Target Shooting - Advice on a training routine for new shooters?

For new shooters, what is a good training routine to work on at the range to improve both accuracy, and speed? And what speed and accuracy goals should we be striving to achieve? I ask this for myself, and I wonder how many people are going to the range with a specific set of goals for their shooting session.

I always have goals when I go to the range - and sometimes it’s just to help relax from a stressful week.

There’s a balance between speed and accuracy. That balance will be dictated by the situation.

When you go to the range as a new-ish shooter, your goals should include getting very familiar with your firearm. You should be able to load/unload/and shoot comfortably after a few trips to the range. Yes, loading a magazine is something people do need to learn and there’s absolutely no shame in asking for help if there’s an issue at any point of shooting.

Once you get used to your firearm, I would add in training for clearing malfunctions (here’s one thread about it, there are more in the Community. You can use the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner to search for others.)

I would highly suggest taking a couple of classes - including the USCCA Defensive Shooting Fundamentals class. They will help you learn different skills and find ways to improve the skills you already have.

Take your time and have fun (safely) at the range.


Adding to what @Dawn said, your goals will vary. When sighting my rifle, my goal is Minute of Angle accuracy. I have an app that calculates holdover and drop based on bullet weight, caliber, velocity, wind, etc. When training with my SD pistol, I want Minute of Badguy. I want to put rounds, center of mass. As many rounds, as fast as I can. Throw in a little precision pistol. Jack Wilson showed us that one precision pistol shot, might be all you get against an attacker, at across-a-large-room distance. Get familiar with your pistol, until it feels natural in your hand, and you shoot it accurately, with self defense ammunition.


I agree with both answers above. Let me add that each range has slighly different rules. I think it’s a good idea to learn the ones your range thinks are important.

Also keep in mind the four most important rules:

RULE #1: Treat all guns as though they are always loaded and always perform a clearance check every time you pick one up.

RUKLE #2: Never point your gun at anything that you are not willing to destroy.

RULE #3: Keep your finger OFF the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you are on target and have made the decision to shoot.

RULE #4: Always be sure of your target and beyond.

These rules were printed on a card that came with my initial USCCA membership package. I still keep it handy. I’ve seen slight variations in wording from other sources but these seem to be the most concise.

Simply put, handle a gun as if your life and the lives of those around you depend upon it. They do.


Great advice above! As training new shooters, we like a few rounds into paper, and then progress to steel. Steel gives an immediate feedback…for just hitting the mass. Practice muscle memory, and dry fire…rules of firearm safety are above…one can practice dry fire at home, no ammo in the room! Shooting and hitting a target is a great stress reliever. Even hitting a target at a close distance, and then say to oneself, yes I can do this! Become one with your firearm, and take some classes.


If I can’t make to the range I dry fire on weekends. I try to go to range twice a month, can’t always, but I try to do so. I usually start at 5 yds and go out to 12 yds. I go out to max of 25 yds, I lose my confidence a little. I work on sight alignment and front sight focus. I work on trigger control by dry fire and then I see how it improves my shooting at the range. I just wish I had a coach at range I use for pointers.

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The FIRST thin is of course to be safe as a new shooter. The second thing I would consider most important is to not build bad habits that are range specific. 3 examples one of which I had to break myself from.

  1. Semi-Auto: do not catch the magazine in your hand and put it on the bench then pick up a magazine from the bench and stick it back in. This act will “train you” to catch a worthless piece of metal in your hand and when your brain realizes you have no where to put it you will stop/hesitate/pause and THEN drop the mag and go for your spare.
  2. Revolver: (similar to #1 above) Do not eject the cylinder into your hand and put the empties in your pocket or bag or box. Bring the gun vertical open the cylinder, eject the cases and have the speed loader moving towards the gun. There are rumors of police officers being found shot dead with their right hand in their pockets with 6 empty cases.
  3. Bolt Guns: Do not catch the empty in your fingers as you cycle the action. (this is the one I had to un learn) Rip-Slam the bolt and then find the case later if you are poking holes in paper or hitting steel. Somewhere I discovered that I could catch the round as I cycled the bolt. Which allowed me to put it back in the MTM box in it’s fired order (it’s a reloader thing and order of fire becomes important when doing load development). In a competition I found myself exactly as described above with a piece of brass in my hand and had to stop and figure out what to do with it.

Short version, don’t teach yourself things that you will have to unlearn later.




Thanks Dawn. I’ve been out to the range ~15-20 times so I’ve gained a mediocre level of comfort firing the pistol. I just watched the video you shared about clearing malfunctions. Thanks! That was helpful. Also, I will look into the “USCCA Defensive Shooting Fundamentals” class. Appreciate your help!


Thanks AlexV ! Appreciate you taking the time to provide me with some guidance. :sunglasses:

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Craig6, thanks so much for the insight! Everything you outlined is new to me, and fortunately I haven’t started any of those habits. Appreciate the knowledge!

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@SKIdaho @John150 Thanks for the insight!

Does it make sense to shoot from short ranges, say 5-7 yards, and gain high competency there before moving the target out further?

  1. Distance 5-7 yards?
  2. All shots withing designated radius; 2-3 inch grouping?

After being able to achieve success under those parameters, then move the target out to 12-15 yards?

Is that a good approach? Or do you suggest something else?

Thank you,

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Yes 5 to 7 yards is great. Sometimes new shooters have trouble hitting a 12 inch pattern, until sight alignment, grip is dialed in. If the target is closer, that scenario brings a feedback reward. Then move distance. Hitting a mass at 5 to 7 yards, then one can hone in skills grouping skills. Put a playing card on a target, Remember that the draw from the holster, sucks up time. The brain telling the hand to draw takes up time. When one gets confident, practice draw from holster, and fire, or draw, rack, fire. Hit the mass. One can practice draw, rack, fire, without sight alignment, hit the mass. In a close range defensive situation, speed is critical. This is where dry fire can training can be useful. Draw, rack, dry fire. Become one with the tool. When one get confident, draw and fire from the hip. If one carries from a different location, same technique. Be careful, as some ranges will not allow draw and fire! Know your range rules!

A little disclaimer…the mrs and I have had quite a bit of training, and I shouldn’t speak of some of the drills…as someone that doesn’t have experience should not try some of the above live fire techniques, until one is trained and confident. Yes shoot 5 to 7 yards and become proficient!

The USCCA has lots of training material, written by some of the most down to earth, experienced, knowledgeable, family orientated, friendly people!

Good advice, @Craig6. I remember an avid golfer telling me to start learning the game from a pro. That way you won’t teach yourself bad habits that, as you say, will have to be unlearned. I’m betting that’s a good way into a lot of sports.

When my wife and I decided to buy a gun for self defense, we first went to the local range for an “intro” course. It was all about semi-autos, but we learned a lot about safety and how to handle a gun on a range lane. After much discussion, reading, and viewing online videos, we decided on a DAO revolver. The transition was easy, since a semi-auto has a few more “steps” to take before it’s ready to fire.

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I’m not a firearms trainer and I’ve never played one one TV. As a relatively new shooter, I learned and adhere to “training with every round”. I learned quickly that casual, almost social events did nothing for me. With 6-8 people shooting the same target you no idea what you did during the session other than launch a couple of boxes of ammo.

I go to the range with a plan of what I’m going to work on that day. Right now I’m doing controlled pairs- 10 each at 3/5/7 yards. When done I take the target home score it figure out what worked and what I should work on the next trip.

Range trips should be regular (what ever frequency that works for you). Don’t be the one who has 1 pistol, loaded on the nightstand and hasn’t taken it to the range and shot it in 4 years.

Classes, when you can are also a good idea and have helped me.

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You can’t pass my friend’s CWP test without knowing the four rules of gun safety. He’ll warn students ahead of the class and many times during the class that it will be an important part of the test and to get it in their memory. He repeats over and over. The quickest way to get rejected from his class is range safety violations.
He is so thorough, I’ve never seen anyone fail this way.
You are correct. These are THE most important rules.
They’re like learning about stop signs and traffic signals when driving.

Welcome @James179!
I also am not a firearms trainer, and I do not play one on TV. I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

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Great advice. Dry fire, dry fire, dry fire!
Of course it’s difficult to get good feedback just pulling on a trigger. Just how steady am I while dry firing?
If you can place a spent cartridge “cup up” on top of your slide or barrel and dry fire without disturbing the cartridge (many times repeatedly), move on to a bore sight cartridge if you have one that’s safe to dry fire on.
As you dry fire, pay attention to the laser point on the target, and practice until you can keep the laser point on bullseye.
You will be amazed at your accuracy improvement when you load live ammo.
BTW, use your sights and practice obtaining a good sight picture while dry fire training.

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I have a way to make it useful! Take different colored sharpies to the range with you! Every person gets their own color. Between shooters, bring the target back and circle/cross out the shots that person made with their color sharpie. OR shoot at different parts of the target.

You’re right, it won’t be as consistent as if you’re at the range by yourself, but it does add a level of mental training that can help you in a self-defense incident. When we’re on the range alone we don’t have any distractions or “obstacles” to the target. With others, we have distractions and have to think a bit more about how we’re shooting.

Good point. Competition gets you on your game.
Handling firearms around others keeps your range manners honed.
Yesterday a fellow was looking at a handgun my buddy the FFL has on consignment for me. I happened to be in the shop. He claimed to be knowledgeable and to hold a CWP, but I had to keep moving around the shop to stay out of line of tha barrel he kept pointing all over the place. Not good manners. Sorry, just a little side note.

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