Gun handling, Marksmanship, and Speed By: SLG


Following up on my post about training efficiently, I break firearms training drills into 3 categories, gun handling, marksmanship, and speed. There is certainly some overlap in these categories, and while all of it can be learned and practiced dry-fire, live fire is where you see how well you have learned it, as well as what to work on to improve.

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I like to start with gun handling, as there are safety aspects that matter even when “just shooting for accuracy.” Without attempting to be all-inclusive, gun handling covers such basics as muzzle discipline, grip, trigger control, sight alignment/sight picture, press-outs, ready positions, drawing, reloading, malfunction clearance, wounded officer drills, field positions, use of cover, strong hand only, support hand only, shooting on the move, shooting into or out of position, etc. All of these skills should be practiced dry-fire, and that is how I like to introduce them to people I am training.

Marksmanship covers sight alignment/sight picture, as well as stance, grip, trigger control, and follow-through.

Speed includes practicing press-outs, draws, shooting on the move, multiple targets, and reloads.

Again, there is lots of overlap here, and where pretty much everything can be done dry-fire, some stuff is just easier or better to do live fire. Usually, a combination of dry fire and live fire is best for any given skill, and the better you want to become, the more you should do both. Many experienced shooters neglect their dry fire when they are able to shoot large quantities of ammo on a regular basis. I certainly did for some years, and it was a mistake.

Now we will look at a couple of drills for each category. Typically when I am teaching, I like to jump from one category to another, as hammering a student with marksmanship over and over is very trying on their concentration. Likewise, shooting drill after drill of speed work can lead to sloppy technique. Adding a basic gun handling drill after a speed drill will often serve to refocus the shooter.

This next section on sample drills is highly student-dependent, and I will change it up constantly in order to best address the skill level and needs of the people I am teaching. For this illustration, we will assume a relatively high-level shooter, who can hit their target on demand and is safe when handling guns at high speed. All work presented should be assumed to be from concealment.

I like to start with my Cold Heat drill. After recording the first run, I continue to practice Cold Heat for the rest of the magazine, often for a second magazine as well. depending on what the timer and the target tell me from Cold Heat, I may go into some draw practice. The B8 Bullseye at 5-7 yards is a good target, and I will focus on one-shot draws for a few magazines.

From there I will usually go into an accuracy drill, say a 3×5 card walk-back drill. That starts at 3 yards and progresses back by 2 or 3 yards at a time until I can no longer hit the card. With DA/SA guns, I fire 3 sets of 2 shots for 6 total shots at each distance, first shot DA, second shot SA. With other guns, I usually fire 5 shots at each distance. The card should be pasted horizontally, but can occasionally be put up vertically.

Gratuitious teaser pic of a future post.

Depending on what I am seeing from the students in terms of energy and success on those two drills, I will either go into something like 2 shot draw practice, or more likely, work on something like press-outs. If their draws were a bit sloppy, but the walk-back was ok, I will focus the press-outs on small targets, which forces them to go slowly and use the correct technique.

After the slow press-outs, we might go into reload drills, or back to 2 shot draws. From there we can start on multiple target drills, shooting on the move, or almost anything that they need to work on. After every couple of drills emphasizing speed or handling, I like to go back to an accuracy drill like group shooting at the appropriate distance for their skill level.

Most schools I have been to have a set curriculum, and they want to progress through it at a pace they know will allow them to get through everything. That is certainly easier for the instructor, and it can make the student feel like they accomplished a lot. I prefer to let the student’s abilities and needs dictate the drills and pace. This is most easily accomplished one on one, but by keeping class size down to a reasonable number, it can also be used with multiple students at the same time, and I have had good success that way.

One way to view the 3 categories is by how critical success is on any given iteration. With marksmanship drills, we want to produce as perfect a result as possible. The acceptable failure rate is effectively zero, even though that will rarely happen. With gun handling drills, we want to be very precise in how we practice so that we don’t practice mistakes, but there is some leeway for error. Speed drills are where we apply the longstanding 90% rule. 90% of your shots should be hits, but 10% of the time the wheels can come off. This allows for a good balance of “pushing” to occur, while still holding you accountable for your performance.

One note about speed work. If you don’t practice going fast, you will not be able to go fast. Pretty simple and probably pretty well understood today. I do not believe in purposely going so fast that you fail time and again. Not only is this unsafe, but you are building in a “Hail Mary” mentality. My goal is repeatable performance on demand not the fastest run ever seen, but fast enough without out failing. At the very top of the fastest competitions, maybe this will not suffice. That is not my interest in any way at all, and given the number of top shooters who have had ND’s and shot themselves or got DQ’d over the years, I don’t think following their training example is useful across the board. Speed is important, but it is not the most important. Controlled speed, with high levels of accuracy are what I want to cultivate, cold, wet, tired and hungry. Not to mention while under severe stress and possible injury. Till next time, train hard and stay safe (as TLG would say)!