If you carry a handgun for personal defense, really focusing your practice at the range can go a long way in improving performance and keeping you safe.Luckily, most concealed carry gun owners will never have to use their weapon in an actual defensive situation. That being said, you’ll still want to be ready in case a nasty situation ever does arise. There must always be enough familiarity with the gun, the holster, the placement on your body and your technique to make drawing and firing smooth, efficient and accurate.
You may see handgun shooters at the range simply emptying full magazines at targets of varying distances, without any real sense of purpose – and that’s OK if you’re just out for a little fun. If you have any expectations of effectively defending yourself in a real time attack though, then you will have to practice specifically for those types of scenarios. Simply blowing through a box or two of ammo with a ‘yeah, I got this’ attitude just won’t cut it. Like any sport or skilled activity, you have to learn the technique and then repeat it about 10,000 times (give or take).
It’s easy to assume that it would be simple enough to draw your weapon quickly, aim and fire if there was a real need. We’ve all seen it done probably thousands of times between movies and TV over the years. How hard can it be – right? The reality is that actual defensive situations unfold very quickly, with mere seconds to react. Couple that with any mix of fear, shock, confusion, uncertainty and a healthy dose of adrenaline, and your ability to effectively use your weapon will be seriously compromised.
That’s exactly why defensive shooters have to spend at lease some time practicing with real-time, practical drills to improve (or maintain) their skills and to create solid muscle memory. Repetition is key if you want any chance of sharpening your reaction time and making your technique 2nd-nature to you. Also be aware of the time required to clear garments and if seasonality will come into play with heavier/longer outdoor wear in the colder months.
Like any learned activity, there will always be a number of good methods and specific drills available. Here are a couple of general elements to consider:
Realistic Engagement Count
The majority of self-defense firing situations, especially those at close-quarters, are likely to be more in the 3 to 6 round range rather than a whole magazine. Not only will you not have the time to effectively take that many shots, but focus and accuracy will be paramount. Better to make these shots count (for obvious reasons).
Think About Distance
There’s quite a bit of data available that points to the realistic distances that most assaults occur within. On average, a close-quarters encounter starts off at about 3 yards. There’s also the popular 21 Foot Rule of self-defense and the time it takes for an assailant to cover that distance. Try and keep drills in this approximate range for the best results.
Timing is Everything
Keeping the previous point in-mind, you’re not going to have much time at all to react in a real-time situation. We’re talking seconds here. You can work with a partner or instructor and time your responses. Shot timers are good for providing a surprise start, which is a good part of the practice process. Don’t get so caught-up in the speed though, that you compromise on your shot groupings. You may also consider taking a little time in between sets to re-set your breathing and focus.
Holsters & Garments
Rather than simply beginning your drills with your weapon in your hand or on the bench, get into the habit of using your holster. With repetition, ideally you’ll develop enough muscle memory to create a smooth, consistent movement. Again, consider the clearance of your garments for any seasonal changes (eg. longer coats or outerwear).
Stance & Positioning
When shooting at short distances, and with little time to do so, you may not have the luxury of adopting a classic, stable stance as you aim and fire. To be completely prepared, it’s often a good idea to try some one-handed drills (both strong and support hand) and even go so far as to try some on the move or from the ground. This may take some specialized training at the right facility, but self-defense scenarios are often ugly and unpredictable, so I’d want to explore all potential situations.
Hitting the range should always be an enjoyable experience, but if you’re serious about effective personal defense, you have to drill specifically for it.
Sign up for K-Var’s weekly newsletter and discounts here.