Practice Plan

Me with the wad gun, John and, way at the end, Jay both shooting Free Pistol. (Click for bigger.)

There are several reasons to go to the range.

  1. Competition, formal or informal
  2. Hosting new shooters
  3. Practice
  4. Ammunition and equipment testing
  5. Make noise and blow up stuff

That third reason, practice, is what I’m trying to do more of. And to make it effective, I’ve found I have to make a plan. Not only does that give me a focus and a goal, it also makes the practice more enjoyable and prevents it from turning into #5.

The plan for the practice session can be a little tricky because some plans are better than others. In particular, a good plan will focus on good skills and good results.

Here’s the plan I wrote in my practice log Thursday morning:

“Shoot Slow Fire at 50 yards on a reversed (all white) target and, for each shot, perform my shot plan with specific attention on keeping my attention on the dot, starting pressure on the trigger as the dot enters the [black] aiming area, and then staying (visually and mentally) on the dot through the wobble until the shot breaks, I get tired or Hell freezes over.”

I set up my box on firing point #4 and set three targets, backside toward the firing point, on the 50 yard posts for firing points #3, 4 and 5. For ammo, I had brought about 80 rounds accumulated from the ends of several unsuccessful test loads and other odd lots. Since my attention was going to be totally on performing the shot plan, what happens down at the target was of no particular interest. If the bullets flew this way and that after leaving the muzzle, I didn’t care.

I didn’t even set up my scope. I just figured I would use the first target for a while and when I started to notice the holes, I’d switch to the second target, and so on to the third. Again, my attention would be totally on following the process.

As I went along, I occasionally jotted down some additional notes. For example, almost immediately I noticed a problem and wrote an additional goal into my practice plan for the day.

“Keep Pinkie straight out!”

My little finger had been clamped down hard on the grip and I know that little bugger will mash the shot down. So, I banned him from the grip!

With that done, I noticed that my “grip” was exclusively from the middle two fingers, and what I was doing on the trigger. This made the “pumping” I recently added into my shot plan all the more effective.

By “pumping” I mean that, while the dot is above the target and coming down toward the aiming area, I would gently press on the trigger to see if the dot moves. If it does, something is wrong and I abort the shot in Slow Fire. (In Timed and Rapid, I either have to find the solution very quickly or shoot and expect a lesser performance.)

If the dot moves left when I press, the trigger is too far out on my finger. I need to put my finger deeper in. (I’m right-handed. Reverse this if you’re a leftie.)

Conversely, if the dot moves right when I press, I’m too deep into the trigger guard and need to back my finger out a little.

The amount of in/out change is typically about an eighth of an inch.

But the dot might also go up. In that case, my finger is too low on the trigger. And if the dot moves down when I press the trigger, I’m too high.

Of course, all of this assumes the pressure is straight back. If for some reason you are treating the trigger like a computer mouse, then you are bending the wrong finger joint and pushing the gun left (or right, for left-handed shooters) as the trigger is pressured.

Isn’t it amazing?

Pulling the trigger and making a gun fire is so simple that anyone can do it.

But making that trigger move straight back while you keep the sights aligned and in the aiming area … boy, is that hard or what?

Amazing!

By the time I reached the third target, I noticed another problem. I wasn’t doing much of any follow through.

I wrote:

“After the shot, re-acquire the dot and come back toward the aiming area while resetting the trigger and starting to apply pressure again. Once in the aiming area, continue attention on the dot and pressure on the trigger for a few seconds.”

As you might expect, there were a couple of times when that re-applied pressure resulted in an additional shot — boy, was I surprised! But I accepted them as part of the learning process.

After about ninety minutes, the ammunition was all gone.

I broke down the wadder and cleaned it for next time.

I then retrieved the targets and laid them on the bench in sequence.

And was I surprised at what I saw!

First Target

Here is target #1. (I’m almost too embarrassed to show it. It’s awful.)

Look at all those holes down and left. Ugh.

JERK!

There’s even one in the frame outside of the picture.

Oh, what shame!

Second Target

Here is target #2.

Hmmm.

A little better, I think.

Not great, mind you. In fact, it’s still a pretty big cloud but, well, the jerks aren’t as glaring.

The ones down low are annoying. The gun went “bang!” when the dot was in a bad place. Oh well, that’s gonna happen with a bad wobble.

Finally, here’s #3.

Third Target

By the time I started shooting on this one, I would guess that I was following every step of “the plan” about 50% of the time, and in the remainder of the shots on this last target, the infractions weren’t as big. I’d miss one detail, and only a little, instead of butchering the whole process with big mistakes.

Progress. There’s some real progress here.

And if you look closely, you can see the black on the other side of the target and, even though I couldn’t see it from the firing line, just about all the shots are in the black — that’s the eight ring. Most of my long line shots were, by the end of this practice session, eight ring or better.

That’s really good for me!

The final note in my practice log for the day says:

“Good practice session!

Over about 80 shots on three targets, the cloud got smaller each time.

Focused practice with a written plan works!”

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