Firearms Training for the Average Prepper

You have made the decision to be well prepared for most of life’s eventualities. Well done. You have stocked food, and medicine.  Stored tools, batteries and equipment. You have a bug-out bag packed, and another, redundant BOB in your car. Every important document is backed up in triplicate.

You bought a pistol, holster and a handful of magazines. You go to the range once a month to practice and you think you do alright. On the way out you eyeball the racks of rifles and shotguns. Pretty soon, you think, you’ll be adding one to your safe at home. Then, you’ll finally be “ready.” Right? No.

In this article, we will explore what training you should be seeking to guide your growth as a shooter, and what techniques should be a part of your repertoire to ensure that you are well-rounded as a shooter and prepared for any eventuality that may be a part of the fight to come.

The first part will be the compass pointing the way to your destination; what classes and training you should look for, and how to determine if a teacher is a good fit for your needs. The second will be the road map showing you when to turn and where; how to practice what you have learned for maximum growth, and how you should approach building foundational technique.

Whether you are a seasoned gunhand or rank novice, together these two articles can save you considerable trial and error in figuring out where to apply your time and effort, or help you shore up holes in your existing techniques. Whichever you may be, read on.

Without Training, You Will Not Prosper

I applaud your decision to make the safety of yourself and your family your responsibility. It is, just like everything else in adulthood. The issue where I see most folks go off track is on the matter of professional firearms training.

I myself have taught a few thousand civilian students in the last 10 years, and that was typically after seeing them in the pro-shop for the first time. The “what brings you here?” question would often produce a familiar story.

The client was usually looking to purchase their very first gun, probably a handgun, and often prompted by a concern, sometimes by a recent terror threat, that “things weren’t alright with the world.” Many were serious, and had a list of questions, and the subtle look one gets when they aren’t playing around, that look that says, “It is up to me.”

So, after a battery of demos and many questions answered, our nascent prepper gets the ok from the NICS (National Instant Check System) operator and gets to take their new gun home. Swell.

I naturally raise the idea of signing them up for a Concealed Weapons Permit or Intro to Handgun course. It is here that many brand-new, green-as-grass gun owners turned me down. “I have shot a gun before,” they promise. “I’m good.”

I’d see them come back in the following weeks for practice. Out to the range they’d go. Once set up in the stall, their motions were furtive, and fumbling. They would load and present the gun with all the wobbly grace of a baby giraffe.

Sometimes malfunctions happened, and when they did, they would stare at their new gun with a look that showed partly betrayal, and partly the dumbfounded bewilderment of one who just saw a great card trick. When I would invariably approach them, gently insisting on a class, any class, they’d persist: “I’ll figure it out.”

Crisis Is Not the Time For “Figure It Out”

These new gun owners, like many, suffered not from a lack of determination, but from a lack of education. Training. I know that many folks, and certainly preppers, are go-getters, but everyone started somewhere. I am not sure, though, where the average gun owner’s resistance to formal education comes from.

Maybe it is ego, for some. For others, perhaps the sheer DIY spirit that compels a marathon binge on YouTube to cut-and-paste together something like a foundational skillset. Sometimes the attention of an experienced relative is sufficient to convince them that they are good enough.

The issue is a very human one: we are all victims of our own lack of experience. We overestimate our competency, and react emotionally when something impinges on the ramshackle store of knowledge we have built. I know I sure have. Call it the Dunning-Kruger effect, or arrogance, whichever.

Fact is you can learn a lot on your own, if you have the right frame of reference to guide your learning. Without it, you will drift to and fro in your search, drawing what knowledge you can from sources that are of questionable usefulness or do nothing to further your objectives.

Another prime consideration is that teaching, and usually learning, is collaborative, while practice is often a solo activity, refining what you have been taught until you can perform the required task effortlessly.

Starting your quest for competency with a good teacher will greatly speed you on your way to proficiency, and furthermore will save you money, ammunition and, most importantly, your priceless time.

drawing a weapon

Training Is An Investment In Yourself

A typical prepper will need to make time to become proficient in a wide variety of skills according to what emergencies they are anticipating, and all of them require at least a time investment, and typically a financial one.

We simply do not have enough time on earth to do everything. We have to prioritize the best use of time according to financial resources, need, and urgency. I can make a fine case for moving firearms training near the top of that list.

First and foremost, remind yourself are dealing with a powerful, dangerous tool: a gun. The very gun that, if the time comes, you will need to employ at speed, accurately, on the worst day of your life.

Will you clear your concealing garment in time, or will it snarl your draw?

Will you present the gun cleanly on the target, breaking the shot accurately and quickly before you are wounded, or will you thrust it toward your assailant in blind terror, yanking the trigger with a prayer on your lips as bullets crack past you? Your training will play a major part in the outcome.

Second, it is important to establish a hierarchy of needs. These needs should be sorted based on severity of outcome. Be honest, and deliberate here: it is easy for one’s emotional attachment to an interest or existing skills to skew your perceptions of importance.

I place firearms skills high on the list, with other crisis resolution skills, but behind medical training. If you don’t know first aid, and at least basic trauma care, make that your number one goal, then get to training on the gun.

Crisis Skills Prevent Disaster

Now’s a good time to make a distinction in our hierarchy between “emergency” and “crisis.” An emergency, root word “emergence,” does not necessarily have to be life-threatening, it is merely a set of circumstances that call for your immediate attention; A flat tire on the interstate. Your child left all their finals homework at home. You lost your wallet at the office.

Emergencies can be great or small, scary or mild, but they disrupt your plan for the day. A crisis on the other hand, has a far worse connotation. Merriam-Webster defines crisis a couple of ways:

  1. The decisive moment, as in a play.
  2. An unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.

Using that definition, crisis skills prevent or mitigate worst-case outcomes should a crisis occur. Skill with a gun, real skill, certainly fits that description. It is not enough, if you are serious, to merely bang away at the range once every month or two and delude yourself about your competency.

This is All Very Serious. Where Do I Begin?

Start with an honest assessment of your skills. Are you a brand-spanking new gun owner? Have you shot a few times before? Long-time casual shooter? Do you have military or police experience? Have you taken high-end training before?

We should be growth-oriented. Move forward, not backward. It is fine to take a refresher course to hone your fundamentals, but once you have the training, you can implement practice on your own. You should be looking to expand your skills and knowledge from reputable teachers.

If you are brand new, your first stop will probably be a concealed weapons course to get that all-important carry permit, or license, or whatever it is called in your home state.

Look for reviews of popular classes in your area, ask friends and family where they took their class, and follow up with them. See what they liked and disliked about the classroom content, the range session and the teacher.

Take their advice with a copious serving of salt: they may know less than you, or not know enough to articulate why the class was good or bad.

Focus on finding a class that has a robust live fire session of at least 100 rounds and a strong emphasis on shooting fundamentals.

Any classroom content that starts to touch on concealed carry methodology is a bonus. This is only your first stop; do not expect to have the gun-world by the tail when you are done with it, and don’t fool yourself into thinking you do.

If you are a little more seasoned or have your permit and are comfortable on your own at the range, you should seek out more advanced pistol courses, typically offered as basic, intermediate or advanced skill-level. These should focus on drawing and firing from multiple positions, including some movement, and from a holster, and preferably concealed.

This will be your default mode of carry when you are out in the world, so if you are not getting in good repetitions from concealment (at least in your own practice) you are merely fooling yourself. Don’t do it!

As you go forward on the path of proficiency, you should start utilizing more difficult target arrays: multiple targets, moving targets and reactive targets that will only produce a “stop” after one or multiple solid hits.

The target mix should combination of paper or cardboard and some steel. Paper target feedback helps keep you honest about your accuracy and steel targets help you get fast and confident in your shooting.

More advanced classes will start adding in shooting from point-blank, properly called contact distance, using a flashlight either pistol-mounted or in your off-hand (sometimes both!), target discrimination and more difficult drills and standards. Malfunction remediation should also be part of the curriculum of any good pistol course.

Once you are well-versed in all of the above, seek out a Force-on-Force class. These are scenario based, “2-Way Range” classes that will have you and a role player, or five, in protective gear using specialty firearms simulators that fire marking, paint-filled projectiles. Paintball this isn’t. The guns have flash, recoil and go bang.

The festive little bullets really hurt. A good class of this nature will test everything you have learned, including verbal skills and decision making, and are a must for the serious pistolero. Additional classes for larger groups or close-knit duos could include small unit tactics, patrolling and the like.

You have probably noticed that I have left out long gun training thus far. That is deliberate: the handgun is, or rather should be, your constant companion, your primary weapon, and the focus of your training.

For most of us, the long guns stay at home, or perhaps, in the trunk of the car or truck. If you don’t have a gun close at hand when you need it, it might as well be on the moon for all the good it will do you. You do have your pistol close at hand, right? Right?!

That is not an excuse to neglect your long gun skills, but merely the recognition that chances are it is the pistol that we will call on to save our hides. Once you are savvy with the handgun, then I recommend branching out to your long gun of choice, be it rifle or shotgun.

This is a topic for another article, but I’d recommend a rifle over the shotgun, for the simple matter that a rifle can do nearly everything you need a shotgun to do in a fight, and can do with a much lower ceiling for proficiency, meaning your training evolutions and practice reps will generally show gains quicker on a rifle than a shotgun.

The shotgun’s single greatest strength is its absolute carnage it can wreak at close range with appropriate shot (e.g. No.1 or 00 buckshot).

The majority opinion among trainers is that the shotgun, either a pump or autoloader, requires a great deal more practice to use it well at any range, and that has been consistent with my experience teaching students of all skill levels.

You will give up much in the way of handling and ease of use to get that bone-crunching effectiveness. This is not to say it is not worthwhile, or I am dissing the scattergun: if that is what you have already, or want, drive on with my blessing. Whichever you decide to go with, make sure you find a class that focuses on combatives, not hunting or sport shooting.

Vetting Your Teacher or School

A crucial step in your journey to mastery is ensuring that your teacher or outfit is both qualified and experienced enough to teach what they are teaching you. It is your nickel, and your time, so it is your responsibility. This requires nuance, and careful forethought.

Beware of those who teach “outside their lane” as you will hear it called in the gun sector: that is someone who does not have the experience, or ethical basis, to be teaching a given topic, or soliciting a given opinion.

Here’s a fine example; take myself. I have been shooting since I was 4 years old, fired hundreds of thousands of rounds in practice, teaching pistol and rifle skills since 20, carrying concealed since I was 21 and have taken several professional, multi-day classes on topics ranging from advanced handgun skills to executive protection, shotgun and rifle skills, and instructor development.

I competed in 3-Gun and Action Pistol events for years in Florida. I could teach you pretty much anything right? Not so fast…

The only things that I teach professionally are basic to advanced handgun skills, concealed carry methodology, and rifle and shotgun fundamentals. I do not teach anything in the realm of CQB, officer survival, small-unit tactics, or anything of that sort. Why? Because I have not done any of those things.

Sure, I might be able to relay that same information with something approaching 100% fidelity if I am well-versed on the material and theory, but does that make me qualified to teach it? I don’t think so.

Marksmanship fundamentals and solid gun handling is, however, fundamental, and I am content to teach those topics alone if they help a student grow and improve. This topic is contentious, and is an ethical issue to me; it should be one to you.

Taking the above statement, the reverse is true also, in its way: just because someone has military or police experience does not mean they are qualified to be teaching anything more than basic handgun skills, or even that they are a good teacher (instructional ability is a skill unto itself!).

Take for instance, your average soldier or marine infantryman, or an average police officer. For the infantry, a pistol is, at best, a tertiary weapon.

Military training for handguns in any branch and any unit, save perhaps in elite combat units, is middling to abysmal. Most of them are pretty good with a rifle though, and have a lot to teach you about combat mindset and team tactics.

Many of them, rightly, are proud of their service and skills, but this does not necessarily make them the best source for your training dollars.

Likewise the average cop, while depending on their pistol as a primary weapon, is only fair to adequate with it. Bottom Line: military or police service is, by itself, no guaranteed indicator of an effective teacher.

The point is not to demean our boys and girls in blue, or military servicemen and women, or some know-it-all civilian trainer like myself. Not at all! The point is to get you to dig deeper on their credentials, whoever it is! Ask questions about their background, their additional or special training.

How much teaching have they actually done? Any instructor development courses? Can they give you referrals or testimonials? How long did they serve? Where? Doing what? Any skittishness or reluctance to answer these basic questions is a warning light. Don’t forget to search them online.

Ultimately, even if you get a sub-par instructor, they will always have something to teach you, even if it is only what not to do.

Setting Standards

Standards are mandatory for anything we endeavor to improve at. Without a standard, we cannot measure our progress. If you cannot measure progress, how can you determine the degree and rate of improvement? What we pay attention to grows and strengthens, what we neglect will contract and wither. This is universal to any facet of life.

Attention is active; it requires conscious, focused effort on the task at hand. When you practice at the range do you measure your group sizes? Do you time yourself for various drills or on reload speed? Do you record your results at various distances on various drills?

If you do, bravo. If not, you should be. Just like going to the gym, we must measure both our successes and failures to determine where we are on the path. If you are not recording and measuring your results, you are flailing, half-blind, striving towards an unknown goal.

It is not enough to see some improvement, say, “I’m getting better,” and leave satisfied. You should be happy about your improvement, but if you are not setting and holding yourself to a standard, you are not properly preparing for the task.

Start your practice journal today. Make notes, record drills ran, drills aced and drills failed. Jot down thoughts and questions you have. Move your goals up. In a year’s time, you’ll look back on it in wonderment, that training journal being a testament to your improvement as well as entertaining.

All you’ll need for record keeping is a notebook, pencil, and a shot timer, or shot timer app for your smart phone. Yes, a decent shot timer is pricey, around $100.00, but the measurement and function it provides for training is invaluable. Get one, doctor’s orders.

Before you decide on an arbitrary standard of proficiency, it would be smart to examine the purpose, the objective, of your training and practice. In this instance, you are not practicing to win medals by punching holes in paper; you are practicing as preparation for a fight, a serious one.

What kind of fight? A real one, a fight where your assailants (as there will likely be more than one) are probably armed, will be moving, and the time and place of the attack will be of their choosing.

The fight will probably not wait for you to be in a perfect ready position with gun in hand; getting the gun swiftly into gear will be paramount. Likewise, the world’s supreme firearm is worth less than a wish if you cannot strike your attacker; shooting him where it counts is critical. Let this shape your mindset before you begin on the range.

You will have by now heard various aphorisms relating to expertise with a gun, and what element, speed or accuracy, is most important. The Great Ones that came before us have left to us their wisdom, and their sacrifices at the altar of knowledge were paid for with blood, fire and lead.

If you’ll take the time to look at their own words, past some of their zealous adherents, they will all tell you the truth.

The truth is that Speed and Accuracy are both crucial to winning a fight: lightning speed is worthless if it is not in the service of accurate delivery of force. Atom-splitting precision does no good if it is brought to bear too late. They are together the bedrock of expertise with a gun, both must be practiced simultaneously.

All of your standards when you train should revolve around these two metrics: How quickly were you able to fire accurately?

Other factors affect the difficulty: a target that is smaller, moving or farther away. Multiple targets. A particularly lean time standard on a difficult drill. Raising the bar is the only way you will be challenged enough to grow, but everyone started somewhere.

Like I mentioned in Part I perhaps you are a seasoned gunhand and realized you need to step your game up, or perhaps you are brand new to using a gun, “green”, and do not know how to order your practice properly for efficiency.

Below I will detail what I believe to be the most logical progression of skills to optimize the use of your time, and ammunition, on the road to mastery.

My methodology is based on the idea that foundational skills are exactly that, and everything that comes after them is only in service of those basic skills. Without those basic, elemental skills, your outcomes will rely more on chance or providence than ability.

Note other trainers may have a different approach or opinion, and that’s fine. They arrived at their beliefs by a different way, and there are many roads to success, and you’ll rarely get there by stopping to argue with passersby.

Keep an open mind to those who have something to teach you. Just understand that, once again, some will only help you by giving you an example of what not to do.

If you have not already, read Part I of this series for a broad overview of how one should progress through formalized training and education, and how to qualify a potential teacher, or source of information. This article is a detailed breakdown of the individual competencies that make a proficient shooter.

Note that the following competencies will be listed in ascending order, generally, meaning that one should have a firm grasp of the former before starting to implement the latter into practice or training, and are applicable to practice with pistols, rifles and shotguns.

Skill Progression

As you read the following list of competencies and description of where it fits into a shooter’s development, take a moment and give yourself an honest assessment of your own skills: do you have a standard? If not, do you have someone to compare yourself against?

Do you ever fail or flub your self-appointed objectives on the range? If the answer is no to all of these, you are probably not growing very much as a shooter from your practice.

Before you proceed, it may ease a few difficulties down the line if you know which of your eyes is dominant. If you already know, it is hopefully the same as your dominant hand.

If not, it may cause you difficulty when using a long gun, as you will not be able to efficiently pick up the sights when the gun is mounted on your dominant side, owing to the dominant eye being on the opposite side of your head.

Pistols present little difficulty in this regard as the amount of movement needed to reposition the pistol in front of the dominant eye is minimal, with either hand, and there is no stock to interfere. I will include a link below for a simple, reliable exercise to help determine your eye dominance if you are unsure.

Safe Gunhandling

This is the core skill absolute. If you do not, or cannot handle your guns safely at a near automatic level, you should go no further until it is so thoroughly engrained into your demeanor as to be second-nature.

Guns are positively deadly, and the slightest lapse in concentration or “innocent” mistake can mean death or permanent disfigurement for you, or someone else. At best, a negligent discharge can result in expensive and embarrassing property damage. I have listed this as a skill because it is, in that it must be practiced, refined, and improved.

No one picks up a gun and is intuitively safe with it. This is true of even old veterans and grandmaster-level competitors. The two greatest threats pertaining to safety are what I call the Twin Snakes: Ignorance and Complacency. Either one can invoke disaster. Ignorance may or may not be forgivable. A small child or untrained person does not know any better. You won’t have that excuse.

Ignorance comes in many guises, but Complacency is known only to the experienced. Complacency means in essence, that you know better, but did not do better. Complacency whispers, “I have been doing this so long, I am so good, I won’t make a mistake,” or, “I am just going to do a few practice draws. I don’t need to unload my pistol.” Do not give in to such hubris.

From the moment before you touch a gun to the moment after you put it away, engrave safe procedure in the forefront of your thought. You are worse than useless if you are a greater danger to yourself and others with your guns.

Remember the prime gun safety rules:

  • Always handle a gun as if it is loaded.
  • Keep your finger off of the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you have decided to fire.
  • Never let the muzzle point at anything you are not willing to destroy. This includes your body.
  • Know your target, your target’s background and your target’s foreground. (What will stop a round and what won’t? What is behind the target? What may come between me and the target?)

These rules are not just for the benefit of novices. Every shooter, greenhorn, grandmaster and professional alike must adhere to and practice them, be it on the range or in a shootout in some dusty corner of the world.

Read more about gun safety here.

Marksmanship

Marksmanship is best defined as the ability to hit a target, accurately, and on demand. To accomplish this, you should master the fundamentals of marksmanship: grip, stance, breath control, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control and follow through. Work them till you can stack a nice, tight group at 25 yards, minimum, and your goal should be a solid group on demand at 50 yards.

It is all too easy in our age of instant gratification to want to breeze past working the boring bulls-eye basics, and get to something more exciting and Instagram-worthy. Such a choice would only fool you, as Accuracy, as discussed above, is critical.

You will not be able to miss quickly enough to win a fight, and many a bad guy that has ever been on the receiving end of accurate fire, and survived, will tell you just how withering an effect it had on his plans for the intended victim. Included in this skill is the Presentation, or bringing the gun from your ready position to the target.

Everyone you see in any capacity that is shooting quickly and landing accurate hits is still applying the fundamentals above. They may be applying them very quickly, and in tough conditions, but applying them they are, and their easy expertise is the fruit of long and comparatively dull bulls-eye practice.

Don’t neglect it, and refine it at least once a session. Once you are reliable on a given distance or accuracy standard, make it harder: add a time constraint, or make your target smaller. Always think “growth.”

It is here that you may choose to start practicing with your pistol with only one hand, both dominant and non-dominant hands (typically referred to as shooting and support hands, respectively). Most shooters will not be proficient shooting one handed, but you should attain skill and confidence with either.

You may be forced to use one hand or the other die to injury, a wound, or simply having the other hand occupied with a task, like holding a phone, flashlight or a child. One-handed manipulations, including malfunction reduction and reloading should be practiced alongside two-handed repetitions.

Shoot the same drills you would normally with two-hands using only one. You will probably door poorly at first. If you are absolutely bombing on a given drill, reduce the difficulty by moving the target closer or easing the par time until you can shoot it cleanly, then try again at your “usual” standard.

The Draw, Reloads and Malfunction Reduction

These are the skills that get the gun running, and keep it running. The draw, for handguns, or unslinging a long gun, is essential to get the gun into your hands quickly where you can do work with it. If the gun never leaves the holster in time, or stays on your shoulder, it is useless.

If you carry concealed, after obtaining safety and fluency drawing when unconcealed, you should switch to drawing from concealment using the typical type of apparel you would wear when carrying. This will add a considerable amount of complexity to the draw, but it must be done. The focus on the draw should be speed and consistency.

Make sure you do not allow your trigger finger to enter the trigger guard on the draw, and never, ever be in a hurry to reholster.

Yes, the no-look, speedy reholster looks sexy as can be on social media, but the chances of a shooter fumbling that particular movement is high, resulting in a negligent discharge, aka a “crash on landing.” This will be doubly true after a real fight.

When you reholster, take the time to look at the holster, and ensure the mouth is clear of any obstructions or debris that may enter the trigger guard and actuate the trigger. Things like coat pulls and excess fabric from a garment are notorious for this, to say nothing of trigger fingers.

If you are using a hammer-fired pistol, place the shooting hand thumb on top of the hammer firmly as you reholster.

This simple procedure will let you know if anything is impinging on the trigger, as you will feel the hammer move against your thumb with a double-action gun, or your thumb will prevent the hammer from falling home with a single-action, preventing a discharge.

You should practice reloads whenever possible, and always with deliberation. Do not perform a “range reload”, where one sets the gun down after a drill to check their target, or fiddle with sights, or jaw-jack with a neighbor, and then leisurely reload the gun for the next string: when the gun goes empty, treat it as the emergency it is and reload it quickly.

Reloading an empty gun with speed when it is empty is known as a “speed” or “emergency” reload. This must be done properly so as to not induce a malfunction.

You should also spend a little practice a reload with retention, sometimes called a “tactical” reload. This is typically done to exchange the partially expended magazine in the gun for a fully loaded one while re-stowing the partial magazine on your person for later use.

It is my opinion that this skill is given too much attention and training time, and you should be focusing predominately on practicing speed reloads. Like your pistol, your reloads, if carried concealed, should also be produced from concealment when practicing.

Malfunction reduction must be practiced at this phase, and done so on purpose, typically after being deliberately setup or induced; modern guns and ammo are very reliable, and if you wait until one occurs naturally you will not get in much malfunction practice!

Describing and detailing the various types of malfunctions for different guns, and how to set them up for practice is beyond the scope of this article, but you should be practicing reducing and clearing the various types of malfunctions depending on how they manifest in your particular firearms.

You should always handle a live malfunction or malfunction drill with urgency when practicing, the only exception being a suspected squib, or a bullet lodged in the bore, which should halt the drill and be cleared carefully. The consequences of shooting behind a squib are severe, and include a destroyed gun at best and likely injury.

A note on terminology: “malfunction” or “stoppage” is the correct term for a mechanical failure of the normal cycle of operations in a gun, be it naturally occurring or user induced. “Jam” is a slang term, and generally frowned upon.

Movement and Positions

Once the proceeding skills are all firmly under your belt, it is time to start implementing movement to your practice. Moving in response to a sudden threat, to take better advantage of cover, or open up a safe line of fire, all of these are different reasons to move and are practiced slightly differently.

Note that anything you have done before this point, to include drawing, firing, and reloading you should work toward being able to accomplish on the move. This is not to say you will always be moving when you fire or reload, but moving should not be hindrance if the situation calls for it.

Positions should be included based on their efficacy at taking advantage of cover and concealment or because it is one assumed either to find a clear line of fire or because you happened to find yourself in it at the opening of an attack.

Positions can include “traditional” ones like kneeling, and prone, or more esoteric ones such as “urban prone” (lying on side), supine (lying on back), sitting in a chair at a desk or in a vehicle or squatting.

Practice assuming, firing in and leaving a position separately, and make sure you pay particular attention to keeping your gun pointed in a safe direction while doing so, as many are very unnatural at first.

You should begin now, if you have not already in previous training start to incorporate practice on multiple targets, and moving targets if at all possible.

Multiple targets could be something as rudimentary as several bulls-eyes on a target, thus forcing you to move the gun and reacquire your sights, scattered, unique, silhouettes or shapes, forcing a level of discernment and judgment into the firing process.

Not all targets are suited for all practice objectives, and should be selected based on your desired improvement for the training day.

One of the best ways to test your combined movement and positional skills is in a course of fire during a action competition or training class. A typical course of fire will require a student to move to and through various stations that call for different positioning to make a shot.

Doing so under both time and accuracy standards will test your mettle, and overall competency. Even simple drills, easily arranged for practice, like starting supine, simulating a knockdown, then  firing, recovering to kneeling and firing, and then standing and firing on the move, require little ammo or setup and pay dividends.

Low-Light Training and Flashlight Usage

The chances that you will need to use your gun in conditions of low or no light are high. As such, you must place high priority on utilizing a handheld or weapon-mounted light in conjunction with your firearm. This is not as simple as merely switching on a light and blasting away.

Proper practice will include drawing the light with the pistol, various positions for holding a handheld light alone or with the gun and safe searching techniques. Techniques with a WML will include activation, and using the weapon-light for searching or illumination safely. Note that there may very well be room for both in your EDC setup, but if you only train with one, make it a handheld light.

Low-light theory and best procedures is a dissertation all by itself. Light is necessary to see and positively ID a threat in dark conditions, and a great benefit, but brings with it drawbacks.

Our assailants will also be able to see the light, and used clumsily, it may telegraph our movements, give away or even illuminate our position to return fire.

Do not be surprised at how badly degraded your overall accuracy and coordination will be when trying to manage a flashlight beam with one hand and pistol with the other. It is easy for the wheels to pop off here.

A WML will greatly simplify getting illumination where you need to shoot, while still allowing you to shoot accurately, but comes with drawbacks, like increased size and bulk of the pistol, and the likelihood of covering someone with the muzzle before a decision to fire has been made when searching with it.

This was a tough set of skills to place in the hierarchy, as one could make a great case for introducing it earlier given its importance to overall readiness. That is a fair argument, and I would not fault anyone for practicing flashlight usage starting earlier, after one is comfortable with the draw and reloads.

Going Beyond and Supplemental Skills

After attaining fluency in all of the above skills, one may look beyond to start honing such skills as close-quarters fighting, to include grappling with the gun, defending against weapon takeaways and perhaps using a knife in conjunction with the gun, typically in support of halting a gun grab.

Empty-hand skills are vital to disengage from an assailant and gain the necessary distance to get your gun into gear. Force-on-Force training with paint-marking simulator guns is, again, positively invaluable for testing all of your skills holistically, and done properly, nothing shy of an actual attack will even come close on stress or exertion for a trainee.

I am an advocate of mastering a gun, or two, at a time, and not spending money on a collection or wasting time chasing the latest hot-rod gadget in lieu of training and practice.

That being said, a well-rounded shooter is expected to be passable to fluent on a variety of weapons, and once you are competent with your issue or personal gun, there is merit in learning on other, common makes of firearms.

You never know if you will be afforded the opportunity to make use of a “battlefield pickup” or a friend’s or relative’s guns. The ability to do well with the tools at hand is valuable indeed.

Modern firearms are supremely durable and reliable, but they are still machines and can still break, or components will simply wear out from use and need replacement. The average owner can easily strip and clean his gun, but replacing any part other than a major component group will require a higher degree of specialist knowledge, and a specific tool or two.

Being able to diagnose and repair common breakages or chronic malfunctions in a gun will go a long way toward reducing reliance on others and also developing confidence in both the gun itself, and your abilities. With enough expertise and experience, you will begin to notice the subtle changes in operation of a particular gun that may betray a part about to fail.

This is a sort of sixth-sense not unlike an automotive technician knowing the “moans and groans” of a car, and discerning what attention it may require before a roadside breakdown occurs.

Conclusion

Growth is what separates great shooters from the merely competent. Mastery and perfection are always around the next bend in the road; we constantly strive for it, but will never truly obtain it if we keep out attitudes in the right place. To unlock the growth we want, we must try, and often fail.

Our standards should be just out of reach, forcing us to stretch and change and adapt to reach them. Just like anything else.

There is no magic to it. It is putting in work, paying attention to the results, and then stretching for the next milestone. With a little forethought, you will find that even intermittent practice can yield great increases in your abilities.

Familiarity is not competency. The small investment you make in professional training is an investment in yourself, and the return-on-investment is incalculable.

Do not wait to be tested in the uttermost extreme. Good training, and continual practice, can and will give you the confidence and hard-wired skills you need to prevail in a lethal encounter. Get trained, keep it loaded, and keep it close.

Practice does not make perfect. Practice may not even make permanent. You will only get out of your training and practice as much as you put in to practicing with an end-state in mind. Standards must be implemented and then tracked for growth to occur. And even then, if you do not religiously chart your own progress, much of the value can be lost.

That concludes my mega-article on firearms training. I do hope you enjoyed it, but more importantly, learned where you are now heading on your road to excellence with the gun, or at least identified a weak point in your personal skillset that could use some polish.

Have you signed up for any training? What are your favorite drills when at the practice range? Let us know in the comments below!

updated 01/25/2022

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7 thoughts on “Firearms Training for the Average Prepper”

  1. Become the weapon then learn how to use one.
    Bad things can happen at the worst possible time in the worst possible place when you are least prepared, you have your firearm along with an ammunition malfunction, what might avert an irreversible catastrophe your dedicated previous weapons training or your lack of it??

  2. In defensive shotgun shells, #00 Buck will work adequately, and is usually fairly available. #1 Buck may work as well, but is likely to be hard to find. #4 Buck seems generally to be regarded as the superior defensive load.

    I’m surprised at the statement that “a rifle can do nearly everything you need a shotgun to do in a fight, and can do with a much lower ceiling for proficiency, meaning your training evolutions and practice reps will generally show gains quicker on a rifle than a shotgun.” Do you have any idea why this would be? Within the range of a shotgun, it has been my experience that the shotgun is easier to become proficient with. As long as we are talking about a rifle with equivalent recoil and effectiveness. I can see that becoming good with a .223/5.56 would be quicker and easier than a shotgun due to the negligent recoil of the small caliber rifle. However, that particular round is not noted for it’s ability to reliably stop an attacker.

    1. Hey, John. 00 buck is a mainstay for good reason, and an appropriate No.1 buck load is considered to be the “ideal” all-purpose antipersonnel load if using buckshot if you can procure it.

      I am a little fuzzy on the math, so don’t beat me up too badly on it, but I recall seeing the numbers calculated as an average No.1 buck load of 16 .30 caliber pellets producing a cross-sectional area of 1.15 inches, whereas the average 00 buck load of 9 .33 caliber pellets produces a cross-sectional are of .78 inches. Those numbers refer to the areal amount of total permanent tissue destruction with a strike of all pellets. Both penetrate adequately. No.4 buck on the other hand is much smaller, penetrates less, and struggles with intermediate barriers. It is far from wimpy, but is definitely suboptimal.

      Regarding achieving proficiency with the shotgun, it is my opinion that the greater recoil of the shotgun is a factor, but not the prime one: while easier to hit with, generally, shotguns are much heavier, have far less capacity and are far more shooter intensive to keep loaded and firing compared to any magazine fed firearm, especially pump action shotguns. The mental workload on a shooter to use a shotgun effectively is higher. Add to that the higher likelihood of user-induced malfunctions, and a far more complicated firing solution procedure owing to the necessity of changing loads for targets at “long” ranges (ranges that are easy for any rifle), considerable background threat to bystanders with buckshot at extended ranges, and overall low endurance due to weight and bulk of ammo, and it turns into a cost-benefit analysis: you will sacrifice much, and must train hard, to benefit from the stompy goodness of buckshot at close range without hobbling yourself beyond, whereas the rifle will certainly grievously wound someone both in the room and at 200+ yards with only a slight change in hold. A shotgun can be effective at longer ranges with a slug, but you are still hampered by low capacity, formidable recoil and reduced accuracy compared to nearly any rifle.

      I would disagree with the assertion that the 5.56mm is a poor stopper. Most modern 5.56mm loads are effective, and many optimized expanding loads are extremely effective in the defensive or LE roles. In the pantheon of rifle cartridges, the 5.56mm or .223 Rem. may be puny, but both are an order of magnitude more effective than any handgun, and, considering all the other perks that they bring to the table, the current ideal choice in performance and logistics for the average professional or civilian in the general purpose defensive role.

      Thanks for reading!

      1. Where have you found #1 buck shells with 16 pellets? All the ones I’ve found have 12. The numbers for #4 are much better, but as you say, penetration is less. But I was astonished to find that #1 seems to be the same price as #00, and #4 seems to have gone way up, now approaching twice the price of #00 and #1

        The shotgun is a short range weapon and the rifle is a long range weapon. I can see how if you have to choose one over the other, the rifle would be easier to learn and more effective at short range than the shotgun is at long range. It would be best to learn both, but rifle first (or only) could be good for many people.

        With the appropriate ammunition, yes the 5.56 is entirely adequate. I suspect many people buy what is cheap (or readily available) rather than what is effective.

        1. I do not have the item SKU’s off the top of my head, but Winchester and Remington both produce 16 pellet No.1 shotshells. Federal offers (or did at one point recently) a Flitecontrol load with 15 pellets of No.1 buck, and it is a dynamite all-purpose buckshot load. I do recall seeing the typical Federal loads as being 12 pellet, as you mentioned.

          At any rate, No.1 buck is comparatively rare because few companies make much of it. They don’t make much because people aren’t asking for it, and so on and so on. The price is going to be comparable to 00, so no savings there.

          Thanks as always for the thoughtful discourse, and for reading, John!

  3. If you get to the point where you need to be shooting people, you have failed to anticipate developments. Anybody who would involve themselves and their family in a shooting situation can’t say they prepared. In WWII, when tens of millions of people were dying in Europe and Asia, others went to restaurants and the opera in Argentina. Many citizens from Japan and Germany saw the war clouds forming and got out of harm’s way. That is what a true prepper does. It’s a big world, and there is always a peaceful, prosperous place to raise your family.

    1. Hi, Roddy. I do agree that most confrontations can be avoided if one is alert, and quick to take action to avoid trouble. However, the reality is that sometimes a fight cannot be avoided, and if that is the case it would behoove one to be able to both survive and prevail.

      Fleeing a brewing war is on a somewhat more forgiving timetable than a mugging on the street or home invasion at 2:30am.

      Thanks for reading!

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