The Best Drills for Beginners

So you’ve just purchased a handgun, and you want to be capable of using it as a defensive firearm. Great! You’ve come to the right place, and I don’t want to send you away, but I would suggest a basic firearm safety class to learn the fundamentals. The NRA Basic Pistol course is a great way to get started and learn the basics and, most importantly, how to be safe. Okay, that’s done. Welcome back. Today, we are going to talk about the best drills for beginners.

What’s a Drill

Remember when you were a kid and you had fire drills? Or maybe tornado drills for my midwest folks? You and your class filed out of the classroom and into the hall or maybe to a field, depending on the drill. It was basic practice for what happens in real life to make sure everyone was prepared and knew what to do.

A drill is a lot like that. A firearms drill is a training exercise with a clear and consistent goal that can be measured with accuracy or time or even both. They are exercises to help you become a better shooter. Drills allow you to have an objective standard of training to succeed or fail with. You can easily see yourself advancing in skill by taking less time to shoot the drill or by increasing your accuracy.

Drills also provide you with a training plan. When you get to the range, they form a structured way to train, which can help ensure you are making the best use of your ammo and time. Lastly, they are just a lot of fun to shoot, and sometimes fun is important.

The Best Beginner Drills

Firearm drills come in all manner of difficulty levels. Attempting a FAST drill as a beginner isn’t wise. Some can be quite complicated, difficult, and even dangerous for new shooters. With that in mind, let’s talk about the best drills for beginners.

Before we start, a shot timer is very handy to have. If you don’t have a shot timer, there are free phone apps. They work okay, and I wouldn’t necessarily rely on them for accurate split times, but they often have a par time setting that works just fine.

Failure to Stop

The failure to stop drill is a classic firearm drill inspired by a real event and adopted by Jeff Cooper. The drill is adaptable to numerous ranges, time requirements and is adaptable for a holster and draw or a low ready. It can be shot one-handed or two and from nearly any position.

For new shooters, stick to the basics. Start in the low ready. Your firearm should have at least three rounds loaded. Your par time can start at three seconds and be adjusted lower or higher depending on your skill level. Start at seven yards from the target. At the beep of your timer, aim at the chest and fire two rounds as fast as you safely can. Then immediately transition to the head and fire one shot.

As you progress and get better at this drill, you can add a draw, shoot it with a single hand, and try it from a crouched position, behind cover, or from a greater distance. The adaptability will keep you coming back.

Dot Torture

Dot torture is not a single drill. It’s ten two-inch dots that each are tied to a specific drill. This course of fire requires fifty rounds total and has you work a wide variety of skills. The target lists the drills under the dot with simple, easy-to-follow instructions. These skills include drawing, shooting one-handed, reloading, basic slow fire, multiple target engagement, and more.

Dot torture does not have a time tied to it. You go as fast as you safely can and then build speed as you get better. The course of fire doesn’t have a set distance either. As a new shooter, you should start at only three yards and work until you can hit every dot without a miss. It’s a great way to get some practice in and get a good fifty-round workout at the range.

The Card Drill

The Card rill is a neat drill that requires either two playing cards or two playing card-sized targets. They should be placed about six inches apart, and the shooter will start five yards from the target. You need ten rounds for this drill.

Set your par time for five seconds. The Card Drill consists of two stages. Stage one is fired from the ready. At the beep, you present and fire your five rounds at the card from five yards. You have five seconds total to hit every round into the target.

Stage two starts from concealment. At the beep, you have five seconds to draw and fire five rounds into the other card. The first card will feel quite easy, but the second feels quite a challenge. You can see the effect a time stressor has on your performance.

The 10-10-10

One of my favorite training drills is the 10-10-10 drill. It’s easy, fun, and a great yardstick for new shooters and skill levels. You need an NRA B8 target. A B8 target has a mix of black rings and white, with the bull’s eye, ten rings, and nine rings being the black portion.

The shooter will start at ten yards with the gun loaded with ten rounds. You have a par time of ten seconds. The shooter will start from the low ready. At the beep, the shooter will aim and fire ten rounds into the target. Your goal is to get every shot into the black of the target.

A perfect score is 100, and a passing score is 90. Don’t take it too bad if you fail. It’s a tough course of fire, but if you master it, you’ll be one helluva shot. Much like the failure drill, the shooter can modify it to make it more difficult. This includes adding a draw, shooting one, and beyond. Be creative.

Blasting Away

Now you are armed with a few skill builders that can make you a better shot. These drills should give you something to focus on and a means to improve your shooting skills. Hopefully, you can get after it and take your skills to the next level.

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Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. Travis has trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA-certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms-based hobbies.

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4 thoughts on “The Best Drills for Beginners”

  1. Lets get even more basic. Pls discuss (with annotated images) hand and finger position, drills explicitly for trigger control so the shot goes where intended. How about iron sights and how to use them?

    1. My recommendation would be to get live training for trigger control, hand positioning, and safety. You can try to read about these skills, but if you misunderstand the instructions you will be building bad habits that are much more difficult to break later.

      If you go to the NRA website, they will have listings for certified trainers in your area, as well as classes on basic pistol, rifle, shotgun, and other classes.

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