Recently a friend told me he had been training in an indoor range. When I asked him who the instructor was, he gave me that deer in the headlights look and told me he was alone.

I didn’t feel the need to deride him and said words to the effect that I hope he had a good time. In truth, however, he wasn’t training, he was practicing.


Practice can take on many forms but it usually consists of firing from a distance you’re comfortable with and likewise shooting a string of fire you’re good at. As often as not it’s merely plinking away, sometimes with improvised targets such as an empty water bottle if at an outdoor range.

If indoors, shooting is much more regimented and may not allow drawing from a holster, performing speed loads, etc. You can work on sight alignment, a trigger press with a surprise break, and resetting the trigger, but little else. In my opinion, besides recoil, burning powder and making holes in a target, you can often achieve close to the same results through dry fire.


Training should include only the use of one hand.



For our purposes, training will be conducted in a formal class with at least one instructor present and assistant instructors depending on the size of the class.

The good news is that in the last few years almost anyone can hang out an instructor shingle. The bad news is that in the last few years almost anyone can hang out an instructor shingle. Therefore, an instructor should be carefully vetted.

I once went to a school that had poor to mediocre instructors. During a break a fellow student said this was the best class he had ever attended. Intrigued because his view was diametrically opposed to mine, I asked him how many classes he had been in and he told me this was his first. Caveat emptor.

In a formal class you will cover the basics of marksmanship, gun handling and combat mindset, also known as the combat triad. This will include advice on the drawstroke, stances, etc.

You will usually receive instruction on the laws of carrying a pistol and the use of force and deadly physical force. Going to guns should always be the last option and the best way to avoid a situation where deadly physical force is necessary is not to be there when it happens, so situational awareness is emphasized.

When was the last time you were at the
range and practiced shooting and reloading
with the support hand only?

A good instructor will watch to see if you’re “bowling” during the drawstoke instead of presenting straight to the target, evaluate your grip on the gun and diagnose what you may be doing wrong simply by looking at the target.

You will be put out of your comfort zone by performing drills you are not used to shooting. Adding to this pressure is shooting those drills under time and being watched by your peers in class.

Shooting with movement is taught including forward, backward, lateral and diagonal. Gunfights don’t happen belt buckle to belt buckle like in a Hollywood western.

In addition to standing, positional shooting is taught in most classes to include different kneeling positions (yes, there’s more than one) and prone (again, more than one way to achieve it).

Unlike television and movie heroes, a single shot from a pistol won’t always immediately incapacitate an attacker. Also unlike actors, in a deadly physical force incident you may likely be injured, so you must condition yourself mentally to accept that and move on to Plan B.

What’s Plan B? In many instances this may be being able to manipulate your weapon with the use of only one hand, be it the primary hand or support hand. When was the last time you were at the range and practiced shooting and reloading with the support hand only?

It is a truism that the fastest reload is a second gun, so in some classes, either advanced or specialized, you will be allowed to transition to a back-up gun. Here, instructors can provide information on the best way to carry a back-up and the best manner in which to present it.



Gunsite CEO Ken Campbell fires Denny’s Model 2 Schofield during a class break.


In days gone by most assaults were committed by a single person. Now, more and more assaults are executed by multiple offenders who run in packs. How will you respond to this threat? The standard response is to fire at least two rounds to an attacker. In the event of multiple assailants roadhouse rules may apply—everyone gets one round before they gets seconds.

The best schools should have either outdoor or indoor simulators (shoot house). This is to teach target discrimination with both “shoot” and “no-shoot” targets. This may be as specialized as photographic targets or as simple as a gun stenciled on “shoot” target and empty hands on a “no-shoot.”

If the training is conducted at a fixed location, you may want to check and see what support facilities are available.

Is there a pro-shop where you can purchase equipment you forgot or did not know you would need such as eye and ear pro or even raincoat? A few schools, such as Gunsite, will even have a fully manned gunsmith shop to repair you gun if it goes down during class, or rent you a replacement if the repairs are beyond a quick fix.

Another benefit to attending a formal class is developing life-long friends and networking with associates. You may have the chance to try a different firearm and see if it meets your needs better than the one you brought to class. During a break, with the approval of the instructor, you may have the opportunity to fire a historic firearm you have only read about.

Shooting, especially with handguns, is a perishable skill, so once you have completed your training, practice what you have learned, always with an eye on realism.