Pointless Practice

Who needs skills?

Who needs skills?

Not every gun owner practices as much as they ought to.

I understand why: our lives are full and guns don’t nag as loudly as spouses do; dragging our gear to the nearest range (which might not be so near) is a hassle; range-time and ammo cost money; and cleaning guns can be a chore.

But we all need to practice, and I am glad to see people taking the time and bearing the expense to do it.

Except when they aren’t “practicing” to get better, and they’re just wasting ammo & making noise.

There is a time and a place to do that and it is fun.  I have done it, so have most shooters.  It’s cathartic, it’s more fun than manually unloading a magazine.  But you don’t become a better shooter by setting the bar absurdly low and then failing to meet even that low standard.


I have seen a similar situation at the gym; people loitering at the gym to be able to claim that they went to the gym, listlessly using some machines with low weight resistance, some tentative time on a bike or elliptical until they run the risk of breaking a sweat.  In other words: people who (intentionally or through ignorance) substitute time merely spent at the gym with time used effectively at the gym.  You don’t get strong by lifting small weights that don’t stress your muscles.  You don’t develop endurance by stopping your workout as soon as you feel a little tired.  But to those people, having the magic talisman of being able to claim that they went to the gym gives them free reign to complain that they don’t understand why they aren’t seeing results.

So when I see some dimbulb set a target 10 feet out (often having to use a free-standing target frame to be at that distance because the frame slots for the standard frames are in neat rows at 25′ and 50′) and blast away, and fail to achieve a decent grouping even at that short distance, I have mixed emotions.  Part of me feels sorry for them, but not sorry enough to stop shooting tight groups to save them some embarrassment.  Part of me wonders what idiot taught them how to shoot, so that I can avoid that person.

I am not talking about draw & shoot drills, where the shooter is practicing their ability to draw from a holster and fire at a target within the short distance that most altercations occur.  The point of those exercises is less about accuracy and more about learning how to safely draw, and until someone gets a lot of practice they won’t show much accuracy.  A person who deliberately practices those exercises is building their skills.  And hopefully they already mastered the basics.

No, I am talking about people who never make any serious effort to achieve basic competence with their handgun or to improve upon their skills.   And this blind spot about practice encompasses every type of shooter, not just handgunners.  I have seen hunters who only practice right before the season opens, and only enough to verify that their gun is still sighted in.  Hunters like that think that minute-of-deer is fine, and often lose wounded animals or have to chase them down.  Bad shot placement is just cruel, in my opinion.

A subset of this type of hunter is the guy who uses a ridiculously overpowered gun to compensate for their crappy marksmanship.  I was at Hoffman’s gun store years ago and some guy came up to the counter and asked the clerk if he had any hotter .45-70 ammo than what was on the shelf.  The clerk said no, and asked what he was hunting, and the guy said “whitetail deer”.  Facepalm.  (In this part of the country, whitetail bucks average 150 pounds and a doe about 110, and the densely wooded terrain means that long-range shots don’t present themselves.  The old .30-30 is plenty of gun for deer in the northeast.)  When the guy went back to scowling at the ammo selection and shaking his head in disappointment, I told the clerk “maybe his father was killed by a whitetail?”  I know a guy (not in CT) who hunts whitetails with a .222 Rem (non-magnum), and has never had to chase one down, because he is a good shot.  I wonder if the bozo with the .45-70 has since upgraded to a Barrett.

Most modern handguns can easily achieve 3″ – 4″ (or smaller) groupings at 50′ with ammo that they like.  And shooting to at least that level of competence (initially with slow fire and progressing to rapid-fire)  is something that every handgunner ought to concentrate on before branching out into the many high-speed/low-drag GunGamez that attract so much attention.  If you don’t master the basics, you can’t get your money’s worth out of advanced training.

Walk before you run, in other words.

But, hey, that’s just my opinion.  If people want to waste their time and money, it’s their business.

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6 Responses to “Pointless Practice”

  1. Dann in Ohio says:

    “I wonder if the bozo with the .45-70 has since upgraded to a Barrett.”

    Wait, don’t you need something bigger than a Barrett 50 cal. for whitetail? I mean… a Barrett’s mostly for squirrel hunting.. isn’t it…

    Dann in Ohio

  2. Gunnutmegger says:

    If Cor-Bon gets a call asking for +P .45-70, I think we know who it is…

  3. Skinnedknuckles says:

    As a new shooter, I probably have been guilty as charged, particularly concerning the distance to the target. However, I started at the closer distances because with a 3″ barrel revolver in the hands of a newbie, the “group” was so large it was hard to figure how to improve. I’ve heard some say to start at 25 yds (or pick a number) and when you get good at that range you’ll find 10′ is a no-brainer. I personally found it more effective to start closer in and move out as I improved. With my old eyes and shakey hands I don’t expect to compete in Bullseye competitions, but I am at least respectable now at 7-10 yards and can keep it in COM at 25 yards most of the time. I found that a couple of sessions shooting from a homemade rest made me stop blaming the gun for some shortcomings and admit to myself that I had to improve trigger control and sight picture (duh!).

    Thanks for the thoughtful article.

    • Gunnutmegger says:

      There’s plenty of reasons why a person’s accuracy isn’t where it ought to be. Grip, stance, sight picture, going too fast, flinching, etc.

      Instead of shooting while standing, try it from a sitting position, with a proper height rest under your hand (sandbag on an ammocan works, but you need to get the height correct). This will let you eliminate a lot of potential stance issues and work on your sight picture and breathing. Go slow, and try to make every shot count.

      If your groups don’t shrink, it might be your eyes. As we get older, it becomes more difficult to use iron sights, which my dad found out the hard way. Reading glasses can help, as can those stick-on pinhole eyepatches that you can put on your shooting glasses.


      Once you get as much accuracy as you can out of the sitting position, try shooting standing, but go real slow and eliminate any mistakes you might have been making. Pay attention to foot placement and posture (shoulder-width, and for right-handed shooters, right foot back a bit; knees bent a little).


      Load one round at a time to force yourself to slow down. If you load multiple rounds, lower the gun after each shot so that you can practice re-acquiring your sight picture. Have a friend load your gun for you with a snapcap mixed in with the ammo to see if you are flinching.

      • Skinnedknuckles says:

        Thanks for the great tips. Unfortunately, I shoot at an indoor range and can’t shoot from a sitting position, but I built a rest I can place on my range box on top of the shelf in the shooting booth. Shooting from the rest did take out most of my goofs, proving to me that the gun did not naturally shoot low and left 😉 After that, I got a lot better pretty quickly. Snap cap work at home also helped.

        The tip on loading singles is great. It does seem to be hard to stop shooting until the slide locks back. And I need to try the shap cap trick regularly because when I had a recent FTFire I couldn’t believe how much I flinched.

        The EyePal is a great idea and I think I’ll order a set. The article on stance was also very helpful. I have to work not to get too stiff. I learned on shotguns as a kid and don’t seem to have the problem there, but I’m still getting comfortable with handguns (something about teaching an old dog new tricks, I guess).

  4. Crapgame says:

    SkinnedKnuckles — it sounds like you’re taking a systematic approach to improving your handgun skills. If starting closer worked for you that’s great — you’re not just heading to the range to make loud noises. I can’t say there is no “wrong” way, but there are certainly multiple good approaches to learning to shoot better.

    One visit to the range last year with Gunnutmegger, there was a guy a couple of booths down from us banging away with a couple of pistols at five or so yards — there wasn’t any kind of grouping on the extremely large target. Gunnutmegger asked me if the guy had sights on his gun. This went on for about a half hour. He must have turned at least 75 dollars into noise by that point.