GunMag School: Top 5 Rifle Drills

There are a lot of rifle drills out there and it can be a challenge to figure out which ones will benefit you the most. Of course, the drills you need depend on what you’re doing, so the purpose of this group of drills will be focused on tactics.

Kat Stevens rifle drills
There are a lot of rifle drills out there, and it can be hard to figure out which ones will benefit you the most. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

If you’re focused on self-defense, home defense, or some other facet of tactically sound shooting, these rifle drills are for you. Check out our top five list of ways to make yourself a better AR shooter, then hit the range.

Axelson tactical Black Pearl AR-15
The AR-15 is a popular platform for defensive use, especially at home. How much time do you spend training with yours? (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Before we get into the drills, a word on foundation skills.

If you don’t have a solid foundation of basic rifle skills, it’s not a great plan to dive into rifle drills. Spend time smoothing out your basics before moving on to any intermediate or advanced work. That includes trigger control, mag changes, shouldering the rifle easily, target acquisition, and more. A good foundation is necessary to truly flourish when doing drills or advanced work.

1. Snap-Shooting AR Drill

If you see the term “snap shooting” and immediately picture a trick shooter or some version of John Wick, you’re not alone. The name does imply you’re just shooting really fast, but there’s far more to it than that. In fact, this drill doesn’t involve randomly mag-dumping into a paper target. It requires speed and accuracy.

Kat Stevens aims AR-15
Snap shooting is about a lot more than getting on the gun fast. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

This is where the ability to shoulder the rifle quickly and in a motion that gets the gun on target comes in handy. To do the Snap Shooting AR Drill, hang a paper humanoid target and stand at the 10-yard line. Your rifle should be on safe but may already have a round chambered. Whether you do this drill with or without a sling depends on how you’d typically be toting your rifle. Basically, don’t forego the sling if you usually use one, but don’t add one if it isn’t normally there.

Steel target spinners
Steel spinners and reset targets can be used for a lot of drills, just take care to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for use to avoid injuries from ricochets or splash. (Photo credit: sportsman’s guide)

It’s best to do this drill, and most drills, using a beeper. You can also download apps to your smartphone if you don’t have a shot timer handy. At the beep, shoulder your rifle and take a single shot. The purpose is to get on target as quickly as possible and make an accurate shot. If you mount the rifle to your shoulder and take a wild shot that nicks the edge of the target or misses it entirely does not count.

You might start slow, but you’ll gain speed as you practice. It’s best if someone else has control of the beep, even if it’s your phone, so you can’t anticipate the timing quite as easily. You won’t be able to plan the second you’re charged by an armed home invader or a crazed grizzly bear, right?

2. 3×5 Drill

This drill involves the use of an index card, or a playing card if you’re feeling lucky. The 3×5 dimensions of standard index cards are a tiny bit more forgiving than the 2.25×3.5 playing card size. No, you can’t cheat the system by using one of those oversized index cards.

Despite the use of the card of the same name, this drill isn’t all about the size of the card. The numbers refer to the fact that the drill involves five strings of fire, each of which has a five-second limit. Three shots are fired during each string.

Range gear: AR-15, battle belt, shot timer
Simple to remember rifle drills tend to be the best. That’s not to say more complex drills don’t have a place, but it’s the easy ones we tend to remember. (Photo credit: intuitive self protection)

Set up your index card down-range either by taping it to a larger backing or pinning it all by itself to a target stand. Take up your position at 35 yards to get started. The strings of fire are as follows:

35 yards: Start at low ready. At the beep, fire three shots. Every shot should hit the index card. At the five-second beep, time’s up.

25 yards: Start at the carry position. At the beep, mount the rifle to your shoulder and fire three shots. At five seconds, stop.

20 yards: Start at low ready on your support side. At the beep, fire three shots. Remember, this means shooting from your off-hand side, not your strong side. At five seconds, stop.

15 yards: Start with the gun empty and the magazine holstered (yes, you need a mag holster). The bolt on the AR should be closed. At the beep, load the magazine, chamber a round, and fire three shots. At five seconds, stop.

10 yards: Start at low ready. At the beep, advance on the target, firing three shots as you move. At five seconds, stop.

index cards for rifle drill
You never thought those random stacks of index cards would come in handy, did you? (Photo credit: Trixieland)

The purpose of the different strings is to work on specific skill sets. For example, not many rifle shooters spend time training for use of their support side, but it’s an important skill to master. As for the 15-yard drill, it’s a good way to find out how fast you can grab your magazine and load your gun at home when it’s stored empty.

3. 1 to 5 Drill

Although this one has a similar name to the last drill, it’s totally different. This drill is credited to Kyle Lamb, the lead instructor at Viking Tactics. To set up for this one, hang three humanoid targets in a row a couple of feet apart. Unless you’re using frangibles, stick to paper, because you’re going to be shooting from just five yards away.

Kyle Lamb of Viking Tactics
Kyle Lamb, pictured teaching at Viking Tactics, is credited with the 1×5 drill. (Photo credit: AR build junkie)

Load 15 rounds in your magazine and go ahead and load the mag and chamber a round. Face the targets at the five-yard line, standing at the center of the targets rather than off to one side. The drill is as follows:

  • At the beep, fire one round into the far-left target.
  • Transition to fire two shots at the center target.
  • Transition to fire three shots at the far-right target.
  • Moving in the other direction, fire four shots at the center target.
  • Finally, fire five shots at the far-left target.

The goal here is smooth transitions and accuracy. Or, from a real-life perspective, dealing with multiple attackers. You’re likely to be slow when you first do this and it’s a good idea to focus on accuracy before worrying over speed. Speed will come with practice. The goal is to execute the entire drill, with all 15 shots on target, in five seconds.

4. Offset Drill

Quick: Do you know the offset of your rifle? If you’re advancing on a target, do you understand how your point of aim and point of impact will change? Here’s a drill to familiarize you with offset.

Hang an IPSC target down range. The head box is what will be utilized for this drill, but you can always change it up and use other areas as your point of aim. Load your rifle with 10 rounds.

IPSC target
IPSC targets are a great choice for rifle drills. (Photo credit: action target store)

Position yourself at 10 yards. At the beep, begin moving, firing as you move. The goal isn’t to mag dump, it’s to fire a smooth string that lands in the head box.

Don’t start shooting until you’re also moving. Repetition can get you used to the ideal combination of shooting and moving for you. You’ll usually find it’s easier if you lower your center of gravity a bit and stride forward decisively rather than simply wandering down range. This isn’t a timed drill. The shot timer is simply to set you free as the drill begins. Move at your own pace.

5. Position Drill

There are a few variations of this drill out there, including one at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, referred to as the Rifle Bounce Drill. For that drill, use steel targets staged at varying distances out to 300 yards. However, we’re going to assume more limited space for these drills, so for this one, it’ll be at 100 yards. You can use steel targets for the audible feedback or stick to paper.

Kat Stevens Position rifle drill
Learning to shoot your rifle accurately from a variety of positions is a valuable skill. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Hang or set three IPSC-sized humanoid targets down range. Place them approximately one yard apart. Load your rifle with three rounds. Then go through firing strings as follows:

  • Start standing with the rifle at low ready. At the beep, fire one snap shot at the far-left target.
  • Immediately take a large step to your right and shift into a kneeling position. Fire one shot at the center target.
  • Stand up, take another large step to the right, and drop into a prone position. Fire one shot at the far-right target.

This drill can be done with a scope, red dot, or iron sights. It can also be done as a competition with other shooters to see who can make the shots the fastest, yet still get hits on target.

IPSC steel target
An example of a steel IPSC target. (Photo credit: safe and vault store)

Variations include making all three shots at a single target, shifting from standing to kneeling to prone in one spot, and taking the shots at increasingly long distances (100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards). It’s smart to learn to run your gun from different positions, and adding the ability to move and shoot rapidly from those positions is even better.

What are your favorite rifle drills? Tell us about them in the comments section.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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