Self Defense Pistol Training on a Budget ~ VIDEOS

By Captain Jim Pope, Columbus Police Department, Columbus, GA.
Note: The opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Columbus, Ga Police Department or of its Chief of Police.

Firearms Training Gun Range Targets Ammo
Self Defense Pistol Training on a Budget

USA – -( average person doesn’t have convenient access to an elaborate firearms training facility with moving, reactionary targets.

If you’re not in Law Enforcement, you don’t have your departmental range to go to. If you go to the local firing range, most have stringent rules. They don’t want you quick drawing. They don’t like double tapping. They don’t want you yelling or doing anything that in any way distracts anyone else in the area. You can only stand there in a relaxed manner and shoot slowly and carefully at a stationary target while everyone around you is motionless and quiet.

This does wonders for your potential liability if you own the firing range but it isn’t exactly conducive for training to survive armed encounters.

If you have no other place to go, it’s still better than not going at all. Any time on the trigger is still time on a trigger. However, isn’t the whole purpose to improve the speed of draw, the speed of accurately placed shots, the ability to engage multiple targets if need be and improve your ability to handle the stress of an armed encounter. I can’t speak for everyone, but that’s why I do it.

So the dilemma is how does the average guy or gal do this on a budget and that is the purpose of this article.

Back in the early 80’s just before becoming a police officer, a friend (Joe Saxon, Former Chief of Police of Ashburn, Ga.) and I did a lot of training on property that my family owned and also that his family owned.

As much as it pains me, (you have no idea) I have to admit that he could out shoot me with a pistol. Please don’t ever ask him about him hitting a crow at 100 yards with my .38 snub nose because if I have to sit through that story one more time I’ll have an aneurism. I will say that he declined when given the opportunity to try and repeat that shot. As Dirty Harry reminded us “A man has to know his limitations.”

Let me start by saying you need acreage and a reasonable backstop. It doesn’t have to be an 18’ berm, but safety comes first, and you will have to find the most practical place wherever you decide to do this. You may not own property, but the odds are that someone in your family or circle of friends does. You would be surprised how many landowners, farmers, etc. are open to this. If you are a novice, this is not for you. You should already have considerable time on a trigger, with some NRA safety Courses under your belt to understand basic safety concepts, especially understand muzzle discipline and not being an idiot would help as well. We threw around some ideas, tweaked some thoughts and in a nutshell this is what we came up with.

Multiple Targets at Multiple Distances

Multiple Targets
Multiple Targets

We would set up 3 or 4 targets at multiple distances. You could call them 1 – 4 or A – D. Whatever floats your boat. With weapons holstered, we first would run a 50-yard sprint. This exercise helps to simulate the inevitable heavy breathing/adrenaline rush in an actual gunfight. Upon reaching the starting point, the shooter would stand in front of the “instructor.” The instructor would begin yelling A, A, D, D, D, etc. with about a 2-second pause between each command. The order of the target to shoot at would be totally random, and you considered that target an active threat until you got a command to engage a different one. Reloads were up to the shooter obviously because the threat was still present and there was no timeout.

Malfunctions and Injuries

In the middle of doing what I just described above, we would occasionally incorporate Murphy’s Law. The “instructor” could yell “Your right arm has been hit”. The threat is still present of course and you have to deal with it. Some people call these “wounded officer drills”. You have to switch the weapon to your weak hand, shoot one handed and do one handed reloads. If the slide did not lock to the rear for whatever reason on the last round and/or with only one operable arm at this point you needed to be familiar with one or more ways to still cycle and reload the weapon. I always preferred kneeling, drawing my left foot up so the toe was touching the ground and catching the front sight or rear sight on the heel of my boot to cycle the weapon. Since I was already kneeling, just slide the weapon behind your knee, wedged between the upper and lower part of your leg with the magazine weld pointing outward and insert a new magazine. You could do everything you needed to get done from the same position plus you’re a smaller target when kneeling. It just made sense to me. There are many ways.

All that matters is that the method you use works for you and you “carefully” practice it. There are a few devices made for this purpose (cycling the weapon with one hand) that attach to your belt and you catch the sight on the devise to cycle the weapon. The drawback is you would have to remember to always have it with you no matter how you’re dressed. Just know that those options are out there.

If you have “dummy” rounds, you (the instructor) could load their weapon randomly so at some point the weapon would malfunction. If you just had to, you could yell out “Stovepipe” or whatever and the shooter simulate dealing with that issue. I’m not going to argue the semantics of this and there is more than one way to skin a cat. My preference was the simplest method that was guaranteed to work every time. Strip the magazine, cycle the weapon twice, reload with a new magazine. Yes, it takes a second longer than some of the other methods but it will work every time on just about any malfunction. I say just about because if you have had a catastrophic malfunction such as a broken extractor or ejector, cracked slide rail, etc. you need to implement plan B immediately. I like the KISS principle (Keep It Super Simple or Keep It Simple Stupid, depending on your preference).

Failure to Stop Drills

Weird things happen in gunfights and believe it or not people don’t instantaneously die when shot in real life. They often keep coming/fighting even though they have been hit. In addition to that, generally, people do not fire as accurately under stress as they do at a firing range. All of that combined makes failure to stop drills essential and practical. In the middle of shooting the instructor yells “fail to stop,” “he’s still coming,” or whatever.

The dilemma in a failure to stop scenario is complicated. Did they fail to stop because you missed or because the ammo failed to perform because they are wearing body armor or are they on drugs and/or one hell of an adrenaline rush or some combination of all of the above? The truth is you probably will not know and probably will not have time to study the issue other than maybe recognizing the presence of body armor.

If it were me, I’m going to assume that I probably hit and switch over to making headshots. That covers the body armor issue and the drugs/adrenaline issue. Using good quality factory defensive loads should pretty much eliminate the ammo issue. If I missed, in all probability I’m going to miss the head as well and have a horrible day. I think the most practical way to train for this that would also cover the most likely scenario(s) is to start going for the head. I will say this if you see external body armor and a helmet on your adversary for your sake, I hope you’re wearing it too. In that case, I would go for the lower abdomen/groin area. There are a lot of big arteries, organs and your intestines in that area and it hurts like pure hell to be shot in that area.

If they have the armor flap that covers that area, it was nice knowing you, but somebody came very prepared to make you very dead. Seriously though, keep fighting to your last breath. Even if you die, go out knowing you took that SOB with you.

Utilizing Cover

All you need is a tree, a piece of plywood or even a 2 x 10 and a method to make it stand upright. You can lay a 2 x 10 on the 2“side making 10 inches of cover and simulate a street curb. The day may come when that’s all you have for cover. When led is coming your way, take whatever cover you can find unless you’re more comfortable moving because you have trained extensively that way.

(Cover is best unless you have to move) You really should train for both because sometimes there simply is no cover. Each to his own. ( I may write another article and get specifically into training to fight while moving. That is far more complicated and quite frankly, far more dangerous for both you and whomever is with you)

Train utilizing both sides of cover, kneeling, standing and laying.

Defensive Shooting From Cover
Defensive Shooting From Cover

Always remember that the more of these distractions and unusual circumstances you add to training, you also add to the risk factor. I’m talking about the risk to you and the person with you. Train starting out behind the cover and having to move some distance to get to it. Train standing right up against it and also standing back from it because depending on circumstances you could find yourself having to do either.

Making Time a Factor

This brings me back to my opening statements about the real purpose of training like this; “isn’t the whole purpose to improve speed of draw, speed of accurately placed shots, the ability to engage multiple targets if need be and improve your ability to handle the stress of an armed encounter. I can’t speak for everyone but that’s why I do it.” You need to practice these drills both with your weapon already drawn and with it holstered and try to constantly improve your time.

Starting with the pistol holstered obviously adds time and to some extent even a little more stress. You simply start out with say a 4 second time limit (depending on your skill level) to draw and put 3 rounds center mass. You could do 2 center mass and one to the head and change the time frame if you wanted/needed to. This is only limited to the imagination. All you need is an “instructor” behind you with a stopwatch to yell fire and stop at the appropriate time. You don’t even need the stopwatch. Just yell go and start counting out loud, one thousand one, one thousand two, etc. The idea is that you gradually get faster and faster.

The El Presidente is a classic example of a speed drill. The El Presidente Drill As your skill and confidence increase, you can incorporate multiple targets, reloads, failures to stop, malfunctions, injuries, etc. and tinker with the time appropriately based on whatever you added to the exercise. Start out with an easily obtainable time limit and work your way up. Achieving goals at a moderate speed builds the necessary skills you need and the confidence to go faster. You need muscle memory for the essential skill set first, then worry about the speed.

One thing I liked doing was once I had built a good time on whatever the exercise was, I would set a ridiculous goal such as cutting the time in half and just go for it. This helps to simulate stress because the goal is not obtainable and you see how your shot group grows when under stress/under the clock.

This can be a little dangerous because you have added chaos to the equation, so watch this one.

Dry Firing

When my wife and I first met, you know the beginning period when they act interested in the things you’re interested in, I had her dry firing quite frequently. Let’s make this simple. If you’re in the house, manually clear the weapon three times, then visually clear the weapon three times. Then, pick a wall to point it at that would minimize the damage and risk to anyone else if the gun should go off. The point of this is to focus on the front sight and hold it perfectly still all the way through the trigger pull and especially at the precise moment it goes click.

It’s easier to do this with a revolver because you do not have to cycle the weapon each time to cock it but if you are carrying a single action 1911 and practicing dry fire with a double action revolver, these are two entirely different concepts and not very conducive to creating muscle memory. About all it would create is muscle confusion.

Ultimately, while doing this, the front sight could move all over the place during the pull, but it has to be on target at the moment it goes click.

Dry Fire Training & Dry Fire Training Cards

Do this often enough to create muscle memory. It should be as easy as scratching your nose. You don’t need to see your nose to scratch it because of muscle memory, and you should be able to keep that front sight right where it needs to be because of muscle memory combined with your sight picture. In theory, you should have done it so many times that once you obtained the sight picture, you could close your eyes and still keep that front sight right where it needs to be through the trigger pull until the gun goes click.

The Fancy Stuff

This part is mostly for advanced shooters because distractions of the type I’m about to suggest raises the risk factors substantially. How do you make this more realistic? How do you increase the stress factor? This is easy but I again I stress the danger involved. The instructor could be right behind you using a bullhorn shouting all of the commands. The idea is that it be so loud and distracting that it takes away from your ability to concentrate on what you’re doing. You could add flashing lights and/or a bright light as a distraction. You could even play loud music, sirens, set off fireworks, etc.

Simulating Windows and Doors

Rather than build mock walls, windows, etc., run a rope between two trees. Hang black sheets over it and space them apart. You now have an open window or door based on the opening. Insert Picture 9

You should practice utilizing targets at various distances and various angles behind the simulated doors/windows. The shooter should also practice from various distances and angles.

If the wind blows the sheets around, I’m not sure what that would simulate, but it’s bound to add stress. Maybe it’s good for simulated firefights during earthquakes. I’m not saying this is ideal but remember, this is training on a budget.

Moving Targets

I gave Joe a preview of this article before publication, and he reminded me about this. I think my mind had intentionally blocked it out so thanks to Joe for this one. We were either too lazy or not technically inclined enough to rig a rope and a pulley system to pull moving targets left or right on a line/rope while the other one shot at the moving target (probably the later). Being downrange of the shooter to pull the rope was perhaps also a deterrent for us to have not done this although with the right ingenuity that could be resolved as well. Again, I stress the later in the ingenuity department. That being said, we did “sort of” address this.

We tied a milk jug to a long rope. The jug would be about 40 feet in front of the shooter with the rope running back between their legs to the instructor who was apparently behind them. The instructor would simply pull the rope and move the jug toward them. Admittedly, this has its limitations, and it isn’t very realistic. You end up with something that simulates a small dog charging you. I don’t know why you would shoot at a charging Chihuahua but I have one that would make you consider it.

Putting all of the jokes aside, this does have learning value. It forces you to focus on a moving object and aim right at the front of it hoping it will be in the trajectory of the round when you send the round. The fact that it’s small, moving and low to the ground helps to simulate stress. Try it if you don’t believe me. I invented curse words during this event. A tip for this one, add weight to the milk jug. If not, it bounces up and down and jumps around so much when you drag it across rough ground that you will never hit it.

So there you have it, pistol training on a budget. This by no means covers all aspects of pistol training but it’s a good start. Try it out if you think your skill levels are up to par and let me know what tips you have for training on a budget.