Sunday, February 25, 2018

Shooting Drills w/ My New SIG P320s

Last Friday my buddy Steve and I both took the day off.  Where did we go?  To the range of course! What did we do? Pistol drills!  I started working with my new SIG P320 Carry and Compact that just came back from Suarez International with RMR modification on the slide.  Suarez did a great job as usual on both slides.

I am slowly changing the family of pistols I use from the S&W M&P to the SIG P320. This is an on-going process as I have been evaluating what works for me over the past several years.  I started with the Springfield XD family and I could shoot them well.  In fact, I used the XD family over the 18 months when I trained and ultimately shot Master in 5 IDPA Divisions (the 6th being revolver).  The only issue I have with the XD is the grip safety and the inability to easily mount a carry optic due to the design.

I carried Glocks for many years officially and as a private citizen; however, had not carried one in some time.  When Suarez started providing the RMR Glock slide modification, I decided to try the Glock family once again. After struggling with Glock for a number of months, I relearned a lesson I had discovered many years ago—the Glock grip angle just does not work for me.  My natural point of aim with a Glock is always a bit high and I have to tilt my wrist slightly down to achieve a proper sight picture.  Is that something I could overcome through practice? Certainly; however, I did not wish to put in that effort when other pistol families probably would work for me.

I then tried a friend’s S&W M&P and shot it well.  When S&W introduced the M&P Pro Series® C.O.R.E.™ I thought I had finally found the right combination.  Not quite. No issue with grip angle; however, my goal is to have two as close to identical pistols as possible, with effectively indistinguishable trigger pulls. One for training, one for carry, and rotating the two pistols periodically through each task.  Although my M&Ps are close, there is a subtle, but noticeable difference in the trigger pulls.

Enter the SIG P320 with its modular fire control system.  Although I still have high hopes that Grayguns can provide me with two identical carry triggers, at the end of the day I can always just swap the modular fire control system between frames if necessary.

On to the range session.  After I sighted in the new P320 Carry pistol and RMR, we started with the IDPA 5x5 classifier as a warm up.  I fired two solid Expert runs with a 23.46 and a 23.85.  We then transitioned to one shot draws on an 8-inch steel plate at 15 yards.  My draw to hit times hovered around 1.5 seconds which is a tad bit slow for me (with the M&P my average is usually 1.35-1.45 seconds).  I was still learning the P320 presentation from the holster and wasn’t quite nailing it every time. 

I routinely read Greg Ellifritz’s Active Response blog and recently read a post where he spoke about Gila Hayes’ 5 x5 Shooting Drill from her book Personal Defense for Women.  It isn’t a drill just for women, but rather a drill that can measure your basic competence with a given pistol.  The drill is five shots, in five seconds, from five yards at a five-inch circle starting with the pistol at low ready.  Lucky Gunner has a nice PDF target with instructions that I printed and used for this session.

Steve and I did not do the standard drill described above. Instead, we started each run with a holstered pistol and did two runs at 5, 7, and 10 yards respectively to get a feel for the drill. We then did the drill five times from 5 and 7 yards.  I initially used my P320 with the RMR; however, I ran it once again at both distances using my P320 X5 with iron sights.

I was satisfied with my performance for the most part.  I really do not have a comfort zone with the P320 so I did not push myself too hard.  I have been training and shooting the M&P for almost 2 years so skill with the P320 will come with time as I adjust to the different grip, trigger pull (it still has a factory pull), and controls.  You can see the results of the practice runs below.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Deliberate Practice Part 3--Putting it all Together

So you’ve read the articles, books, blogs, and watched all the videos of the Distinguished Masters you can do this—Right? This is where most people breathe a sigh of relief and go back to their repetitive practice routine (if they practice at all). And then they fail miserably because at the end of the day becoming a better shooter is not about knowing—it is about doing. In the first article in this series I discussed the concepts associated with Deliberate Practice. 

In the second, I discussed practice physiology and how our brains and bodies develop as a result of practice. I also discussed how to examine each task associated with an activity and break it up into discrete steps for deliberate practice. In this article we’ll be putting it all together and look at how we can improve our shooting through specific exercises and drills using deliberate practice methods.

I have always admired the IDPA Classifiers (both the 90 round original and the current 72 rnd classifier). The team that put the current IDPA classifier courses of fire together captured the 10 major tasks you must perform in the course of shooting a match. These are:

In Stage One:

-- Safely draw the pistol

-- Extend to fire

-- Transition between targets

-- Reload the pistol

-- Execute precise shots

-- Shoot the pistol unsupported with either hand

Stage Two adds the following to the Stage One tasks:

-- Turning then drawing the pistol

-- Moving while shooting

Stage Three adds:

-- Shooting from cover

-- Moving from one shooting position to another

Each of these major tasks is composed of sub tasks that also must be performed correctly. We can break each major task down into sub tasks and then apply the deliberate practice methodology to improve our skills. For example, as we analyze the major task of turning then drawing the pistol, should we turn toward the side where our pistol is holstered (in my case the right side) or the side opposite our pistol. How should we move our feet? Where should we be looking? When do we draw the pistol from the holster? When does the support hand contact the pistol? Lots of questions--there are probably others.  Some experimentation shows that the distance to the target is shorter and our ability to get the pistol on target is faster if we turn toward the side with the holstered pistol.

Another example--moving from one shooting position to another. Do we dismount (lower) the pistol as we move or keep it mounted (in the firing position)? If you are only moving a few feet then keeping the pistol in a firing position is fine. If you must move more than a few feet then dismount the pistol (muzzle awareness at all times) and run normally to the next position keeping the pistol high. As you cover the last few yards, mount the pistol so that as you glide into a stop at the firing position you have the pistol ready to fire as you acquire the target. This saves you the additional time you would spend if you had waited until you came to a complete stop to bring the pistol onto the target.


Drills can help us deliberately practice and master the subtasks associated with each major task. However, a key point: You should push yourself with a par time goal that is challenging but not impossible for zero down with each sequence. Ideally you only want to be succeeding in 50-80% of your attempts. Less than that and you’ll get frustrated--more than that and you’re not pushing yourself hard enough and that’s how you get better. When you can meet the par time consistently--speed up. This criteria applies for every deliberate practice session and every drill. Let’s look at a few drills that can help you work on your weak points.

1. The 1,2,3 Drill: This is one of the simplest drills. Starting at a distance that is challenging for you, draw and fire one shot at an IDPA, USPSA, 8 inch paper plate, etc. Reholster and then draw and fire 2 shots; reholster, draw and fire 3 shots. Five yards is a good starting distance for a novice, 7 for a more experienced shooter, 10 yards and greater for a better shooter. Concentrate on the fundamentals of a perfect grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press, etc. 

2. The 1-Reload-2 drill: Once again, starting at a distance that is challenging for you, with your finger on the trigger, and pistol aimed at the target. On the start signal, fire a single round at the target, perform a reload, and fire two more rounds at the target. This reloading drill forces you to reestablish a proper grip and sight alignment/picture after the reload in order to control the pistol and get accurate and fast hits. Practice every style of reload (e.g. slide lock reload, speed (aka in-battery) reload, and retention reload if you shoot IDPA competition). Start at a distance that exceeds your point shooting ability to ensure that you are actually doing the post-reload actions correctly and not just point shooting.

3. The Quick and Precise Drill. Place 4 targets in a line with a 2 yard separation between targets. Starting with your pistol holstered and concealed if you wish. Draw and fire two body shots at T1, a head shot at T2, two body shots at T3, and a head shot at T4. Reload (if necessary) and reholster your pistol. Then reverse the sequence fire two body shots at T4, a head shot at T3, two body shots at T2, and a head shot at T1. Reload and reholster your pistol. Then draw and fire one head shot at T1-T4 in any order. When you finish you will have 2 body and 2 head shots on each target.

The Quick and Precise Drill permits you to practice most of the major tasks in the IDPA classifier Stage 1 including the draw, transition between targets, and executing precise shots. (see figure #1)


A variation is the "X" drill with two targets. Shoot one head shot on the left target, transition to the right target and shoot two to the body.  Transition to the right target head and shoot one shot, transition to the left target and shoot two to the body. 

4. The 1-Move-1 Drill: Place a single target at a distance that is challenging for you some distance from a barricade or similar prop and fault lines in place on the left and right sides. Start in the open 10-15 steps from the left or right side of the barricade. On the start signal, fire a single round at the target, dismount the pistol, move to the barricade, as you approach the barricade, remount the pistol, and when you acquire the target fire one shot to the target. Repeat from both sides of the barricade. For variations of this drill you can use barrels and other props and go from standing to kneeling, etc.

The 1-Move-1 Drill helps you practice moving from one shooting position to another. It helps you plan your entry, determine where your feet need to be when you stop, identify visual clues for where your pistol should be as you come to a stop in relation to the target, and plan your exit.

5. The 5 X 5: IDPA now has two classifiers for clubs to choose from. If you are in a hurry or have limited space, you can run the new abbreviated 5×5 classifier and upload the scores. I believe the new 5x5 also serves as a good training drill. The 5x5 is shot on a single target placed 10 yards from the shooter as follows:

String 1: Draw and fire 5 shots freestyle. 

String 2: Draw and fire 5 shots using primary hand only

String 3: Start with only 5 rounds in your pistol. Draw and fire 5 shots, emergency reload (slide lock) and fire 5 additional shots freestyle

String 4: Draw and fire 4 shots to the body and one shot to the head freestyle

I initially dismissed the 5x5 as too easy—that was until I actually went out and shot it. Although I have fired Master using the 5x5 in every IDPA division, this was not a trivial endeavor. The 5x5 is ideal for ranges with limited space. If your range does not permit drawing from a holster, then start from low ready. (see figure #2 and a video of the 5x5)

These are just some drills that you can perform. There are literally hundreds of different drills available through a cursory search of the INTERNET. One point to keep in mind—if the drill does not push you out of your comfort zone then it is not helping you get better. To improve, you must to get out of your comfort zone--mindlessly going through the motions does not improve performance.What else can you do? Attend matches and observe the best shooters. 

What are they doing that is different than what you are doing? If they are willing to discuss your performance after they have shot the stage, ask this person to help you identify what you might need to change in order to be able to do what they are doing. Ask them to watch you shoot and critique your performance. Note: You are more likely to receive feedback of this nature at local club and perhaps regional matches where the stakes are not that high.

Developing master-level shooting ability requires good old fashioned hard work. Employing the deliberate practice methodologies, understanding the physiology of practice and how your body develops skill at a particular task, and then performing shooting drills that develop and test these skills will lift you to the next level. 

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Any Doubt? Put Your Hand on the Pistol

I’m not a big fan of open carry and rarely do it for a variety of
reasons.  However, I do see a side benefit to the open carry because someone seeing you simply place your hand on the pistol (without drawing) would is not a violation of the law as it was in Texas prior to open carry. *

Why is this important?  Joan N. Vickers and William Lewinski published research on police officers performance under pressure in “Performing under pressure: Gaze control, decision making and shooting performance of elite and rookie police officers.”** Vickers and Lewinski discovered that more experienced police officers placed their hand on their pistol and often drew their pistol earlier in a confrontation and thereby gained precious time in responding to a threat—often shooting before the threat could fire at them. Unlike a police officer however, a private citizen cannot simply draw his pistol at any perceived threat without risking arrest. 

In any event, after reading the Vickers and Lewinski research I started collecting data to determine how much of a time advantage was gained by placing your hand on the pistol versus starting with your hands in some other location (e.g. hands at sides). My goal was to determine how long it took a competitor (granted, not necessarily the average private citizen licensed to carry) to draw and fire single shot. 

We have timed the draws of 264 individuals over a period of several years during our local IDPA and Short Range matches. We have measured 1,843 specific instances of drawing the pistol and firing a shot from concealment, 967 draws with the pistol not concealed, and 892 instances when the competitor started with their hand on the holstered pistol. We only included instances where the competitor's shot stuck inside the -1 or 0 of the standard IDPA target in the data set. 

The skill level of the competitors varied from new shooters participating in their first practical match, Novices, Marksmen, Sharpshooters, Experts, and two Masters--unfortunately we have few Master class shooters in our local matches. This video (click here) shows me drawing and shooting in a Short Range Match replication of a robbery in a Tampa convenience store.  The first number the Safety Officer reads from the timer is the total time for the string of fire.  The second number is the time from the beep to the first shot or the draw time. My draw time for the first string from concealment is 1.33 seconds. My draw time for the second string from concealment; however, with my hand on the pistol is .73 seconds.  The time difference with my hand on the pistol was .60 seconds.

We have discovered that for all experience levels, placing your hand on a pistol concealed or openly carried early in a dangerous situation can provide an average of a .74 – 1.25 second time advantage (depending on the individual skill level) if you must draw compared to starting with the hands in some other position.  This is not trivial—3/4th of a second to 1.25 seconds faster can be a lifetime in a deadly confrontation.

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Come out and shoot with us on the second Sunday of every month at Cedar Ridge Range in San Antonio, Texas.  

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* Is placing your hand on a holstered pistol a violation of the law as long as the pistol remains in the holster?  I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice; laws vary by state—check your local laws as appropriate.

**You can find this article on the Force Science website at:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Shooting and Musing about the New IDPA 5x5 Classifier

IDPA now has two pistol classifiers for clubs to choose from—the Standard Method (the 72 round, 3 stage classifier) and the Abbreviated Method (the new IDPA 5x5 classifier).  I initially dismissed the 5x5 as too easy—that was until I actually went out and shot it.

The 5x5 is shot on a single target placed 10 yards from the shooter as follows:

String 1: Draw and fire 5 shots freestyle.

String 2: Draw and fire 5 shots using primary hand only

String 3: Start with only 5 rounds in your pistol. Draw and fire 5 shots, emergency reload (slide lock) and fire 5 additional shots freestyle

String 4: Draw and fire 4 shots to the body and one shot to the head freestyle

A video of the 5x5 classifier is here: Click

Over the course of 3 shooting session in 2 weeks, I fired Master using the 5x5 in all divisions including under the new Carry Optic criteria. Although this was not a trivial endeavor, it clearly was an achievable goal.  Should it have been?  Although I am an IDPA 6-gun Master, I have not practiced in every division in well over 18 months.  I primarily practice with and shoot my carry pistol which is a 9mm CCP pistol.  Although it has a carry optic, I grew up using iron sights and can still shoot iron sights with no problem.

I friend of mine who is also an IDPA 6-gun Master shot master in all divisions as well.  As we went through the process, I quickly fired master in CCP, SSP, ESP, and BUG—1st run in all 4 divisions.  CDP took more effort; however, revolver was a challenge. I have not consistently practiced with a revolver since the 2016 IDPA Nationals and my lack of reloading practice was evident. However, some dry practice put me over the top and I shot a 19.37. My friend Steve had a little trouble with the CDP and BUG (he primarily shoots revolvers), but shot Master in the other divisions easily and CDP and BUG soon after.

I have always admired the IDPA Classifiers (both the 90-round original and the current 72-round classifier) and believe they provide a good test of shooting ability. These courses of fire capture the 10 major tasks you must perform in the course of shooting a match. These are:

1. Safely draw the pistol

2. Extend to fire

3. Execute precise shots

4. Transition between targets

5. Reload the pistol

6. Shoot the pistol unsupported with either hand

7. Turning then drawing the pistol

8. Moving while shooting accurately

9. Shooting from cover

10. Moving from one shooting position to another

The new 5x5 classifier only tests the first 5 major tasks.  The fact that the IDPA classifier no longer tests shooting from cover nor moving while accurately shooting may reflect IDPA’s recent direction with fault lines and discontinuing the practice of giving procedural penalties for movement.

I initially suspected that the new 5x5 classifier could result in significantly greater numbers of shooters moving up in classification.  Removing the “athletic” portion of the classifier in theory may permit older shooters and those who are perhaps not in great physical shape to do better. These individuals may be able to shoot very well; however, moving between shooting positions takes time. The 5x5 does not penalize a shooter’s inability to quickly move from point A to B.

However, the sandbaggers may prove me wrong. Our local IDPA club shot both the 5x5 and the 72-round classifier today. No shooter scored Master and only a couple squeaked into Expert. Yet many of these shooters always place well and/or win our local matches. I would never question a shooter’s integrity; however, it’s hard to imagine why some of these shooters did so poorly.  Oh well—it’s a game after all. 

Please note: This video is for educational purposes only. Do not try this yourself without proper instruction. Inexperienced shooters often put their finger on the trigger too soon in the draw with negligent discharges the result.
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