Taking the kids to the range was always a fun thing to do. They were dazzled by my shooting prowess, and left the range in a state of adoration for their crimefighting father's "Bond-like" charisma. At least, that was my memory's version of the past. But recently the kids and I went to our local range to shoot handguns, and I discovered that things had changed dramatically over the years.

It seemed the kids had gotten a lot better and I had gotten a lot worse, and they left the range admiring their groupings and extolling the virtue of this handgun or the other. What happened to the hero worship, the adoring stares at Dad, the cries of "McDonald's for lunch, yay!" and my once enviable shot group?

For the first part, the dang kids aren't kids anymore, and growing up changes them for good and bad. So all you crimefighters with adoring youngsters better enjoy it while it lasts. But the last part was my fault, completely predictable, and yet came as a surprise. I had failed to refresh my skill.

When you think of the term "refresh" you might flash back to the last major hangover you had when you continued to confuse "refresh" with "refill," but the word means much more than getting some more to drink. In the world of law enforcement the word "refresh" has some pretty important implications for those skills upon which our lives depend.

I have been a good handgun shooter since the academy days and always found shooting a fun and relaxing event. Going to the range to either shoot recreationally or for qualification was never something I dreaded or was concerned about; in fact, I looked forward to it.

When I took over firearms instruction in the academy the first thing I did was try to imbue everyone with the ideas that shooting was fun, anyone can do it, and if there is a problem it is only the technique, and not the person.

The cadets responded amazingly well, and their shooting skills shot (figuratively) through the roof. At the same time I taught the cadets about constantly practicing winning confrontations in their mind's eye. Search a building and find it empty? Go back and visualize that same search, but this time in your mind's eye confront an armed suspect and win. This not only combats the effects of routine on your skills and mindset, but also "exercises" or refreshes the motor program for shooting.

Combine this with physical practice and you have a winning combination of confidence, competence, and faith in your skills and abilities in a critical incident, whatever it may be. I knew all this, of course. But knowing and practicing are two different things.

In recent years I have spent a lot more time shooting rifles than handguns. Why should I practice with handguns? I know I'm a good shot, right? Except skills are perishable. Although they don't have an expiration date, they rarely just stay the same; they are either improving or diminishing. Even mastery of a skill doesn't mean you can take it for granted.

So here it is: You are not just at risk of being embarrassed by your sudden inability to "wow" the kids in your life. You need to "wow" the dirtbags you confront on the street, maybe on your next call. You must constantly refresh your skills with both mental and physical practice.

Right now, picture yourself in a recent situation where nothing happened, and make something happen in your mind. Fight, shoot, taze, drive, whatever, just exercise and strengthen that skill set so it is ready, really ready, when the time comes.

For me, this means mental practice, dry firing, trigger control, and waiting for the next family get-together to dazzle those brats again and then...off to McDonald's!

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.