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Practical Pistol Training

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Practical Pistol Training– combining these three words can take you down a variety of paths. With the influx of social media gun celebrities, competition shooting, former military and law enforcement trainers and the overall growth of shooting communities, some key practical pistol skills are overlooked.

The definition of the word Practical is: of, relating to, or manifested in practice or action; not theoretical or ideal.

Right off the bat, we are looking at situations that can, and are more likely to, actually happen. If we now put that definition in the context of Pistol Training, several popular drills and practices come immediately to mind as not being very practical. The odds of getting in a gunfight against ten static enemy combatants while wearing your plate carrier and warbelt are relatively slim as a civilian. In fact, I bet that you have a higher chance of being struck by lightning twice in a row while riding a unicycle.

Then why are so many people “training” like this? Well, it’s largely for the same reasons people play video games, watch action movies, etc. A lot of people are living out a fantasy on the range.

Of course, there are instances where this type of training makes sense. Military, Law Enforcement, even Prepared citizens, may have the need or want, to train with the gear they may use in a worst-case scenario. But, a lot of people tend to do it just because it looks cool. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars on gear to be proficient with a pistol.

Looking at situations surrounding a violent encounter where you need to use a firearm for defense, we can see a pattern of likely scenarios. According to a study conducted by the FBI from 2008- 2012, justifiable homicides involving private citizens taking someone’s life during the commission of a felony in self-defense is a much smaller number than you might imagine. 2012 saw the highest number of the 5 years with 310 justifiable homicides, and of those, 193 used a pistol.

With an estimated 100 million gun owners in the United States and just over 300 million people, we can easily see that the odds of being involved in a justifiable homicide are extremely low. Even looking at the cases of self-defense involving a handgun in which no one was killed, even though statistics on this topic vary dramatically, the odds are still very low. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared to use a firearm, but being practical is very important.

Taking this type of information and adapting training to become as proficient as possible in the elements that have a higher likelihood of occurring in real life, means that less time is wasted on fantasy scenarios. And a higher PRACTICAL skill level can be reached.

Here are some critical elements of likely scenarios that you may want to consider adding to your training regime if you haven’t already:


Drawing your pistol when it is covered by clothing, in a bag, or however you personally choose to carry it, is a complex skill and requires a lot of practice. I know it takes longer to run drills from concealment than having a warbelt, OWB holster, etc. But the fact is, that’s probably not how you carry every day. You don’t want to be messing around with your shirt for the first time when you need to draw your pistol quickly.

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A common technique for getting clothes out of the way is to extend the thumb of the firing hand, place it under the article of clothing, and use a sweeping motion to ensure that the will not interfere with drawing the pistol. The most important part is that you practice both dry and live fire, with the type of clothing that you wear.


Draw Stroke is the term used to describe the path that the pistol takes from the holster to being fired. This can vary tremendously based on the person and their training, but efficiency and accuracy are key. There are very few people in this world that are fast enough to “outdraw” someone who pulls a gun on them. So instead of working on your quick draw, you may want to consider how you are going to react if you hear gunfire in the building you’re in and work towards drawing the exact same way every time.

Dry fire practice is a great way to increase your draw skills, but remember to focus on consistency and not worry about breaking speed records right off the bat. Speed comes with practice.


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Parents of small children may have to get creative when simulating protecting their kid in training.

Shooting and pistol manipulation with one hand is largely overlooked by most civilians. Surprisingly, a vast amount of people who have had to use a pistol to defend themselves have had to do so with one hand. This is because the world is still going on around us. There is a multitude of things that may require your nondominant hand to be used for something other than supporting your pistol. For instance, carrying my 8-month-old daughter, opening a door, applying a tourniquet, etc. Practice drawing as well, using only your firing hand to clear clothing.


I've seen countless people have their first malfunction and stop to stare at the pistol in disbelief. It’s not an “if” but “when” when it comes to malfunctions. Guns are mechanical devices, and any mechanical device has the potential to fail. If this occurs when you need it to keep you alive, then fixing the issue should be instinctive because of your training.

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It doesn’t matter how hard you stare at it, that stovepipe isn’t going to fix itself.

Because you cannot predict what type of malfunction will occur, becoming familiar with the different types and how to correct them is an invaluable skill. One of the best ways I’ve found to replicate malfunctions is to have a friend load your magazines and randomly place expended brass of the same caliber throughout your magazines. Unlike the popular Snap Caps that are commonly used for this type of training, brass will not produce the same type of malfunction every time. This will make you react to what is happening instead of being able to smoothly fix the problem.


Too often people train using drills where they shoot 1 or 2 rounds, perform a magazine change, then fire another round. These drills have some merit, but they aren’t practical for defensive shooting. Practicing the same drill over and over again makes you better at that drill– that's it. Repetitive practice improves speed, and you're able to complete the drill without much thought. But, in a real-life situation, you don't get a reset. You react to what you're given and make the best split-second decision possible. Instead of practicing to beat a buzzer, practice seeing what your sights are doing and what you see on the target. 

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Having several targets of different colors and a friend to call out which one to engage, loading a random number of rounds in each magazine instead of a set number, or scenario training in which you are distracted or must make a decision or perform an action unrelated to shooting, are all excellent ways to force yourself to react. Your imagination is your only limitation when it comes to this, but don’t let it run wild. Practical is the goal. Shot timers are excellent tools for improving speed, but if we condition ourselves to only react to sounds, we may find that we are very slow when reacting to visual or other stimuli. Real life gunfights never start with a beep.

This list is not all-inclusive, but it should get you thinking about ways to towards practical pistol training. But if staying alive in a situation is more important to you than winning a competition or getting likes on social media, then it becomes to take a hard look at whether or not your training is practical. Once you are proficient in these skills, go ahead and progress to more technical things.


Justin Vititoe

Justin Vititoe has over 20 years firearms and survival experience, 17 serving as an Infantryman in the United States Army, including 4 combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. More than half of his career has revolved around sniper skill sets, to include; three years instructing at the U.S. Army Sniper School and Long Range Marksman course and two combat tours as a sniper team and section leader. Justin is an expert in marksmanship, survival, surveillance, counter- surveillance, and almost any hand-held weapon. He has instructed military personnel and civilians all over the world in survival, marksmanship, camouflage, tracking, small unit tactics, planning, land navigation and numerous other skills. Justin was also a participant of season 2 of History’s ALONE series, where he survived by himself with minimal gear for 35 days.

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1 Comment

  • Morrison Liberty says:

    Malfunction drills instill muscle memory. When you squeeze the trigger and nothing happens it should be second nature to go into your immediate action (tap, rack, bang),thanks to the muscle memory, im not sure what this guy is trying to say.

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  • Malfunction drills instill muscle memory. When you squeeze the trigger and nothing happens it should be second nature to go into your immediate action (tap, rack, bang),thanks to the muscle memory, im not sure what this guy is trying to say.

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