Training and Equipment for Personal Defense

LE Targets’ DST-5 is very effective for live-fire drills. (Photos Dave Spaulding)

The following excerpt is from Law Officer Magazine. Entitled What Should I Practice? Dave Spaulding explains the drills he performs in order to stay ready for personal defense:

One of the most common questions I receive from readers or students is, “What should I practice?” It’s a legitimate question, especially with skyrocketing ammunition prices. Recently, I was at the local Wal-Mart buying some Winchester White Box 9mm ammo (the cheapest I can find) and paid $19.23 for 100 rounds. I noticed that .40 S&W of the same brand was $28.12 and .45 ACP was just under $30!

This no doubt affects law enforcement agencies in how much ammunition they can purchase, but also the individual officer who might want to keep his skills sharp while paying the mortgage, car payment, buying groceries, clothing and all the other things necessary for daily life. Since blowing up ammo needlessly is certainly recognized as expensive, we need to shoot our limited ammo supply wisely.

I’m a firm believer in fundamentals, and while many officers get bored practicing basics, these basic skills are necessary to prevail in a fight. I don’t know who said, “Advanced skills are the basics mastered,” (many have laid claim to it), but it’s true. Thus, practicing basics is a great place to start.

A Dry Run
Fortunately, many fundamental skills are mastered without firing a shot. Dry fire is the best way to improve draw, reload, malfunction clearances (using dummy rounds), shooting around cover (with a mirror at the opposing side to see how much you expose of yourself), one-hand manipulation, unconventional shooting positions (kneeling, prone, on the side, “roll back”, etc.) and any other skill that doesn’t require actual trigger manipulation. The purchase of a dry fire training aid such as the Beamhit) can give first shot feedback via a laser fit into the barrel of your carry gun.

Before beginning any dry fire training program, make double, triple and quadruple sure that your gun is empty and that no live ammo is in the room with you. A capable dry fire pad, such as the one manufactured by Safe Direction, is a very good idea. That way, if you suffer a “brain fart,” the round will be captured harmlessly and a valuable lesson learned.

The Real Deal
Now that we’ve narrowed the skills needed for live fire practice, let’s look at when we do need live ammo.

The two skills that must be practiced live fire are trigger and recoil control. Trigger control is the most important skill required for accurate shooting and the most difficult to master. In a nutshell, the index finger on the shooting hand presses the trigger to the rear, working independently of the rest of the hand, without interrupting muzzle to target alignment.

Think about how many times a day you open and close your hand, using the thumb and fingers in concert with one another. Then you can get some idea of how complex this action really is! Taking this into consideration, is it really hard to understand why shooters squeeze their whole hand when they shoot, something I call “milking the grip?”

Independent trigger control requires intense concentration and needs to be mastered before all other skills. It must be practiced regularly, as it’s the most perishable of a skill set that’s already very perishable. Luckily, recoil control isn’t quite as difficult and is really a function of upper body position and applying forward force to a pistol.

To the Range
With the previous thoughts in mind as I head to the range, I start out with a few timed drills to see where I’m at. I like to do these drills “cold,” as I believe they are a better indicator of performance than after I have shot for a while. Remember, it’s unlikely you’ll have just come from a practice session at the range when your gunfight occurs. You’ll more than likely be “cold” as well.

I shoot these drills at 20 feet on the Law Enforcement Targets’ DST-5 target. Only hits in the 8″ Primary Neutralization Zone in the high chest count. I consider live fire a confirmation of the dry practice drills. I do each drill twice—anyone can get lucky and perform a single session well. One after another is more telling.

These are the drills I perform:

One shot from ready in 1 second;
One shot from the holster in 1.5 seconds;
One shot, reload, one shot in 3 seconds;
Draw, two shots, reload, two shots on two targets in 4 seconds;
Bill Drill” of draw and shoot six shots looking for a consistent time between each shot in 3 seconds or less;
El Presidente’ Drill (10 yards on three targets, turn 180 degrees, shoot two shots on each target, reload, shoot two shots on each target again in 10 seconds or less; and
John Farnum’s “DTI Dance” (see January 2008 issue of Law Officer).

These drills take 15–20 minutes and consume 70 rounds. You may decide to shorten this test to conserve ammo. To me, they give an idea of where I am lacking and what to work on. But don’t shoot any faster than you can hit! A “lucky run” isn’t educational, only deceiving. These drills should be learning points, not ego gratifiers. Also, you have just spent around $20—make it worthwhile.

Trigger Focus

I then shoot several magazines focusing on trigger control, which, as previously stated, is one area where dry fire does not suffice. I start at 10 feet, shooting the small dots on the bottom of the DST-5 target, going agonizingly slow, trying to shoot one jagged hole. I focus completely on what my hands are doing, making them control the trigger and not milking the entire grip, find the reset point and then smoothly pressing through the trigger action.

I also take note of my body position, making sure my shoulders are over my toes. I move back 5 feet at a time, shooting 5 to 6 rounds at each distance, trying to stay on the 3″-dot, concentrating on “sight, press.” Somewhere around 30–35 feet, I start to miss the 3″-dot and move to the larger, 5″-dots and work my way back to 50 feet or so. By this time, I have fired 100 rounds, give or take, so if the ammo supply is low, I stop.

More Practice
If I have additional ammo available, I then work on delivering the gun to the target from one of several “ready” positions, ensuring the delivery is consistent and feels right. The felt aspects of shooting are grossly under-rated. I then move to the draw stroke, making sure it’s consistent and direct to the target. Think of the draw stroke as an upside-down L with the gun coming up and out from the holster, directly to the target.

Lateral movement should be part of this drill. I also work on picking up the front sight in my field of vision as quickly as possible. Make sure you practice with the same carry gear that you use daily, including a concealing garment. Add a few drills, which simulate combat conditions, while kneeling or from extreme close quarters, and you will have a reasonable 200-round practice session.

No, these drills do not account for all of what might happen in a gunfight, but understand there’s no way to prepare for any conflict. History has shown that the person who prevails in armed conflict is the one who can keep his head and decide which of their practiced skills will solve the problem at hand. The officer that never practices is the one who will fail to decide. Stay safe, stay alert and practice your skills often.

Dave Spaulding is a 28-year law-enforcement veteran, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He currently works for a federal security contractor. He’s worked in all facets of law enforcement—corrections, communications, patrol, evidence collection, investigations, undercover operations, training and SWAT—and has authored more than 800 articles for various firearm and law enforcement periodicals. He is also the author of the best-selling books Defensive Living and Handgun Combatives.


By Mark S. Knapp, Attorney

A weapon has to fit your personal defense strategy. For example, a young man that has spent years studying martial arts may not feel the need to carry a pistol. On the other hand, a single mom or a grandfather that lives out in Grays Harbor County may wish to have a shotgun or pistol to protect the home.

The choice of strategies and weapons is personal; you need to look at your environment, training, life philosophy and personal budgetary issues. And you owe it to those that love and depend on you to strategize. To avoid planning for and dealing with potential violence is also a choice called denial.

People sometimes say to me, “Yes, I will protect my family if I have to!” Do you have a CPL? Access to a weapon? Have you taken the time to learn to shoot? It doesn’t take years and years and years but you don’t want to learn to shoot while you are being assaulted! Every homestead, sheep camp and ranch in America had a shotgun near to hand- truly the weapon that won the West. Your wife can use a 20-gauge, however, more effectively than a 12-gauge because there is less recoil and the stopping power is about equal to the 12-gauge if you choose the right ammunition.

Most shotguns and rifles are too long to utilize within the confines of your home during an emergency. Stay in a safe place, usually the bedroom, behind cover and call the police. If you have to leave your safe room to help others in your family, a short tactical shotgun will work. If you decide on a 12-gauge, a Remington 870 is quite suitable and the price is about $300.00.

If you want to protect your family away from home then you probably need to carry a pistol. Even if you do not own or carry a pistol, you should obtain a Concealed Pistol License. The CPL will normally permit purchasing a pistol without the mandatory five-day waiting period.

If you are like the majority of gun owners that don’t practice much, get a small .38 revolver. Revolvers go bang every time you pull the trigger. Revolvers normally have only five or six shots, however. The semi-automatic GLOCK is popular because of its price and quick deployment when concealed. But look at the SPRINGFIELD XD. It has a well-engineered trigger, cycles well and has features that are not available with most pistols in the $500.00 range.

If you have not shot a great deal, you may learn faster with a smaller caliber. Many law officers are using .40 caliber pistols. The recoil is manageable and your hits stop the bad guy(s) immediately. Go to a range, rent guns and see how each weapon feels in your hand before you buy. More than ever before, seniors, women and minorities that are targets of hate crimes are beginning to realize why pistols are still called equalizers in the New West.

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