Keeping on with the thread of learning how to shoot, let’s talk about live fire. We’ve discussed the general process of learning, we’ve talked about the effectiveness of dryfire practice in general—so how do you make sure that your live fire practice actually makes you better?
First: HAVE A PLAN.
Hopefully, you’ve already done enough dryfire practice to both know your current strengths and weaknesses, and even better, your limits with regard to various skills. If you’ve been practicing, then you will have made gains in your dryfire skills that need to be tested in live fire.
Which means that you should know what skills you should be testing in this range trip. Prior to going to the range, check your dryfire practice regimen and look at what needs to be tested in live fire. I generally TRY to work on no more than three skills per range trip–because I tend to attempt to verify my dryfire practice skill level in isolated drills, then work on combining those skills with others to make sure the skills are integrated correctly. (In other words, that I can do it on demand no matter the circumstances, as opposed to only when I’m set and ready to perform solely that skill.)
Which means that I’ve already got quite a practice session set up. While there is occasionally some value in a marathon 1000-round all-day practice session, MOST people hit their concentration limit at 2-3 hours. (Some sooner than that.) If you can’t concentrate, focus, and control your motor skills, you are just making loud noises for fun. Nothing wrong with that—but it doesn’t help, and may actually cause you to practice poor technique.
So: Plan to test a limited number of skills first in isolation, then in combination.
Second: ALWAYS PRACTICE ACCURACY.
USPSA Grandmaster Manny Bragg has a dot drill that he uses to start every range practice, which requires nothing but the ability to draw and repeatedly make accurate shots on a single target within a par time. It isn’t an incredibly difficult drill, but it does require that the shooter demonstrate the ability to have solid sight alignment and manage the trigger correctly. He keeps shooting it until he passes the drill—whereupon he goes and works on whatever he had planned for his range practice that day.
His contention, which I completely agree with, is this: If he can’t be accurate enough to hit 3″ circles at 10 yards under a slight time pressure, then he isn’t shooting well enough to practice anything else live. (After all, anything NON-shooting can be done in dryfire, and if you are shooting, you have to be accurate.)
He’s had at least one occasion where he never got to his actual practice plan—he kept not being able to keep his concentration, would blow the drill, and finally just stopped and went home.
If you can’t shoot accurately, then not much else matters in live fire practice.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot drills at 3 yards with only a target focus, or anything similar—it simply means that at the start of your practice, if you can’t manage the concentration and discipline necessary for solid accurate shooting then it isn’t a day where anything more complicated will be improved.
Third: DON’T DRILL IT INTO THE GROUND.
Performing 1000 reps of a particular drill won’t actually make you better, if you do them all in a row. For most people, by about rep 10 their concentration will start to wander (if they have done all the reps in a row in the same fashion) and it simply won’t help.
Yes, to be skilled you’ll have to practice a drill 10,000 times. But like dryfire practice, it’ll work a lot better if you do that in chunks of 10 reps, interspersed with other things. Do 10 good, solid, disciplined reps–then do a different drill. Then come back, and perhaps do 10 more, in a slightly different fashion. Same skill, but different enough situation that you still have to concentrate fully on it. Work on another drill for awhile, take a break, then do your original drill for 10 more reps.
You’ll see a LOT more skill gain doing it that way compared to doing 30 reps in a row. And you’ll be more likely to retain that skill gain.
Fourth: VERIFY YOUR SKILLS.
In general, dryfire is where you push your limits. Live fire is where you verify your skills. You know you aren’t going to draw as fast as you possibly ever can in live fire, because if you screw up the gun will go flipping downrange. Instead, you push yourself in dryfire, and then in live fire find what you can do consistently and accurately.
Part of that is of course working skills in an isolated fashion, for example working on your ability to draw to an upper A-zone hit (the “ocular window” area, for those who don’t USPSA) in less than 1.5 seconds. Or working a 7-yard A-zone hit, reload, to a second A-zone hit in less than 2 seconds. That’s isolated, specific skills. (Perhaps your times are better. Or worse. It depends on what your skill level is.)
But you also need to work on integrating those skills with others–and practicing your recoil control while switching skills is something you can only do in live fire. So don’t neglect it!
Practice a draw-to-one-shot drill. Then a 1-reload-1 drill. Then a draw-to-one-shot drill while taking a step. Then a 1-reload-1 drill where you transition from one target to another while reloading. Then practice a stepping draw-to-one-shot, reload-while-transitioning to a second target, one shot drill. Lastly some more reps of a draw/shot drill, a 1-reload-1 drill, and then end that sequence with a basic draw/shot/reload/shot drill on the same target—but at 15 yards instead of 7 yards.
That’s 8 drills, two skills, with a combination of isolation and integrative practice.
The skill stays the same. But the differences require you to keep concentrating, and sequencing the drills mean that you have to keep yourself honest about your recoil control and ability to handle the firearm.
Pistol-training.com (Todd Louis Green) created an outstanding general purpose target awhile back, available from National Target. If you don’t have much time or equipment, you can EASILY get in a solid 200-round practice session using only one target. Obviously, multiple targets of the type you are most likely to shoot (IDPA, IPSC, silhouette, bullseye, whatever!) at different ranges and angles are best—but it is also true that occasionally shooting at something different is a good thing, and the P-T.com target gives you LOTS to work with.
When working on getting better, remember: if you can’t work the gun, then you’ll never have a chance to shoot. If when you shoot you can’t hit anything, it won’t help. So in terms of skills, those two are the most important. If those are solid, work on keeping those going while doing other things like transitioning, shooting one-handed, weak-handed, turning, on moving targets, while moving backward….the possibilities are endless.
Have a plan, keep your accuracy high, drill intelligently, and verify that your dryfire practice is working.
Other posts in this series:
- Part I: How do you learn to shoot
- Part IIA: How to Practice (Dryfire section)
- Part IIB: How to Practice (Live-Fire section)