General

Spring Training — It’s Time to Hit the Range!

Two young men shooting pistols at target about four yards away for Spring Training

Athletes have spring training camps to help them polish their skills for the highly competitive games they will be facing during their regular season. As armed citizens committed to defending ourselves and families against attacks which may come our way from a variety of sources, there is no set season. We must be trained and ready year-round. Are we? 

Do we practice our skills regularly throughout the year? Some do. At least they go shooting from time to time, but for others, if I suggest you probably need refresher training at least once a year, would you agree with me? Why not have your own spring training to work on your shooting and general self-defense skills? It doesn’t mean you don’t need to train at other times during the year. Instead, your Spring Training Camp will signal the start of your personal commitment to another year of training.

Many shooting instructors are also fitness and martial arts coaches. I’m not. In fact, my legs barely work now, and I spend my days in a wheelchair. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t train; it simply means my training is different from yours. There are things I must be good at — awareness, quick reaction, safe and accurate gun handling — and I suggest that’s true for all of us. In this article, I’ll offer some suggestions about how we can work on these skills during our own personal Spring Training Camps.

four people seated at a restaurant dinner table looking at their phones
How can we learn to break away from this all-absorbing little handheld device to check our surroundings for threats?

Awareness

So many distractions. The primary distraction for many of us is right there in the palm of our hand, the cell phone. It’s a distraction because it’s so much more than a phone. It’s an information finder. It’s a map. It’s a weather forecaster. It’s a TV. It’s a stereo. Oh, and it can make and receive phone calls too. It also makes and receives the equivalent of what used to be telegrams. 

How can we learn to break away from this all-absorbing little handheld device to check our surroundings for threats? I watched a woman in Fort Worth a few years ago step off the curb into the path of an oncoming city bus. She was so absorbed in her phone that she wasn’t paying attention to the dangers surrounding her. Regardless of his reaction time, the bus driver had no chance to avoid hitting her. People who are absorbed in their phones also make easy marks for such deviants as purse snatchers and kidnappers.

Phones aren’t the only distraction. Noise, crowds, or focusing our attention on one person or object will also impair our situational awareness. We can be self-focused due to pain, worry, problem-solving, or girl (guy) watching. We need to discipline ourselves to look around, take in, and evaluate what we are seeing. Are there any good exercises for this? 

In every new situation you go into, practice taking in your surroundings. You will have an area of influence and you will be within the areas of influence of others. If there is anything unusual or discomforting within those areas, take steps to change the situation.

Several containers of .22 LR ammunition
Much of your spring training can be done with .22s. Buying .22 ammo in bulk saves money and provides you with plenty of range practice ammo.

You may have heard the term Situational Awareness. It’s primarily used in aviation and military tactical situations, but it can and should apply everywhere. Practice identifying the people and objects within your area of influence and try to evaluate how their presence may affect you negatively. Doing this can and should become a way of life.

Reaction Time

Fighter pilot John Boyd developed a process known as the OODA loop. He used it when dealing with aerial combat threats. The process has four steps: observe–orient–decide–act. Boyd developed the concept to explain how to direct one’s energies to defeat an adversary and survive. 

When you are faced with a life-threatening situation, being able to cycle through those steps intuitively may be critical to your survival. This can only happen if you stay alert and have practiced what to do in any type of situation in which you may need your gun to prevail.

Six different models of .22 LR pistols
There are plenty of good .22 pistols for Spring training. Here we have from left to right: Taurus TX22, SIG P229 Conversion, M&P 22 Compact, Glock 44, M&P 22, and GSG Firefly.

Once you’ve decided to act by employing a firearm, you better be quick about it. As you know from watching cowboy movies, he who draws first may not win. However, the person who places an accurate shot first most likely will win. 

It’s actually more complex than that. You must draw first, aim correctly, and fire the gun — only to preserve your life or prevent great bodily harm or death to yourself or another. The mental part of this must become a way of life and is dependent upon the training you have received, what you read, and what you observe. 

The physical aspects of deploying the gun are dependent upon practice. Not just practice, but the right kind of practice. Let’s take the steps of drawing your gun from concealment for example.

close up of 1911 pistol in a Crossbreed IWB holster practicing for spring training
You should practice drawing from concealment with an unloaded gun over and over and over and over, concentrating on smoothness rather than speed.

You should practice these steps with an unloaded gun — over and over and over and over, concentrating on smoothness rather than speed. If you work on doing them smoothly, speed will come. Once you have mastered the draw, you can’t quit practicing. The muscle memory must be reinforced frequently, so processing through the OODA loop and deploying the gun becomes automatic. 

Range Time

Unloaded gun practice at home is important, but you’ve got to shoot the gun to know whether or not you can hit the target. You’ll also need to learn how you respond to the recoil and noise associated with live fire. Just hanging a target and shooting it full of holes isn’t that helpful for tactical situations. There are drills for that. 

If you shoot at an indoor range, you will have to be creative within the limits of the range rules and setup. Many indoor ranges do not allow drawing from a holster or rapid fire. More and more ranges are making exceptions to those rules by offering custom lanes or allowing the activity when closely supervised by a range officer. There are a couple of drills you can do, even if drawing from the holster is not allowed, by starting the drill from a low ready position. 

You’ll probably have to bring your own targets to run some of the drills you might want to do. Cruise on over to CTD’s target section and in particular try these two: Allen EZ-Aim 3″ Aiming Dots and Action Target Military 3″ Numbered Circles Command Training Target. Another target I like just for general training is the Action Target High Visibility Fluorescent 6 Bull’s-Eye Target. It comes in a 100-target pack, and I keep them on hand for both indoor and outdoor range trips. 

Two drills I highly recommend are the Bill Drill and Indoor Dot Torture Drill. I don’t have room to describe them here, but instructions for both drills are available in multiple places on the Internet. When reading about them, you will come across other drills you may want to try. For the Bill Drill, you can use paper plates or simply draw a 6×11 box with heavy borders on a piece of paper and print several out on your computer.

Three hanging steel gong targets for Spring Training
Range practice should consist of more than just shooting holes in paper. It should include a variety of targets and drills to keep your skills sharp and Spring training fun.

You have many more options on outdoor ranges — including setting up targets to simulate an attack with multiple attackers. I like to shoot at targets that react. If you have a range where you can set up your own target environment, try Throom Knockdown, Bounce Back, or Hanging Targets. These are self-healing targets you can shoot over and over.

Sports Entertainment Specialists, Inc., has a simulation product that runs off a projection TV and has a variety of shooting challenges available. If you’re serious about training, you might want to look into getting such a setup at home. Or maybe you can talk your gun store or indoor range owner into investing in a setup. Programs available include SimHunt, GunFighterSport, and GunFighterPro. If you know of a range that has one or more of the products, let us know down in the comments section. 

Saving Money 

Here I am encouraging you to do a lot of shooting as if I was oblivious to the cost of ammo. The solution I use and recommend for that challenge is to shoot .22 caliber handguns that are like your carry gun. Not all carry guns have .22 equivalents, but a lot of them do.

sheet with 25 different shooting targets that are perfect for spring training games
There are a tremendous number of targets available online. These EZ2C targets are available in bright orange and in red dot-friendly green.

In my own collection, I have a S&W M&P, Taurus TX-22, and Glock 44 that are big gun clones. I have a .22 conversion kit for my SIG P229 and a GSG Firefly that is a .22 knockoff of the SIG P226. Even if your .22 isn’t the same form factor as your everyday defensive gun, shooting a .22 will transfer a lot of the skills necessary to keep your marksmanship up to par.

The more you shoot, the better prepared you will be to meet a life-threatening challenge with a response that works. Spring is here. Are you ready to plan out your year’s new training plan? Share your answer in the comment section.

  • four people seated at a restaurant dinner table looking at their phones
  • Two young men shooting pistols at target about four yards away for Spring Training
  • close up of 1911 pistol in a Crossbreed IWB holster practicing for spring training
  • Three hanging steel gong targets for Spring Training
  • Several containers of .22 LR ammunition
  • Six different models of .22 LR pistols
  • sheet with 25 different shooting targets that are perfect for spring training games

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

1 Comment;

  1. David, your article here is well written and full of lots of ideas and pics and about shooting, BUT COVID has decimated ammo, both in price (2-4 times the prices prior to COVID), As a result, I think most people have stopped shooting. Originally, it was just to avoid contact and avoid COVID, but since the many vaccinations, I think it has come down to cost! I quit shooting back when COVID initially hit here in the USA, and since then I have seen the cost of ammo, even what was normally low cost ammo, to double and triple, and eve quadruple. This with also the very low availability of all ammo has made the shooting world rather hollow now. In my case, I would go out shooting about twice a year, and my range is outdoor, and with no time limit. I would shoot easily 100-200 rounds, and my ammo is on the low end of the ammo $ scale – .38 spec, .357 Mag, .45 ACP, and .45 LC. While 9mm and .22 ammo is less, the 9mm ammo was only marginally lower the .45 ACP before COVID. Now, one shooting trip would cost me between $200-$400 in ammo alone, depending on what I shot and how many. So, I doubt this article of yours will get people back to really shooting, again, and probably not until the prices come down AT LEAST 50%, and that there is a lot more available.

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