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!

Drill Zero Variations

At the start of 2016, I posted an article about practicing every day including a Dryfire Report you could print out, plus a link to a video about Drill Zero.  Drill Zero is a short dryfire exercise that is easy to do every day that takes little equipment, little room, and gives you practice at several fundamentals that are central to shooting well.

The problem with any one particular drill, of course, is the fact that it simply can’t help you practice THAT many skills all at once.  While Drill Zero can help you with some of the skills that are incredibly important, it is still a good idea to get some additional practice in—but sometimes you still just don’t have much time.

So:  Here are three variations on Drill Zero that you can periodically add to your normal practice schedule.  They don’t take longer than a standard Drill Zero (at least, not by much), and you can rotate them into your practice periodically to expand the set of skills that you practice on a daily basis.

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

(You can use it for the third variation also, if you like.)

Variation 1 adds some target selection and specificity, variation 2 adds a second transition and sight picture, and variation three adds some gun-handling practice to your marksmanship practice.

To summarize:

VARIATION 1: Put the 5-dot target up on the wall that you use for Drill Zero.  Instead of transitioning to the wall, transition to a specific dot for each rep, and keep the sights in alignment on the dot (which will be large considering how close you are) as you work the trigger.  You can use the same dot for any given day of repetitions, but I personally prefer to use a different dot for each rep, which means for any set of 10 (each of freestyle, SHO, and WHO) I go through all five dots twice.

This variation will do two things:

  1. Check to see if you are snapping your eyes to the target and then driving the gun–if you can’t see the dot clearly before the gun/sights appear in your vision, you aren’t snapping your eyes fast enough.
  2. It will also force you to move to specific aiming points on the wall.  This is important, because while Drill Zero does some good things, it also allows you to pick whatever spot on the wall is most comfortable to you, and you don’t have to actually control where the gun moves.  Using the 5-dots target forces you to move to specific positions, but still allows you to keep your focus and concentration on the front sight, which is a major part of Drill Zero.

VARIATION 2: With the 5-dot target on the wall, perform Drill Zero as normal by transitioning to a specific dot.  When you do that, take up the slack and prep the trigger strongly, then pause on the dot without pressing the trigger.  When the gun is solid and non-moving, snap your eyes and drive the gun to a second dot and complete the trigger pull on the second dot without misaligning the sights.

This variation:

  1. Allows you to check your trigger prep.  Is your finger placed properly?  Do you have an appropriate amount of prep?  Not enough?  How often do you prep too much?
  2. Gives you an extra transition, one that is very short.  As such, you should be able to complete that trigger pull extremely quickly.  This practice will help you practice keeping your front/rear sights in alignment during transitions, and get better at finishing the trigger pull immediately upon getting the sights on target.

VARIATION 3: This variation adds a completely new aspect to Drill Zero–specifically, some gun-handling skills.  (In general, this shows the difference between marksmanship skills like sight alignment/sight picture/trigger control, and gun handling skills like draws, loads, and reloads.) For variation three, you’ll be performing the last half of a reload.  Now:  One thing not mentioned in the video is that you can practice it from a speed reload perspective, or instead start with the slide locked back and perform a slidelock reload.  You could also start with a dead trigger and perform the reload and rack the slide prior to the trigger pull on target.

This variation:

  1. Forces you to use your brain for a non-marksmanship purpose prior to pulling the trigger so makes it obvious right away if a) you are performing the marksmanship part correctly, and b) if you are practiced enough to switch gears quickly.
  2. And then it gives you practice on switching gears.  Whether in competition or self-defense, you need to be sufficiently skilled so that you can switch between marksmanship actions and other actions without losing effectiveness or speed.  Forcing yourself to switch back and forth is good practice.  (And practicing reloads more never hurts, either.)

 

Again–these variations do NOT take the place of Drill Zero.  However, every once in awhile throwing in one of these variations (or adding a couple of extra reps of a variation in addition to your Drill Zero practice) will add another layer of skill-building without adding huge additional amounts of time or requiring more in the way of equipment.

Dryfire practice can make you better.  If you have the time to do 30 minutes to an hour of dryfire every day, then EXCELLENT.  Increase your skills in dryfire, test them out in live fire, and you are going to get much better very quickly.

If you don’t have an extra 30 minutes or hour every single day (like most of us)–you can still perform Drill Zero and its variations, and get better.

Every day, get a little better.

2016 Resolution I: Practicing Drill Zero

Caleb over at Gun Nuts Media has an excellent post up about 5 Gun Nuts New Year’s Resolutions.  It is good stuff, so you should go there and read it.

One of the resolutions he suggests for us gun nuts is “practice at least once a week.”  He makes the cogent point that while many competition shooters will laugh at this because they practice a lot more than merely once a week, most people don’t.  I’m actually surprised when I hear an average gun owner say that they practice more than once a month—actually practice, not merely go plinking for fun. Most people simply don’t practice at all, though they might call going to the range a couple times a year to plink at tin cans and clays on the berm “practicing.” (Fun, yes; practice, no.)

Here’s something that can help you actually practice:  Drill Zero

Drill Zero is a dryfire drill based on the Wall Drill, transition practice, an understanding of eye focus, and some thinking I have done regarding the most fundamental skills we need to succeed at any type of shooting.  I wanted to create a drill that would make a significant difference to shooting quickly and accurately, but was simple, straightforward, took little time, and required almost nothing in the way of equipment or space.

…because that way you can do it every dayThere is no excuse to not perform Drill Zero once a day.  Sure, on some days you can do a solid dryfire session, or get some good live fire practice in at the range.  But EVERY day, no matter how busy your life, no matter where you are—if you have a gun and a wall, you can run through Drill Zero and practice the most important fundamentals of shooting in a way that will make you better.

If you do Drill Zero every day, then each month you’ll have performed 900 perfect trigger pulls, with fast transitions, training your eyes to lock onto the front sight with perfect sight alignment at speed.  In a year, you’ll have practiced this TEN THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TIMES.  If you don’t think that’ll make a difference to your shooting, then there isn’t much I can say.

Here’s a 2016 Dryfire Report.  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 2016 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, red the days I live fire practice, and green the days I test myself either in competitions or in training classes.  At the end of the year, I’ll post a picture of my report, and we can discuss how it went.

How about you?  You in?  How much better do you want to get at the physical skills of shooting in 2016?  Drill Zero takes less than 5 minutes, and you don’t have to put on any gear at all.  Don’t tell me that you can’t find the time!

How much better do you want to get?  Get yourself a copy of the dryfire report, and start practicing!

 

(A followup post was later written giving some variations on Drill Zero.)

Hey, Special Snowflake!

A little while back, I got sent a link to this article ( Why We Suck ) discussing beliefs, training, and practice.  It resonated with a couple of things I’d been thinking recently (based on someone telling me that since they’d been carrying for awhile they didn’t need a scenario-training class in CCW) along with some other articles by Claude Werner and the Defensive Daddy which resulted in this post.

So here you go.  Some truth you probably don’t want to hear:

You aren’t a special snowflake.

If you aren’t a competition shooter, then you probably aren’t as good at shooting as you think you are. (If you are a competition shooter, that doesn’t mean you are automatically good—but it DOES mean you probably have a pretty good idea of how good you are.)

If you’ve never done scenario training, then you probably aren’t as good at self-defense as you think you are. (If you have done solid scenario training, that doesn’t mean you are good at self-defense–but it DOES mean you probably have a pretty good idea of how you will react in stressful situations, and how quickly things can occur.)

Special Snowflake
For some people (a small small tiny few), this won’t be true. But for most people (and yes, this means you no matter how much you think you are the Special Snowflake that is one of those small few)–if you’ve never actually done anything that forced you to perform under stress and had that performance critiqued and compared to others, then you really have no idea how good you are.

And most likely, it isn’t nearly as good as you think.  Matter of fact, it’s probably pretty bad.

Don’t believe me?  Okay–actually put your Dunning-Kruger-ed self out there and find out.  Shoot a Steel Challenge match.  Shoot a USPSA match.  Take a scenario training class.  Take a force-on-force course.  Put yourself on a timer, and find out if that “fast draw” of yours is actually what anyone ELSE would call fast. Try to hit those 8″ steel targets at speed from 20 yards. What you learn will be important.

Maybe you’ll learn that you really ARE as good as you think you are.

More likely, maybe you’ll learn that if you want to actually be able to defend yourself and your loved ones, you’d better practice, because you aren’t nearly as good as you think you are.

And isn’t that something you’d like to find out BEFORE it becomes important?

Everyone thinks they are above average, everyone wants to be the Special Snowflake that really IS that good.  Well, chances are you aren’t.  And if you haven’t tested yourself, you have no way of knowing.

What do you need to CCW?

The difference between NEED and WANT is that need means “required.”  Wants are not required.

So what do you NEED if you want to CCW?

Not much, really.  Gun, ammo and appropriate carrier, holster–that’s the equipment.  Your state’s version of a permit.  Some type of clothing that’ll cover the gun.

And that’s it.  That’s all you need to carry a concealed firearm.  You have a right to self-defense, you have a right to use appropriate tools for self-defense—and that’s all you need.

This, however, is completely separate from whether or not that will 1) help keep you and your loved ones safe, and 2) keep you out of jail or civil court due to your actions.

If you want those things (or at least, a better chance of doing those two things), then you are going to want more than what you merely need.

Think you already know how to use a gun?  Okay—how do you know?*  Have you actually rated yourself in terms of pistol skills, using common drills and metrics?  How’s your safety practice?  What’s your skill level on draw speed and accuracy?

Think you already know how to defend yourself?  How do you know?*  Have you studied self-defense tactics?  Gotten training in effective choices?  Can you protect your loved ones in your home and outside?  Do you know how to recognize incipient violence, and how to de-escalate?  Do you know appropriate choices to handle violence?  Where did you get that information?  Have you ever had stress-based training?  Scenario training, force-on-force practice?

Think you know the laws regarding use of force and self-defense? How do you know?*  Can you recognize lethal force situations?  Can you recognize when lethal force is NOT a legal choice?  Do you have other response choices available to you, or are your choices either “gun” or “nothing”?

There is a lot more to carrying a concealed handgun for self-defense than simply “having a gun on you.”  Sure, that’s really all you need.

But it shouldn’t be all you want.

——

HowDoYouKnow*Notice how often I’m asking “how do you know?”  I’ve found that many, many people who say “I’m a good shot” or “I know how to defend myself” are just guessing–they really don’t know.  They’ve never gotten training in self-defense, they’ve never tested themselves objectively–they actually have NO IDEA.  Luckily for them, most of them will never get attacked, especially with a lethal level of force, so they’ll never have to find out that their abilities just aren’t that good.  It will mean that people around them will have to put up with them acting like skilled experts, though, even though they aren’t. Hm.  I think I may need to write about this more in a later post.

——-

Edited to add, due to a NUMBER of messages I’ve gotten  (5.  So far.)  :  Yes, I know the graphic is logically incorrect.  Quite so, actually!   What makes it funny is how people understand exactly what it means (very clearly) even though what it SAYS makes no logical sense.  (And it is so clear, even though it is obviously wrong, that many people miss the fact that it is wrong.)

And yeah, I didn’t make it clear that I knew that, and no one knows my sense of humor, so of course people think that I can’t read Venn diagrams.  Fine, fine.  {sigh}

Edited to add more, because I got to thinking about why this diagram makes so much sense to people, even though it is logically possible.  (You can’t know and not-know something at the same time..):

If you treat it from a statement case, instead of a meaning case, it really IS logically consistent.  After all, if there is something you know and you don’t know, either:

1) you don’t know you know it, or
2) you know that you don’t know it

This diagram picks only one of those to go with.   (The first one.)

In terms of meaning, then yeah, logically you can’t know and not-know something.

You could think of it in terms of operators, instead of cases:  This circle contains a group of things.  The operation is that we know this group of things.  This other circle’s operation is that we DON’T know this group of things.  If an item is in both circles, it depends on which operation we apply first:

We don’t know this thing, and we know it.  (don’t know operates first)
We know this thing, but we don’t know it.  (know operates first)

“Know” of course also meaning realize.  (We realize that we don’t know this thing.  We don’t realize that we do know this thing.)

That probably is why this diagram is so clear to people, even though from a meaning perspective it is impossible.  From an operation or status perspective, it makes perfect sense.

How’s your ego?

One of the things I’ve observed while teaching firearms is that in general, there is a significant difference between teaching women and teaching men.

Teaching women is normally pretty easy:  They generally start under the assumption that I know more than they do, they try to perform the shooting techniques as I’ve taught them, and they don’t randomly add extras to their technique because they think they know how to shoot better.

Teaching men is often annoying:  They start with the assumption that they are already competent shooters, they generally attempt to “adjust” the technique I’ve given them because “they know what works for them” and often they make decisions about whether or not they should practice a particular technique or use it based on whether or not “it feels right for them.”

In other words, many men seem to think that genetics has given them an innate understanding of firearms, that plinking at a pop can at 15 feet with a .22 rifle has trained them in solid technique with a firearm, and that their perusal of YouTube videos of High-Speed Operators(tm) teaches them how to Operate since said videos are exactly like what happens in reality.

I wish I was kidding.

Now, this isn’t universal—one particular female comes immediately to mind, who used a bowling draw and a teacup grip to shoot slow-fire at a full-size silhouette at about 10 feet, and when I suggested some different techniques, assured me with strong confidence that this is how she was trained in law enforcement for high-speed shooting.

And plenty of guys actually listen and learn perfectly well.

Nonetheless—it is certainly true that EGO is alive, well, and Operational in the world of shooting.  So–how’s YOUR ego?

Do you have a healthy ego that drives you to be a better shooter?  (There is an assumption here that you want to be at least a competent shooter.  If you don’t, then never mind.)  Or do you have an EGO that requires you to defend it often, that gets in the way of admitting to error that can be fixed, that means that not only will you not ever learn to be better, but won’t even test yourself for fear that you might fail in front of others?

I was talking with a female shooter I know, and she told me about a discussion she had recently.  She was talking about competition shooting to a guy who was “training” a female friend of hers to shoot, and he said he’d never want to shoot competitions because he’d just get too competitive about it.  Her response to me?

“What I heard was ‘I suck at shooting and don’t want anyone to know.’  Isn’t that what you heard?  That’s what I heard.”

You know—I’ve gotta admit, I often think that too.  Because seriously, shooting competitions are FUN.  If you like shooting in general, then you’ll like shooting competitions.  There is something out there that fits what type of shooting you like to do. And they are tons of fun.

So if you give me excuses about how competition shooting will get you killed, or that you don’t want to take time from your tactical training, or that you don’t want to do it because you’ll get too competitive, or whatever else—that’s fine.  Everyone gets to have their own opinions, everyone gets to make their own choices—no problem.

But I can’t help hearing in my head “I suck at shooting and don’t want anyone to know.”

…and my head often adds an addendum:  “And my ego can’t take people knowing about my actual level of skill when I’ve bragged on myself so much.  Matter of fact, my ego can’t take ME knowing exactly what my real level of skill is, because I have this great beautiful picture of myself as The Ultimate Shooter in my head, and I can’t have that destroyed.”

Do you really want to be competent with a firearm?  Want to get better?  Be more skilled?  Do you really want to have a good measure of your level, so you can increase that level?

Or is your ego so big and so fragile that you can’t afford to show your actual shooting skill in comparison with others, in front of others?

Which is more important to you—your ego and fantasy view of yourself, or having a good time shooting while getting a realistic view of yourself?

Learning to shoot, part IIB….how to PRACTICE! (live-fire section)

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: