You know the drill

Photo Courtesy Peter Burlingame

By Peter Burlingame

In firearms training, we need ways to measure our performance. One method of measurement is to use standard drills. These drills consist of firing a certain number of rounds at a specific target, within a given time, at specific distances. Other conditions may be added such as shooting with one hand only, or from different positions. The score that you receive is a gauge of your ability. Because it is a set course, you  can repeat it as often as you want. In this way you can see if you are making progress.

Police departments have qualification courses that their officers must shoot several times a year to prove at least a minimum level of proficiency.  Typical distances range from as close as 1 yard, to as far as 50.

“On the 5 yard line! On the whistle, you will draw and fire two shots center of mass and one shot to the head of your target, then scan for threats and re-holster!” is a command you might hear as officers run through a qualification course of fire.

Photo Courtesy Peter Burlingame

These are artificial situations that should simulate an actual scenario that you are likely to encounter. They give you a chance to practice realistically and can be scored so you can keep track of your progress.

While they have a number of benefits, these drills, courses of fire, and qualification courses have a downside. Keep in mind that you are building conditioned responses to stimuli, so be careful of what responses you are imprinting.

Carefully examine your training program to make sure that it makes sense. Is it really what you want to do in a life or death situation?  During a life threatening encounter your brain stem, the older, more primitive part of your brain, actually shuts down the cortex, the newer, more modern part of your brain. The cortex is where the conscious thought processes occur. When you are threatened, it is time to act, not think, so the brain stem takes over and puts you into the ‘Fight, Flight, or Freeze mode”.  In other words you won’t be able to calmly look at the situation and make rational decisions. The primitive part of your brain that doesn’t want to get eaten by a lion quickly looks for an appropriate program and runs it. This is why training is critical. Under stress you will do what you have trained to do. Right or wrong, whatever routines you have plugged into your computer are what you will do when the fear response kicks in.

Photo Courtesy Peter Burlingame

About 20 years ago, one state police agency’s qualification was entirely based on double taps (quickly firing two shots). A typical range command was: “ON THE LINE! On the whistle draw, fire two shots, and re-holster!”  What conditioned response was being programming into the officers’ brains?  That’s right, draw and fire two shots. And then what do you do?  Yup, re-holster. Is that appropriate? Will two shots be enough?

One day a trooper who worked for this agency, pulls over a motorist. The driver exits his vehicle as the trooper leaves his. The motorist brings up a pistol and the trooper, upon seeing this stimulus, goes into his conditioned response. Do you remember what that was?  Draw, fire two shots, and then what? That’s right, re-holster.

The trooper center-punches the bad guy with two rounds of.45ACP, but the assailant was unimpressed and in response he shoots and kills the trooper, whose pistol is now safely tucked away in its holster.  Because of cases like the shooting of this trooper, now we teach to pause, scan for other threats, and assess the situation, before we put our pistols away. It is sad that it takes an officer to get injured or killed for us to learn obvious lessons and change the way we do things.

The other problem with standard drills is that people focus on one or two drills to the exclusion of others. They become specialists, practicing the same drill over and over and over, refining their movements, and figuring out how to shave off seconds from their time.

Photo Courtesy Peter Burlingame

The ‘El Presidente’ is one such drill. The shooter stands at the 7 yard line with his back to the targets. There are 3 targets, spaced with 1 yard between them. On the start signal the shooter turns and fires twice at each target, reloads, and shoots them each twice again. Par time is around 10 seconds. A seven second run is very respectable. But there are people that have practiced this so many times that they can do it in 4 seconds. There are plenty of videos on YouTube of amazing runs on this drill. It’s a great game, but what is it really teaching us?

Yes, there are useful lessons to be learned with the El Presidente, but if your focus is on getting the lowest possible time on this one drill, then you are neglecting to practice other skills. And the more you practice it, the same way, again and again, the more you burn that into your brain. If you always turn and shoot left to right, what do you think you will do if you are actually confronted by two or more assailants? You will shoot left to right, as you always have. If the attacker on the left has a baseball bat and the one on the right is armed with a shotgun, your programmed response may give the bad guy with the scattergun time to shoot you.

The cool thing about the El Prez is that so many people have run it. There are a large number

Photo Courtesy Peter Burlingame

of data points to compare yourself to.  I recommend setting it up, and running it. But don’t shoot it more than 3 times. How did you do on your first run? Your first run is the important one. It will tell you how you will perform cold, without practice. If you are attacked you won’t have an opportunity to warm up.

Did you make the 10 second par? Did you fumble the reload?  Did your second and third run smooth out? Were you able to shave a couple of seconds off of your first time?  The more you do it, the better you’ll get, but what’s the point of that?  You have a limited time and ammo budget that you can devote to training. Move on and work on something else.

Set up a drill and once you’ve run it 2 or 3 times, change it up. Using the El Presidente, we can employ the same basic target set up in a number of different ways. Shoot it with just your strong hand. Shoot the middle target first, then the left and right ones. Shoot the first part with both hands, reload and finish with just your support (weak) hand. You can get more mileage out of each drill that you set up by making variations. This keeps it fresh and prevents you from ‘gaming’ the scenario. Remember to only run each variation 2 to 3 times each.

Go to the websites of some of the popular shooting schools and they will have targets and drills that you can print out. You can find more on display on Youtube. This is a great idea! Collect them all. But don’t fixate on any of them. Keep it fresh, mix it up, stay flexible.

I recently developed a Ten Shot Drill.  The Ten Shot Drill (TSD) started out as a ‘Postal Match’ that friends on Facebook could use to compete against each other.  If you click here you can print it out and shoot the TSD yourself.  I’ve limited it to 10 rounds because I know ammo is scarce. I also designed it so that it was as inclusive as possible. You should be able to run the TSD even on restrictive ranges because you start from the ready position and the fastest stage is 2 shots in 2 seconds.  Recently I posted an article on this blog about the importance of the Speed and Accuracy Equation, and the TSD takes that into consideration, with some quick shots close up and some slower shots further away.  You may use whatever pistol that you use for personal protection.

On my first run, I scored a 90, using my Glock 26.The TSD is tougher than it looks. Print it, shoot it, and post your scores here. Only post your score from your first run. Shoot it a couple of times then try mixing it up. Single hand only, then again with your support hand only. You know the drill.

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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