Remember back when we were kids in school? Once a year there would be a fire drill, when we were led outside to the playground, check to be sure everyone was accounted for and then file back into class. I don’t know of many school aged children who took it seriously. It was a break in the monotony of our math lessons and a chance to see our friends in another classroom. These fire drills are meant to practice the school’s emergency plan in the event of a fire at school. What if the drill included the smell of smoke or the sound of emergency vehicles? Would we have taken the situation more seriously?
Practice time shooting at the range is no different. To get the most out of our time and ammo, we should challenge our effort as if we were role-playing our emergency plan. We don’t want to simply go through the motions lazily like when we were kids walking in line for those fire drills. Once we have mastered the fundamentals and our shots are consistent, increasing the level of complexity or adding a source of stress to our practice is the next step. Stress adds realism to your shooting experience. When controlled carefully, a small amount of pressure while shooting can benefit you exponentially when a real emergency occurs.
For a new shooter, just thinking about the fundamentals you need to perform is enough to add a sufficient amount of pressure. Competition between friends for a higher score or the loud bang of a rifle in the shooting stall next to you can take you off your target. In fact, changing the location of the range or even the firearm used produces a high level of anxiety with a new shooter. Learning to work within those parameters is a great place to start. With more experience, one would not be as easily affected by these circumstances.
Let’s take it one step further. Last month I became certified as an Instructor to teach the NRA course Personal Protection in the Home. One of the training exercises was to first shoot a group of six shots “leisurely” hitting the center of the target. There was no time constraint, no rush, just shoot at your own pace. We marked our grouping and were instructed to shoot two shots as fast as we could, successfully placing them in the same area as our previous ones. Our instructor timed us and called out our missed shots, driving us to go faster and faster.
Even this small amount of pressure, which I was not accustomed to, revealed several things. Increased heart rate, a tendency to jerk the trigger and rushing to make the shot indicated my level of anxiety. The addition of a harmless timer and the mild embarrassment of missed shots being exposed for all to hear were more than enough to degrade everyone’s performance – especially mine. However, each successful pair solidified my confidence and experience under these conditions. I knew what to expect and every effort came more natural than the last. After the first few drills I began to relax and the startled feeling from the clock didn’t affect me as it did on my first few attempts.
Working through malfunctions and reloads at top speed will certainly improve your response time until you are no longer thinking about shooting, but simply shooting. Recording your speed on these tasks will give you a baseline and show your progress. Any demonstration of skill requires some amount of pressure in order for us to improve. Our end goal should be to establish the muscle memory and mental stamina to offset the body’s natural reactions in an emergency. Think back at your school’s fire drill, the goal was to get you out of the building safely, quickly and, most of all, calmly.