This article was originally published on policeone.com.
One of the most neglected areas of firearms training is acclimation and its role in conditioning the performer. Most training consists of the fundamentals of shooting (stance, grip, sight alignment, etc.) followed by a series of shooting drills. This method of training generally works well–until you try to speed up, shoot farther, or get put under pressure. When this happens, you start to fail to hit well.
The fact that performance takes a hit when you are put under pressure is not a weakness of character or a hidden flaw; you have simply not been acclimated or conditioned properly to perform at that level.
Acclimation to noise, recoil energy, and learning to control bodily responses should come before sighted shooting.
From novice to world-class performer, the ability to remain calm, control your emotions, and accept recoil is vitally important. Learning to do this at speed and while under pressure is what true skill is all about. Telling someone to hold still or press the trigger smoothly won’t cut it. Telling them to watch the front sight when shooting won’t do it consistently either.
So how do you acclimatize yourself so that you can achieve calmness and control? Just putting yourself under stress and trying to “inoculate” yourself is not the answer. Teaching grip, stance, sight picture and trigger control and then incorporating them all at the same time with various shooting drills is also too much. A far more effective approach is to focus on a single area that needs work.
Let's pick one and run with it.
Acclimation to Live Fire
Once you have learned the fundamentals of shooting, you can then transition to one of the most important skills you must master in order to get to the highest levels of performance.
Start by holding the gun safely downrange, BELOW eye level, without looking at the sights, and simply fire the gun very slowly into the backstop. How well can you maintain a calm mind, relax, and hold still behind the gun when it fires? Repeat this process for 20 to 25 shots. If your hand slips, get it connected properly. If you feel yourself blink, feel your body or grip tighten as you fire or are about to fire, then you are not ready for sighted shooting yet.
Keep shooting until you can calmly fire the gun without any reaction. This may take 100 shots or more but it is time well spent.
The next step is to calmly watch the gun as it fires, without blinking. This is not quite as difficult as watching a firecracker go off but it is similar. Repeat this 25 to 50 times.
Now, bring the gun up closer to eye level and calmly fire the gun while watching the front sight move up and down. No target and no aiming is allowed at this point. Let the gun fire, let the gun cycle, and let the gun return. Your task is to simply hold still, watch the sight move and accept the process.
Once you can reliably do this on demand, it is time to move up to sighted shooting.
We use the following drills here at TPC to train students but I often use them for myself as well, especially when trying to increase speed and precision. To shoot these drills, use a horizontal line or download the TPC trigger stripe target and put it up sideways.
50/50 Drill #1: Load one round into the gun and bring the gun to the line. Hold the sights aligned on the horizontal line and calmly press the trigger. Once you fire the shot, hold it there for a moment, then bring the firearm back down. Within three seconds, bring the gun back up and dry fire immediately. Note your reaction when you dry fire the shot. Repeat this sequence 50 times. The goal for this exercise is to maintain stillness as you calmly press the trigger.
50/50 Drill #2: This is a more advanced drill but the goal is the same as the first drill. Load one round into the gun, bring the gun up to the line, and fire the shot. Immediately reacquire the sights and dry fire the second shot. Note your reaction. Repeat this sequence 50 times.
Acclimation training is used for any part of training where you need to get to a new level of awareness, calmness, precision, or focus. I also use it to get used to new environments or challenges until they become part of the "new normal".
Acclimation training can take anywhere from several days to a few weeks to grow or retrain a particular skill, however it is a vital component of training. Remember that acclimation and staying acclimated is a process. It is a mental and physical state that must be refreshed on a frequent basis.
Don't neglect acclimation training in your training. It truly is one of the hidden keys to mastery.
Ron Avery, co-founder
Tactical Performance Center