December 07, 2022
Do you have rhythm? Maybe you want to dance? I grew up as a drummer in a marching band and learned to play the piano. I fancy myself as a man with some rhythm. You would think that drumming and pounding piano keys doesn’t have anything to do with shooting, or does it?
Many years ago, I got into a discussion with another operator about Cadence Shooting drills. He had left the Army and was working as an instructor for the newly expanded Federal Air Marshal program. He was a super dude, not much of a shooter, but he professed the need to get shooters to shoot a certain tempo — I had to chime in. Cadence really doesn’t make a shooter better. Those were fighting words. “Cadence Counts,” he responded.
I don’t know who first coined the term “Cadence Shooting,” but it has been around for the last 20 years — at least. I didn’t back down then and I still wouldn’t today. I don’t feel that rhythm matters much for shooting. So, why would we want to shoot this way? What can we accomplish with the Cadence Shooting Drill?
If your answer is, “I want to shoot at cadence to work on my speed,” I would believe that. If you are simply practicing a rhythm that you can replicate with your trigger finger as you engage a target, I’d say, “Giddy up!” These reasons make sense to me. What you are replicating is a preconceived feeling of speed, or the general rate that you wish to pull the trigger. As an instructor, I can stand by a shooter and act as a metronome that guides the rate of fire. If students hear and follow the rate I want them to shoot, they can replicate that cadence.
Why is this important? This help is for that person who won’t step on the gas. I want to push them to get going because they don’t know what they’re capable of until they start to speed up to find their crashing point. Once they crash, they know their speed limit. So, I would argue that this is more of a speed-up drill, not a cadence drill.
Be careful what you ask for!
When I teach for Viking Tactics, I always shoot demonstration drills in a controlled manner. Why? First, if you try to go faster than what you’re capable of during a demonstration, you may crash and burn. Failure isn’t what I want to demonstrate. Second, I want to produce good hits in front of the students so they know we will not sacrifice accuracy for speed. Finally, I need them to observe a cadence that might be attainable for the average attendee. If I rush, then they will rush. I always keep some gas in the tank, but I reserve it for when the betting starts.
What dictates cadence?
If you practice shooting a specific tempo, you will be good to go — but only at one distance. As the target becomes closer or farther, using the same cadence will be too fast or too slow.
If your rehearsal distance is 7 yards with your pistol, it will be easy to establish what your cadence can and will be. If you continue to shoot with this rhythm over and over, your perceived skill level and speed will look like it’s increasing, and this is true. Let’s say that after many iterations you decide to move to 5 yards. Immediately, that cadence should seem slow — because it is. At 5 yards, you should be able to recover back to your sights quicker; this is follow-through. You should also be able to maintain accuracy since you are at a short range. The trick is pushing your speed to align with the distance you are from the target. Five yards is not half the distance of 7 yards, but it is significantly closer.
If you want to be a gunfighter, picture yourself training extensively at realistic distances. Let’s keep 7 yards as the example distance. Now, back up to 10 or 12 yards. Do you think that the same technique or speed will work at that distance? If you answered “yes” to the question, you are wrong. Shooting at the same speed will result in worse accuracy, perhaps even unacceptable accuracy. If you moved closer, you would have better accuracy, but lack the speed. Speed can be easily achieved with a little proper training.
VTAC 1/2 & 1/2 Drill
I use an exercise we call the 1/2 and 1/2 Drill. It’s very simple to set up. You’ll need one VTAC Double-Sided Tactical Target ($10/10, vikingtactics.com) or a 25-yard pistol bullseye. Start at 20 yards. You have 12 seconds when using a pistol, 10 seconds if you are using a carbine. The pistol start position is Position 3, or a retention position. Carbine shooters need to start at the Low Ready. On the start signal, engage the target with 10 rounds. You must be under time. For every round shot beyond the time limit, subtract 10 points. For every round you don’t fire, minus 10 points. For every round outside of the black of the bullseye or scoring box on the VTAC target silhouette side, minus 10 points. As you can see, the severity of the penalties should prioritize your need to execute the drill correctly.
Next, move to 10 yards, half the previous distance. The time will be halved as well. If shooting a pistol, your time will be 6 seconds; a carbine shooter gets 5 seconds. After shooting your 10 rounds from 10 yards, move up to the 5-yard line. At the 5-yard line, you will have 3 seconds to fire 10 rounds if you’re shooting a pistol, and 21/2 seconds for carbine users. It may sound impossible to some, but with practice you can easily attain these times.
This is a standard drill, so we need to establish a space for you to stay within the bounds of. Extra speed doesn’t help your score. If you feel you need to go faster because the time limits are so easy, then adjust as needed and recalibrate your standards for this drill. If these times are too difficult, simply increase your time at the 20-yard line and start halving as you move forward.
Goals of the Drill
The goals of the 1/2 and 1/2 Drill are to shoot fast and hit accurately. No problem, right? In fact, the actual goals are to read your sights as you shoot, on every single shot. You should be shooting at a speed that works with that sight picture. If you can’t see your sights, you need to slow down. If you have no issues and are waiting with sights perfectly aligned, you should work the trigger faster. This is not a Cadence Drill; it is a “Read Your Sights and Follow Through Drill.”
You will notice quickly if your shooting grip and stance are weak; this is recoil management. Ten rounds in 3 seconds with the pistol requires a positive and repeatable grip that pushes the pistol quickly back onto the target. A good fighting stance is also needed to be successful. Remember: Sights are the speedometer for your trigger finger. You are running this drill to increase trigger speed, recoil management and follow through, all while maintaining sufficient accuracy.
What about the all-important reset of the pistol’s trigger? Some would lead you to believe that this should be a slow release only to the point of the trigger resetting. I disagree.
During recoil, your finger should allow the trigger to release far enough to reliably reset the trigger mechanism. If you are having trigger reset issues, be more aggressive with releasing the trigger. Good shots don’t come from slow trigger reset, they come from smooth trigger pulls.
If you are feeling the trigger reset click as you release the trigger, you are moving way too slow. You may also start to experience “trigger panic.” This translates to slowly releasing and then jerking the trigger as soon as you feel the click of reset. This is a common error I see when teaching some police officers; it’s quite common. I credit this to instructors who are poor shooters. If you can’t do it, you can’t teach it.
Shooting in cadence means shooting within a set amount of time, not just what you see in your sights. Some drills teach to reset only on the click of the trigger reset, but this also creates an error. This rhythm instills a limit, slowing speed or hurting accuracy. Sight picture can change with shooting distance and so does the cadence, if there is such a thing.
Shooting quickly once your sights are aligned by a steady, straight pull to the rear should be standard. After the shot, your stance and grip should put you back on the target ready to repeat the process. If not, work on your stance and grip and then start to drive the gun and find your limits. In shooting, there are no speed limit, only limits on accuracy and how quickly we can be ready to repeat the process. Drive fast and limit your exposure time.
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