Practice with a Purpose

Practice with a Purpose
Practice with a Purpose
Practice with a Purpose
Practice with a Purpose

Think about the last couple of times you went to the range and ask yourself two questions;

What did I accomplish?


Am I a better shooter?

I’m going to suggest something that you already know, but few of us actually apply to our shooting: a goal.

We all love to shoot. Its fun, and I must confess it’s even more fun shooting someone else’s ammunition. But while it may be fun, it can get expensive – even for the re-loaders among us. But when you shoot with a purpose you can spend less money, and get more benefit from your practice sessions.

Think about it this way; you go to the range, load up, and shoot a box of ammo. You’ve spent about twenty minutes at the range, shot about fifty rounds, and accomplished… what?

Now, lets say you’d like to practice your tactical reload. You take that same fifty rounds, head for the range, and load two magazines. You know the drill; draw fire, reload fire, re-holster. By the time you finish you have about a half hour to an hour at the range, you’ve practiced your draw twenty-five times. You’ve practiced your presentation twenty-five times. You’ve practiced your reload twenty-five times. You’ve practiced re-holstering twenty-five times. And you did it all with the same fifty rounds.

The difference is the goal, or the sense of purpose. You went to the range with a specific objective; not just to shoot, but to shoot for a specific reason. When you’re done you should have a much better understanding of your strengths, your weaknesses, and if you are truly working towards your goal you come out on the other side as a better shooter.

I like the S.M.A.R.T. method of goal setting. It’s a good system because it addresses the fundamentals that separate an idea or a wish from being an actual goal. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym, and each letter represents a step in the goal making process.

The first step in setting a goal is to be Specific about that goal. “I want to be better at reloading” is a fine thought, but it is not specific. A much better goal is, “I would like to be able to fire an accurate shot, reload, and fire a second accurate shot in under three seconds” is much better as it is more specific. Which brings is to the second step, Measurable.

If you intend to reach your goal, you need to know when you have reached it. In other words, your goal needs to be Measurable. If you say you want to re-load fast, then how fast is fast? You need something to measure it against. This not lonely lets you know when you’ve reached your goal, but it will allow you to know that you are making progress towards your goal. When you see the numbers getting smaller on a timer, you know you are making progress. But how much progress? That brings us to the next step, Attainable.

In order for your goal to be valid, I needs to have an Attainable end result. Some say shoot for the moon, and if you miss you’ll still land among the stars. The truth is, though, if you shoot for the moon and miss you end up in the vacuum of space. You can not expect to attain perfection in a single practice session. The worlds top shooters were not born that way, they reached it through a series of smaller increments along the way. Each step on the path enabled them to “up the game” to reach the next goal. If you are a three second shooter from holster to round-on-target, your goal shouldn’t be one second. It should be two and a half. Reach that goal, then go for two. Small increments are attainable, and realistic.

Yes, Realistic. Your goals must be based in reality. To say that you’re going to take your brand new gun, with no shooting experience at all, and break Jerry Miculek’s speed record after an afternoon at the range… well, maybe there is someone out these capable of such a feat, but for most of us its just not realistic. Setting unreachable goals only leads to frustration and disappointment.

Now, I’m not suggesting that your goals shouldn’t be challenging. They should be. You should push yourself, striving to be better. But you will accomplish this much more effectively by setting a series of smaller goals, as opposed to one big goal. Break the larger goal into smaller bits, and the ability to attain the goals become more realistic. After some time you will find that you have made some serious progress. This brings us to time.

A goal without a deadline is nothing more than an empty wish. A dream waiting to die. Your goal needs to be Timely. You absolutely need to set a deadline. This will let you know whether or not you’ve actually reached your goal. You want to be fast at reloading? Great. Next year you will still want to be fast at reloading. But that three second reload? Set a goal that you will attain that specific, measurable, attainable and realistic goal within a time frame. It will force you to practice. It will force you to push yourself to achieve what you set out to do. Give yourself a deadline.

The last, and very important, part of setting your goals is in two parts. First, commit yourself to the goal by writing it down. Set it to paper. Your goal will not only be defined, but clearly stated. Second, share it. Tell anyone that will listen. It will hold you accountable when someone asks, “so, how’s your progress?”

I said at the beginning that this is merely a suggestion. You can still go to the range and shoot a box of ammo. Or you can go to the range and shoot with a purpose. Take it for what its worth, or leave it, the choice is yours.

But, the next time you ask yourself those two questions, think about how you would like to be able to answer them.

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I have been a firearms instructor for over twenty years, and I am curreltly certified as an NRA Firearms Instructor and Range Safety Officer. I have over twenty years experience as a law enforcement officer, and I'm currently employed as a Deputy Sheriff. I am an avid shooter, shooting competitively with both handguns and rifles. I hold a degree in Criminal Justice, and own a firearms training business in the New Hampshire.
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These are really good suggestions. I like the “SMART” acronym. For myself I use a .22 handgun for practice on accuracy (the bullets are cheaper). And then I use a .45 so that I can be sure I have good control with my carry gun. I’ll admit, I don’t shoot as many rounds through the .45 because of cost. After reading your article, that will change.

instructor mike

very good article


What is the best practice when something bad does happen, with heart pounding adrenline flowing when some quack comes in shouting waving some type of firearm, what would you do?


Good ideas, but it means little if someone hasn’t had the basics of instruction. If not, you end up just burning up ammo, no matter how much you want to “practice” and “improve.” With instruction, you know how to focus on every element to get better: stance, grip, natural point of aim, breath control, sight picture, trigger squeeze. This is particularly true after you shoot say 80 rounds pretty good then things get sloppy for awhile. Going back to the basics– and doing so 2-handed and 1-handed with each hand– gets you back on track. But without the instruction, you’re clueless.


You’re right about instruction! I have an NRA class and a hunter’s safety course under my belt. Plus, I shoot with some really great people who have been more than happy to teach me and help me continue to learn. And….practice, practice, practice!


One of the best ways to achieve these goals is to shoot regularly with an active IDPA club and try to shoot with those who are obviously superior to you in their shooting skills then you can learn from them.


Like many my practice sessions are as time and finance allows. Each session I attempt to recover more quickly while tightening up my groups. I’ve also learned that my eye glasses actually hinder my acquiring my front sight. Don’t want to practice without them; next step…tri-focals. I haven’t developed to the point of speed reloading. Have just switched from revolver to semi-auto so I’m learning all over again. My philosophy right now is, “make the first shot on target then send the rest to the same address.”


Can you recommend any ccw drills for indoor range users?

E. Castle

Indoor ranges for CCW practice are tough.
I firmly believe that you should train as you carry. For CCW that means
holstered and concealed. This presents a problem for the indoor range user, as
many commercial indoor ranges, and many clubs with indoor ranges, do not allow
drawing from a holster, let alone a concealed holster. There are many safety
reasons for this, but it is a limiting factor when trying to find a good set of
CCW drills for an indoor range.

I guess the first
thing you’d need to identify is this: does the range you use allow you to draw
from a concealed holster? If not, will they let you draw from an exposed

Beyond that, there
are several things you can do from a ready position; single center mass shots,
double taps, reloading drills, single handed shooting, and things like that.
Improving basic marksmanship fundamentals and firearms handling will,
ultimately, lead to better and more effective usage in CCW circumstances.

If you could
identify some of the characteristics of the range you’re using
(club/commercial, size/distances, rules and restrictions, etc) we may be able
to come up with a few ideas. I know from reading many of the really good
articles on here that there are some very experienced, creative,
problem-solving type instructors that will probably be able to come up with
more than a few things to help you.

This question has
given me something to think about, and I will think about it.

the real diehl

All my kids had music lessons, some benefited more than others. Ii noticed that the ones who were involved in regular performances became much more proficient. Some were involved in competitions, or played at church for which they were assigned a date to play.
It was amazing how much their skills improved. As the performance date grew closer so did
the intensity and time spent in practice. It is said that a goal with out a time and measurable
outcome is not a goal at all.

Joseph S Jakubicz

Thank you for this well written and informative article! Stay Safe