It should go without saying that self-improvement, be it through training or practice, should have goals, and preferably SMART ones at that. While I suspect that it’s an off-the-beaten-path ideal for firearms/marksmanship-oriented goals to check the boxes of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely, especially for the casual gun owner, ideals exist for a reason and can manifest themselves as flexible habits of regular practice.
Begin with a Goal in Mind
Whether they have an ultimate destination, all journeys have milestones and frequently have checkpoints. The PST 201 class made it clear that the first checkpoint of the PST 101 milestone has the following characteristics:
- Muzzle safety
- Trigger discipline
- Safe loading and unloading of a handgun
While a demonstration of basic marksmanship is necessary to pass PST 101, you can’t (and they won’t let you) get any further without those three foundational requirements.
Moseying Beyond the Starting Line
After completing PST 101, I asked my instructor for advice on how to prepare for the next class in the curriculum (and get some info on the what’s beyond PST 101A), and the two nuggets of wisdom I received were thus:
- Dry fire practice. Every. Single. Day.
- Be able to regularly shoot 3" groups at 7 yards.
The former behavior leads to the achievement of the latter objective. When you factor in a timeline goal of signing up for PST 101A, there’s the Timely aspect of SMART. Thus practice I did, with dry fire at home and regular range visits for live fire, literally aiming for that 3" group at 7 yards. Once I was able to achieve that Measurable (yes, capitalizing the elements of SMART is nerdy) goal, I signed up for and successfully completed PST 101A.
Going Beyond the Basics
I completed PST 103 last December, and with the additional knowledge and patterns gained my practice goals have understandably changed. By being able to make use of the Green Deck of the PSTC gun range, I can work on holster drills and set up scenarios involving movement, cover, and obstructions. However, the Green Deck is a popular resource and more often than not I find myself on the Blue Deck where you can’t do any of the dynamic, scoot’n’shoot activities.
I wasn’t the only PST 103 student who was curious as to what they can practice on their own, and our instructor advised us that if you can’t get Green Deck time, work on 25 yard marksmanship on the Blue Deck. While the practical likelihood of a defensive handgun scenario at that distance isn’t all that probable, successfully engaging a target at 25 yards with a pistol requires the flawless execution of grip, sights, trigger press, and follow through.
Putting Practice into Practice
Note the operative words in the previous sentence are “successfully” and “flawless.” While I’ve been practicing on 25 yard targets with a variety of 9mm and .22LR handguns, I recently started making a routine of that longer-distance course of fire on my range visits. I also started becoming acclimated to a double-action/single-action trigger with the CZ P-09 which has a definitely different user experience than all the striker-fired pistols I’ve used so far.
As I’m getting used to the DA/SA trigger with a longer, heavier, and smoother pull, I work my way to 25 yards by engaging 6" circles at 10 and 15 yards. On this day on the lanes, I made the first shot in double-action and followed up with a single-action trigger press. One of the notable “complaints” about DA/SA is having to learn two different trigger behaviors leading to inconsistent hits (or worst case, missing the target entirely), thus the “double tap” approach.
The center 6" circle was perforated with Speer Gold Dot +P ammunition which is what the local law enforcement uses in the field. The added propellant of the +P rounds increases chamber pressure, recoil, and ultimately wear and tear on the pistol, so one tends to not regularly practice with them. Not to mention that they’re way more expensive than the regular FMJ rounds. With all that said, the P-09 is intended for home defense use, thus it makes sense to at least know how the more powerful round feels. Ergo, practicing with +p ammo.
The two 6" circles at the top of the target sheet were engaged at 15 yards, all shot in single-action. I was replicating the Liberal Gun Club certified instructor range qualification where you have to land 18 out of 20 shots in a 6" target at 15 yards. While I failed the first attempt, I did succeed on the next.
To the Backstop and Beyond
With the warm-ups warmed up, we now move to the back of the range, putting the target out to 25 yards. It looks about as tiny in real life as it does in this photo.
In the last two visits with the P-09, I used whatever ammo I had remaining on a 20" bullseye target. I decied to go single-action on these shots, figuring that if I had to shoot something “for real” at that distance, I’d take the time to fully cock the pistol and sidestep that heavier double-action pull.
That’s 30 rounds, with the shots landing consistently inside the “7” ring. Another week, another outing, and another 30 holes at 25 yards:
What I ought to do is tabulate scores every time I shoot these targets, as that would get me an actual number that relates to accuracy.
Kaizen and Kaikaku
Kaizen, the discipline of continuous improvement, has a place in the martial art of marksmanship. Kaikaku, a fundamental and radical change to a (production) system, comes into play as one adopts markedly different hardware and/or methodologies. If it seems like a stretch to call the introduction of DA/SA into my training regimen Kaikau, then I’m freely stretching. You can also note that those stretches happen whether you like it or not, and that necessitates an invocation of the OODA Loop which ultimately re-establishes an equilibrium in which you resume your incremental, continuous improvement trek.
Going forward, I have the means - distance shooting, open deck practice - to reach the next goal, and it’s a matter of explicitly defining that goal with SMART parameters in mind.