Shooting-Performance Training Drill Prep Blog

In the very next blog I will be taking some of the drills found in my book Your Defensive Handgun Training Program and blogging about them.   But first, this blog will cover the basics about the drills (stuff you need to know if you don’t have my book!)

Live Fire Training Drills – The majority of the training drills in this program are simple and allow you to focus on a small area of skill.  These are in addition to the correct tactics that might be used in a fight.   Additionally you should be integrating the mental side of the game through visualization.  When you reflect upon your notes from training, the mistakes you find will usually be small things that you must focus all of your mental attention on when correcting.  Most of the drills assigned will be very similar in nature to the drills I assign in my competition training programs, and are designed to increase your skill with the handgun dramatically.  They don’t all directly simulate a defensive situation you might be in, but instead focus on just one or two skill areas that could be applied in that situation.  That’s okay as long as you realize that during these drills you are developing skill only, and not tactics or applications other than shooting skills that will be used in the fight.   Good tactics are a separate subject and I suggest you seek out training from a qualified instructor.

That said, some training sessions will include progression drills that will require you to vary the round count and apply tactical considerations like scanning.  In order to refine technique to the mastery level, you will have to look at every detail of every skill and constantly train those areas moving toward perfection of your technique. Stay mentally connected and try to envision that you are engaging a threatening person that is intent on doing you harm, rather than a paper target.

One last thing, each training session will begin with the five shot warm up drill.  This will ensure that your gun is zeroed and the ammunition that you are shooting is performing as expected.  Shooting these groups tests both your fundamentals, as well as removing any excuses for shooting errors during the drill.   Perform this warm up drill with both your practice ammunition and your carry ammunition, if they are different.  This will give you the confidence in your weapon and ammunition should the need for pinpoint accuracy arise at any time in the future.

Required Equipment.  The training drills are designed to be very simple in nature, and require very little to actually perform them.  I designed them so the average shooter, with little range gear could use them without having to buy expensive steel targets, or specialized equipment.  You will need, at a minimum, the following:

  • Targets (I like the ANT-7UT sold by L.E. Target), or something similar that replicates the human torso and has combat effective areas marked.
  • Pasters (find tape or pasters that are the same color as the targets you are practicing on)
  • Paint (white)
  •  (5) Target stands (I have used the folding ones made by GT and they work fine, but any design will work)
  • Target sticks (lath) to staple targets to
  • Stapler and staples
  • (13) Small orange cones or small marking disks (the small disks that you can press into the ground are great)
  • (2) Barrels (the large plastic ones are preferred), these can be substituted with 5-10 gallon buckets or anything similar, or even orange traffic cones.

Starting Distance.  Each drill has a starting distance in the main body.  I recommend that all shooters start using this distance, and work on “advanced skill” by trying to perform the drill faster and more accurate.   Having said this, the distance in the drill is for shooters that are beginners.  Those who begin the program at a more advanced level may use the alternate “advanced distances” that are in the bottom section of the drill if desired.  Remember, if you vary the distance used in the drill, document that for later reference in your logbook.

Alternating Target Area.  Several of the drills require the shooter to alternate between target areas (head and body hit zones).  This is to work the skill at two different paces.  When doing the drills, shooters MUST accept that there will be a significant difference in the pace they can hit the head and the body.   Understand that this concept does not imply that you are shooting the head target due to a failure to stop (although that concept is addressed in the technique section), but simply allows you to train two distinctly different target sizes with the use of one target at one distance.

  1. Technique (sorry you need my book for this).  You will notice (See page XX) in multiple sections of each drill.  The page numbers are listed so you can refer back to a detailed description of the technique quickly and efficiently.  Each key point in the drill that has a technique reference is listed with the page number so you can reference it if necessary.   Please reference back to that technique if you do not remember how to perform it correctly.

Varying Round Count and Progression Sequence.  During most of the Drills I assign you to shoot either a specific round count, or a progression sequence instead of XX number of shots during repetitions of the drills.  This sequence will allow you to work the drill without always firing XX number of shots and developing a habit of just firing that number.  On some drills it will also cause you to run out of ammunition at unknown times, allowing you to work your emergency reload and tactical reload during the scan process.  Revolver shooters will have to modify the sequence a bit just because you are limited on ammunition.  In the drill, I will give you the number of shots you will progress to.  The sequence is as follows for a progression of four (4).

Progression of four (4)
Initiate the drill (whatever is described in the actions section) and:

  • 1st Repetition: Fire one shot  (this may be one shot to a target area, or just one shot depending on the drill.
  • 2nd Repetition: Fire two shots
  • 3rd Repetition: Fire three shots
  • 4th Repetition: Fire four shots
  • 5th Repetition: Fire three shots
  • 6th Repetition: Fire two shots
  • 7th Repetition: Fire one shot

Total Rounds: 16

If you are doing a drill that has multiple targets, then you can multiply the number of targets by the total number in the sequence to find out how many rounds the drill contains.

Hand Position.  Hand position is important to think about and train when doing any type of drill.  This is because you may have to execute your draw process with the hands in a position that is less than perfect.  You may also have to execute the draw process while you are physically doing something that separates the hands.  Thus forcing you to perform the “meet and greet” (See page 161) step of the draw less than perfect.  For these reasons, when you execute the drills that require a draw, the start position is labeled as “variable.”   I would like you to start from the following positions (these can and should be varied as you will always be doing something different in life):

  • Hands in a “flinch” position somewhere between centerline and the target.  (I credit Rob Pincus[1], ( with his flinch response position and the research he has done in this area)
  • Hands in a defensive “fence” position in front of your body extended toward the target with both hands somewhere between your waist and yet not fully extended.
  • Hands in a protective “cage” position. (see the technique section for a picture)
  • Hands occupied with something such as hands on a phone held up to your head (alternate hand).
  • One hand in action, such as extending to push someone out of the way or on a car door.

Sections.  Each drill is broken down into different sections.  These sections will give you all of the information you will need to successfully execute the drills.

Targets.  Unless otherwise noted, all targets for drills are 5’ high at the shoulder or set so they mimic a real human in height. 

Equipment.  Use the exact gear you carry your firearm with, in the manner that you carry it so that your training reflects real life skill.

Consistency.  It is incredibly important that you keep things consistent when doing these drills.  Failures to do so will result in times and hits that are not trackable or measurable.  The goal is to measure the metrics of the drills as you evolve and watch your progress, always driving your skill to the next level.

Scoring/Tracking. Shooting to an effective target area is something that will make a big difference in stopping a potential threat.  Massad Ayoob confirms “placement of the shot is more important than any other factor in stopping the threat posed by the homicidal human” in his great book “Combat Shooting.”  Your training drills will be flawed if you do not train yourself to hit areas on the target that will stop the threat.  I call these areas “combat effective” hits (C.E.).

  • Hits should primarily be in the Combat Effective zones, defined as the two zones of the body (head and torso) that are the most likely to incapacitate the threat quickly.  These areas are:
  • A six-inch circle in the high center chest, directly in the center of the body with the heart directly in the center.
  • A three-inch circle in the head area with the nose high in the circle.  This will keep the bullet from hitting too high, which in some cases can cause a spasmodic reflex of the muscles, possibly causing the person to pull the trigger if they are armed.  A perfect head shot would be one where with the head erect, the bullet travels through the soft tissue of the nasal area into the brain.  Ayoob notes that if the person is facing another direction, “picture a headband pulled down over the ears, and now wrapped around those ears, and the nose, and in the back, the occipital protuberance, that bump you can reach up now and feel in the back at the base of your skull.”[2]   A shot anywhere in that “headband” will have the proper affect on the threat.
  • Note: You can consider where these areas are if the body was turned sideways by envisioning the person in 3-D.

During the repetitions, document the times for each drill repetition, and anything noteworthy.

  • After the prescribed number of repetitions has taken place, count total hits on the target, and well as hits in the combat effective zone.
  • Your goal should be to have the majority (90% +) of the hits in the combat effective area, and no misses off the target.
  • Paste hits outside the combat effective area on the target and get set up for the next drill.  The reason I just paste non-combat effective hits and leave the holes in the center of the target is to save time.  You can do this if you like, and are at the level where you know if you are missing the target.  A side benefit is that having holes in the target forces you to call bad shots from the sight picture you see (sight alignment), versus looking for hits on the target as you are shooting.

Pay attention to your overall shot grouping on the target when you are done training.  The pasters and holes can be viewed from several steps back and assessed for technique mistakes.  Try to assess where the majority of non-combat effective hits are, and do your best to figure out why you are hitting that area.  Here are some common mistakes I see on student targets (these are for a right handed shooter, simply reverse the pattern I am describing for a left handed shooter):

  • Shots low left– this is often caused by a timing and anticipation error where the gun gets moved before the bullet actually leaves the barrel.  Remember the importance of watching the sight picture as the gun actually goes off, versus seeing a good sight picture and trying to make the gun to off.  Correction of this mistake is to be visual on the sights and watch for movement of the gun prior to the shot going off.  Strive to keep everything motionless except the trigger.
  • Shots left – this is often caused by gripping the gun as the trigger is being pulled.  The correct trigger manipulation is to move the trigger and only the trigger while pulling it, but as humans we are designed so that our fingers move together.  We call this mistake “pulling the trigger with all four fingers.”  Correction of this mistake is to focus on isolating the trigger finger as much as possible, as well as using the support hand to minimize any movement the strong hand may cause in the gun.
  • Shots high – this mistake is caused by allowing the front sight to ride too high in the rear sight notch.  Often times it is caused by looking over the top of the gun, rather than through the rear sight window.  To test if you are doing this, have someone place his or her finger on top of the rear sight, leaving only a small hole to look through.  You should be able to see your front sight through that hole, and the top edge of the front sight should just touch the finger.  When you allow your head to come off the gun and look over it, this mistake becomes common because the gun normally gets canted high when doing so.  Correction of this mistake can be done by ensuring that you are looking through the front rear sight window and that the front sight is equal in height to the rear when the gun goes off.
  • Shots high left – this mistake is caused by a combination of the previous two mistakes, and/or “palming” the gun.  Palming happens when you press the palm of the right hand into the backstrap of the gun as the trigger is pressed, while unlocking the wrist and allowing the gun to move high and left.  Correction of this mistake is to be aware of this unlocking of the wrist and movement and to keep the grip and wrist locked like a vise when manipulating the trigger.
  • Shots right – this mistake is often caused by thumbing the gun with the support hand thumb, which pushes the gun to the right as it goes off.  The support hand thumb should simply float and be pointed to the front (See page 161) and if it is placed on the frame of the gun ensure that there is no increase of pressure on it while shooting.  Correction of this mistake is awareness of this and attention placed on the pressure the thumb is putting on the gun.
  • Shots low – This is commonly caused by the unlocking of the wrist tendons as the shot is fired, and the gun is allowed to be pulled slightly down.   More support hand pressure under the trigger guard between the index finger and trigger guard will help solve some of this movement, but the wrist tendon lock must be maintained through the entire shot.

Before you do any of the live fire drills, a reminder:  Safety Rules – Without Safety, my goal in writing this book will never be met!  Here is your warning:  Firearms training is risky business even for an experienced person!    We must always be very aware of the fact that we are using extremely dangerous tools that could harm others or us at any time.  For these reasons, I require that you follow these safety rules anytime you are around firearms.  If you do not understand, or if you may be new to shooting, then I HIGHLY recommend that you find a competent instructor or training academy to assist you in your initial training.  Please read each of the following rules in detail:

Always treat every firearm as if it were loaded all the time.

Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction – a direction where a negligent discharge would cause minimal property damage and zero physical injury.

Always keep your trigger finger off the trigger and outside of the trigger guard until you have made a conscious decision to shoot.

Always be sure of your target, backstop, and beyond, as well as items in the foreground that may deflect bullets causing injury.

Always have an emergency plan, communication device, and first aid kit available in case of a range accident.

[1] Rob Pincus, Combat Focus Shooting, Evolution 2010, Vol. 1 (Virginia Beach: I.C.E. LLC Publishing Company, 2010).

[2] Masaad Ayoob, Combat Shooting, Vol. 1 (Iola: Gun Digest Books, of F+W Media, 2011) 1 vols.

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