2017: How are you going to get better this year?

At the start of 2016, I posted an article about one of the things I was going to try to do to get better at shooting throughout the year, which was attempt to dryfire every day.  While I didn’t manage to meet my goal of dryfiring every day, I did certainly dryfire much more often than I had in the past, and it made a difference to my shooting.   (I made excuses for myself on some days later in the year, rationalizing not putting in the work.  The excuses weren’t valid, and it isn’t like the extra 3 minutes I got instead of practicing ended up being useful to me.  One of my goals this year is to not make excuses for not doing the work.)

You should dryfire also.  Seriously.  You don’t have to grind at it for an hour daily (well, if you are able to you certainly can!) and you don’t always have to put on all your gear to get it done–you can actually perform a good, simple drill that takes less than 3 minutes, doesn’t require you putting on any gear, and WILL make you a better shooter if you do it daily.  Sure, if you ARE able to practice in dryfire for an average of an hour a day, you will get SIGNIFICANTLY better.  But, if you are like most adults and have other priorities in your life, it doesn’t mean you can’t still get in good practice.

Drill Zero:

And you can’t argue that you don’t have a free three minutes in any particular day.

To help you make sure you are drilling every single day, here’s a 2017 Dryfire Report Card so that you can track every day that you help make yourself a better shooter.  Download it, print it, then put it up somewhere next to where you’ll practice.  Every day, color in the box for that day, showing that you at least practiced Drill Zero.  My personal goal for 2017 is that every single day I will practice physical pistol skills in some fashion, and I’m going to mark in black days I do Drill Zero, blue the days I do longer dryfire sessions, purple the days I dryfire with guns other than my carry gun or primary competition handgun, red the days I live fire practice, and green the days I test myself either in competitions or in training classes.  (Yes, I own a lot of Sharpies.  Doesn’t everyone?)

You can mark it differently, of course, but I like tracking how much I do each different kind of work.  I didn’t manage to meet my goal in 2016, but I got in a LOT of practice that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.  I’m hoping that this year, I’ll meet my goal.

Awhile back I posted an article on some variations on Drill Zero to give you some other things to try–they still don’t take any more time than the original Drill Zero, but allow you to change things up while still getting in some practice on important things that will make you better at shooting.

For the first two variations, you will need this target: 5_2in_Dots

There are a number of other things you can do in any particular year to make yourself better–take classes, compete, test yourself against known objective measurements of skills–but the one thing that doesn’t take any money and doesn’t require you to go to the range is dryfire.

And you can make yourself a MUCH better shooter just by doing dryfire.

Every day, get a little better.  Try it!


Measuring long-term performance increases…

People who actually want to get better at shooting, AND have the self-discipline to put in the work, find pretty quickly that if they never shoot any diagnostic drills then they have no idea what they are good or bad at, which means they don’t really know what they should be working on.

It is really temping to just work on the things that you think are “fun” — but chances are, those things are both easy and also are things you are already good at.  Sure, doing that (and getting even better) isn’t a bad thing–but if that is all you do, you simply aren’t going to get much better overall.

It is important to understand where you are with regard to basic shooting skills, so you can work on removing weaknesses, and increasing overall skills.  There are a number of drill descriptions on the Internet that do a good job of being diagnostic–in other words, they allow you to rate your ability at certain skills.  Now, it is important to pick the diagnostic drills that monitor and rate the skills that are most important for you.  If most of your needs are for concealed carry defensive skills, using the 500-point bullseye test as a diagnostic isn’t going to be very helpful, or at least it isn’t going to be testing skills that are as important to you as a different drill might.

(That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do that drill once or twice sometime, because it’ll tell you something about a particular set of skills.  BUT….it is a much lower priority than other skills for your particular situation.)

So the first thing is to look at your main reason for having a gun.  Competition?  Concealed carry?  Bullseye precision?  What exactly is the most important thing you will need to do with your gun?

Once you have that, then you can figure out what specific skills are the ones you need to prioritize in terms of becoming competent, (and later, hopefully expert).

Here’s three good, short diagnostic drills, along with a list (in some cases, partial list) what skills they test.  This list is primarily focused on physical shooting skills that should probably be priorities in terms of skill-building for self-defense purposes.

  • Hackathorn 3-Second Head Shot Standards
    Skills tested:  Draw to first shot, accuracy at speed, accuracy under known time pressure, transitions
  • F.A.S.T.
    Skills tested:  Draw to first shot, accuracy at speed, appropriate speed for low-percentage versus high-percentage targets, slidelock (emergency) reload, shot after reload
  • 10 Round Assault Course
    Skills tested:  Draw to first shot, precision accuracy at distance, accuracy at speed, shot after movement, shooting while moving

Some reasons I like those three:

  1. None of them take very many rounds, or much time.
  2. You get only one chance to do it right, and you can’t fix mistakes you make.  There are no makeup shots, and no fixing errors.  Either you do it right, or it shows.
  3. Every single one puts you under time pressure of some sort.  Now, this isn’t important if your main focus is bullseye accuracy–you should be using different diagnostics for that.  But for a self-defense or competition focus, time is ALWAYS important.  Diagnostics that don’t include time pressure are ignoring an element of  primary importance for those foci. (And these three drills all include time pressure in different ways.)

Recently, Rob Pincus has continued his crusade to have people stop getting better at shooting skills by again claiming that using timers (and other tools used for actual skill-rating metrics) isn’t useful and will actually make you worse.

This, of course, is belied by the knowledge that every teacher/instructor/trainer of any physical skill knows, which is that if you don’t know what works and what doesn’t work, you can’t actually get better in an efficient fashion.  Sure, there are plenty of self-defense skills that you can’t put on a timer.  (Or measure in an objective fashion.)  This doesn’t change the fact that keeping track of the physical shooting skills that you hold as a priority is important–because you can then look at what you do well, and what you need to work on.

What diagnostic drills do you like?  Why do you like them?  What skills are you tracking over time?


What makes an expert?

(Third in the series about thoughts spawned by attending the Rangemaster Instructor Development Class with Tom Givens.  The first time, the post was about something that hadn’t occurred to me.  The second time, it was about something I already knew, explained in a different fashion.  This time, it is about something that annoys me greatly on pretty much a weekly basis.)

“He’s a great self-defense instructor, he learned it in the military!”

“That firearms group is the best for CCW training, because they all have law enforcement experience.  That guy TEACHES other cops!”

“He has 25 years of firearms experience–he knows what he is talking about!”

The first two statements above are flat-out wrong.  The third is a non sequitur.

And yet, people KEEP saying things like that.

If you go to the Instructor Development Class with Tom Givens, at some point in time during a lecture he’ll discuss valid opinions, and who has them.  His slide will look something like this:


…which apparently many, many people don’t seem to understand.  There’s something about current society where people seem to think that they are all entitled to opinions of their own, AND that said opinion is equally as valid as everyone else’s opinion.  They do this to doctors, lawyers, law enforcement–and it certainly appears in the firearms training world.  Who hasn’t run into That Guy at the gun store who is the World’s Foremost Expert about guns, who will endlessly pontificate to some poor person about “the right gun for a woman” or “the best caliber for self-defense” or “you won’t be able to use your sights under stress” or some other such nonsense?  And if you actually contradict him, citing actual research, his response is “well, that’s just your opinion” or something like that?  As if his opinion and the actual research are equal in terms of importance!

Do you have an opinion about something in a technical field?  (And believe me, shooting skills and self-defense training are two very technical fields.)  In that field, do you have actual education (at a high level), formal training (by a recognized expert), or experience that directly relates to the topic at hand?

No?  Then shut up.  Your opinion is meaningless.  Seriously.  Meaningless.

You might be right—but it isn’t because you actually know, it is because you got lucky.  The next thing you spout might be equally lucky, but it also might be pure nonsense because you don’t actually have any rational basis for your opinions.  (Hint:  reading opinion articles on Internet is NOT education.  Having your friend show you how to shoot and then practicing on beer cans is not training.  Getting into a drunken slap-fight once while in college is not experience.)

Example:  Military training is effective for military purposes.  It isn’t self-defense training. Law enforcement training is effective for law enforcement purposes.  MOST of that is not self-defense training.  And very importantly, the general goals which define principles which drive tactics  in MIL and LEO training are very different from citizen self-defense.  As such, MIL or LEO training and experience does not automatically qualify someone to have a valid opinion about citizen self-defense.  (Or shooting skills, for that matter.)

Having owned and shot guns for 25 years is meaningless, because plenty of people out there SUCK at shooting and have no safety habits instilled, but simply have been lucky not to shoot themselves thus far.  (Most people who say “I’ve been shooting for 25 years and…” don’t actually shoot that much, and they aren’t very good, either.  If they were, that wouldn’t be the support for their opinion that they’d provide!)

There are plenty of MIL, LEO, and shooters-of-25-years who are VERY good instructors of self-defense and shooting skills.  However, the fact that they are MIL, LEO, or have shot a gun for a number of years isn’t WHY they are good.

If you are looking for an instructor in a particular area, if that instructor does not have education, training, or experience (or some combination of the three) in THAT AREA, then their opinion about it is as meaningless as….That Guy in the gun store.

Which, I’ll note, is why we have big-name instructors who say that dryfire isn’t a good idea, that you won’t be able to see your sights while under stress and should use point-shooting, that “fine motor skills will degrade” such that you can’t activate a slide release under stress, and that putting yourself on a timer to test your shooting skills will cause training scars sufficient to get you killed “on the street”—-all of which statements are flat-out wrong.

Anyone can call themselves an instructor.  That doesn’t actually mean they know anything.

Your opinion is NOT necessarily as valid as everyone else’s opinion.  The same thing is true for instructors.  Every instructor out there who says something should not have their opinions considered equally important, because many of them have education, training, or experience in fields that sound important but are actually unrelated to the area in which they are expressing an opinion.

If you want to actually learn something, make sure your instructor has education, training, or experience IN THAT AREA.  If they don’t—then their opinion isn’t any more valid than yours.


Range Safety, Part I…

So, being out at the range the other day, I observed yet another set of range behaviors that again defied my understanding.  I don’t get how people can commit such egregious safety fails without any understanding of why it is a problem.

And while pointing it out in articles time and again doesn’t seem to be helping, I thought I’d write about it again because there ALSO seems to be a lacking of understanding of how range rules are ALSO things you have to pay attention to regarding safety and range procedures.

Everyone should of course know the basic four rules of safety (if not, put the gun down, step back, and learn them first.)  1) Behave as if the gun is loaded at all times, 2) don’t point it at anything you are not prepared to destroy, 3) keep your finger off the trigger until you are prepared to shoot, and 4) know your target and your backstop.  Sure, there are multiple variations of the wording for those, but the meanings tend to be fairly consistent.

And yet…

So I’m at the range, and I see a guy wearing a bright red hooded sweatshirt that says “POLICE” on the back in big block letters, and he is “instructing” three other folks in shooting.  He first brings himself to my attention because one guy is standing there with the gun up in a not-too-bad stance and grip, and the “instructor” is standing directly in front of him hitting the front of the gun with the palm of his hand.

Now, I get the “showing how a good grip and stance mitigates recoil” demo going on here, but literally, this is why blue guns were invented, so you didn’t have to stand in front of a real gun and put your hand over the muzzle.

I can hear it now:  “But it wasn’t loaded!”

I don’t care.  That was stupid.  Don’t do that.

(Taking a closer look later as I walked by, I saw that the back of his hooded sweatshirt actually said “POLICE Firearms Instructor” which did not make me feel better. I rather pitied his police students.)

Later, I’m sitting in my car getting ready to leave, and I look up to see what looks to be a grandfather/father/son group on a bay, setting up.  The son runs downrange to set up a target when the father pulls a gun out of a bag (carefully pointing it downrange), works the slide a couple of times, puts a mag in and out twice, works the slide again, and sets it down.

It was of course pointed straight at his son the entire time, because his son was straight downrange putting up a target.

I can hear it now:  “But it wasn’t loaded!”  I don’t care.  (And it WAS, briefly, since you put a loaded magazine in it a couple of times, though I’m not sure why.)

That was stupid.  Don’t do that.

But separate from the numbers of people who ignore the rules of general firearms safety, we have the people who don’t seem to understand that it is ALSO important to understand the safety rules for the particular range you are using.  They have additional rules, and you should abide by them.  Sure, some may be in place purely for insurance purposes, or were made by people who are afraid of anything that makes you shoot faster than once every two seconds–but some are probably there for reasons that are safety-specific to that particular range.

And you don’t get to pick-and-choose which ones you are going to follow.

Example:  At the Eastern Nebraska Gun Club, the rifle ranges are common firing lines.  However, the pistol bays are NOT.  Whoever is on the bay first has the bay, and if they don’t want anyone else shooting in that bay, that’s how it is.  Now, a couple of the bays are large and wide, and sometimes people don’t mind making a common firing line–but it isn’t required, and if someone is practicing USPSA or Multigun, moving, shooting at angles, etc, they don’t want someone else on the bay shooting at the same time.  It isn’t safe.

So that same day when I’m on the range watching the “POLICE Firearms Instructor” and the grandfather/father/son trio, I also have to have a talk with a guy who walked up to a large bay (in which someone was already shooting) and started to unload his stuff, to pull out guns and targets.  The original guy said “you can’t shoot here” and the second guy started to argue with him.

Now first:  Don’t argue.  If you need to discuss something, ask for clarification, whatever—sure, do it.  But don’t argue.  Don’t raise your voice, don’t declaim angrily “this is a public range!  I can shoot here!” when neither of those things are true.

But secondly:  The range rules are clear.  Whoever is in the bay first has the bay, at ENGC.  Other ranges may be different.  The rifle bays at ENGC are different.  But in the pistol bays, those are the rules.  And if you are going to be shooting at any range, you need to understand the rules of the range.

If you don’t, you are wrong.  That’s stupid.  Don’t do that.

The other day I saw a guy running a pretty energetic rifle practice.  He had paper silhouette targets all over the range, and was double-tapping (ug! but we’ll let that go because it isn’t a safety issue) everything left and right as he ran complicated patterns through them.  At one point as he was running he turned to the side and put two in a paper target that was slightly behind him next to the berm, took another step forward, then turned the other direction and took two shots (that also hit) at a paper target on the other side of the bay next to the berm that was ALSO slightly behind him.

We had a little talk about breaking the 180, and not keeping the muzzle pointed downrange.  That’s a range rule at ENGC.

His contention was that he was shooting into the berms, so it wasn’t an issue.  My response was pretty simple:  It is against the range rules.

And the REASON for that particular range rule is because we live in Nebraska, and there are these things called “rocks” that exist and sometimes can be found in berms.  If you shoot one, the bullet may ricochet off and continue to head uprange.  Where other people are standing.  Matter of fact, this particular bay’s uprange end was pointing toward the back of a different bay, and anything heading uprange would head right into the most-used firing line in the pistol bays.  (Yes, I’m aware that ricochets happen with rocks for other reasons.  But shooting uprange makes the potential for problems much more likely.)

There may be other ranges where “as long as it goes into the berm, it’s good” is a range rule.  This isn’t one of them.  And you don’t get to argue whether or not the range rule is a good one when you are shooting.  You want it changed?  Come to a board meeting and argue.

When you are shooting, obey the range rules.

If you don’t, that’s stupid.  Don’t do that.

2016 Resolution II: Take a Good Class

Just like the previous post about 2016 Resolutions, this one is again based on some things Caleb over at Gun Nuts Media said in his excellent post  5 Gun Nuts New Year’s Resolutions.  It is good stuff, so you should go there and read it.

Here’s my second 2016 Resolution: Take at least one class from a reputable instructor.

I’ve actually done this pretty much every year for the past….many…years.  I don’t know everything about shooting, and there are so many different ASPECTS of shooting (shooting skills, competition skills, self-defense scenario training, force-on-force, close-quarters, partner work, etc) that there is ALWAYS more to learn.  So every year I try to take at least one class (if not two) from someone I consider to be an authority in that particular area.  I’ve taken shooting skills courses from Manny Bragg, ECQC from Craig Douglas, competition skills from Ben Stoeger and Matt Mink, instructor development from Tom Givens, shooting and defensive skills from Bill Rogers, etc….and I plan on learning more about things I consider important.

I’m an instructor.  If I’m going to be a good one, that means I need to make sure that 1) I keep up on the current best practices for teaching, 2) keep up on the current best-known techniques and tactics (and have someone critique my skills so I can get better), 3) try to learn more ways and methods to reach students and help them understand, and 4) bear in mind that I don’t already know everything, and there are aspects or areas of shooting that I simply don’t know well.  Every instructor should ALSO be an eternal student.  If they aren’t, then….they aren’t keeping up, are they?

If you want to be a better shooter and better at defending yourself legally, then taking a solid class from a reputable instructor each year is a good resolution to make.

This year—-I’m not sure what I’m doing!  On my list of “possibles”:

  • Unthinkable, with William April
  • Advanced Instructor Development course, with Tom Givens  (this is in Austin, TX, though…I’d have to fly there)
  • Armed Movement in Structures, with Craig Douglas
  • Class with Mike Pannone?
  • Class with Frank Proctor?
  • …anyone have any other suggestions?

I normally try to switch topics each year–one year I work on my shooting skills (or skills I already have, and either want critiqued, or taken to a higher level), and the next I work on either skillsets I don’t have, or classes that help me be a better instructor either as instructor development directly, or as an example of someone else teaching a class on a topic that I also teach.  But this year—I’m open to just about anything.  Need at least one!  Gotta learn something!

What should I take?  Limiting criteria:  a) prefer travel time of 8 hours or less from Omaha, NE, and b) I can’t take more than 2 weekdays off unless it magically hits a break during my school schedule.

Anyone have any thoughts?  Ideas?  Suggestions?  My current slight preference is for a class in an area in which I haven’t taken a class recently, so strict shooting skills and competition skills are probably lowest on the wish list.

What do you think?

Is 2016 the year you get better?

I didn’t get enough better in 2015.

I did some good stuff.  (Among other things, Tom Givens’s Instructor Development Course was excellent.)  I shot some good things here and there (won a couple of state-level IDPA matches, placed here and there in USPSA matches).  And I got in some good practice and read and mulled over some good research regarding self-defense.

But my physical skills didn’t get enough better in 2015 because I didn’t practice the physical skills enough.  Mental work—actually, I did some really good mental work through the year.  Organized some thoughts on awareness and monitoring (those aren’t the same thing), read some research on predator behavior (both known-person and unknown-person), did some good internal work on reaction choices and consequences, came up with some good teachable moments regarding self-defense.  Oh, and got my 5th degree black belt rank in Hapkido.

But my physical skills didn’t improve as much as I wanted for the year.  Because I didn’t practice like I should have.

Did you?

You’ll never miss on the street…

(Second in the series about thoughts spawned by attending the Rangemaster Instructor Development Class with Tom Givens.  Last time, the post was about something that hadn’t occurred to me.  This time, it is about something I already knew, explained in a different fashion.)

If you are carrying a concealed firearm, and have occasion to use it in public on the street (in a Walmart parking lot, at the local gas station, in a Walgreens store) you are never going to miss.

No, seriously, you aren’t.  No round you fire will have a bullet that misses.

That’s the problem, you see.  In public, every single bullet fired from your handgun will hit something.  You will not miss.  You may not hit your assailant, but you WILL hit SOMETHING.

That something may be a pregnant woman who was shopping.  That something may be a 4-year old child skipping merrily to school one morning.  That something may be 9 other people hit either by errant shots or by fragments.  Maybe you’ll get lucky and only hit brick buildings—but since you are already having to defend your life, it already isn’t your lucky day.

You aren’t going to miss.  Every bullet is going to hit something. As such, your practice needs to reflect the importance of hitting your target every time.

Now, this concept isn’t new—but I don’t really like the common “Every bullet has a lawyer with a 5 million dollar personal injury suit attached to it!!” type of phrasing, because we do not want people too scared to defend themselves.  We don’t want people thinking “I better not do this because I might get sued” at the moment where they have to be making a decision to defend themselves.

We need people thinking in practice:  I’m going to hit my target every time, and I’m going to practice enough to consistently hit my target every time.  That way, if I need to use my gun, I’ll do what I practiced so I don’t have to think about anything but saving my life.

While yes, you need to think about your surroundings in a self-defense situation, that is different from being too terrified of possible consequences to act.  We practice to hit our target at speed under stress.  We use this thought (“You aren’t going to miss in real life–you WILL hit something.”) to drive our practice so that we have the discipline to hit our target under stress in a real-life self-defense situation.

I practice differently with my competition gun and my concealment gun.  (This shouldn’t be a surprise.)  When practicing with my competition gun from my competition rig given an audible start signal, I push myself in terms of speed and movement, to the point where I might miss the target entirely.  I then dial it back until I get hits, get better at it, then dial it up again.  I push myself to the point where I miss.  When practicing with steel targets, I miss fairly often when I push myself.

When practicing to defend myself with my carry gun from concealment, on paper targets I have a small “sufficient hit” zone.  Part of the rest of the paper target is a “insufficient hit” zone, and worse than that simply isn’t acceptable.  If my technique is bad enough that I’m putting shots into the “insufficient hit” zone, I need to fix it.  My “pushing the speed” results in occasional shots into the “insufficient hit” zone, NOT the miss zone.  I don’t allow shots into the “miss zone” when I’m practicing to defend myself.

That’s significantly different from my competition training–and that’s just fine.  I might be using the same target for both, but they mean very different things.  I have a different mindset, I have a different mode of practice, and I have a different set of “what is allowed” for accuracy.

Here’s the two versions of “acceptable hit thinking” that I use for practice (of course I don’t write the words on the targets I use, but that’s how I think about it).  Obviously competition shooting is on the left, and self-defense practice is on the right:

You aren’t going to miss on the street.  So make sure that the hits you get are the ones you want.