How do you really know how good you are with a gun, and how can you be sure you stay as good as you’ve ever been?  It is a tough dual problem, since there never seems to be enough time or money available to take all the courses and participate in all the shooting sports that would provide us with scores that would show precisely how good we are

If you keep a gun for defense, the issue becomes even more important.  You need to know, not just hope, that you’ll be able to hit the person you have to shoot at in a life-or-death situation.  Your own confidence comes from competence, but how can you be sure your competence is maintained over a period of years?

Police have to requalify with their guns every so often.  For some agencies, that means every few months, for others, every few years.  Somewhere in between those extremes is probably the right period for a private citizen who carries a gun (or has one at home for protection) to retest herself.  Self-testing builds your confidence, provides practice that relates directly to the skills you’d need in an armed confrontation, and can even provide court-usable proof of your shooting ability.  It can even be easy, fun, and inexpensive!

Here are a number of different practice sessions and qualification specifications, gathered from a number of sources over many years.  Pick those that seem relevant and interesting to you, and go to the range with a friend to practice and then test one another.  Record your final, best times and scores from each session in some permanent place, together with the details of the exercise (distance, type of target, and so on), and, if you are really preparing to survive in court, the signature of the other person who can attest that your record is correct.

Here are some things you can do with a single cardboard IPSC target.

  • From 3 yards, draw and fire one A-zone hit in 2 seconds or less.
  • From 3 yards, draw, fire one round, reload, fire 1 round.  Keep track of your personal best, but you should be well under 10 seconds.
  • From 3 yards, draw, challenge (yell, “Don’t move!”) as you step sideways to get off the line of force, fire 1 round.  Repeat, moving the other direction.
  • From 4 yards, draw and fire 6 shots one-handed (dominant hand only), all A-zone hits.
  • From 4 yards, fire 6 shots in 8 seconds, one-handed (non-dominant hand only), starting with the gun drawn and in low ready position.
  • From 5-7 yards, draw and fire 2 rounds in under 2 seconds.
  • From 7 yards, draw and fire 12 shots in 25 seconds, performing a reload after the first 6 rounds)
  • From 10 yards, shoot 6 from kneeling, 6 from the right side of a tall barricade, 6 from the left side of a tall barricade.  (You can create a barricade by stapling an old IPSC target to any vertical pole that available at the firing line.)

Try this with two IPSC targets placed about 10 feet apart.

  • From 3 yards, draw and fire one round in each, in 3 seconds.  Only A- or C-zone hits count.

If you have access to a steel plate 8″ in diameter, you have one of the best training aids available, but be sure to shoot it from a distance that is safe for the ammo and plate you are using (15-25 yards for conventional ammunition; perhaps as close as 3 yards for frangible ammunition).  If you don’t have steel, use an 8″ dark circle on light paper, or a paper plate.

  • Draw and fire one hit in 1.5 seconds.

When you practice, make sure you follow the rules of your range; some don’t allow drawing from holsters, or shooting at multiple targets.  If you can’t draw, subtract half a second from the times given here.  Include in your practice actions such as visually scanning the immediate area as soon as you have finished shooting.  You will do in reality what you have done in practice, so don’t neglect to practice your challenge, moving before you shoot (not as you shoot), and shooting under conditions that are as realistic as possible.

This article first appeared in the Sep-Oct 2003 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright © 2003 Lyn Bates