Like many instructors, I prefer a student with no prior experience. Hopefully they have done their homework and understand how to manipulate the handgun, and load and unload it safely. However, if they have picked up bad habits and continue to exhibit these bad habits, there is some difficulty encountered during the class. I have to avoid terms like getting the student up to speed, because sometimes I have to slow them down.
The student will often fire too quickly and put a flurry of shots into the target. Some miss. If the first shot is a good hit, and this is rare, perhaps most of the remaining shots are not. This student often marvels at the ‘firepower’ of his or her handgun. I regard firepower as a military term related to a squad automatic rifle. A lot of poor hits with a minor caliber are not going to stop a determined adversary. Handguns are simply not that powerful.
The handgun is the weapon of opportunity carried with us at all times to take charge of a situation that threatens our lives or the safety of loved ones. I think that we have to look to the counter sniper or hunter who takes a single, well-placed shot, and makes a hit by taking his time in a hurry. Of course, personal defense is different and the reactive nature of the problem requires speed. However, speed is worthless without accuracy.
The problem is that accuracy is actually easier to teach than speed. The fundamentals of marksmanship are pretty standard and include the grip, stance, trigger press and sight picture. Speed is more difficult to teach and certainly isn’t something you learn in one class. Yet we stress speed and speed wins competitions.
Has anyone been killed by being too slow? Perhaps so, but the majority of mistakes that have gotten good folks killed are not about speed. They are about a presentation from concealed carry that is fumbled. It isn’t slow it simply isn’t executed properly. Other killers include the shooter failing to properly manipulate the handgun. They may grip the revolver improperly and heel the grip resulting in a high shot and the need to readjust the grip after each shot. Or they may hold the thumb behind the slide of a self-loader or fail to keep a locked wrist, causing the handgun to short cycle. Perhaps, they hesitate and do not draw the handgun when they should. All of these errors are deadly and are not necessarily speed errors.
If you do not have a reasonable expectation of making the shot, you should not take it. This means that you must have a great deal of practice behind the gun. Many shooters do not understand the cadence of fire. The cadence of fire isn’t the rate of fire. I am pretty certain I could train a chimpanzee to pull a trigger quickly. Most shooters of average strength and dexterity can empty a 9mm self-loader into the target quickly and all of the shots will be at least on the paper but few will be X-ring hits.
The cadence of fire is set by how quickly you are able to recover the sights after you fire. The first shot is fired and then the handgun is recovered from recoil as the trigger resets. The sights are recovered and placed back on target. You regain the sight picture and fire again. That is the cadence of fire. Some shooters become faster than others. Some become both fast and accurate. The first shots matter the most and training and qualification seldom reflects this. How many of you practice drawing the handgun, getting a center hit, then reholstering and firing again, and repeating? This is a drill called the one-shot qualifier. It is one of the most important drills a professional will execute and practice often.
The most important background for skill at arms is absolute familiarity with the handgun. You must have practiced manipulation of the trigger, slide lock, and magazine release extensively until you cannot miss the controls. Dry fire is essential. Executing the draw from concealed carry should be done a minimum of 500 times before the handgun is worn concealed. As far as speed coming after smoothness, practice executing the drill with a minimum of motion.
Handgun selection is important. Unless you are in the service, you may choose among many handguns. The popular press seems never to have met a handgun it didn’t like, or which wasn’t reliable and accurate. There are disastrous choices. Not long ago, a round up of the most popular handguns included three out of four I would never recommend; yet they were the best sellers in America.
Choose the handgun carefully. Go to a shop and feel the grip. Be certain the grip isn’t too large to fit your hands. Be certain you are able to grip the handgun without resorting to a cocked grip called the H grip. The end of the finger should rest on the trigger with good purchase. As an example, the Glock 21 and Glock 20 are simply too large for my hands even in the SF version. So are a number of high-capacity .45 caliber handguns.
If your hands are larger, the accurate, reliable, and soft-kicking Glock handguns are a good choice. The Glock is a default choice, it is always reliable and compliments a trained shooter. I prefer the 1911 pistol, others prefer the SIG double action first shot system. There is no single best system, but only reliable handguns should be considered. The heft, balance, and handling of a handgun are important. While some types win competitions, personal defense means handling the pistol more than you fire it and carrying it more than you handle it.
Once you’ve chosen the pistol, the hard work begins. Basic marksmanship isn’t that difficult but it requires attention to detail. The stance is important. The body’s natural response to trouble is to crouch, we need to work with this and keep the body erect. The handgun is brought to the eyes; the eyes are not scrounged down to the pistol.
The handgun should be held in both hands in a solid hold and the grip should be affirmed on the draw. The handgun should be gripped as firmly as possible for control. The sights must be used. A flash sight picture is bringing the handgun to the point of aim quickly and taking the shot. The sight picture is good, confirmed, and fast. If the sights are not lined up do not fire. You will miss.
If it takes a little more time to line the sights up do so. It is pointless to waste a shot and then take time to control recoil and attempt to fire again. Make each shot count. The better the sight alignment the more accurate the shot. Accuracy stops an attack. Noise and peripheral hits do not. The trigger must be managed with accuracy balanced against urgency. The trigger must be pressed straight to the rear. The handgun fires and the trigger resets as you control recoil.
Anyone can shoot fast. Shooting accurately demands attention to detail. But shooting both fast and accurately requires a greater commitment.
What drills do you practice for speed and for accuracy. Share your answers in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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