Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Training Mistakes

I've been thinking about this topic for a while, and trying to figure out how to present it.

Bear in mind that I'm not talking about professional instruction in this post, and I'm not trying to pretend that I'm some kind of firearms training guru. This is mostly just a few observations based on what I've noticed over the years.

Here are a few of the training mistakes that I've seen over the years. I have been guilty of some of these in the past, and I suspect that most of us can pick out one or two examples that we're guilty of.
Every time you take someone to the range it's a learning experience for both people.

1) Not bringing eye and ear protection
We see this all of the time at unsupervised ranges, and a lack of hearing protection helps to cause a flinch in new shooters (and hearing loss). BTW, some shooters will need to double up on the hearing protection. I never really ran into this until recently when a young woman needed both earplugs and earmuffs.
I wasn't going to name the shooter, but someone didn't run the vac today or clean the pig sty that is her room.
I took the Daywalker shooting a few months ago, and noticed that her groups looked more like buckshot than actual groups. After a while it became obvious that she was flinching when those around her were shooting. Looking back on our range trips, I realized that we almost always shoot on weekdays when the range is empty. She simply wasn't used to someone firing a gun at the station next to her, and flinched every time it happened.

2) Bringing too much gun
This is another biggie that everyone has seen. Most of us realize that learning to shoot with .357 magnum or .44 magnum loads isn't a good idea for most people.
I can remember taking a couple of friends shooting several years ago. The husband made a lot of claims about gun knowledge and shooting prowess. He then gave his inexperienced wife a snub nosed titanium framed .357 magnum loaded with... you guessed it, 357 magnum ammo. It hurt her hand, scared her, and I honestly don't think that she's shot it since.

3) Bringing the wrong gun
A lot of gun owners tend to bring their favorite gun, or whatever they feel is the most impressive handgun in their collection. This may not be the best choice for a beginner to learn on.
A good example of this is bringing a difficult to operate semi auto when the new shooter has weak hands, injuries or arthritis. A revolver or a more simple Glock-like semi auto would be a better choice.
Another example is using a semi auto that just doesn't fit the shooter. Kids, women and even some men have small hands. They may not be able to comfortably grip some of the hi capacity pistols out there. Trigger pulls can be too heavy. The reach to the trigger can be too long. This can go on and on. The right gun for you and I may be the wrong gun for someone else.
I do realize however that many people are limited by how many handguns they have, and what they can bring to the range. They get a pass on this one.

4) Not getting enough gun handling.
I often see people come out to the range with one box of ammo, and they always top off their magazines. That's fine, and a good idea when trying to make sure that your magazines function properly. The problem is that when you do this with new shooters they don't get much gun handling.
If you have 17 round magazines and one 50 round box of ammo you'll only get three reloads. This doesn't build any real skills in operating the weapon, and there's definitely no muscle memory being built.
I like to start new shooters off with 5 rounds per magazine. If they are only shooting one box of ammo (I try not to take anyone shooting if they don't buy at least two boxes) then that will give them 10 reloads. They get a lot more gun handling out of that box of ammo.  It also gives them a break to relax a little, get a few breaths, ask questions and have their technique evaluated.

5) Too much BSing and not enough shooting/gun handling
I ran into this the other day. A couple of guys tied up half of the rifle range, and I doubt that they fired 5 rounds.
In regards to training it's not unusual for a friend or family member to spend more time regaling a trainee with stories of their glory days instead of working with the trainee.
Been there, done that, trying to do better.
Apologies to those that had to suffer through it.

6) Too many guns
I've been guilty of bringing too many guns with different operating systems to the range. While it's good that a new shooter gets to try out a M1911, a striker fired pistol and a SA/DA handgun it can get a bit confusing. Simpler is often better. This is especially true when there's time constraints or a limited amount of ammo.

7) Too many guns too soon.
I saw an older gentleman teaching his wife how to shoot a few years ago. He had 3 or 4 handguns in his collection, and wanted her to shoot all of them on her first day at the range. That's somewhat understandable, but he would immediately hand her a different gun after she emptied whatever was currently being shot.
She never got a chance to reload or manipulate any of the controls besides the trigger. Basically she was just doing mag dumps and never got familiar with anything that she shot.

8) Going into too much detail
I used to be really guilty of that, and make it a point today not to tie up valuable time with things that a new shooter doesn't need to know. I try to keep the trivia to a minimum and concentrate on building skills and good habits.

9) Bringing one target
I see this more at the indoor ranges for some reason. Perhaps it's because if you pay to join a private range it's more likely that you're into the sport, and willing to pay that extra dollar or two for a few extra targets.
Anyway, I see a lot of shooters show up with one target (usually a poster of some bad guy), and they dump an entire box of ammo into it before leaving. They get no real visual feedback on whether or not they're improving.
BTW, leave the Obama targets at home. They make some people uncomfortable, and it looks bad if the media happens to be doing a story at the range.
Some of BHO's supporters have an almost cult like devotion, and if they see your target at the range... they are armed and could be a little irrational. What you think is amusing may be considered a grave insult and/or racist.
Long story short... leave the overt politics at home, and this includes Obama targets (even though he sucks).

10) Getting mad
Not everyone learns at the same rate, and I've seen obvious frustration in some people at the range.
Actually, I haven't seen this with casual instruction among friends and family.
The instance that I'm thinking of took place at an indoor range during security guard training. The instructor spent more time yelling at the students than working with them.
Be calm and encouraging. Shooting can be stressful enough for some people even without you getting angry at them. Start the day by realizing that there will be mistakes, and yes... even muzzling of fellow shooters.

11) Assuming the newbie is better than they really are
I have been guilty of this. I'll bring people to the range with little or no experience. I will watch them like a hawk for the first couple of visits.
After two or three trips and several hundred rounds, I have, in the past,  assumed that they were reasonably proficient. That has not always been the case, and I have seen people trying to load the wrong ammo in my mags, limp wristing, etc.
It's funny, you can see someone absolutely wail on the targets on their second range trip. You can observe them handle a gun like they've shot for years. Then on the third visit they're loading .40cal ammo in 9mm magazines, and limp wristing every other shot. Very weird.

Edit: I thought of this tonight after running into a family member. He shoots OK with a full sized service pistol, but cannot stay on paper with a snub nosed revolver. A friend of mine can handle a 9mm or .38spl reasonably well, but is scared of larger calibers.
This doesn't have anything to do with safety, but illustrates how you cannot assume that beginners are entirely competent because they've shot one gun well on a trip or two.

12) Assuming the newbie is safer than they really are
Long story short, I've seen people walking down range on several occasions while others were shooting. Fortunately they've never been anyone that I've brought.
Keep an eye on the new guy (or gal). Don't assume that common sense is a universal trait.

13) Not learning to deal with malfunctions
This is a biggie for me. I see very few people at the range practice clearing jams. Most new shooters have no idea what to do, and often their trainer has very little experience with malfunctions. Part of this is due to the reliability of the most popular handguns. Most of it is simply low round counts and lack of training on the part of those giving the informal training.
I make it a point to make sure that the Daywalker and the Daywalker's Mom always practice dealing with FTFs, double feeds and stovepipes for at least a few minutes when we shoot. The beginners that I take out do this as well once they start getting pretty good groups, and their gun handling improves. It's usually an end of the day skills builder for new shooters.
I don't do a lot of competition shooting, but I still have clear memories of one match I shot several years ago. It was just a local match and most of those attending probably had skills a little above average. I can still remember seeing some shooters absolutely go to pieces when their handgun jammed and it would take them a looooong time to get it running again. If they were that rattled with the limited stress of shooting in front of their peers then what would they do if their gun malfunctioned during a confrontation?
Long story short... get some snap caps and practice.

14) Not dry firing
Do some dry firing. This is neglected by most of us, and can help a new shooter a great deal. Actually it can help everyone but since it's boring, the majority of people neglect it.

15) Safety and range rules
I probably should have put this at the top, or added it into the earlier point about safety. The previous topic dealt more with common sense than rules though.
Make sure that the new shooter has some idea of what the safety and range rules are. They don't need to have everything memorized before arriving, but it's a good idea to at least have a general knowledge of what's expected.

I'll probably go back and add a few more items as time passes. There are links below to a couple of earlier topics that I posted on range etiquette and packing for the range.
Enjoy. Drop me a line or post a comment if you have seen a training mistake that I've missed.

Putting together a range bag
Range etiquette 

Edit: Ah hell, I've already thought of two more points to add. Maybe I'll get to it in the morning after I get off from work.

Edit: Here they are (at last). It only took an extra week or two for me to get off of my butt and update this.

16) Set expectations
What does the new shooter expect? Does he/she want you hovering over them and treating the range session like a class? Do they just want to do some casual plinking? Do they want you to show them how the firearm operates and then leave them alone?
This should be covered early so there are no misunderstandings. This is especially true since some people know it all, and resent any criticism whether it's minor or major.
I'm mostly talking about men in case you didn't guess. Women are usually an absolute pleasure to work with at the range.
Are you taking a couple or a few friends shooting? Are you expected to work with one of them, or perhaps both? Will one of them be helping the other?
This can get tricky because husbands usually make it a point to bother their wives while they're shooting. They feel the need to offer a great deal of unsolicited advice regardless of their own skill level or experience.

17) Find out about time and money constraints
How long will the new shooter be at the range? Does he/she have a limited amount of time? Structure the training around that.
The same can be said for money. If they are reimbursing you for the ammo then get an idea of how much they'll be buying ahead of time. Bring extra ammunition in case they want to extend the practice a bit. Speaking from experience, I do the training much differently if they're shooting 150 rnds vs 50 rnds.

Luckily, I ran across this blog today. It was the cause of me coming back to this post.
This woman has a vast amount of knowledge and can easily put me to shame. This is her take on bringing new shooters to the range .


  1. Great blog and pointers! I know a couple interested in getting a handgun for CC and this is the perfect reminder to not overwhelm them when they come over to try a few before they go out and make a purchase... so I'll leave the other toys inside and make sure plenty of targets are available as they get a feel. The tip about not loading the mags all the way makes great sense!

    I stumbled on your blog when I was looking up whatever hapened to the Taurus 24/7 OSS and saw that entry. I'm going to have to dust mine off and take it out for a shoot. :-)

    1. Thanks a lot. The blog is a work in progress. I hope to make some changes and cut back on the politics and add more gun, knife and gear reviews. I'll probably add another point or two later in the week about expectations and the new shooter.
      Is the Sheepdog blog yours? Pretty cool.