Training Priorities

by ToddG

There is a simple progression in training that should be followed for new shooters. Too often, the self-trained skip a lot of these steps and sometimes even experienced instructors jump around instead of focusing on the right priorities. From a skill-building standpoint, this is my recommendation:

1. Safety
While “safety first” may sound cliche, it is still the foundation of all professional firearms training. Safety instruction doesn’t simply mean reciting the cardinal rules while your student nods. Safety means demonstrating proper handling of a gun, from picking it up to handing it to another person to putting it away. At every stage of training, an instructor has to keep safety paramount. No matter what you’re teaching, pay attention to whether your student is putting his finger on the trigger at inappropriate times or pointing a gun (whether you think it’s loaded or not) where he shouldn’t be.

2. Gun Handling
The student should know and understand every switch, lever, and button on the pistol before firing his first shot. He should be able to load and unload a magazine. He should be able to load the gun and clear the gun. If a holster is going to be used, he should know the proper way to draw, present, and reholster the gun. Instructors too often skip this step and address things like reloading or field stripping the gun until later in a program. Teaching the student to do these things before firing his first shots has many benefits. First, the student gets more time with a gun in his hand. This familiarity helps the student feel more comfortable while allowing the instructor a chance to assess (and correct where necessary) the student’s safe gun handling. Second, inevitably during a shooting session the student will need to be able to load, reload, and clear his gun. If you teach him how to do these things in advance, it won’t be a problem or cause for stress in the middle of the lesson.

3. Marksmanship Fundamentals
Now it’s time for grip, sight picture, trigger pull, and the other fundamentals of accurate shooting. A shooter should have a good foundation in the fundamentals before moving on to more advanced skills. The standard I use: a student needs to be able to fire six shots at a 3×5 card at a range of seven yards and get six hits. Until we reach this threshold, we work on marksmanship exclusively.

4. Speed
Only once a student can demonstrate good marksmanship fundamentals do we move on to shooting fast. While you don’t need to be a bullseye champion to shoot fast, there is no point in trying to hit a target quickly if you can’t hit it slowly. Training for speed begins with economy of motion, eliminating unnecessary movements and becoming smoother, more relaxed, and more practiced with every action. Once that smoothness is achieved, speed is improved only by pushing the shooter to go faster than he is used to. You can’t get faster without going faster.

5. Application
Once the shooter has demonstrated an ability to deliver shots quickly on target, you can move into applying that skill to shooting problems. Multiple target drills, use of cover, shooting while moving and/or shooting moving targets all fall into this category. Too often, both instructors and students are anxious to jump ahead to these drills because they seem more realistic, more fun, or both. But if a student hasn’t already learned excellent habits in terms of basic accuracy and speed, adding new problems will just overcome his ability to focus on the basics. This is where bad habits are formed.

Where appropriate, there are obviously other topics such as mindset, tactics, legal issues, and the like which need to be incorporated into training as well. But the list above should provide a solid set of building blocks to achieve fundamental gun handling success safely and quickly.