Chances are as a prepper you know that your self-defense skills have to be on point if you are going to fend of attackers, even multiple attackers. Most of you either carry a firearm or keep one handy at home for repelling unwanted visitors so you know how important regular and relevant practice is to keeping your edge.
You watch YouTube to get tips from experts, read articles like this one and even attend training classes to hone your skills from the best teachers in the land. And of course you go to the range regularly to shoot bullseyes. And shoot bullseyes. And shoot bullseyes…
Yes, you’d love to really work your firearms skills at full speed and using a variety of challenging evolutions, but there is just one problem: your local range is highly restrictive, and what’s worse they are the only game in town.
You might be able to shoot the wings off a gnat but you can feel your more advanced techniques and that knowing feeling you get when you are “on” start to atrophy. What is a serious shooter to do?
It is a problem that affects more serious students of the gun than you’d think. In this article, I’ll be offering up some tips and advice on how to creatively practice your more advanced and dynamic skills when you have an army of old-fashioned Fudd range officers against you.
The Importance of Good Practice
Shooting is an interesting exercise. While shooting is 90% mental, the mental and physical elements of firing a gun must be executed together, correctly and smoothly, for good results.
Shooting, especially close range combative shooting, is more art than science. Executed well and quickly, a shooter can deliver accurate aimed fire to a precise location on a small target in an impressive display of prowess that looks about as easy as reaching out to switch off a light.
That speed and grace, as with all such endeavors, belies a considerable amount of practice, refinement and continual repetition.
By “greasing the groove” the precisely, finely calculated elements of aiming and firing- sight alignment, sight picture, confirmation, correct trigger press, follow-through, reacquisition- come together seemingly on their own without much thought. This is the result of much practice of specific skills done regularly.
When performed while the shooter, target or both are moving, or the shooter must first draw from concealment or maintain accurate fire through reloads, repositioning and more challenges, the results are truly impressive.
But mark my words, even if that last paragraph describes you to a T, you are only a long layoff away from losing it. Shooting is not like riding a bike. You may not ever truly regress to noob status, but so much of what makes decent shooters great relies on very subtle manipulations, layering of focus and mental task switching at appropriate speeds.
If you don’t get in live fire practice, your skills will start to degrade. Dry fire can help slow this loss, but not forever. If you stop practice of all kinds for weeks or months, you’ll definitely be suffering from the “yips” when you clear leather next time.
Even worse, a long hiatus from shooting and gun handling, many months, even years, will dissolve much of the higher-level procedural memory that we must maintain in order to perform at our peak even under stress. More than most things, shooting skills are a “use it or lose it proposition.”
Isn’t Just Shooting Good Enough? Any Shooting?
While practice, any practice is better than none at all, you must not be complacent and allow yourself to think that simply shooting slow fire bulls on paper all day is adequate for developing or retaining the skills necessary to prevail in a fight.
A boxer cannot train to win a fight throwing only one punch or one combination to the exclusion of all else. He cannot do abs work and neglect cardio or footwork expecting to win against a determined opponent.
Yes, accuracy is an essential element of gunfighting– you cannot miss fast enough to win- but it is also not the only ingredient in the recipe. Speed must be present in equal measure. You must be able to correctly and quickly assess a potential threat and engage, from concealment accordingly.
You must be able to deal with attackers who are in-your-face bad-breath close and do so in a way that protects your gun and keeps you from shooting your own body by accident. You better believe that requires specific and specialized drills to practice.
Even when you complete an intensive class on all of these skills and feel positively lethal at the end of it, and proud of your newfound skill ceiling, you cannot rest on your laurels.
You will never be finished, never be good enough, never be set. You will only be as good as you can stay, and that means regular and thorough practice that flexes all of the right “muscles” in your repertoire: working speed and accuracy, shooting from concealment, shooting while moving, or at a moving target. Shooting at multiple targets.
Working very-close quarters, contact and retention shooting techniques. If you aren’t practicing a technique or tactic at least periodically it is rusting away. Depend on it.
The outcome of the fight may be decided by luck, and it may be decided by who wants to win the most, but it will most often be decided by skill. It is prior to the fight in practice, both frequency and fidelity, where the victor most often will be decided.
Tips, Tricks, Hacks and Work-Arounds
I myself have dealt with all kinds of snags, prohibitions, rules-lawyers and spoiled sports over the years that were damned, bound and determined to keep me or a client from getting good work in.
If it wasn’t a prohibition from drawing from a holster it was “rapid” fire being verboten. I hardly think one round every couple of seconds is rapid, but apparently that staggering rate of fire is a disaster waiting to happen.
So, faced with such opposition and a distinct lack of choices for commercial venue, what can you do? Maybe you can find a friend or associate with some land that will let you shoot on it if it is safe (and their palms are appropriately greased).
You can just toe the line and follow the rules, not like you have much choice: shooting ranges are rightly and notoriously non-lenient with rule-breakers. Or you can quit, take your gun and go home.
None of those are likely viable. So what can you do to work your skills in a reasonable and effective way without driving past the backside of beyond to a good range or wasting your life, ammo and time plinking away in a Fuddian square range? Simple: you improvise!
You adapt, hack and carry on. In the following sections, I will detail a few of my favorite tips, techniques, work-arounds and gadgets for getting in quality practice reps on a variety of skills, no matter your location, budget or how draconian your friendly local range is to the idea of you practicing properly.
Working Rapid Fire, Target Transitions, Reloads, etc.
It seems there are ranges out here that will get in your craw if you do anything with a gun in your hand faster than what can be timed with a calendar. This even includes reloads sometimes. Jeeze!
To get around this, you can of course lean on your dryfire regimen (and you should) but what can you do when you want to get in actual shots on target at something faster than a snail’s pace?
One word: Airsoft. Yes, a modern day BB gun. While often derided as gamey poseur B.S. by hard-charging fire-breathing shooters, professionals understand the value of these as training aids and supplements within their limitations.
A proper airsoft gun will functionally replicate your pistol or rifle out to modest range (by airgun standards) with surprising accuracy. Their weight, function, and controls can be functionally identical. They can even feature reciprocating slides and bolts!
Using an airsoft gun allows you to set up a range almost anywhere with far less risk of damage and noise. So long as your backstop cannot be dented by the BB’s and there are no fragile or breakable items, the sky is the limit.
Set up an array of targets for working transitions, and use your shot timer with the sensitivity dialed way up to work splits and draws-to-first-shot.
Speed reloads and more are possible with these handy tools. You can pump the fidelity of your airsoft-reps up even more by making sure it is kitted out as close as possible to your “real steel”: sights, grips, lights, etc.
A good air soft gun that is worthy of being used in this way will be expensive, often costing upwards of several hundred dollars.
While that is a chunk of change for what is ultimately a fake gun, consider it a savvy investment in your personal growth. The good news is that their BBs are dirt cheap compared to live cartridges and the ones that run off gas use a very inexpensive propellant.
Airsoft guns are also highly valuable for practicing all the other evolutions below. It’s worth mentioning: always, always, always wear eye protection when shooting one of these! No exceptions!
Moving and Advancing Targets, Movement
If you are not shooting at an exceptionally well equipped commercial range or your own private one you probably do not have access to moving targets of any kind. Shooting against moving targets is an important skill to develop since your assailant will almost certainly be moving in the fight.
It seems impossible to work on moving targets or practice your own footwork outside of a class or competition on a nice outdoor range, but have no fear, Charles is here.
So long as you have some private land to shoot on and a training partner or coach you can work this live fire for a minor investment of money and labor. Alternately you can break out the airsoft gun again and do this in the backyard so long as your neighbors don’t call the cops on you.
For shooting on a laterally moving target, head to the hardware store and pick up either a good length of pine or some medium diameter PVC pipe and various couplers. I’ll spare you any exact details on this because I have ad-hoc’d these together so many differ ways I don’t have a standard method myself.
The idea is you build a light weight, shot-safe frame to hold your target and then attach to the side and perpendicular to the target’s surface a long, shot-safe pole that your training partner or coach can control from behind you. If you are having a hard time visualizing this, just think of a target frame on a long wand that runs back behind your position.
All the end of the pole needs is some ballast- a sandbag, sack of brass or dirt, etc.- and your training buddy will have little trouble managing it effectively. It might take a little fiddling to get it dialed in for balance and comfortable, but not too long.
Now, to shoot on your fancy-pants moving target you can just have your partner move laterally left or right, or alternately retreat from the firing line to make the target charge your position. The nature of the target holder will add in a natural bob, increasing the difficulty.
With a little role-playing (vocalizations, etc.) this is actually pretty good practice. The key takeaways are to make sure your materials that you use to construct the frame and wand are shot-safe, meaning they have none or virtually no ricochet risk and will not shrap if struck by bullets.
So wood and PVC or other plastics are your go-tos here. Staples are acceptable for attaching a target to the frame if using wood.
Retention and Contact Shooting
Shooting from close-contact positions is a chronically under-practiced skill for civilian shooters. It is the rare environment outside of a class that will let you attempt such techniques for fear of hurting yourself or someone else.
Contact and retention shooting involves putting rounds into a target that is literally inside arms length, often shooting “from the hip” with the gun below eye level (properly a high- or mid- pectoral or Position 3 index), and sometimes having your support hand on the target as well.
As you might imagine, this is a fairly perilous operation and one you should not undertake without proper previous training from a knowledgeable instructor. That being said, so long as you know what you are doing, it is easy enough to get in good reps without live fire.
The lion’s share of contact and retention shooting is building a consistent, repeatable position so you can deliver accurate fire and keep the rest of your limbs clear of the line of fire. Much of this can be done dry paying scrupulous attention to proper indexing of the gun.
For more intensive reps, you have a few options. You can make use of the now-ubiquitous Body Opponent Bag (BOB, but not that BOB!), a half human torso and head made of dense rubber, adjustable for height. Using Mr. BOB allows you to physically grapple a humaniform stimulant while you get the gun into gear.
Another option is to use a laser training device that will discharge a laser beam when fired. The SIRT Pistol is one of the most well known and best examples of this tech, but the old laser bore sighters that drop fully into the chamber like a cartridge are also acceptable.
With either, you can draw and build your position normally while observing for the splash of the laser dot on your target, be it BOB, another training aid, or even a paper target.
When the time comes to go live fire, your technique should be more or less ingrained and you should expect good accuracy from your efforts. Your biggest hurdle will be acclimatizing to blast and handling recoil one handed. Even so, this type of improvised retention and contact shooting practice is invaluable for working up to live fire.
Where there is a will there is a way. I have successfully employed all kinds of improvised equipment aids, workarounds and outright jackleg cobbling to get good practice in. I have shot everything from a swinging can suspended from twine to working tempo and timing to a metronome.
It was stupid, it wasn’t cool, and it definitely wasn’t Instagram-worthy, but it did work! Or at least work better than doing nothing, or just punching bullseyes when I needed to be honing harder skills.
So long as you can work what you need to work safely in a way that will translate effectively to live fire with your real gun, you should consider it if time and resources allow.
Uptight ranges with restrictive rules don’t have to be an obstacle to quality practice evolutions if you have the will and the know-how. Improvised solutions may not be as efficient as equivalent live fire practice reps, but they are effective enough to warrant your time and attention.
Be creative in seeking solutions and you can get in some good trigger time wherever you are.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.