Some of my friends wonder why I’m so serious about pistol training. Their questions are usually combined with one of the following additional statements:

“I’m good to go…I’ve got my concealed carry permit.”

“Our department is serious about training. We actually shoot and qualify every quarter.”

“I’ve really gotten serious about shooting. I took a 4 day class about 6 months ago and I’ve been going to the range about once a month since then.”

None of those are bad things. In fact, they’re all GREAT. But they won’t make you a better shooter on their own.

Most concealed carry permit classes are about understanding the law more than how to put effective rounds on target when you are under life or death stress.

It’s not the instructor’s fault…they’ve got an impossibly small amount of time to convey a LOT of information. But head knowledge from a class won’t help you perform under stress…practicing to the point of developing conditioned responses that you can execute sub-consciously is how you perform under stress.

Is more training the answer?

Yes and no.

Let me give you an example of 2 incidents.

I’m going to summarize what happened so we can get to the takeaway lessons you can use.

The first is from April, 2012 in Harlem. A man killed his 13 year old half-sister with a .22 pistol and police were called. It was 3:27 a.m. Police found and began chasing the suspect on foot. The suspect shot at police once. The 2 officers pursuing fired 84 rounds, hitting the suspect 14 times, and he still refused to drop his weapon. One officer fired 39 shots and the other fired 45 shots (with 2 reloads). The officers were behind cover and 70 feet from the shooter. The shooter survived to stand trial.

The 2nd is from September, 2015 in Bushwick/Brooklyn. The suspect ran from a botched armed robbery where he shot his intended victim at around 1AM. There were 2 firefights with law enforcement. In the first one, the suspect got behind a car and shot at the police, hitting an unmarked police car (some reports said with many rounds and other reports said with 1 round). 4 officers fired a combined 52 rounds, missing with all 52 rounds. He ran away from this position and ended up running right towards another 2 officers in their patrol car. These 2 officers both emptied their 15 round magazines + the rounds in their chambers. I don’t know if they reloaded. 1 of those 32 rounds hit the shooter in the calf.

In both of these cases, the officers were better trained than the average civilian, but it STILL took 84 rounds (14 hits in 1 case and 1 hit in the other) to stop the shooter.

Police officers get training in POST before becoming officers as well as annual training and have to pass qualification shoots 1 or more times per year. It would seem like we could make a blanket statement that since the average officer gets more training than the average civilian, that they would shoot better than civilians. Even so, in both of these cases it took 84 rounds to stop the suspects.

How does this happen?

This doesn’t justify the hit ratios, but for comparison, in the early days of OIF/OEF, the ratio of rounds fired to enemy combatants killed was 250,000:1. Take out miniguns and machine guns and divide that by 2,000 and it’s STILL 125:1. We WANT to strive for better and should strive for better, but reality is stubborn and isn’t always simple.

  1. When multiple shooters are involved, the number of rounds fired increases.
  2. Low light increases the number of rounds fired per incident.
  3. NYPD gives their officers 3 choices for pistols…Sig P226, Glock 19, or S&W 5946. Regardless of which they choose, they are “broken” by gunsmiths to be double action only with 12 (T W E L V E) pound trigger pulls. For women and men with average or less than average grip strength, a 12 pound trigger press makes it almost impossible to isolate trigger finger movement from overall grip. That means that pressing the trigger causes the entire hand to sympathetically flex and the muzzle of the gun (and point of impact) to move inwards and downwards.

    In addition, the excited anticipation of the shot being released (and the neurotransmitter release that goes along with a shot being released…especially in combat when there is an unconscious association between the shot being fired and the threat going away) makes it very likely that a shooter will jerk the trigger if the trigger press is too long and the shot doesn’t release soon enough.

  4. On the first shooting, the distance was 70 feet…just under 25 yards. Increase the distance and the hit ratio drops.
  5. On the 2nd shooting, the shooter was behind cover for the first 52 rounds. His target profile was smaller than if he was just standing in the open. Smaller targets lower hit ratios.
  6. In the first shooting, officers were running and gunning. Fitness and lack of experience moving and shooting could have easily played a role.
  7. If the officers were like most officers and civilian defenders, they were not used to shooting from awkward positions, didn’t practice regularly on their own, and hadn’t taken steps to prepare their minds for combat.

So, regardless of whether you’re law enforcement, civilian, or military, are there quick, easy, and affordable steps that you can take to improve your performance in a situation like this?

Yes. And that’s been my mission for the last 8 years.

The biggest lesson is that training is not practice, and practice is one of the key factors that separates shooters who shoot good on the range from shooters who shoot good under stress. NYPD officers are well TRAINED. But training gets you head knowledge, and head knowledge just doesn’t get the job done under stress. What you need to perform under stress is skills that you’ve practiced to the point that they have become conditioned responses that you don’t have to consciously think about to execute.

The fastest and most affordable way to develop conditioned responses is through frequent small block dry fire practice sessions…we’re only talking about 5-15 minutes per day, a few times a week. This is the core of the Concealed Carry Masters Course, 3010Pistol, and Dry Fire Training Cards and why they’ve been so effective.

There’s an 80% chance that if you face a lethal force threat, it’ll be in low-light conditions. That means that you REALLY need to practice shooting in low-light conditions. We made a full 25% of the drills in Dry Fire Training Cards low-light drills so that you could practice proven low-light drills in the comfort of your home for less than the cost of a box of practice ammo.

If you’re in law enforcement, I STRONGLY suggest that you practice regularly with a light bar behind and beside you. The combination of adrenaline, light bars, and low light can make your sights dance around in ways that aren’t believable until you experience it. If I have the presence of mind and have to make a precision shot in these conditions, I’ve found that I’m exponentially more accurate when I close my left eye. Your mileage may vary. Some may argue that you shouldn’t shut your eye. That’s fine. I understand–keep both eyes open. But if you’re burning through your mag and not getting hits, try shutting an eye.

If you’re saddled with a long, heavy, 12 pound trigger, you might want to double up on your grip & forearm workouts. And maybe find another department to work for.

The absolute best tool that I’ve found for helping shooters conquer the problems associated with the excited anticipation of the shot being released (flinch and jerk) is the Deadly Accuracy from Matt Seibert at Insight. 80-90% of shooting is mental and when you factor in all of the emotions involved in a self-defense shooting, that number goes even higher. This is the best program for mastering the mental dynamics of shooting…from mental hacks to instantly eliminate flinch and jerk to high-speed techniques that will help you blunt and counteract the performance robbing effects of the adrenaline/cortisol dump that comes with a sympathetic response in a life or death situation.

Finally, these 2 shootings illustrate just how messy and dynamic real life shooting situations are. The targets weren’t stationary. The officers weren’t stationary. They were running, moving to cover, popping out around cover, and more. A gunfight isn’t the place to learn these skills. Neither is your local range.

That’s why we developed Dry Fire Fit. It’s a set of 50+ movement based dry fire drills that are designed to help you perform better in real life shooting situations…like the 2 described here. Dry Fire Fit is the easiest, most affordable, and highest leverage way to hone and refine your 360 degree shooting skills, as well as shooting on the move and shooting around cover. Use them with a SIRT, a blue gun, airsoft gun made inert, or your sidearm after it’s been made temporarily incapable of firing live rounds, but get these drills and hone your skills now so you’ll be able to perform if the need ever arises.

Questions? Comments? Sound off by commenting below