Let me know if this sounds familiar. You go to your favorite range and pay your fee. You uncase your firearm and load up. Next you set a target out at a nice comfortable distance – say, seven yards or so. You square yourself up to the target get into a good shooting stance, and take aim. Slowly, carefully, you squeeze off your shots.
When you’ve fired your fifty rounds or whatever, you set the gun down and retrieve your target. You admire the nice tight grouping you landed, pat yourself on the back for your good shooting. Maybe your friends are at the range that day, and you pass your target around so they can compliment you on a job well done. Then you case your weapon, load it in your car and drive home.
Another successful practice day at the range. Right?
I see this sort of thing all the time when I go to the range, and it always leaves me shaking my head. To my way of thinking, this is the “fast food” of firearms practice: It tastes good and fills your belly, but it’s not particularly healthy for you and if that’s all you eat, you’re going to be awfully malnourished after a while.
In the case of firearms practice, the nourishment you’re after is — or ought to be — steadily improving skills, increased competence with the weapon, and the confidence that comes from trying something hard and MAKING it. And you’re not going to achieve that blasting neat groups of no-challenge holes into a close-in target. Sorry, but you just won’t.
If you’re lucky and you’ve had enough training to possess a decent stance, grip, and sight and trigger skills, this sort of “fast food” practice is benignly harmless. You’ll ingrain your basics without challenging yourself, without giving you an opportunity to become BETTER. At best, you’ll stay stagnant, perhaps tightening up your groups a bit, but little more. If you don’t have a good grasp of the fundamentals, this kind of practice is actively harmful, because you’ll ingrain bad habits through a thousand repetitions that will be the very devil to correct down the road.
But every training day like this is a wasted opportunity to challenge yourself, to push the envelope, to tackle something just a bit bigger and tougher. To step outside your comfort zone, to take on a challenge and prevail. And, let’s face it, ammo is expensive, so why waste it repeating the same easy stuff month after month? Sure, we may take a temporary ego hit when we rack that target out to 50 yards and miss the paper over and over. But think of how much better a shooter we’ll be, and how good we’ll feel about it, when we start landing those 50 yard hits. Or when we score 50/50 on the Dot Torture drill. Or when we succeed at whatever challenge we’ve set for ourselves.
Tackling the bigger, tougher, harder challenges is sort of like eating our vegetables: We might not like the way it tastes, but it’s good for us and we’ll reap the benefits of sucking it up and doing it later on. Stretching the envelope is choosing to give up the short-term easy gratification for a longer-range payoff in both competence and satisfaction. And it’s definitely good for us in the long run.
So, this is my challenge to you: Next time you go to the range, don’t just set up the same old target at the same easy distance and blast away. Challenge yourself. Try a timed fire exercise (if you have an iPhone, this will help you out with that), or a three-by-five drill. Run a target out to 30 or 50 yards and see how you do. If this is easy for you, try 100 yards, or 200. Try shooting one-handed. Try some shoot/no-shoot drills: Draw six numbered circles, and use a die roll to pick which one is your threat.
The what doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you pick something which challenges you, which pushes you past your comfort zone just a bit, which isn’t an easy auto-pilot task. That’s how you’ll improve as a shooter. That’s how you’ll develop your mental and physical skills beyond where they are now. That’s how you’ll build “shooting muscle”, which lives in equal parts in body and brain.
Try it, and let me know how it works out for you. Like diet and exercise, tackling a difficult shooting challenge isn’t easy and comfortable. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. But in the end, you’ll be better off for having done it.