The practice required to be a good shot is going to depend on what type of shooting you’re wanting to do. Although fundamentals (grip, stance, sight alignment/picture, trigger) are the base from which we build, each form of competition builds differently on top of these fundamental skills. The skills used in trap and skeet are not all the same skills you would use for action pistol shooting, as are the skills for slow accuracy. The first thing I suggest is looking critically at what type of match you would like to shoot and then read the rules… fully. Watch video of people competing, and ask people who are competing questions. This is going to keep anything you’re working on within the rules of the competition. I will use IDPA as an ongoing example in this blog to keep my examples consistent and will mainly focus on zero cost dry-fire practice.
ALL DRY FIRE PRACETICE SHOULD BE DONE WITH AN UNLOADED GUN AND WITH NO AMMUNTION IN THE ROOM. THIS ENTIRE BLOG POST IS DRY FIRE PRACTICE. DO NOT PRACTICE THESE SKILLS AT HOME WITH A LOADED GUN. TRIPLE CHECK THE GUN BEFORE BEGINNING, ALWAYS POINT THE GUN IN A DIRECTION THAT WOULD STOP A ROUND IF PRESENT, AND CONCLUDE THE SESSION WITH REPEATING “I AM DONE DRY-FIRING” SEVERAL TIME TO FIX THE END IN YOUR MIND.
I hear a lot of people say that the best way to get better at shooting is to well…. Shoot! This is a good way to become a better shooter but live-fire alone won’t make you a better competitor. There are a lot of great shooters at matches but when it comes to the mechanics (gun manipulations outside of the fundamentals of shooting), they may need more practice to get reliably faster. If you can get your safe and consistent reloads down to 2 seconds or less that is second off your time on every stage.
Let’s say two shooters Shooter A and Shooter B are competing in IDPA and are equal in the speed of their movement. If Shooter A has a slower reload that takes 8 seconds and has perfect accuracy (fundamentals) resulting in ZERO DOWN (no seconds added for inaccuracy). Shooter B with a 2 second reload can have up to 5 less than accurate hits (+1 second each or even a full miss on a target (+ 5 seconds) and still have a 1 second faster score with ‘sloppier’ fundamentals.
This is a small example of how it’s not just hits on target (fundamentals) that count it’s everything else (mechanics) involved in shooting that makes up the whole sport. There is more to shooting than just aligning your sights and pulling the trigger. Even simpler matches without movement and reloads involves coming on target (mechanics) and often transitioning from target to target (mechanics) before shooting (fundamentals).
Looking at more action shooting (incorporating drawing from holster, movement, and reloading such as IDPA there are a few mechanical skills that can be practiced dry that will bring down your overall stage times. These include;
- Holster Draw
- Transitioning between targets
When I am at home and do not have the time or money to go the range, I practice dry-fire drawing from holster. I do not use a timer when practicing the draw. I am working on mechanics more than anything else. Remember, slow becomes smooth, smooth becomes fast. When I go to draw the gun, I ask myself, do I get a solid grip on the gun clearing the gun from the holster? There is no point in drawing the gun if on the first shot you can’t manage the recoil due to poor grip or worse yet you drop the gun. When I practice drawing from holster, I will work step by step through the 5-count draw;
- Initial dominant hand grip is in place before the gun clears the holster, support hand is not in danger of being swept by the gun (a major safety issue and grounds for a DQ)
- Clear the gun fully and smoothly from the holster maintaining the trigger finger along the frame
- Rotating the gun towards the initial target while slightly canting the slide away from the body
- Bring the gun forward picking up a solid support hand grip
- Continue ‘punching’ the gun outward bringing the sights up to your eye
Only when I feel like I have reviewed the 5 counts enough (maybe 5-6 runs) will I start to combine steps and increase speed. The last thing I’ll do is add the concealment garment that I use for IDPA. Drawing from holster is one of the more dangerous parts of shooting do so carefully. My goal when drawing from holster is always safety first. If I feel like I am getting sloppy or am having trouble staying focused because of a distraction I will stop the practice. I don’t want to cram unsafe practice in my brain. I really don’t want to build a bad habit that will try to come out in a competition. Keep it safe.
This is easy to do at home, hang a couple targets up in your practice area (make sure the wall you hang them on would stop an errant round and remove all the ammo from the room before practice). I will start aiming in on one of the targets and then transition my aim the other target. I am trying to simulate shooting at multiple targets. There are a couple of different techniques and each of them have advantages and disadvantages. One is to track the front sight as you go from target to target. While you are moving between targets keep your eyes focused on your front sight, never losing your sight picture. The other way is to track the target visually first and then bring the gun sights to bear into your line of sight. As you finish shooting a target move your eyes to the next target and then bring the sights back into focus. Which one works better for you is going to depend on your eyes and how much practice you’re willing to put in. I would try both and make the decision after some practice.
This is a super easy skill to practice but takes work to master. I put on everything I am going to use for competition on and usually stand next to my bed with the front of my legs close to but not touching my bed. Having the bed in front of you will catch mags from hitting the floor and save some abuse on your baseplates by hitting the mattress. It also saves you from bending over to pick them up cutting down on the time to reset the drill. After I am in a good place by my bed I will draw my gun and start pointed in at a target front sight focused. This is to simulate going dry pointed at the target. I will press the trigger and when I get a ‘click’ I start preforming a reload. I practice reloads with and without a concealment garment and I practice reloads where I retain the mag and where I ‘yeet’ it (aggressive ejection using a wrist twist). In IDPA you need to practice both, the rules state you can’t leave a partially loaded mag discarded on the ground at the end of your run without getting a penalty so practice retaining it.
These are a few skills to work on that will start saving seconds off your time, and as every final score in IDPA is often 4-6 stages, shaving a second off your draw, 1-2 seconds off your reloads, and a half second off each target transition can easily shave 4-6 seconds each stage adding up to a significantly better total score . Shooting the bullseye is only part of being a good IDPA shooter. It’s everything else in the match that really starts to save time on the course.