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5 Pistol Training Drills to Enhance Your Shooting Skills

Here are five proven drills to enhance and sharpen your pistol-shooting skills.

5 Pistol Training Drills to Enhance Your Shooting Skills
A fistful of drills to enhance your pistol skills.

There's nothing wrong with shooting drills for the sake of fun, but doing so at the expense of practicing more fundamental skills is foolish- if your goal is to be a better defensive handgunner. Drills that have you running and gunning against the timer tend to become the "end all to beat all" for many shooters. However, the serious shooter understands that a drill is a means to an end, with the goal being to attain real-world proficiency as opposed to action movie flash and flare.

To that end, here are five drills taught by some of the top practical shooters in the industry. Only one is really semiauto-specific, and the rest can be run with a revolver- although some of the standards applied to these drills wouldn't necessarily apply to people shooting double-action wheelguns. Each is guaranteed to make you better at what's really important: defensive pistolcraft.

Three-Round Fade-Back

While the official version of the Fade-Back drill uses a 3×5 card, you can shoot it on anything of appropriate size. It’s a great drill to start any training session because it gets you in the mindset of good sight alignment and good trigger control.

Dave Spaulding of Handgun Combatives is an excellent shooter. He's fast and accurate enough to give many competitive shooters a run for their money, but Dave doesn't train to win a match. The focus of Handgun Combatives is to prepare the shooter to prevail in armed conflict. Sure, being fast and accurate will help in a lethal conflict, but there's more to it than that.

As Dave preaches, the word "combative" means ready and willing to fight. That's what Dave's courses are all about. I know because I've taken several of them. Although Dave has no shortage of dynamic drills, every Handgun Combatives course starts with the Three-Round Fade-Back.

This drill requires nothing more than a 3x5 card and 25 yards of range room. It's hard to imagine a simpler drill, and that's the point. Since there is no time limit, accuracy is the shooter's only concern. The drill starts at the three-yard line, with the shooter firing his or her best possible three rounds at the 3x5 card. As you would expect, most fairly proficient semiauto shooters can print a one-hole group at this distance, or close to it; double-action revolver shooters may not be able to, but the goal is the same. At the five-yard line, the results tend to be pretty similar.

At seven and 10 yards, groups start to open up a bit, but most students are able to keep their rounds on the 3x5 card. At 12 yards, the 3x5 card starts to seem a little smaller. At this distance, most standard width sights cover the card, leaving no target information around the front sight. A very smooth trigger press is required even at this relatively close range in order to stay on target.

At 15 yards, things get even dicier, as the shooter has to "guestimate" where the rounds will impact. Mind you, there is no pressure to deliver the rounds quickly.

From 20 yards, most shooters would be happy to hit a man-size target. The 3x5 card is a real challenge. As an experienced shooter, it's not uncommon for me to throw a couple rounds at this distance. Then comes the final stage: the dreaded 25-yard line. At 25 yards, Dave is quick to point out that the 3x5 card hasn't shrunk (this isn't as funny as he thinks it is, especially when you're struggling).

In our police qualification course, it's not uncommon for cops to completely miss the B-27 silhouette target from the 25-yard line. As you can imagine, hitting a 3x5 card with three consecutive rounds from a quarter of a football field away can seem next to impossible. In fact, in seven years of teaching hundreds of students, Dave said he can count on one hand how many have shot this drill clean. While the goal is to hit the card with every shot, the purpose of the drill is to stress the importance of accuracy by way of sight alignment and trigger press.

Recoil Management Test

Frank Proctor is an incredible shooter with an impressive military and competitive shooting background, but his course wasn't as high-speed, low-drag as I'd anticipated. Instead, the focus was on the fundamentals, what he calls "performance shooting." The goal is to deliver fast and accurate fire whether for competition or defensive purposes.

The Recoil Management Test consists of a shooter gripping the pistol as he or she normally does and firing five rounds as fast as possible at a five-inch target from a distance of five yards. This helps the student determine his or her personal "cyclic rate." After the string of fire, Frank gives you your time and you take note of where you hit. Then, Frank shares with you his recommendations for improving the speed and accuracy of your shots. Here are some of his teaching points.

The popular thumbs-forward grip is a good place to start for semiauto shooters, but the devil is in the details. First, from an isosceles-type stance, ensure the web of your firing hand is as high on the backstrap of the pistol as possible (so high that the skin of your hand is bunched up around the backstrap). Next, rather than merely having the support-hand thumb forward, roll it forward as much as possible to lock the wrist into place for added leverage to mitigate recoil. Both hands should apply pressure similar to that when extending a firm handshake.


The support-hand thumb pushes against the frame toward the firing hand, which helps counter the tendency to push rounds to the support side when delivering rapid-fire shots. The thumb of the firing hand has a job, too. It applies downward pressure on the other thumb to mitigate muzzle flip. Finally, the elbows must remain "unlocked" to avoid recoil traveling to the shoulders, which would cause the arms to rise unnecessarily after each shot. After incorporating Frank's advice, I was much better able to control recoil.

Triple Threat

In Kyle Lamb's courses, he uses his own VTAC targets, which depict an assailant's skeletal structure, but you can use (or make) your own targets for this. The target should include realistic or realistically sized areas for the head, chest and pelvis. The target depicted in the lead photograph for this article shows what I mean; for VTAC targets visit

From a distance of about five yards, with targets spaced about a foot apart, the shooter engages the chest box of the center target with three rounds. From there, the drill calls for one round to the head box followed by one round to the pelvic box or vice-versa. Engage the remaining two targets in the same manner.

The shooter with the fastest time wins, but there's one caveat: If any rounds on any of the three targets are outside the designated box, you get a big fat goose egg.

I shot this and several other of Kyle's drills alongside him for "Guns & Ammo TV." It was humbling. I recall beating Kyle in only one drill (out of about 15) where I shot a semiauto shotgun and he shot a pump ... left-handed.

This Triple Threat forces you to shoot quickly and accurately. The tactical application of the drill is that it forces you to transition to secondary targets- the head and the pelvis, in this instance- after your three rounds to the chest fail to neutralize the threat. Then you need to drive the pistol to the second and third targets.

Transitioning from target to target should be fast, but you can shoot only as fast as you can guarantee hits- unless you plan to settle for a zero score. As I recall, Kyle shoots the drill in about seven seconds. Not bad for 15 hits on three targets.


Kyle Lamb's Reload drill focuses on this critical defensive handgun skill. It runs you through not one but two reloads in the same drill, reinforcing the ability to access and load spare ammo.

Another of Kyle Lamb's drills is the Reload drill. I screwed this simple drill up so badly by trying to be too fast that Kyle started calling me "Reload." If you're a dedicated revolver shooter, you may or may not be able to shoot this drill exactly as described, but you could certainly modify it to suit your gun and your method of reloading (speedloads or speed strips).

From a distance of 10 yards on steel or paper (even multiple targets if you'd like), draw and fire three rounds then reload. Fire three more rounds and reload, then finish the drill with three more rounds.

The purpose of the drill is to get you to access two spare magazines quickly and, of course, fire with speed and accuracy. If you bobble a reload, stick with it and complete the drill. (Take it from me, launching a magazine and cursing is not an acceptable conclusion). Kyle shoots this drill in well under seven seconds.

Strike, Detach, Draw and Assess

Strike, Detach, Draw and Assess starts in a hands-up posture followed by a hand strike. Then step back, draw your handgun and assess the situation. It's a great blend of armed and unarmed defensive skills.

Kelly McCann of Kembativz Brand is a former Special Operations Marine and is equally adept empty-handed or armed with stick, knife, gun or whatever else may be lying around. Known for his no-BS approach to personal protection, Kelly teaches simple techniques that are easy to learn and, just as importantly, easy to recall and execute under duress. He is without peer when it comes to blending close-quarter shooting with unarmed skills.

The following is my take on how his drill can be performed safely by using a simple cardboard target in a stand or, if you want to splurge, a dummy designed expressly for shooting. (Don't use substitutes that could cause flying debris or ricochets!)

My version of this can be done as a dry-fire or inert-gun drill at home as well as live-fire at a range that permits what I'm about to describe. If you choose to do this live fire, do not try to be fast. Safety is the primary concern, and you can still learn from this without trying to be some fast-draw honcho.

Start with your hands in front of you, palms facing the potential "attacker"- represented by your target. This position seems innocuous, perhaps even submissive. What the would-be attacker won't realize is that with your hands in this position, you are literally coiled to strike. Kelly equates this posture to cocking the hammer of a handgun.

Once you can justify, based on the circumstances, that the assailant is about to attack, preempt the imminent attack by stepping forward with your lead leg and striking the target's face with the palm of your rear hand. This motion is similar to delivering a right cross in boxing.

After delivering this strike, step back, draw your handgun and assess the situation. There's no time standard, and no real need to fire (which is why you can do this dry just as effectively as live-fire). The goal is to seamlessly blend unarmed and armed protective measures.

Next time you're at the range, give these proven drills a run. They may not have you looking like an action hero, but they are bound to improve your ability to save your life with your pistol.

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