Designing a Practice

May 18, 2016 5 Comments

Designing a Practice

One of our mottos here at the Tactical Performance Center is “think don’t plink.” More than just a catchy phrase, there is deep wisdom in this statement: each round you fire should have a purpose.

I have lived by this motto and every shot I have fired, of my own ammo, in the last eight years has had one of three purposes:

  • Does the gun work?
  • Did my outcome match my intent?
  • Did I follow the process I wanted to follow to release this shot?

Unfortunately this approach is rarely seen at the range. Too often I see shooters simply turning money into noise without gaining performance improvement. Occasionally I’ll even have a shooter tell me something like “Yeah, great practice. 1,000 rounds down range.” They grow quiet though when I respond with “Great! Did you get 200 bucks of improvement?”

As shooting becomes more expensive and the reasons we shoot–whether it be training to defend our life, protect the public, or win a match–have become more pressing, we owe it to ourselves, and those we protect, to be as good as we can be. 

The good news is that improving our performance doesn’t mean that we need to spend more money on ammo or even more time at the range. We just need to build better practices!

At our TPC boot camps, we do just this. While we focus on principles and fundamentals for world class shooting, these concepts are new to most and unlikely to stick after just three days of instruction. For that reason, we also teach our students how to design practices that lock in those fundamentals and improve the speed and consistency with which they can deliver shots.

Here is how we work with our students to develop a practice:

Start with the fundamentals

Start and end with the fundamentals of grip, stance, isolating the trigger, letting recoil happen, calling shots, and active follow through. If these are not holding, stop and work on just them. If you have 200 rounds, use a large percent of them here.

Only do what you have to do with live fire

You can perfect a reload with very little live fire but a lot of dry practice. We can hone technique dry and then measure or experiment live.

Think small, look small

I recently had a fellow instructor who was visually leaving targets early in a rush to get to the next target. This was causing misses and hurting his competition performance. Together we designed an *exercise using dots focused on follow thru. He did this exercise with 100 rounds a day, over two days. At his next performance at a large competition he found that his problem was solved.

*Note that we designed an “exercise”, not a drill. We want to improve a fundamental skill that we can reuse elsewhere, purposefully, not just as a series of sequences where we can fool ourselves with improvement by memorizing a sequence of actions.

End with the fundamentals

We used this process to design a 200-round practice with a group of students at a recent boot camp. Our “look small” goal was to improve our ability to isolate the trigger, including under speed stress. The class had wisely deduced that a lot of low hanging fruit in improving their performance could be found in the trigger pull.

Here is what our practice looked like:

  • 75 dots, dry, focusing on a different element of the shooting cycle on each row
  • 75 dots, live, focusing on isolating the trigger on each dot (3 shots per dot)
  • 40 alpha exercise (from the Army Marksmanship Unit Action Shooting team)
    • ½ USPSA metric target, at 15 yards (this simulates a 30 yard shot)
    • 40 shots, in 5 shot strings, as fast as the sights present what you need to see
    • Strong focus on isolating the trigger
  • 75 dots, live, focusing on isolating the trigger on each dot (3 shots per dot)
  • 75 dots, dry, focusing on isolating the trigger on each dot and active follow through

This practice took 190 rounds and an hour and a half to complete. Every person on the line got 20+ Alphas, with some in the high 30’s. When I asked them “was that worth 1.5 hours and 20 bucks in ammo?” the universal answer was that it was the best experience shooting, in terms of improvement, they’d ever had.

Now imagine doing that twice a week. How good would you get with $40 a week in ammo and three hours of your time?  

I encourage you to bring PURPOSE and PLANNING to your practices. You will improve at a dramatic rate and the gains will be more permanent. Think, don’t plink! 

If you have any questions, e-mail us or, even better, come to our Handgun Boot Camp and learn first-hand.

-Ken Nelson, Co-Founder



5 Responses

Doug Hardin
Doug Hardin

June 02, 2016

Ken, is it really possible to get a clear sight picture? I’m not new to shooting but I am new to learning to do it with purpose. I seem to have a problem picking up the front sight quickly. Am I just making this too hard? Thanks for all you guys do.

Ken Nelson
Ken Nelson

May 19, 2016

Chelsey – we vary from 2 yards to, normally, 5 yards. For a super duper test we go to 7 but rarely in class as it can be a bit demoralizing. To vary the challenge we vary the speed, the visual acceptance we are needing before firing, our primary mental focus on the shot)

Chelsey
Chelsey

May 19, 2016

What distance do you dry fire/shoot the dots?

Ken Nelson
Ken Nelson

May 19, 2016

Great Ken – glad to hear it! Low hanging fruit is tasty and sweet! (-:

Ken Vaughn
Ken Vaughn

May 19, 2016

Always appreciate and pay attention to what I find from yourself and Ron, great read, I will be implementing it in my practice sessions. I still have a lot of ‘low hanging fruit’ on the tree.

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