How to: Improve Your Handgun Skills

Posted on Jan 13, 2012 in DIY Projects, Emergency Preparedness & Survival

Kevin Hayden – Truth is

With all of the DIY projects and self-improvement I bring to you here at Truth is Treason, I realized I was leaving a vital topic out.  We’ve covered DIY tech gadgets and projects, various recipes, outdoor and garden projects, and much more – but we’ve not covered firearms very much.

Hayden’s Note:

This is an older article of mine, but I thought it might be a good time to republish for those new readers.  Originally posted March 28th, 2010.

I was a police officer for over 5 years and maintained the award of Pistol Master every year.  I have taught individual classes and group lessons in a variety of conditions and environments, but one thing that I find intriguing is the difference between training males and females.

Females have a natural ability to become very proficient with handguns and will listen to the instructor.  Men, on the other hand, approach firearms training like anything else; “I already know everything there is to know – and if I don’t, I certainly won’t ask for help.  I’ll just act like I know what I’m doing so as not to embarrass myself or allow the other guys to think I’m inferior.”

It’s the Alpha-dog complex.  And I understand that, being a guy.  But when it comes to handgun proficiency – or firearms in general, for that matter – an unassuming, “leave your ego at the door” type of approach is required.  If you’re familiar with the movie, ‘The Matrix’, you’ll recall when the little boy told Neo, “…there is no spoon.”  If you have limited experience in shooting or gun handling, that is the best advice I can give you.

Forget all of your old habits that you’ve picked up over the years while “plinking” at the range or the occasional time you might have fired a friend’s gun.  Unless you’re already a serious shooter or have received some type of advanced training, imagine there is no spoon – meaning, humble yourself towards the instructor and keep an open mind about new techniques, positions, or schools of thought.

I often tell new shooters, “Once you can pick up a gun in the same manner as you do a hammer or screwdriver, you are ready for some advanced training.  You can respect the power of a firearm, but also manipulate it without conscience thought, and that’s where we want to be.”

Okay, now on to the good stuff!

For starters, if you are serious about improving your gun handling skills and do not have quality gunranges in which you can practice at, I urge you to find a friend that owns some vacant land and setup a small range.  Obviously, be mindful of where your rounds go and what is behind your target.  Provide adequate barrier/berm protection if you are not at a professional range.  This doesn’t have to look pretty.

Secondly, if you do not have hundreds or even thousands to spend on advanced training at sites such as FrontSight, then the next best thing you can do is pick up a few videos.  I’m not much of a “video guy” – I want to be out there on the range practicing.  I want to get my hands on a weapon and learn in that manner, but I can’t always get out on a range and practice firing under cars or over barricades. In particular, I highly recommend the Magpul series of DVDs instructed by Chris Costa:

Magpul – The Art of the Tactical Carbine

Magpul – The Art of the Dynamic Handgun

Watching these guys manipulate and handle weapons in the manner that they do is awe-inspiring.  It truly is a work of art and a tough skill to master.  You can find excerpts of these two videos across the internet at YouTube and Google, but there is SO much more on the DVD themselves, such as practice drills, discussions about gear, hoslters, weapons, etc.

These videos are top-notch and worth every penny.  And no, I have no vested interest in whether you purchase these DVDs or not – I’m just offering my sometimes overrated opinion.

Third, when you find yourself sitting on the couch watching television, or killing time around the house, start wearing your handgun.  Dry fire it.  Perform reloads (with an empty weapon and magazine, mind you!).  Practice drawing it from the holster and re-holstering.  You need to get used to the weight, the feel of it, and how to operate it without conscience thought.  It should be like putting pen to paper and writing.  It just happens.

The next thing that I would recommend is for you to practice in the same manner that the professionals practice.  Train like an athlete and eventually you’ll become one.  Train like an advanced gun-fighter, and one day you’ll be one.

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get to that level and test yourself without all the fancy footwork, dynamic ranges, and expensive classes, is to follow law enforcement proficiency tests.  While I don’t consider 99% of police to be proficient shooters in the slightest, every agency and department have varying qualification tests that each officer must pass.  The general rule of thumb is that 70% or better is “qualifying” with a few minor exceptions for agencies such as the Air Marshals.  Air Marshals operate in the very small, fragile closed environment of an airplane and if called into action, will most likely have to take a very precise shot.  Thus, they train a bit harder and are required to pass at 90% as opposed to the average street cop who is only held to a 70% or 72% qualifying threshold.

The qualification tests vary from agency to agency but generally are based on a test of your skills at 25 yards, 15, 7, 5 and 3 yards.  Many municipal police agencies stress the 1 yard, or “reach out and touch the target” distance due to a high number of officer-involved shootings occurring at this distance.  They focus on what some might call a “hip shot” or “breaking leather” type of shot; the gun is fired as soon as the muzzle clears the officer’s leather holster and is pointed at the threat.

In the civilian world (concealed carry), this is also a very real scenario.  Imagine walking down the sidewalk and someone tries to rob you or kidnap you.  They will most likely be very close – about an arm’s length away.  They might present a knife, a gun, or a fight could ensue, putting you on your back with your adversary on top of you.  Training to take these “close in” shots can be vital and offer a great advantage.

And finally, I urge you again to watch the videos presented by the Magpul team.  Their tactics are based on State Department and competition shooting techniques.  They focus on a balance of speed and accuracy, employing the latest tips and techniques garnered from special forces, high-speed security operators, and technical shooting.

In closing, I’m leaving you with various agencies’ pistol qualification courses to work on.

If you train like a pro, eventually you will be one.  Stand tall and stay safe!


(For cheaper training, utilize paper plates to represent a man sized torso or head.  These provide about 8 inches of target space and are fairly representative of most law enforcement target zones.)

As always, before any shooting or training is conducted, we must go over the basic rules of gun safety.

(Don’t give me that sigh!  It never hurts to hear them again!)

 1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. (High & on the Slide!)

3. NEVER point the gun at something you do not intend to destroy or kill.

Okay, here we go!

Federal Air Marshal Tactical Pistol Course (FAM-TPC)
(modified version of the original course)

Target Used: FBI QIT target or IALEFI Q Target
Alternative Targets: IDPA or IPSC targets.
Scoring: Depends on the target used, FBI QIT scored 5-2.
Range of Engagement: 7 yards
Ammunitions Required: 30 rounds

Targets T1-T2-& T3 set up on the 7 yard line.  Targets are 1 to 2 yards apart, shoulder-to-shoulder.  Shooting position “P1″ (position #1) is directly in front of T1 (target 1), P2 is directly in front of T2 and P3 is directly in front of T3.

At the conclusion of this drill, each target should have 10 hits for a possible total of 30. Depending upon the scoring method, the minimum qualifying score is 90%/135 points or 27 hits on target.

Time limits scored Go/No Go for each stage.

Procedure  |  Starting Position   |  Time Limit
1). One round on T1 (2x)  |  P1, holstered  |  2 seconds (2 rounds total)

2.) Double tap on T2 (2x)  |  P2, holstered  |  3 seconds (4 rounds total)

3.) 6 rounds on T3  |  P3, holstered  |  4 seconds (6 rounds total)

4.) 1 round on T1, reload, 1 round on T1 (2x)  |  P1, holstered  |  4 seconds (4 rounds total)

5.) 1 round on T1 and 1 round on T3 (2x)  |  P2, holstered  |  4 seconds (4 rounds total)

6.) 180 degree pivot, one round on T1, T2, T3 (2x)  |  P2, holstered  |  5 seconds (6 rounds total)
(conduct once with a pivot to the right – second course of fire, pivot to the left)

7.) Load magazines with 1 round,  |  P2, low ready position  |  6 seconds (4 rounds total)
Fire one round on T2,
Drop to high kneeling position,
Reload, fire one round. (2x)


United States Marshals Service
Handgun Qualification Course – Modified

Target: USMS uses the TransTar II target scored 5-4-3-2
Other targets may be used at the discretion of the Rangemaster
Ammunition Required: 60 rounds
Distances of Engagement: 3,7,15 and 25 yards
Minimum Qualification Standard: 210 pts/70%


1. 3 yds/9 ft – From the holster, draw & fire 2 rnds center mass
and one headshot. 3 rnds in 4 seconds, 2X

2. 3 yds/9 ft – Begin at the low ready with the handgun in the
weak hand. At the signal fire 3 rnds in 4 seconds

3. 7 yds/21 ft – From the holster, draw & fire 3 rnds center mass
in 4 seconds, 2X

4. 7 yds/21 ft – From the holster, draw & fire 3 rnds center mass
in 5 seconds. STRONG HAND ONLY, 2X

5. 7 yds/21 ft – From the holster, draw & fire 2 rnds center mass
and one headshot. 3 rnds in 5 seconds, 4X

6. 15 yds/45 ft – From the holster, draw & fire 3 rnds center mass
in 5 seconds, 4X

7. 25 yds/75 ft – From the holster, using a high barricade for cover:
Fire 6 rounds standing, perform a mandatory reload,
drop to the high kneeling position and fire 3 rnds,
perform a mandatory reload, go prone and fire 3
rnds. Total of 12 rounds in 60 seconds.

6 headshots required

Qualification Standards:
300 pts = Distinguished Expert
285-299 = Expert
255-284 = Sharpshooter
210-254 = Marksman
below 210 = DNQ (did not qualify)

This course is based on the USMS Handgun QC in use on 1 January 2004.

The USMS fires this course from concealment (concealed holster).

Test yourself!

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