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Compressed Pistol Practice: A Minimalist Program for Maintaining Proficiency

November 5, 2022

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One of the questions I got asked at the recent Clandestine Carry Pistol Course is one I get asked in every pistol class. This is strange to me, because it’s something I addressed, rather thoroughly in three different books: The Reluctant Partisan, Volume Two, The Guerrilla Gunfighter: Clandestine Carry Pistol, and The Guerrilla Gunfighter III: Training Drills for Building Skill

That question is: “What should we be doing for practice, to continue to build skills and maintain what we’ve learned?”

As I’ve pointed out in those books, in articles, and in classes, ultimately, there are three fundamental principles to utilizing a firearm in the anti-personnel role (or, in any role really, even hunting for the pot):

(1) You need to be able to hit whatever you need to hit, as many times as you need to hit it, in order to elicit the desired response.

(2) You need to be able to introduce the gun into the conversation early enough to make a difference in the outcome.

(3) You need to be able to do this in a manner that maximizes the safety of yourself, your companions, and anyone else that you’re not trying to shoot.

For all the complexities that trainers try to throw in to the equation, ranging from legal quandaries that can arise (and, unless said trainer is a practicing criminal defense attorney or prosecutor, THAT particular complexity is outside of their lane anyway), to dealing with “multiple hostage scenarios,” or the “difference between civilian self-defense shooting and military combat shooting” it all boils down to those three fundamental principles.

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You need to be able to hit whatever you need to hit, as many times as you need to hit it, in order to elicit the desired response.

What you need to hit may range from “any hit, anywhere,” at contact distance, to a surgical “hostage rescue” shot at 50 yards. In regards to your training, that is going to be entirely contingent on what you perceive to be likely or possible scenarios that you might face.

Personally, my sustainment training goal is to be able to make on-demand head shots out to 50 yards, and on-demand torso hits out to 100 yards. Neither of those is necessarily Special Mission Unit grade pistol work, but it puts you far, far ahead of the curve, and at common self-defense ranges means head shots are not only feasible, but relatively easy. There have been a number of classes in the past, where I’ve demonstrated this with head shots, from the holster, on “threats” charging from inside of 7 yards.

While it’s conventional wisdom in the modern training community that “headshots are bad” because “smaller and faster moving and harder to hit,” the reality is, the head isn’t moving any faster than the torso. After all, they’re attached. And, as for being harder to hit? Well, sure. It IS smaller than the torso. But…from both personal experience in the training “lab,” including force-on-force and CQB shoothouse iterations too numerous to count, and from a thorough perusal of historical gunfight records, there’s one thing I’ve learned…the historical record is quite clear that LOTS of people successfully use headshots. In a recent series of articles surveying historical records of gunfights in the “Old West” we saw….everybody was getting shot in the face.

Does that mean YOU should train for headshots? That’s up to you. But, again, I’ll tell you, it’s entirely possible.

The simplest way to master this level of precision is to shoot for precision. The “Running the Corners Drill” (See this week’s video) is a great example of practicing shooting for precision, including at speed. B-8 bulls’-eye shooting works too, or—as I’ve advocated for well over a decade, using a 3×5 index card as the “A-Zone” of your target serves the same purpose, but allows you to combine speed with your precision.

One thing we see—and students at the recent Clandestine Carry Pistol course experienced firsthand—if you can shoot the Running the Corners Drill moderately well, getting solid hits out to 100 yards is cake.

The second half of that principle though, is “as many times as you need to hit it…” This means multiple shot training and practice, whether on one target, or across multiple targets. While a number of trainers out there today like to denigrate so-called “cadence shooting,” in nearly 30 years now of teaching people to shoot under combat conditions, I’ve yet to find a better way to teach someone to accurately put multiple rounds on target at speed, whether on the same target or across multiple targets. I’ve seen novice shooters go from taking 7-8 seconds to get 5 hits on the target, to punching five rounds to a 3×5 A-Zone in less than 2 seconds. I’ve seen guys who struggled to get half-second “splits” between shots, use this method to knock their five shots into the A-Zone in less than 1.25 (that’s .25 splits, if you’re trying to do the math). The cadence method, or what I call, in my books and classes, “The Tempo Drill,” works really, really well, both on a single target, and for teaching transitions across targets.

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You need to be able to introduce the gun into the conversation early enough to make a difference in the outcome.

There are still a lot of guys out there parroting the line that Stuart Lake attributed to Wyatt Earp, of “Speed is fine, but accuracy is final.” Apparently, they’re unaware of the widely recognized fact that, like his predecessor Ned Buntline of “dime novel” infamy, about ¾ of what Lake attributed to Earp was made up whole cloth out of his own imagination.

While there is truth in that particular maxim, it doesn’t matter if you can shoot the ass of the proverbial gnat at a given distance, if the gnat has already shot you, before you get your gun out. Like most trainers, for a long time I fell victim to the siren song of the timer, and the alleged importance of the “par time” or “standards” metric of the drawstroke. What I realized, as I spent less time around .mil shooters, and more time in the civilian world of workaday life was, the above principle isn’t “…fast enough to make a difference…” it’s “…early enough to make a difference…” While there is certainly an element of speed of presentation to that, your gunfight will likely not be at High Noon, and none of us are Gary Cooper.

There’s a whole lot we can do, as I’ve discussed in previous articles, and as I discussed in the books, in detail, to “virtually accelerate” our drawstroke. This can range from the proverbial glance over his shoulder, to simply asking him a question that requires more than a “yes” or “no” answer, and then starting our drawstroke as soon as his lips begin to move in response. The secret? In order to change mental tracks, he has to recognize that he needs to do so, then he needs to stop talking, then he needs to actually start acting, whether it’s drawing his gun, or even simply pulling the trigger.

In my practice, whether my own, or as a teacher, there are two basic drills that we use for this. In both cases, it requires the use of a timer. Not because we’re looking to beat a par time, or to meet an artificial standard, but to measure and quantify our improvements in skill.

The first of these is simple drawstroke practice. This can be just the drawstroke to a sight picture, without breaking the first shot, or it can be the draw to first shot (and, in reality, should be both. You should NOT—macho posturing aside—practice the idea of pulling the trigger just because you pulled the gun. Even with a sub-second draw, the situation can change rapidly enough between the initiation of your draw, and breaking your first shot, to no longer warrant shooting the dude…after all, the goal is to “elicit the desired response,” and “no longer shooting at me or threatening to shoot me” might be the desired response.). Whether setting a par time and working to beat it during dry-fire, or working to beat your previous time, live-fire on the range, it’s the same skill.

Fortunately, most of your improvement in this department will occur during dry-fire anyway, so it’s essentially free to improve.

The second is a reaction-speed development drill. It’s probably too long to describe here (and besides, you should buy the books anyway), but the Alphabet Drill is the cat’s meow for this. Whether you are distracting an opponent to virtually accelerate your draw, or you’re trying to develop your ability to change tracks mentally and go from talking to shooting, this drill develops that ability remarkably well. The giveaway secret on improving on this drill is, the shorter your time, the faster you’re changing tracks, even if it’s a lot longer than your “baseline” drawstroke time.

The other secret to this drill—and one I didn’t recognize until after The Guerrilla Gunfighter 3 was in print—is that it’s entirely possible to work this drill dry-fire. Simply set the timer with a par time, slightly faster than the last time you ran the drill successfully, live-fire, and work to beat that par time.

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You need to be able to do this in a manner that maximizes the safety of yourself, your companions, and anyone else that you’re not trying to shoot.

A large part of this is simply indoctrination with the safe firearms handling rules, but an even larger part of it is learning to—and practicing—making contextually correct decisions, under stress. There are two spectacular “square-range” training drills for building this, that we’ve seen carry over not only to FoF and CQB shoothouse training, but even into every day life (attested to by students contacting me to share how it paid off in daily life). Those are Frank Proctor’s “Third-Grade Math” and my variation on it “Third Grade Physics.” While I described these drills in the books, I’m not going to describe them on the Internet, because Frank came up with the original and you should look him up to see how he does it.

The second is my PRA 1-5 Drill, somewhat unaffectionately referred to by some past students as “The Mosby Motherfucker Drill.” There’s an entire article on the MountainGuerrilla blog describing the purpose and reasons and science behind this drill, as well as the setup and execution.

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When we set aside the marketing aspects of added complexity for “realism,” and look at historical accounts of gunfights, we see that—throughout most of the history of repeating firearms—these were the three skills that led to success in armed altercations, regardless of the nature of the specific battlefield. It’s also the skills that historically successful gunfighters practiced, when they did practice. There was no “Force-on-Force” training. Not because FoF is pointless, but because the point of FoF is simply learning to accommodate the psychological aspects of interpersonal violence, and it’s only been in the last 30 or so years that most people in western society became completely divorced from this experience in their daily life. Even in my school days, while we got in trouble for it, schoolyard dust-ups were still a regular occurrence for most boys, and were an indoctrination into performing in the face of interpersonal stress. You didn’t need to attend a class to learn to “think” under the pressure of getting your face punched in, because you learned it, real-world, on the school yard.

In the 19th century, gunfighters didn’t need to learn to “think” under the pressure of getting shot at. Most had fought in the Civil War, or on the European continent, or had fought Indians. If you’ve never been punched in the face? Yeah, you probably ought to go take a couple FoF classes, or get into a boxing gym or an MMA gym, but…

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So, what does all of the forgoing mean, in the context of “compressed pistol practice?”

The “Running the Corners” Drill requires a total expenditure of 25 rounds.

The Tempo Drill requires a total of 15 rounds. The Tempo Transition variation requires an additional 18 rounds.

The drawstroke drills can be performed dry-fire.

Third-Grade Math and PRA 1-5 can require anywhere from 3-20 rounds, but you also don’t need to shoot them every training session.

In other words, with a bit of dry-fire, you can get in a solid base of practice with less than sixty rounds. Those three drills (Running the Corners, The Tempo Drill, and the Tempo Transition variation) can also be completed in about twenty minutes, cumulative, assuming you have to reload magazines in between each drill. Running these three drills, even once a month, and performing Third-Grade Math or PRA 1-5 once a quarter, assuming a moderate baseline of trained skill to begin with, will provide not only sustainment training, but will also provide for improvement in your pistolcraft, if you’re doing your dry-fire at home once or twice a week.

Will it turn you into a post-Apocalyptic Bill Hickock? Maybe not, but then again, once you get past the marketing, Bill Hickock wasn’t really Bill Hickock either….and remember…Dude got shot in the back…in a barroom…while playing poker… after cleaning the table with the shooter earlier…and being told that dude was going to get a gun and come back for him…How’s that for “maintaining situational awareness!?”

Don’t focus on becoming some post-Apocalyptic Bill Hickock or Wyatt Earp. Don’t focus on becoming some post-Apocalyptic GI Joe. Just focus on doing you. You’ll sleep better at night, and you’ll get plenty dangerous enough to live longer.

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One Comment
  1. unreconstructedgordo permalink

    Well that’s about the best straight up gun fighting advice I heard yet. Thanks bro. , Think I’ll buy those books for the grandkids training.

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