I usually go the range and have a decent session. Occasionally I go and have a horrible session where everything seems to go wrong. Lately during most of my range sessions everything seems to go right – I get a lot done, perform well on drills, and feel great the end of it. The difference between all other sessions and a great one is preparation. Today I’m going to talk about planning a good range session.
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Planning a Good Range Session
As with most things, a good range session doesn’t happen on accident. A little bit of planning and preparation goes an awful long way to turning a decent range session into an outstanding one. A little planning can also make the difference between just turning money into noise and getting some serious training value for your ammo dollar.
Planning a good range session won’t happen on accident. I find that a good mix of mental preparation plus physical preparation make all the difference. This requires some effort and a little bit of time. I like to spend this time the night before I go the range. Much before that I end up re-checking everything at the last minute. Much later than that and I end up forgetting something, or making some other mistake that robs productivity from my session.
The first and most obvious thing you can do is prepare your equipment. There are several things you can do here. I’m sure I’m missing a few, but here are some:
Make sure all your batteries are good (or, better yet, keep a spare set in your range bag). This includes batteries for optics, lights, timers, electronic hearing protection, range finders, and any other electronic accoutrements you may be depending on. Believe me, there is nothing more frustrating than getting to the range to do some chrono work and and discovering the 9V in your chronograph is dead…and you don’t have a spare. Or, as was the case with me recently, getting to the range and finding that the battery in your optic is dead (thank goodness for irons!).
There are few bigger wasters of range time than loading magazines. There are a lot of reasons to have a good supply of magazines for your pistol and this is a huge one. Everyone’s range time is limited. Even if you have “unlimited” time, you still have a very finite attention span and energy. Most of us don’t have unlimited range time, though. Most of us have to be somewhere later in the day, or pay by the hour or half-hour at the range. At busy city ranges there may be a hard time limit before you have to leave…or get back in line.
Spend the time you spend loading magazines at home. Give your fingers a workout while Youtube is playing in the background. You will probably still have to load a few magazines, but you will save at least some of your precious range time.
Make sure your target supplies are up to snuff. Make sure there are staples in your stapler. If you tape up targets make sure you have a roll of tape. If you have to measure your own yard lines, make sure you have a tape measure or range finder. If you have to hang targets from a cable make sure you have binder clips. Whatever you do for targets, make sure you have the stuff to do it.
One of my favorite ways to hang targets on cardboard backers is with aerosol spray adhesive. It’s fast, easy, and a can of adhesive usually lasts me a year or more and I go to the range quite a bit.
Plan Your Drills
Occasionally it’s fun to go out and plink or do a mag dump. I assume most readers of this blog are more interested in the defensive aspects of firearms. If that is the case and you are trying to build skill, a much more structured range session is in order. There is more that goes into planning your session than thinking about it a little bit. Here are a few things I regularly do.
Choose Your Drills
Don’t just draw a drill out of a hat when you get to the range. Spend some time – if even just during your commute the day before – thinking about skills you’d like to improve. This is critical to planning a good range session. Personally, I know I pretty much always need to improve my SHO shooting. Once you’ve identified what you need to improve (speed, accuracy, reloads, whatever) you can start choosing some drills that meet that objective.
My favorite resource for drills and qualifications is John Daub’s Drills, Qualifications, Standards, and Tests. This free, online book provides you with access to dozens of courses of fire. Though they aren’t digitally sortable by particular skill, you can do some careful looking and find drills that work the skillset you are trying to improve.
I really like to modulate drills between big targets and small targets, fast, speed-focused drills, and slow, accuracy-focused drills. This lets me take a mental break and not get too burned out. You can choose your own adventure there, but I find it helps me walk away from the range feeling good about the overall session.
Print COF and Target
Many courses of fire require specific targets. I strongly recommend making sure you have the appropriate targets (or can print them) before your range session. It is disappointing to get to the range planning to shoot Dot Torture only to realize you have no Dot Torture targets. Sometimes you can get creative, and John Daub’s book referenced above allows some target flexibility for many drills.
If you have a printer, it’s a good idea to print your course of fire, too. You can always pull it up on your phone, but honestly I find this a little tedious. I would much rather have a paper printout listing each stage of fire by yard line, drill, time limit, etc. This also gives you a convenient place to record your time and misses and make other miscellaneous notes.
Dry Practice & Visualize
If you want to get maximum return on your ammo investment, spend some time dry practicing and visualizing.When my intent is to go out and work on strong-hand only shooting, I don’t show up and start shooting. I have spend some time in the previous week working on that skill in dry practice. When I get to the range I usually have 5-10 dry repetitions for ever round I actually fire. With the cost of ammo this makes the training impact of each round of ammunition vastly superior to shooting alone.
I also spend some time visualizing drills. I will consciously think through each stage of fire and visualize my performance. I find that one, solid, detailed visualization generally helps all my drills run more smoothly. It likely helps my score out a bit, too, but I don’t have any empirical data to back that up. If you can’t dry practice you can always visualize.
You may not always want to dry practice. If you plan to go out and shoot a “cold” drill, you might want to skip dry practicing the night before to get a true cold performance. These are probably exceptions to the rule for most shooters. Again, if you want to get maximum value out of that expensive ammo and that precious range time, spend some time beforehand in dry practice. It will make a huge difference!
Choosing Your Range Time
I am very, very lucky. For the first time in my life I have access to a range that has a number of very desirable features. It is outdoors and open every day except Sunday from 9:30 to 18:30. It is a police department’s range, so it has very few other customers and doesn’t need many. Four out of five trips out there I am the only person on the whole range. There are very few range rules, and I can pretty much do what I want out there.
Reality for Most People
I realize how incredibly lucky I am. For most of my life I have gone to indoor ranges and fought for space and time. If you are in that boat there are some things you may be able to do. If at all possible, go on off days. Weekends are usually the busiest times because everyone is off. Busy equals stress to me. Busy ranges are loud, there’s a lot of questionable gun-handling going on, there’s pressure to get in there and get it done so someone else can have your lane…
Avoiding the Crowd
The best case scenario for most of these ranges in my experience is to pick off hours for your range trips. Relatively few people go during the work week. You can thin this number down further by going first thing in the morning, or as soon as the range opens, when everyone else is at work. This isn’t a guarantee you’ll have the range to yourself but it should reduce the traffic to a manageable level, giving you the bandwidth to focus on your skill development.
Ready Your Body
Sometimes when I have a bad range session it’s because my body hasn’t been taken care of. Take care of yourself and the odds that you will have a great range session skyrocket.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
If I try to hit the range the morning after a busy 24-hour shift, guess what? Yeah, I’m probably not going to have a great session. I will have less concentration and focus, less energy, and less patience. Part of planning a good range session is ensuring you are well rested, fed, and have plenty of energy.
The night before your range trip, get a good night’s rest. If you have a lot of bad sleep hygiene habits you should work to correct those for many health and wellness reasons, but also to improve your range sessions. Don’t drink caffeine within six hours of trying to sleep. Cut alcohol and tobacco consumption, too. Make your bedroom cold, quiet, and dark, and get in bed early enough to get eight hours of sleep.
Food and Water
This is one I chronically forget to do. As a result by the end of my session I’m usually hungry and thinking about where I’m going to have lunch. Eat before you go to the range. Throw a few snacks in if you plan to be there more than a couple of hours. Fill up your water bottles before you go, too, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water while you are there.
A quick pro tip: before eating or drinking you should wash your hands or wipe them down with a de-lead wipe like Hoppes Lead-B-Gone wipes. This is a cheap price to pay to avoid ingesting a bunch of lead every time you go to the range.
Record Your Results
Planning a good range session is easier if you have a bit of historical data. Didn’t perform well on this qualification or that standard last time at the range? It’s time to take a look at it and work the skills that slowed you down or fouled your accuracy. If you have the data, figuring out what to work on isn’t all that hard.
After most range sessions I record what I did. I don’t always get super detailed, but I usually record the drills I shot, along with the times for most. In my notes it usually looks something like this:
- Rangemaster Instructor Handgun qualification, 249/250, all shots under time
- El Prez, 3.2 seconds, clean
- Wilson 5×5, 21.37 clean (slow reload) best, 24.16 -2 SHO (worst)
You can increase the fidelity of this information by taking a photo of your target(s). With some minimal notes this provides a LOT of information. The target show above is a recent one from me shooting the Rangemaster Firearms Instructor Handgun Qualification (details available in Daub’s book). This shows me the time for each stage, the stage where I recorded a miss, and any trends with my accuracy, like shooting low left.
Ammunition is really expensive. Why not get the maximum possible value out of it? Planning a good range session rather than hoping one happens will go a long way toward getting great results on your next range trip.