Concealed Carry

Training Preparation — A Little Range Time Is Not Enough

Man performing training preparation practice such as safety, slide lock and magazine release manipulation

Before beginning training preparation and practice, there are some things that must be squared away. Among these are research and certain psychological aspects of personal defense.

In many ways, a firearm review is easier than dispensing training tips. The firearm functions or it doesn’t. The fit, finish, and sights are easily described. If you can shoot, the evaluation is valid.

Bob Campbell firing a pistol with a two-handed grip
Too many rush to live fire. Take the time necessary to first build a foundation.

Preparation and Instruction

A good instructor who has been certified by the NRA will be able to teach the basics of marksmanship. There are also advanced courses available.

Training is good and so is practice. Among the most overlooked actions is home preparation. Getting ready for practice or getting ready for the class is important. I still train shooters on an individual basis. These one-on-one shooters are usually prepared in most ways but not always. 

It is good to have an instructor who is able to diagnose shooting problems. But you also need to be able to self-diagnose. This means you must develop skills and engage in considerable preparation before you go to a training class or go to the range for practice. 

There are several courses of action you may take in the home before engaging in practice. No instruction, save full-time military instruction, will prepare you for a self-defense encounter all on its own. You must do your part and meet the instructor halfway. 

You must have considerable preparation in place. Before running a marathon, you practice. Before a boxing match, you work out. Preparation includes a wide range of actions. Among these are proofing the firearm, being confident in your skill, and having background research done.

The gear side is pretty simple. Some shooters are martial-oriented and consider simple tools the best. Others are gear heads. In my opinion, an in-between attitude is best. Purchase the best handgun you are able to afford. Note I did not say the most expensive.

Range bag in the back of a pickup truck with Walker's Game Ear hearing protection and safety glasses
Range gear should include good quality eye and ear protection.

Training and ammunition will cost more than the handgun — if you invest properly. The handgun must be proofed. This is a necessary step before training. The pistol should not fail to feed, chamber, or eject. If the handgun is a proven make, such as S&W, SIG, HK, or CZ, and malfunctions, it is possible that maintenance issues are at fault. 

A gunsmith may be called in to check the handgun. Or the handgun may be changed out for a better choice. The handgun is like any other machine. It should deliver on-demand as a result of the shooter’s skills. 

The sights must be properly regulated to strike the point of aim. For a defensive handgun, this means the six o’clock hold at 10 or 15 yards. Firing a handgun to confirm reliability and point of aim isn’t training and should not be confused with training and development. This is simply proofing and sighting in the gun. It must be done before you proceed to instruction and training. 

Revolver with leather Blackhawk! holster and two speed loaders
A Blackhawk! inside the waistband holster, SpeedBeez Speedloader, and moon-clipped loads are essential gear for the Smith and Wesson 640 Pro.

Collecting necessary gear is important. A revolver needs speedloaders, at least a couple. A self-loading pistol needs a minimum of three magazines. That is one in the handgun, one on the belt, and one resting. 

Hearing protection is important, and so are up-to-date shooting glasses. A bag to carry it all. Don’t neglect a serviceable holster that is properly designed and stitched with good material. Kydex is fine as long as it is of good quality. 

That is the hardware outlook and it isn’t that difficult. Champion, Walker, and a few others offer good hearing protection. The mental aspect is also important. When you approach training, the expectations you have concerning training are important. But equally wrapped in the mix are the expectations you have concerning what actually happens during a gun battle.

Fieldstripped semiautomatic handgun
Learning to disassemble the firearm for routine cleaning and maintenance is essential.

Some begin training to address the great what-if and have no specific fears, they simply don’t wish to be helpless. Others have been victims or assaulted in some way and wish to become formidable individuals with the ability to protect themselves. The latter has the greater motivation and often follows a straighter path. 

A few — perhaps a few more than we wish to admit — have a certain amount of paranoia. Genuine concern is good and so is a well-developed sense of self-preservation. But actual fear should only be felt when there is a legitimate threat. 

Get your head on straight with a robust concern for self-preservation. Many extend this concern to their families. Becoming fearful and suffering anxiety has a terrible effect on both life and training. Too much anxiety has physical consequences and will adversely affect training. 

As I have learned during training, the brain has difficulty focusing effectively on more than one thought at a time. If you are distracted by fear or other concerns during training, you will not absorb the training and find training and practice time wasted. 

Be certain to practice clearing your mind and concentrating on the task at hand. Simple repetition works best in the beginning. Martial arts are a great place to start, but then again, time and money are inseparable and there is never enough. Mental training is priceless and may not cost a dime. Time taken to mediate and clear the mind in performing chores is a vital skill. Clear your mind and focus on the task at hand.

1911 .45 ACP semiautomatic and three magazines used for training preparation
At least three magazines total are essential for a self-loading pistol.

Dry Fire Training

Dry fire is important preparation for training. The handgun should be familiar to the shooter and only repeated manipulation accomplishes this. Be safe and be certain the pistol is triple-checked unloaded. Practice quickly lining the sights up and pressing the trigger in a smooth motion. 

While a strong grip and control are needed in pressing the trigger, there are also some things that should be relaxed. When you practice dry fire, do not scrunch up your face or squint your eyes. If you do, you will constrict blood flow to the eyes and reduce your visual acuity. 

Tension in the neck has a similar effect. Don’t bring the gun into play and then duck your head low to align the eyes with the sights. Bring the handgun up to eye level and align the sights. 

CZ 75 handgun with the slide locked to the rear and two loose snap caps for dry fire practice
Dry fire is essential and must be done safely. While a triple-checked, unloaded firearm must always be used, loading snap caps often reinforces safety.

Next, practice dry fire by dropping the hammer or striker. Align the sights and press the trigger. Take up slack in the action until you meet the actual compression and break the trigger as cleanly as possible.

The more practice you have in dry fire, the more confident you will be in your skill, and the better you will perform in training. Before heading to the range, become proficient with dry fire and basic manipulation of the handgun. Before attending training, have some range time squared away. 

Other preparation for training includes researching your state’s laws concerning personal defense. The legal parameters are important to learn. You must have a good working knowledge of the law concerning personal defense.

Handgun with the slide locked back atop two boxes of ammunition
An important part of pre-training preparation is proofing the handgun for the carry load. The handgun must be proven reliable before it should be employed for defense.

The moral aspects are also important and require some soul searching. These thoughts must be squared away, so they do not interfere with training or your performance during a shooting. The bottom line is that you must believe something is attempting to kill you. 

In another sense, you must understand the need to convince others that a reasonable belief that you are in fear for your life is real. What would you believe when presented with the circumstances of the shooting? 

There are questions you should realize are pivotal in your education. My personal criteria for firing a handgun at another human being are very narrow. You must get these thoughts and your knowledge reconciled and have the moral and legal aspects squared away before beginning training.

Range time is great, but when it comes to training preparation, how much time do you spend on mental preparation, legal research, and dry fire practice? Share your answers or tips in the comment section.

  • 1911 .45 ACP handgun on a piece of cardboard with dozens of bullet holes showing training preparation practice
  • CZ 75 handgun with the slide locked to the rear and two loose snap caps for dry fire practice
  • Range bag in the back of a pickup truck with Walker's Game Ear hearing protection and safety glasses
  • Galco Sto-N-Go, left, and Summer Comfort holsters with guns inserted
  • 1911 .45 ACP semiautomatic and three magazines used for training preparation
  • Revolver with leather Blackhawk! holster and two speed loaders
  • Fieldstripped semiautomatic handgun
  • Handgun with the slide locked back atop two boxes of ammunition
  • Man performing training preparation practice such as safety, slide lock and magazine release manipulation
  • Bob Campbell racking the slide of a pistol during training preparation practice
  • Bob Campbell firing a pistol 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 (9)

  1. great article
    unfortunately being disabled and in a wheel chair adds something else when I go to train. not all ranges are accessible to my needs. so I end up doing a lot of drawing and dry fire training. with the occasional live fire training at a friends farm.

  2. Great article Bob. The moral aspect, and the consequences, of your action, are no doubt the hardest decision. I found an intestine training video on you-tube, by Lena Miculek, on how to get the MOST gun handling at the range, out of a box of fifty. The focus was not so much on accuracy per say, but actually gun handling, in like using multiple magazines with only a two or three rounds in them, then say do a double-tap, switch mags, WITOUT loosing sight of the target, then get on target fast, like only the Miculek’s can do, by focusing hard on the front sight, to get on target, doing magazine changes WITHOUT looking at the magazine, then practice sling-shoting the slide and also practice slide release. Lot of fun, learned a lot of my faults, and a box of fifty last longer for more fun.

  3. I prepare to go to the range every month I know that’s not enough but with the price of ammo and gas it would have to do . I pack up one to two weeks before to make I have everything and put back in the safe one bag for the guns and the other bag for the ammo and such

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