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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Lou Salseda

Lou Salseda

Lou Salseda is a retired LAPD sergeant with 34 years of law enforcement experience. He is the chief instructor of TAC-1 Defensive Firearms Training in Santa Clarita, Calif., and is a consultant for law enforcement training and litigation.

Nick Jacobellis

Nick Jacobellis

Nick Jacobellis is a medically retired U.S. Customs Agent and former New York police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover as a federal agent.

3 Basic Firearm Drills To Improve Your Accuracy

Use dry firing, the ball-and-dummy technique, and ready up drills so you'll hit the target in your sight picture.

September 30, 2011  |  by Nick Jacobellis - Also by this author

Developing a smooth trigger pull will keep you on target. Photo: Nick Jacobellis.
Developing a smooth trigger pull will keep you on target. Photo: Nick Jacobellis.
As a retired law enforcement officer, I can vouch for three fundamental training drills that will improve your firearms proficiency—dry firing, the ball-and-dummy technique, and the ready up drill. Let's review these three in more detail.

The purpose of dry firing is to help you develop the proper sight alignment and trigger control without burning up a supply of expensive training ammunition. Dry firing an unloaded firearm can be practiced for hours and will help you develop the most basic fundamental skills that will help you to become a proficient firearms operator.

When you dry fire any handgun you should make sure the firearm is completely unloaded, and you're in a safe place to train. Once you confirm that your handgun is unloaded, insert an unloaded magazine. It also pays to buy plastic bullets called "snap caps" that allow you to safely dry fire a firearm for long periods of time. Using plastic look-alike bullets also makes it more realistic when training to execute a combat reload.

To dry fire your pistol, find a spot or a specific target on a nearby wall, line up the sights and slowly squeeze the trigger. Learning to focus on your front sight is crucial to properly developing your marksmanship skills. You must keep your sights properly aligned on your target while you squeeze the trigger with just the right amount of backwards pressure required to discharge a round of ammunition. Train yourself to cycle the trigger without pulling the pistol off target.

Learning to rely on your front sight combined with the proper cycling of the trigger is what allows you to keep all shots fired on target. Failure to achieve proper sight alignment and trigger control is the main reason why you fail to deliver the right shot placement on a target during a qualification session as well as during authorized uses of deadly force.

To exert the right amount of trigger control, it helps if you use the right part of your trigger finger to make contact with the trigger. Placing your trigger finger on the trigger of your service pistol, backup gun, or off-duty gun is model dependent in that different types of trigger systems require a different part of your finger to cycle the trigger.

Law enforcement officers who use a single-action pistol such as a 1911 should use the tip of their finger to apply backward pressure on the trigger to discharge this type of pistol. Striker-fired trigger systems such as the kind used on Glock pistols also require that you use the pad of flat skin on the tip of your trigger finger to cycle the trigger in a smooth action. The last thing you want to do is "slap" the trigger.

A double action/single action trigger such as the kind used on a Classic Series DA/SA SIG Sauer pistol requires that you use the area just behind the finger tip where the first digit or joint of your trigger finger is located. This is the same position on the trigger finger that you use to cycle the trigger on a DA revolver. The reason the positioning of the trigger finger is critical to delivering the right trigger control is because you need maximum pressure to cycle a DA revolver, a DA pistol trigger and a DAO trigger while less backward pressure is needed to cycle a striker-fired or a single-action trigger system.

If you have problems keeping your shots center mass, you're probably "pulling" your shots to the left or right by jerking the trigger to one side or the other. This doesn't mean you can't rapidly fire a striker-fired trigger or a DA/SA trigger. All it means is there's a technique involved that must be properly executed or the bullets you fire won't be delivered into the right location of your target. Moving your wrist when you pull the trigger and flinching when you react to the force of recoil are other movements that can throw your aim off and make you miss the scoring area by a few inches or more.

To avoid what is commonly called "slapping" the trigger, you should reset the trigger for each shot. The main reason for using a trigger reset is so you can apply the smoothest follow through when you cycle a trigger on a pistol.

"Too many times shooters pull the trigger and then go to a ready position in the same motion," Deputy Chris Martin, a firearms instructor with the Pinal County (Ariz.) Sheriffs Office, tells POLICE Magazine. "I tell my students they should do everything to fire another shot except pull the trigger. In other words, if the string of fire calls for three rounds, we should be ready to fire a fourth. If we as instructors can instill that mindset in our students we also avoid those shooters that focus on the target, looking to see where their bullet went."

Deputy Martin and other modern day firearms instructors are training sworn personnel to discharge their firearms with the smoothest trigger pull and ensure the shortest response time possible to facilitate the firing of follow-up shots when necessary.

When revolvers were widely used in law enforcement, firearms instructors taught sworn personnel to use a technique called "ball and dummy" to deliver accurate shot placement without flinching or reacting negatively to the force of recoil and muzzle blast. The ball-and-dummy technique requires that you load several but not all of the cylinders of your revolver before you close and lock the cylinder. When shooters anticipate recoil and flinch, their hit potential suffers. The point of this exercise is to be surprised when your revolver discharges.

Training with the ball-and-dummy technique helps you to develop the proper trigger control when shooting a revolver. When you train, it's important to use snappier .38 Special +P and .357 Magnum service ammunition.

The same concept applies to semi-autos. Every time you pull the trigger, focus on your trigger control, on your breathing, your sight alignment and even on the speed in which you cycle the trigger. It's better to be a tad slow and hit what you are aiming at, rather than be the fastest shot in town and miss the target. Many LEOs will blast away when there's plenty of time left in each stage of fire during qualification. Firing too quickly can create a bad habit and foster a conditioned response that you may take with you into the field when you're forced to discharge a firearm during an authorized use of deadly force situation.

A "ready up" drill can be one of the best exercises to help you improve your proficiency with firearms. It works with handguns, patrol rifles, sub-machine guns, select fire tactical rifles and shotguns. To conduct a ready up drill, first load your pistol. Keep it holstered while you face the same target you use when you qualify.

For the drill itself, draw your pistol and fire one round as soon as your front sight covers the scoring area of the target. You can repeat a ready up drill until your firearm is empty at which time you should execute a combat reload and return to firing one shot at a time.

A ready up drill helps you to develop faith in the use of your front sight because you pull the trigger in the split second that your front sight covers the scoring area of a man-size target. When you repeat this process over and over again, you develop confidence in relying on your front sight each and every time you go hot to engage targets.

Ready up drills can be modified to prepare you to meet different types of threats. You should have some fun when you're training, so don't be afraid to be innovative, as long as you are safe in your execution. Every time you draw your pistol, fire one more round each time before re-holstering. A modified ready up drill helps you to get away from the typical firing of one or two rounds at a time. In real-life situations, you may be required to fire multiple stings of shots that involve different numbers of bullets.

To train for this situation, draw and fire different numbers of multiple rounds. For those targets that no longer score head shots you can fire strings of different numbers of rounds of ammunition into the chest or pelvic area of a man-size target. The point of this exercise is not to develop one conditioned response every time you draw and fire a handgun. The same goes for patrol rifle and shotgun training.

The beauty of ready up drills is that you can see your progress with every shot fired because these drills should be conducted at fairly close ranges not to exceed 15 or 20 feet when engaging paper targets. Shooting at these distances enables you to see where your bullets are impacting the target so you can adjust your fire accordingly.

As a law enforcement officer, it would be irresponsible to be mediocre shot and not try to improve your firearms proficiency. The time has come for law enforcement agencies to hold sworn personnel more accountable by requiring all LEOs to do more than barely qualify with firearms they carry on and off duty.

Comments (13)

Displaying 1 - 13 of 13

Morning Eagle @ 10/6/2011 11:24 PM

This is a good synopsis of training points. As a certified Police Combat Firearms Instructor for about ten years back in the days most departments still relied on revolvers, I will attest to the effectiveness of the "ball and dummy" drill described here to help cure flinching. It may be even more effective or important today with the small, light alloy revolvers many carry for back up or off duty because the powerful cartridges they fire can definitely deliver a sharp recoil that must be trained for if one expects to maintain reasonable accuracy, especially for follow up shots out of a two or three inch barrel.

Dr. Terry Wollert @ 10/7/2011 5:38 AM

Good article. However, this sets up an interesting challenge with respect to qualification courses of fire. When we teach students to slow down and use all available time, are we conditioning students to be too slow for gunfight encounters? This may be the most important reason to have two qual courses. One for marksmanship and one for real world survival.

c1ogden @ 10/7/2011 7:09 AM

I agree wiith Terry, always using all of the allotted time could be making our people too slow to dominate a fight. In the early 80s our firearms instructor, like most in those days, knew nothing of armed combat. He, and most others, were teaching target shooting. At one qualification he scolded me for shooting too fast and pointed out the nice, softball sized group that my partner had. This was a course for off duty/backup guns and we both had 2" 5 shot revolvers. The stage had been draw, fire 5, reload, and fire 5 in 25 seconds. I pointed out that, while my group wasn't as small, all of my hits were K5, that my target already had 3 holes in it when my partner launched his first round, that at the 25 second mark I had a fully loaded gun in my holster and my partner had still fired only 9 rounds. When I asked him who would be going home tonight if my partner and I had been shooting at each other he finally saw the light. I teach my people to ignore the time limits and shoot as fast as you can hit the target.

patriot1017 @ 10/7/2011 9:09 AM

I tend to agree with the authors opinion. I have been a FA instructor at our Academy for almost a decade now and have seen the best and worst of both worlds as I am sure that many of us have.

I think we need to think about this in two different catagories. A basic school level shooter and veteran officers. In a basic level academy setting i believe should not necessarily take all the alloted time, they should take as much time as needed to get the most accurate shot off within the time frame alloted for that course of fire. Many of the basic students coming through our academies now have not had a lot of experience with firearms and need to have a solid understanding of the fundementals laid out in this article before they need to worry about speed.

You gotta walk before you can run....try and emphasize speed to early to a basic student and they will sacrafice accuracy for speed more often than not. It's rare to get a student that can handle both first week on the range. Once they have gained a solid feel for the basics, speed will naturally follow with practice. Be smooth first, smooth becomes fast.

Now for the second group, the Vets....that is where speed starts to come into play. After we have mastered the basic stuff, it is up to us to get the range and send the lead down range. Once you are no longer dealing with issues of anticipation, or trigger control you can focus on the things that may let you get that shot off quicker than the bad guy. We don't let recruits try out for our tac teams because they do not have an understanding of basic level tactics yet, the same logic should follow in firearms training.

Norris @ 10/10/2011 7:33 AM

First learn to shoot, then learn to shoot accurately and after all that, then practice speed.

targetismoving @ 8/26/2014 7:05 PM

You must set goals and work towards those. That is the only way to really improve. With our moving target systems we offer a training sheet which steps students along to being better shooters and enforces the fundamentals.

hamid @ 9/26/2014 11:58 AM

I train with browning pistol ,my shot almost goes to 10 to 11 area near out of the target(center) what is the problem here?
Thank you

Alan @ 12/9/2015 7:43 PM

Interesting read on all aspects of this forum. Anyone that cant learn something regardless of how many years in service or instructing should get out of the business, so thank you to all. I would like to throw just a quick mantra that we used to use in the spec ops community of the military. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Taking that into consideration, for the basic beginners, if you practice (and you have to do plenty of that) slow first and get the motor skills down then the smoothness will present itself. With the smoothness will come the speed. The first time you try to speed drill your firing scenario, and miss your holster release or miss place your trigger finger, it wont matter how fast you are, you have been hit. Be safe and on target.. Thanks again

Daniel @ 12/30/2015 1:00 PM

I'm glad I Googled 55 and even though ive hunted with long rifle in my 20's im just a beginner with hand guns and I mean I've never loaded or shot a hand gun but with today's world I feel it's necessary and time to own,carry and conceal my first SD weapon.
I've learned a lot just by reading everyone's comments on this site.THIS gives me a good start to feeling what it will be like once in a FA training situation for my permit.I was aprehensive about being in front of others or even my trainer, knowing nothing.This and the more I read before I go for training I believe will give me the confidence to be safe and ready to understand what I'm being taught by an expert in FA'S.
Starting with just knowing the gun thats in my hands,how itworks.loadIng,unloading making sure its empty for safety,neverjn pointing it in direction of anything or anyone i dont intend as a target.The drills with correct trigger finger position for each type of gun.Dry firing with plastic snap caps to perfect using the front sight.Ball and dummy drill,ready up drill.To be smooth first and smooth becomes speed later on.Everything as I read it makes complete sense so this forum truly does prep a rookie for what's to come in real life training situations.But I also know there's no substitute for hands on training in the class room and at the range or training facility.
So with my learnings here and future readings I'm excited to get the ball rolling and that I did by applying for my first 3 gun permits.Then I will be registering for the concealed weapons class and hand gun training coarse to best know what type of gun and trigger pull is best for me before I purslane my first SD hand gun.
Thanks and keep the info coming it's very helpfull

Wood @ 9/6/2016 8:38 PM

You can download a shot correction chart which will assist in what you are doing wrong with your shot or shooting technique

terry peterson @ 8/12/2018 8:24 AM

Let me join this group

John Dyer @ 8/12/2018 5:09 PM


Clifford Watkins @ 8/12/2018 7:36 PM

I was raised knowing gun safety and handling by my father. I live in a remote area of Oregon and have enjoyed hours of fun target shooting. One of your previous reader comments really educated me as to why I was wasting so many shots with my many different handguns. Trigger control and front site focus is everything. The one comment that really made a difference, for me, was focusing on the front site, primarily, with the target actually blurred in focus. This combined with "pressing" the trigger, not "pulling" the trigger, totally changed my groups. Thanks for the experienced sharing individuals that contribute to your forum.

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