Getting the Most Out of Your Firearms Training

By Jonathan D. Clemins

Firearms Training
Getting the Most out of Your Firearms Training
WV Defensive Firearms Training
WV Defensive Firearms Training

Huntington, West Virginia – -( It’s relatively easy to go through 100 rounds with lightning speed at the range.

By doing so, what do you accomplish as a student of the gun?  The answer is nothing to very little at best.

Far too often this is exactly the way many folks are spending their time at the range; however, there is a solution to this epidemic.

In ways similar to a college student utilizing study strategies to maximize the efficiency of a study session, you can capitalize on your time spent with your firearm through similar strategies.

Andragogy is the art and science of helping adults learn.  By implementing principles of adult learning theory you can maximize the effectiveness of your training.  A vast majority of shooters train using a “block learning” method, that is, the only time spent with their firearm is when they go to the range, once a month, for a few hours.  However, to gain the most from your training, you need to shift your focus from the “block learning” methodology to the much more effective “distributed learning” method.

In other words, instead of practicing once a month for a few hours, you should have multiple, shorter practice sessions throughout the month to increase your learning potential.

In order to achieve and maintain a distributed learning training routine, you need to familiarize yourself with the art of dry fire.  Dry firing is the technique of practicing with an unloaded weapon or training weapon; such as Next Level Training’s SIRT Pistol ( ).

Dry fire practice can enhance and refine skills such as the draw, speed reloads, tactical reloads, and trigger control, just to name a few.  The applications of dry fire in training are virtually unlimited.  Dry fire is essential to a shooter’s progressions, as studies have indicated that after leaving the range, a shooter’s skills can deteriorate by as much as 20% in one week.  Implementing regular dry fire practice into your training routine will not only maintain your skills, it will improve them.

Example Outline of a Distributed Learning Firearms Training Routine

  • Week 1: Live Fire Range Session (Record your baseline)
  • Week 2: Dry Fire Practice Session(s)
  • Week 3: Dry Fire Practice Session(s)
  • Week 4: Dry Fire Practice Session(s)
  • Week 5: Live Fire Range Session
    • ** This is only an example outline.  You should implement dry fire practice as often as possible to supplement your live fire training.**

To maximize your potential as a shooter there are two items that are paramount to your progression: a SHOT timer and a means of documentation or log book ( ).

In order to enhance your skill, you must be able to measure it.  Whether your goal is proficiency for self-defense or competition, time is crucial to your performance.  A shot timer will measure multiple facets of your shooting (the draw, shooting speed, reloads, the time to transition from one target to the next, and overall time).  If your current training regimen does not include a shot timer, you need to change that…NOW.  You can implement timing into your training for free by downloading a free shot timer app from your phone or purchase a more advanced and refined model from your firearms dealer.  Regardless of the shot timer you choose, you shouldn’t go to the range without it.

To complement your shot timer, a form of documentation is ideal to track your progression as a student of the gun.  By documenting your performance times you are creating a journal that tracks your incremental skill acquisition, which can be a huge form of motivation.  In addition, the ability to observe your improvements can be immensely gratifying.

Now that dry fire has been established as the bridge between live-fire range sessions and you know the items needed to maximize your learning; it’s time to layout an efficient training regimen.  A vast majority of shooters like to do what they’re good at, but you cannot allow yourself to become a victim of complacency.  By following a three step process, coming out of your comfort zone, you can elevate your shooting skills to the next level.

Finding Your Baseline

The first step is finding your baseline.  In other words, what is your current skill level as a shooter?  You need to document your current performance times on several standard skill drills of your choosing (El Presidente’, Bill Drill, etc.)  The key to determining your baseline is to not confine yourself to the time constraints specified in the drill.  The goal here is to successfully complete the drill while maintaining combat effectiveness for each shot fired.  Make sure you document your times.  The times you recorded for your drills will be considered your baseline.

Operational Tolerances

The second step is determining your operational tolerance.

Operational tolerances are the levels between which a person can effectively perform a task.  The focus here being the operational tolerances of operating a firearm.

An integral part of increasing the effectiveness of your training sessions is to first identify the upper end of your ‘operational tolerances’.  In other words, how quickly can you operate a firearm while still maintaining combat effectiveness?  Whether it’s real world applications or practical shooting competitions, you are trying to achieve an acceptable balance of speed and accuracy.  You should avoid exceeding your operational tolerance, this equates to poor shot placement and missed shots — exactly what you want to avoid.  

The goal is for you to identify the fastest level that you can shoot while maintaining effective hits on target.  Over time, as you refine your skills your operational tolerance will evolve and you will become more adept at operating a firearm at higher speeds.

Live Fire Training

The third step is live fire training.  There is no amount of dry fire training that can replace the importance of training with live ammunition.  The significance of feeling the trigger break, followed by the auditory and recoil impulse of the round discharging, delivering the projectile to your intended target — there is nothing else quite like it and its importance cannot be understated.


Using the training regimen outlined in this article will streamline your firearms training and ultimately, provide you with maximum improvement in the shortest amount of time.  Keep pushing your operational tolerance to the cusp of your abilities and you will experience the immensely gratifying and motivating experience of observing your skills exceed your expectations.

It’s time to grab your gear and get to the range!  Have fun and stay safe.

Jonathan D. Clemins
Chief Instructor
WV Defensive Firearms Training



Jonathan Clemins is an active law enforcement officer in West Virginia and the Chief Instructor for West Virginia Defensive Firearms Training.  Clemins is an NRA Certified Instructor, Range Safety Officer, and competitive shooter.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bob Harvey

Good job Jonathan……….


Good article with some great advice. I took one of his classes and he knows what is talking about and can back it up on the range, very impressive shooter.