Handguns > Revolver

Be Better When It Counts: Training Tips for the Budding Defender

Longtime firearm instructor Il Ling New has provided her top 10 tips on becoming a better marksman.

It’s no secret that, to improve any skill, you’ve got to practice, practice and practice some more. So, if you want to be a better gunfighter, you’ve got to dedicate yourself to practicing with your sidearm—and yes, there’s a right way to go about it. Here are 10 suggestions that can help focus your practice.

1. Learn and understand the safety rules. I recommend the Four Safety Rules. Adhere to them without fail, and be able to do so without fear. This is the foundation of being in control of yourself, and thus, your firearm. With these, you control your situation.

2. Learn how your firearm works—inside and out, backward and forward. You don’t have to learn every part, or every function, but you should understand it well enough to be able to explain the main buttons and levers, and the basic mechanics of how it fires.

3. Get aggressive. Now that you get it—the firearm, that is (see No. 1 and No. 2, above), there’s no reason to be afraid of it in your hands. Yes, there will be some recoil—especially if you need to fire more than once—which is something you always should be prepared for. So get strong on the gun. Understand that your body position can help or hinder your ability to manage it, and learn to use your entire body properly.

4. Focus on the job at hand. As Jeff Cooper used to say, “The purpose of shooting is hitting.” Be in the present (you never knew that yoga and meditation practice would help, did you?). Don’t worry about the noise, don’t think about the recoil. And, to keep your eye properly on your sights, don’t look for the holes! As much as is humanly possible, imagine that target out there is a bad person intent on harming your most beloved. You need to stop it, and you have the power to do it. Apply the mechanics you were taught, and get it done.

5. Take breaks when you want to. Throughout your shooting session, give yourself time to process the mental and physical efforts you’re exerting—these can be considerable if you’re training properly. Don’t be in a rush to finish a sequence or a session.

6. Don’t worry about anything except you. Don’t worry about people watching you. Don’t worry about being slower or faster than anyone else. Don’t compare your targets, times and calibers to anyone else’s.

7. Less can be more: Pick one or two specific things you want to practice and if practicing live, limit yourself to 50 rounds of handgun practice, or 25 rounds of single projectile with your long gun or 50 rounds of wingshooting. But think hard about every singly shot, before, during and after. It is indeed about quality over quantity, and too many of us completely overlook that when we’ve taken the trouble to go to the range. Problem is, non-thoughtful shooting, especially in large quantities, may only serve to reinforce bad habits—and sometimes, to develop new bad habits! (If engaging in dry practice, stop after 10 or 15 minutes, maximum; everything else applies.)

8. Keep a training journal. Nothing too intense or serious—but make notes about how your session went, especially regarding mistakes, as well as your breakthrough, “aha” moments. Do it the same day.

9. Do everything—from handling the firearm in its case or bag, to loading and unloading it—as you would in the field. Don’t allow yourself to take shortcuts because you’re “practicing,” or “at the range.” Remember—under stress, you’ll do whatever you’ve done most recently, and/or whatever you’ve done most frequently. Make them one and the same—and make them perfect.

10. Be positive. I know, so corny, right? But it’s a cliché for a reason. Sometimes when we’re learning something new, and we’re not as good at it as we think we should be, we use self-deprecation to soften the blow, or distract others from our perceived foibles. Other times, when we’re not feeling as confident as we’d like to be, we let our mistakes underline our misgivings, which only serves to undermine our confidence. Take yourself seriously, have patience and enjoy yourself.

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23 Responses to Be Better When It Counts: Training Tips for the Budding Defender

Jack Black Smith [(]SASS[)] wrote:
November 19, 2013

@Rick Tucker - I find it best to practice (pistol) at 7 yards. If you can put 2-3 well aimed shots in a quarter at 7 yds, you can hit a silhouette at 15 or 25. If the best you can do at 7 is a group in the 8 ring, you can't hit paper at 25. So, practice at 7 yards until you can put 2 out of 3 in a quarter. Seven yards is also close enough for you to see your results with out having to go to the target (or bring it to you, depending on the range). Good luck.

Jape wrote:
November 06, 2013

Rick, handguns are for self protection as a rule and are designed to be used up to 25 yards.

Andy Hayes wrote:
October 27, 2013

Hearing loss is cumulative. An occasional loud noise from shooting will not do much damage to your ears unless it so loud it bursts your eardrums. My brother played electric bass in a bar band back in the '70s and now has severe tinnitis. I've been riding motorcycles with proper mufflers for 40+ years, was a machine operator in a noisy factory for over 15 years, and am a recreational target shooter - always with hearing protection - my hearing is still good, and I don't have tinnitis. Wear ear protection when at the range, but don't worry about firing one or two shots in an emergency.

Rick Tucker wrote:
October 08, 2013

What is the best distant from target when practicing with a pistol?

Ken wrote:
September 16, 2013

A bit of patience my dear Rich. JohnB is stating a legitimate concern based on a real medical condition. It's difficult for those who do not have tinitus to understand how maddening it can be day in and day out, often preventing sleep and mental concentration. The fear of it getting worse is no more unreasonable than a one-eyed shooter worrying about wearing safety glasses to protect the sight he has left. That being said JohnB, in a life or death situation it just makes sense to the best tool for the job. One option is to keep a set of electronic earmuffs with the gun. Slip them on and turn them up to help you hear better and protect your ears at the same time.

Rich wrote:
September 11, 2013

Amazing! We're talking life and death scenarios here and some people are worried about hearing loss associated with loud noises.....get a grip gentlemen. An ambush is usuallly blown with claymore anti personnel mines, (if U.S.) or chi-com types, if other wise. Listen to them while having AK and other rounds coming at you...and say to yourself, duh....do I need ear protection?

Brian Mc. wrote:
September 10, 2013

JohnB: I used to do a lot of bird hunting and when I did, I never wore ear plugs. Not that it's the same as in an enclosed space such as a house but... I think the body does something, the adrenaline does something to the body physically. Now, maybe that's only to what I thought I was hearing and it truly was doing some damage but I don't know that for certain. Anyhow, I agree with John below. Better to be deaf than dead anyhow...

John wrote:
September 10, 2013

@JohnB: Regarding shooting an intruder in your home, and the noise affecting your hearing. It probably won't be a frequent thing you'll have to face. You may never face such a situation, so I wouldn't be too concerned about it. Better to be alive with terrible hearing than to be dead and no hearing at all. I know how you feel, though, because I have the same hearing problem and now wear a pair of hearing aids due to more than twenty years of motorcycle riding without something to protect my ears.

JohnB wrote:
September 10, 2013

I've developed tinnitus after being a rock drummer all my life...I'm afraid if I have to let loose on a bad guy in my house it would make it worse...short of a silencer, what would be a low noise firearm? I used to keep my 1911 handy....but now I keep my marlin camp .22 w/ 25 rd mag handy.

Bea wrote:
September 10, 2013

If you cant afford ammo to practice with- go through the motions or get an airsoft pistol and practice with that- I have one that is similar in weight and detail as my pistol so its a good mimic of the real thing. Do a 80/20 practice session with both weapons

Amy wrote:
September 10, 2013

If only ammo wasn't ridiculously expensive (or sometimes not even available here in VT), I'd practice every day.

Bill Koclanis wrote:
September 10, 2013

Just as the military taught me over 40 years ago ' Stay Calm and bead down'

Paul wrote:
September 10, 2013

Even without ammo you can practice. Most modern firearms willnot be harmed by dryfire drills. Practice drawing and acqiring a sight picture even trigger pull. Balance a coin on the barrel focus on a steady even pull. May not seem like much but does pay off big time on live fire drills. I spend up to an hour with practice. More often 15-20 minutes, make sure your firearm is made safe and only point at safe targets and direction.

Ladyvalea wrote:
September 10, 2013

Great advice....I like the 'be in the present' and don't look at the holes your making..

Ed wrote:
September 10, 2013

Very good. You need to train hard and make it a habit because when you need to, it will be there without thinking about it.

Robert Coffey wrote:
September 10, 2013

Good idea to keep a journal..will start that asap! Thank you for the great tips and reminders...Some ranges I've gone too are lax, and I see stuff that makes me cringe..I just pack up and leave. Fortunately, we have some awesome ranges and instructors I rely on, and practice often.. Wish we had more scenario training in our area, or advanced skills training days...I have a mindset that reminds me that no amount of training or instruction is 'enough'. Need to keep at it, and learn from those more experienced than myself...Thanks for posting these tips, and helping all shooters work to improve!

Colleen wrote:
September 10, 2013

This is very good for beginning shooters who do not shoot regularly. They must know their firearms as second nature especially for home defense where emotions and fear run high and events could happen in an instant.

Ron wrote:
September 09, 2013

Great article, I agree with everything. I especially like point #9,,,,,if only more folks would get serious.

Warren wrote:
September 09, 2013

Great info not only for the budding defender but as a good reminder for the experienced one...

Bob wrote:
September 09, 2013

Great article for beginning and experienced shooters

John Nagel wrote:
September 09, 2013

Relax, it's all good!

nancy wrote:
September 09, 2013

Great tips. As a novice, this really helps.

David warren wrote:
September 09, 2013

I agree with all that was said, in self defense as well as hunting plinking and all situations. The rules still apply