Developing a Training Plan, Part Two
It has been correctly said that the most important shot you will make in a gunfight is the first round out of your gun. That shot can—and generally will—determine the course of the rest of the fight. Whether in a military/paramilitary context of small-unit combat, or an armed citizen context of concealed carry self-defense shooting, an accurate, precise first shot, well-delivered, can provide you with the time and reaction gap needed to allow you to deliver a second, third, or subsequent shots, as needed. A miss, on the converse, may well be just the motivation the bad guy needs to step up and deliver his “A game.”
This has led to the pithy cliché, parroted by so many, without thinking, that “speed is fine, but accuracy is final.” While there is a great deal of Truth in this old phrase, it has been too often misinterpreted by the corrupt and untalented, to intentionally obfuscate reality by convincing the ignorant that speed is completely irrelevant, as a way to absolve themselves of their incapability of teaching students to progress and shoot faster, while maintaining acceptable levels of accuracy. Training after all, has become an industry, and making money requires customers. Making students uncomfortable, by putting them in positions to fail, even in a learning environment, where they could learn from those failures, can lead to a loss of revenue when they decide to stay home and watch John Woo movies, instead of returning to be pushed to uncomfortable levels.
Worse yet, in my mind, are those who have, in some circles, long pushed the concept known as “combat accuracy,” that has been equally abused. I don’t know where this concept actually originated. I do know that I first heard it used by blindly loyal advocates of “pointshooting,” as an excuse for their inability to shoot with a degree of accuracy greater than “minute of the entire fucking target.” Generally, in my experience, in the ensuing years, it has come to mean something along the lines of “well, if any of my guaranteed-lethal, buffalo-slaying, forty-something caliber bullets hit that bad guy anywhere, his damned head’s gonna blown plumb off’n his neck! I’m ‘combat accurate’ and these here rounds is guaranteed to pole-ax a gol-durned horse!”
This is, on the face of it, ridiculous, and has been—rightfully–mocked among trained shooters of a…dare I say it….higher caliber. The real problem however, is that like so much within the modern discourse, neither conceptual approach is completely wrong, they’ve just been abused and malformed to fit certain narratives. It is true that, generally speaking, you cannot miss fast enough to win a gunfight. It is also generally true that, a couple of solid hits to a vital area of the human body will stop most threats from continuing their nefarious actions.
It demonstrably does not require the same level of precision to stop a carjacker crawling through the driver’s side window of your vehicle as it does to stop a rapist, holding a knife to your teenage daughter’s throat, across her bedroom. Within the training paradigm of marksmanship training then, we have to establish two separate, but balanced metrics of performance. We have to determine how accurate we need to be, and we need to determine how fast we need to be able to make those shots, on demand.
This is, at the most basic level, the single most fundamental determinate of skill-at-arms with personal firearms, whether sidearm or carbine. It’s not simply a matter of “can you make the shot you need to make, when you need to make it?” More accurately, it could be said that the important question is, “can you make the shots you need to make, in the time frame you need to make them in?”
If you cannot reach the standards for accuracy, within a given time standard, there is no reason to try and complete more complicated drills. If you can achieve the standards however—whatever your standards are—then achieving success in more advanced, complex drills is simply a matter of putting the marksmanship into application. Multiple shot strings are really no more than a matter of repeated individual shots, completed in rapid sequence. Multiple target engagements are simply a matter of repeated individual shots, on each target, completed in rapid sequence.
Regardless of the weapon in question—carbine, pistol, or shotgun, hell, even light machine gun, for that matter—marksmanship at speed is really comprised of a few interrelated things: your grip on the gun, your firing position, your presentation or drawstroke and presentation, sight picture/sight alignment, and breaking the shot in a manner that doesn’t disrupt your sight picture. It’s really that simple.
Basic Marksmanship Drills for Rifle and Pistol
Inarguably, it is extremely critical, at the beginning of every single range trip, to start out with a focus on basic, deliberate precision and accuracy. The best way to achieve this is to begin every range trip, whether with pistol or rifle, with shooting basic groups.
Task: Group Shooting
This will help you reinforce your focus, throughout the forthcoming range session, on things like pressing the trigger in a manner that will not disrupt your sight alignment, taking the time you need to get the accuracy you need, and—perhaps most importantly—it will validate, or invalidate your zero (as an example, on a recent “fun” trip to the range, my Glock 17 was hitting consistently to the left by six inches. Assuming that I was “Glocking” the trigger, I slowed down and shot a clover-leaf group at 10 meters, and the rounds were still six inches to the left. I fixed my sights, and brought the POI back to the center of the 3×5 index card. Had I followed my own advice and shot the group to begin the trip, this would never have been a problem).
Your group can be any number of shots. The Army, for the entire time I was in uniform, doctrinally mandated three-round groups. Most good trainers will advocate for at least a five round group, assuming that at least one will be a flier. I am comfortable, with my rifles, shooting a three-round group, unless I “call” one of my shots as a flier. If you’re not comfortable with your ability to “call” your shots, then shoot a minimum of five round groups. With my pistols, I actually like to shoot a ten-round group most of the time. A ten-shot, one-hole group, punching out the center of a 3×5 index card is a pretty good confidence boost before you even start shooting anything else.
———-Brief Interlude for a Rant About Target Selection———-
There is a common belief among many trainers that you have to use “humanoid” or photorealistic targets for “combat training.” This is a persistent belief that, as far as I know, is based on the same flawed SLA Marshall “research” from World War Two that has convinced most of America that killing bad people is “unnatural.” We “need” humanoid” and photorealistic targets, in order to “overcome” our “natural, innate reluctance” to kill other people. It’s Pavlovian Operant Conditioning.
It’s also complete, unmitigated bullshit. I’m only going to say this once, so pay attention: IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT FUCKING TARGET YOU USE, AS LONG AS YOUR MIND IS RIGHT!!!!
There is a reason that the best trainers out there switch back-and-forth between bulls-eye targets, silhouettes, colored dots, and even index cards. IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER!!! What matters is that you can, on demand, place a shot—or every shot—in as small a place as you have determined is necessary. I tend to rely extensively on basic buff-and-white IPSC standard silhouettes, when I am teaching classes. To make smaller target zones, I use 3×5 index cards and/or a Sharpie marker pen. In large part that is because I end up hauling a metric fuck-ton of stuff around the country with me when I travel to teach. I don’t feel the need to carry eighteen flavors of targets as well. I also come from a background that favored improvisation for achieving training goals in austere conditions. I am all about the “making do” mindset. My personal favorite target for training is a simple IPSC silhouette with a 3×5 index taped or stapled on it somewhere. In the center of the index card, I draw a circle around a quarter ($0.25 coin) with a Sharpie, then fill in the outline, as an aiming point.
If the only targets you can get your hands on are basic little bulls-eye targets from Wal-Mart’s Sporting Goods section? You’ll be just fine. Don’t sweat it. Even better, for about $5.00, you can buy a package of 3×5 index cards, a roll of masking tape, and a Sharpie, over in the Home Office section, and you won’t run out of targets for a fucking year or two.
If you WANT to drop the funds to buy super-duper, ultra high speed, photorealistic targets of Islamic jihadist “tangos” to make you feel all Tier One JSOC Jedi? More power to you. You’d be better off spending that money on ammunition though.
———-End of Rant———-
With the rifle/carbine, I like to start out shooting a group at 25 or 50 meters, followed by a “real” group at 100 meters (my optic is engineered to be zeroed at 100 meters, after all). I am looking for a legitimate two minute-of-angle group. If your personal or group standards mandate a 4MOA group, then that should be your goal. If your group standards are less stringent than 4MOA, you need to find a group that is fucking serious. If your personal standards are less stringent than 4MOA, you need to harden the fuck up, and set some legitimate standards for performance. If your weapon is not capable of 4MOA? As the late, legendary Whelen Townsend so eloquently said, “Only accurate rifles are interesting.” Get a gun that’s interesting.
With the pistol, I shoot my groups at 10 meters and 25 meters. I legitimately expect a three-inch or better group at both ranges. I also practice, and recommend, either after shooting your groups with the pistol, or alternating on different range trips, shooting these groups with the pistol strong-hand only and weak-hand only.
It is important to point out that there is a distinct, critical difference between precision and accuracy, and group shooting is where you have the opportunity to validate both of these, without the pressure of time constraints. Shooting a tight, 2MOA group, that impacts eight inches from the anticipated point-of-impact is precise, but it’s not accurate. Shooting a 10MOA group the center of which is dead center on the intended point-of-impact is accurate, but it’s not precise.
A precise group that is not accurate may be indicative of a sight misalignment, like my earlier reference, or it may be a matter of you making the same mistake every time (“Glocking” the trigger is a good example of the latter). Your group shooting should focus on achieving the perfection in both.
Task: “Snap Shooting”
The first shot you fire in a gunfight really will set the stage for the rest of the gunfight, for better or worse. It needs to be delivered with precision and accuracy, but it also needs to arrive in time. Snap shooting is the best method I know of to achieve that ability level. It is so important, the first month of each quarter, I will devote my entire range session weekly to nothing but snap shooting. I will literally, spend an entire hour—or two, when you count pistol—doing nothing but shooting single shot snaps (draw to first shot break with the pistol).
The hardest part of building speed and accuracy is getting into a good, solid firing position, with an effective grip on the gun that will allow you to break an accurate shot, as fast as possible. A very dear friend who happens to be a long-time instructor down at Gunsite, once pointed out to some mutual friends we were coaching one day, “it’s not about shooting faster. It’s about shooting sooner.”
That is SPOT-FUCKING-ON! It is going to take you—as an individual—a given amount of time to break the shot, without disrupting your sight picture/sight alignment in the process. That time will vary from individual to individual, and while it SHOULD get faster with practice, at any given moment in your development as a shooter, that time is non-negotiable. Trying to go faster means you fuck up and miss. It’s going to take you the time it’s going to take you, to break an accurate shot.
What you CAN do however, is move faster getting to the point of breaking the shot. That practice is best achieved during dry-fire. The key to this, of course, is that your dry-fire “shots” have to be legitimate. Hitting the designated/desired position, and then yanking the shit out of the trigger, without paying attention to the fact that your sights just jumped six inches on the end of your muzzle, is not doing you any good. It’s going to be detrimental. It will fuck your shooting up. Dry-fire is only valid if it’s valid.
For my live-fire visits, with the rifle, I start on the 100M line. On the timer, I will fire an entire magazine, one shot at a time at the target of the day. For my snap shooting, I’ll generally shoot steel, because I’m a lazy fucker and don’t want to bother walking downrange after every single shot to note hits and misses and tape targets. I start the quarter shooting an eight-inch steel plate, and over the course of the month, if I am making my time goals, I’ll reduce the size of the steel to six-inch plates. (My long-term, ultimate goal, is a sub-1.0 second snap shot, from the standing at 100 meters, to a four-inch plate.)
It’s important to point out that I record, in my shooting log, the time for every single shot. I note any misses as well. At the end of each range trip, I will average out those times to find my “par time” for dry-fire training for the next week. If I miss more than three shots out of a magazine, I know I’m pushing too fast and will deliberately slow down, taking my time. If I miss more than five shots, I’m obviously having a really shitty day, so I’ll just turn the timer off and focus on slow, deliberate aimed fire from that position and distance for the duration of the magazine. Generally however, on an eight-inch plate, I’m at the point that I can consistently get 100% hits at speed. My average, on demand par time runs between 0.85-0.9 seconds.
After my first magazine, and establishment of a par time, I’ll move up the 50 meter line and do the exact same thing, on the same target. Now, the target appears to be twice as large. While it would be nice if my times were twice as fast, the reality of how the human brain works means that my par time for 50 meters averages around .6-.7 seconds. Then, I step up to the 25 meter line for a magazine. Now, I’m looking at sold half-second par times, occasionally dropping one to 0.45 seconds. I’ve gotten a 0.39 second shot, exactly once, as I recall, without poring through my shooting log (In the interest of intellectual honesty, that was a fluke. I actually called that shot a “miss” before I heard the steel ring). My tested “pure reaction speed” is generally around 0.18 seconds (I test this by running the timer. With the weapon pointed in a safe direction, safety selector switch on “FIRE,” and finger already on the trigger, not even worrying about actually hitting a target, all I have to do when the timer sounds is squeeze the trigger. Testing this in classes, the average has been between 0.19 and 0.22, with three or four people total, over the course of a dozen classes, being faster than 0.16. I’ve seen TWO people that were at 0.14. One was a former fighter pilot). That means, even at a 0.5 average, I’m moving the gun into position, recognizing an adequate sight picture, and breaking the shot in roughly 3/10ths of a second. In my forties? I’ll take that.
Finally, I’ll step back to the 100 meter line and push myself to go as absolutely fast as possible. While I—obviously—want all of my rounds to hit the target, I don’t get upset if I miss either. I’m trying to push the limits of my ability. I EXPECT to miss! On this iteration, again working my way through an entire magazine, I only record the times on shots that hit. The average may only drop 0.01 seconds, but guess what? That’s 0.01 second faster than I was before. Over time, that will increase. I’ll be faster, but still hitting an acceptably challenging accuracy and precision standard.
Realistically, being able to get fast, accurate hits on targets, inside of 100 meters is the most important aspect of real-world combat shooting with a rifle, that we need to be focusing on. It is the NUMBER ONE priority for your carbine/rifle training. If I have time afterwards, and the range is long enough to make it possible, I’ll step back to 200 meters and beyond, and I’ll work snap shots from positions other than standing. At 200 meters, I’ll drop to the squatting and work on breaking my shots in less than 1.5-2.0 seconds. I’ll push out to 300, 400, and 500, and working on dropping into the prone and breaking my first shot in less than 3.0 seconds.
This standard is based on the doctrinal “3-5 second rush.” Assuming the guy I’m fighting is trained, I’m going to assume he’s well-trained, practiced, and disciplined. From the moment he moves, when I have an opportunity to notice him moving, and move to acquire a sight picture and snap my first shot, to get a hit, I have…three to five seconds…
That is ALL I do for my rifle live-fire range work, once a week, the first two weeks of a quarterly training cycle. I’m not going to lie to you. It is BORING as FUCK! But, as the soon-to-be-legendary Miss S, from the Arizona Rifle and CQB classes can attest, this very basic drill has led to the ability to make some pretty remarkable shots, on demand, as a result of this. That is the point. Not that I’m some sort of badass, or super-gifted, because I’m not. I’ve worked my ass of to develop those abilities. If you do the work, you will get the results you need to get.
The last two weeks of the first month of the training cycle, dedicated to marksmanship-specific training, I’ll continue doing the snaps, but I’ll generally just fire ten shots at each line, finishing the magazine with controlled pairs instead. This reinforces that my positions are not only adequate to get me on target, but are robust enough to allow follow-on shots, if necessary. The catch is, I do these the EXACT SAME WAY that I do the single shot snaps, and I record my times meticulously, just like the single shot snaps. The thing is, while I think a 0.15-0.2 split time between the first round and the second round in the controlled pair is eminently achievable at 100 meters, your split times only matter indirectly. If you punch a round into a dude’s head, or groin, with a rifle, inside of 100 meters, you’re going to have time to get a second one into him. The reason I note and record my split times is because it is indicative of the strength or weaknesses in my shooting position. If it is taking me longer this week to get my sights back into alignment to break my second shot, that tells me that my position is loose, because I’m not managing my recoil adequately.
For the handgun, “snap shooting” isn’t really “snap shooting” of course. We don’t—generally—walk around with a pistol in our hands. That’s why we carry them, every day, everywhere we go, right? Because, we can have it, in the holster, ready at hand, but out of sight to avoid scaring the shit out of stupid people, or giving away to a potential bad guy that we’re armed and prepared to respond to his shit. All Walter Mitty, Red Dawn fantasies of the coming conflagration aside—seriously, does anyone NOT realize we’re living in the midst of TEOTWAWKI, right-the-fuck now? Seriously—for the vast, vast majority of us, in the event that we have to (get to?) use a firearm in a contemporary context, outside of LEO or .mil work, it’s going to be our concealed carry sidearm. Sure, I keep my MK18 in the truck with us, everywhere we go. But…I don’t carry it into the goddamned grocery store like an attention-starved moron. I don’t walk into my mother’s house with my rifle slung over my shoulder (the poor woman is uncomfortable enough knowing that her “baby” is walking around with a Glock concealed somewhere on his person).
Being able to get to—and use—your pistol, at an expert level is, by any reasonable measure, inarguably more important than whatever your skill with a rifle. Most importantly is the FACT that you’re actually likely—assuming you’re actually carrying your gun, instead of just jerking off to it sitting in the safe—to have the pistol with you when Jamal Jihadi or Carlos Cartel kicks in the front door and starts shooting people. Second, skill with the pistol transfers across to the carbine a fuckton better than the reverse.
What is involved with “snap shooting” with the pistol? Obviously, sight picture/sight alignment and maintaining them via a steady position still matter, but just as important—perhaps more important—is being able to get the damned thing out, and into your hand, in a manner that will allow you to make your first shot break within the time standard you establish, and is robust enough to allow for rapid follow-up shot (because, it’s a pistol, and follow-up shots are WAY more likely to be needed than with any rifle).
“Snap shooting” with the pistol is the drawstroke to first shot break. Period. While a sub-1.0 second drawstroke from concealment, inside of 10 meters/30 feet (yeah, it’s actually 33 feet, I know.) is easily achievable with practice, I think being able to draw and hit a 3×5 index card, on demand, in less than 1.25 seconds is a reasonable standard. Yes, the “vital zone” of an adult male is significantly larger than that. If you’re happy with a six-inch circle, or an eight-inch circle, that’s fine, but a 3×5, working to develop the ability to put it into a 3×3 or even a 2×2 circle, at speed, especially at closer ranges (call it, inside of 15 feet?). It also gives you a greater margin for error when your hands are sweaty, and your shaking with nerves, because shit just got real, and you’re concerned about not missing the bad guy and hitting the wrong person…
After shooting my groups with the pistol, I’ll start at the ten meter line, and do a simple draw from concealment to first shot break, on the timer. With a double-stack Glock 19 or 17, I’ll run through two full magazines. The first will be with both hands working the gun. The second is shot, still from a drawstroke, strong-hand only.
I do the exact same thing with the pistol that I did with the carbine, except I’m drawing the gun from concealment, instead of coming from a ready position. I’ll move up to the seven meter line, and then the three meter line. Finally, I’ll move back to the ten meter line.
I’ll finish up shooting a group at 25 meters, just to reinforce precision and accuracy, before winding up.
Like the rifle/carbine, this is the entirety of my live-fire range visit with the pistol for the first two weeks of the training cycle. The second two weeks of the cycle, I’ll split the first magazine at each distance, shooting half the magazine, one drawstroke at a time, with both hands, before transitioning to the strong-hand only for the second half of the magazine. The second magazine at each distance is dedicated solely to controlled pairs, for the exact same reason I do it with the carbine.
The single most important shot you can fire in a gunfight is the first shot you fire. It’s going to determine the course of the rest of the fight. You can either make it hit, on time, or you’re going to spend the rest of your life trying to catch up and fix your mistakes…
Spending a significant portion of your training cycle doing nothing but working snap shooting and first shot breaks from the concealed carry drawstroke will go a very, very long way towards ensuring that your first shot does what you need it to do.