What to do when you go to the range (handgun)

Posted: October 20, 2011 in Beginner, Handgun, How To

If you get a chance to spend time at a range with a buddy and his guns or if you have a gun of your own that you don’t shoot a lot, you may not know how best to spend your time and money at the range. It’s really easy to spend an hour standing in a booth converting money into noise and not getting much out of it, skill-improvement wise. That’s obviously not a great use of your limited resources. If that’s all you want out of shooting, congrats! Mission accomplished! If you would rather increase your skills, work on specific goals, improve accuracy, consistency, speed, etc, then you need to go to the range with a plan.

If you’re a brand new shooter, these are things to work up to. Your first few trips to the range will be about safety and familiarity. Mostly safety. You want to learn and follow your four rules, and get used to paying attention to what you’re doing when you have a gun in your hand. Even experienced shooters can get complacent and start pointing their muzzle at things you really hope they aren’t willing to destroy. You need to practice CONSTANT VIGILANCE when you have a gun in your hand. When you turn to look at something, you turn your head, not your whole body. The gun stays pointed downrange. When you pull the gun down off the target, take your finger off the trigger. When you reload, keep your finger off the trigger and your muzzle pointed in a safe direction. You need to start at the beginning to really build these habits properly. There is no downside to proper gun safety and about a million downsides to not gun safety. You can shoot anything you want to at any distance. Just play around and get comfortable with pulling the trigger, managing recoil, etc. You’re probably not going to be shooting enough to really ingrain any bad shooting habits, so worry about having fun and practicing good safety habits. Learning to shoot well is secondary to learning how not to shoot yourself and your buddies.

Okay, I’m off my soap box now. So you’re a safe shooter, you want to become a better shooter, but you don’t know what to work on. Good. You’ve come to the right place. For the fundamental skills you’ll need to work on to successfully complete these drills, go here. I’m going to talk about a few drills that I think you might enjoy.

Ragged Hole Drill

This drill works on your fundamentals of shooting.

  • Distance: 5 meters
  • Start Position: Gun in ready position, finger off the trigger
  • Target: 1″x1″ Square
  • Shots: 5
  • Goal: All 5 shots in the square, ideally all through the same hole.

This isn’t an easy drill. It’s something I never worked on until recently, and practicing it has dramatically improved my accuracy at speed. It’s really good training for your fundamentals, too. You have to have everything right to make it happen. This type of shooting, slow fire, isn’t overly useful in most competitions (except slow fire bullseye shooting, of course) or defensive situations, but the skills you’ll learn doing it are very important. So give it a go. Don’t rush it. Remember you have all the time in the world. Between your shots, pull your gun back to your chest (muzzle still pointed downrange, finger off the trigger) so your arms don’t fatigue. If you’re a hair’s breadth away from breaking your shot and it doesn’t feel right, ease off of the trigger and pull it back. Nobody is shooting back at you, there is no reason to rush.

Target ID Drill

  • Distance: 5 meters
  • Start Position: Gun in ready position, finger off the trigger
  • Target: Four to Six 9″ Paper Plates with different letters, numbers, or colors on them
  • Shots: 5-10
  • Goal: To hit each target as it is called out

This one will require a buddy, so see if you can con someone into going to the range with you. You will have four paper plates stapled to your target backer, each with some kind of identifier on it. You stand with the gun at the ready (muzzle pointed down range, finger off the trigger) and your buddy calls out one of the plates. You extend your arms out, acquire your sight picture, and shoot the plate as quickly as you can after it is called. Then return to ready position. Have him call out another one. Do the same thing. You can just do this, practicing identifying single targets and shooting them, or if your range allows for double taps or rapid fire (check with the Range Safety Officer first), you can have your buddy call out two plates, or you can make it even more interesting. If you’re working with numbers, say your partner calls out a 6. You can shoot either plates 1 and 5 or plates 2 and 4. If you bump the number of plates up to 6, you get a lot more possible combinations and higher numbers that people may have to think about for a second under stress. If you set your plates up right, you can even get more combinations. Let’s say you have 6 plates, each with a number on it, 1-6. Plates 1 and 5 are written in blue marker, 2 and 4 are written in red, and 3 and 6 are written in yellow. You can also add shapes to each plate. Put a square, circle or triangle (2 of each) on each plate in the appropriate color. Don’t double up (the blue targets should be different shapes, for example), and you really start cranking up the complexity. You can then call out either numbers or colors. You can call out positions on the board (“Top left” or “Middle right”), just a color (calling out blue means you shoot both blue targets), or just shapes. You can call out just one target by identifying the shape and color, the position, or the number. I like to play with the rule that if there’s just one target, you put two rounds into it.  So there you go. That should keep you busy for pretty much ever. Swap back and forth after a set number of rounds.

Follow Up Drill

  • Distance: 5 meters
  • Start Position: Gun in ready position, finger off the trigger
  • Target: One 8.5″x11″ sheet of printer/notebook paper
  • Shots: 5
  • Goal: To get all 5 rounds on the paper

This one is a bit more advanced. Don’t attempt this one unless you’ve been shooting a while and are comfortable being safe with your gun. This drill will also depend heavily on where you go shooting. If you can only shoot one round per second (like at the range near my house) you can’t do this one. Check with the range officer. If you’re not supposed to shoot rapid fire on their range and you do, they can send you home, or even ban you from the range for good. That would suck for you. So make sure you know the rules for sure before you try this one. It’s not my fault if you get kicked off a range because you couldn’t follow directions. Now that you’ve confirmed that you’re allowed to do this, get into your very best firing stance. Feet, knees, hips, shoulders, arms, hands, everything. Get it all perfect. Lock it all down as best you can. What you’re doing here is testing the natural recoil-absorption properties of your firing stance and grip. Get your front sight right in the middle of the paper. Take a deep breath or two. Now fire all 5 of your rounds quickly, but with good fundamentals, including follow through. Make sure you can handle the recoil of your gun under relatively rapid fire. Try it again, a little faster. Always make sure you’re being safe, first and foremost. If the muzzle starts to rise away from your target, stop firing. Your goal here is to test your stance and improve it, not to put holes in someone’s ceiling and get kicked out. Keep repeating until you can fire 5 rounds as quickly as you can work the trigger, and they all stay on the paper. You might have to slow down, back up, change your stance, lean into the gun more, change your grip, etc. This drill is more of a diagnostic tool than a training tool. It will let you know when your stance and grip are perfect, or if they need work.

There you go. Three drills you can do at the range, depending on your range. You can, of course, shoot for smaller targets, or targets that are farther away, and all that stuff. Get creative with it. Just be safe, and make sure you’re following range rules. Restrictive range rules make things much harder, unfortunately. The range near my house doesn’t allow rapid fire, and the targets are all at a static distance of 12 yards. The ragged hole drill or the 1-target ID drill is about all I can swing there. It’s not as fun as being on a less limited range, but it’s trigger time, and that’s what counts.

I’m going to try to post up more drills as I find them and/or think them up. I’ll also post links and descriptions of qualification tests, since those can also serve as good drills. Enjoy, and please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!

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