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Those wishing to become proficient with their defensive handgun must plan carefully and conduct efficient training. This is difficult when you are working alone, but certainly possible.

Just as a game may be store-bought or homemade, training may be varied with set practical drills and your own ideas. Skill building is important and demands originality.

There are several steps that are essential, and certain drills that are most important. Mastering the basics of trigger press, sight alignment, sight picture and follow-through are the foundation for all other skills and tactics.

These areas must be grasped first. Next, you may begin to execute beneficial practical drills and learn tactics that may serve you well during a defensive battle.

The first step in training for personal defense is to realize the importance of what you are doing. Many shooters — and most instructors — do not realize the misery accompanying an assault by criminals or the true cost of a failed defense.

There are ideas that are undesirable, even positively dangerous. The shooter organizing defensive training must have a responsible organization.

Personal Defense Essentials

I have studied the problem of personal defense for decades and have isolated four essentials. The shooter must understand these essentials.

  1. Work: Plan, plan, plan and work, work, work. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. You will begin by firing several hundred rounds a month and then reaching a level of proficiency that must be maintained. This isn’t a casual thing, or you will only realize casual skills.
  2. Organization: You must have a well-defined goal and have responsibility for your own training. Training must not be haphazard, but goal-oriented. Go to the range with the goal of mastering a skill. After you have done so, you may reach the point of practicing a combination of skills in one session.
  3. Research: Good research habits are indispensable. IDPA matches and study of actual fights, including those in which mistakes are made, and practicing at average combat ranges is important. No matter how good you are, you cannot simply be good under your own conditions, but under all conditions.
  4. Enthusiasm: Otherwise known as kick, punch or pep. No drag allowed, but steady, thoughtful practice and thorough planning, always looking forward to what comes next.
Revolver pointed at target
A revolver with a red front-sight insert is an advantage in acquiring rapid hits.

Basic Practical Drills

Trigger Control

I test a lot of firearms and practice with these handguns in order to give the reader a good idea of the capabilities of each firearm. A quality firearm may be mastered and serve well.

There are handguns that I went from friendship pike to lover’s lane with, and appreciate them very much. Some handguns are more difficult to master than the good old-fashioned bean lift social game.

You don’t always hit a home run with a particular handgun, but a two-base hit is good. Be certain to get good instruction and practice hard. In some cases, the instructor is a case of the blind leading the blind and the student may pick up poor habits.

When you are firing for personal defense proficiency, you don’t need finesse as if you were a ballroom dancer. Form isn’t as important as consistency and smoothness.

You need to be more like a hockey player, rough and ready. Practice trigger control. If you ride the trigger with each shot, then you may be faster on repeat shots and may be prepared for competition.

But if you remove the trigger finger between shots, enough for a little daylight between the trigger face and finger, you will be fine and you may have greater control over the trigger action.

It isn’t about how fast you can fire, it is about how you are able to get good hits. I think some shooters struggle with fast hits and double taps.

Perhaps they have seen competitors with full-size pistols and feel that they should be able to achieve the same results with their small revolver or slim-line nine.

It isn’t going to happen, not with your shooting or mine, or even a competitor firing quickly with a small handgun. While dry fire has its place, the only way to achieve proficiency is by live fire and a lot of dry fire done correctly.

You don’t have to worry about riddling the target with holes. That isn’t personal defense. Personal defense is about getting a good shot in the right place quickly.

The drills should include presentation from leather, getting on target, and getting a solid hit. The center hit will take care of business if you are using a credible caliber — at least .38 Special or 9mm Luger.

If need be, the back-up shot will come next. A double-tap is a good drill to practice, but only when you have sufficient proficiency — and even then double taps, controlled pairs and hammers are close-range tactics.

The trigger press and speed loads are easily mastered in dry fire, and then applied at the live range. The whole package, including rapid sight alignment and trigger press, must be practiced live fire.

The single most important part of learning to fire the pistol proficiently is trigger control. Most of the real problems in trigger control take place during trigger reset.

If you ride the trigger during reset and attempt to come back quickly, there is plenty of room for a mistake. If you allow the trigger to reset completely, there is far less chance of a mistake.

Fire, allow the trigger to reset as you control recoil and realign the sights, and you will be on the road to real efficiency.

Shooting 1911 handgun
This shooter is riding the trigger a little high, but pressing the trigger straight to the rear.

Presentation

For much of my work, I use a quality range holster. I also practice with a concealed carry holster. The practical drills do not begin with the hand on the handgun. That isn’t worth anything.

Begin with the hands above the shoulder. At the buzz of a timer, a whistle or a mental command, begin the presentation of the handgun.

The elbow shoots to the rear and the hand comes from underneath, scooping the handgun from the holster as you affirm a solid grip on the handgun. The handgun is brought upward and pressed toward the target.

The support hand meets just in front of the beltline. If you move the hand to the pistol from above, get a grip, and then draw, you will be slow, very slow.

You must practice moving clothing out of the way as you draw, blading the hand under or in front of covering garments.

Drawing handgun from holster
The holster should angle the handgun into the draw.

Practice quickly getting on target and getting a center hit. This means the center of the target that is visible. At very close range, an old trick that works well is to quickly bring the handgun to bear using only the front sight.

Superimpose the raised front sight over the belt buckle or belly button region of the target and fire. You won’t fire high and over the target as is common with beginners, but you will place your hits in the lower to middle body range, a good spot for maximum effect.

This is a down and dirty fast drill that makes a lot of sense for modern shooters. The important thing is to get a fast hit with the first shot, and to put this shot into the right place.

Men with great combat experience, from Bill Jordan to Mao Tse Sung, recommended the abdominal shot based on personal experience and observation of the effect and pain of this wound.

This isn’t a competition in which you can make up a miss later. The drill must be properly executed. The presentation isn’t a move alone, it follows into a solid firing stance. Get moving, get it done, and get it done right.

Getting Off the X

A very important drill involves getting off the line of fire and moving to cover. Get the feet moving. Move out of the line of fire as you draw. Move to one side and fire as you move.

Most attackers are very poor shots, but then a lot of concealed carry handgun shooters are as well. You want to be the exception. Move to one side and fire accurately.

Move to cover. Keep in mind the draw and movement conflict — you may not be able to do both at once — draw and fire, or move to cover quickly and fire.

Man shooting handgun while moving
Get out of the line of fire and return fire! Moving while firing makes for excellent practical drills.

These are just a few of the practical drills that should be practiced. Make practice fluid, keep rolling, keep moving, and master your skills.

Practice the most challenging drills. You may even enjoy the drills and find your proficiency at arms build confidence.

What are some practical drills you do at the range? Let us know in the comments section below!



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