Handgun Drills, Standards, and Training Page

under construction

This page is currently under construction. Much material has yet to be added. Please bear with me.

Notes on the Drills

The material on this page is collected here for the benefit of shooters interested in improving their handgun skills and developing their own training structure.

I assume no liability for any use or misuse of this information.

This page does not teach technique and is not intended as a substitute for good firearms training. I assume you will seek out training from an instructor or knowledgeable shooter to learn the basics of any technique before setting them into your muscle memory. Drills practiced with poor technique will only reinforce bad habits.

Contributions to this page are welcome, and will be credited.


When it comes to the defensive use of firearms, the skill of not being shot is at least as important as the skill of shooting. Moving to cover and shooting from cover should be a constant part of handgun drilling, but unfortunately, most exercises don't emphasize this aspect of defense.

In a perfect world, the first shots a beginner fires would be from behind cover. Seeking cover while drawing or firing should be an instinct. You are training yourself every time you handle a gun, and if you stand out in the open when shooting drills, you are training yourself to stand out in the open when returning fire, an immobile and easy target, as is very often observed in law enforcement shootings.

The antidote is to shoot from cover from the very outset, and keep it a constant part of your training. As law enforcement training shifts to this paradigm, they observe that officers who come up for qualification are uneasy firing in the open--they instinctively prefer to shoot from behind cover when it is available.

There is very little use of cover in these drills, which is why I mention it here. They can, however, be adapted. It is up to you to give yourself the kind of training you want to have.

Target Systems

Most of the defensive drills are designed for use with the IPSC target.

These targets are available from many different suppliers, usually in lots of 25-50.

A rough substitute for the IPSC A-zone is a sheet of 8.5 x 11" paper. This is the same height and just slightly wider than the A-zone. Most of these drills can be practiced with a sheet of paper on a cardboard backing if you don't have IPSC targets.

Variations: Some agencies tape 3x5 cards in the center of a silhouette for many of these drills, and only count those hits. The theory is that in an armed encounter your group sizes will widen involuntarily, so practicing with a smaller-than-life stop zone is better training.

I have a page on reactive targets and the Poor Man's Target Frame.

Dry Fire

under construction This section is under development.

Dry Fire Safety

Dry Fire Draw

Dry Fire Reload

Dry Fire Target Transitions

A Note on Visualization

Drills and Exercises

Benchrest Shooting

Teaches: accuracy, ideal sight picture, relaxation while shooting

Shooting from a pistol rest is the way to learn an ideal sight picture, good trigger control, and to build confidence that your gun shoots to point of aim. The NRA recommends starting all new shooters from a rest, just so they can see an ideal sight picture and understand that if the sights are aligned on the target when the gun fires, the bullet will accurately hit the target. Once this understanding is established, other kinds of shooting have a foundation to build from.

Advanced shooters will find that by using a rest, they can shoot to the gun's limit. It's an excellent way to observe the shooting process, watching the sight lift, the slide operate, and the gun come back into battery on the target.

Shooting 1/4" dots from a rest is a challenging way to test your limits. Put 15 dots on a sheet of paper with a larger aiming circle around each one. One shot per dot at 7 yards; bullet must break the edge to score; anything over 10 is excellent.

Come back to benchrest shooting anytime you start thinking your sights need adjusting. Chances are it's you, not the gun.

By shooting NRA targets or measuring your groups you can chart your progress.

Freestyle Group Shooting

Teaches: accuracy, ideal sight picture, making every shot count.

Put a 1" target dot on a blank sheet of paper and run it out to 25, 50, 75, or 100 ft--whatever distance stretches your ability to put them in the center when taking your best shot. Load ONLY ONE round into the magazine and cylinder, and make the shot as precise as you can, taking all the time you need. After every shot, step out of your shooting position, collect the brass, or do something else to rest. Put a new target out every 10 shots.

Try to call your shots. If you are perfectly focused on the front sight at the moment the shot breaks, you will be able to tell if the shot was high, low, or off to the side. Wherever the sight is when it lifts, that's the direction the shot will go.

Handle the gun exactly as you would for more aggressive shooting--loading the gun with the proper procedure and shooting from your normal stance. Pay attention to how your stance and grip feel to you; slow, careful shooting can show you where unwanted tension is coming from. If you feel tired, take a break.

You can measure your groups with a ruler or caliper. Date and file your best target to see how your shooting changes over a period of months or years.

Variation: Shoot from a rest or sandbags.

Receding Bullseyes

Teaches: accuracy, best shots at various ranges, settling into a shooting flow.
Requires: indoor range.

Put a 1.5" target dot on a blank sheet of paper and put it as close as the range will allow. It should be relatively easy to put your rounds straight into the bullseye with no flyers. Fire a small number of shots, then move the target back just a little. Keep moving the target back, bit by bit, to the point where it's difficult to keep it in the bullseye.

You may be surprised at how you "lock on" to the bullseye doing this, to the point where you might shoot a good group at longer distances than usual. You might also become more aware of the shooting factors that degrade accuracy and make it difficult to shoot precisely at longer ranges.

Over time, you may find you can move it further and further back-- it's a good way to see your own progress.

The outdoor variant is to progressively retreat from your target.

Dummy Round Drill

Teaches: flinch control and followthrough during live fire.
Requires: best with shooting partner, can be done alone.

Principle: If the hammer falls on an empty chamber during slow-fire shooting, your gun shouldn't budge--sights should stay aligned and on target, eye still clearly focused on the front sight. If the gun does dip (or jump), you're anticipating the recoil.

Procedure: Have someone else load a magazine for you, mixing live rounds with snap caps, or for a revolver, leave one or more chambers empty. When you fire the gun, concentrate on keeping the gun steady, sights on target, no matter what happens. When the snap cap comes up you'll be able to check your flinch. If you're doing well, the gun won't budge. If you're not doing well, keep up with the drill until you are. Keep your sights aligned and on target while you release the trigger just enough to reengage the sear (proper followthrough).

You can do this yourself by loading several magazines and mixing them up, or loading a magazine with your eyes closed, or rotating the cylinder with your eyes shut before closing it.

Variations: if you have a laser or optical sight, it's even more difficult to keep the dot perfectly on the target when the snap cap comes up, and easier to diagnose the direction your flinch is taking you.

Also known as: cap-and-ball drill, ball-and-dummy drill.

Sensory Deprivation

Teaches: shooting kinethestics, flinch control.
Requires: a partner and a backstop that will stop your fire even if you significantly miss your target.

Most of the flinch comes from anticipating the noise and flash of shooting, not the recoil itself. Anyone who has hammered a nail has handled more recoil in their hand than a handgun usually imparts. Shooting blind, with heavy hearing protection, can help show a shooter that the recoil is not difficult, as well focusing attention on the internal feeling of stance and shooting. This aids in visualization and kinesthetic awareness.

You can cut down on noise by using ear plugs in tandem with muffs. Line up the gun on target, and close your eyes before taking the shot.

Important: your partner is there to watch your muzzle. She should keep a hand on your shoulder as long as you are pointed safely. If any unsafe range condition arises, she should take the hand off your shoulder.

Variations: learn to tell when your slide locks back by the feel of the recoil alone. Your partner loads a magazine with an unknown number of rounds, and after each shot, you report whether you think the gun is empty or not. Believe it or not, you will be able to tell pretty quickly. You can also do a blind emergency reload when you feel the last round go. Your partner will need to keep a close eye on you for safety.

Caveats: besides the obvious safety considerations, you should probably only do this infrequently. In general, you want to train yourself to shoot with your eyes open. ;)

Correcting Blinking

Many shooters blink when they fire the gun. This is a flinch response to the noise (or anticipated noise) of shooting. If a shooter blinks, she can't be watching the sights through recoil for a good follow-through, and has to reaquire her visual index on the sight before firing the next shot. Brian Enos writes that this is a fundamental barrier to advanced shooting; you can't have a fast visual control of the gun if you aren't watching the sight through recoil.

Here is a method (Sandy Wylie's) to correct blinking. You have to relax the shooter to the point where she can keep relaxed and absorb the visual and physical input from the gun. This method is the short route; the real answer is a Zen-type awareness.

If you have a safe berm that you can get close to, get within 5 yards. You want to shoot into the berm without a formal target to get comfortable with the gun. If you shoot iron sights, try just looking over the top of the gun instead of at the sights. Wear plugs and muffs to reduce the noise problem. You might find it of benefit to start with a .22 as well. To help in keeping relaxed, try to keep your facial muscles relaxed. Monitor this closely. I work on relaxing the muscles behind my ears for best relaxation and awareness. Use a relaxed grip on the gun and eventually work with weak and strong hand shooting.

Repeat until you are comfortable keeping your eyes open while looking over the sights, firing downrange into the berm without a specific target.

Once you can keep your eyes open for the complete cycle, start watching the sights and monitoring yourself closely. If you are blinking, go back to no target and looking over the gun. After you have achieved the ability to keep your eyes open and relax, you will find a tremendous increase in awareness.

Credits to: Sandy Wylie.

Correcting Trigger Slap

Shooters moving from slowfire to rapid fire often move their trigger fingers all the way off the trigger between shots. This has a couple of negative effects. First, it takes time. Second, it leads to inaccuracy because the tendency is to slap the trigger on the second and subsequent shots.

To fix this, follow through on your shots with your trigger finger. Hold the trigger back all the way through recoil. When the sights are again aligned slowly release the trigger until the link re-engages. Then press to make the next shot.

This is a great dry fire drill. Once you know how far to release the trigger of your gun, both your accuracy and your speed go up.

Credits to: Lee Winter.

Shooting with Both Eyes Open

Many shooters close or squint their weak eye in order to focus on the front sight--but doing so impairs peripheral vision and depth perception while increasing eye fatigue. Your target-to-target transitions will be much quicker if you are using both your eyes, and you can be more relaxed, which will improve your shooting in many ways.

The problem is usually that the dominant eye is not much stronger than the weak eye, so instead of seeing one image strongly and the other faintly, you see both strongly. When focused on the front sight, you see a confusing array of rear sights and targets, with no way to coordinate them.

It is impossible to sort out the doubled images every time you take a shot. Instead, you need to train your eye to simply "know" what a good sight picture is in spite of the extranneous elements. With a few months' worth of work, you can shoot as well as anyone else, with complete periperal awareness, by learning not to "see" any doubling of the sight picture.

The following is a four-step recovery program for shooters with eye squinching problems:

  1. Put a strip of scotch tape on your shooting glasses over your nondomimant eye and learn to shoot with both eyes open. The tape will obscure the weak eye's picture to the point where it will not interfere with your sight picture. Shoot this way until you have acquired the technique and your stance, sight focus, and followthrough feel natural and innate.
  2. Dry fire every day. Select either the presentation from the holster or low ready, whichever makes sense to your situation (home defense vs. concealed carry), and practice first to make it smooth, then to make it perfect. Always keep a strong front-sight focus, and be very aware of where the sights are when the hammer falls. Work your way up to being able to make a presentation with your eyes closed, then open your eyes and see a solid sight picture.
  3. When you have reached a point of confidence in your presentation, replace the tape with a very thin smear of vaseline--just thin enough so that you see a ghostly rear sight image when focused on the front sight. It will be disorienting, because you'll see two rear sights and two targets. But make your presentation and focus on the front sight. You will find that you are able to put the sight dead on the target regardless of the double vision. That's the goal. Continue the dry-fire regimen, and soon you will hardly be aware of the second image. As you get more acclimated to seeing the sight picture with only the strong eye, you can remove more and more vaseline.
  4. Eventually, start shooting with both eyes. Watch the sight through recoil and you will learn that you can follow the sight and retain a sharp picture, disregarding any weak-eye images of the rear sight or target. If your eyes begin to confuse the images, go back to presentations with the other glasses for a few minutes. In live-fire, gradually phase out the old glasses.

Within a few months, you won't ever think about it again--your eyes will "know" the sight picture and the non-dominant image will seem like a pheripheral, ghostly superposition. This is because attention is what makes the image strong. The steps above will allow you to shoot as if the conflicting image didn't exist--and the more you ignore it, the more it doesn't exist. The result is no visual confusion, just a strong sight picture, normal depth perception, and the full range of your natural peripheral vision.

Firing from Low Ready

Teaches: sight acquisition and rapid first shot.

A gun should be held at low ready when danger is probable but the threat is not immediate. It gives the shooter a complete field of vision while enabling her to get the gun quickly on target and fire should it become necessary.

The "foot-shooting" low ready often seen on television is less than optimal. You want to keep the gun just low enough to see well over it, and no lower. If holding persons at gunpoint, you want to be low enough to see their hands. Finger should be off the trigger, gun decocked (DA/SA semi-autos) or safety engaged (SA semi-autos)

A gun is held at combat ready after shots have been fired, and the immediate threat neutralized. The gun is in condition zero (cocked, no safety engaged), held in the same stance as low ready, while the shooter assesses the target and then breaks tunnel vision to perform a scan of the area. This should be practiced until instinctive. Don't reholster the gun until you have assessed your surroundings and are satisfied that no further threat exists.

Some people advise decocking DA/SA semi-autos when returning to ready. It's up to you, but keep in mind that in a defensive situation the gun might not be pointing in a safe direction.

Drill: Tape a 3x5 card to a target at 7 yards. On a signal (if you have one available to you), raise the gun from low ready and put a round in the card.

Many indoor ranges prohibit drawing from a holster, but if you are familiar with the drawing track, you can simulate the last half of the draw by starting with the gun near your chest instead of at low ready. If you are not familiar with the drawing track, this drill won't help you. Do more dry-fire drawing first.

Variations: Low-ready/combat-ready reloading drill. Load three rounds into each of your magazines (on your belt or on a table), and two rounds in the mag in your gun. The drill is then:

  1. Fire (and return to combat ready)
  2. Fire; reload; fire (and return to combat ready)
Repeat #1 and #2 until you are out of magazines. Tape up your target after each drill so you are actively monitoring your accuracy.

Miscellaneous Accuracy and Slowfire Tricks

Try these out and keep the ones you like.

Credits to Julius Chang, and several rec.gun posters whose suggestions I have remembered, but whose names I unfortunately haven't.

Consecutive Pairs

Teaches: shot-to-shot followthrough, visual and kinesthetic awareness.

Shooters moving from slow-fire to rapid-fire often have trouble keeping the gun controlled, or keeping a precise sight picture. This exercise is designed to smooth out your shot-to-shot transitions.

Drill: To isolate the mechanics of followthrough, don't set up a target. Instead, fire into the berm. This will prevent you from looking forward past the gun to see your shot placement. As long as the shots will be stopped by the backstop, we don't care where they go. If shooting at an indoor range, set up a target large and close enough that it will catch your fire easily.

Load a full magazine or cylinder, and with a good sight alignment (sights aligned, but not aimed at anything in particular), carefully fire one shot into the berm. Watch the front sight move through the arc of recoil and return to alignment, and fire a quick followup shot. Pay attention to how the gun feels while shooting, and make sure you aren't shifting your grip or lifting your finger off the trigger between shots. You are letting the gun show you how to fire it smoothly, letting it rise and snap back into alignment until it does this all by itself, as if it were spring-loaded. Watch the front sight, and don't worry about hitting a target--you're just learning how to make your shots feel connected and continuous.

If something feels wrong, freeze the gun and look at what you are doing. Look especially at your grip, your trigger finger, and where your visual focus is. Correct it, pay attention to it, and keep shooting.

Repeat this drill for a half hour, and you will have a lot more awareness of how the gun fires and returns to the target. Come back to this drill whenever you find yourself having trouble with followthrough mechanics.

Also see section on correcting trigger slap .

Indoor Variation: If you're shooting in a range that limits rapid-fire to a shot per second, you can still learn smooth, quick followthrough by using a small target. Practice the above drill (with no target) until you are shooting as fast as the range will allow, and then move to aimed pairs on a 3.5 card at 25-40 feet. Keep shooting pairs, watching the front sight, paying attention to followthrough, and keep your shots on the card. Verifying the sight picture will probably keep you within the slow-fire limits.

Accelerated Pairs

Teaches: Top-speed accurate fire.
Requires: High (or close) backstop.

Some shooters get hung up on the difference between double-taps (a.k.a. "hammers"--two shots fired from one sight picture) and accelerated pairs (two shots, each with a sight picture). This exercise will help you sort out the difference and realize that sighted pairs can be as fast as unsighted ones. The trick is in teaching your eye to follow the front sight through recoil and make an instantaneous verification of the sight picture.

You might be shooting more slowly than you need to. The gun is in battery and back on the target very quickly, but many shooters add time checking the sight picture. This exercise will help you realize that your body can shoot the gun very quickly once your eye knows what to see.

Drill: First, be sure of your backstop. You may get some very high shots in the first portion of the drill--make sure they will be caught.

With an IPSC target or other large cardboard target three feet from the muzzle of the gun, fire a double-tap as quickly as you physically can. Watch the target, not the sights, during both shots. You should be able to see your rounds go through the cardboard. Don't worry about the sight picture, just see how quickly you can manage the trigger and still feel like the gun is under control. Repeat at least 10 times.

After shooting enough top-speed pairs to have a feeling of consistency, slow down enough to bring your shots within a hand's-breadth of each other on your target. Taping a 4x6 card to the target might help. Tape the target after every pair.

When you are consistently firing target-focus double-taps within four inches or so of each other, switch to watching the front sight. Follow the sight through the arc of recoil, and visually verify the sight picture as the second shot breaks. But don't let this slow the shot. You will see that an aimed shot can be fired in the same amount of time as an unaimed one. If you are visually following the front sight through recoil, sight verification is instantaneous.

Diagnostics: If you have trouble seeing what the sight does during recoil, you may be blinking. Otherwise, your eye is seeing something during the recoil cycle of the gun--pay attention to what it is. Some people see the top of the gun or ejection port; some people watch the muzzle flash or the flash in the chamber. Lower the gun a bit so you see a tall front sight and just watch what the front sight does in recoil for a while. Follow the sight while looking over the gun first, then learn to follow it from a conventional sight picture.

Reactive Targets

Teaches: target transitions, accuracy.
Requires: outdoor range.

Reactive targets are excellent training tools--they are area rather than point targets, and they give immediate feedback on your accuracy. For beginners, reactive targets quickly illustrate that hitting your target carefully is more efficient than firing quick misses.

The drawback is that beginners who can't call their shots won't be able to tell where their misses are going.

The solution is to control the distance the shooter is from the targets. Shooting steel is unsafe under 10 yards because of backsplatter, but most other reactive targets (bowling pins, balloons, blocks of wood, tin cans, etc) can be brought into close range. The targets should be just far enough that it takes a careful shot to hit each one. Twelve feet is a good place to start.

The best drill for refining your draw involves an array of reactive targets. Draw and shoot one target; drop to low ready, assess, scan, reholster. Repeat until out of targets, then reset and reload. Intensive repetition will ingrain a smooth, accurate presentation. The same drill can be adapted for reloading and for two-shot target-to-target transitions.

Reactive targets are also useful for working on the double-action to single-action transition on DA/SA semi-autos. Many shooters get a flyer in their first shot-pair, and don't know whether it's the first or second shot that's missing. By setting up two close targets, you can tell which is which, and work on smoothing it out.

Arrays of reactive targets are great for simple competitions. See who can knock down five bowling pins the fastest, or who can draw and hit a swinging potato soonest. Simple things for simple minds. ;)

See my other page on reactive targets.

Failure Drill

This is a defensive drill (also known as the Mozambique) to prepare for the possibility that an aggressor will not be stopped by shots to the chest. This could be for a variety of reasons, from body armor to narcotic intoxication to just bad luck. In the turmoil of an armed conflict the shooter will probably not be able to tell why. The best defensive response is not to diagnose the failure but to quickly remedy it with a followup shot to the head.

Drill: The standard failure-to-stop drill is two shots to the chest; assess; one shot to the head if needed.

It is important that the head shot be a response to the aggressor's continued threat, not just a rehearsed triple-tap. Taking a moment for assessment also serves the purpose of changing pace from two quick center-of-mass shots to a very deliberate and accurate single shot to stop.

Any shooting drill on a silouette or IPSC target can be adapted as a failure drill. The most common method is to have an instructor shout "FAILURE" after the shooter has fired two shots to the chest. The shooter understands this means the chest shots were ineffective and the aggressor is still a threat. If the instructor is silent, the shots are presumed to have stopped the threat.

You can perform this drill on your own with two shot-timers (if timers are available to you at a club). Start both timers on a five-second random delay, and when either goes off, draw and fire two shots to the center of a target. If the second timer goes off during the assessment phase, perform the failure drill. If the timer beeps overlap, or are so close that you are still shooting when the second timer goes off, your first shots were effective. This is a good method, because the pacing of the "failure" cue is unpredictable--it might come immediately after your chest shots, or up to two seconds later.

More elaborate setups are possible with reactive target arrays. Thunder Ranch uses targets that can be configured to only fall from certain shot placements, depending on the instructor's preference (documentation here.) These are excellent for drilling the failure response. Other instructors use balloons with some colored dye as the center-of-mass target. Depending on the color of the dye, the student will have to perform a failure drill or not.

Variations: After shooting any kind of defensive scenario, a shooter should go to combat ready, assess all targets, and scan the area for further threats. This is also a prime time to drill a failure to stop.

Reload Drills

Your primary method of practicing reloads should be dry-fire, but live-fire is the final litmus test for your technique.

There are three kinds of reloads: speed, emergency, and tactical. Your drills can be adapted to exercise either one, but ideally the circumstances of your practice should be appropriate to the reload (i.e. tactical reload should be from behind cover, emergency reload after firing to slide lock, etc).

Plaxco Academy Drill:

See also the simple IPSC drill, and the reload variation of the low ready drill.

Malfunction Drills

Your primary method for learning malfunction clearance procedures should be dryfire, but dryfire practice lacks an essential element of real-life malfunctions: they are unexpected. Live-fire drills should present the shooter with the problem of (1) recognizing that a malfunction has occured, and (2) clearing it.

Any shooting drill can become a malfunction drill with the judicious introduction of ammunition that won't fire. The most common method is the surprise snap-cap (as in the Farnam Drill). Other methods involve making the gun or the ammunition temporarily less reliable:

Be sure you perform the proper clearance procedure even if you "know" that it's only a snap cap. Don't evaluate the malfunction--just clear it. The point is to ingrain the Tap-Rack-Ready (and Lock-Rip-Rack-Load-Rack-Ready) procedure as an automatic response to a gun that won't fire. Keep your focus on the target, not the gun.

Be sure to keep unreliable ammunition marked and separate from practice and defense ammo.

Simple IPSC Drill

Teaches: draw, reload, smoothness and economy of motion.

This drill is commonly used among IPSC shooters to get their draws and reloads as efficient and smooth as possible.

With an IPSC target at seven yards, draw and fire one shot into the A zone. Speed reload, and then fire one more shot.

Variations: Vary the distance to learn the tradeoff between speed and accuracy. Close for hyperspeed, farther away for precision.

Bill Drill (after Bill Wilson)

Teaches: draw, grip, rapid-fire, recoil control, "adequate" rather than "perfect" sight picture.

With one IPSC target 7 yards away, start from surrender position, draw, and fire 6 shots into the A zone. If any shots miss the A zone, the time does not count, so the emphasis is on accuracy before speed.

Brian Enos puts master-level time for this drill as 2.0 seconds.

Variations: for a beginner, bring the target as close as 8 feet, or start from low ready instead of holstered. Shoot as fast as you can while keeping the shots in the A zone and keeping a feeling of control over the gun. The point is to get used to the feeling of controlled rapid fire, learning to watch the sight, and familiarizing yourself with rapidfire recoil characteristics. When drawing from the holster, it helps guarantee that you acquire a good shooting grip; otherwise the gun will start to feel out of control. If you are missing the A-zone, you're making mistakes. SLOW DOWN and do it right.

This drill can be a real ammo burner.

Tueller Drill (after Sgt. Dennis Tueller)

Teaches: speed draw and fire under stress.
Requires: three people, or two people and a timer.

The Tueller drill is essentially an exercise, under stress, to measure your draw and first shot in terms of distance rather than time. The area that a charging assailant is able to cover in the time it takes you to draw and fire gives you a good idea of what a "safe distance" threshold is.

At the time of the original drill, Gunsite expected a 1.5 second par time for drawing from concealment and firing two shots at a 3-yard target. Tueller found that the average distance an assailant could travel in 1.5 seconds, starting from standing still, was about 21 feet. Any closer, and the assailant might start grappling before the shot can go off.

There have been many arrangements of the Tueller drill. The simplest is to have the "assailant" start back-to-back with the shooter. At the signal, the runner runs and the shooter draws and fires at a 3-yard IPSC target. At the sound of the shot, the runner stops and the distance is measured. If the shot was good (A-zone), the distance counts as the shooter's "score."

A more stressful variation is to have the assailant begin 21 feet away from the shooter, parallel to the firing line. At the signal, the assailant runs toward the shooter and tries to touch her (gently!) on the back as he passes. This is a pass/fail variation.

With ASP Red Guns (plastic guns that are holsterable and drawable), the drill can become a full-contact exercise, with the assailant charging directly at the shooter.

Variations: A useful variation is to have the shooter sidestep while drawing and firing. Moving to the assailant's 45 degree area throws the charger off balance as he/she attempts to correct and gives the shooter significantly more time to draw and fire. The shooter is also out of the line of attack in the probable event that the shots don't stop instantaneously. Other variations are documented here.

Wounded Shooter Drills

Wounded shooter drills are more than just learning to fire one-handed, as is usually adequate for competition. In a defensive encounter, there is a chance you might be hurt immediately and have to draw your weapon while injured. You may not immediately know where incoming fire is coming from. So good wounded shooter drills are a combination of one-handed handling skills, use of cover, and threat assessment. Essentially, you'd like to be able to do anything while simulating an injury that you practice for two-handed.

WARNING: One-handed techniques involve operating the gun in unfamiliar ways, sometimes with the gun held much closer to the body than usual. Safety is a big concern. For that reason I highly recommend:

  1. That you don't practice any of these procedures until you have been trained in the proper technique by a knowlegeable instructor.
  2. That you practice your handling skills exclusively with dry-fire, using snap caps, until you are highly confident that you will be safe. Be aware of your trigger finger, muzzle direction, and the possibility of clothing snags.

Wounded shooter skills include:

These should be practiced both strong-hand and weak-hand only.

To exercise these skills in drills, simply choose a drill from the list and perform it while simulating an injury. Simulated injuries can be anything from a disabled arm to disability of everything but your arm.


Shooting under stress is the litmus test for any training. You get to see what your instinctive reactions really are, and whether the smoothly choreographed moves you rehearse in practice work so well in real life. Shooters can become clumsy, hands will shake, vision closes, the mind can go blank. All these things are part and parcel of defensive pistolcraft, and a well-conditioned shooter will still function under these conditions.

Massad Ayoob recommends always shooting under some stress, even if it's just making a bet with someone or penalizing yourself in some way for not meeting your shooting goals. I personally think there is also a place for relaxed, no-penalty experimentation, but still, nothing can hone your skills as much as learning to exercise them under stress.

These are just some notes on what some people have done to create stress for shooters. Take what you like.


Bullseye National Match

The National Match is a simple objective bullseye course of 30 rounds fired on three targets. Official NRA targets are readily available, calibrated to score consistently at a various distances (50 ft, 25 yds, or 75 yds).

Remember that official NRA bullseye is shot strong hand only.

Match Stages:

Scoring: Any bullet hole crossing a scoring line is awarded the higher score. A perfect score on all three targets is 300 points.

Official rankings are issued only by the NRA through sanctioned matches. Shooting an Expert target under your own timer won't qualify you as a Bullseye Expert.

More info on the National Match here

Postscript NRA targets available here.

El Presidente and Variations

El Presidente was designed by Jeff Cooper as a rough benchmark of handgun skills. It is probably the most widely known handgun standard around.

Setup: three IPSC targets, spaced one yard apart, 10 yards distant.

Starting Position: gun holstered, spare magazine on belt, hands held above shoulders (surrender position), facing away (180 degrees) from targets.

Drill: At the signal, turn and draw, firing two shots into the A-zone of each target. Reload, and fire two more shots into each target.

As originally specified, the drill only counts if all shots are in the A-zone. A missed A-zone counts as a missed target. But when shot in competition, all hits on the target usually count, with standard IPSC comstock scoring.

Par times (for a clean run):

Time is measured from the start signal to the last shot fired.

The original API (American Pistol Institute) par time was 10 seconds.

* These times were calculated using a GM time of 4.5 seconds for a clean run (limited), broken down according to USPSA hit factor percentages and checked against the scores of 30 ranked shooters at Hill Country Practical Pistol Club. D-class par is the empirical average of 7 D-class shooters' scores.


Vice Presidente: three IPSC targets, one yard apart at 7 yards. Start facing targets, hands above shoulders. At signal, draw, fire two shots into each target, reload, and fire two more shots into each target.

Demi Presidente: three IPSC targets, one yard apart at 10 yards. Start facing away from targets (180 degrees), hands above shoulders. At signal, turn, draw, and fire two shots into the center of each target. Reload, and then fire ONE shot into the "head" (A/B zone) of each target. Par times are identical to standard El Prez.

The IDPA classifier is basically a sequence of variations on El Presidente incorporating cover and movement. Likewise the Central Texas Standards.

Farnam Drill (after John Farnam)

Setup: Target is an 8.5 x 11" sheet of paper at 8 meters. Shooter begins with gun in the holster (concealed), retention strap engaged if holster is so equipped.

Semi-auto: the gun has a round chambered, with four rounds and a dummy round in the magazine. The dummy round may not be the first or last round in the magazine, and the shooter is not to know which round is the dummy. One magazine on the belt contains two live rounds.

Revolver: cylinder loaded to capacity, speedloader on the belt.

Drill: from interview position (hands at sides, not touching gun), draw and fire into the target. When the dummy round comes up, clear it with tap-rack. Continue firing until you run dry, then speed load and fire the last two shots. Revolvers just draw, shoot all rounds, reload, and then shoot two more.

All shots must hit the target to count, and all procedures (draw, malfunction clearance, reload) must be done correctly. Any miss or any failure to perform the correct procedure disqualifies you.

Par times:
First shot Split times Tap-Rack Reload Total Time
Basic level 25.00
Student Semi-auto 3.00 1.50 3.25 4.50 18.25
Revolver 3.00 1.50 N/A 6.00 18.25
Instructor Semi-auto 2.00 0.75 2.75 3.50 12.00
Revolver 2.00 0.75 N/A 5.00 12.00

All times are measured from shot to shot, and all procedures must be performed in the allotted time to pass. For instructor qualification, the drill must be sucessfully completed twice in a row.

Variations: InSights Training Center recommends adding movement to the drill. Practice moving off the line of attack on the draw. Add another step in a different direction on the tap-rack, yet another step on the speed reload, and finally a scan when you finish. For Ninja level, you can add some verbal commands like "Don't Move", "Go Away", etc.

For more information, consult The Farnam Method of Defensive Handgunning

Thanks to Julius Chang for documenting Greg Hamilton's variations.

LFI Standards

LFI Single Speed Drill:

On a Standard B-27 Target (or IPSC if the B-27s are not available)

4 yards - Low Ready, weak hand only, 6 shots: 8 seconds

4 yards - Holstered weapon, strong hand only, 6 shots: 8 seconds

7 yards - Freestyle from ready position, 6 shots - reload - 6 shots: 25 seconds

10 yards - Cover Crouch, High Kneel, Low Kneel; 6 reload - 6 reload - 6 shots: 75 seconds

15 yards - Weaver Stance, Chapman Stance, Isosceles Stance; 6 reload - 6 reload, 6 shots: 90 seconds

For Double Speed, its just half the time at each stage, on the same target -- i.e. double-speed close-range qualification would be:

4 yards - Holstered weapon, strong hand only, 6 shots: 4 seconds

Courtesy of Mike Izumi.

Gunsite Standards

All exercises start with the gun holstered (concealed), facing a single IPSC target.

For the last two exercises, you might be allowed to use kneeling or prone. I can't remember anymore. For the other shots, you shoot freestyle. I'd concentrate on the close-range shots. But don't forget to practice longer range shooting. When you work out at 25 yds or 50 yds, suddenly those 10 yds shots look very close and easy. If your max workout range is only 10 yds, then everything looks like a long shot.

Courtesy of Julius Chang.

InSights Training Center Standards

All shots fired at 7 yds on an IPSC target.

The times should be met on-demand, any time, no warmup.

For an IPSC master class shooter, the respective times ought to be around 0.25 sec, 0.3 sec, 0.5 sec, 1.0 sec, and 1.0 sec.

Courtesy of Julius Chang.

FBI Pistol Qualification Course

This standard, revised April 1997, is used to qualify both agents and instructors.

Target: FBI "Q"
Ammunition: 50 rounds service ammunition
Scoring: Hits in or touching "bottle" count 2 points; misses and hits outside bottle count zero points
Qualification: 85% to qualify; 90% for instructors
Starting Point: 25 yard line                      
Time Allotted: 75 seconds
Start with a fully loaded weapon. On command shooter draws and fires 6 rounds prone position, decocks, fires 3 rounds strong side kneeling barricade position, 6 rounds strong side standing barricade position, and 3 rounds weak side kneeling barricade position. Upon completing stage I, the shooter will conduct a magazine exchange and holster a loaded weapon.
Starting Point: 25 yard line                      
Time Allotted:2 rounds in 6 seconds
4 strings of 2 rounds in 3 seconds each
Start at the 25 yard line. On command the shooter moves to the 15 yard line, draws and fires 2 rounds in 6 seconds, decocks, and returns to low ready. The shooter will fire 4 strings of 2 rounds in 3 seconds, decock and return to low ready after each string. Upon completing Stage II, the shooter holsters a loaded weapon [without reloading unless gun capacity is only 10 rds --ed].
Starting Point:15 yard line                      
Time Allotted:15 seconds
Start at the 15 yard line. On command the shooter moves to the 7 yard line, draws and fires 12 rounds in 15 seconds, to include a reload. Upon completing stage III, the shooter holsters a loaded weapon. Shooter then arranges remaining 10 rounds to have 5 rounds in the weapon and 5 rounds in a spare magazine.
Starting Point:7 yard line                      
Time Allotted:15 seconds
Start at the 7 yard line. On command the shooter moves to the 5 yard line, draws and fires 5 rounds with strong hand only, reloads, tranfers the weapon to weak hand and fires 5 rounds weak hand only. Upon completing stage IV, the shooter will unload and holster an empty weapon.
Agents are required to requalify four times a year. 1,338 agents have shot a perfect score during qualification (the FBI's "possible club"). The FBI presently employs 11,271 agents required to shoot this course. [Information current as of December 1997]

Courtesy of Steve Silverman.

IDPA Classifier

The IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) Classifier is a 90-round benchmark of tactical handgun skills with a five-tier ranking system. Scoring is Vickers Count, and the course involves the IDPA gun classification divisions and requires two tactical reloads. Anyone with a timer can rank themselves.

Requires: Three IDPA targets, one barricade, and one 55-gallon drum or a rough substitute. IPSC targets can be (roughly) converted into IDPA targets by drawing an 8" circle in the center of the silhouette.

Click here for the course layout.

Click here for the course of fire.

Click here for the rankings.

The course is most easily shot in three stages; at the end of each stage stage there will be 10 rounds on each target.

For more information, or to join IDPA, check out their main web page.

Federal Air Marshal Tactical Pistol Course (TPC)

This course is shot cold (no warmup) on the FBI QIT target

All strings are shot from a distance of seven yards.


  1. TIME: Cannot exceed total time for each drill. Example: Drill #1 - 1st time 1.70 seconds, 2nd time 1.55 seconds; Total = 3.25 seconds = Go. Must achieve a "GO" on each drill.
  2. ACCURACY: Target is FBI "QIT" (bottle). Total rounds fired is 30. Point value inside bottle = 5. Point value touching line or outside bottle = 2. Maximum possible score = 150. Mininum qualifying score = 135.
All stages must equal "GO" to qualify.

Courtesy of Dean Speir.

Click here for more information on the Federal Air Marshals.

ASAA Combat Master Handgun Qualification

Developed by Chuck Taylor, this is one of the most difficult pistol courses in the world. Currently, only 12 people hold this rank. It is included here for your interest--this is not an official document.

Target and Scoring: The test is shot on Chuck Taylor's proprietary target: a camoflaged silhouette roughly the same dimensions as an IPSC target, with an inner torso zone (X ring) of 11 by 13 inches, and an ocular zone (Y ring) of 3 by 4 inches. Hits in the X or Y zones count 5 points; hits on the target outside these zones count 3 (major caliber), or 2 (minor caliber) points.

The Test: All weapon presentations are from the holster. The test must be shot in this order, in its entirety.

STANDARD EXERCISES: 2 shots on torso (a 13" x 11" scoring area); perform each once. Total of 80 pts.

  1. 1 meter (m), Speed Rock, 1.0 second (sec)
  2. 1 m, Step Back, 1.0 sec
  3. 3 m, 1.0 sec
  4. 7 m, 1.3 sec
  5. 10 m, 1.7 sec
  6. 15 m, 2.2 sec
  7. 25 m, 2.7 sec
  8. 50 m, 6.0 sec

SINGLES (Presentations): 1 shot on torso; perform each a total of five times. Total of 25 pts.

  1. 7 m, 1.0 sec

PIVOTS and TURNS: 1 shot on torso; perform each a total of five times. Total of 75 pts.

  1. 90 degree pivot to the right, 1.0 sec
  2. 90 degree pivot to the left, 1.0 sec
  3. 180 degree turn, 1.2 sec

MULTIPLE TARGETS: 1 shot on each as listed. All shot from 5 m. Total of 45 pts. Targets are 1 m apart center to center.

  1. 2 targets, 1.2 sec
  2. 3 targets, 1.5 sec
  3. 4 targets, 1.8 sec

HEAD SHOTS: 1 shot per command. Total of 45 pts.

  1. 5 m, 1.0 sec. Perform a total of 4 times.
  2. 7 m, 1.2 sec. Perform a total of 5 times.

AMBIDEXTROUS STANDARD: 1 shot on each target. Total of 30 pts. Time limit 6.0 sec. Perform once.

  1. 7 m; candidate draws, fires 1 round at each of 3 targets, speed loads, transfers gun to weak hand, then fires 1 more shot at each target weak hand unsupported.

HOSTAGE SITUATIONS: 1 shot on each. Perform each a total of 5 times. Shot from 7 m. Total of 50 pts. Time limit: 1.2 sec each.

  1. Head shot on felon past left side of hostage's head. Perform a total of 5 times.
  2. Head shot on felon past right side of hostages head. Perform a total of 5 times.

TARGETS AT ODD ANGLES: 60% obscured by cover. 1 shot each. Shot from 7 m. Perform each a total of five times. Total of 50 pts. Time Limit: 1.2 sec each.

  1. Target looking around right side of cover.
  2. Target looking around left side of cover.

Next is the weapon handling phase. No points are earned, only deducted.


Possible total is 400 pts. You need 360 pts (90%) to pass. Penalties are assessed as follows:

5 pts are deducted from candidates score for each occurrence of the following offenses:

To officially earn the rank, this test must be administered by Chuck Taylor. For more information, contact The American Small Arms Academy

For an account of how one candidate fared, click here.

Thanks to Joe Paige for documenting the course.


Thanks to Julius Chang <jchang@whidbey.net>, Mike Izumi <mikeizumi@aol.com>, Joe Paige <jpaige@alum.mit.edu>, Steve Silverman <steves02@pop.erols.com> Dean Speir <DeanSpeir@prodigy.com> Lee Winter <winter@TFF.Com> and Sandy Wylie <swylie@Compumedia.com> for their contributions to this page.

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Last modified January 5, 1998