Practicing in order to develop shooting skills is not only vital but also fun, which is why it never takes much encouragement to get most of us out to the gun range. But our ability to survive a violent assault or, better yet, avoid it in the first place might very well depend more on awareness than on our skill with a firearm.

Monday, April 27: Awareness Is Critical

When most people hear “situational awareness,” they immediately think of their physical surroundings – where they’re standing, walking or sitting and who else is near them. Head on a swivel, paying attention to everything that is going on around them. Good advice.

But “awareness” means more than that. It means paying attention to who is in our personal space and especially to what they are doing and saying. For example, suppose you were walking to your car in a city parking lot and noticed several young men standing nearby. How would you react?

The answer is likely, “it depends.” If the young men were laughing and joking with each other in a clearly friendly way, your alert level might remain stable. However, if they were loudly cursing, pushing and shoving each other, and sounding increasingly angry, your alert level would jump up immediately. Your response would (and should) be much more cautious.

True situational awareness should also take into account current situations that may not be immediately apparent. A good example is social unrest. If there are things like protests or demonstrations going on in the state or county where you live, it is a good idea to take note of where and when they are taking place.

You can then avoid the areas altogether or, if either your job or your personal needs require you to be in the area involved, you can at least take appropriate measures to prepare. Either way, knowing the “lay of the land” is always better than stumbling blindly into what could turn out to be a full-blown riot.

Proper awareness is not like throwing a switch. Like every other habit, it needs to be developed through practice every day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020: Commit to Dry-Fire Practice

An excellent (and cheap) activity often overlooked is dry-fire practice, which can be done at home. Of course, use a triple-checked unloaded gun to practice acquiring a target and pressing the trigger. You can hang paper targets around your living room or just use instantly selected targets like a lamp or the TV set (whether on or not).

Even without things like lasers, dry-fire practice works. Virtually all top competition and combat shooters do dry-fire drills constantly. Many say that they dry-fire as much as 10x more than they fire live ammo.

If you have failed to practice basic skills, you could find yourself in real trouble. Another often overlooked skill is drawing from concealment. But whether you carry openly or concealed, you must practice drawing enough until you can do it fluidly and intuitively.

Tip: Combining your drawing from concealment practice with dry-fire shooting exercises is an excellent way to hone two skills simultaneously.

As a side note, remember to practice procedures like changing magazines and clearing malfunctions. Sure, few of us will ever need to use such skills in an actual encounter. But remember, Murphy’s Law exists for a reason. In life, prepared beats unprepared every time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020: How Does the Body React?

How much training is enough? Physiologists and neurologists have discovered that it takes approximately 300 repetitions of any sequence of muscular actions (hitting a tennis ball, making a free throw, drawing a gun) in order to even begin the formations of new neural pathways in the brain.

It then takes approximately 3,000 repetitions to make these new pathways semi-permanent. We say “semi-permanent” because once established, such skills need to be maintained with regular practice. There’s a reason they’re called perishable skills. This may seem like a lot, but if you practice drawing your gun 50 times a day, it takes only two months. Personally, I think my life is worth it.

And remember, always practice drawing your gun while you’re dressed exactly as you normally would be while carrying. This may require some seasonal changes, especially for those who live in areas that have hot summers and cold, snowy winters.

The last thing you want is to find yourself fumbling with your gun or snagging it on your clothing at the precise moment you need it most. The time to discover such problems and fix them is long before you need your firearm.

Also remember that under stress — as when you are being attacked — your entire physical and mental processes react immediately and dramatically. Heart rate and blood pressure spike, you get tunnel vision and lose peripheral vision, and hearing is diminished. Even gun shots may sound like far-away “pops” instead of loud bangs.

What this all means is that your training must be relentless and constant — enough to override all the chaos and emotional factors you will certainly face.

Thursday, April 30, 2020: Have a Training Goal

Training, just like carrying a gun in the first place, is your responsibility. You must make a commitment to train regularly, not just when the mood strikes you. If you don’t, that gun on your hip may do little to save your life.

Successful people always write their goals down. Doing so forces you to confront your commitment way more than simply saying, “I think I’ll do that.” An easy way to do this is to get either a calendar or a small notebook. Then sit down and decide on a specific schedule of training (i.e. “dry-fire 50 times). Be reasonable and don’t over-commit.

Allow some flexibility (if you skip Monday, make it up on Wednesday, etc.), but keep to your schedule as much as possible. And be sure to check off or make a note each day that you complete a training task. This will keep you focused and committed and will give you a sense of accomplishment.

Friday, May 1, 2020: Train Often to Build Good Habits

There is an old saying about training: “When the worst happens, training takes over.” The saying should have added the following words: “…whether your training was good or bad.” Unfortunately, bad habits become ingrained just as deeply as good habits do.

That’s right, if you train improperly or in ways not suitable for self-defense, that is, unfortunately, exactly how you will react when you find yourself in the chaos of a defensive incident. Navy SEALS are so successful because they train over and over for the precise mission and environment in which they intend to operate.

Unlike the SEALS mentioned above, those of us who carry a firearm for self-defense have no way of knowing exactly where, when or how a threat may appear and play out. Therefore, our training must mirror the sorts of circumstances that we are truly most likely to face.

What is likely is that when we find ourselves in need of our firearm, we will likely have to access it right now. Look at surveillance camera footage of store robberies or sexual assaults. You will notice how rapidly things unfold. That means we need to practice some things more than others.

It’s up to you. Be aware. Be ready. Be trained.

About John Caile

John Caile, contributing writer for USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine, has more than 35 years of experience in concealed carry training and practical handgun shooting skills. As communications director for the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee, John was instrumental in passing Minnesota’s landmark concealed carry permit law. Certified through the NRA as an instructor of Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, Home Firearm Safety and Personal Protection in the Home, John continues his lifelong activism for gun owners and their rights in Palm Coast, Florida. He has appeared on national talk radio and network and public television and is frequently published in the press.