If you’ve ever spent any amount of time at the gym, you know that it takes more than good intentions or the latest internet fitness fad to get in shape. Long-term health and fitness require consistency and discipline – but they also require something more: you need to know how to work out. If you want to increase your strength or endurance it requires regular exercise, tracked over time, with a specific goal in mind.
If you want to become a better defensive shooter you will need to incorporate these same factors into improving your skills.
As we mentioned back in our section on consistency, the ability to manipulate a defensive firearm under stress is a perishable skill. That means that it requires regular practice to maintain – let alone grow. While I shy away from telling you how often you should practice – since only you can answer that question – I would opine that twice a month should be a bare minimum for anyone who wants to carry a firearm for defensive purposes.
One of the biggest obstacles to regular practice is the often-prohibitive costs of ammunition and range fees. The Shooter’s Workout minimizes this:
- Money spent on range fees is made more efficient, since you are spending the same amount of money to improve important skills instead of just repeat the same target shooting as last range trip.
- An effective Shooter’s Workout can be accomplished in 50 rounds of ammunition well-spent, instead of the two or three hundred rounds that most of us are likely to spend in our quarterly or semi-annual range trips.
Don’t get me wrong – if you are shooting more it will cost more, and there is a delicate balance to be struck between effective practice and the constraints of your wallet. This is something you will need to determine depending upon your financial capabilities or limitations.
As an example, a range fee at the pistol range nearest to my home is $12. A 50-round box of 9mm Luger (which is the round chambered in one of my two main carry pistols) costs another $10. That means that a 30-minute practice session costs me $22. Double that (for two per-month) and I am looking at just under $50 a month to maintain skills that may save my life or my family.
To put that in perspective, it’s less than you’d pay for high-speed internet and about what you’d pay for Cable TV. Is it worth it? Only you can answer that question.
There are a few other things you can do to minimize costs. One is to hand-load, which can seriously reduce the cost of ammunition if you happen to have a lot of time but not a lot of money. Another is to set aside slowly and buy ammunition in bulk when there is a sale or a discount to be had. I don’t want to encourage cheapness as an attitude, but if you can find a way to cut costs without sacrificing safety or effectiveness you will increase your efficiency.
When I exercise, I keep a notebook detailing what I do for each workout. This allows me to know how many reps I did of a specific exercise, the weight at which I did them, and the point at which I reached my limit – i.e., failed.
We live in a culture that has conditioned us to believe that failure is always a bad thing. In fact, it should be the goal of exercise; to push yourself past the point where you are comfortable. This will produce adaptation as your mind and body adjust to the new “normal.”
Keeping a “Shooter’s Notebook” to record details about each range session is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal as an armed citizen. Here are just a few of the ways it can improve your practice:
- Easily-established benchmarks – It’s as simple as turning back a few pages to see how well you did last time on a given drill. This gives you a performance standard to beat and makes it easy to see when you are improving.
- Identify gaps in your skillset – If over time you notice that there is a specific kind of drill or exercise in which you tend to do poorly, it’s an indication that that is a good direction for future practice and training. Unless you are actively keeping track of your performance, it’ll be easy for things like this to fall through the cracks.
- Track your progress – Regardless of how good your intentions are, you are not likely to engage in any activity long-term unless there is a perceived level of reward. This is why target shooting of the bulls-eye variety is so popular – it provides near-instant feedback about your improvement as a target shooter. Gauging your progress as a defensive shooter is harder to do over time since accuracy is only one of many concerns. By tracking your progress in a Shooter’s Notebook you can see how much you improve and that will, in turn, encourage future practice.
Perhaps the best way to get accountability is to find a range partner. A second pair of eyes will make it easier to identify unrealistic or lazy tendencies in your shooting form and technique. At the very least, get a cheap digital video camera and video yourself while you shoot. Then, review the video later and critique yourself; always take note of your performance on specific drills and record any thoughts or insights in your Shooter’s Notebook.
Don’t be afraid to set specific goals for yourself. A power-lifter might make it his goal to bench-press a certain amount, or a runner might set their sights on a 5k or even a marathon. Your goals will determine the nature of your practice, so it’s important to know what they are up front – otherwise your practice will be haphazard. Sadly, this is the case for much of the shooting community.
For the novice shooter, a good starting goal might simply be to achieve a certain level of familiarity and combat accuracy with the weapon system. In this case, their practice will be focused on basic marksmanship drills and the administrative manipulation of the weapon – loading, unloading, and reloading the weapon, presenting it from the holster, etc.
Once the shooter has a grasp of the basic manipulation of the weapon, the workout can be varied to develop more advanced skills – drills focused on cognition, multiple targets, and learning the balance between speed and precision required for different targets and ranges based on the weapon being used. These are not hard things to teach yourself, but developing these skills requires clearly-defined goals. And defining those goals requires an understanding of the skills that you need to succeed in a gunfight.
The best place to acquire this kind of understanding is to take a class. I can’t emphasize this enough – regular practice is important, but it needs to be built on the foundation of good, solid training. Taking a class is a great way to get an idea of the kinds of goals and benchmarks you need to set for your practice.
As this series continues we will try to help you define these goals, as well as give you a few drills that should form the basis of your Shooter’s Workout.