Practicing with your defensive firearms is important, but only if you practice smart—going out to the range and just blasting away is practicing bad habits. Here are six drills that will enhance your shooting skills, ones that may save your life someday.

First-Shot Pistol Drill

This is a simple drill that builds on what’s crucial to carrying a defense gun: making the first shot. In a gunfight the most important shot is the first one. If you can fire faster than your opponent and hit on target, your odds of winning increase substantially.

Start in a standing position 10 yards from the target, with arms at your side (another variation is with your hands raised in the “surrender” position). Any man-sized target will work, but an IDPA or USPSA cardboard target is most common. With safe ammo, a steel target will give instant gratification.

Your gun should be in your holster. Remember that speed comes less from snatching the gun from its holster and more from quickly lining up the sights and focusing on the front sight as your arms reach full extension—this enables you to shoot as soon as your gun is in position.

At the buzzer, draw your gun and fire one shot at the target for a center-of-mass hit. You may be surprised at the amount of time it takes to draw from a carry holster, shoot, and actually hit. On their first attempt, many experienced shooters are shocked to see 3 or more seconds on the timer. Top competitive shooters using speed gear can do this in 0.7 seconds or less, including reaction time. Normal humans will be a bit slower: if you can draw and score a center hit in 1.5 seconds using a carry holster, you are very good (in 1 second, you’re approaching god-like status). Most holsters with retention capabilities may be slower—here, anything under 2 seconds is good.

Also be sure to practice this drill with your carry gun, wearing your normal concealment garment, like a jacket or vest. Start with having the gun exposed, then practice with it concealed.

Tri-Lambda Pistol Drill

This drill is courtesy of Kyle Lamb at Viking Tactics—it’s s a much different drill, using multiple targets and lots of ammo and working on several skills such as focus, sight picture, cadence, transition, precision and reloading speed.

The Tri-Lambda uses nine USPSA targets: three are arranged side by side at 3 to 5 yards; on the left are three more targets at 45-degree angles; the last three targets are on the right at 45-degree angles. One target in each of the two side banks should have a simulated hostage either covering all but a few inches of the center A-zone or positioned to force a headshot.

Scoring is simple: half a second is added for each point dropped (for shots out of a USPSA target’s A-zone or of the center bullseye on other targets), while a miss adds 20 seconds. If you hit the simulated hostage, it’s 20 seconds plus 20 more for your miss.

The goal of this drill is to move shooters away from fast double taps and toward what Lamb calls “controlled pairs.” While many double-tap shooters see the sights for the first shot and pray for the second, in a controlled pair the shooter sees a clear sight picture for both shots. Executed correctly, this sounds like six continuous shots—transitions between targets will take about the same time as splits between shots.

Lamb likes the term “drive the gun” for describing how you should be in the driver’s seat and always have your pistol doing what you want. You “drive” your gun from target to target, on a prescribed path at a prescribed speed, while focusing on the small target areas—going fast is good, but only when you have total control.

At the buzzer, the shooter draws the pistol and fires two shots at each of the center targets, reloads, shoots two shots at each target on the right, reloads again, and finally shoots two shots at each target on the left. Most first-timers do it in about 15 seconds, but with practice they can usually drop to 10 seconds—the best do it under 8 seconds. Here’s a point to remember: penalties may be added to your score, so shoot it clean and fast.

1-to-5 Rifle Drill

Another of Kyle Lamb’s drills, the 1-to-5, is a fun multi-target/multi-shot drill. Kyle jokingly calls it the “Seven Dollar Drill” because of the amount of ammo used.

“The 1-5 drill also introduces the idea of shooting until the threat is eliminated,” Lamb said. Many trainers fixate on double taps, but that can get you killed if they don’t work. Sometimes two rounds won’t bring an opponent down—it may very well take three, four or five. The bottom line is to shoot a target until it’s no longer a threat.

Training too rigorously on “two shots and transition” can ingrain shooters with bad habits, ones that may surface at the worst possible time. Lamb explains, “You don’t want to get in the habit of shooting two rounds, moving on and then finding out that the two shots did not neutralize the target, so you have to come back and reengage that threat target.”

Space three targets (IPSC or IDPA are fine) about one target-width apart and place them 5 yards away from you. Start with the rifle butt on your shoulder and the muzzle down, as if you are exiting a vehicle or entering a building. At the buzzer, shoot one shot on the left target, two shots on the center target, and three shots on the right target. Then shoot four shots back on the center target followed by five shots on the left. That’s a total of 15 shots at five targets, and only “A” or center hits count. Most experienced shooters will do this in about 5 seconds the first time out. Scoring under 3.5 seconds is getting pretty good. Three seconds or less is excellent. The first time we tried the drill, my son Nathan’s best out of six runs was 3.11 seconds while mine was 3.28. Kyle Lamb does it on the video in 2.92 seconds.

Triple Mozambique Rifle Drill

While usually thought of as a pistol drill, this is also a very good rifle CQB drill. The Triple Mozambique uses multiple targets, three USPSAs at 15 yards. At the buzzer, double tap the center of each target, then put one shot to the head on each target, totaling nine shots. Hits outside of the A-zone earn a 2-second penalty while misses earn a 5. Good shooters will do this in 4 seconds—very good shooters in 3. For a variation, move the targets to 25 and 50 yards. If you are feeling mean, try it at 100 yards, but make sure all your friends go first.

Speed Loading Tactical Shotgun Drill

This drill is for using a tactical shotgun to fight multiple attackers. The scene begins with you facing three attackers, your gun shot empty. You must load your shotgun single-shot from your spare ammo and take out the attackers one by one.

Three knockdown targets are set at 5 yards, 10 yards and 15 yards. Start with the shotgun on your shoulder, with slide back and action open (on a semi-auto the gun should be at slide-lock). At the buzzer, load one shell from your ammo supply and shoot the 5-yard target. Load a second shell and shoot the center target. Finally, load a third shell and shoot the last target. The timer stops with the final shot.

The key is to hit the first assailant immediately, so timing the first shot and the speed of the splits for the following shots is important—total time is not. A good shooter can actually load three shells and shoot three targets with a faster total time, but the time to the first shot will be at least double. That gives an attacker plenty of time to take you out.

Spare ammo should be carried the same as you would in a real fight. We found a receiver-mounted sidesaddle fastest, followed by a vest or jacket pocket (which was usually about 1 second slower in total time). Go to your ammo supply for each new shell, as trying to grab multiple shotshells will usually result in slowing down that critical first shot.

To start, most shooters will take about 9 seconds to complete this drill. With practice, a good shooter does it in 7 seconds, and anything under 6 seconds is excellent. If you can get the time under 5 seconds you’re OK to brag—loudly and often. The most important aspect is the time to the first shot, followed by the splits between the next two shots. Most shooters are 3 to 3.5 seconds to the first shot (anything under 2.5 seconds is excellent)—it takes a very good shooter to do it under 2 seconds. The splits for the next two shots will be slightly faster because the shooter no longer has to react to the buzzer. For a good shooter, splits are 2 seconds with anything under 1.5 seconds being very good. These times apply to a pump action, so may vary with a semi-auto.

“Make Your Buddy Cry” Shotgun Drill

I came up with this drill to humiliate my shooting buddies. It works on speed-shooting and mental focus. If you think about the clay target, you will miss the steel—you must focus on one target at a time and do it quickly and accurately.

The key to this drill is a popper-style target with an attachment that will launch a clay pigeon when the popper falls. I used the smaller US Popper from MGM Targets because it doesn’t throw the bird as high as a full-size Pepper Popper. If you use the larger Pepper Popper, add one more stationary target (for a total of four) to keep the same degree of difficulty.

Targets are set 15 to 20 yards in front of the shooter. On the left is an MGM US Popper with clay target launcher. Fifteen feet to the right are three steel knockdown targets spaced 3 feet apart. You can also use clay pigeons mounted on stationary posts as a substitute.

This drill is self-timing: you will have less than 3 seconds to shoot the clay target before it hits the ground. Have your gun at low ready in the start position. At the command, shoot the popper. Move the gun to the right and knock down three steel targets. Swing left and break the clay bird before it hits the ground. Sounds easy, but more than one grown man has been reduced to tears by this drill.

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