April 27, 2020
Getting started in the shooting sports is an investment. For many new shooters, that investment is primarily financial. They need to buy a gun, ammunition, targets, and they may have to pay dues to a shooting club if there isn't a state range nearby.
Perhaps the best investment that new shooters can make is time, specifically time spent improving skills with a firearm. The world's top shooters, whether they are competing with a shotgun, rifle, pistol or airgun, spend hours at the range perfecting their game. New shooters need to follow their lead.
Shooting drills are a great way to improve with a firearm, and chances are that improvement will come quickly. Proper practice will not only help shooters become more accurate, it will make them more familiar with their guns and will reinforce the basic skill sets that are essential to becoming proficient.
These skills will help everyone from hunters to self-defense shooters, but the casual target shooter can also benefit from working on basic drills.
Here's a look at five basic performance drills that will help build basic gun-handling skills. Some are specific to one type of shooting, but many of these will help shooters improve, regardless of the firearms they are using.
1. Dry Fire
Dry firing is pulling the trigger without a cartridge or shell in the chamber, and it helps improve upon a key element of shooting performance — trigger control.
Begin with an unloaded firearm and, as always, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. The idea is to simulate an actual shot on target, so you'll want to go through all of the steps you would take before shooting.
For rifles, I want to be on the bench or in a field shooting position (kneeling, squatting, prone and so forth), I want to be looking at the target through the scope or over the sights, and I try to remain on-target as the trigger breaks.
On the range, when you feel comfortable with this drill, you can have a friend hand you your firearm either unloaded or loaded (again, ensuring the muzzle is always pointed in a safe direction), and you should deliver the shot without knowing whether there is a cartridge in the chamber or not. Dry fires that surprise you will make any flinch immediately apparent.
A flinch is almost always the result of anticipation of the shot, and if you can't remain perfectly still and target centered through the shot, you need to practice dry firing more often.
2. Breath Control
This is primarily a drill for rifle shooting, and it requires shooters to control their breathing so that they are prepared to deliver an accurate shot. Accuracy will increase because you won't rush your shots and muzzle movement will be reduced.
There are a number of different techniques to control breathing, but simplicity is the key. When you are on target and ready to shoot, take a series of deep breaths. These shouldn't be exaggerated — simply focus on breathing and drawing in plenty of oxygen.
After inhaling, slowly let about half of the breath out until you are steady and deliver the shot. You won't have a lot of time to shoot before you need more air, but you will be more relaxed and more stable when you shoot.
If you feel as though you are running out of oxygen, start your breathing cycle over —this isn't a drill that should be done in a hurry.
This is a drill I learned from Monty Kalogeras, owner of Safari Shooting School in Texas. While Kalogeras trains hunters to face dangerous game, this is a very valuable shooting drill for both pistol and rifle.
As the name suggests, you'll place three targets at various ranges. For pistol shooting, I like to have those targets at about 10, 15 and 20 feet. The procedure is simple: fire one shot at the close target, one at the middle target and one at the farthest target, then shoot from farthest to closest.
The primary benefit of this drill is that it makes you reevaluate your sight picture with every shot. For most pistol shooting, that means you'll need to focus on the front sight each time you move to a new target. This helps develop the habit of acquiring the front sight quickly, which will make you a better pistol shooter.
Few shooters know that when using an optic, you need to be focused on the reticle or dot instead of the target, a practice that may seem counterintuitive to many shooters.
4. Crossing Birds
This is a shotgun drill, and, in practice, it accomplishes the exact opposite of the near-middle-far drill.
Whereas rifle and pistol shooters need to be focused on their sights, shooting clay pigeons or flying birds demands that you devote your attention to the target. This drill requires that you have two clay target throwers.
Place the throwers on the left and right side of the shooter, making certain that the target throwers are angled so the clays will cross in front of the shooter at about 20 yards.
The shooter then stands in the center between the throwers (and safely away from the flight path of the clays) and calls "pull." Both targets are thrown simultaneously, and the shooter must practice breaking both targets in the air.
This drill is best for shooters who have practiced with a shotgun before, because if you can't break one target, you probably won't break two. When done correctly, though, this exercise can take your wingshooting to a whole new level in a hurry.
The secret to success with this drill is to choose one target and focus entirely on breaking that one before shooting the next.
When practicing this drill, I select a clay, swing, and break it (or try to break it, at least) and then switch to the next. Learning to do this makes you a better wingshooter, and when a flock of doves comes in or a covey of quail bursts up from underfoot, you'll be prepared to shoot a single bird and then switch, if time allows.
It's also great training for those who shoot clay targets with true pair (both targets thrown at the same time) stations.
5. The Double Tap
The term "double tap" most often refers to defensive pistol shooting, but I think this skill applies across all shooting disciplines with some variation.
With pistols, the goal is simple. You want to deliver a shot to the center of the target and quickly fire an accurate second shot. The key term here is accuracy. Speed will come with practice, and if your second shot is off the mark, it's a sign you delivered it too quickly. Begin slowly and follow the same routine — fire, regain focus on the front sight, then fire again.
Rifle shooting has its own variation of the double tap, and learning to place two shots in rapid succession is of the greatest value to hunters. You can shoot these rapid follow-up shots from the bench or from field positions, but the goal is the same — you want to place two shots into the target quickly and efficiently.
Some hunters have a habit of "admiring" their shots on game, but seasoned hunters know that after you pull the trigger, you need to immediately be ready to deliver a second shot, and that requires practice at the range.
As with pistol shooting, you need to be sure that you are placing those shots accurately, and that means you need to regain your sight picture between trigger pulls and don't shoot faster than your skill set allows.
The shotgun version of double-taps is something that many competitive shooters refer to as shooting "chips." When you break a clay target, try to break one of the pieces of that target before it hits the ground.
The lasting effect of this training is that it will prevent you from dropping the gun after the shot and will encourage follow-through, which is critical to good shotgun shooting. If you miss, you'll already be prepared to deliver a second shot that might break the target.
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