Firearms Practice “Fast Food”

20121106-200611.jpgLet me know if this sounds familiar. You go to your favorite range and pay your fee. You uncase your firearm and load up. Next you set a target out at a nice comfortable distance – say, seven yards or so. You square yourself up to the target get into a good shooting stance, and take aim. Slowly, carefully, you squeeze off your shots.

When you’ve fired your fifty rounds or whatever, you set the gun down and retrieve your target. You admire the nice tight grouping you landed, pat yourself on the back for your good shooting. Maybe your friends are at the range that day, and you pass your target around so they can compliment you on a job well done. Then you case your weapon, load it in your car and drive home.

Another successful practice day at the range. Right?

I see this sort of thing all the time when I go to the range, and it always leaves me shaking my head. To my way of thinking, this is the “fast food” of firearms practice: It tastes good and fills your belly, but it’s not particularly healthy for you and if that’s all you eat, you’re going to be awfully malnourished after a while.

In the case of firearms practice, the nourishment you’re after is — or ought to be — steadily improving skills, increased competence with the weapon, and the confidence that comes from trying something hard and MAKING it. And you’re not going to achieve that blasting neat groups of no-challenge holes into a close-in target. Sorry, but you just won’t.

If you’re lucky and you’ve had enough training to possess a decent stance, grip, and sight and trigger skills, this sort of “fast food” practice is benignly harmless. You’ll ingrain your basics without challenging yourself, without giving you an opportunity to become BETTER. At best, you’ll stay stagnant, perhaps tightening up your groups a bit, but little more. If you don’t have a good grasp of the fundamentals, this kind of practice is actively harmful, because you’ll ingrain bad habits through a thousand repetitions that will be the very devil to correct down the road.

But every training day like this is a wasted opportunity to challenge yourself, to push the envelope, to tackle something just a bit bigger and tougher. To step outside your comfort zone, to take on a challenge and prevail. And, let’s face it, ammo is expensive, so why waste it repeating the same easy stuff month after month? Sure, we may take a temporary ego hit when we rack that target out to 50 yards and miss the paper over and over. But think of how much better a shooter we’ll be, and how good we’ll feel about it, when we start landing those 50 yard hits. Or when we score 50/50 on the Dot Torture drill. Or when we succeed at whatever challenge we’ve set for ourselves.

Tackling the bigger, tougher, harder challenges is sort of like eating our vegetables: We might not like the way it tastes, but it’s good for us and we’ll reap the benefits of sucking it up and doing it later on. Stretching the envelope is choosing to give up the short-term easy gratification for a longer-range payoff in both competence and satisfaction. And it’s definitely good for us in the long run.

So, this is my challenge to you: Next time you go to the range, don’t just set up the same old target at the same easy distance and blast away. Challenge yourself. Try a timed fire exercise (if you have an iPhone, this will help you out with that), or a three-by-five drill. Run a target out to 30 or 50 yards and see how you do. If this is easy for you, try 100 yards, or 200. Try shooting one-handed. Try some shoot/no-shoot drills: Draw six numbered circles, and use a die roll to pick which one is your threat.

The what doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you pick something which challenges you, which pushes you past your comfort zone just a bit, which isn’t an easy auto-pilot task. That’s how you’ll improve as a shooter. That’s how you’ll develop your mental and physical skills beyond where they are now. That’s how you’ll build “shooting muscle”, which lives in equal parts in body and brain.

Try it, and let me know how it works out for you. Like diet and exercise, tackling a difficult shooting challenge isn’t easy and comfortable. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. But in the end, you’ll be better off for having done it.


  1. Great post! I see lots of shooters that just “make holes”. Different targets, different drills, movement – it all needs to be worked on. For me a plan for the range really helps. Why am I going? What do I want to work on? What weapon do I want to take? Draw from open carry or concealment? How am I going to track it? The devil is always in the details!

    • Tracking your progress is definitely something important that I didn’t mention in my post. You won’t know if your improving without some way to measure how you did. For example, when I look at the results of my IDPA matches, I look to see that the ratio between “points down” and total points is improving.

      Thanks for your comment, Bill!

  2. As I’ve said before, we must determine what we are training FOR first. I train only for self defense, and never anticipate any need for a 50 – 100 yard shot, so I would be wasting my time and ammo shooting that way – but your challenge is absolutely right on!

    Movement, smooth draw, reloading and shooting under stress, finding cover, shooting from various positions and light levels… a great many of those things are essential to practice if we hope to defend ourselves adequately in the real world. Just poking a bunch of holes in a piece of paper once in a while definitely won’t do that job.

    A lot of those other things can be practiced at home in “dry fire” as well, which is really important. Many people will not bother with dry fire sessions, and that’s a real shame. So effective, and absolutely free.

    • Dry-fire is an often overlooked tool, but it’s great for training the muscle memory we need for the fundamentals. Some shooters use airsoft practice for the same purpose, I know, or a SIRT or Laserlyte.

      I didn’t used to think I’d need to be able to make long distance shots, either, but I train those skills at least a bit for two reasons: mistakes are amplified at distance and more precision is needed to make those long distance shots, and you never know what skills you might need to draw on. There was a news story a while back about an armed citizen in Texas who saved a police officer’s life by making a 150 yard shot on a bad guy with a revolver.

      Whatever skills each of us personally chooses to practice, though, I think the key is moving outside our comfort zones and challenging ourselves.

      Thanks, as always, for your comment!

  3. Spearrow says:

    if I don’t do something different I just get plan bored..always trying to think of new ways to shoot…it just makes it more fun.. training can be fun and I think it should be..but make no mistake, I take my training very seriously…

    • I don’t think that fun and good training are mutually exclusive, but I do think it’s important to always challenge ourselves and push the envelope. Good for you for taking your training seriously and pushing the envelope, and thanks for your comment!

  4. Thank you! That is a great post. You are right (in your comment) about tracking your practice. I have been logging all my practice sessions. What ammo I used, what distances, what drills I practiced.

    It’s nice to see where I am improving (faster targeting) and where I continue to make mistakes (reloads) and what problems I had with the gun (magazine latch).

    I only have 947 rounds through my (first) hand gun, but I know how I did shooting them all.

    I also agree on dry fire practice. It’s part of my cleaning ritual.

    • Sounds like you’re developing habits around your training that will serve you in good stead as you continue to grow and evolve as a shooter, Eric. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Jet Joe says:

    I’ve been training regularly with all sorts of firearms for nigh on 15 years now. Semi-auto pistols are my bread and butter, but I also do a bunch of work with AR-15 carbine. Really, I love anything that goes “bang”. For regulars, professionals, and others who take it seriously, it’s hugely important to think about the facility where you do most of your live-fire practice. Land drives your training. For example, my local club is an indoor facility where they let you do transitions, rapid fire, shoot from the holster, ie, all the good stuff. But the stalls are only about four feet wide. This means it’s impossible to shoot on the move. Even turning and facing movements are tough. Once you’ve done every possible drill you can think of ad nauseum, try shaking up your training area. You’ll be amazed how much your imagination comes up with, just by training in different surroundings!

    • “Once you’ve done every possible drill you can think of ad nauseum, try shaking up your training area. You’ll be amazed how much your imagination comes up with, just by training in different surroundings!” This is a great suggestion – it’s funny how changing something small can make a huge difference, isn’t it?

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. rosie says:

    Very good anology with the fast food.But the RSO in me picked up something a little disturbing. You loaded your firearm and then went down range…
    I know its not the point of your article but safety is important.

    • Thanks for your comment! In the case of the true story that inspired my hypothetical, the range in question had one of those target hanger things that you could put a larger down range without walking down there.

      But you’re absolutely right that safety should always be the first priority, and I appreciate that reminder.


  1. […] got a ping back yesterday from a blog post entitled Firearms Practice “Fast Food” from Mom With a Gun.  It’s a fantastic article that will resonate with anyone who […]

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