you don’t do any other practice, do the Wall Drill.

Now, there are plenty of other things you can do in dryfire practice, but this isn’t a book, so I’m not doing to type them all out.  For those interested in basic skills, Steve Anderson’s first dryfire book is a great way to start.  For those interested in chaining or multitasking, Ben Stoeger’s dryfire books are excellent also.

And after all that, go out to the range and check yourself in live fire.  (Discussion on that will be forthcoming in the next post.)

Other posts in this series:

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9mm vs .45 — which really IS better?

Yes, I’m diving into the “9mm vs .45” war.  No, I don’t care that you have a preference.  (I don’t care in that it doesn’t matter to me, though obviously it should matter to you.)  Yes, I realize that many people will immediately hate me no matter what I’m going to say next.

Before I jump in, though, here’s my question to you:  Do you know what current research says about ballistic effectiveness when comparing modern self-defense rounds between 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP?

If the answer is “No” then your opinion is useless, whether it happens to be right or wrong.  You see, here’s the deal:  Your ignorant opinion (ignorance:  lack of knowledge, which is not the same as stupidity) is simply not as valid as someone else’s knowledgeable opinion.  This doesn’t mean that you might not be right, and the other person can’t be wrong—but it DOES mean that if you start by saying “Well, I don’t know much about it, but I think…” —-then the rest of your sentence really should be— “….that I should shut up and learn about the subject before I express my opinion.”  If you happen to be right in your opinion, it is purely due to luck, since you have already admitted you don’t know what you are talking about.

Do you have a caliber preference in terms of self-defense round?  Probably.  Is that preference based on “feel,” personal expectations, personal experience, opinions heard on the internet, opinions heard from friends, or wide-scale research data?

Because while you are welcome to go with whatever your preference is, the only reason list above that is valid for reliable results is the last one—wide-scale research data.  How it “feels” doesn’t tell you anything.  Personal expectations based on what?   Personal experience—well, once you’ve shot 1000 people with varying rounds for comparison purposes, get back to me.  Opinions heard on the internet or from friends?  Please.  I’ve heard people advocating disassembling a handgun one-handed and putting the parts in a bag on the dashboard while coming to a stop on the highway when pulled over by the state patrol in order to make the LEO more comfortable with the firearm.

(No, I’m not kidding about that.  I wish I was.)

So why should you listen to my opinion?  Because I’m right?  How about because I’m telling you not to take my opinion as gospel, and instead telling you to look at what the research says, and what it means.

10mm-1

 

I realize that is actually considered sacrilege to the “.45acp is God’s Own Round” crowd and the “9mm capacity makes all the difference” crowd and the “.40 is the best of both worlds” crowd.  (Not to mention what the 10mm Manly Man are like on this topic.)  And yet—opinions based on lack of fact mean nothing.

Oh, good lord, I forgot the .357Sig fanatics.  Yeah, them too.

 

I’m bringing this up because I have a friend who carries a Glock 30 in .45acp all the time.   He likes to shoot IDPA matches, but realizes that particular gun is non-optimal for the IDPA game for all that IDPA touts itself as being for “real concealed carry” training.  In SSP or CDP he is at a “compact gun” disadvantage, and in SSP he is at a serious recoil disadvantage.

He asked me about switching to a 9mm for IDPA, and I asked him (since I knew he carried his G30) if he wanted IDPA to be for trigger time with his carry gun, or instead wanted to work on winning matches.  After all, while trigger time is always good, the grip on a full-size 9mm Glock is different from the grip on a G30, and if he wanted to work with both, it was going to take even more practice.  So, did he want to mazimize his SD practice and also play at IDPA, or did he want to practice with two guns, work on SD, and work on IDPA at the same time?  He decided that was really the question, and started thinking about it.

(I realize that at this time, the people who carry 5 different guns and rotate them out weekly or have the “you should be able to handle EVERY gun!” attitude will be wondering why this is a problem.  For you folks, never mind.)

Back to what my friend was thinking about:  When I thought about it, I really wondered if that really was the right question.  What if, instead, the real question is:  are you completely wedded to the idea of a .45acp for self-defense?

You know what current research says about modern self-defense rounds in 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP?  It says that 1) all are marginal in effectiveness, 2) reliable physiological stops only occur due to disruption of the central nervous system (CNS), 3) those calibers work equally well (or rather, equally badly) for shots placed in the CNS, and 4) all calibers (including .22) work equally well for psychological stops.  Oh:  5) Heavier bullets (in pistols) work slightly better to defeat intermediate barriers, if your lifestyle happens to be such that you often have to shoot through doors and windshields.

(How many .45/.40 folks just said, “Well yeah, see, mine is better” I wonder?)

How often DO you want to be able to shoot through intermediate barriers?  (Unless you have a job that potentially requires it, of course.)  Don’t people who think about normal citizen self-defense usually worry about the exact opposite?

So here’s the thing:  unless you have a job that requires you to have slightly better than pretty bad barrier penetration, there is no effective difference between 9mm, .40S&W, and .45ACP.  For physiological stops, they are all very bad unless you get a precise CNS hit, whereupon they all work equally well.  For psychological stops, they all work as equally well as a .22 LR out of a Beretta Bobcat.

So truthfully, my suggestion to my friend?  Think about carrying a G17 or a G19 instead of that G30, and use a G17 or a G34 in competition.  The grip, trigger, and recoil will all be similar, you’ll have more rounds for self-defense (without giving up much of anything in effectiveness), and you’ll be more competitive in IDPA all at the same time.

That isn’t to say that everyone should carry a 9mm.  You should carry whatever you like!  This merely is my solution to my friend’s problem, and YOU may not have this problem.  You may just like the feel of a 1911 in .45acp better plus you think JMB was the last True Prophet.  Or you may like the .40 because muzzle blast, recoil, AND capacity should all be maximized simultaneously.  Or maybe you like 9mm because…..well, there’s probably a reason out there somewhere to like 9mm.

Pick what you like.  But 1) don’t base your decision on some supposed “advantage” to one caliber in terms of effectiveness—there isn’t one, and 2) don’t let your personal preference get in the way of making the most logical choice for all the reasons you might need a gun.

And quit telling me that your caliber is better than the others for random nonsense reasons that have no basis in reality.

 

(No, I haven’t forgotten about the “How to Learn To Shoot” series—part IIA will be coming relatively soon.)