It’s time to go to the range for some firearms training. When you get there, you get everything loaded, set up your choice of targets, and throw on your eye and ear protection. Now, what are you going to practice?
You have a choice to make: Do you practice the things you’re good at, or do you train to improve your weaknesses? Are you going to spend time sending rounds downrange for recreation, or are you serious about improving your performance? Everyone likes to practice doing the things we’re good at. It makes us feel good about ourselves. But let’s be honest: We should really be working to improve our weaknesses. That’s why we should be practicing the skills we suck at.
Most officers don’t shoot a lot of rounds and even fewer go to the range to practice on their own time. This means when we do make time to practice, we need to work on polishing our skills and improving our weaknesses. This is what training is all about.
Training [trey-ning]: to develop or form habits, thoughts or behavior by discipline and instruction.
The skills I’m talking about are ones we all need to improve, regardless of how good we think we are. This article is part confessional, part callout to every police officer who thinks they are prepared and part challenge to firearms instructors to do better. I’m including my own training and skill set in this article, so if you’re offended, get over it. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. There are skills I need to commit to working on to be better than I was yesterday.
Training discipline means each round we fire has intent and purpose. Each draw from the holster is done with the expectation that our life and the lives of our loved ones depend on it. Training can be fun, but the primary purpose of training is not recreation or entertainment. The primary goal is performance improvement.
When training, we arrive at the range with a game plan focused on what we’re going to do to improve, and with the determination to accomplish those goals. The intent should be to enhance skills and perform to higher standards. We need to know what we’re going to work on and have the self-control to stay focused on those objectives. Especially when we’re working on difficult skills, it’s easy to lose focus and fall back into practicing the stuff at which we already excel.
Training means knowing when it’s time to seek professional instruction in order to push our personal limits to get better, faster and more accurate. A second set of eyes can help identify weaknesses and target those skills we need to work on to improve. Even if we know what our weaknesses are, most of us aren’t self-aware enough to identify when those weaknesses pop up.
A quality firearms instructor can help diagnose and correct our mistakes so we can work on improving our skills outside of class. In other words, we don’t always know what we don’t know. Instructors can help bring previously unknown weaknesses to light so we can work to turn them into strengths.
If you’re a firearms instructor, this article is directed specifically at you. Instructors need to seek other professional instructors to help them improve as shooters and trainers. As shooters, we may not be aware of some of the “gremlins” that can creep into our own skill set. Another instructor can improve our shooting skill by observing what we do and how we do it. The feedback they provide will make us better, providing we can set aside our ego and accept their critique. Quality training will help us out as shooters and provide us with additional ideas and tools to help build our own students. As an instructor, if you’re looking for a new or different way to present information or design courses of fire, take a class from another instructor. It’s a great way to recharge your batteries and get motivated all over again.
What to work on
When looking for specific skills to work on, instead of practicing your same old routine, think about the skills you’ve avoided practicing on a regular basis. Let’s start with one-hand shooting. How frequently do you practice shooting with your strong hand only? How about with your support hand only?
Confession time: I’m pretty good shooting strong-hand-only, but I kinda suck with just my support hand. It’s one of the reasons why I call it my “stupid” hand. Therefore, I have made the commitment to practice at least some support-hand-only drills every time I train.
How often do you practice drawing and reloading using your support hand only? Yup. That’s what I thought.
How often do you practice drawing and reloading using your support hand only? Yup. That’s what I thought. It was easier before we started wearing external vest carriers. It was also a lot easier before I hit the 20-year mark of my career. It’s true that I got a little thicker around the waist, but age also affects our flexibility. My shoulders and back don’t move like they used to, so drawing support-hand-only has become more challenging. Regardless of the reason, we better start practicing those skills on a regular basis, lest we let down the ones we love.
Shooting from a variety of awkward positions is another skill set most of us need to improve. Instead of standing in front of a target in our best range ninja stance, how about drawing, shooting, reloading and clearing malfunctions from truly awkward positions? These positions inhibit our ability to breathe easily, destabilize our shooting platform and challenge our ability to make accurate shots. Think about using a street curb as cover, and you’re getting an idea of what I mean.
Do you practice regularly under time duress? Time is a precious commodity and is in short supply when lives are in danger. For years, there have been law enforcement firearms instructors who fail to use a stopwatch or shot timer in training. I’ve heard them explain, “There’s no stopwatch or shot timer in a gunfight.” This is complete BS. There absolutely is a stopwatch and a shot timer in a gunfight, and they are being run by the threat! The shot timer is objective and will tell you how well you’re performing. If you’re slow to recognize a threat, it will tell you. If your draw or presentation time is slow, it will tell you. It may not tell the whole story, but it won’t lie to you just to make you feel better about yourself.
Another skill set most of us could improve is shooting with a flashlight in our hands. For the past 15 years or so, I’ve seen more and more officers with weapon-mounted lights on their handguns. This is a good thing. However, when working in low light, officers almost always have a handheld flashlight in hand. Depending on context, being able to draw and fight with a flashlight in hand could be an important skill. In the middle of a gunfight, I can’t think of a good reason to toss away a perfectly good light to transition to a weapon-mounted light.
Shooting and operating a handgun alongside a handheld flashlight is fundamentally like shooting with one hand. Most of us aren’t very good shooting strong-hand-only during the day. How much worse are we going to be at night with a flashlight in our hands if we don’t get significant practice time to master the techniques?
If you sincerely want to improve your skills, you need to get serious about training. We don’t know what we don’t know. But I do know that we owe it to our loved ones to be as prepared as possible. If we let our egos get in the way during training, we will fail those we love most. Maintain your strengths, but own your weaknesses. If we don’t, we will fail to practice the skills we suck at.