With many things in life, I deliver better results with aggressive time limitations. There’s nothing like a tight deadline to make me focus and produce. Unfortunately, shooting isn’t one of those activities. In fact, adding a time crunch to basic shooting tasks has the opposite effect of degrading performance, sometimes to near comical levels.
Also See: What You Need to Know About Shot Timers
One of the most effective ways to improve your shooting skills is to introduce a shot timer into your practice routines. Here’s why.
Time creates pressure, and pressure exposes weakness
It’s easy to be perfect when you have all day, regardless of the activity. When at the range, drawing a gun from a holster, getting on target, making accurate hits, and dealing with malfunctions are effortless endeavors. Why? Well, primarily because no one is shooting back at you, but in broader terms, it’s because there’s no pressure. Pressure makes you perform at a lower level. You don’t rise to the occasion when under pressure. In fact, most often, your performance is the opposite. You fall back to your lowest level of proficiency.
A timer will not introduce life and death levels of stress into your practice routine, but it will add a surprising amount of fumble-inducing pressure. That’s one of the biggest values of using a shot timer. It makes you hurry and exposes the weaknesses in your skill set. If your goal is to improve that’s a good thing. Now you know what needs the most work.
There are several benefits of inviting the clock into the relationship between you and your gun. Let’s explore a few.
When you execute a perfect shot by slowly pressing the trigger while keeping your sights perfectly on target, you’ve demonstrated trigger control. What that really means is that you’ve figured out how to press the trigger without moving the gun.
So, when instructors tell you press the trigger slowly, they’re not really teaching you to shoot at the speed of an unconscious tree sloth. They’re just giving you a cheat tip to learn how to shoot without moving the gun. Therefore, when you master the technique, it shouldn’t matter how fast you press the trigger. In fact, when you’ve got it down, you should be able to shoot just as well quickly as slowly and deliberately.
Want to know how your trigger press skills rank? Start from a low-ready position and set a timer for a couple of seconds. Choose a time limit that is slightly aggressive for your skill level. When the buzzer sounds, raise your pistol and put five shots on target. If your group is looser than your normal untimed versions, you’ve got some trigger work to do.
Sight picture acquisition
So, I might be speaking for myself here… But, when I first tried to shoot fast with added pressure from a shot timer, I had a tendency to focus on the target, press the trigger, and never really get a proper front sight picture. It didn’t go so well.
Training your eyes and brain to acquire a proper sight picture is a skill like any other and repetition will make you better at it. The more it becomes a habit to raise the sights into your view and focus on that front one in front of the target, the more likely you are to do it properly regardless of speed.
Try starting from a low ready position and set a time for one second (or whatever else feels a bit fast for you). At the buzzer, raise the gun, acquire a sight picture, and fire one shot. Repeat. If you’re missing, then increase your allotted time. The goal is to practice raising the gun, gaining a sight picture, and getting a hit. As you get better, decrease your time limit.
Drawing from concealment
You can do this one at home since many ranges don’t allow draw practice. Following ultra-careful and absolutely safe dry fire procedures, practice drawing your gun from concealment and dry firing one shot at a small target on a safe backstop. Start with a generous time so you can focus on repeating the exact same draw technique each time. As you master that, reduce your time available. When you can draw from total concealment and get a dry fire “hit” on target in less that 1.5 seconds, you’ve exceeded the skill level of the vast majority of concealed carriers.
Don’t cheat. Concealment is everything here. It’s easy to meet that time limit when drawing from an open carry position. The real skill is being able to do it quickly and smoothly every single time without getting caught up in your concealment clothing layers.
Get faster by slowing down
Improving your speed by slowing down might puzzle you. After all this article is about how the clock can help develop your skills. That’s true, but the clock is more like the final exam to see how you’ve developed.
Don’t practice fast just to beat the timer. If you do that, you’ll develop sloppy motions in the mad rush for speed. Instead, practice repetitions of skills like trigger press, sight picture acquisition, and draws slowly and consistently, making sure that every repetition is smooth and identical. That will “burn in” the physical habits. Use the timer as a skills check to see how you’re progressing.
Next time we’ll talk about some specific ways to put a shot timer to good use.