I don’t bill myself as a firearms instructor by any means. I do love learning and practicing marksmanship, and I am a very capable instructor (and have credentials to back it up), but I’ve never formally put the two together. That said, I do get asked to take people out and teach them how to shoot. This was the case last week, when a coworker wanted me to help them improve their pistol skills in preparation for deployment. I made it clear up front that I specialize more in rifle shooting, but would be happy to help them in any way I could.
In this particular case, it turned out that I had a lot to offer them. They were, more or less, uninitiated into the fundamentals of marksmanship. The bits I have learned over the years from my own competition history and practice were more than enough to “firehose” this person with more information than they could really process in a 90 minute range session. They made significant progress, but I could tell that this person wanted more. What follows are some of my takeaways for both future training sessions and for others who might be informally teaching friends or family.
Notes for Myself
The number one issue this person had is a significant flinch. His shots were centered on the paper from left to right, but coming in very low at only 7 yards. I brought three pistols with me to represent various types of actions (a 1911 for single action only, my Beretta for DA/SA, and the FNS-9 for a striker). I noticed that each time I presented a new pistol, the first couple shots were fairly good, but would steadily march down the target as the shooter learned to anticipate the shot. On two occasions, the shooter attempted to fire from slide lock (they didn’t detect that they were out of ammunition) and I noted a significant anticipatory flinch.
The best ways I know how to deal with flinching is dry fire, which we didn’t have time for, and a ball-and-dummy drill whereby I randomly add snap caps into the magazine. This latter drill will make flinching very obvious to both the instructor and to the student when the student unknowingly squeezes the trigger on a dummy round . Unfortunately, I failed to bring snap caps with me, even though I looked at them and considered bringing them. The best I ended up being able to do was teaching trigger control by balancing a quarter on the Beretta’s barrel and having the student practice dry firing without the quarter falling.
I also failed to bring a holster with me, which prevented any instruction on firing from a draw. In the short time we had, I didn’t think there would be enough room to practice those techniques. Still, it would have made for a more complete training session.
General Notes on Teaching Others
If my many years as an Air Force instructor have taught me anything, it’s that all lessons have three primary elements: an objective, a plan, and a measurement. The objective is written first, as it is difficult to teach anything unless you know what it is you should be teaching. Measurements and tests are created next. These measurements should demonstrate successful completion of the objective. Lesson plans, the real meat of the instruction, are created last.
From the outside, this may appear backwards. Most of the time, people create objectives first, build the lessons, and then create the measurements from material taught in the lesson. This makes sense to the uninitiated because it follows the order of presentation. However, this pattern creates a high risk of lesson material wandering off-topic. Furthermore, it often results in measurements that cherry-pick bits of information from the lesson that may or may not be relevant to completing the actual objective. I’ve taken many courses built this way, and it’s always a frustrating experience because the information seems too broad, the questions too random, and the material not really supporting the measurement or objective. Creating the measurements before the lesson keeps information focused on what is really needed for success. If you find the lesson wandering too far outside the scope of the measurement and objective, then you need to either eliminate the information, adjust your measurement/objective to include it, or create a new objective to measure. This last bit, identifying and constructing supporting objectives, is an art of itself and well outside the scope of this blog.
As far as objectives go, they have three parts: Condition, behavior, and standard. The condition states the circumstances under which the objective is carried out. If academic, it will state whether the test is to be taken open-book or without reference. If practical, it will state the materials provided for the measurement. The behavior identifies what the student will perform. The behavior uses direct action words that can be measured like recall, execute, identify, build, and score. The standard details the required level of performance. For academic objectives, it might be a minimum test score. For practical objectives, it might be a threshold on the number of mistakes or successful completion of the behavior within a set timing standard.
A poor objective might only have the behavior element and read something like this:
- Place five shots within the 10 ring of the target
Better objectives look like these, which were some of my personal shooting goals:
- Given a duty belt, holster, and loaded handgun from the standing position; place ten shots from a Beretta 92A1 within an eight inch circle at 25 meters within 15 seconds from the draw.
- Using factory ammunition, AR-15 rifle, magnified optic, and shooting sling; place 10 shots within a 3 MOA circle at any range up to three hundred yards from prone position within 60 seconds
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about just setting up the lesson via good objectives and measurements. Prior planning is just that important. This process does not necessarily need to be formally written every time, as you probably don’t do this for a living. But at least having a general framework mapped out will help you be more organized when you improvise.
Now that we’ve got an idea how to prepare a lesson, I want to talk about content. My general pattern when I take others to the range to teach them looks like this:
- Without reference, recall the four basic safety rules of firearms handling without error
- Given an unloaded handgun, demonstrate safe firearm handling practices without error
- Given unlimited time, a loaded 10 round magazine, handgun, and starting from a low ready; place at least 7 out of 10 shots in a 4 inch circle from 7 yards
- Given unlimited time, 10 rounds of loose ammunition, an empty magazine, and handgun; load and fire pistol at a four inch circle from 25 yards with at least 50% of shots falling within the circle and all shots on the paper
- Brief small talk to ‘break the ice;’ tell a story or joke relating to the day
- Discuss the day’s objective(s) to prepare the student to learn
- Safety briefing including Cooper’s four rules, proper wear of shooting glasses, demonstration of ear protection
- Have student recite rules from memory (objective 1)
- Basic nomenclature and demonstration of the weapons to be fired
- Dry fire practice to familiarize student with weapon operation
- Have student perform demonstration of basic operation (objective 2)
- Discussion of marksmanship fundamentals
- Position and grip
- Sight Picture
- Trigger Control and Squeeze
- Have student practice each element with dry fire
- Correct any obvious mistakes or safety violations
- Offer helpful advice for minor mistakes, but don’t appear to nag
- With live ammunition, demonstrate how incorrect execution of fundamentals affects shot placement and recoil control
- Have student practice with live ammunition (correct blatant mistakes on the spot)
- Debrief student after each magazine (every 5-10 shots for me), have student self-diagnose as much as possible in order to keep them engaged and paying attention
- Discuss what went well
- Discuss how to improve the things that did not go well
- After sufficient practice, post a new target and perform measurement
- Debrief the measurement (objectives 3 and 4)
- Repeat as needed for more learning points, objectives, and measurements
- Review fundamentals and discuss how great shooting is merely the great application of fundamentals and poor shooting is the poor execution of fundamentals; it’s the Indian and not the Arrow
- Ask student to recount what they’ve learned and any positive experiences of the day
That seems like a long list, but it can actually go pretty fast once you get used to it. The above pattern is geared towards those with very little shooting experience, and is designed to illustrate that shooting is a very safe and enjoyable practice when done correctly. Obviously, you can tailor the message to the student if they have more experience and you are teaching them a particular skill.
Teaching others to shoot is an awesome opportunity to both introduce new people to the sport and improve upon your own skills in the process. Prior planning and preparation, even if informal, will dramatically improve the quality experience for everyone involved. The individual I took to the range last week came away not only with a higher level of ability than when they started, but also a much greater appreciation for what they didn’t know. I gave them a glimpse down the rabbit hole and showed them a wide world they might not have previously considered. Even if they don’t become avid shooters themselves, they come away appreciating how much work goes into becoming a great marksman.
That appreciation can be turned into action.