It’s great to be back at the keyboard- that holiday respite was badly needed. Count on kR-15.com resuming new posts on a regular basis now as 2014 gets rolling. Over the break I spent some serious time on improving my pistol groups to get closer to my goal of qualifying for NRA Instructor training.
To reach a training goal as efficiently as possible requires maximizing the quality of your training reps. One important piece of maximizing your quality reps is to be able to recognize bad reps (ex. Checking your target is one method but even better if you observe something wrong like the front sight jerking downward). Once you can do that, how do you refocus your mind and body on good reps? Here are some techniques that help me regain focus when I shoot a bad split:
- Stop your reps. Be deliberate about the stop and relax. Take a deep breath. Walk off the firing line if you have to. The goal here is to clear your mind
- Slow it down – so many problems happen when we rush. Perform the next set of reps at 1/10 normal speed and see if you can pinpoint the breakdown in your technique. If the bad shots don’t persist simply increase your speed slowly as you continue
- Consider a few dry fire reps- if my trigger press is awry I can tell really quickly with a dry fire rep
- Use training rounds on a regular basis – mixing training rounds in as you load practice mags has really helped identify areas for improvement. Seeing what happens to the front sight as you break on a training round (particularly an unexpected one) is excellent feedback on your live fire technique
- Focus your frustration – if you’re a competitive person like me you know that you can’t simply ‘de-frustrate’ yourself. A good way to focus that energy is into slow, deliberate execution of each fundamental. For me it goes like this: Grip, sight picture, trigger finger position, breathe in, trigger press, breathe out, follow through, repeat. Take a deep breath at each step and relax your mind (not your grip)
Marksmanship is not an easy skill to attain and even then it must be maintained to be useful. Stay positive and keep working at it- remember the FUN in fundamentals.
Dot Torture is a popular accuracy drill that you can use at any speed and keep using to help progress your speed without losing accuracy. Maintaining the balance for this is pretty easy- set your goal for speed around where you can maintain 90-95% accuracy on each stage of the target. Try starting at 3 yds. When you regularly achieve that goal it’s time to either decrease time or increase distance.
It takes 50 rounds to complete the exercises. When you do a good job on the target it looks something like this (which is something I’m using to gauge my accuracy training results- and that target isn’t my work…yet).
Directions are under each dot and 1,2,5 and 8 are stand-alone segments while the rest of the dots function as pairs. There is a great printable target on pistol-training.com you can use to print a couple (preferably on the office printer) and try it out.
Remember that Fast is Fine, but Accuracy is Final. Your personal training goals should reflect this too because you need both but speed without accuracy typically won’t win a fight.
The accuracy drills are coming along nicely. It seems like a plateau has been reached though- I’m throwing up to 15% of the shots with sloppy technique and it’s pretty frustrating. After looking for some tips some content worth sharing was discovered.
When doing accuracy drills like these you can really maximize your technique by doing these things:
1. …align the sights on the center of the target and bring your focus back to the top center of the front sight blade and hold it there until the shot breaks. Adopt your normal stance and shoot a group using the same process, relax and lower the gun between shots.
This is a good way to really maximize every rep. Consistency is the foundation of accuracy and it results in tight, consistent groups. Relaxing your arms also helps minimize your fatigue, further reinforcing the quality of each practice rep.
2. Develop a pre-shot routine to help give you focus. Breathe and relax between shots. Brian Enos says “Don’t be in a hurry. Just be.” Some people try to focus on their heartbeat. There are many ways to accomplish this but the result is all that matters- you’re focused but not hung up on the mechanics of breaking a shot. To start your checklist may be a rundown of your fundamentals focus points (ex. high grip, support thumb resting on frame, focus on front sight, breathe, press the trigger, see the flash- or whatever works for your own mind). Maybe your checklist is as simple as “grip, sight, trigger press”- it’s whatever mantra you can live with. Most people evolve them as they progress and that’s ok.
3. Recognize bad habits creeping in. With experience you will be able to feel a bad shot and a good shot- it’s your recognition of a mistake in the fundamentals that you may have perceived by feel instead of sight. Stop and reset yourself when this happens- another benefit of using tip #1. Do you have a way to verify that you’re relaxed? I like testing to see if I can wiggle my big toe. The sural nerve is a main nerve that runs through most of your leg and is a core part of the nervous system- if you can wiggle your big toe you confirm it’s relaxed. That also means you are relaxed, which is key to a good performance.
Dummy rounds are a useful training tool. They have more uses than training but let’s focus on my current method and the techniques it reinforces. These days my training is focused on qualifying for NRA Instructor school. Part of that entails putting 20 rounds inside an 8.5 inch circle at 15 yards with a maximum spread of 6 inches. 2 10-rounds splits or 4 5-round splits- shooters’ choice. Practicing this drill helps tighten your groups, but using dummy rounds is a good way to see how you’re doing in live fire.
Find some quality dummy rounds that are made from real brass like the ones shown above. I like bright colors because they’re easy to see when you clear them.
I keep two rounds with my 3 practice mags. Mix up the dummy rounds with live ammo each time you load the mags and don’t look at the mags when you load them. You can mix up the ammo in your pocket if you like, I just put the dummy round and 4 others in my hand to load each mag. This gets easy with a little practice. Now you shouldn’t be able to predict the sequence of the dummy rounds in your splits.
When a dummy round is chambered during your split you just simulated a misfire. In a defensive situation having your gun go click when it’s supposed to go bang is a bad thing, so practicing your handling of this will prepare you to handle it smoothly. For those of you that don’t know what to do when you get that click after expecting a bang: power stroke the slide. This is training benefit #1- you can practice racking the slide to clear the bad round – taking care to:
- Bring the gun back into your workspace
- Rack the slide by putting the palm of your support hand on the top of the slide and pushing back hard- under stress you won’t have the motor skills to use your fingers so don’t develop a habit that will cause you to fail in a life-threatening situation
- Push the gun back out and resume fire
The second training benefit relates back to the drill mentioned above. When you press the trigger and no shot breaks, what does the front sight do? You want to see the sight remain on target. If you see the sight jerk off target you know that you need more work on the grouping improvement drill. This is really helpful- for me it shows where to focus training. If you have any flinching issues whatsoever you will see them when you strike a dummy round.
Storing them is easy too – I load them in my practice mags after each range session. These are just a few uses for dummy rounds- it’s a very inexpensive way to enhance your training and the best part is that they can be reused over and over again. They’re a great way to refine your skills and identify and eliminate bad habits.
The key to mastering the art of the pistol is not tactics but the simple fundamentals. This applies to self defense, run & gun competition and professional applications. Trigger press is the last human input to the firearm before a shot breaks and as such it makes sense that most misses can be attributed to jerking the trigger or anticipating recoil (flinch). Let’s assume you are past any flinching problems…So what can we do to hone trigger press to a level of excellence? Here are two drills you can run to perfect your trigger press:
At the range: (from Aesir Training)
1. Check, double check, and triple check that the gun is unloaded and no magazine is in the magazine well.
2. Present the gun toward the target and have a partner balance a spent casing (penny or dime if sight will not allow a casing to be balanced), taking care to not pass his or her hand or fingers in front of the muzzle of your gun.
3. Perform a trigger press as if firing the gun, taking care that the object balanced on the gun does not fall off. Concentrate on pressing the trigger straight to the rear, with the only movement in your finger taking place perpendicular to the face of the trigger. Look for movement up and down as well as left and right. If the gun moves left or right, adjust the amount of finger on the trigger (more if gun moves left, less if gun moves right for a right-handed shooter).
4. Reset the trigger by manipulating the slide (double checking the gun is empty), and repeat for a total of five repetitions.
5. Load the firearm with ONE round, and fire for accuracy.
6. Unload the weapon. Check, double check, and triple check the weapon is unloaded and no magazine is in the magazine well, and repeat the process as many times as needed.
Check your target for the grouping of your fired shots. Assess your groups to see what’s happening:
- Are the groups tightening? Are they on target? (You’re doing it right!!)
- Low and left (you’re jerking the trigger!)
- Vertically strung? ( breathing rhythm, shoulder control, not squaring up to the target)
Your hit pattern will tell you a lot about where to focus. If you’re not getting consistent results then you need to keep practicing until you establish an identifiable pattern. This is perfectly normal as you get more and more reps under your belt. Be patient and keep at it.
The farther you are from the target, the more precise your fundamentals must be to get your hits. Your goal should always be fist-sized groups on target at any distance.
- Check, double check and triple check that your gun is unloaded. Remove the magazines and ammo from the training location. If you need a mag in the gun to activate the firing mechanism designate a mag for training by marking it and NEVER load that mag
- Ensure you have a safe backstop or use a wall that is a safe backstop. Even though this is a dry fire drill don’t risk sending a round somewhere dangerous if there is an ND- it’s not worth the consequences. For example I practice in my basement at exterior facing walls.
- Aim your pistol at a wall- a blank wall with no target or aiming point is best
- In your normal shooting stance and grip, press out and get close enough to just barely touch the muzzle to the wall. Now back off by about an inch. Make sure you’re in a strong, balanced shooting position.
- Focus on the front sight. Maintain proper sight alignment but now you are seek what you should always see: the front sight as your focal point. No other target here and that’s the goal.
- Now press the trigger straight back- be consistent all the way through the break. Hold the tigger back like you would with normal follow-through. Obviously the trigger won’t reset until you rack the slide – but this will keep your focus on steady mechanics.
- Your sight alignment should not move throughout the entire repetition- that’s your goal. Steady sight alignment throughout the trigger press and into follow through.
Run this drill for about 10 minutes per session and repeat as necessary. The nice thing about this is that you can run a few reps right on the firing line if you start spraying targets to get your rhythm focused. Stay safe and stay vigilant.
Situational Awareness is made actionable using the OODA loop. If you don’t know the OODA loop yet know this much: Col John Boyd coined the term- aka Boyd Cycle. It has 4 phases: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. In some ways the Observe step is the most important for the average American.
This is because if you can effectively identify a potential threat before they get close to you- or better yet even notice you- you have the opportunity to avoid any unpleasant interactions. Watching eyes and hands can do quite a bit to help you ID a potential bad guy -be sure to watch those hands because that is where most attacks will originate.
One way to sharpen your observation skills is to play KIM (keep in mind) games. This is a very simple game: the idea is to study a group of 10-20 objects briefly, divert your attention to something else, and rely on your mental picture to come back to that group of objects to describe what you saw. Here is an exampleused by USMC snipers:
…they would put different objects on the table: a bullet, a paper clip, a bottle top, a pen, a piece of paper with something written on it — 10 to 20 items. You’d gather around and they’d give you, say, a minute to look at everything. Then you’d have to go back to your table and describe what you saw. You weren’t allowed to say “paper clip” or “bullet,” you’d have to say, like, “silver, metal wire, bent in two oval shapes.” They want the Intel guys making the decision [about] what you actually saw.
You can also do this with places you frequent during the morning rush hour (regulars in a coffee shop or restaurant), cars parked at work or on your block, or set up random arrays of objects at home like the ones pictured above. A nice variation is to have someone change an item in an array when you’re not looking (for example when you left the room) see if you can pick out the change without a cue from your buddy.
The more you practice these skills the sharper your observation will get. Here is a clever tip from the Boy Scouts for practicing KIM all on your own:
These are excellent ways to develop your children’s defensive skills – avoidance and recognition is especially valuable in a world where droves of people are oblivious to everything around them thanks to their smartphones.
Once you have accomplished enough of the basics of pistol marksmanship to hit your intended target most of the time, how do you grow to the next level? That’s part of what I’m working through in my own skills development – I know that my leading shots tend to fly true but I still have hits outside the 8″ A-Zone- and my goal is to put everything into a 4″ zone inside the A. Here are 5 focus areas I am using to tighten my pistol groups:
Scattered groups can often be improved by sharpening front-sight focus. you should be focused intently on the front sight when the trigger is depressed. This means both the target and your rear sight will be slightly blurred, as depicted in the image above.
Trigger press is everything when it comes to marksmanship. This is the last human input into the weapon before a shot breaks. Even if you do everything perfectly to aim a shot bad trigger technique will cause a miss. Trigger finger placement should be one of the options shown below:
Once you can consistently place your finger on the trigger, it’s all about the press. Honing trigger press technique requires practice. Here are a couple drills you can use to improve your press technique:
Practice Slow-Fire Drills
Slow-paced execution of all the perfect mechanics can go a long way in shrinking groups. Try this drill to ingrain strong follow-up shots.
Just like any other sport, shooting requires follow through. The process of shooting involves sending a tiny projectile down a long tube at ridiculous speeds. We want to make sure that we are allowing the bullet to make it safely out of the barrel prior to moving ourselves or the firearm. As you line up your shot – utilizing all of the other steps – remind yourself not to move after you squeeze the trigger. Granted, the recoil is going to move you. That’s fine. What you want to do is be able to tell where your shot hit, or “call your shot.”
Know When to Shut it Down
You may be fatigued from work, your mind may wander away from shooting focus or you may feel yourself getting tired. In any case, if your focus is not on shooting, you are wasting ammunition and developing bad habits that will have to be fixed later.
The Art of the Dynamic Handgun is a Magpul Dynamics classic. I refer to the Haley-Costa videos every couple months for tips. This is an excellent excerpt covering the finer points of proper handgun grip:
The things that really made an impact on my technique to create a solid isocoles grip are:
- Focusing on support hand contact with the support-side frame
- Getting as high of a grip as possible with the control hand- starting with the draw
- Tucking the support fingers tight into the bottom of the trigger guard
Did you know that SEAL Team Six practiced the assault on Bin Laden’s compound in a mockup compound for weeks prior to the operation. Every team member knew what they were going to do and that’s why they were able to essentially shorten OODA loops to Observe-Act because Orient and Decide was already memorized. You don’t have to be a Navy SEAL to use this technique- it’s just a way to teach you’re self to take deliberate action and minimize the potential for freezing up under fight or flight stress. Look at how this Rob Pincus video demonstrates training for a scenario where an active shooter strikes in public and someone with you gets hit.
That behavior may not be your first instinct but it’s correct to do what must be done to stay in the fight- remember that there are no guarantees that the person behind concealment is going to avoid the next attack.
- Plan to toss a shirt , belt, whatever to wounded loved one but maintain concealment.
- If you haven’t yet, take some first aid classes and learn how to treat a gunshot wound.
- From concealment can the shooter be located? Can the shooter be neutralized?
- Maybe apply some cover fire to extract wounded from line of fire
We can achieve similar results as the SEALs through training and socialization without loved ones. Deliberate action in a time of fight or flight stress can make the difference between everyone surviving that situation role played above or everyone dying because they rushed to the aid of their injured loved one.
PFCTraining offers a simple way to add target interactivity to training – check it out:
To address the question of how many hits should be scored before a target drops- consider the following:
- 2 A-Zone (upper center mass or center head) shots are the minimum standard for competitive shooting sports and training
- 4 hits (2 double taps) are a good goal to set for yourself
- your training buddy can make it more realistic by having you shoot until they let the target drop and adding variety to the session. In an actual defensive situation you should fire until the threat goes down so that may be the optimal approach