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Range Drills: Work Smarter, Not Harder

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Back when I was in the martial arts, I was happy to teach my students anything I thought they had the skills for. “But aren’t you giving away the secrets?” I was asked. Secrets? What secrets? The single most important aspect that got me to the head of the class was hard work. You want to know how to a perfect side thrust kick, and do it faster than the other guy can block it? Do 10,000 perfect practice kicks. I figured that by the time someone had done that, I would still be the next 10,000 ahead of them.

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Back in the old days, we burned up a lot of ammunition learning to shoot. I was never at the top, and my “mere” practice schedule of 35,000 rounds a year was part of that. I knew top shooters who did twice that volume, and they did all of it in their specific area, not the spectrum of disciplines I was shooting.

Today, we know how to get the most results with the least wasted work. We don’t have to burn truckloads of ammunition to get good. We practice various drills. But, there is a downside to drills in shooting, just as there was (and still is) a downside to practicing forms, and patterns, in the martial arts. The downside? You do what you practice.

Let’s take as an example one of the first practical shooting drill, the classic El Presidente. Jeff Cooper devised it as a simple test to sort out the actually skilled (or close enough) from the hopeless oafs, in the presidential bodyguard staff he was to train. If you don’t know it, look it up.

When I began by International Pistol Shooting Confederation (IPSC) competition, there was a local club whose matches always, always had one stage that was “El Prez”. But, if you do that long enough and you get really good at it, you might think you were a good shot. Face a different problem, and life could get difficult.

Need more than two shots per target? Too bad, you’ve drilled your reflexes to pairs. More than, or fewer than, three targets? Ooops. And there is no movement, the reload is a given, and if you think about it, there are at least three more things that can be problematic.

Knowing it is good, using it once a year as a check, fine. Having it in your toolkit, when you turn a corner, and holy warp speed Batman, there are three bad guys, now that’s just dandy. But it isn’t the alpha and omega of practical shooting.

And so it is with all other drills. They force you to work on a certain skillset, the skillset that that particular drill requires. And there are no secret drills in shooting. Everyone has some, all can be found out, and all teach smoothing.

When I was in the martial arts, traveling and dropping in to train with other schools was always an eye-opener. The way other schools blocked (or didn’t) what level of expertise they deemed adequate, the tactical approaches and the mindset they brought to training, and sparring, were informative.

When I went into firearm instruction, I already had a background in teaching, and I had a thought pop back into my head that had occurred to me all those years ago in the martial arts: people like to practice what they are good at.

A competent instructor gets you to do the things you aren’t good at. A good instructor finds a way to get you to improve on them. A great instructor gets you to practice what you aren’t good at, and like doing it.

If you really want to be a well-rounded shooter, one who is competent across a spectrum of firearms, or shooting problems, go get instruction in something you don’t usually do. Proud of your tactical skills? OK, can you make a precise, single shot, on demand? Maybe a class in Bullseye might just open your eyes. I found, decades ago, that a couple of winters of indoor PPC league shooting greatly improved my scores in IPSC and on bowling pins.

If you want to get better, don’t practice what you’re already good at. Go after the things you aren’t. The secret isn’t hard work, it is smart work.

Article by Patrick Sweeney

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