Stretching your training ammo budget

Photo courtesy of Peter Burlingame

by Peter Burlingame

Firearms training is important to me, both as an instructor, and as a student. My training group works on the range once a week to hone our skills. With the current situation of panic buying of guns and ammo, it is difficult to allocate the same amount of ammunition to a day’s training that we once did. Right now you have two options: train less often, or train more frugally. By frugal I mean making our limited ammo supply go farther, and make it do more.  I don’t know about all y’all, but I’m not willing to give up my training days. So here are a handful of ways to get more training from a limited ammunition budget without losing the effectiveness of your training program.

Dry fire – Talk to any top notch shooter that you know and they will credit dry fire practice as one of the things that made them as good as they are. Back in the 1990s’s a Canadian woman won the IPSC world championship in the women’s division. Top IPSC shooters typically shoot around 50,000 rounds of ammo per year in practice in order to be competitive. The woman from Canada had only fired 5000 round in the previous year. But she dry fired relentlessly. With the ammo drought we are now experiencing, dry fire will go a long way in not only preserving your present skills, but will take them to a new level.  Start your range sessions with a half hour dry fire warm up. Really work the fundamentals. Then add drawing your pistol and dynamic movement to the dry fire. Remember to do your normal stand down routine of scanning, breathing and systems check before holstering.

Challenge drills – Depending on which statistics you look at, Americans use their firearms between one hundred thousand to two million times per year to defend themselves.  Either number is large, and while there is a wide spread between them, the one statistic that is consistent is that in the vast majority of cases, the gun is not fired.
If, when you are practicing on the range, every time you draw your gun you are also firing it, you are not training for reality. Most likely, if you pull your sidearm, you won’t have to fire. And that’s a good thing, because even if everything goes well in your defensive shooting, it will still be a life altering event.

Incorporate ‘challenge’ drills into your training regime. With the students on line, facing a target, they are given one of two commands: “Threat!” or “Gun!”. On the threat command, they simultaneously draw, take a side step and give a verbal command such as “Down!” or “Stop!” or “No!”. If nothing else happens after several seconds they come to a ready position and do a full 360 degree scan, then carefully holster.  On the “Gun!” command they do all of the above, with the addition of shooting the target. These two commands can be used in different ways. “Threat!” has them draw and give a verbal command while side stepping. “Threat!” can be repeated one or more times, having the students continue to issue threats and take side steps. A “Gun!” command can be followed up by “Threat!”, simulating the student giving a command to the person that they’ve just shot, or to an accomplice.

I find that giving four or more “Threat!” commands in a row starts to stress the students.  You can see them tensing up. This is a good thing. A variation is to start at one end of the line and have the students give the commands.

Precision Work – A couple of decades ago, pistol shooting could be divided into three basic types: Bullseye, Action, and Silhouette.

Bullseye shooting’s emphasis was on precision; shooting small groups out to 50 yards.

Action shooting, such as IPSC or the Bianchi cup, had the concentration on shooting fast on multiple targets, at shorter ranges.

In Silhouette, shooters have to knock down steel plates in the shapes of various animals, such as pigs and chickens, at distances from 50 to 200 yards.

Of course, the practitioners of each discipline would argue endlessly over which made a better shooter.

Photo courtesy of Peter Burlingame

The Masters Competition was designed to settle the question. Incorporating elements of all three types of competition, proponents of each would test their skills to see which type produced the best shooters. It turns out that the Bullseye shooters had an easier time going fast, than the speed shooters had in being more precise.

In teaching the defensive use of firearms in dynamic situations, we spend most of our time shooting fast, at close range. We make it a point, however, to spend some time at longer distances, working on precision.

Working the fundamentals carefully takes time, with the benefit of conserving ammunition.

Move back to 50 to 100 yards and work on your rifle skills. Go prone and take a couple of minutes to find your ‘natural point of aim’. Get in position, close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Open your eyes and see if your rifle is still on target. If not, adjust your body, not your rifle. Pivot your body around your navel to bring the rifle back on target. Repeat a couple of times until the gun is solidly on target each time you open your eyes.

Now, work on your breathing. Slow your breathing using square breathing* until you can get a 5-6 second respiratory pause in which you can work the trigger. Press the trigger straight back with ever increasing pressure, working to make the shot a surprise. Be mindful of the process, of the contact your finger is making with the face of the trigger and that the pressure is directed straight back along the axis of the gun.

When the shot breaks, hold the trigger back. Check your natural point of aim, reestablish your sight picture, NOW ease the trigger forward JUST to the point it ‘catches the link’ and resets itself. Now repeat the whole process. Fire a 3 shot group. Get up, secure your gear and go check your target. Examine the results and figure out what you need to correct. Go back and repeat the process.

In this manner, not only are you getting fantastic marksmanship training, but you are only firing ten to twenty shots an hour.  With .223 going for over a dollar a round, your wallet will thank you. And, as the Masters’ showed, it isn’t hard to speed up your shooting when needed.

Sub caliber trainers –  We’ve already talked about devices that let you shoot less expensive ammunition in a previous column here.

One shooter at a time – Another beneficial technique is to spend less time with all the shooters on the line together, working drills, and working more on scenario-type drills that you run through one person at a time.

Photo courtesy of Peter Burlingame

Unlike IPSC or IDPA, where a scenario often requires you to fire 20 or more shots, set up the exercise so that it requires just several rounds.

To require the shooter to reload,  just down load the magazine in their pistol. You might suppose that doing this is only good practice for the person shooting, but in fact it is good for the spectators also, as they analyze how everyone is doing (what works, what doesn’t?)

Always have the instructors go first, so the students’ mirror neurons get to process proper technique. The scenarios are designed to teach one or more skills or techniques. This ranges from single hand or support hand only shooting, to shooting unfamiliar firearms, to unconventional positions and proper use of cover.

So there you have it, several training techniques that enable you to keep training during this ammo drought.

Don’t practice less often, practice smarter! If you have any tips, tricks or techniques for stretching our ammo allotments, please share them with us.

*Square breathing – This technique has many names: Buddha Breathing, Belly Breathing, Combat or Tactical Breathing, etc. Regardless of the various names, the technique is the same. Your nervous system is comprised of two main parts; the Somatic, which is the part you control directly, like when you draw your pistol, and the Autonomic, which is all the housekeeping functions like digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, hormone release, etc. Most of these you don’t have direct control over. If I ask you to stop digesting your last meal, you can’t do it. But if I ask you to hold your breath, a bodily process that normally happens automatically, you CAN do that.

By controlling your breathing you affect the rest of the Autonomic system. The process is this: Breath in slowly and fully, expanding the belly and chest, for a count of 3 or 4, whatever is comfortable for you. Then pause, full of air, for the same count of 3 or 4. Next, exhale fully, till you are empty, for the same count, and then pause, empty for the same count.

Three to four repetitions of this cycle will lower your blood pressure by up to 20%. Calming yourself and oxygenating the blood will help your precision shooting, steadying you and providing a longer respiratory pause in which to pull the trigger. This process also works well when you are in stressful situations.

Peter Burlingame is the founder of The Self Defense Initiative, a 25 year old training school based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Peter is a contributing member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. His articles have been published in the FBI’s National Associates’ magazine, “The Firearms Instructor” and “Survival Quarterly.” You may contact him at Videos at



About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

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