Concealed Carry

Training in the Modern Situation: The Anatomy of Training for a Self-Defense Encounter

Bob Campbell sweeping a covering garment back to reveal a holstered gun

Sometimes shooting is just too much fun. We go to the range and repeat drills we are very good at. We avoid harder work and consider ourselves prepared. This is just making brass. This doesn’t fit my criteria for preparation for personal defense, and it should not fit yours.

Skill comes with disciplined repetition. This repetition is more important than an individual’s firearm choice — given a quality handgun of at least .38 or 9mm caliber. I am pretty certain I could train a chimpanzee to empty a magazine pretty fast. I can put all the shots in the same hole at most ranges to 15 yards, if I take my time and every advantage for accuracy.

Bob Campbell firing a handgun offhand with a two-handed grip for training
Firing offhand is important. Speed and accuracy come with practice.

If I go too fast, then the group is all over the target. Combat proficiency lies somewhere in between. The goal is to quickly present the firearm from concealed carry, locate and engage the target, and prevent your own death or injury.

The presentation may be practiced at home, dry fire, with a triple-checked, unloaded firearm. Later, if your range allows drawing from concealed carry, you may practice there as well. In fact, no matter what your program, you should begin practicing without an unloaded firearm.

Practice and Training

When I work out, I do X number of repetitions. I do X number of curls, X number of leg squats, and so on. I do the same in handgun practice. We need a total of 500 [quality] repetitions to achieve proficiency. Have you done 500 perfect trigger breaks, ten at a time, over the past few months?

If there is anything that ruins many folks practice, it is trying to go too fast, too soon. Take your time in a hurry. Work for smoothness. The draw should be smooth. Move the elbow to the rear come up from below the holster to scoop the pistol out. Do this smoothly, eliminating excess motion, and you will become faster as you work for smoothness.

Dry fire trigger control and practicing the draw at home are your education. Range work is the test. The work and progress should be documented. The repetitions and drills should be constant.

man at the end of a hallway aiming a pistol for home self-defense training
Practice inside the home is important. In this illustration, the author is NOT using cover properly.

The goal isn’t to beat someone in competition, but to reach your personal best. As an example, I don’t always know exactly what I will run across when hiking. However, the preparation I have completed puts me in shape to handle the situation and allow me to enjoy my time.

By the same token, preparation makes your range work more profitable. Muscle memory is in place. In the modern world and the modern situation, ammunition is more expensive than ever — supplies are coming back. I think the cost of not giving practice everything you have, could be a hefty price with a tag that you do not wish to pay.

Practice your dry fire and, draw, and presentation. There is no one that cannot give this regimen 10 draws and 10 trigger compressions a day. Over the course of a few months, the majority of your practice time will be conducted using dry fire. As you practice, in time you will find that the draw has become second nature. This is called muscle memory.

Bob Campbell shooting a handgun on a makeshift combat course for training
Setting up a combat course isn’t difficult.

Control Your Speed

You will be at a speed that doesn’t invite mistakes — slow and steady. Soon, you will be faster and smoother. This speed and smoothness will be exhibited on the range, as an exam, reflecting your skills.

Don’t always draw to a shot. In other words, the draw stroke should always involve moving into the firing position and addressing the threat, but not always firing. You can get ahead of yourself very quickly.

You should not fire until the threat is confirmed. Some threats retreat when the gun is drawn. They may drop the knife, ball bat, or simply turn to run away. This isn’t always true of course.

20-plus bullet holes in a paper silhouette target
Analyze your shot placement. Are you firing too fast or too slow?

The draw stroke will bring the handgun into play. The sight picture will be confirmed. The trigger stroke will be a different movement. It is easy to get caught thinking of the next move before you are ready. The mind moves more quickly than the body is able. Make the necessary draw correction and then lock in the trigger press. Next, marksmanship will come.

Learn to call your shots. When the shot breaks while you are aiming at a B 8 target as an example, are the sights still properly lined up after the shot? Would you have missed? This is good information that is a bit more difficult to come by in rapid fire. Emptying the gun quickly into a target doesn’t teach us much. If you are practicing control, perhaps, but little else.

Grouping Your Shots

When at the range, you should not be concerned with groups on the target. I often fire a five-round group at 15 or 25 yards to test a handgun’s accuracy. I do so from a solid benchrest firing position.

This shows something about the pistol’s fitting, quality, sights, and trigger, but not as much about practical offhand combat accuracy. Firing at targets at known and unknown ranges — firing a single round on target is important. It is also important to learn to fire a quick follow-up shot, as this may be necessary.

Each shot is an individual event, not simply part of a string of shots. The follow-up shots are fired after recoil is controlled and the sights are back on target. Fire, control recoil as the trigger resets, and then fire only after the sights are realigned on the target. Don’t jerk the trigger. Fire the handgun smoothly.

Man drawing a cocked-and-locked 1911 handgun from a leather OWB holster
The presentation must be practiced often for speed and smoothness to develop.

As you train and become good and then very good. Perhaps, as the years go by, you should beware of something called the inverse law of the assumption of power and ability. There is always someone stronger and faster but also more often someone who is crazy. Crazy is a catch all term that isn’t the technical answer to the diagnosis of many modern maladies. It covers a great deal of depravity. If you do not use your muscles, they become slack.

Situational awareness may become lax. The truism “Use it or lose it” is true highlighting the consequences losing the things you have — including your life and family.

Which drills or exercises do you consider essential to modern self-defense firearms training? Share your answer in the comment section.

  • bottom up view of a man shooting a pistol with a two-handed grip
  • Bob Campbell sweeping a covering garment back to reveal a holstered gun
  • Handgun being held at the low-ready position
  • Bob Campbell shooting from a kneeling position on a combat course
  • 20-plus bullet holes in a paper silhouette target
  • Bob Campbell shooting a handgun on a makeshift combat course for training
  • man at the end of a hallway aiming a pistol for home self-defense training
  • Man drawing a cocked-and-locked 1911 handgun from a leather OWB holster
  • Bob Campbell firing a handgun offhand with a two-handed grip for training
  • Bob Campbell aligning the sights and firing a handgun offhand with a two-handed grip

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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!

Comments (10)

  1. As for the nerves and fear factor-

    seen plenty of officers I served with handle situations calmly, do what had to be done, and never have the shakes because they trained and trained hard.
    Afterward, myself included, hands may shake, knees knock so bad they could not stand.

    Training handles a lot of this.

  2. I agree with Bret regarding when it comes to a time where you have to defend yourself in a life or dead situation and what you’ve learned gets put on the back burner. To think about different situations that might arise where you would have to defend yourself and play them out in your head might be alright for the moment but as we all know nothing happen exacting like we thought. Which brings me to say this, having range time under your belt will help save your life. Being able to get to your weapon and draw it quickly, knowing not to make yourself a target, move and find cover,and most of all getting shots on target. All these things can be practiced in real time at the range and more then likely will help save your life. Oh,never lose sign of your threat. If you don’t have the basic tools of how to handle, shoot, sight in, grip, and control your weapon it is useless. That said your range time is of the utmost of importance.

  3. David

    Excellent point concerning snap caps! I will add that to future articles.

    Thanks for reading!

    Bob Campbell

  4. wonderful article. I fully agree with one exception. That is dry firing. I`d urge the shooter to use snap caps instead, so as to avoid inevitable damage to hole the firing pin goes thru.

  5. Always enjoy your articles. Can tell you come from a place of experience rather than hubris. Dry practice is something a lot of us are bad about doing consistently. I need to start consciously carving out more time for this. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Whie this article and others like it are interesting, personally I’ve learned nothing. I do appreciate the effort but having “been there” i can tell you that you do your readers a disservice by not mentioning that they’ll most likely be so scared, so disoriented and caught off guard that they most likely will experience tunnel vision, caveman hands, and an adrenaline rush like they’ve never known. When it happens, all of this gets put to the back burner and survival mode kicks in. I do agree that muscle memory is important but i truly think that having multiple scenarios play out in your mind and how you plan to react is as important as any range time. Thanks for the article, i always enjoy them!

  7. Have won many a match doing just that pal. As I mentioned that was taking my time and taking every advantage, not combat shooting. But then an even better shot took home the big trophy. If you have the money to lose we may make a bet on this. In fairness, it is one ragged hole in the paper not a single .45 or 9mm hole, not a tiny hole.

  8. “I can put all the shots in the same hole at most ranges to 15 yards.” That is the point when my BS detector went off and I stopped reading.

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