The best live fire drills to do at the range
Thursday, November 15, 2018
I get asked all the time for the best drills to do the next time shooters go to the range.
Sometimes they’re the best drills if you only have one box of 50 rounds. Sometimes they’re the best drills if you’re at a restrictive range.
Either way, there’s no one specific set of drills that’s best for every shooter. But there is an easy way to figure out the best drills for you.
If you’re going to the range to plink and have fun, by all means do so…I just encourage you not to call it "practice" or "training."
But if you’re going to the range to improve your performance with a pistol because you think you might need to use it to save a life, you want to do things a little differently. A little more deliberately.
If we’re looking at the big picture, live fire practice is how you verify and validate the effectiveness of the dry fire practice that you’ve been doing.
Dry fire is quicker, cheaper, and more efficient at building skill than live fire…but live fire is necessary. It’s one of the easiest proving grounds to test how effective our practice has been.
Here’s how you figure out the best live fire drills to do at the range.
- Pick a skill that you want to improve.
- Figure out a drill that tests that skill.
- Shoot the drill with live fire to get a baseline of your ability.
- Practice the skill at home using dry fire for a few days or weeks.
- Go to the range and shoot the live fire drill again as a reassessment to see if your dry fire practice was effective.
Each trip to the range is different for me. In each case, I’m either assessing or re-assessing a few different skills. The key is, you want there to be a purpose to your range time and you want your practice to be deliberate.
A lot of the drills I do require a shot timer. If you don’t have one already, you’re probably going to want one. I use the big blue blocky timers, I’ve got a wrist mounted DoubleAlpha Academy timer, and I use the "free shot timer" app on my phone.
Some of the drills that you may want to try are:
1. Basic fundamentals
How tight of a 5-round group can you shoot at 10 feet with both hands, right hand only, and left hand only with no time constraints? How about when you’re shooting as fast as your range will allow?
I use a metronome app on my phone and run earbuds under my shooting muffs to make sure I am not shooting too fast and don’t get hassled by range officers. This is a great place to use our brain-based Diagnostic Splatter Targets.
2. Embrace the blur
How well can you shoot with no stress without corrective lenses or without wildly tilting your head? Try using the "cross target" linked to here and see how tight of a group you can shoot at 6 and 10 feet.
3. Extend & press…or the end of the drawstroke
Start at high compressed ready. How quickly can you extend and shoot a hand sized target at 3, 5, and 7 yards?
Start with your pistol fully extended, empty magazine inserted, slide locked to the rear. Set a random delay on your timer and start it.
Rapidly articulate your trigger finger on the dead trigger until the beeper sounds. When it does, drop the empty mag, reload, get the gun back into battery using your preferred method, and engage a hand sized target for time.
5. Recoil management & grip
Use the “cross target” again. Put that sheet of paper about 10 feet away. Get what you think is a perfect grip on your gun, aim at the center of the paper, and fire one shot. Try to keep your eyes open and see the gun rise up and come back down.
Play around with your grip until your sights are naturally coming back into perfect alignment after each shot. This is the grip you want to use while you’re dry firing.
More than likely, the best grip for you is going to be where you’re squeezing forward and backwards with your shooting hand and you’re holding your support hand in an “L” shape in front of your shooting hand…not squeezing your shooting hand, just holding that “L” shape like your hand is full of plaster.
Then, you want to apply rearward pressure with your left shoulder blade. If you haven’t already seen it, I go into more detail here.
The key to getting the most benefit from this is to get a baseline live fire assessment, do frequent quick blocks of practice at home, and re-assess at the range.
Some of the drills that I’m doing right now are:
- Speed to draw my subcompact carry pistol and hit a hand-sized target at 30 feet from a concealed inside waistband holster. (1.25-1.5 seconds when I’m cold. 1 second within 5-10 reps.)
- Speed to draw my subcompact carry pistol and hit a one-inch target at 15 feet from a concealed inside waistband holster. (1.5-2 seconds when I’m cold. 1-1.5 seconds within 5-10 reps.)
- Emergency reload and hit a hand-sized target at 30 feet (2-4 seconds when I’m cold. 2 seconds within a few reps. 2-2.5 seconds when the mag is concealed)
- One hole drills. (Both hands, right hand only, left hand only.) My goal is normally a 5 round, sub-inch group with sub-second splits when using both hands and 1.5-2 second splits when shooting one-handed. I start at 10 feet, go out from there, and then see how fast I can shoot the drill. I’m normally at 0.4 splits at 15 feet, but the last time I shot it I was at .65 splits at 12 feet.
- Trigger slap drills. The goal here is to see how quickly you can press the trigger without disturbing sight alignment and still hit a two-inch target at 10 feet. Start with the sights lined up with a target, finger on the trigger, and hit the button on your shot timer and quickly get a support hand grip. When the beeper sounds, press the trigger as quickly as possible without throwing the shot. With my finger on the trigger, my times are in the 0.14-0.18 range. With my finger in the trigger guard, but off the trigger, it’s 0.2-0.25. With my finger indexed, it’s 0.3-0.5.
Some of the drills I mentioned may be too easy for you. Some may be too hard for you. The key is to pick a few specific skills, practice them with dry fire and then assess them with live fire at the range.
To be clear, I purposely limit myself to only 5-10 minutes of dry fire practice per day, a few days a week. And I do roughly 10-20 times more dry fire than I do live fire.
What that means is that it’s possible for you to get amazing results in only about an hour a week. A few deliberate minutes here. A few quality minutes there. And before you know it, you’ve made huge strides in how well you shoot.
The key is to use accelerated learning techniques in combination with dry fire training.
As you know by now, not all dry fire drills are created the same. A few minor tweaks in how you do dry fire can make a huge difference in how quickly your skills improve.
Improvement that may take a year using ordinary training methods can be yours in just a couple of weeks (and sometimes just a few days) when you do the right kind of practice.
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