basic handgun practice

Training With A Handgun | Start With The Basics

basic training with a handgun

A reader asked the following question to Modern Survival Blog regular contributor and retired Law Enforcement Officer, “Dennis”, regarding basic training with a handgun:

Got a question I hope you can answer, or even some of the other former LEO guys who are regulars here.

I want to train better. I have range space, and safe remote range space.

What is the best start and progression to training with a handgun?

I could search the internet but want to read what you guys would do.
Thanks much

Here’s what Dennis said over on the open-forum, which I decided to post separately here for your interest.

Note: The following was a comment reply, and not intended as an in-depth primer. Though sound advice (which is why I posted it).

My answer will sound condescending, but it’s not. Giving advice to people that already have experience and skill, much of my advice will sound like “well yeh, duh.”

Start With The Basics – 5 Yards

Start with the basics. At five yards.

Smooth draw from the holster, with good firing grip already established as the gun comes out.

Establish your preferred two handed grip as you come up to eye level.

Align your sights as near perfectly as you can, smooth trigger pull to the back, firm grip on the handgun, the bullet will hit where the sights were aligned when the trigger breaks and the hammer falls.

Fire one shot and re-holster. Repeat this until all, not some, but all of your shots hit within a 2 inch circle.

Why so close and why so precise?

Because if you can’t do that at five yards, your chances of making head shots from 15-20 yards are extremely low.

“But I’m not planning on making headshots……..” Yes, but your ability to make those shots make center mass shots at those distances child’s play.

Repetition and Muscle Memory

The repetition of going through the draw, grip, deliberate sight alignment, smooth trigger pull — builds muscle and cranial memory.

That is, you come to where you don’t have to consciously think about what you are doing. (When’s the last time you poked yourself in the eye when brushing your teeth?) Or even concentrated on what you were doing?

With repetition comes smoothness. Smoothness translates into speed.

What about dry firing?

I’m not a big proponent of dry firing. I guess it has it’s place for folks with limited access to a range, but nothing replaces the feel and management of the recoil and knowing where your bullets are hitting.

After 5 Yards…

Once you accomplish putting all your shots in a two inch circle following the same regimen, move back to seven yards and a three inch circle. Then 10 yards and a 4 inch circle. 15 yards a 5 inch. 25 yards an eight inch.

Master this, then we will talk other drills.

I thought I was a decent handgun shot until…

Like I said, this is not condescending. I thought I was a decent handgun shot until I was invited to compete in our departmental “Top Gun” competition years ago. (Based on my regular high scores on the PPC, and having fired a perfect score in my qualifications that year.)

Boy was I humbled. They selected, supposedly, the best 50 shooters on our department of around 3,000 officers to compete. Thank God they selected 50, because I would have placed last if they had only selected 49. I was nowhere close to the top five shooters.

I was proud to have been selected to compete, but I was embarrassed by my performance. Thus, I went back to basics.

The regimen I described above is where I started. I’m much better now than I ever was while still on the job. Would love a rematch. One of my best friends came in 5th in that particular match. He competes all over the country, and stacks up well with some of the best in the nation. He visits occasionally, we shoot, he no longer embarrasses me.

Continue reading: 10 Concealed Carry Mistakes

[Ken adds: An interesting target for handgun training]
12″ x 18″ – Fluorescent Pistol Diagnostic Shooting Target
(view on amzn)


  1. I’m doing this also. Ive been lax in my training this past year. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Ken are you monitoring my house? Have been working with the wife. Decided to show her how its done. Boy am i rusty!! Starting yesterday we are BOTH starting from the beginning.

    1. Haha — the all seeing MSB eye 😜

      Joking aside, yes it’s about the fundamentals. True in lots (most) areas of skill. Getting back to basics can get it back on track.

  3. When I took my permit class I think I recall not standing with feet together and exhaling before pulling trigger as part of the basics. Is this correct? Has been a few years.
    a note,,, Jack Nicholson the golfer was a winner because in the off season he went back to his coach and practiced the basics every year. The same goes for any profession or life in general.

    1. Mrs. U,

      Feet about shoulder width apart (or wider), foot on strong side (gun hand side) slightly back, about toes aligned to arch of weak side foot or further, leaning slightly forward, weight more on toes. Helps mitigate recoil, maintain balance and ability to be mobile.

    2. Mrs. U,

      Forgot the second part of your question (exhaling before pulling trigger). This is probably true for precision shots, not so much for combat handgun. Main thing is to keep breathing (no pun intended), not holding your breath nor hyperventilating. Remember, you are training for employing the weapon rapidly (but controlled), effectively, normally at very close range and under very stressful circumstance. Much different than making a long distance rifle shot or a head shot on a squirrel with a pistol at 25 yards.

  4. This year in Tennessee you can go online and take a 90 minute course to get a concealed carry permit. I do not agree with this too easy. Someone who has never shot a gun can carry one, scary in my opinion. All about revenue as usual.

    1. I don’t think you need a permit at all. Its a right, do you need a permit for free speech? Why should I need permission from some government flunky to exercise my rights?

      1. Kevin, you know why. The Powers That Be say so and as much as we might disagree if you use your gun, show it or be a hero and do not have a permit, get a good lawyer and have some dollars saved back. Having a permit is more ‘gray’ than not having one. If they come to get the guns not one house will be omitted anyway. Sometimes it pays more to roll with the flow than to try and swim up the Mississippi after a flood. Just speaking like a momma…..

  5. This is an excellent starting point with clear easily defined goals to strive for.

    Thank you Dennis for getting us all started/reminded of the basic groundwork on mastering one of the most difficult of tools to master in the home arsenal.

    Also a good reminder for those of us who think we are good. It is a perishable skill.

  6. Compete in Practical shooting. Shelve the ego at home and join a USPS club. It is guaranteed to improve your speed and accuracy. I have seen quite a few law enforcement people try it and quit after getting humiliated by a 60+ something woman. Wrong attitude if a person wants to become proficient with a handgun. Nothing improves ones shooting ability like competing in front of other shooters with a timer. This will not replace self defense training, but it will markedly improve a persons ability to shoot a handgun. The difference will be night and day in a few years. Nothing replaces putting bullets down range.

  7. I have received different answers to this question. I am a strong right handed person. My whole left side also seems weaker.
    Unfortunately, as a preschooler my right eye was turned and my left eye became dominant.
    Should I close the left eye and use my right or learn to shoot using the left side?

    Stay frosty.

    1. Many people cock their head and shoot with the left eye dominant. Go to the channel nutnfancy, he shoots this way with his handguns. Some people close their left eye and learn to shoot with their weak eye. The best solution could be a dot sight. You will have to find the best solution that works for you. You should also learn to shoot with the weak hand which is part of many USPSA courses. If your right hand becomes unusable, you will need to transition to your weak hand.

  8. Ken and Dennis
    Thank you Gents,
    Our local public range will not you train. They will only let you shoot at a stationary target, never drawing, never moving poa besides perhaps 2 degrees within your lane, IPSIC? Un helpful
    There aint nutin else.
    So starting from 0 again to build mm better aquizition etc. building a drive and lifts to make pop up targets, but starting from 0
    Stance, drawing while moving, not huffing n puffing with adrenalin, not shooting myself.
    Sounds silly i know, gotta brush up though, on EVERYTHING. I aint a gunfighter nor a retired former or active LEO.
    Things are moving,
    I dont want to be static, i do want to piss in somebodies cheerios if they want to try me

  9. Good input guys,
    Thank you
    Safety is always first, theres some folks who can train over here, but im not made of $ so got to do this on the DL on private range.
    These are more for SHTF kinda training as we will never be able to legally carry here, concealed or otherwise, and i dont need to deal with the ego that accompanies the so called “trainers”not to mention OPSEC. Small community, cant really tell who is on what side and dont kid yourselves into thinking its only our side thats doing this,
    Anywho, thanks for the input folks, much appreciated.

  10. Dennis:
    I have shot with a LOT of people over mt 55 years of doing the boom boom.
    Something my Father made perfectly clear was Shooting Safety.
    I remember before every shoot we would go over Safety.
    He as I do now after the 10 minutes of conversation would say, and I quote “you ‘sweep’ me with a unloaded firearm I WILL take from you and throw it into the dirt, IF YOU SWEEP ME WITH A LOADED FIREARM I WILL UNLOAD IT, TOSS THE ROUNDS AT YOU AS HARD AS I CAN, DISABLE THE FIREARM AND THROW IT INTO THE LAKE.
    There was no discussion after that.
    BTW, I use the same speech. I’ve only had to toss one into the dirt.
    Yes I’m an azzhole. Bit guess what….. still breathing and never (knock on wood) have a problem.

  11. PS:
    Dennis, thanks for the comments that got Ken to write the Article.

    Haw about some more Commentors doing the same, write up something and email it to Ken


    That is the truth lol. My shooting buddies and I trained each others wives because of this phenomenon. No need to question it, just accept it. :)

  13. I have had to train my wife and other family members in the past.

    I try to be as quiet as possible when I train or go shooting with them. “The best instructor is a clean target and a box of shells” -Field and stream editor Gene Hill who had a column on Gun Dogs.

    They know of my background, training and history so I am there to simply answer any questions they may have and prevent blatant violations of safety rules. ( Do you know of anybody that talks with their hands? Waves their hands and arms around when they talk or get excited? Know any body that has swept the muzzle around with ammo in the chamber?)

    Muzzle discipline is much more of a danger with the smaller handguns than it is with the longer shotguns or rifles.

    The I go to the range with a new shooter, I do not shoot. Odds are they are my guest and I am responsible for their behavior and the safety of others around us. Safety and manners go hand in hand.

  14. What about dry firing?

    I’m not a big proponent of dry firing. I guess it has it’s place for folks with limited access to a range, but nothing replaces the feel and management of the recoil and knowing where your bullets are hitting.

    Sorry, but this is some of the poorest advice I have ever read. Dry firing is about trigger control and is one of the best methods to improve trigger control and sight alignment. It is also a training method that can be done at home.

    1. Wolfgar,
      Had someone suggest dry fire, also suggested getting a high dollar gas blow back airsoft replica of whatever i want to train with,
      Those things are expensive, Way expensive, at least the real good ones, and not cheap to run,
      While realistic, something in my mind tells me they wont ring a gong like my 1911 or carbine will.
      If there is no alternative and you have the $ i suppose better than no training. So yea theres options,

    2. Wolfgar,

      Your response to a side-bar comment I made in response to a question posed by Kulafarmer about where to start to develop his handgun skill is why some hesitate to offer advice.

      I did not say that dry-firing was useless. I did say that I’m not a big proponent. I also said it had a place for those w/o regular, easy access to a range. Never advised anyone not to do it.

      The comment I made, that Ken turned into a thread, was never intended to be a complete primer on mastering a handgun, or all the mechanics involved. I could write a thousand words on why I’m not a proponent of dry firing, as I’m sure you could on why you are. Both would be worthy of consideration. Me calling your thoughts “some of the poorest advice I’ve ever read” might make me feel superior, but would edify no one.

      1. I was not trying to be confrontational, “but that was very poor advice” in my opinion. Dry firing is one of the best exercises for trigger control and sight alignment for both beginner and expert. It cost nothing but time, yet is one of the best ways to master trigger control. It does not replace actual shooting. The other advice you gave was spot on, “in my opinion” but we will agree to disagree about dry firing. Feeling superior was not my intent at all lol. I did not learn to shoot by myself, “but was taught by others” and I was only trying to pass it on. You are more than welcome to critique my opinion. That is what forums are about, sharing opinions.

        1. Perhaps I should clarify myself a little more since my reply could have been considered a little snarky, but was definitely not the intent. I grew up with firearms and was considered an excellent shot. I was laser accurate when compared to my friends and was proud of that fact. I was encouraged to compete at our local USPSA club match, since I was such a good shot. So I did, with the confidence of a young bull. When the match was over, “I looked at the scores” and was shocked. In fact, my first response was BS, they had to be cheating. Nope, “I sucked compared to those people” including a very attractive 20 something girl. Those competitors shot like no one I had ever seen before. I swallowed my ego and went to work, watching, learning and practicing. This is why I stated to shelve the ego in my first post and participate in Practical shooting. Dry firing, the Bill drill, etc are proven methods for improving ones shooting ability. Believe me, the day I start to feel superior, all I have to do is compete against master and grand master shooters. Humility is a big part of firearm training and growth.

        2. Wolfgar,

          No animosity here. The friend I alluded to in my comment, turned thread, is rated “High Master” in stock duty semi-auto pistol, and “Master” in stock duty revolver divisions, and one of the relatively short list issued the “Distinguished Marksman Badge” by the NRA.

          He is ten years younger than me, retired about nine years after I did. Lives in Colorado now. He now travels the country competing in PPC matches mainly. Calls me usually at least once a week, while travelling between matches.

        3. Wolfgar,

          Ironically, my friend called last night. He actually has two Distinguished Marksman Badges, one in service rifle earned in 2006 at Camp Pendleton, and one in stock duty revolver earned in 2017. He earned his second badge competing in the PPC National Championship Match shooting against Robert Valdez of the Border Patrol. My friend shot 585 out of a possible 600, Valdez, 11 times national champion, shot 588, and earned his Distinguished Marksman Badge the same day as my friend. Half the course of fire was from 50 yards.
          These badges are awarded for total points awarded for placing high in numerous matches over several years.

    3. Keeping a Snap Cap in the chamber with safety off is a good practice for anyone unsure about the safety of doing so with a live round. Keep it in there as you go about your day and see if it ever goes off.

      1. Wasn’t joking, but I should’ve been more specific. The suggestion would be if you are at home and are just getting used to CC and are uneasy about carrying it chambered to be assured it isn’t going to fire. But definitely not out of the home, thanks for catching that.

  15. Dennis, others,
    Thanks for the info. Most of it seems to be basic gun safety. In my family, gun safety begins very very young. I’ve given red rider bb guns to most of my grandchildren. Several pink stocks, in the mix. Still remember an incident with a grandson. New bb gun, right out of the package. Not loaded yet. He sweeps the room with the muzzle, not intentionally, but he did it. Grandparents, parents, sisters, everyone was moving and ducking. Oldest sister takes the bb gun and hands it to me.

    My grandson asked for the gun. No, not until tomorrow. Think about what happened and why. The older sister knew what was to be done. There was no whining or complaining. The boy understood immediately, how serious his actions were. He could tell from the looks of disappointment from his family. Peer pressure is a very effective training tool.

    Lots of discussion about shooting at the range. I’ve never been to an actual range. Well, I guess my CC class had an outdoor range, but we shot a total of 7 shots each. I didn’t gain much from that class, other than my CC license. Kind of disappointing. I wouldn’t know anything about range etiquette.

    I don’t own steel targets or gongs. Mostly we/I shoot at paper plates with a + drawn on them. Thanks for the tips on stance. I’ll try that. Plenty of room for improvement with handguns. I just need to shoot more. I really enjoy rifles, but I don’t enjoy shooting handguns nearly as much. I’m not going to get better without shooting.

    I’d appreciate suggestions on grip. Two handed especially, as one handed is fairly obvious.

  16. I have been carrying a weapon almost everyday since becoming a LEO in 1977 (now retired) and formally an NRA Certified Police Firearms Instructor. I go through Ken’s drill almost every time I practice with my firearms, even with defensive rifles/shotguns, as most gunfights take place at less than 5 yards.

    Instead of using paper targets or steel, most of time I use a wood plank about 1 foot long cut from free pallets I find at various businesses. Just the right size and I stick them into my backstop (a very high dirt bank) just far enough to stand upright. Great for instructing as they will fall over when hit and you can move on to another target, great for practicing for multiple bad guys. No splash back like you can get from hits on steel…

    AND…. I take home a pile of great kindling for the wood stove!!! A LOT more fun than using a hatchet or axe…..

      1. I start at 0 yards, almost point blank… you will be surprised at the issues this presents and as stated, most gunfights start at 0-3 yards. And then go out to 25 yards with 90% of the practice at 10 yards and less..

        Also, 0-3 yards is completed with what was called ‘instinct” shooting…. not using sights, just draw and fire from very close to the body (to protect against gun grab and in many cases of self defense, almost body to body contact where even extending your arm will place your weapon very close or against the aggressor. And through training, I can tell you that if you touch me with your weapon, I now have a very high chance to taking it from you or at least diverting it enough to get my weapon on target and fire.

        One note…. I do have a Glock 26, with a Streamlight TLR-6 combination red leaser and flashlight installed. Great for very fast instinctive shots at close range,,,

        While shooting at long range is not a high probability…on some sessions I still do take shots during practice at 50 yards on a full size silhouette just to know my abilities…. which are tending to lessen at the age of 67…. one reason I am in the process of getting an optical sight for the Glock 26 installed.

        1. Mahalo MPD2211
          Train for the worst
          Hope for the best
          Close up makes sense,
          Was suggested to train close up with my 590 pump, same input regarding exposing challenges.
          God help us if we are there

  17. I highly disagree with not being a proponent of dry fire. Your skill can be significantly improved in significantly less time by incorporating dry fire into any practice routine. Pros do it for a reason. It works, period. Live fire is really just a confirmation that you are doing your dryfire correctly. You can practice and hone everything related to shooting a gun with the exception of recoil impulse. Yes there is a timing issue that happens when firing rapidly at speed, and that can only be practiced by shooting live ammo. However, your stance, grip, draw, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, follow through, reloads, malfunction drills, etc, can ALL be practiced and honed with dry fire. Dry fire can be practiced everyday, unless your rich and have a private range, shooting live fire is out of the reach of 98% of gun owners. It is foolish to dismiss dry fire. I would rather have the student on my side who dry fires everyday and shoots live fire once a month than the student who doesn’t dryfire and only shoots live fire 3 times a month.

    1. Dry firing is so useless that Marine recruits only spend half of their initial range time on it.

      I suppose that as you become familiar with your weapon their might be diminishing returns, yet…back to basics.

  18. Calirefugee
    Thank you much for the input.
    The movement or efficiency of movement is a big one, just like digging with an excavator or moving material with a loader, better to have efficiency. Video is a good idea. With cell phones that can be a much easier task these days,
    Hey Siri, start a video clip!

  19. The controversy regarding dry-fire comes from the gunsmithing bench where the weak link prone to breakage is the: …firing pin… that small piece of hardened steel which takes the blow from the hammer or striker and transmits that to the primer of the round.

    If you dry fire a lot, I would have the firing pin replaced at a greater frequency and be sure to tell your gunsmith that you are doing a lot of dry fire practice. At my second academy, we were instructed to dry fire a lot in order to master trigger squeeze. Prior to leaving academy and reporting to our duty stations, the firing pins were one of the critical items that were replaced. ( along with many springs like the trigger return spring on a Glock.)

    This is where it pays to have a more expensive, high quality weapon because they are designed to be taken apart and put back together again relatively simply with a greater % of hardened steel parts in critical areas. ( and replacement parts are available from vendors like Brownell’s )

    Dry fire is good. especially for those of us that cannot shoot off our back porch. I am in the category where I must go to my local range in order to practice with live ammo. ( I suspect most of us on this site are in similar circumstances.)

  20. Make sure you invest in the best pair of Noise Cancellation ear protection muffs you can find. They will allow you to hear like an OWL, tell the exact direction any noise came from, allow you to carry one casual voice conversations…while cutting out all explosive noises..making them sound like the crackling of plastic wrapping instead.

    I can put mine on..and hear my wife talking upstairs with no problem. The super directional pin pointing of a sound is a real plus. You can hear the footfalls and know from whence they come, perfectly.

    Great for a student to wear…so they can easily hear your instructions on a noisy range.

    1. The brand I recommend is from the “Howard Leight” line by Honeywell. They are created in dark green and black, have dual stereo microphone for each ear…, fold down into a small, compact size, are slim fit…so the muffs are close and tight…, adjustable to any head…, are very high quality, their sensitivity is adjustable…so you can make them just loud enough to hear close conversations and noise…or turn them up to hear like a superhuman…you can even connect your phone or radio or other devices to them, and hear the device’s output while all hell is blasting about you.

      The company makes various models.

      1. That’s too funny – I just now posted a link to those exact muffs, given the conversation. (further down the page)

    1. These “earmuffs” are great. They do cancel out the sharp noises while still allow low volume sounds to come through. When turn up, they pick up small sounds in the woods that I could never have heard without them.

      The disadvantages are; they are hard to use with hats, they are a bit heavy, they make your ears uncomfortable after prolonged use.

    1. Ken, thanks. I was actually thinking of the Safariland Impulse Earplugs (found them on Amazon if you want to link). They appear to be completely passive (don’t have to insert secondary plug before shooting).

      Am hoping someone, maybe some of the younger folks who used them in the military, could share how well they worked (or didn’t). I’m subject to wear a cowboy hat which makes using ear muffs hard to use (without removing the hat). Don’t want to spend the $100+ cost for the electronic earplugs. I currently use Walker Power Muffs (have a couple of the cheaper Caldwell electronic muffs for guests)

  21. Huh, You guys are gonna hafta type louder. I just can’t hear ya. Too many years sitting in ambulance with the sirens (right above our heads) blaring. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.


      Can you hear me now :).

      It is the same with some of us older construction folks – some frequencies no longer heard.

      But outside of those ranges, and ignoring the tinnitus, still have about 95%.

      1. And, I also spend some time in one of those units during medical assists as a firefighter. There was a time when the damn sirens were used even for long medical transfers – seems that has been reduced in our areas.

  22. Dennis; very informative, thanks. And a compliment to all those who commented on his article, this has been the most civil discussion on a firearm-related topic I’ve ever read. If you’ve ever read a caliber discussion you know what I mean.

    1. I agree. I’ve read discussions on other places in this regard — and often bursts into flames. Lots of “un-moving” opinions out there. So far, here, even though some may have differing and strong opinion, it’s civil. Just the way I want it…

  23. Just one comment on electronic ear muffs, I use the Walkers Ultimate set, expensive but worth it. Also, I think one thing that is never discussed in home defense (especially indoor) is the use of electronic muffs!

    Even with a smaller caliber handgun, let alone a rifle/shotgun used in close quarters indoor defense, the sound is literally deafening… If possible, go to an indoor range with whatever you use for home defense (sometimes hard to do with a rifle, but then find someones garage that you can shoot from safely). I have taught my family to grab their electronic muffs before they pick up their weapon, ours walkers will connect automatically (blue tooth) with each of our cell phones so we can be on a call with 911 while we take action.

    With the muff amplifying any ambient sounds, you can better hear where a possible intruder may be. We have tried it various ways and will allow us to hear most whispers a room or two away, GREAT for defensive work.

    Also, if you ever do have to “pull the trigger” the resulting blast indoor with most rounds almost acts like a stun grenade to many people, especially when using one of my favorite weapons, my IWI Travor Bullpup 7.62 X 51 with Lehigh Defense CQC ammo. Unbelievable muzzle blast indoors that will likely stun anyone not wearing muffs at least two room away!!

    Stay safe, practice, practice, practice…..

    1. I leave a pair of electronic earmuffs on the bedpost right at my headrest. Highly recommended.

      shooting muffs at bedside

        1. Haha… No, it’s part of the “distressed look” design of the wood.😄

  24. The matches I most enjoyed going to were called IDPA which stood for International Defensive Pistol Association: Matches were divided into categories like: back-up guns (B.U.G.) stock autoloader or stock revolver.

    One of the rules was your weapon had to fit inside a box. If it was too large to fit inside the box, you could not use it in the match that day. This was a step to minimize the presence of the highly modified race guns with the funnel like mag wells and the long compensators at the end of the muzzle.

    These steps and rules helped to level the playing field for those of us not able or willing to drop thousands of $ into getting gear in order to win a contest. These matches were OK with a cop going through a relay with their duty gear on.

    These matches tended to be less competitive and more fun too. ( i.e.: You won the match so you get to buy Pizza for the people you shot with that day.). Some really nice door prizes included: a free magazine for your weapon of choice or a new speed loader or set of moon clips, a new holster or a new belt, a knife and game shear set from Blades of Alaska.

    There used to be many competitions out there before the ammo shortage. I just mentioned one of my old favorites back in the day.

  25. Yeah, I started doing that a number of years ago. It sits there, hopefully never needed, with my .45 (with attached light & laser) at my nightstand.

    I really like how they AMPLIFY ordinary sounds (better than my ears can hear), and then of course shut-down upon the BOOM >85db.

  26. Question on steel targets
    If i hang a few steel plates at various distances, what is considered safe?
    Shooting one from 200 yds+ with my rifle is one thing. But can i put up a series of steel targets say 10, 15, 25 yds and not get lead flying back at me? Just curious what sone of you are doing. I know cowboy action folks are shooting steel at closer ranges but Not certain on details.
    I know for safety sake, paper would be safer, Ish, but that audible clang, and the durability. Was just curious if anybody is doing this type of target, and at closer ranges. I mean i dont think shooting a flat steel plate at close range is a good idea, but a bent angled down plate

    1. Note
      Was thinking a setup similar to many of the rigs on shootsteel dot dakine

    2. Lead hits the flat plate and splatters in a flat circle along the plate. The line of lead on the ground below the plate is dead straight…pretty neat when you see it.

      1. Kevin,
        Is that only with cast bullets? Or will jacketed do the same?

        1. we only use cast, so I couldn’t speak to how jacketed would react, but I would assume very similar, copper being as soft as it is…

        2. Kulafarmer,

          I will ‘fess up to having shot full jacketed pistol ammo (mainly .380, 9mm, and .45acp) on steel occasionally. I haven’t had any problems with ricochets. The debris at the bases of the targets indicate they just flatten out and fall straight down.

          Not recommending the practice, just passing on experience.

    3. If you would like to, then email me the picture at the address indicated in on the Contact-us page… then I’ll post it here.

  27. Kulafarmer,

    I’ll probably get some pushback on this from some, but I will share my steel set-up and my experiences with shooting steel.

    I’ve got two set-ups. One is a standard PPC course using a full size silhouette 1/4″ AR500 steel, with distances stages at 7,15,25, and 50 yards. I only shoot this course with handguns, using cast lead bullets or other frangible (non-full metal jacket) bullets.

    The other course is adjacent, with three 2″x5″ spinners about 18″ inches off the ground and two 6″ round plates at head high at 5 yards, a 6″ plate chest high at 10 yards, a 12″ round gong at 15 yards, a 10″ x 12″ square plate at 20 yards, and a 2/3 size 3/8″ AR500 silhouette at 25 yards.

    Always wear eye protection. I’ve shot these steel targets for years (this is where I’ll probably have some folks melt down) at these distances, with handguns. I have never suffered more than minor splash back of tiny fragments, occasionally (not regularly), at the closest distances (7 yards or less).

    I’m not recommending that anyone take my experience with steel targets, and what I’ve found to be safe distances, as a recommendation. I have shot way north of a hundred thousand handgun rounds at these distances with no more than an occasional sting of “splatter” from 7 yards in. I always use cast lead or other frangible bullets.

    I repeat, my experiences only, not a recommendation.

    1. Dennis
      Thanks for the input,
      Do you cast your own? Or buy pre made and sized?
      Your targets are flat?

      1. Kulafarmer,

        No, I don’t cast my own. I buy my cast bullets from Mastercast Bullets Enon Valley, Pa. Family owned, great service, never got a bad bullet, prices good. Has a website, but only takes phone-in orders. Don’t know what problems your location might present for shipping costs. I’ve used him for years.

        My targets are flat, although my original 1/4″ AR500 full size silhouette has become slightly convex after 15 years of being hammered with multiple thousands of rounds, including a few 12 ga slugs (1/4″ armor plate is a little light for slugs, 3/8″ no problem)

        1. Dennis,
          Thank you for the lead. Will be seriously checking it out, tempted to buy Lyman dies and the gear to cast, due to location might be worth it, plus then i can pour HPs, have a friend who casts all his own bullets, even for his hunting rifles, old guy, his setup is interesting.

  28. Dennis, Kulafarmer

    ….an easily made pendulum target….
    an aggressor target swinging out behind cover.

  29. I know Dennis is hitting the basic on this article,
    My thoughts are of:
    training, training, familiarisation of fire arms, safety, hitting targets at certain ranges, etc.
    What if those targets are also firing back?
    Cover, concealment need to be considered in training.
    Is there opportunities to use a paint ball range? A close quarters training program? Anything as simple as fluttering balloons? Moving lawn targets that move at every contact shot?

    It’s one thing to shoot at paper, at a ready stance.
    It’s another issue when that paper moves, and fires back.

  30. to Joe C and Kula:

    For a deviously difficult mover, check out the target called the: “Texas Star” the only stationary target is the first shot. the remaining 4 are generally moving.

    The 2 methods I used to increase my speed on targets was by 3 methods:

    1. shooting at passing flocks of low flying pigeons with a pump shotgun.
    2. shooting at multiple clay birds being launched simultaneously.
    3. shooting at stationary plates on a falling plate rack. ( difficulty can be increased by painting one or several of the plates red for “don’t shoot”)

    For most people, there is a tendency to want to see the results of your shot after you fire. That is why steel or reactive targets are so satisfying.

    The mental work involves the mantra: “draw weapon, aquire target, shoot target, repeat cycle until all targets are down”. Practice draw and firing at 80% speed with emphasis on smoothness.

    This takes practice and a lot of ammo. A good timer will help you here as well. Going with another person and taking turns setting up targets and shooting relays can be a lot of fun and the second person allows you to film to observe later for coaching purposes.

    More difficulty can be added by crouching behind a garbage can ( simulated “cover” for the IDPA match.)

    A simple observation exercise these days is to walk down a city street and keeping an eye out for places that offer cover if you were to be fired upon. ( the front tire and engine block of most automobiles and SUV’s, concrete planter boxes and garbage bins etc.).

  31. Cast bullet advice for Kula:

    I use Lee tumble lube bullet molds and run my bullets through a Lee sizing die prior to final lube and seating in the case. this uses a bullet lube called Alox and I thin this viscous lube with mineral spirits. Sorting is by weighing on digital powder scale prior to sizing.

    About 40% of my shooting is done with home-cast bullets so it supplements the bullets I purchase rather than a complete replacement of bullets for target and hunting needs.

    Casting my own has created a niche load which I now use to train older adults with arthritis who have a lightweight 38 Special: 105 grain lead semiwadcutter powered by 3.6 grains of Red Dot powder sparked by a small pistol primer.

    This is not a load that you will find in the stores at present time. It is easy on the hands in terms of recoil and it has the same “feel” and impact point as the 110 grain defensive loads that are sold out there for lightweight revolvers.

    Most older adults out there are still purchasing a 38 special in lightweight and/or snub nose at this time and so this load was developed as the most economical “practice load” for small defensive handguns that Senior Citizens are likely to have on them when going out.

    The last casting session I had, I made over 300 of these little bullets.

    The longer the bullet the more difficulty you will have in casting. ( i.e. it is easier to cast a short fat bullet like a 45 cal 200 grain semiwadcutter versus a 158 grain 358 cal semiwadcutter.). the long thin bullets are trickier to cast and have a higher rate of rejects in my experience. Good luck out there in the islands dude!

    1. Calirefugee,
      Thank you much for the input, now that i have a place i can seriously shoot handguns i am looking at home casting with a bit more vigor, i only shoot 45ACP and 9mm Luger so short fat bullets will be the norm. Figured cost even with buying everything off the continent and it Comes out a bit lower than just buying pre made. Can use scrap lead too so that drops cost even more.
      Its a toss up though, the ease of buying pre made is pretty attractive, then theres the issue of shooting cast lead vs fully jacketed, not sure it really matters at my age however.
      I always watch comments and info on this stuff because experience is priceless.
      Thank you much!

      1. Kulafarmer,

        One note on shooting lead. If you shoot Glocks, they use a proprietary polygonal rifling that tends to lead buildup that can be difficult to remove. They recommend no lead bullets.

        After-market drop-in barrels with conventional rifling are a solution. I have one Glock, bought a Wolff barrel for around $100. Works fine. Swap out is as simple as field stripping for cleaning.

        1. Thank you Dennis,
          I only have 1911 type handguns, like to keep it simple

        2. Dennis do you notice a accuracy difference between the original Glock poly rifling and the Wolff conventional rifling?

          After all it sounds like long term cast lead bullets and reloading are part of your planning?

          BTW the Cowboy Action Shooting I’ve been at use movable targets including Shoot-Don’t Shoot Targets popping up and are Cardboard, 1 X 1 pine and fishing line controlled set up in a Plywood “Town” set. Even a left to right standing moving target can be so rigged easily. NO Steel targets. Maybe we were cheap skates or range officer had a ricochet from steel I don’t know.

        3. me2,

          Hard question to answer. I never was that good with the Glock, just doesn’t fit my hands. That, and the trigger seems to stack before it breaks. I always seemed to manage a flyer at the 25 yard line. It’s a compact G26 (abbreviated grip). I never noticed any difference in my accuracy between the stock barrel and after-market. The Wolff barrel is slightly longer than stock, sticks out about 3/8″ past the end of the slide. Never had a malfunction with this pistol with either.

  32. Answer to me2:

    I am currently a bit frustrated with the accuracy of 9mm cartridge at present time for several reasons:

    1. I was already an accomplished pistol shooter using both 38 Special and 45 ACP for several decades.

    2. It was not until I relocated out of California before I bought any high capacity 9 mm handguns and began doing my research on accuracy potential of the 9 mm round. My platforms include: a Springfield Armory Range Officer in 9 mm that has conventional cut rifling as well as several Glock Clones.

    The results: I can get the 9 mm to achieve good “combat” accuracy though at 25 yards and beyond, there seem to be an increase in the number of flyers when compared to the other pistol calibers mentioned.

    I have tried using small lots of “coddled” ammunition where all the bullets loaded were within 0.1 grain weight of each other and powder charges were within the same tight standards.. ( this was a match winning secret that worked with both 38 Spec and 45 ACP.).
    So, at this point, I am a bit disappointed by the comparative accuracy between the 38 Spec, 45 ACP versus the 9 mm.

    All my 1911’s are full sized specimens in both 9 mm and 45 ACP. I have both in event I am not able to obtain 45 ACP one day and 9 mm is found just about everywhere. I do know I will not be winning matches with the 9 mm Range Officer anytime soon.

    Both the 38 Spec and 45 ACP in target loads are considered “low pressure loads” where as the 9 mm is a higher pressure load ( by design). By the time you get a low pressure load in 9 mm that will group pretty tight on consistent basis at 25 yards, the round may not have the energy to cycle the slide. Yes, I have tried this experiment too.

    I value reliability over accuracy most any day of the week. These have been my observations. Your results may vary.

    1. Thanks Calirefugee but again do you notice a real difference between the Glock poly and regular rifling? I heard you complaining that the Glock poly leads easily with cast bullets so this the question as I know leading reduces my accuracy quite a bit.

      I too value reliability as long as I get what you call combat accuracy. I call it hunting accuracy. If it goes BANG and that Raccoon gets to come back to my chicken yard again that’s unacceptable.

  33. On my Kahr CW 9mm which has polygonal rifling, I have been following manufactures instructions to use only copper jacketed or plated bullets for polygonal rifling.

    For the Springfield Armory Range Officer, it came with conventional cut rifling so I have been using this as my experimental platform to test the accuracy potential of both plated 125 grain bullets and cast lead bullets also of 125 grain lead.

    The results after 4 years of testing: The bullets have roughly the same point of impact though when loading the 125 grain lead bullets, I cut back on powder charge by 0.5 grain to allow for the decrease in friction between barrel steel and bullet + lube. The powder I use is: 3.6 grains of Hodgedon Titegroup ahead of a small pistol primer. The load for plated bullets of 125 grain are: 4.1 grains of Hodgedon Titegroup also using a small pistol primer.

    Like all good scientists/researchers, I try to work with only one variable at a time and record results within my lab notebook. ( thereby YOU are the beneficiaries of 3 years of research that I have completed over the past 4 years. Besides, this type of “research” is fun!)

    Both of these loads have a 99.9% reliability record with a few stovepipe jams occurring when I did not put a bit of oil on the slide rails of the Range Master prior to firing. ( if you want to jam a 1911 pistol chassis, run it dry and devoid of oil on the mating surfaces.)

    This testing occurred over the cold winter days and the hot summer days over 4 years.

    The creepy thing about polygonal rifling is that the leading to dangerous levels can occur quickly and is not readily visible to the naked eye unlike conventional cut rifling. I have seen a few Glocks and Desert Eagles get blown up by people feeding those fine pistols inexpensive, lead or “junk” ammo. If you get yourself a fine, expensive pistol, read and follow the instructions. For Polygonal rifling, feed it copper jacketed or plated ammo only.

    Still, despite 10+ years of trying to turn a 9 mm weapon into a competition level tack driver have been met with disappointment and if I am trying to win the plaque. trophy of simply make it to day 2 of a large match, I will stick with my Kimber Custom 2 in 45 ACP firing a 200 grain semiwadcutter in lead bullet which is powered by a modest charge of Red Dot Powder.

    If the coddled loads contain a factory manufactured bullet, I have had best luck with Hornady Swaged bullets of 200 grain weight. or my own cast and sized 200 grain lead SWC’s made within my own garage on cold, wet winter days.

    It has won matches in the past for me, It could do so in the future. These results have worked for me, your results may vary. Good luck out there in your shooting ventures and try to follow the maufacture’s directions and warnings.

  34. Last response to me2 regarding polygonal rifling in handguns:

    Polygonal rifling seems to be used only in handguns that fire high pressure loads like 9 mm Luger, 357 magnum or 44 magnum. All have one thing in common: max pressure rating of 35,000 PSI. Polygonal rifling was designed by engineers to operate at these high pressures in order to obturate the bullet just enough to create a good gas seal yet not deform the bullet to affect downrange accuracy.

    Thus my 9 mm handguns with polygonal rifling tend to work best and have better accuracy near the top of the load/velocity spectrum using jacketed or plated bullets. The same plated bullets will also tend to ricochet off plate steel so I never shoot at steel targets with FMJ or plated bullets unless the plate steel is angled downward or at distance of 15 yards or greater.

    Good for combat accuracy. Disappointing if you are after something tighter on consistent basis. Happy trails to ya.

    1. Thanks Calirefugee after I posted I realized it was Dennis the question was for. Sorry but thanks for the information.

      Maybe I should take up reloading, seems a lot of useful information is so learned.

  35. Minerjim and Prepared,

    I went back to this thread to add a training suggestion that I believe to be important, that builds on this training regimen. Muscle memory and instinct in up close encounters can save your life. Someone posted recently about an up-close encounter between two police officers and a bad actor where an unbelievable number of shots were fired and no one was hit. That can happen.

    Instinct shooting involves not using your sights, rather, relying on muscle memory and visual concentration on your target. It’s based on your body tending to follow where you are concentrating your sight. Ever been driving down the road, notice something to the side of the road and avert your vision there and, subconsciously, and without intending to, find yourself on the shoulder and heading for the ditch? Instinct shooting builds on that reflex.

    Throw this into your training. Place a small piece of tape or similar in the center of your target, be it a silhouette or whatever you use for a target. At 5 yards, draw your weapon, align your sights, fire three rapid but aimed shots. If you practice frequently, you don’t have to include this in your drill.

    After several rounds of drawing and shooting three aimed shots, place a piece of tape over your front sights. Concentrate your eyes on the piece of tape marking your target. Draw, bringing up your weapon till it “feels right”, never breaking your concentration on the piece of tape on the target, never looking at your gun…fire three rapid shots. You will be surprised how effective those shots will be…most times, as good, if not better than your aimed shots at these close ranges.

    The trick is the visual concentration of where you want your shots to go together with learned muscle memory.

    1. Dennis,
      Thanks for this reminder. Kinda like when I was a kid with my wrist rocket slingshot. I shot enough to the point where I never “sighted ” a shot, just drew and fired from the hip. Muscle memory exercises, Yes. Have also found my best big game shots where the ones taken on the snap, seems I screw up the ones where I have time to think about it, LOL. Thanks again, you LEOs are giving us the benefits of your knowledge that we “average citizens” could never have imagined.

    2. Dennis,
      exactly, it’s like pointing your finger at something and focusing on the target, it will come naturally to most. practice, practice, and then practice some more with whatever is cheapest with both hands and muscle memory will be transferred to larger things.
      i’m right handed but i tend to practice more with my left hand to keep everything dialed in and so that i’m comfortable with it. i use plastic bottle caps at 5-10 yards scattered next to the house, i don’t always hit em but i can scare em to death.
      you being in law enforcement you know how adrenaline can sharpen a persons senses and focus. you can almost smell colors.
      thanks for all your input on this subject, it’s very helpful.

  36. My note about practice, dry firing and the 22 pistol during a time of ammo shortage: When I was competing in PPC decades ago using a 38 special revolver, I had a S&W double action revolver in 22 long rifle. I did not dry fire much but I was able to fire a lot of 22 long rifle cartridges over the winter. When it came time for competition using my K-frame revolver in 38 special. The practice revolver was the same size K-frame in 22 long rifle. If I did not dry fire every single day, I practiced at least 3 times per week on year round basis. This was an affordable way to fire thousands of rounds per year in order to compete at a very high level on the budget of a college student.

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