Why You Can Always Improve Your Shooting Skills

posted on March 28, 2021

There’s nothing like spending time around people who can really run a handgun to keep one realistic about one’s own abilities. I may feel as though I’m a veritable ninja with a pistol around the normal, weekday crowd at the neighborhood indoor range, but setting foot on a range with someone like Ernest Langdon or Tim Herron will quickly recalibrate my shooting ego-meter. I’m pretty mediocre, in the grand scheme of things. 

For the most part, I’m relatively OK with that. Knowing some really great shooters means you also know the amount of effort they put in to get that way, after all, and not everyone has that level of drive or physical ability (or access to lots and lots of ammo).

There’s also the fact that, for the practical purposes of self-defense, most private-citizen defensive gun usages, or “DGUs,” aren’t really technically complex shooting problems. Todd Louis Green, the late trainer, used to say that if you can consistently shoot his FAST test in 8 seconds, clean, then pistol shooting wasn’t your weak spot and you should probably be off looking to acquire other skills, like learning a hand-to-hand martial art or getting advanced first-aid training.

The FAST, for those who aren’t aware of it, is the “Fundamentals, Accuracy, and Speed Test.” (Note that it’s a test, not a drill, as it is intended to measure abilities, not ingrain them.) The shooter starts with their handgun concealed—preferably in your normal, everyday CCW holster if you’re not a big ol’ cheater—with two rounds in the gun and a spare magazine also concealed on their person. The targets are a horizontal 3x5-inch card and an 8-inch circle at 7 yards. (A printable target, with the rules, can be found at pistol-training.com/fastest)

At the beep, draw and fire two rounds at the 3x5-inch card, perform a slide-lock reload, and fire four rounds into the 8-inch circle. The test measures several separate skills in a certain order: Drawing from concealment to a low-percentage target, managing recoil and making a fast-yet-patient follow-up shot on a low-percentage target, performing a reload from concealment, getting back on target after a reload and then the final four shots are a sort of abbreviated “Bill Drill,” testing grip, recoil control and sight tracking.

I’ve gotten to the point where I can generally run the FAST in the high 7s, cold, with my carry gun, and overall, I’m happy with that. I can remember when that level of skill seemed really fast—now it’s kinda routine. It’s one of my personal benchmarks and, as long as I’m shooting that well, I tended to take Green’s words to heart—until just now.

I need a project for 2021. Why not try and level up in a skill? That three-quarters of a second or so on my FAST runs is bugging me, especially since less than 7 seconds is constitutes “Advanced” on the test. I’m so close, I can taste it.

I know I’ve got a third of a second’s worth of wasted motion in my draw, to say nothing about getting my hands to the gun faster.

I’ll also admit to being slack on my reloads. Real Talk: Reloads under pressure are a thing that very rarely happens in pistol fights of any type, and next thing to never in pistol fights in a civilian self-defense context. That said, reloads are something I have to do all the time in practice, classes, competition or just dirt-shooting at the range, so why not use those opportunities to try and get more efficient at doing them rapidly? I can probably shave a third of a second off that slow reload without too much work.

There are also four timed shot-to-shot gaps, or “splits” on the test, and I know I can pick up some time there. Maybe even that last third of a second.

So, what does this gain me in real life? This is basically obsessing over fractions of a second, after all.

The truth of the matter is this: The actual relevance is pretty hypothetical. It’s vanishingly unlikely that any real-world, self-defense usage of a pistol, for me at least, is going to involve a rapid magazine change or shooting twice on a 3x5-inch card before transitioning to an 8-inch circle. But, these are all components of shooting a handgun, and wanting to improve those skills is a justification in itself. I mean, nobody ever said “Gee, I really wish I shot worse.”

Who wouldn’t want to be a little better tomorrow than they were yesterday?


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