How to Improve Your Shooting Skills

September 9, 2020

When new gun owners sign up for a gun safety course, one of the most frequently asked questions is, “How many hours do I have to put in on the firing range to be a really good shot?”

Now “really good” has many interpretations. A competitive marksman would say “really good” means winning competitions regularly. Others would define “really good” as hitting the target 80% of the time. For new gun owners, a really good day might be when they hit the target at all.

As you can see, “really good” is subjective. From a gun safety point of view, really good is outdrawing an assailant and shooting them before they shoot you! If you purchased your weapon for self-defense as did 70% of the people who buy guns, then outdrawing and outshooting an assailant would certainly fit the definition of “really good.”

Most of us would be happy with above-average accuracy and speed. 

Many concealed carry weapons owners can be pretty accurate if they have the time to go through the fundamentals of marksmanship. However, when they have to do so under pressure of speed, the accuracy often goes out the window.

The idea of becoming really good at handling your weapon means handling your weapon quickly and with no wasted motion, draw, aim, fire, and hit your target. And here’s another thing to consider: Do this every time. If you can do this, you’re ready to defend yourself if the need arises.

Many of us become adequate shooters. What you need to survive an attacker is skill, drive, and the will to practice consistently.

How do you get better? How can you improve your shooting skills? 

You need to develop good habits when it comes to handling a gun. Practice frequently, so drawing, aiming, shooting, and hitting your target becomes automatic. That way, when a situation gets tense, and your adrenaline is running high, your muscle memory will take over.

You need to put in the time and effort to get improve your shooting skills. There is no other way.

First things first.

Before you even get started on a practice routine, you need to decide which gun will be your practice weapon. Your practice weapon should be the handgun that you plan to every day carry.

Next, you need to select the one holster you intend to use with that weapon. Make sure it is a good quality holster that secures your gun snugly but not too tightly to impede drawing and re-holstering.

When you’ve made those two important decisions, decide how you will carry. Carry from the same place every day.

With those three decisions settled, it’s time to work on practicing. The goal is to get better with each practice session.

Start with a good instructor

Whether you enroll in a class or you hire a shooting instructor to work one-on-one with you, it’s a wise first step to get shooting instruction from a certified shooting instructor. In a course or individual instruction, you will learn the basics of safe handling of your weapon. You will discover good shooting habits before you have a chance to develop bad habits that, once learned, are hard to correct. You will have an opportunity to hone your shooting skills. From marksmanship and shooting techniques to firearm safety, it is important to be the best shooter you can be.

Why Dry Fire?

Almost every rookie concealed carry owner is convinced he has to buy a ton of ammunition and spend hours on the firing range. The truth is: A lot of shooting practice can be gained through dry firing.

What is dry firing? Dry firing is shooting a firearm without ammunition in the chamber. Here’s how it works. The shooter pulls the trigger—the hammer drops. There are no bullets. So no shots are fired. No ammo is wasted.

You don’t need ammunition, and you don’t need a special gun to practice dry firing. If you want to get fancy about dry firing and save your firearm, you can buy a gun that’s made specifically for dry firing.

There are some worries about dry firing. Some gun owners are convinced that excessive dry firing can cause strain on the firing pin or striker. You can solve this concern by using snap caps. Gun manufacturers will tell you that most modern firearms are substantial enough to withstand thousands of dry fire rounds.

Another criticism of dry firing is that it has no benefit. Some are convinced that this is not actual practice and that it won’t improve shooting skills. However, research has shown quite the opposite. There are several skills that dry firing can improve.

There are financial benefits to dry firing. Live fire practice uses costly ammunition. It also requires range fees. Unless you own land where you can safely set up your own private range, you have the cost of driving to a shooting range at least two or three times a week. You can dry fire at home. The only cost is your dry fire pistol. 

With dry firing, you can improve your shooting skills without investing a lot of time and money. Some shooters insist that they have improved their skills using only dry firing practice.

Some competitive marksmen have honed their skills by practicing exclusively on dry fire equipment.

If you want to see how dry firing works, check out this video. This shows regular practice dry firing and how effective it can be.

First steps for dry firing

Whether you are dry firing or live firing, the best place to start practicing is with smooth drawing and re-holstering. Some people jump right into target practice, but a smooth, fast draw is crucial if you are going to concealed carry. You need a feel for where your gun is at all times. How to get it in and out of your holster as fast as possible, every time.

Carry in the same way and have your gun at the same angle every time. You’re trying to establish muscle memory so that muscle memory will take over when you are under stress. You will be able to make that smooth, fast draw without even thinking about it—if you practice enough.

Next steps

After you’ve perfected the draw, you can begin to work on aiming, staging the trigger. Dry firing will help you with these skills too. Eventually, when it is time to practice target shooting, you can make that transition to live firing handguns, pistols, and/or rifles.

There’s no reason not to continue to do dry firing at home between those trips to the firing range two or three times a week. Some shooters argue that dry firing is an artificial situation. But the skills you are practicing doing dry firing are the same skills you should be practicing on the range.

Skill training

Whether you are dry firing or live firing, it is important to focus on one skill at a time. Trying to do everything at once won’t get you to “really good” any faster. In fact, you will not build skills to perfection unless you build on each skill. Focus on drawing. When that becomes second nature, add another basic skill like reloading the magazine. Get proficient before you move on to another skill

Once you’ve mastered drawing, aiming, and firing, work on trigger press. 

Next, after you’ve reached proficiency with drawing and firing, try practicing magazine changes from your pocket or mag carrier. 

The trick is to incorporate all the various skills and live fire or dry fire with confidence.

This video shows a former SEAL demonstrating basic training drills.

How much practice do you need?

The National Rifle Association Law Enforcement Training Division suggests that you should dry fire practice three times a week and live fire practice at least once every two weeks. The NRA notes from their research that training to maintain your skill level, you need at least that much practice.

To get “really good” and to get there as soon as possible and maintain a high state of readiness with your handgun, expert shooting instructors recommend handling your weapon every day.

But you don’t have to go to the range. Spend 10 or 15 minutes each day doing dry fire practice drills.

There is a place for live fire too. NRA recommends going to the shooting range and using live ammo on a regular basis twice a week all year long.

Live and dry fire need to be done on a regular basis. Aim for perfection every time.

At the shooting range, practice at least twice a week. When you’re there, you don’t have to shoot hundreds of rounds. But shoot at least fifty every time you’re there. More importantly, make every round count. This means firing every round as if your life depended upon it. Hit your target as if you were out to save your life.

Think of every shot as putting your gun into action against a deadly threat. Don’t just practice shooting. Practice your draw repeatedly in all the scenarios you can imagine. Use your everyday concealed carry weapon in the holster in the position you will carry it every day. Drawing and re-holstering should be part of your ten-to-fifteen-minute dry fire practice. Next, practice your draw from a moving position. Then, practice from a low, crouching position. Even try rolling while drawing your weapon.

While it is true that “practice makes perfect,” it only does so if you aim to be perfect. If you don’t aim for improvement each time, all you will be doing is practicing bad habits. These can be so hard to break.

Why enroll in firearms training

Firearms training courses aim at teaching you the correct way to do things. Firearms’ safety instructors teach you what works in the real world. They deal with scenarios of life and death encounters.

After completing firearms training, your task is to practice what you have learned. Moreover, you need to practice it the way you learned it. And you need to practice it until it becomes an automatic response.

Structured Training

What is structured training? No matter what skill you are attempting to perfect, a structured training program sets up a clearly detailed schedule, time frame, outline of activities, and assignments. Structured training has well-defined goals, milestones, and outcomes.

Why is structured training important to become “really good” with your weapon? Structured training is a critical part of the process. Having a structured training program almost always leads to success in developing proficiency.

What does a structured training program in marksmanship look like?

Practice these skills until they become automatic and as perfect as you can make them. Then, add new skills but continue to practice the ones you have learned.

  • Draw and re-holster smoothly and quickly.
  • The draw while moving out of the line of attack
  • Draw while moving for cover.
  • Draw from high, low, and medium positions.
  • Practice shooting quickly and accurately immediately after drawing.
  • Practice shooting while using cover and shooting from the left and right sides of that cover. Use cover to shoot from various positions.
  • Practice speedy reloads.
  • Practice on multiple targets at various distances from you.
  • Aim for two or three shots to the center of the chest.
  • Aim for an eyeball shot. A head shot.
  • Practice at distances of 2 yards to 10 yards.
  • Practice moving and shooting. Stationary targets are a good first step but in real life, your target will focus on being hard to hit.

Sign up for a tactical handgun class

A tactical class involves the integration of tactical movement with proven defensive shooting techniques. Tactical training prepares you for any scenario necessitating your self-defense. It challenges you to put the gun skills and drills you’ve practiced into motion in real-life simulations. For a look at tactical drills watch this YouTube video.

How good is good enough when it comes to being able to save your life or the life of a family member? When it comes to protecting yourself, your family, and your property, nothing is ever “good enough” unless it accomplishes self-defense.


Don’t have your permit to carry yet? Find out the qualifications for your state here.