Ten Tips for On Target Academy Firearms Training
Dr. Richard Weinblatt
The prospect of firearms training in the pressure-filled law enforcement academy setting is either loved or hated by cadets. Few blocks of instruction, save for physical training and defensive tactics, conjures up such extremes in emotion. As a certified firearms instructor and an executive over basic police academies, I have seen first hand the issues that trip up aspiring gun-toting law enforcers. This column has been crafted to offer firearms training bound recruits tips for success using a vital tool of the professional law enforcer.
1) Automatic Safety. The cardinal concept of firearms training is that of safety. Academies routinely distribute a document containing rules of safety on the police firing range. Most have the students read, sign, and return the document. Find out what those rules are in advance and be sure to be familiar which each important mandate. Make compliance with such standard rules as “assume every firearm is loaded,” “never point the firearm at something that you don’t want to shoot,” and “be aware of what your target is and beyond” automatic. Not having to apply thought to those mandates will free you up to concentrate on the psychomotor skills needed for excellent marksmanship.
2) Strength Training. A major problem that detracts from working on shooting skills is a lack of upper body strength. Effecting particularly small-framed men and women, handguns made heavier with ammunition and long guns such as shotguns strain and distracts struggling shooters from refining their skills.
3) No “Windage.” Firearms instructors will do target analysis and point out where the grouping of rounds are hitting the paper. Often troubled shooters decide that simply moving the grouping by compensating with the front site is the solution. Referred to as the “windage” method by seasoned firearms instructors, this is not a true solution and really cheats the student shooter of developing good trigger control skills. For example, if the right-handed shooter is mashing the trigger, target analysis sees this manifested as the grouping falling low and to the left. The “windage” shooter places the front sight high and to the right of the target area to improperly compensate. This is not a good technique and should be avoided.
4) Don’t have a mind of your own. Many instructors get frustrated by recruits that ask for help on the line, get it, and then go back to what they were doing wrong. Different firearms instructors will make divergent suggestions. Try them out and see what works best for you. Problems come when students go back to their own flawed ways once the instructor shifts the focus from them to another student. Listen to the firearms instructors and try it their way.
5) Don’t rely on gadgets. Many struggling shooters feel that they would do better if only they had a particular flashlight, laser, grip or other firearm accoutrement. The fact is, while the gadgetry is nice, it’s the shooter behind the gun, not the gun, that truly makes the difference.
6) Mixed ‘dummy rounds’ and dry fire. Students often anticipate the gun firing and firearms instructors working the firing line can clearly peg the students who are scared of that round going off. There are several old tricks that I and other instructors use to solve the issue. One is to mix dummy rounds in with the live ball ammo in the magazine. This is done out of sight of the cadet so that he or she will not know which rounds are live and which are not. When the student gets up to one of the dummy rounds in the magazine, they see for themselves the front of the muzzle going down. Often seeing for themselves is more powerful and effective than us verbally explaining it.
7) Dry Fire. Along the same vein as number six, dry firing the weapon is actually more helpful and can be done by most recruits at home. Assuming that the cadet has their firearm available at home and that they have visually and physically checked and determined that the firearm is unloaded, they can place a penny just behind the front sight. Some weapons, such as Glocks, will necessitate a slight slide movement to re-engage the trigger. The recruit picks a spot on the wall or the TV and carefully squeezes the trigger with the aim being not to move or drop the penny off the top of the slide. Repeating this step numerous times goes a long way towards establishing muscle memory and minimizing weapon movement while maximizing trigger and breath control, as well as sight alignment.
8) Control fear. Whether it is the noise, the recoil, the orange muzzle flash, or some people’s discomfort with weaponry, many people are afraid of the firearm that they need to master. Contrary to what we all see in the movies or on TV, folks don’t fly ten feet back when they shot. By the same token, cadets do not fly back either. Many shooters lean forward dramatically anticipating a large amount of kick from the weapon when it is discharged. The laws of physics make sure that the kick is not huge.
9) Eat, drink, and dress appropriately. Ranges, particularly outdoor ranges can be environmentally tough locations. Many firearms instructors feel that police officers and deputy sheriffs are required to police in all weather conditions and therefore police academy students need to train accordingly. Short of lightning, most academies shoot in rain, snow, sand storms, and other weather related hardships. Be sure to check the weather report and dress appropriately within the academy uniform standards. For example, if it is cold, you may want to have long johns under your academy uniform.
By the same token, low blood sugar from a lack of proper nutrition will not improve your shootings scores. Be sure to eat and drink properly over the long term.
10) Front sight focus. One of things that I did myself during qualifications is to say out loud (but softly) “front sight, front sight. Front sight, squeeze.” This forces me to concentrate on the front sight and squeeze until the round goes down range. That same method has given students of mine a good start in their firearms oriented career.
Whether you are a die-hard second amendment supporter or a reluctant gun toter, firearms are part of the tools available to officers. Following these ten tips should help you to alleviate any stress-related firearms training and become more proficient with firearms.