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5 underused ways to improve police firearms training

Cops often complain that firearms training is boring, static and geared strictly toward the passing of a state-mandated qualification course – but it doesn’t have to be that way

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It is incumbent on firearms trainers to develop realistic, challenging and productive range drills for their agency.

Photo/Tyson Kilbey

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Firearms training is an essential component of any agency’s subject control program. As I train with law enforcement officers across the country, one common complaint I hear is that firearms training is boring, static and geared strictly toward the passing of a state-mandated qualification course. As a result, many officers don’t see their range time as an opportunity to polish a life-saving skill, but rather a necessary evil to satisfy the brass. Worse yet, many officers are not motivated to train with their handgun or develop their skill level past what they are taught in the police academy.

This article is a reminder that there are some underused ways to add excitement and value to your firearms training regimen. All of them are relatively easy to implement, and I can attest that they have greatly enhanced my current firearms training programs.

The two most important things to consider with any firearms training are safety and the fundamentals of marksmanship. With that in mind, I try to regularly incorporate the following five concepts and drills into training:

1. Video review and breakdown

With the ease in which videos can be taken, there is no good reason not to use this technology as a training tool! Record range drills and allow students to conduct a self-assessment and debrief session with instructors. When students get to watch themselves perform drills such as reloads, lateral movement, follow-up shots, or malfunction clearances on camera, they can pick up on wasted movements and other inefficiencies they may not even realize they are doing. With this recognition of the problem, performance improvement comes at a substantially faster rate.

2. Shooting competition

Law enforcement officers tend to be competitive. One way to reignite and motivate officers to perform at a higher level is to introduce an in-house competition. There are a number of ways to do this in a safe, fun and cost-efficient manner.

One simple way is to run a cumulative score of a paper qualification, a timed steel plate or bowling pin course, and a timed obstacle course that incorporates a couple of shooting positions and obstacles to shoot around such as wooden barricades, barrels, or mailboxes. As with any competition, rewards such as medals, ribbons and gift-certificates should be given to the winner (or top three to five shooters) depending on the size of the department.

As a way to motivate all skill levels, run the competition annually or even bi-annually with additional awards given to the officers who demonstrate the most improvement over time.

3. Malfunction and communication drill with a partner

One drill I have successfully used is conducted in the following way. Two shooters line up and make their weapons ready. Then both of them hand me their magazines. While they face downrange, I place dummy rounds in one or both of their magazines and hand them back to them. I then call the various strings of fire. The shooters are responsible for both clearing the malfunction caused by the dummy round and communicating with their partner that they need cover as they clear the malfunction. Not only do they get to polish the fundamentals, but they also get to perform under the stress caused by malfunctions and successfully communicate with a partner under those conditions. This is a great drill to work on tactics and an outstanding drill to incorporate video review into as well.

4. Follow-through drill

Most range drills end with a final shot then scan and recover to the holster. It is a good idea to go beyond the re-holstering process and include additional follow-up procedures into your drills. For example, have the officers give radio transmissions of locations and suspect descriptions while moving to a position of cover. Not only does this require safe and thoughtful action, it translates well to proper tactics in the real world.

5. Alternative starting positions

The overwhelming majority of range drills begin with officer’s hands in the interview position or down at their sides; but not all deadly force encounters happen when an officer’s hands are in this position. It is a good idea to start strings of fire under different circumstances. For example, some strings of fire should be started while the officer is holding pepper spray or a TASER, requiring the officer to transition to the handgun on the command of fire. Another option is to have the officer hold a notebook or clipboard prior to the command of fire, or have an officer begin the string of fire from a seated position.


Safety and the fundamentals of marksmanship are the two primary components of any good firearms program. Once those two elements are in place, it is incumbent on firearms trainers to develop realistic, challenging and productive range drills for their agency. By doing this, officers will be motivated to increase their skill and proficiency levels, and everyone will benefit. Train hard and be safe!

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Tyson Kilbey has more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement, consisting of three years as a hotel security supervisor and 22 years as a deputy sheriff for the Johnson County (Kansas) Sheriff’s Office. He has worked in the detention, patrol and training divisions, SWAT and accident investigation units. He is currently a captain of the Training Unit for the Sheriff’s Office.

Tyson authored “Personal Defense Mastery,” a follow-up to his first book “Fundamental Handgun Mastery.” Tyson is a Jiu-Jitsu black belt under UFC Pioneer Royce Gracie. He has numerous defensive tactics and firearms certifications and has received multiple awards in competitive shooting and grappling. He is the Match Director for the Brandon Collins Memorial Shootout, a shooting competition named in honor of a deputy who died in the line of duty. Proceeds from the match go to charitable causes.