Shooting Drills – You Do Use Them, Don’t You?

Shooting drills are a necessity. If you’re just out shooting to be shooting, hey, have a good time. But that’s not going to do you much good if you’re forced into a defensive shooting.

Jim Davis participates in a shooting drill, engaging from a vehicle
Shooting a drill from a vehicle adds extra pizazz to a range session! Here the author engages targets during a Vehicle Tactics class.

Here’s an example of something we call Uncle Buck’s Shooting School (nothing against Uncle Buck).

The man was so proud of his girl and her shooting ability, he couldn’t wait to tell me how good she was with a pistol! The bad guys didn’t stand a chance against her (I knew, because he told me so)!

“She’s that good, eh?” I said.

“Oh yeah! She hits dead center every time! Taught her everything she knows myself!” Well, yes, of course you did.

Intrigued, I queried, “How fast can she shoot, and from how far?”

He furrowed his brow and thought for a moment, ”Well, I, uh….it takes her about a minute to empty the clip.”

“You mean the magazine?” I countered. He paused to pick his nose and examine the contents at the end of his finger, and was apparently quite satisfied with his haul. This was getting good.

“Yeah, you know, the clip. It holds 15 rounds. ‘Bout a minute.”

“Oh my! Yes, that is fast,” I complimented. “Does she shoot any drills?”

“I got one of those new electric drills, but we don’t use it at the range”, he offered, looking at me as though I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.

Frustrated, I replied, “No, I mean do you—oh, never mind.”

rifle clips
She could empty a clip in…”Oh, ’bout a minute.”

Legions of people go to the shooting range, stand there with no stress nor time constraints, and merely bang away at targets until the clip…er, excuse me, the magazine, is empty. Then they saunter up and admire their shooting prowess.

Sure, it’s easy for people to make hits on a static target, taking all the time they could possibly ever need while standing still in perfect conditions. Compliments are exchanged, congratulatory pats on the back are issued, and everyone is firmly convinced that they are ready for life-and-death combat. Over beers, they’ll reassure each other that they are, indeed, quite well-trained and prepared for anything that they might encounter.

Advice From Legends

A good friend of mine (one of the best instructors I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning from) told me, “Always have a plan to work on at least one skill every time you go to the range. Don’t just bang away at targets and assume you’re accomplishing anything, other than wasting ammo.”

That’s always stuck with me. Decades ago, I received advice from legendary shooter Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock: “When you go to the range, don’t just shoot to send rounds down range; train as if a life hangs in the balance of every single shot. Because it might!”

Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock
White Feather once said to me, “When you go to the range, don’t just shoot to send rounds down range; train as if a life hangs in the balance of every single shot. Because it might!”

The advice that these two men took the time to give me has stuck with me all these years, and I’ve heeded it diligently.

Have A Plan

There is a bewildering plethora of shooting drills we can train on when we go to the range. It’s not really the scope of this article to go into excruciating detail to describe them all, so I’ll just throw out a couple of generalities here to get your creative juices flowing. What I am trying to get you to do is to have some sort of plan when you go to the range.

Maybe you’re working on your drawstroke when drawing your handgun. Or working on follow-up shots. Perhaps transitioning from double action to single action. Maybe magazine changes need polishing. There are dozens of skills you may need to work on.

And let’s face it, we tend to do things over and over again that we are really skilled at because it makes us feel oh-so-good when we do well, doesn’t it? I love to do things that I can breeze through in my sleep.

Things that are more difficult…maybe not quite as much. Does your Tap-Rack-Bang drill need work? How about clearing double feeds (yuck, those are no fun!).

None of us are great at everything, so there’s always something we can polish up and hone to be better and faster.

Status Quo

Many folks are more than happy to sedately blast away on the square range and assume that they are no prepared to engage bad guys.

However, in real life, bad guys tend to move around because they don’t usually care to be shot (this may shock some of our viewing audience, but bear with us, we have it on good authority). Additionally, good guys also (should) move around during shootings, unless they are behind some solid cover. In some of the trainings I’ve attended, I learned a simple acronym that really drives home the point: Motionless Operators Ventilate Easily.

MOVE, and get off the “X”, it makes you much harder for the bad guys to hit!

shooting drills - shotgun on the move
When engaging bad people, you need to move if possible. Get off the “X”!

Bad guys have been known to shoot back at times (again, trust us on this).

The vast majority of defensive shootings take place within two yards and expend approximately two rounds of ammunition. While these numbers are reassuring, you may want to consider putting some sort of reloading process into your drills to practice this most vital process.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of shooting drills out there to choose from. As mentioned, I’m not going to elaborate on all of them here, but rather give you something to consider.

Gun Fighting is problem solving with firearms.

One of my favorite things to incorporate into shooting training is Stress Shooting. I learned this from my sniper instructor, who learned it from Gunny Hathcock’s sniper school, White Feather, Inc.

Just before shooting, you engage in strenuous activity. For us, it was running 500 yards and then taking a difficult sniper shot. Your heart will be pounding, the crosshairs will jump with every beat of your heart, you’ll be breathing very heavily. Basically, all the things that are going to happen if you are engaged in combat with another human being (or several).

stress shooting - doing pushups before engaging in shooting drills
Doing some pushups just before shooting can add stress and fatigue. Fight through it – you’ll become a better shooter!

There are two aspects to this: as mentioned, your adrenaline will be flowing like you cannot begin to imagine, in which case the heart rate and breathing will act just like I’ve described above.

Secondly, you just might be engaged in physical exertion during a combat encounter. Who knows what you might have to do when someone is trying to kill you. But running and fighting will likely be on the agenda.

Mind you, it’s not necessary for you to run 500 yards before making a shot in practice on the range. Just getting your heart rate up appreciably above the norm will suffice. It could be as simple as doing ten or twenty pushups and/or a short sprint. The more out of shape you are, the faster this will occur. For some people, doing five pushups will leave them feeling exhausted, and that’s fine.

So bang out your fast and furious exercise session, and then get to shooting while you’re huffing and puffing. I guarantee that forcing yourself to work through the fatigue that this creates is going to elevate your shooting ability like you cannot even imagine. This is what professionals are taught, and it works! Stress Shooting will help you develop laser-like focus.

Which shooting drills to do?

Well, what should I shoot, you might ask? All depends on your skill level, I say. If you’re an advanced level shooter, you’re likely already practicing shooting drills.

If not, start simply. Do some research and see what’s out there as far as drills go. It could be simply engaging two or three targets in the shortest amount of time that you possibly can. But don’t try to rush it initially. Start at moderate speed and get your technique and accuracy down before rushing the shots.

Speed will come eventually. What you want first is the accuracy. People tend to try to go faster than full speed to start off with, and to them, we say, “You can’t miss fast enough.” Build up technique and accuracy, and speed with follow eventually.

Start out center mass on targets. After you get proficient, use a smaller kill zone. Maybe staple a 3×5-inch card to the center of the target, and one to the head. Anything outside of that target will be considered a miss.

coke bottle target used in shooting drills
Center mass is a good starting point. Later on, you can add smaller aiming points, such as 3,5″ cards to hone your skills further.

Work with a partner.

A partner can work the timer or stop watch for you. They can signal when the drill begins, either verbally, or with a whistle (also, timers have signals on them).

One drill I like to do uses a target with circles on it, and inside each circle is a number. I like random numbers so nothing is in order. Upon the signal, your range buddy yells out a number and you draw your weapon and engage the number called out. It makes you think, and that’s the entire premise of what we’re doing here.

circle and number target for shooting drills
The Circle/Number Target is a fun drill that can keep shooters on their toes and make them think. It’s also very easy to draw one up yourself.

Another drill is one we used to call the “Body-Head” Drill. Your partner yells out “Body” or “Head” and you shoot that area. Switch them up fast and often, keep the shooter jumping.

Bad guy target for shooting drills
Alternating calling out Body and Head shots can keep shooters thinking.

For both of these shooting drills, gradually start calling out the shots faster until you get to the point that the shooter cannot keep up.

I once complained to my instructor friend that I couldn’t keep up, and he replied, “I don’t want you to be able to keep up. I want you trying your best to keep up, which is going to build your skill because you’re going to push yourself harder.” I’ve pondered that ever since, and it made a lot of sense!

Train how you carry.

Most people carry concealed (which is a smart thing to do). They’ll conceal their pistol under a shirt or jacket, but then they’ll go to the range and do quick draw without any cover garments covering their weapon. This kind of defeats the purpose of training how you’ll carry.

Jim Davis practicing shooting drills in tactical gear
Members of Special Ops teams often practice in what they wear on the job. If you wear a cover garment, then train with that so you’ll be ready when the time comes. Train with what you use daily!

As mentioned before, it’s easier to draw when the pistol is not concealed, which makes your times faster (remember, we all like to do well, so faster times means we’re doing better). If you do that, you are defeating the whole purpose of training. If you carry with a garment over top of your pistol, then train that way too!

Use your imagination if you want to invent new and unique shooting drills to practice. Or check out established drills, because there are tons of them out there, and there’s no reason to be in short supply of new shooting drills to keep life interesting.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:
© 2022 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link