Does your firearm training really applies to your self defense habits?

That may be an another “neverending discussion”, but I’m curious how many of you uses drills ideas in everyday practice / training.
I’m not talking about doing the drill, but using the drill already practiced.

For several months I’ve been observing shooters with different skill levels and was very surprised that most of them practice drills just to pass them without thinking about their application.

It’s great to compete and tell how great or bad drill goes, but actually the drill idea should be applied to real life and not be another statistic in “range logbook”.

Today I attended very interesting defensive class when I observed the pattern how badly people react in stressful situation.
The drill was very simple - target (threat) 21 feet away, facing sideways. 5 rounds in the mag. Once the assailant turns toward the shooter, he starts closing the distance. The goal is to draw and stop the threat.

All of the students (but one :sunglasses:) put whole magazine into the target. Seems to be OK, but unfortunately most of hits were misses, holes in the arm, forearm or belly… which actually doesn’t stop the threat.
And that should be a moment to introduce and apply “failure to stop drill”. 3 rounds which permanently stops the attacker in half or 2/3 of his way.

So I’m wondering why people forget about training they went through already and never apply proper method to save their lives?


I train with my firearm the same as I train hand to hand, while shadow boxing or doing bag work, in my mind, there is an adversary in front of me. I mentally defend against and attack a person. When I’m at the range I mentally engage a threat. Some folks say it makes me look like I’m too intense. But to me, the mental aspect is as important as the physical realm.


A couple things come to mind. One is a challenge for instructors and students; the other I’m not sure what the practical solutions are.

First, people have not learned (not been taught/do not practice) visualization or mental immersion in the crisis they are supposed to be training for — they just do “the thing”. Shoot on beep. Two to body, one to head. Six shots, reload, one shot. Whatever. The mindset is more about beat the par, please the instructor, impress fellow students, don’t FU “the thing” — and never really about trying to create the mental panic, or calm, or resolve, or whatever their brains will be processing while their subconscious is supposed to be rapidly assembling their practiced techniques into a defensive solution without very much conscious assistance.

The second is that it’s hard to get around the “choreography” of the range. In a defensive encounter there is no par, there is no course of fire, downrange and target identification are probably vague, the possibility of death or injury is real, and there is no “book” solution — OODA on a real-life “drill” with no structure and only a vague fit to anything you have ever done. Side-by-side at the 7-yard line only builds a technique, not a tactic or a strategy or rapid analytical decision execution. Most students and instructors will not have reasonable access to realistic free-form scenario/shoot-house experiences.

It’s a tough nut. My background takes me to the processes described by Gary Klein as Naturalistic Decision Making, or the Recognition-Primed Decision model. I do as much as I can in my head, but I don’t know what “best practices” have been discovered to teach or be the defender with limited resources or experience.


You’re right, this is something of a never-ending discussion.

Most of the time when I get to shoot, it’s at a range where I can’t practice realistic drills. So I focus on fundamentals, which is not a waste of time. It’s a good chance to focus on the small stuff and build some muscle memory that gets the rounds where I want them, and it’s also a good chance for me to learn where my limits are, so I know when I shouldn’t take a shot.

The payoff of this comes when I get on ranges where I can do draw-from-holster drills, timed drills, stress drills, shoot/no-shoot drills, etc. I don’t get to do these as often as I’d like, but I think it’s important to have “ordinary” range time as well.


Great topic. I think any kind/type of safety training with the intent of stopping the threat is beneficial. We never know how the threat is going to manifest. The more realistic to our everyday environment the more beneficial. Lately I have been focusing on the sense of urgency because it seem that is where I get fumbled up. I live rurally so when I go for my walk and a rabbit or coyote comes into sight i think of it as a threat and I draw my weapon and try to get my sights on it.

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I think the lack of preparedness for that kind of situation comes from the lack of options to receive that level of training. I know one of the ranges I go to has the option for the target to turn, but not move towards me. Additionally, I don’t have ANY ranges near me where I can draw from my holster and shoot. While I supplement that with dry fire training, it is still not the same as live fire.

When you’re put under stress, you will almost always revert back to your lowest level of training. Did you talk to any of the others and ask them what previous training they already have?


Abstracting the drill from real-life situation is part of the problem. It feels almost like sporting with clay pigeons:

To improve it, bring in additional details that make the student place themselves, in their imagination (until we have supreme VR glasses), into a familiar setting. Is this happening in a mall? a movie theater? what’s behind the threat, a wall, a window? This can be done with inexpensive props.

I’ve noticed that habit in most of shooters, regardless their training level.
When I discussed this with others after classes, it seemed to be mental thing.
Everybody were telling about muscle memory… which actually is something I, personally, don’t like. I have mentioned this several times on other threads - I don’t want to be a trained machine, each situation is very individual, dynamic, not predictable. Perhaps muscle memory is good to keep your draw stroke consistent, have other habits learned (scanning for other threats, keep your handgun ready in compressed position, be sure you are safe before holstering, etc) but thinking and adjusting to current situation is a key.

We should go through dozens of drills, train habits to know how to apply them when needed.
What I see at the ranges - students follow Instructors, do all the drills perfectly and then forgot about them when the time comes. Instead of using those drills they just shoot like crazy when threat is “real”.

Perhaps it’s something that USCCA or NRA could help with creating more classes about it.
I have been begging for more USCCA DSF2 training since 2020… I still cannot find anything closer than 200 miles away from me. Without classes like that one we cannot expect people to react properly in danger situations.

I don’t want to create more stress with additional environment details. If people cannot stop the single advancing assailant, there is no point to add more information.
I like to start with simplicity to see if shooters are prepared for complexity.

The drill I’ve described has its more advanced version, with bystander attached to the assailant.
A little too much at this moment.

There is another example of “muscle memory” vs. “thinking”.
We practice emergency reloads. Fine. But 90% of shooters I’ve seen, done this standing still. What is the point doing this? Be a live stationary target? :scream:

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Ever heard of a skeet shooting tournament getting robbed? :grin:

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IDPA is a good first step. It is a competitive sport but it does more to immerse you into the situation (scenario) than any other thing that I have tried. I don’t think that you really get training from IDPA (although the members are usually very helpful and supportive) but you do get realistic practice. Plus you get to see how other shooters solve the scenarios. For those not familiar with IDPA, a scenario is set up that you have to solve with your gun with your normal carry gear from concealment. Some of the scenarios can be quite elaborate shooting from and around vehicles, going though make shift rooms, sitting at a table to just walking into a bad situation. These scenarios usually require movement and shooting on the move. There will be bad guy targets that are to be shot and innocent bystander targets that are not to be shot. It doesn’t hurt that it is also makes practice more fun.

ETA: Tactical reloads and mag changes on the move or from concealment are required in some scenarios.


How do they address this in the boot camp?

Every Instructor I’ve been working with (including myself) tell students to do everything dynamically. The worst thing that can be done during any fight is standing still and be easy target.
Reload must be done either behind the cover (concealment) or while moving.

So far all USCCA classes I’ve been attending taught this. :+1:

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Shooting fundamentals first. Training comes later.

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The complaint is, the instructor teaches to be dynamic, but the student, overwhelmed by stress, remains static. What’s the way to overcome it (I imagine drill sergeant can resort to a cattle prod, but the civilian instructor probably won’t)

Different branches of the military have more options than you or I would have, so I guess it’s not that easy to answer. They would work on weapons fundamentals in a static environment. They would work on combat fundamentals without weapons, and then gradually increase the variables (i.e. blanks, paintballs, sim rounds, stress ranges, etc.) until they get to live fire exercises.

Military instructors have a lot of options, but their main tool is giving a person/team/squad/platoon a No-Go and sending them back for remedial training. Not sure what the non-military equivalent of that would be.

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Levels of training.
Basic gun operation

  1. How to operate your gun safely.
    a. Loading ammo, b. Operating safety. c. finger control. d. Unloading spent rounds. e. gun safety rules
  2. How to hit the target with good gun control.
    a. Sight picture b. sight alignment. c. trigger control d. Dominant eye e. gun safety rules
  3. How to draw your gun.
    a. obtaining your primary grip b. Drawing the gun c. Gun safety rules. d. operating the safety e. low ready f. high ready g. Target acquisition, h. firing your gun i. reholstering safely.
  • Do you want to learn gun safety?
    • Enroll in a Gun Safety Class USCCA.
  • Do you want to know the firearm really well?
    • Enroll in a basic handgun course USCCA.
  • Do you want to defend yourself well?
    • Enroll in a defensive shooting course USCCA.
  • Do you want to learn crime prevention and techniques to avoid bad situations?
    • Enroll in a course that teaches you how to refuse to be a victim USCCA.
  • Do you want your Conceal Carry License? Do you want to learn conflict avoidance, conflict resolution, and federal and state laws concerning firearms and conceal carry?
    • Enroll in a conceal carry course USCCA.
  • Do you want to defend yourself at home?
    • Enroll in a class that teaches personal protection in the home/home defense. USCCA
  • Do you want to defend your Country?
    • Enlist in a branch of service that best fits you!
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Join the Air Force, they have standards. :laughing:

I was too bored, so I joined the Marine Corps!

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I belong to the local chapter of IDPA and we compete once a month. Great for practicing different shooting positions under timed circumstances - mag changes, limited shot count, etc. Most of the folks at the shoots are very helpful and will give you good advice on how to improve your accuracy.