Decide on a range plan
As a youth, I loved “shooting parties”. My friends and I would all bring piles of guns to the range and treat the event like some sort of Italian style dinner, just much louder. While I still see the fun in them, I can’t help but feel that it’s not the most conducive environment for honing your skills. Granted, you may help someone see firearms in a whole new light (and there is a virtue in that), but as far as advancing your skills, it’s pretty much a bust. Nowadays, I do the exact opposite of a “shooting party”. I go to the range alone and I bring no more than two guns (often just one). I plan ahead and decide exactly what my goals are for the range session. Sometimes I want to focus on accuracy and fundamentals. Other times, I want to work on more complicated elements, like shooting on the move or weak hand shooting. All of my focus and attention is on the task at hand, and when I leave the range, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. My last range visit was based around an AR-15. I wanted to ensure that I had one of my AR’s was totally reliable for a gun class, range visit, or home defense. I made sure that the red dot and iron sights were accurate, checked the durability of a weapon-mounted light, and verified my sling was properly fitted. After those aspects were squared away, I cleaned and properly lubricated the rifle. So, sometimes the range visit is designed around skill building, and sometimes it’s merely a “gear check”. I can only speak for myself, but I’ve really enjoyed this way of spending time at the range, and I have no doubt that I’ve improved as a shooter. Outlining my goals for the range only takes me few minutes, and I immediately feel the results. Gun schools have a curriculum to help me learn, why should it be any different when I’m shooting on my own?
Always shoot from your “rig”
I think it is pretty common for folks to set their gear on a table and pick and choose what gun they want to shoot in that moment. When they empty the gun, they return it to the table and reload it or try another gun. Instead of such a casual system, I have decided to always shoot from my holster or sling. Essentially, the equipment that is required for a firearms class becomes required for a trip to the gun range. Regardless of my planned goals for that day, when I practice with a pistol, I always have the same load out. The gun is holstered, and I have one extra magazine in a belt pouch, and another magazine in my left pocket (or speed strips in my right pocket). That way, no matter what I’m doing with the handgun, I’m also practicing drawing, re-holstering, reloading from the belt, and reloading from the pocket. These are pretty fundamental skills that are useful in self-defense or competition, and I’ve become very comfortable with those manipulations. As far as tactical long guns (carbines/shotguns), I am a believer in always equipping them with a sling. The teachers at Shoot Logic have explained the advantages, and I trust their instruction. If a long-arm is to be used in the field, range, or in a serious fight, I will always be comfortable with my sling. Honestly, it’s like a seatbelt, it just feels weird if it’s not on. Also, and I’m just speaking my mind here, if you aren’t using a piece of gear that you attached to a gun, then why is it there? If the gun has a sling, it should be used. Again, I’m simply taking the requirements for a training class, and applying them to my personal shooting time.
Invest in quality targets
A guy on the Internet was posting his “day at the range” and took a picture of the assorted guns that he brought. I won’t bore you with details, but he easily had $10,000 in military style carbines, optics, and handguns. Ironically, he was shooting at some sort of disfigured fencepost/sawhorse and I couldn’t help but wonder how he was able to rationalize this disparity of bullet launcher to bullet receiver. Conversely, I have invested in a simple steel frame that holds 1”x 2” wooden slats, and can I attach standard IDPA cardboard targets to the slats with a stapler. For less than $50, I have targets that are large enough for me to gage where errant shots go, and I’m using the targets that I shoot in training classes. By tossing a few shoot-n-see targets in my truck, and maybe a roll of masking tape, I can shoot on clean targets that allow me to track my progress throughout the session. I think we all know what it’s like to have a massacred target with dozens of bullet holes riddling it, and when that happens, we are just wasting our time and ammo. A little investment into my targets has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, and I hardily recommend it for anyone. So, again, I’m using standard gun school/competition targets and have brought them into my own shooting sessions. If Gun schools and shooting sports use them, then maybe there is an awfully good reason.
What can I say; I am terrible at off hand shooting. I’m also pretty bad at shooting unsupported rifles as well. If you want to see something embarrassing, watch me mount an AR on my left shoulder. In fact, I could write a book on all the ways I’m terrible with a gun. So, as much as I hate it, every shooting session deserves a little time at something I don’t like. One day, I might have to shoot a gun with my left hand, and on that day, I will be less incompetent and disadvantaged because I just dedicate a few minutes at the range to something I hate. I once shot 100 rounds from a Beretta 92 by drawing, deactivating the safety, and firing the first round from double action. I reset the gun and did it again…and again. What was the end result of that shooting drill? I gave away the gun. Seriously though, double action shooting is hard for me, but it is my first shot. I decided that I needed to be competent if I was going to own a DA/SA pistol. I might not be a master of the long heavy trigger, but I’m better than I was, and that counts for something. So, take a moment, think about something you are bad at, and spend a little time practicing it. The only thing that can happen is that you get better. Also, as I like to beat dead horses, you might not know, but there is no gun school anywhere in the USA that would let you draw and shoot a double action handgun with the hammer cocked. They insist that you shoot the gun as it is designed to be shot. So, I simply apply their standards, because they are going to make me shoot weak hand or one handed, or any of the innumerable ways that I’m not good at. Hell, I might as well just do it myself and get it over with…
Learn when to call it a day
I’m a believer in the idea of “diminishing returns”. A few months ago, I was just trying to be as accurate as possible with one of my favorite handguns, and boy, it was not going well. I was making mistakes and by overcorrecting one issue, I would cause another. I got caught up in trying to fix myself, and as I grew increasingly frustrated and tired, my groups spread out even more. Fortunately, I was able to take a breath, and decided to call it a day. I realized that I couldn’t figure it out, and all I was doing was wasting ammo, and probably reinforcing a flawed technique. I decided that I would visit Tim Elmer the next day, and get some help diagnosing the issue. We are all going to have bad days, and some of those days are going to be at the range. Frankly, I think it is better to walk away and try and get a clear resolution to the problem, than just continuing to blast away. Shooting while frustrated only serves to reinforce bad habits and can suck the joy out of a favorite activity. Additionally, I think there are ramifications to our safety, as anger sure is distracting. When did being frustrated or upset with yourself ever make anything better?
Every once in a while, folks will ask me to bring them shooting for the first time. I take that request super seriously. This could be the moment where another gun nut is born, or where that little fear of guns can become all consuming for someone. I model those range visits after what I have seen at Shoot Logic. I email them with wardrobe requirements and what to expect. Then we have class room time (in my home) where we discuss safety and how guns work. Finally, when they are comfortable with the material, we head to the range (it’s only 5 minutes from my house). I just use .22’s and keep it easy as possible. Honestly, I have yet to find a better way to drill the proper fundamentals into my head than explain them to someone else and take responsibility for their foundational comprehension of firearms. The Shoot Logic staff do this every. Single. Weekend.
In closing, I want to reiterate that I’m not an expert in the world of shooting; I’m just another regular Joe who likes to sling a little lead on the weekends. However, through time and shared wisdom, I’ve found a few nuggets that I think make me a safer and more skilled gun owner. If there’s a chance that I can help fellow enthusiasts, then I have to take the help so many have shared with me and “pay it forward”. Ultimately, most of the things I incorporate into my private shooting time are built around recreating the conditions I’ve experienced at the Shoot Logic facility. It has worked well for me, and maybe it can work well for you too.