Train Smarter: Using a Smart Phone or Tablet to Improve Your Shooting Practice

By taking advantage of all the different features of your SMART phone or tablet, you can get more out of your range time.

By taking advantage of all the different features of your SMART phone or tablet, you can get more out of your range time.

Shooting is a perishable skill that requires regular practice to maintain.

To improve, it takes even more practice; not just more frequent, but also more focused, goal-oriented effort. Back when I was getting serious about handgun training, my training tools were a shooting notebook, a shelf of books, copies of stage diagrams and scores, audio cassettes, VHS tapes, and a shooting timer the size of a brick. My training methods have not changed, but I have changed my training tools.

Over

the last 20 years, the capability of portable devices, and the quantity and quality of information available online has dramatically increased. Smart phones and tablets easily carried in your pocket or a range bag can replace and surpass all the training tools of the past. By taking advantage of all the different features of your phone or tablet, you can get more out of your range time.

Plan Your Practice

The average pistol shooter’s practice plan for a range session is “shoot one target from two-handed standing, until out of ammo.” That can be enjoyable, but without speed and/or accuracy goals, it doesn’t qualify as training. One place to start is to look up standard shooting drills like the 50-round Texas Concealed Handgun License test, the 90-round IDPA classifier, or my 20-round Three Seconds or Less drill (and other Drills of the Month in back issues of this magazine). There are websites with archives of qualification courses of fire, IPSC and IDPA stages from matches, and sample drills. If your device has mobile internet access at the range (3G/4G, Wi-Fi), you can even look up drills during your practice.

There are also two apps for IOS (iPhone and iPad) that provide a library of drills, organized by skill. IPSC Grand Master Saul Kirsch (Double Alpha Academy) adapted the content of his Perfect Practice book into a $19.99 app. More than 60 drills are organized into 13 categories, including The Draw, Shooting on the Move, Barricade Shooting, and more. Some drills require minimal props, others require special props like barricades and walls.

 

With a little planning, a few inexpensive apps, and the capabilities available in most smart phones and tablets, it’s possible to get more benefit out of your training time…

 

A similar, but less expensive app is the Practice Deck from IPSC Grand Master Dave Re (DR Performance Shooting) and Hsoi Enterprises LLC, which adapts the 52 physical cards in the DR Practice Deck into a virtual deck that users can pick drills from. The free version of this app includes 12 drills, with the “Pro” upgrade ($4.99) providing all 52 cards, access to more factory decks, and the ability to create your own custom decks. Most of the drills in the Practice Deck can be shot using 1 to 3 target stands, a few shooting boxes and barricades. The Practice Deck app offers many combinations of cards grouped by skill, and some custom combinations intended to provide a well-balanced practice session.

One of the common training traps that shooters fall into is practicing what’s easy or practicing what they are good at because it’s more fun. The value of both of these apps is that someone seeking to be a well-rounded shooter can use them over a series of practice sessions, to train across the whole spectrum of handgun skills.

The Practice Deck includes a feature that lets you shuffle your virtual deck (once you have picked a subset of drills) or shuffle the entire deck, to aid you in randomly picking a drill to run. Planned upgrades for the Practice Deck (full disclosure: I am beta testing the new version) include Score Tracking, so you can input your score on a particular drill and refer back to it in future sessions to track your progress.

Conduct Your Practice

Once you’ve planned your practice, it’s time to head to the range. Most phones and tablets have a notepad feature, where you can save basic text. This can take the place of a paper shooting notebook. Use the notes feature to keep a log of what you did, what drills you shot, your score, what ammunition you used, details about any malfunctions you had, and other data.

If your device can shoot video, use it to record yourself so you can look at your technique and make changes. Device and facility limitations may limit how and where you can set up your device for video recording, but there are many angles from side view to target view that can provide useful information. A flexible tripod, like the Gorillapod, is a great tool for placing your camera in a safe, but useful location.

IPSC Grand Master Saul Kirsch adapted the content of his Perfect Practice book into an app, including more than 60 drills organized into 13 categories.

IPSC Grand Master Saul Kirsch adapted the content of his Perfect Practice book into an app, including more than 60 drills organized into 13 categories.

Anyone practicing defensive pistol skills should be measuring speed and accuracy. Before shooting timers were invented, people used to use stopwatches and whistles. Most smart phones have a basic stopwatch function, with both audio and vibrate modes available on some devices. No stopwatch feature? If your device can play audio files, you can record start/stop beeps or whatever range commands you want as audio files, and play them back on the range.

Use the headphone jack on the device, put earbuds in, and put standard hearing protectors over the top. You’ll be able to hear the audio from the device, and still protect your hearing. Some electronic hearing protectors, like the Pro Ears Gold, have external audio inputs.

There are three different shooting timer apps for iPhone/iPad, with varying capabilities. A shooting timer listens for gunshot noise after the start beep and saves the time of each shot. They typically offer immediate, delayed, or random delay mode and a par time option that gives a start and stop beep, as well as a standard mode that keeps logging shots until you stop shooting or reset the timer.

Improved noise cancellation added to the iPhone 4, has reportedly caused problems with these shooting timer apps working properly. I did the majority of my testing with an iPad2 at an outdoor range, and I had no difficulty with any of the timer apps detecting shots correctly.

The Free Shot Timer app provides a basic capability that’s better than a stopwatch.

The Free Shot Timer app provides a basic capability that’s better than a stopwatch.

The Free Shot Timer app is exactly that, free, and it provides a basic capability that’s better than a stopwatch. It has standard and par time modes, a microphone sensitivity control, and a basic display that shows absolute and split times between shots. The sensitivity control is key to using the shot timer. If you set sensitivity too low, your shots may not be recorded. Set it too high and you will get multiple readings on a single shot, as the echoes re-trigger the timer.

SureFire has a slightly more sophisticated shooting timer app that sells for $1.99. The primary benefit of this app is the option to email your results to yourself after each string, which is very useful for tracking performance.

The Shot Timer Pro app, selling for $9.99, offers more features such as five different beep tones from low to high pitch (particularly useful for shooters with some hearing loss or tinnitus), the ability to save and recall strings within the app, and a nice display that shows shots past the par time in red, for par time drills.

The Shot Timer Pro also includes a more complex sensitivity adjustment that allows you to “train” the timer by firing a single shot, and save that calibration. This feature is very convenient for those who train at different ranges (indoor and outdoor) at different times and don’t want to have to recalibrate the timer each time. While the Shot Timer Pro is more expensive than the other two shooting timer apps, at $9.99 it’s a good value if you plan to use your portable device as a shooting timer.

The Combat Focus Shooting app acts like your automatic range coach.

The Combat Focus Shooting app acts like your automatic range coach.

One other app, available from Rob Pincus (I.C.E.), is an automatic range coach you can configure to give you range commands such as up, down, left, right. It’s intended for use with a specific target, but it includes optional commands for numbers 1-9, colors and shapes. The user can toggle each command on or off, set the number of iterations, and the interval length (short/medium/long).

When you hit start drill, range commands are randomly selected and called out, requiring you to respond to the command and fire as many hits as you can before the next command. When used with a target with differently sized shapes, this assists the shooter in learning what sight picture quality and speed of trigger press is necessary for different sized targets. More simply, you may only be able to get two hits on the smallest target, but may be able to get 5-6 on a big target in the same time interval. The Combat Focus app sells for $1.99 and is a useful tool for those practicing alone.

I used this app to practice using our school-designed “KRT-1” target, which features multiple colored, numbered shapes of varying sizes in an 18-inch wide format compatible with portable IPSC/IDPA target stands. We developed this target (available from Law Enforcement Targets) because all the command-style targets on the market were 24 inches wide and didn’t work well with the narrower, but widely used, IPSC/IDPA style stands. The other motivation was that traditional command targets have one large center target, with multiple smaller-but-all-the-same-size numbered shapes. We wanted a target that required shooters to adapt sight picture quality and trigger press across a wider range of shapes and sizes, similar to the intent of the Combat Focus app.

Author uses the KRT -1 target while using the Combat Focus Shooting app.

Author uses the KRT -1 target while using the Combat Focus Shooting app.

There is training value in taking photos of your targets, either to save a record of where your gun hits with a particular load at a specific distance (e.g. 124 gr. 9mm +P Gold Dot at 15 yards), record a particularly good group, or simply archive what you did that day. Finally, for those who shoot competition, your device can provide you with motivational music, a calculator, notes, or games to help you loosen up or prep for your time on the line.

Evaluate Your Performance

After you are done practicing, you can use your device to review your notes, watch video, assess scores, look up other people’s scores, and even send your photos and videos to others. In recent months I’ve had students emailing me videos and stage results asking for advice and analysis even before the match was over.

Summary

Most of us don’t get to the range as often as we’d like, and we don’t get to shoot as many rounds as we want when we get there. With a little planning, a few inexpensive apps, and the capabilities available in most smart phones and tablets, it’s possible to get more benefit out of your training time as you run better drills, work your weakest skills, track your performance, and be able to share that data with others.

 

All prices as of Feb. 2012

 

[ Karl Rehn is the lead instructor for KR Training (www.krtraining.com) and has taught classes in the Central Texas area for the past 20 years. He is an NRA Training Counselor, Texas Concealed Handgun License Instructor, and a Master class competitor in IPSC, IDPA and Steel Challenge, who has trained with dozens of well known tactical and competition instructors. ]


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