Who among us is without sin? We all commit petty crimes every now and then like speeding, telling tall tales, and the likes. Some are worse than others. However, most shooters I have seen over the years commit the following series of crimes EVERY time they go to the range. Maybe your personal goals are NOT to improve your accuracy or speed as a shooter, if that’s the case then this article is not for you. However, for those of you who actually want to break out of the “go to the range and just shoot a box of shells” mode and seriously improve their shooting skills, here are some crimes to avoid at the range.
1. Going to the range without a plan.
Some people go to the range to just burn powder and let off a little steam. They take a bag of guns and several boxes of ammunition and have a good time just punching holes in paper and laughing it up with friends. However, going to the gym and doing one repetition on each machine in the place will not give you any kind of real benefit. Likewise, standing at the bench and punching 50 holes in a piece of paper does not make a shooting workout. Have a plan and work on something specific. Need some ideas? Try some shooting drills, work towards a goal like a sub two second draw from concealment or a sub one and a half second speed reload. Don’t have a timer you say? Well then that brings us to crime number 2 …
2. Going to the range WITHOUT a shot timer.
What? Never used a shot timer? You’re missing out on one of the most critical aspects of learning to shoot well, which is inducing stress. Of course nothing will get your blood pumping like getting shot at for real, however, a much safer option for training is to use a timer. It not only gives you a measure of your current ability, but it also gives you something to strive towards. Even if you do not have a competitive bone in your body, and absolutely no desire to go out and play gun games like IPSC, IDPA, SASS, GSSF, or 3 Gun, using a timer will help you improve relative to just yourself. And YOU will always be your most formidable opponent anyway. Yes, there is an app for that (iPhone, Android), or get a CED or PACT timer depending on your goals. This brings us to crime number 3 …
3. Going to the range without shooting goals.
You may not give a rat’s ass about shooting competitions and that’s OK, but you sure as hell care about your life and those of your loved ones, no? In a real life and death shooting engagement, time is life. The faster you can get hits on your assailant, the faster the threat will be eliminated. The best defense in a gunfight is a good offense. Some folks will insist that cover is your best friend, and they are right, hiding behind a wall of lead of projectiles (preferably hollow point 9mm or larger) going down range is the absolute BEST cover you can get behind. However, in order to create a wall of lead that is actually controlled fire and not spraying and praying, you need training and practice. Training being defined as expert instruction in a technique or skill and then controlled corrections while you initially perform the skill. Practice being defined as continued repetition of the previously trained skill in order to improve long-term proficiency. You can call it “muscle memory” or whatever you like. Bottom line, the more you repeat a physical action, the easier it is to perform under stress.
However, what brings together all your training and practice is having shooting goals that you are working towards. Think of your shooting skill set as a road trip, if you just jump in your truck without knowing where you are going you will just burn fuel as you turn circles in your neighborhood. Having a long-term goal, like making Master Class in IDPA or IPSC are well and good, and an excellent measure of your ability as all around skilled shooter. Achieving this lofty goal is really a series of short-term goals that you continuously build upon over time. If you want to be a Master in any of these gun games you will eventually need to be running drills with a specific time in mind. Having a focus while at the range and working towards a specific tangible goal is always time well spent (see crime #1). However, you don’t have to shoot competition to have goals. Working towards a personal best time or score depending on the drill can be an equally as lofty a goal for your own personal satisfaction. Either way, working to better your skills takes focus, focus means having a goal to work toward. Serious rifle competitors and military snipers all use log books to record EVERY shot taken along with a slew of relevant data like altitude, temperature, and relative humidity for later analysis. You don’t have to be this meticulous, however you can benefit from having a notebook where you record your goals and note progress.
4. Shooting alone.
We generally think of sports like shooting and golf as individual sports, however even the number one ranked golfer in the world has a swing coach. You may have never heard of Butch Harmon but the fact is he is in demand and well compensated. When you think it through it makes sense, every major professional sport has a coach or manager closely standing by even though the players themselves are the very best at what they do. The reality is that even among the most experienced shooters (“I’ve been shooting all my life!”) we sometimes lose sight of the fact that we do not know it all and can often benefit from a second set of eyes to see our mistakes and another brain trust to help us correct them.
Going out to the range and repeating bad habits or getting really good at repeating bad tactics is a very shortsighted way to lead yourself into a false sense of security in your own skill set. Besides, having a shooting buddy or two gives you someone to compete against at the range and you will push each other to perform better. Challenging each other on drills is a great way to pass the time while improving your skills and enjoying camaraderie. Can’t find someone with mad skills to shoot with? Then get online and find a local range that supports the shooting sports mentioned in Crime #2. Whether you are a Tactical Timmy or an Old School Cowboy Gunslinger, you will find there are some crazy fun gun games out there. More importantly you will find fellow like-minded shooters who are happy to share their enthusiasm and experience with you – and that is no crime!
5. Not having a Dry Fire routine.
“What? You can’t dry fire a gun! It will damage the firing pin…err, something…that’s what my Granddaddy always told me anyway!” It cracks me up how many times I hear this from other shooters, even “experienced” shooters. Your Granddaddy heard that from his Granddaddy who heard it from his who lived in the freakin’ 1890’s and got his firearms training during the WW I when that was probably true. However, fast forward a hundred years and the fact is that dry firing will absolutely NOT hurt any MODERN firearm. Don’t be such a pansy. Firearms are tools, they are meant for a job. Unless you have your Granddads’ old side by side then leave it hanging on the mantel.
You can actually improve your most important shooting skills without ever firing a round. I would even go so far as to say that you should spend upwards of 80% of the time that you devote to shooting with a well thought out and rehearsed dry firing routine. What you say? No, don’t spend 80% of your RANGE time dry firing, dry fire at home. Every day. Twice a day. It should be as essential to your tactical lifestyle as brushing your teeth and bathing. Yes, you should do these daily as well. For every hour you spend at the range slinging lead you should have already spent five hours at home in dry fire preparation. I also spend the first couple minutes of range time before each drill doing some slow motion controlled dry fire before I ramp it up and start shooting for real. Much like meditation before a big game or a prize-fight, it helps me get centered and focused on the immediate task.
What I’m driving at here is improving your gun handling skills. Specifically we are talking about draw stroke, sight acquisition, target transition, reloads (all three kinds; admin, speed, and tactical), and improving your ability to manage immediate action drills. Not familiar with these shooting terms? Then you are already behind the power curve. Best advice is to get into a local shooting class with a competent Instructor who will cover more than just how to punch holes in paper. In a “Time is Life” situation, your ability to smoothly handle all aspects of running your gun will be exposed whether they be good, bad, or ugly. Typically shooters under fire for real only perform half as well as they do at the range under ideal conditions. This means you are going to need to be TWICE as good as you think you are today if you want to live to see tomorrow.
Be Smart. Get Trained.
Here are some links to some of the resources mentioned in this article. In full disclosure, gun games can be highly addicting! Proceed with caution and exercise moderation.