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The Shooting Drill You’re Probably Not Doing Enough…

April 15, 2019

(This is an older article that I am republishing, because it came to mind, at our weekly training this weekend, when we returned to practicing this drill. We’re going to do it again this coming weekend too.)

As I watched the “tactical shooting” training industry take off in the middle of the last decade, one of the things I found bemusing was the trend to get away from simple “Snap Shot” drills, often derided as “UP!” drills, after the shooter command of “Shooter, ready? And….UP!” I watched as guys coming out of different units, both SOF and Big Green, did anything they could to move away from this very basic, almost mind-numbingly monotonous drill. I understand—and understood—that the basic snap shot drill was all too often overused, while simultaneously, and at first glance, paradoxically, underutilized.

How is THAT possible? Trainers had/have a tendency to rely on the drill—especially in the military—because it’s simple, easy to run on a square range, with a large number of moderately trained (or even barely trained) shooters. That’s good in a way, because it’s actually, as we’re going to see, a very useful drill. In many ways, I argue, it’s the single most important drill you can do for effective combat shooting.

The problems arise—and they still arise for many, if not most, shooters and instructors—due to a piss-poor understanding of how to leverage the maximum amount of benefit out of the drill. When it simply becomes a rote thing, with no metrics for performance—and thus improvement—it loses the vast, vast majority of its benefit.

The Benefits

So, how can the most basic, beginner level drill you can run actually be the MOST important drill you can run? Well, first of all, as any good shooter, and all the great shooters, will tell you, advanced shooting skills are simply a mastery of the fundamentals. That’s obvious though, right?

The single most important shot you will take in a fight—and it doesn’t matter what gun you’re running—is the first shot of the fight. It needs to be accurate enough, and arrive soon enough, to rob the opposition of the initiative. So, developing speed and accuracy for the first shot is critical. Best way to do that? Master the snap shot drill.

But, what about all the cool-guy, go-faster drills that have you performing mag-dump after mag-dump on the range, focused on split-times, transitions between targets, and all the other “chicks-dig-it” Jedi gunfighter tricks?

I’m not saying those are not important. They are. What I’m saying is…

1) If you hit the dude in the dick…or the face…or well, really, anywhere, it’s going to buy you a margin of time. If your split-times are slow, but you’ve “interrupted his OODA loop” by putting a 5.56mm hole in his penis, guess what? You’re probably going to get a chance to shoot him again, even with a slow split-time.

Yes, you should be able to engage with multiple, aimed rounds, at a high rate of fire. Nevertheless, getting that first hit will go a long way towards allowing you to get the others, even if they’re not sub-half second splits.

2) One of the most important things we learn when we do “snap shot” drills CORRECTLY, is exactly how much precision we need in order to get as fast as we can get, at different ranges. I need a lot less precision to get a head shot in less than one second at 10 meters than I do to get a torso shot in less than one second at 100 meters… This carries over to target-to-target transitions, because our neural pathways between eyes, brain, and trigger finger, are being exercised and trained to recognize how much precision is “enough.”

3) Building the neural pathways to build a solid, stable, durable firing position that will allow you to get a first-round hit at various ranges, as fast as possible, will facilitate all the other shooting skills you need with that particular weapon.

But, How Do I Do It Right?

The first step in utilizing snap drills to their full benefit is establishing metrics. HOW are you going to define success? Just by hitting an E-Type silhouette? That’s the standard that caused a metric shit-ton of heartache with most of the military, when the military started recognizing the importance of CQM shooting. Hitting an E-Type silhouette is simply not adequate. Hitting an E-Type silhouette at 10-25M is a really, really bad joke.

So, step one is defining a more challenging target. If you’re shooting snaps at 10-25M, or closer, focus on a target the size of an index card or smaller. Since I’m kind of a lazy bastard, and don’t want to walk downrange every shot, to check my target, I just use a 6” steel plate.

At 50-100+ meters, I genuinely believe a C-zone silhouette is adequate. If you look at the size of it, it’s roughly the same size as the center portion of the upper thoracic cavity of an adult male. That’s “enough” precision, even at 200 meters. If you end up being a little outside in the real world? A rifle round will still fuck his week up, and it will generally slow him down enough to allow you a follow-up shot. Further, there’s nothing stopping you from painting a smaller circle on the C-zone to refine it further. Once I had my snap shots consistently under 0.9 seconds on a C-zone, at 100M from the standing, I started using an 8” steel circle instead. When that’s consistently a comfortable level below the one-second mark, I’ll drop to a 6” steel at that distance.

One issue that we see a lot in training people who have a traditional American view of what marksmanship is–”I kin shoot a gnat off a fly’s ass at 300 yards, by Gawd!”—is that they want MORE precision than is actually necessary. This of course, sounds like heresy, but it’s really not. We all love precision shooting. I like printing a one-hole group with 10 rounds at 100 meters. Unfortunately, that level of precision takes more time than we probably have, when the other dude is trying to get his “comments” into the conversation. He will probably not be overly concerned about placing his shots precisely in your heart, but even if he “just” shoots you in the leg or arm, it’s going to have a seriously detrimental effect on your precision anyway, so you HAVE to learn to know what is—and accept—“good enough.”

This issue most commonly arises, in my experience, when guys are running optics. I love optics. I will never willingly move to the sound of the guns with a rifle that is not equipped with decent optics. Unfortunately however, people have to understand that just because you CAN be more precise with optics doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always the RIGHT choice. So, one aspect of utilizing the snap drill is accepting that “perfect” really IS the enemy of “good enough.” This isn’t an attack on precision shooting, or even a suggestion that precision should be ignored. I still spend a lot of time, every range session, working on precision, and once I’m able to shoot “fast enough” and “precise enough,” then I can change my definition of “precise enough” to something more challenging.

So, step one in correctly utilizing the snap drill is establishing an EFFECTIVE level of “precise enough.” Once you have established what your standard of “precise enough” is, stick to it, but start focusing on achieving it faster. How fast is “fast enough?” I can’t tell you that. If you’re stuck fighting a guy who is really not committed, and is a lousy shooter, five or six seconds might be “fast enough.” On the other hand, if you’ve got a trained, aggressive shooter, with a lot of gunfights under his belt, sub-1:00 second might barely be fast enough… or it might not be fast enough.

Generally speaking, I tell people that, realistically, from the standing, low ready, they need to be able to move into any given firing position, and engage a target of the above dimensions with at least one aimed shot, in less than three seconds. Why?

Because, doctrinally, we teach the use of a 3-5 second rush, and under fire, that really does tend to shorten towards the three second end of the spectrum, for obvious reasons. If I can get a hit in less than three seconds, on a reduced-size target, when reacting to a cue, and the dude takes three seconds to get to a position of cover, then I’ve got a pretty solid chance of actually getting at least one round into him. Whether that one round drops him where he is, or he gets to cover, and then tries to move again, it’s still PROBABLY—GENERALLY—going to slow his roll a little bit, increasing the odds that I’m going to get to hit him again.

Anyone of reasonable health and fitness can achieve a sub-3:00 second first round hit snap drill, even if they’re dropping into the prone. Seriously, if you can’t, with even just an hour or two of training and practice…..take up cooking. You’ll be a lot more useful to everyone, and you’ll live longer.

Realistically though, ultimately, you should be pushing that speed barrier, as long as you’re still shooting “precise enough.” When you find a barrier that you can’t get faster than, without missing, it’s time to focus on solidifying your skill at that speed. Focus on performing the skill properly, at speed, and pretty soon, you’ll be able to break your new barrier. This is not about “how fast can I shoot.” It’s about “how fast can I shoot properly?” As the old adage goes, “you can’t miss fast enough to win.”

I don’t consider myself particularly gifted athletically. I have to work my ass off for everything athletic I do. If I can consistently break sub-1:00 snaps at 100m, and sub-2:00 snaps dropping to the prone, there’s no reason anyone cannot.

The problem with time metrics on the snap drill that has often arisen in the military, is the lack of emphasis on that metric. For entirely too long, the mantra has always been “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” While appealing, it’s only partially true. Yes, in order to go fast, you’re going to have to have smooth, well-developed biomechanics. Unless you’re willing to push your speed until your biomechanics start being “not smooth” though, and then focus on smooth again, at that speed, you’re just engaged in martial masturbation. It’s like doing a kata or something, with the rifle.

The drawback to the time metric though, is that it becomes THE GOAL. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s just a metric. It’s a way to measure your performance. That’s the problem with standards. If you establish them low enough for people to achieve easily, they achieve that and say, “Meh. Good enough.” If you set them high enough that they might actually be, well…”good enough,” then people get discouraged and give up. So….your “standard” is “precise enough,” as fast as you can…and then a little faster.

It’s Not About Shooting Faster

The purpose of the snap drill is genuinely not about shooting “faster.” In the real world, shooting faster actually tends to have rather deleterious effects, like shooting the wrong fucking person, because you shot before you recognized that it was your 12-year old, and NOT a MS13 gunslinger.

Our goal is to shoot “sooner.” What’s the difference? Shooting sooner is about working the problem correctly, and only making legitimate shots, as soon as possible. That requires more than a fast target acquisition and a quick trigger finger though. It involves knowing and understanding what the parameters are that allow for a legitimate shot, in your circumstances, and then—and ONLY THEN—breaking a FAST, ACCURATE shot. Being able to recognize what is “precise enough,” and then delivering it “fast enough,” wil allow you to shoot sooner, AFTER the decision-making process has allowed you to positively identify your target as a legitimate target.

The time metric just forces you to accept “accurate enough,” instead of pushing for “precision.”

Snap drills will develop your ability to make the decision “THIS is accurate enough,” at the speed you’re capable of making the hit. Whether it’s the first shot of the fight, or it’s the first shot on the last bad guy still standing; even if it’s the second or third or fourth shot in a string of shots to put a motherfucker on the pavement, that recognition of “THIS is accurate ENOUGH” is valuably developed with snap drills for a time metric.

No one is suggesting—or at least, I’m not suggesting—that you shouldn’t perform other drills (Hell, I offer a twice-monthly drill subscription!). The basic snap drill however, should be—and should remain—a bread-and-butter staple of your training diet. It will increase your ability to deliver a solid, first shot hit that may allow you more time to get follow-on hits. It will increase your ability to recognize “this is accurate enough” under the stress of time constraints.

I often tell people in classes—and I believe it to the depths of my soul—other than a firearm (and a holster, if we’re talking about handgun work), the single most important training tool you have available to you is a shot timer. While ammunition is obviously necessary for live-fire training, I’d take a guy who has a shit ton of good dry-fire training on a shot timer, over the dude who has plinked at targets with live-fire, but no metric of performance, any day of the week and twice—maybe thrice—on Sundays.


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  1. Bob permalink

    >from the standing, low ready, they need to be able to move into any given firing position, and engage a target of the above dimensions with at least one aimed shot, in less than three seconds

    If you’re practicing a snap shot from the standing position, would you start facing the target, then getting into the bladed stance with a chicken wing or by then getting into the more squared-up, c-clamp stance?

  2. Walking , on my tractor , sitting , I practice my snap shot sometimes 200 times each day . Recently I bought a 40XD air bb pistol that feels just like my real gun and have been practicing with it . sub 1 second shots are easy now and when I transition to my real pistol the neurons follow right along . I’ll be 70 next birthday and I surprise myself with the speed I have developed . Accuracy is not world class but as the man says , when you put a quick round into their head before they can even get theirs out , the fight is probably over . I have an old house trailer that I am soon junking and I use it to judge my accuracy . You can see a round from very far away and walk up till you are spot on . Then I back off several yards and bust a few more till I’m in the zone . Practice does make perfect .

  3. Here’s some targets for just this kind of thing, but for folks with indoor range constraints

    Targets here can keep it challenging while keeping the target nice and close.

    It’s all free. Have at it

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