Top 5 Handgun Drills: Make Ready

Handgun skills are perishable, meaning it’s absolutely vital you keep yours sharp through regular practice. Fortunately, there are quite a few handgun drills designed specifically to hone and maintain various skills. Whether you’re interested in fine-tuning accuracy or shooting for time, there’s a drill for you. Check out our pick of top five handgun skill drills to try out next time you hit the range.

1. Dot Torture Drill

dot torture test target - handgun skill drill
The Dot Torture Drill is a popular precision drill among dedicated handgunners. (Photo credit: Trigger Pressers)

The Dot Torture drill is a fantastic exercise in trigger control and precision. It’s done using a widely available printout featuring ten 2-inch circles. The circles are numbered one through ten, with basic instructions written beneath the specific circles. If you want to actually pass Dot Torture, you need a 100% score, but it’s also a great test for tracking progress. And if you’re interested in trying it out with different guns, it’s also a good measure of your capabilities with a specific model and/or caliber. Comparing the various results using different guns can be both fun and informative.

For this test you need:

  • Handgun of choice.
  • 50 rounds of ammunition.
  • Holster (preferably the holster and gun you use for defensive purposes).
  • Printout of the drill.
  • Two magazines, minimum.
  • Eye and ear pro.

One of the great things about Dot Torture is how self-explanatory it is. Your instructions are right there on the target, making it easy to do. This drill is commonly done from a distance of 3 to 5 yards. Once you start getting perfect scores, begin moving further away to increase the difficulty level.

2. Playing Card Drill

playing card drill with glock
The playing card drill has a lot of possible variations, so once you’ve mastered it, start making it harder. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

The playing card drill can be run as a timed or untimed exercise. It’s relatively simple, which is nice, and it’s a good way to check your progress as your skills improve. And because it only requires a single playing card, you can get a lot of trigger time out of an entire deck. Your greatest results can be proudly displayed on your refrigerator (or am I the only one who does that?).

For this test you need:

  • Handgun.
  • Five rounds of ammunition.
  • Playing card(s).
  • Eye and ear pro.

This drill is done by positioning yourself at the five-yard line, choosing a specific spot on a playing card, and shooting it. Five shots are taken at that single spot, slowly and methodically. It doesn’t need to be timed or sped up until you get to the point you need or want to further challenge yourself. Some shooters also do three shots at three yards or ten shots at ten yards. This drill is a good exercise in sight alignment, front sight focus, and trigger control. It also requires repeatable skills, which means a single lucky shot doesn’t get you anywhere. The goal is a single ragged hole, which is more challenging with some guns than others.

3. Eleanor Drill

eleanor drill
The Eleanor Drill is the creation of Aaron Cowan at Sage Dynamics. Instructions are helpfully printed on the target. (Photo credit: Sage Dynamics)

This is a skills test designed by Aaron Cowan of Sage Dynamics, and you can get your hands on the necessary target for free on his website. The Eleanor requires both speed and precision, so it’s a drill to take on once your skills have progressed to a more advanced level. It’s specifically meant for red dots, so if you want to be true to the original, use a handgun with a red dot sight on it. Although it can be done with a long gun, we’re going to focus on the handgun version.

For this test you need:

  • Handgun with a red dot sight.
  • Four rounds of ammunition (per attempt).
  • Eleanor target from Sage Dynamics website.
  • Holster.
  • Shot timer.
  • Eye and ear pro.

To try your hand at the Eleanor drill, you’ll position yourself at the three-yard line with your handgun holstered. At the beep, draw your handgun and fire one shot to the circle and four shots to the reduced size A-zone (the square). The goal is to nail all four shots from the holster with a par time of 2.5 seconds. This is an awesome drill, but a challenging one.

4. Bill Drill

IPSC target for Bill Drill
The Bill Drill is traditionally done on an IPSC or USPSA target. (Photo credit: Sportsmans Warehouse)

The Bill Drill is credited to Bill Wilson, the man behind some of the most gorgeous 1911s in the industry. This drill is a solid test of your draw stroke and how quickly and accurately you get on target. It doesn’t involve precision hits, but it still gives you a good idea of what it takes to make accurate hits at whatever distance you fire from. Distance for this drill is adjustable, so feel free to vary it as needed for your particular focus.

For this test you need:

  • Handgun.
  • Six rounds of ammunition.
  • IPSC/USPSA target (utilizes A zone, sometimes C zone).
  • Holster.
  • Shot timer (technically optional).
  • Eye and ear pro.

The Bill Drill is traditionally done from a distance of seven yards. At the beep, draw your gun and fire six shots. The goal is for all six to land in the A zone of the target. Two seconds is considered a decent goal time for this distance (that’s two seconds from the beep to the end of the string of fire). There’s nothing wrong with going slow at first, because it’s all about honing those foundation skills. If you shorten the distance to three or five yards, work toward a sub-two-second completion time. This drill is a nice way to find out just what it takes to smooth out your draw stroke and presentation, get on target, and make good hits.

5. El Presidente

el presidente drill
The El Presidente is a drill credited to the late Jeff Cooper of Gunsite Academy. (Photo credit: stas pomerants via Pinterest)

This is a drill that’s often credited to the late Col. Jeff Cooper, the founder of what is now Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona. According to gun writer Dave Spaulding, he was once told by Cooper that the El Presidente was never meant to be a multi-target drill but instead a combat drill. To make that happen, a trio of IPSC/USPSA targets is utilized, so it’s not too surprising many people view it as a multiple-target drill despite it not really being about that at its heart. As is the overall goal of most things Gunsite, the El Presidente is a test of your fighting skills.

For this test you need:

  • Handgun.
  • 12 rounds of ammunition, minimum.
  • Three IPSC/USPSA targets.
  • Holster.
  • Two magazines.
  • Shot timer (preferably).
  • Eye and ear pro.

Stage the three targets in a row, one yard apart. Position yourself at the 10-yard line. Turn your back to the targets and raise your hands into the surrender position. At the beep, turn to face the targets, and fire two shots per target from left to right. Do a reload, still facing the targets, and shoot each target two more times apiece (an in-battery reload is preferred, so consider loading your two magazines beyond six rounds each). 10 seconds from start to finish is a good goal. 10 yards, 10 seconds, 12 A-zone hits. In some variations, the second group of six shots are head shots.

What are your favorite handgun drills? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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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