Firearms Training and Qualification
Top Tips for Success
by John Tate

The following will give you some reminders on how to polish your techniques to maximize your firearms training and qualification results. Of late I’ve been working with a person who had developed a flinch. Beating it has been hard. Here is some counsel and resources I provided.

You must do your homework between now and then. Here are some aids.

Anticipation, flinch, whatever you want to call it, is a mental problem, not a physical one. (It is your mind that tells your body what to do.)

Below you’ll find more content in which to aid in improving shooting skills, which means defeating shooting weaknesses. Specifically, review the section on “shooting a pencil.” There are also links to videos by Olympian Keith Sanderson. I advise you to Google that name and you’ll find several others worth studying.

Regarding McGivern’s book, it’s available in a nice, inexpensive reprint.

ISBN-10: 1-60239-086-X
ISBN-13: 978-1-60239-086-7

For his trigger drills, see pages 120 – 122 in that book and, to a lesser degree pp 174-175. See in particular the last line on page 122: “The trigger should be allowed to go forward as the same rate of speed as that at which it was drawn back, whether quickly or slowly.”

Also, I respectfully draw your attention to this quote from page 175: “Trigger control is the “mystery” underlying all of these seemingly marvelous performances, and nothing else can ever take its place for successful results in double-action revolver shooting.”

A closing thought. You’ve heard the aphorism, Practice Makes Perfect. That is quite wrong! Practice makes permanent! Only Perfect Practice makes Perfect.

Every time you flinch, you are teaching yourself to do that again. Every time you beat that flinch by depressing attention to the BOOM and focus solely on the basics, especially of sight alignment and trigger control, you are teaching yourself to do that again.

The above is one reason I say, to learn to shoot, you must NOT shoot – instead, you must dry fire.In your case (as with all others who have developed a flinch), you cannot progress until you defeat the flinch.

I strongly encourage you to do some dry fire practice before coming to the range. The price is right and the results will mirror the effort you put into that practice.
Marksmanship Training for Law Enforcement

Understand that marksmanship is not combat shooting. It is merely one aspect of combat shooting, but it does not directly involve the issues related to deciding whether to draw your weapon or to fire. Those circumstantial issues determine when you execute the mechanical acts of (A) drawing and (B) firing, mechanical acts in which (B) does not necessarily accompany (A)!

1. Safety (Four Rules)
– Guns are “always” loaded.
– Never let Muzzle cover something you’re not willing to destroy
– Keep finger off trigger & out of trigger guard until ready to shoot
– Be sure of your target and what’s behind it

2. Types of Handguns
– Revolvers
– Self-Loading (semi-automatic)
– Break Action (e.g., Derringer, Thompson Center Contender)

3. Sizes & Calibers of munitions
– Street => .38spl or larger.
– CC => Same
– Back-up => .22 min; suggest .380 or larger

4. Operation & Maintenance
– “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”
– Revolver (single & double action)
– Self-Loading (single & double action)

5. Marksmanship Basics (all apply to handgun (gun), rifle, and shotgun)
– Foundation
– Natural Point of Aim
– Bone, not muscle
– Standing
– Kneeling
– Sitting
– Prone

– Draw/Grip/Discharge
– Interrogation stance
– Elbow UP!
– Thrust down, firm grip, retention release
– Draw & Rotate to Retention Firing Position
– Thrust Straight Out/Meet “Weak” Hand to Push-Pull Grip
– Sights & Trigger

– Discussion of Draw/Grip/Discharge

– Interrogation stance
Start with you body “bladed” (i.e., turned about 45°) such that your gun side is away from the interviewee (or in the case of shooting, the target). Why?
The positives are: It places your firearm away from your opponent; it pre-positions you in a fighting stance; it somewhat facilitates a modified, push-pull grip. And, with time, you will find a stance that is comfortable and provides the foundation for a natural point of aim should you need to fire quickly.
There is one significant negative: it opens up the gap in the side of body armor making you vulnerable to a side shot.
In the “interrogation stance,” start with your hands either holding paper and pen (as in a ticket book and pen) or folded (but NOT with fingers interlaced) over each other at waist level … probably with non-shooting hand on top.
While in this position, your eyes are on the scene, evaluating potential threats. Given that threats exist, you evaluate the greatest threat – the one to be engaged first if necessary.

– “Draw-by-the-Numbers.” The idea is to segregate each discrete, sequential step so that each can be studied and practiced individually and assembled in groups as needed.
– (1) Elbow UP!
When you decide to draw, I have found I am:
(A) Faster! and,
(B) I am more Successful in the next step if I draw my shooting hand’s elbow forcefully and fully UP so that my shooting hand is now along my side and directly over my gun’s grip. This is in contrast to moving my hand in a backward, arching movement where I have to “remember” where to stop for the next step.
– (2) Thrust down, firm grip, retention release. Once (1) is accomplished, thrust down very forcefully. Why? Two benefits for two situations.
(A) If someone is trying to disarm you, a preferred defensive tactic is to place your hand over his (or your gun if he hasn’t gotten his hand on it), and press down as forcefully as you can, thus trapping the gun (and his hand), while you spin sway.
(B) By pressing down forcefully, you are preparing to build a solid grip on the gun’s butt, and, for thumb break holsters, you are moving in a manner to facilitate an unambiguous move to break that retention.
– (3) Draw & Rotate to Retention Firing Position. As with the “elbow up” move, I found making the “draw & rotate” a distinct movement speeds my first good shot. But, there is another benefit: this is the “close attack, weapon retention” firing position. That is, you need to know how to draw and fire as soon as the gun clears the holster. To avoid shooting yourself, integrating the rotate with the draw builds a healthy habit.
– (4) Thrust Straight Out/Meet “Weak” Hand to Push-Pull Grip. If you have a gun with a full-cock safety, such as a Colt 1911 or clone, now the safety comes off. If you are in a “close attach, weapon retention” situation, you are ready to fire. If you intend to make either a semi-aimed or aimed shot, you have the gun leveled and at least approximately on target while you are building your two-hand grip and then building a sight picture.
(A) Building the two-hand grip. Press the forward-moving shooting hand into the other. Wrap your non-shooting hand’s fingers over and between the others. Squeeze the non-shooting hand’s fingers gently while, executing a moderate push-pull with the two hands.
(B) The “push-pull” maneuver is important! Push out with the shooting hand while pulling back moderately with the non-shooting hand. This combination will give you a better foundation for the first shot and keep your two hands together upon recoil which, due simply to increased mass, will speed recovery from recoil, and will keep the shooting foundation built so it need not be rebuilt.
– (5) Sights & Trigger. Aligning the sights, initiating a trigger pull (or press), and building a sight picture are three distinct acts that can happen in most any order, depending on the situation.
(A) If you must get your shot off as fast as possible, initiating the trigger pull is #1; then doing the best you can to align the sights simultaneously with moving those sights to center-mass, is #2.
(B) Your eyes are on the target, and peripherally on adjacent potential targets. If you have a moderate amount of time to get off an aimed first shot (e.g. the 2 shots in 2 seconds drill), I suggest that initiating the trigger pull is #1, however your intention is for the shot to break when the sights are aligned and over center-mass. I try to accomplish this as follows:
(i.) When the gun clears the holster and is rotated, the safety comes off and my finger goes into the trigger guard.
(ii.) As I build my two-hand grip, I “find the trigger” but apply no pressure. This establishes a foundation for a “low ready” position which I can maintain indefinitely.
(iii.) If circumstances warrant, by employing a smooth, steady, continuous and relatively slow trigger press that I initiate while I am aligning my sights. This means I have made the decision to fire! With my eyes on the target’s center of mass, I watch for the front sight to move into that line of sight, then while continuing and progressing with smooth, steady, continuous and relatively slow trigger press, I continue to improve/perfect the sight picture until the gun goes off.

– Breathing. First, breathing, especially deep, slow breathing helps calm you. In a shooting situation, restoring and maintaining as much calm as possible is a good thing. Secondly, you can’t hit what you can’t see, and you can’t see well if you are not providing oxygen to your brain and eyes. You should NOT attempt to adapt your breathing to your shooting unless you are engaged in deliberate, carefully aimed shots such as:
– with a pistol: head shots, at or beyond 15 yard body shots;
– with a rifle or shotgun: shots at or beyond 35 ~ 50 yards.

– Sight Alignment (Front Sight! Verify Visual Focus Possible). Given that you are employing your sights for an aimed shot, with any firearm, your physical and mental focus should be on the front sight. Why? Especially with a pistol where you only have 5 ~ 7 inches between front and rear sight, a tiny alignment error results is a huge displacement of bullet impact. (With a red-dot sight or cross-hairs, those are your “front sight” and your physical and mental focus should still be there.)

– Sight Picture (Front Sight!) This is merely moving properly aligned sights over the desired point of impact.

– Trigger Control. In concept, this is the simplest aspect of shooting: make the firearm discharge without disturbing the sight picture. I accomplishment, it is the hardest aspect of shooting, especially with BIG guns. Why? Quite simply, your mind knows that having this semi-explosion go off in your hand and/or beating up your face and shoulder is not natural – it’s disturbing – it’s hard to ignore. And ignoring it is a key to effective shooting.
The best, in fact by far the best way to train your mind to ignore the noise and recoil experienced with live fire is to engage in hours and hours of dry fire. The Marines, who largely taught me proper shooting, say you should spend 4 ~ 5 hours of dry fire for every hour of live fire. And this does not change from novice to master. (Several dry fire drills are provided below.)

– Follow-Through (Hammer Falls – then Nothing except ‘calling your shot’) There is no better example or explanation for follow-through than this demonstration by Olympic International Rapid Fire Pistol and US Army Reserve Team Champion SFC Keith Sanderson. Go to:

Stance & Grip are “personal preference.” I recommend shooting from “interrogation stance” with “mod-Weaver” arm/hand position: “Push-Pull”
Breathe naturally – or, when actually trying to shoot, hold breath (about 1/2 normal lung capacity) so as to steady the “foundation” for firing.
Align front & rear sights; VISUAL FOCUS ON FRONT SIGHT!
Place top of front sight on top of target; put top of front sight exactly under/on desired point of impact.
If shot is to be hurried, squeeze/press trigger while improving sight picture

6. Dry Fire Exercises (Training with an UNLOADED firearm!)
– “McGivern” trigger exercises
– Draw by the numbers; repeat & repeat for 10 minutes
– Shoot the TV
– “Shoot a Pencil”

All dry fire exercises employ ALL the same BASIC handgun marksmanship elements without the noise, recoil, need for shooting facilities or expense of ammunition. And, it’s easy to “call your shot.” Thus ALL dry fire exercises, if executed properly, promote development of the consistent techniques that will achieve consistent results: accurate fire, that is hitting the target with the degree of precision that is sufficient for the task at hand. (Combat shooting does not usually require a high degree of precision.)

Ed McGivern’s trigger exercises will strengthen physical awareness and mental discipline to allow mental focus on marriage of sight picture and trigger movement as opposed to discharge. (Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting; ISBN 0-8329-0557-7.) The McGivern trigger drills are dry firing drills performed in stages:

1st. Single action, Two Handed. Go through all dry fire sequences. Focus on having hammer fall without any sight movement. First, very slowly. Then, with time and mastery of keeping solid sight alignment, faster and faster. Faster and faster until satisfied that you’re snapping as fast as you can. One very important element: move the trigger finger back and forth at the SAME speed; slow back => slow forward; fast back => fast forward. The idea, of course, is to make the trigger finger move independently of the other 4 fingers and the hand itself.
2nd. Single action, Strong Hand. As above.
3rd. Single action, Weak Hand. As above.
4th. Double Action, Two Handed. As above.
5th. Double Action, Strong Hand. As above.
6th. Double Action, Weak Hand. As above.

Now – think about it – why does the weak hand train the strong hand? It doesn’t. It trains the brain! That is what we’re trying to train … the brain!

“Shoot the TV.” Sit in “easy chair” with an unloaded gun. Upon stimulus, raise and fire as fast as possible. Sights will be silhouetted against TV image making any sight movement easily discernible.

“Shooting a Pencil” has the standard benefits of dry firing plus limited “feed back” in the form of giving an impact pattern that suggests the degree of consistency. At eye level, attach a 3″x3″ or larger pad of paper on wall. Draw a 1/8″ dot at eve level. Now, put a standard BIC pen (or a #3 lead pencil for 1911s) down the barrel of an unloaded, cocked handgun; elevate the barrel so the pen/pencil rests on back of breach. Stand with end of barrel about 2 ~ 3 inches from wall. Establish sight picture and squeeze. Pen/pencil will make a dot about ¾” under your target dot. Repeat operation and “shoot for group.” Of course, you will stand with a proper stance, proper ‘natural point of aim,’ and employ proper grip and breathing and FOLLOW THROUGH and call your shot, that is, say where the sights were when the hammer fell.

7. Live Fire.

a. Ball-and-dummy. (Best with a revolver, but works with a semi-auto.) Put one live cartridge in a random location in the cylinder or magazine. Fill to capacity with either empty brass or dummy rounds. Don’t look while you spin and close the cylinder. Now, fire at a target either 3 times or until the gun discharges. If on any ‘dry’ shots you flinch, go back to McGivern drills. Once 3 ‘dry’ shots are fired, open cylinder, spin, and repeat.

b. Subcaliber practice. Get a conversion kit or subcaliber duplicate (e.g., Colt Ace), for inexpensive .22 rimfire practice.

c. Airgun. ((Yes, air gun!)) Airgun shooting, even some “airsoft” guns offer excellent, virtually free practice. It’s an excellent way to “shoot at home.” One special benefit: you will learn the importance of follow-through, because you can, in fact, start to move the gun before the pellet leaves the barrel.

OK Final hint/tips.

8. Trigger management.

There are two kinds of shooting – I’ll call them “timed” and “slow” fire.

a. “Timed fire” means there is limited target exposure; shoot NOW or the opportunity is gone (or the bad guy shoots you first). “Slow fire” is precision shooting, where you have lots of time to make a semi-perfect shot.

b. To timed fire, that is, a real or simulated BRIEF target exposure, make sure you “squeeze through the exposure.” What do I mean? Simply this: do the best you can to align the sights and establish a proper sight picture while squeezing the trigger. That is, the two actions occur simultaneously. While trying to attain and/or hold that best sight picture, start a steady, continuous squeeze of the trigger. Maintain the speed of the squeeze until the hammer falls. Don’t stop squeezing if the sight picture gets a bit sloppy – just keep on squeezing, while trying to move the sights back to center, until discharge. YOU MUST PULL THE TRIGGER, NO MATTER HOW IMPERFECT THE SIGHT PICTURE, because the target is going to go away. You may not hit exactly center, but you’ll do pretty well. And, you will find that even during even a rapid squeeze, you will be able to establish a satisfactory sight picture.

c. For “slow fire,” given proper stance and natural point of aim, establish sight alignment and sight picture. Unless you are magic, you will experience some drift away from a perfect hold. Now, while doing the best you can to maintain a perfect picture, squeeze the trigger … but only increase pressure as you drift IN towards the center of your target. Stop squeezing and hold what you have as you pass through center, then when you start moving back towards center, resume your squeeze.

9. Vision management.

a. It’s hard to hit what you can’t see. For both pistol and rifle shooting, what you need to see and focus on is the front sight. It needs to be crisp in your vision. Now, for rifle shooters with an aperture rear sight, you may be able to allow the center of your depth of field to drift towards the target such that both the target and the front sight are in focus. But of the two, the front sight is the more important. For aged pistol shooters with aged but 20/20 or better distant vision, using a pair of +1.00 to +1.25 diopter reading glasses will bring the front sight into perfect focus.)

b. Don’t neglect breathing and blinking. You need to breathe to keep your blood oxygenated, and you need to blink to keep your eyes moist and oxygenated. Also, for slow fire rifle shooters, don’t stare at black sights and black bullseye on white paper for too long – you’ll burn that image into your retina and “you won’t be seeing what you’re seeing.” The best remedy for this – breathe deeply and look at something green.

c. Always focus on the front sight. For a pistol: front sight. For an iron sight rifle: front sight. For an optical sight (telescope/red dot): front sight! Why? Otherwise you’ll become engrossed in the target and allow the sight to drift off target center. Thus, while both sight and the target are in the same focal plane and both in visual focus, keep your mental focus on the front sight.

10. Putting it all together.

a. Practice, practice, practice! Practice your draw ’til you can do it upside down, on the ground, being shaken … whatever. Practice changing magazines or using your speed loaders ’til you can do it in your sleep. Practice sight alignment-trigger squeeze-follow through-call your shot ’til that’s all you think of; the recoil and noise are nowhere in your awareness. And, practice follow-through and calling your shot. (If you watch master shooters, you will see they know when their equipment needs adjustment … because the bullet didn’t hit where the sights were when the shot broke.)

b. Practice in all kinds of weather: hot, cold, wind, rain, snow. Master draw-and- fire with gloves. Practice with BIG guns around you, so you learn to ignore those distractions. (Go to a gun range, find the loudest firearm on the line, stand beside him and dry fire.)

c. Participate in competition. You’ll learn new techniques, meet new friends, and master pressure and other distractions.

Practice and Training Concepts

In today’s excerpt – practice. Rather than being the result of genetics or inherent genius, truly outstanding skill in any domain is rarely achieved with less than ten thousand hours of practice over ten years’ time

“For those on their way to greatness [in intellectual or physical endeavors],
several themes regarding practice consistently come to light:

1. Practice changes your body. Researchers have recorded a constellation of physical changes (occurring in direct response to practice) in the muscles, nerves, hearts, lungs, and brains of those showing profound increases in skill level in any domain.

2. Skills are specific. Individuals becoming great at one particular skill do not serendipitously become great at other skills. Chess champions can remember hundreds of intricate chess positions in sequence but can have a perfectly ordinary memory for everything else. Physical and intellectual changes are ultraspecific responses to particular skill requirements.

3. The brain drives the brawn. Even among athletes, changes in the brain are arguably the most profound, with a vast increase in precise task knowledge, a shift from conscious analysis to intuitive thinking (saving time and energy), and elaborate self-monitoring mechanisms that allow for constant adjustments in real time.

4. Practice style is crucial. Ordinary practice, where your current skill level is simply being reinforced, is not enough to get better. It takes a special kind of practice to force your mind and body into the kind of change necessary to improve.

5. Short-term intensity cannot replace long-term commitment. Many crucial changes take place over long periods of time. Physiologically, it’s impossible to become great overnight.

“Across the board, these last two variables – practice style and practice
time – emerged as universal and critical. From Scrabble players to dart players to soccer players to violin players, it was observed that the uppermost achievers not only spent significantly more time in solitary study and drills,
but also exhibited a consistent (and persistent) style of preparation that K. Anders Ericsson came to call ‘deliberate practice.’ First introduced in a 1993 Psychological Review article, the notion of deliberate practice went far beyond
the simple idea of hard work. It conveyed a method of continual skill improvement. ‘Deliberate practice is a very special form of activity that differs
from mere experience and mindless drill,’ explains Ericsson. ‘Unlike playful
engagement with peers, deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable. It …
does not involve a mere execution or repetition of already attained skills but
repeated attempts to reach beyond one’s current level which is associated with
frequent failures.’ …

“In other words, it is practice that doesn’t take no for an answer; practice that perseveres; the type of practice where the individual keeps raising the
bar of what he or she considers success. …

“[Take] Eleanor Maguire’s 1999 brain scans of London cabbies, which revealed greatly enlarged representation in the brain region that controls spatial awareness. The same holds for any specific task being honed; the relevant
brain regions adapt accordingly. …

“[This type of practice] requires a constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one’s capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never-ending resolve to dust oneself off and try again and again and again. …

“The physiology of this process also requires extraordinary amounts of
elapsed time – not just hours and hours of deliberate practice each day,
Ericsson found, but also thousands of hours over the course of many years. Interestingly, a number of separate studies have turned up the same common
number, concluding that truly outstanding skill in any domain is rarely achieved in less than ten thousand hours of practice over ten years’ time (which comes to an average of three hours per day). From sublime pianists to unusually profound physicists, researchers have been very hard-pressed to find any examples of truly extraordinary performers in any field who reached the top of their game before that ten-thousand-hour mark.”

Author: David Shenk
Title: The Genius in All of Us
Publisher: Doubleday
Date: Copyright 2010 by David Shenk
Pages: 53-57