Shooter, Train Thyself

And Have Some Fun While You’re At It

By John Connor

I don’t do weapons-and-tactics training anymore. Besides the wear and tear on an already worn-out, torn-up body, there are other considerations: I’ve done tons of training in far-flung places under some strange and varied conditions, but 90 percent or more of it was at the extreme ends of the arms training spectrum.

About 45 percent of my work was with pupils who had never handled anything more technologically complex than a goat on a rope. Another 45 percent was with top-tier police SWAT and elite military units. The first group often included kids as young as 12 to the Yoda-old elderly, lacking “military-age” participants because they were dead, and the remainder were their people’s last, best, only hope. Training often began with sticks, not so much from a shortage of firearms, but rather for safety, so’s not to ventilate the instructor, or each other. Many had never handled firearms, and those who had were missing skills like looking through the sights and not just pokin’ the barrel out there. It was “interesting” and rewarding. They tended to be rapt, intent students.

In the latter group, especially the military special ops guys, there were many who could shoot-and-move better and faster than I, but I could teach them tactics and techniques they’d never been exposed to, borne from experiences they’d never had. They were also excellent students; professionals who already had sound skills and iron discipline, and who shed their sometimes formidable egos at the hatch.

With Group A, most of the drill was “sneak, peek, shoot & scoot.” With Group B it was more about blinding speed and overwhelming violence.

I used to love the looks on their faces when I would begin a SWAT training session with, “So, why should American cops study Soviet urban combat doctrine?” and with the military operators, “Beyond Boyd’s OODA Loop, what can we learn about ground combat from jet fighter pilots?” Briefly—back when the Sovs were planning to grab a heavily urban and densely populated corridor of Western Europe west of the Iron Curtain, they developed tactics to absolutely minimize civilian casualties and property damage, for both PR, political and practical reasons. Among other things, their new techniques for clearing stairways, stairwells and blind wells were superior to existing police SWAT tactics.

Just one example on the “jet fighters” reference: Fighter pilots have to balance a critical need to conserve finite ordnance with the sometimes more critical need to extend the cannon-fire burst or launch the last missile, to avoid having your enemy break away, loop, come up on your six and smoke you—and do that in an instant. Ground troops have to learn that too and think simulations in advance.

So you see, very little of my repertoire translates well to the general populace of American citizen-shooters. Being imminently unsuited for it, of course people assume I’m some kinda expert!

Ben Stoeger’s Dryfire Reloaded holds a wealth of self-training tips and drills.

Question & Answer Time

These three recent questions span a healthy range of reader concerns:

“I’m a hunter—deer and elk mostly. Shot rifles all my life, but no handguns. Hardly ever even handled one. Just got a pistol for personal and home defense. It feels weird, like something alien. Makes me uncomfortable, but I’m determined to master it. Where do I begin?”

I checked—your home state requires taking an approved class on handgun safety and basic handling to qualify for a concealed carry license. Whether or not you want to carry concealed, taking the class will benefit you. Such classes are geared for novices as well as experienced shooters. Select a state-certified instructor and explain your personal situation and lack of background with handguns. Tell ’em you don’t even know how to grip a handgun properly—because it seems you don’t. Meantime, don’t start teaching yourself bad habits, like a poor grip or bad trigger finger indexing. If, after chatting, you and the instructor agree you should get some “intro to handguns” before taking the CCW class, do it.

Think of it this way too: You got the handgun for personal and home defense. If you ever have to use it, it will be on record you made every effort to learn safe, judicious and legal gun handling. This can infuriate—and deflate—feral lawyers trying to impoverish you and enrich themselves by painting you as an irresponsible, ignorant buffoon wielding a deadly firearm.

When you’re comfortable with your handgun, I recommend some Bull’s-eye training. It’s the best for polishing grip, trigger control, balance, breathing and ultimate accuracy. Instruction is available through NRA and many other sources. Hint: If you can find and attend a Bull’s-eye clinic by champions Brian Zins and/or Jerry Moody, they are the gold standard.

“Me and my shooting friends live way out in the willowwacks. We shoot pistols and AR’s at an old abandoned gravel pit. It is pretty secure and remote and we have the gate key, so we can store some materials there too. We get creative with targets, but we’ve run out of ideas for challenging ‘tactical’ drills. Any suggestions?”

Hey, you guys really are out in the willowwacks! Look up the closest IDPA and 3-Gun matches and make a couple of enjoyable road trips out of it! Contact the match directors, explain who you are and what you’re looking for. Clubs and ranges have some very creative people designing ever-changing stages using cheap, simple props to simulate walls, doors, windows, even “wobbler floors” and vehicle shooting scenes.

There is usually a “walk-through” of the stages before competition begins. Ask permission to tag along, take photos and make notes. Ask if there are a couple of knowledgeable, friendly stage-designing competitors who you could treat to a burger and beer after the match so you can pick their brains. Beyond that, when imagining your own stages, try to think in terms like “Baghdad Bazaar,” “The Mogadishu Waltz,” “Jungle Trail Boogie,” and “Star Wars Shuffle.” There are literally thousands of videos on IDPA and 3-Gun drills on YouTube, so check those too. You can do this—you’re The Willowwacks Gang! Bon chance!

“Not tooting my own horn here, but I’ve gotten pretty competitive at USPSA shooting. I usually finish in the top 5 or 10 at matches, but I seem stuck there. What can I do to ramp up my performance? I’ve got the USPSA fever.”

Dear Toot: USPSA/IPSC is to most other shooting like Formula One Grand Prix is to oval-track jalopy derbies—you’re running way faster with way more exotic gear. There are some real champs on the circuit, but very few are also skilled trainers and “shooting theoreticians.” Ben Stoeger is one of those rare critters. Check out his creds, reviews by past students, and training itinerary for 2-day classes at He conducts classes around the country. Also, have a look at Ben’s books and videos, geared to self-training at home and on the range.

My son, a noted penny-pincher, competes in USPSA, 3-Gun and IDPA, and he said Ben’s class was worth every penny. He particularly praised Ben’s training on how to strategize movement, reloading and target engagement order, and his advanced dry-firing drills.

A shot-timer and some standard and mini-torso targets can ramp up your personal training.

Closing Notes

Between beginners and blazing-fast blasters there’s “muddlers in the middle,” like me (and maybe you). Here’s my default drill which works with both long guns and handguns: Set up an array of cardboard torso targets; full-size, 2/3-size plus 10-inch and 5-inch mini-torsos. Set a shot-timer like the PACT Club Timer III to give you a starting beep and time elapsed at your last shot.

Shoot singles or doubles on each of your multiple targets, at whatever speed is necessary to assure all “center hits.” Increase speed until you start dropping shots, then slow down and work up again. It’s simple, measurable and effective. Integrate reloading, movement, hitchin’ your britches or whatever. Keep records, just so’s you can chuff yourself up over your amazing improvement.

Go get ’em, tiger… Connor OUT

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One thought on “Shooter, Train Thyself

  1. Joe pat coyne

    Thanks bro,Clint Smith has several videos out
    Gonna check on the Stoeger book,just shot a perfect qual in texas,ltc on the way,havocarried for six years,gonna go back to basics,drawing and dry firing,gotta get some snap caps for practice.
    Doing it old rules,no ammo in room.pac timer next.ought to be amusing to the other half.
    You keep writing I’ll keep reading


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