General

Maintaining Skills

Target's view of man firing a pistol

The ability to properly handle a firearm, drive a vehicle, or operate a machine must be learned. Complex motor skills are not innate in the human physiology. Therefore, handgun skills are perishable. The important point I wish to make is that those who have acclimated to ‘learning how to learn’ by absorbing knowledge, and maintaining a good attitude, excel in my training classes. Their attention span is adequate, and they realize that only by application of study and repetition in the correct manner will they learn. Others, who have taken the path of least resistance in life and simply do what little they may to get by, seldom profit from instruction in any significant manner. They do not realize the skill needed to have a fighting chance against a motivated adversary.

Target's view of man firing a pistol
Attention to the sights and trigger are important. The shot being fired is the only important shot of the day.

Who do we prepare against?

The thief motivated by profit may run at the sight of a handgun. The psychopath who assaults for the pure pleasure of causing human suffering and misery will not be dissuaded so easily. Many of these felons have been shot or stabbed, and any you are likely to meet have been incarcerated. They are not folks like us that have had a bad day. The average Joe or Jill doesn’t need to be shot.

Why do we train?

Recreational shooting is fine for its own sake, but individuals think they are engaging in combat shooting because they are firing at the B-27, but they are not. They are shooting the X-ring out of the target at 7 yards. But they are not training for fighting. Some stand on the static range, warm up by stretching, move their arms about in a pantomime, and draw from an open top holster to leisurely fire.

Funny, they often fire the first shot slowly then fire a flurry of shots! They are disorganized to say the least. Some have purchased the right books; others have not. Let the Lord watch over the ones that use television as their guide, because I meet them often. The author that has walked the streets has earned information the hard way. It is difficult to pick up any other way. Gabriel Suarez and Tom Givens come to mind as good modern trainers; Talon Training Group is another. Kevin Michaelowski is someone whose work I respect among active writers. Massad Ayoob and I have shaken hands and seen eye to eye. All will counsel that you cannot rely upon skills you cannot demonstrate.

Instructor and student reviewing a target
Obtain good instruction. Find an NRA certified instructor and pay close attention during each step in class.
When training, you must record the results and keep yourself aware of your progress. There is a need for mileposts. During personal development, I find that most of us reach a respectable degree of competency within a few months of regular practice. After a year or two, you reach a certain plateau and the increments of speed and precision come harder. If you lay off your training, you will find that your skills erode. As a martial art, handgunning is probably more difficult than boxing or Karate because much equipment is required, and you are not able to workout at home (as much). I have never met a martial artist who worked with me and did not excel upon application of proper principles in handgunning. Remember: learn to learn.

When you practice, the primary motivation is to maintain skill. Next, address skill-building exercises. The quantity of ammunition expended is not always the best indicator of the nature of the practice. If you enjoy firing—and most that excel do—that is good, but do not fall into the trap of simply making brass and firing 50 rounds or 100 rounds as the object. The object is skill maintenance.

A professional I know well, practices a drill until he cannot get it wrong. When addressing a new drill and facing a new tactical problem in competition, he solves the problem, and as he puts it, “does not waste ammunition pursuing the drill further.” Instead, he moves on to the next drill. Too many shooters are good at a certain drill and enjoy firing it again and again. Do not do so to the point that your ability to address new skills suffers.

Address moving targets and skill building exercises such as rapid reloading as you practice. Self correction is difficult but possible. Having the instructor demonstrate the correct technique is best. Mirror image the instruction. And, when firing alone, we may manage to address shortcomings. Confidence is built by repeating standard drills, but we must also challenge ourselves. A tight budget works against many of us. So does a crushing work schedule—endure.

Man holding a revolver and flashlight
Practice low light tactics as often as possible.
You may practice dry fire at home with a triple-checked unloaded firearm. Using the triple-checked unloaded program, the presentation may be practiced. A dozen repetitions a day is a good goal—you will find yourself competent and in control of the trigger. The same goes for the presentation from concealed carry. You will effortlessly be presenting the handgun from concealed carry. Next. I’ll list a few drills to help you keep the edge.

Range Drills

Practice drills to maintain competence.

Bill Drill – Draw and fire 6 rounds at 7 yards as quickly as you can retain the sight picture. All should be in the X ring. Work on speed.

Draw from concealed carry and get a center hit on a target at the 7 yard line in 1.5 seconds or less. Work to achieve the same time at 10 yards.

Three Bullseyes: Three 8-inch bullseye targets are placed on a target backer at 7 yards. Draw and fire from left to right, re-holster, then draw and fire from right to left—2 rounds on each target. Next, draw and fire at the center target, and then address either the right- or the left hand target. This drill teaches how to transition between targets, skill, and speed.

Practice moving with a lateral motion to the target. Never cross your legs! Fire while moving.

Fire with two hands at 10 and 15 yards.

Fire from the barricade position at 15 and 25 yards.

Home Drills

12 perfect trigger compressions.

12 rapid presentations from cover.

What are your favorite drills to maintain your readiness and skills? Share them in the comment section.

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Comments (19)

  1. Great article well written. People are busy with everyday responsibilities.
    So when I can practice I do but found having fun with it is easier to find time. I shoot IDPA and steel matches is great fun and with like minded people and competition is great.
    So enjoy yourself life is fun not always about work.

  2. While I agree with this in concept, the reality is (at least around San Antonio, TX) that it’s almost impossible to find a range that allows most of what you advocate. Many are stalls and lanes so there’s no moving, almost all do not allow rapid fire (one range defines this as 1 round per two seconds), Barricade? HA! And don’t even think about drawing. Some are fixed distance targets only. Of the very few that have a tactical bay or two, they are either booked up weeks in advance by instructors or you have to wait a couple of hours to get on one. Or I can drive almost two hours. Maybe SA is just the armpit of ranges.
    Oh, and I have to deal with all this as an instructor.

  3. I am not a life long professional gun handler. If i was, the perhaps i would have the muscle memory that would assure i handle the gun effectively *under stress*. The club i shot at has various training and competition events that make it possible to test those responses and i can tell you for this amateur practice makes a big difference in my performance. Practice with the laser trainer at home and with live rounds at the range make a big difference in my performance.

  4. I tend to agree with Jim that you’re a little over the top though the message is valuable. Having said that, as with Jim I too am a retired vet that has been shot and and shot back so my perspective is likely a bit warped. Your points are well taken and should prompt thought. Problem is those that need to most don’t read these writings.

  5. You can practice all you like but if you lack the will to use your firearm in a self protection scenario all the practice in the world will not help you one iota. If you don’t believe that search “Vietnam Vet shoots cop” on the internet and you will see a classic example of someone trained to do their job who panics and gets himself killed.

    Furthermore most so called gun battles take place in less that 6 feet at a fairly stationary target and most people do not train for combat shooting. Old women, grandmothers and the disabled have killed intruders with their handguns without practicing at all.

    I know this response will infuriate many but that is too bad. I go to the range often, shoot at a stationary target and assure you that if someone breaks into my home, I have the ability and will to do what needs to be done.

    1. “You can practice all you like but if you lack the will to use your firearm in a self protection scenario all the practice in the world will not help you one iota.”

      Couldn’t agree with you more on this point. Will is everything.

      I looked up the video you recommended and my wife and I could clearly see that an aggressive attitude will quite often win the day. Just, please, remember that a lot the thugs out there are either too mean or too stupid to back off at either the sight of a gun or even once they are shot.

      Your practice is a good thing . . . keep it up.

  6. Obviously, Mr. Campbell has a heck of a lot more time on his hands than I do.
    I disagree that one must practice with a firearm to the extent that he recommends. I learned to ride a bike at the age of eight…do I practice the art. Heck NO! I enlisted in the military in 1964 and was “in” until I was forcibly retired, (called the military retention board) in 1995. We ‘went’ to range fire once a year. In that period of time I shot on both the U.S. Army Reserve .45 Marksman Team and the 7.62 x 51 M14 team. We trained twice a month. As a civilian, I train more infrequently, but when I do train, I practice head shots and I don’t train at 7 yards…more often as not at 25. It’s like riding a bike, you might wobble a bit after not riding for a few years, but then EVERYTHING comes back into focus. Do I worry about hitting my target in my house at 3 yards? Not likely.
    Mr. Campbell’s thought process must be the same as that of the drafters of the LEOSA legislation in which retired officers must recertify with their weapon on a yearly basis. I feel if that is so, they must have been lousy shots during their career as that is, certainly, not the case with me!

    1. The problem with your bike analogy is that it’s one thing to be able to shoot a pistol and another thing entirely to shoot it well under stress.

      Additionally, the longer you consistently practice the better your baseline (or “cold”) performance becomes and the less effort required to maintain that baseline. The challenge is getting to a good baseline in the first place, which is what this article is addressing.

    2. @ jim,

      Constant training is so important that I’m going to have to let you have it with both barrels here.

      It is quite odd that everything you just wrote exudes a philosophy which goes against everything you should have learned from your stated career background. Myself, continuing a 33 year career in both military and law enforcement along with other professionals-in-arms would give you one big collective – “What the f*** is this idiot talking about!” – were you to say the same thing in a room full of us together.

      In our chosen professions constant training and re-training is paramount or you get others killed along with yourself. Any statements to the contrary are simply unprofessional and irresponsible. The only reason a person of your background would detract from, rather than contribute to, Bob Campbell’s well-written article is because you are offended that you’ve stopped training and don’t like being reminded how lazy you’ve become.

      If at any given time you’ve stopped your regular training then you are no longer entitled to call yourself an expert or even proficient; at best you could claim to have basic weapons familiarization. When it comes to weapons skills and tactics, you either use it or lose it.

    3. Excellent comments G Man and I agree completely.

      Especially the idiot part.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bob Campbell

    4. ” . . . you might wobble a bit after not riding for a few years, but then EVERYTHING comes back into focus.”

      Jim, unless that coming ‘back in focus’ process is measured in the tenths of a second, you will be dead before it kicks in. But each to their own. If you feel confident that you can protect yourself and your loved ones with very little practice, then I sincerely hope you are right. As for my household, my wife and I practice live fire weekly and do a lot of other training in between because we want to be as certain as possible that we can back each other up if the SHTF.

    5. Jim

      Since I hold a degree in Criminal Justice and my abstracts have been published by the National Institute of Justice, I suppose my thought process is OK. I also fail to see when in the hell anyone would recommend to another shooter not to be all that they can be. Mediocrity has never been my forte. Thanks for reading.

  7. Dave, great article. And very practical. I was very happy to see you name Gabe Suarez as a trainer to follow. Gabe never pulls punches and everything he teaches is down to earth practical.

    My wife and I shoot around 250 – 300 rounds a week to maintain basic shooting skills. Another option for a husband and wife is to use Airsoft guns around the house to determine tactics and practice responses to a home invasion.

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