When it comes to practicing concealed carry, I have a very long history of frustration and well, some blind spots.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to practice and why, for how long or what to focus on. So, I frequently showed up at the range and just shot some stuff. I always thought I had improved but had no real way of knowing for sure, but I remembered the good shots. Creating a simple practice plan seemed out of the question.
When shooting with a buddy I would ask; “What’s the plan?” The typical answer was “Plan? What Plan?” Let’s just shoot at this target. Safe to say my performance trajectory was flat but I wasn’t even sure about that.
This was a dead-end road. I thought, there must be a better way and one that doesn’t take forever to figure out. In talking with others, I found out I was not alone. Not even close.
There is good news.
I did some research online and talked to some trainers and also drew on my experience at practicing other things, such as Tae Kwon Do, running and other sports. Here is the “cliff notes” version on how to become completely comfortable and proficient at knocking out a Practice Plan quickly to build on where you are and where you want to go. You will have to work at it though.
But first, let’s establish a few “laws of practice” that are always required to be in effect to improve something. I call them “laws” because they are always true and must be incorporated to have an expectation that any single “practice session” will result in an incremental improvement.
Some Basic Laws of Practice
- You must use proper technique. Technique is learned from an Instructor. Repeat. Technique is learned from an Instructor. If you don’t know for a fact that you are using proper technique, then you probably aren’t. Stop practicing and first go get some training from a qualified Firearm’s Instructor.
- You must put in the time (repetitions). For handgun shooting, there is a great advantage to having the option to practice both dry fire and live fire. Planning a practice applies to both. Dry fire is a very convenient, economical, time efficient way of practicing, especially with shots that are not overly affected by recoil. It is also very effective at practicing any body movements such as draw to first shot, footwork and movement techniques.
- You must identify and work on your weakest link, starting with fundamental skills. This is the weakest skill in the set of skills required to achieve your goal. In principle, the weakest skill would be the one that gives you the most potential gain for the amount of focused practice. When it is improved, another skill will become the new weakest link. (Note: At HandgunDrills.com we call this process of shifting practice around to various skills a “Balanced Scorecard”.)
- You must measure your results in a meaningful way. This means that the measurements must be able to be interpreted and compared in a way that allows you to determine if improvement occurred and why. It is important to shoot drills with clear instructions and standards, noting conditions and the loadout used, so that the improvement may be attributed solely to your performance.
- You must vary your practice. This is based on the idea that drills are practiced to build skills not to just keep acing the same drill. So, for example, if you are working on the skill of “transition shots” shooting from one target to another (say a few feet away) then vary the shots before and after the transition shots. That would mean changing the targets and spacing, side to side, front to back, adding movement, etc.
The PDCA Cycle for continuous improvement as applied to shooting.
Now let’s shift from the big picture to a specific tool that is used by many for continuous improvement of a process. Following these proven principles and actionable tips will help you take charge of your performance trajectory. You will know why it’s increasing and how it’s happening.
The first step is PLAN. As in Concealed Carry Practice Plan. (For more information on the PDCA Cycle.) The PLAN step is simply where you decide what your next practice will be focused on and what you will practice, usually on a skill or two.
These 3 items are important to develop a Practice Plan with confidence that it’s what you need to work on now.
- Set A Clear Skill or Outcome Goal. Confirm your next goals for the practice session or set of sessions. You may need to set a regular schedule for dry fire and live fire practice. You want to have specific stated goals such as “I want to be able draw from concealment and shoot a 7” target from 7 yards in 1.5 seconds, 5 times in a row. (For instance, D-046 Draw to First Shot is good for this.) This will define the set of skills that are in play for that to happen. Include specific changes and learnings from your previous recent practices.
- Work on the Weakest Link. Focus on skills that you identified in the CHECK step that are the weakest link of your last practice or by your Trainer. Working on the weakest link will yield the best payback of improvement for time invested. Make sure you know what proper technique is and, in this case, try to master the technique with greater speed. As speed increases, refinement in technique is required with attention to smaller and smaller movements. With practice, these each become part of the overall technique.
- Choose Drills to Build Those Skills. The starting point would be to practice your goal from a stationary position. So, the goal statement above may need “from a stationary position” added to the end. After achieving that your next skill may be to incorporate movement. This would prompt you to look for some drills that have movement of various kinds immediately ahead of the draw, or just add movement yourself. This is a new goal. Note: You can and should select single shots or stages from drills when they meet your goals. (For instance, D-020 El Presidente would be a good drill to add, to shoot the first shot of that drill only.) Then set an order of practice such as 20 reps from each of 4 different starting positions. Shoot for a few minutes and take a break to maintain your focus.
Several good tips about how to approach a practice are made by Andy from SwissAAA in an online article “Practicing with the IDPA Classifier“, April 12, 2021. While this context is competitive shooting these fundamentals are very on point for concealed carry also. Some quotes are:
- “One important point is to decide on a measurement tool allowing to assess performance and therefore progress.”
- “These breakdown-scores allowed me to practice the individual strings that are either 12 or 6 rounds each and thus make practice sessions both more focused and more efficient.”
- “Write down your session program and repeat that same program over several sessions before you change it. Always work with 5-10 repetitions for each exercise and do 1-3 sets. Keep a record of your times, splits (for example for the reloads) and scores.”
- “In order to learn, your mind and body both need repetitions and periodic sessions but they also need rest. It’s better to do many shorter sessions each followed by 1-3 days of rest than to do a few monster-practice events with weeks of inactivity in between.”
HandgunDrills offers tips and tools to help you de-mystify practice.
If you use HandgunDrills Concealed Carry Book of Drills, pull the drills you need into the Active section. Make notes of the plan in the Practice Plan Template or use a Log Card. Head to the basement to dry fire or to the range to live fire. You are ready for the DO step of Practice.
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Please see the other articles in the PDCA Practice series as they become available at HandgunDrills.com.
HandgunDrills.com is dedicated to helping Concealed Carry Students “practice with a purpose, what they learn in training, from the skill level they’re at, with the time and ammo they have.” And to help Trainers stay connected to their Student’s practice.
Disclaimer: Every person and their circumstances are unique, so no single point of view is applicable to everyone. And everyone must decide what makes sense for them. Therefore, the thoughts, opinions and information in this post are for your consideration only to incorporate as you believe is appropriate.