8 tips for bringing the gunfight to the range

When you train at a higher level and you realize that you can perform there, you get a huge boost in both confidence and performance

Many trainers view range training as being marginally effective in gunfight training and conditioning. If we are talking about training to shoot qualifications, I agree. Shooting standards that everyone can pass with little practice may be administratively expedient but it is not conducive to preparing people for the real speed and intensity that lethal-force situations demand.

However, if you bring proper emotional perspective, train at the real speed of the gunfight and learn to shoot under pressure, distraction and emotional duress, you will be amazed at how well you can and will do in a gunfight. I know because I have had many of my students over the years report successful encounters to me. They all report a similar thing...

“Ron, it was just like we did in training.”

When you train at a higher level and you realize that you can perform there, you get a huge boost in both confidence and performance. It is not a lowest-common-denominator world on the street when it comes to performance. Fractions of a second count and you should be working to make the most of those fractions of time you have to work with.

Yes, I agree that square range training is not the only thing that should be done. In an ideal situation we would like to combine it with relevant force-on-force training, productive competitive training, and your own experience on the street so you can really optimize your gunfight capabilities.

However, what I find is that many officers don’t have the time to do the things that take more logistics, equipment, and time. Those officers who are self-motivated to improve generally find themselves training alone — it may be hard to find a partner willing to go with them to the range on a regular basis.

Furthermore, I can definitely point to the successes of those that did go the extra mile to train at a much higher level of performance. They are head and shoulders above their peers on the street when it comes to real world performance.

1.) Practice with the emotional intensity of a real encounter. One of the best places to do visualization training is at the range in an active mode. You are FIGHTING, not just shooting. Psychological toughness/dominance is a mindset that must be exercised in order to develop it. As part of your training, visualize what you are doing as an actual encounter. It is surprising how effective this really is.

It is way too easy to just go out and practice. Don’t fall into that trap. Mindset is everything and it starts before you get to the range.

2.) Practice with all your gear on for part of your session. Vest, coat, gloves, belt, etc. will change the way you access gear and shoot. Know what you can and can’t do with certain items of equipment on. If it doesn’t work the way you want, change it around until it does.

Get in low positions, lie on the ground and get in awkward positions around cover. Make sure you can access your gun and magazines from each of these positions.

3.) Practice in different temperatures, light conditions, and with different targets. Shooting in good weather or daylight is nice. Shooting in whatever weather or light conditions is part of the psychological toughening process. When you can view the weather or lighting with indifference then you are catching on.

Practice reloads without using your eyes to do it. If it is dark or you need to see what’s going on, you may not be able to see what your hands are doing.

Spend some money and buy different color targets with different shapes and sizes. Buy some steel from 6” to 12” plate size. Use spray paint in different colors and make the targets and scoring areas harder to define. Train your mind to sort out the different contrasts and see what you need to see to make the hit.

4.) Practice speed with precision. Safely pay attention to trigger finger and muzzle. Get an electronic timer — they are your best friend and don’t lie — to get accurate time measurement as you work toward cutting your time limits down. Most of the qualification times are way too generous. Either cut them in half or work down a half second at a time, then a 1/10 of a second at a time. Work from both a ready position and from the holster. Example:

  • Two shots in four seconds = two shots in two seconds. Then work down a 1/10 seconds at a time
  • Two shots in two or three seconds would work down ½ sec at a time, then 1/10 seconds at a time

First Shot Standard: From 0.95 to 1.15 seconds out to five to seven yards is the standard I like to see from a duty type holster (remember: correct trigger finger placement is crucial to safety!).

5.) Set your gear up so you can access the deadly force tools without hindrance. Putting batons too close to guns and/or putting other things in front of magazines can lead to problems. The argument that you will use your other tools before your gun doesn’t cut it.

Trust me: Gun/Holster position first, magazines next, then worry about the rest. If there is time to use other tools, you will have time to access them.

6.) Train the entire visual field, from point shooting, to soft focus, to hard focus. Start with your latest qualification course and break it down into sections:

  • 1-3 yards is extreme close quarters
  • 3 - 7 or so yards is close range
  • 7-15 is short range
  • 15 – 25 yards is intermediate range
  • 25 to 50 yards is long range
  • Beyond 50 yards is long range +

The first four have different visual requirements for sighting techniques. All require more trigger finger awareness.

7.) Cycle your training. Change what you do and how you do it: distance, targets, time, positions, and whatnot.

8.) Make it count. Track performance on everything — draws, reloads, movement, distance, scores, time — as you compete in a meaningful way. It can be as simple as competing against yourself, competing for who buys lunch, but the fact is that competition tests competence under duress. When it counts, it means more when you succeed. Examples:

  • Steel Targets shot for time
  • Different tactical arrays shot for score divided by time (Comstock factor)
  • Competitions between departments
  • Outside competition

Get a small video camera on a tripod and film yourself shooting. You can spot many things that can be improved with it. 

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