“You see, this has got to be learned; there isn’t any getting around it.”

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Don’t you just hate those old-timers who go around muttering, “Things ain’t like they used to be.” I always did, and still do, even when I’m the one doing it. So what is the curmudgeon crabbing about this time? It worries me so many people seem to have forgotten how to learn a new skill. They seem to think there’s some magic trick or inside tip, and it will all be easy.

This may not be want you want to hear, but becoming a good shot takes time and effort. Real improvement doesn’t come easily, nor does it ever get easier. To add a note of encouragement — it doesn’t get harder either.

It takes me a lot of training to acquire a new skill, but on the plus side, once a skill is learned it tends to stick. I can maintain a reasonable skill level with 20 minutes of dry fire two or three times a week, along with 25 or 50 rounds live fire monthly.

To improve, though, I find it more productive to train fairly intensively over a shorter period of time. Let’s say we can afford the ammunition to fire 50 rounds a week, 2,600 rounds annually. My experience has been I’d see considerably more improvement using my 2,600 rounds in sessions of 200 rounds, three times a week, for a month (2,400 rounds). Through the remaining 11 months of the year I could retain most of the improvement with dry fire and 20 careful live fire rounds a month.

I’m not recommending this as a training schedule, as it would take several years to reach our goal. The idea is to get the best return on the investment of resources we do have. When I was competing regularly, I used to average around 25,000 rounds annually, but not spread evenly over the year. As weather and work permitted I’d shoot 200 rounds a day for 10 or 12 weeks. When time and weather was against me I’d use dry fire and shoot a couple live fire sessions a month to maintain what had been learned.

Where’s The Magic?

There’s no magic in 200-round sessions. I’ve found 50 rounds doesn’t show much progress, as it isn’t enough repetitions. On the other hand going much over 200 rounds leads to lack of focus. If I want to shoot more in a day I’ll split the day up into two or more 200-round sessions. Again, what works for me may be too much or not enough for you.

I begin and end every session with precision slow fire, 10 rounds at 25 yards, two hands unsupported. It serves two purposes; it confirms the gun is sighted in, and it reinforces focus on a perfect sight picture and clean trigger break. The last 10-shot group should be roughly the same size as the first. If it is noticeably larger it likely means you’re getting mentally tired and losing focus.

What to practice? I suggest training in one skill at a time. After the ten precision shots, move to a specific skill. Have a written goal and keep a record of every session to track progress. Without a record there’s no way to measure progress.

The goal might be to draw and fire two A-zone hits from seven yards in two seconds, five times in a row. This would not be too hard from a speed holster, but tougher from concealment or a police duty holster, so tailor times to your equipment, needs and the level of skill at which you start out. Set realistic goals. They should make you work, but be achievable within three or four sessions. As skill level improves goals can be set higher.

It never hurts to start at the beginning. Learn to keep your eyes open as the gun fires. Sounds simple? Hardly anyone can do it all the time; many can’t do it at all. Learn to fire one shot accurately. If you can hit an 8″ circle every time at 25 yards you might not win any bullseye matches but you are better than most of the people I see at ranges.