Drills exist to make you more effective in the real world. They don’t exist to make you better at shooting drills. Don’t lose sight of the forest through the trees.
I love shooting drills. I think that they are an important component to a solid training plan, and I also think that they serve a valuable purpose in setting the benchmark to compare one’s skills.
The problem with many modern interpretations of drills is that they have been turned into marketing tools by savvy instructors who don’t have a lifetime of experience in the use and instruction of arms to fall back on. Why bother earning your spurs the hard way when you can simply shoot the same drill dozens of times, and then take the footage of the best run of the day and turn it into an Instagram video?
Putting charlatan instructors to the side, the corrosive effects that social media has had on the instruction of arms has trickled down to regular shooters now, as well. Many shooters see these drills performed by instructors on social media and think that those results are somehow relevant to what they should be focusing on.
Let’s take a look at one of the granddaddies of pistol drills, the El Presidente. The “El Prez” consists of three International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) targets positioned 10 yards away and one yard apart from each other. The shooter starts by facing away. On the signal, they face the target and draw the pistol to engage the targets with two shots to each. This is followed up by a reload and a re-engagement of two shots apiece. The par time for the drill is 10 seconds with a semiauto pistol. I think that this par time is generous, but given that the drill was designed with older holsters and the .45-caliber M1911A1 in mind, it’s understandable from a historical perspective. The creator of the drill, Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, stated on numerous occasions that it was not something that should be practiced routinely. The El Prez was something that should be used to test the skill of a particular shooter with their particular gun and equipment.
With A-Zone hits, I can routinely shoot the drill under 8 seconds cold using my duty pistol and gear. If I sit and shoot the drill over and over, I can get clean runs in the neighborhood of 6 seconds. I say this not to boast, but rather to illustrate that it is easy to game the exercise and instill unrealistic and potentially dangerous expectations about what the norm should be.
One of the best newer drills is the Fundamentals, Accuracy and Speed Test (FAST) drill, designed by Todd Green, a firearm instructor who died too young of cancer in 2016. The FAST drill is very challenging and consists of a draw, two shots to a 3-inch by 5-inch head box, a slide-lock reload, and a re-engagement of four rounds to an 8-inch circle below the head box to approximate the upper-chest area. Par time for an advanced shooter is 7 seconds and par time for an expert shooter is 5 seconds. For the shooter that can complete it in under 5 seconds twice in a row on video or in a class, a numbered challenge coin awaits. This drill is excellent because it forces everything that is in its title: fundamentals, speed and accuracy.
The only problem isn’t with the drill, it is with the people chasing the coin. While I never met Green, I did correspond with him often before his passing. I can tell you that he did not design the drill to be shot 100 times a day so that a shooter could cherry pick the best run for a video. When shot cold, or used as a barometer of skill and equipment, the FAST drill is one of the best. When corrupted to satisfy an ego, its value decreases accordingly.
In law enforcement (LE), we see a similar issue in conjunction with standardized qualification courses. Lazy instructors teach their shooters how to pass the qual, not how to be a good shooter. Is it possible that some of the lessons will stick? Absolutely! But having been involved in LE training, I can tell you that the majority of a cop’s skill drops the further away from the qual course they get. Qualification is not training. It is simply a test to see if the shooters skills fall within acceptable parameters. Let’s take a look at how to get better at these drills and quals by building real, transferable skills.
You need to break the drill down into its component parts. For the sake of this column, let’s talk about the progression from the draw, to the first shot, to the second shot. Starting with the draw, work on drawing the pistol out of the holster as fast as you can. I don’t care if its smooth, it just needs to be fast. Get your pistol out fast and find that front sight. You can do this dry, and you should be doing it often. The key is to be fast and efficient. Don’t move your body more than you need to with excessive leaning and swinging.
Make sure that you’re really finding the front sight! Keep your eyes downrange on the target and bring the gun to your eyes. Don’t try to follow the gun up to the target; That’s inefficient and slow. Once you’re feeling fast on the draw, add in a first shot on target. As your muzzle direction moves to “on target,” your trigger finger should be moving to the trigger and prepping it for the shot.
By the time your pistol is completely on target and your front sight is in focus, the slack should be out of your trigger, any safety device should be off, and you should be pressing straight through to the rear.
Once the shot breaks, stay on the gun with constant grip tension and reset your trigger as fast as possible — but don’t fire the second shot just yet! Holster up and check the target. If you’re not maintaining an A-zone hit at least seven out of 10 times, then you need to slow down until you are. If you’re not dropping any shots, then you need to speed up until you drop one or two out of 10. You will never get faster if you don’t push yourself to the point of failure in training.
Shooting is no different than any other psychomotor skill. Shooting is an adaptive process. Once you get in that sweet spot of speed and accuracy, it’s time to add in the second shot. Just as before, you’re drawing the pistol fast, getting on that trigger quickly, efficiently and breaking that first shot. As soon as the shot breaks, maintain your grip tension and allow the trigger to reset during recoil. When the sights come back into focus, the second shot is being pressed.
Just like before, use your accuracy as a gauge for your speed. If you’re hitting them all, speed up. If you’re missing more than two or three, slow down.
Drills are an important part of any sound training program, but so is accuracy work, speed work and dry firing. Don’t get so caught up in drills that you hinder progress.