Why You Need to Start Training with a 3×5 Index Card

Why You Need to Start Training with a 3x5 Index Card
Why You Need to Start Training with a 3x5 Index Card
Why You Need to Start Training with a 3x5 Index Card
Why You Need to Start Training with a 3×5 Index Card

I’m a competitive person and hate losing. Just ask my wife who kicked my butt every time we played scrabble when we were dating. (I refuse to play anymore.) However, when it comes to being a more accurate shooter it’s important we “lose” often.

What I mean is, I’ll often be at the shooting range and I’ll see some shooter with the target 4 feet away, hitting the “bulls eye” every time. This shooter is happy and his buddies will be congratulating him, however, this shooter is not challenging himself and not testing his limits.

And obviously, if he never tests himself then he’ll never improve his draw, and never become a more accurate shooter overall. So, if you’d like to challenge yourself, I recommend two simple items – a timer and a 3 x 5 index card.

Since each shooter has different levels of experience…

Just be honest with yourself and set the timer where it should be. In other words, if you’re brand new and still working on your draw, don’t set the timer at 1.5 seconds if you can’t get anywhere close to that. Set the timer where you have just barely enough time to get the shot off and then reduce the time from there.

As far as the index card, put one on the head area of the target. With your timer set, draw and fire one round only at the index card. Again, going back to levels of experience, if you’re new, you may might to start this drill from a distance of 5 yards, then move to 7, then to 10, etc.

You’re going to miss…

From experience, I can tell you that if you’re really pushing yourself you’re going to miss and probably miss often. But eventually, as you work on the fundamentals, improve your draw and your trigger control, you’ll start getting a lot more hits on the 3 x 5 card. And when you start getting all your hits at 5 yards, then move the 3 x 5 card back to 7 yards, and then back to 10 and so on.

Another drill I like to do with the 3 x 5 cards it to put one card on the head of the target and another card on the body of the target. When the timer beeps I fire one round at the head and one round at the body.

Also, I’m a big believer that until you’re able to consistently hit the 3 x 5 card, you should only draw and fire one round at the card. If you draw the gun and empty your magazine and only the last 3 rounds hit the card, that doesn’t really matter. Because in a gunfight that would mean you’ve had 12 rounds go somewhere else, but more importantly, you’re probably dead.

So the next time you head to the range, bring a timer, index cards, and fire one shot and one shot only at a time. And remember, it’s okay to miss. You need to challenge yourself and miss in order to get better, so don’t compare yourself to the fellow next to you who’s hitting the “bulls eye” every time from 2 feet away.

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Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and author of The Covert Guide to Concealed Carry. He is also the creator of the Ultimate Concealed Carry Experience, which allows you to take your concealed carry training without leaving home. For full details about this training, please visit Concealed Carry Academy. You can also follow him on Google+ and Twitter.
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Sounds like fun! Will do so at the next outing!


I like the idea, however, Im not aiming for the heart or the head, Im aiming to stop a threat, I practice with a silhouette, which is obviously roughly the shape of a human torso, thats what Im practicing to hit, not a 3×5 portion of the body. Props though, I may try it as a challenge, but not for self defense.


3×5 card is roughly the size of head zone on most targets, it’s also 1/2 of the center mass zone.

and have you ever heard the expression “aim small, miss small”?
If you constantly practice with small targets, it is far easier when shooting at full size man targets. the same can not be said for the reverse.


I don’t know where the author trains, but in my experience, just try to find a range that actually allows you to draw and fire. That will get you kicked off of any range in Houston that I know of.


Find a local IDPA club. The range where they hold their matches will likely have a bay where you can train. I also recommend joining the IDPA club. It’s great for your gun handling skills.


Impact Zone west of Houston will let you draw and fire. Shooting a small stationary target makes it easier to hit a large moving target. I like 3×5 practice.


Thanks for that, like Ross I didn’t know of any place around Houston where they would let you draw.


Practice is important, however, in the absense of practice, what is more important is to know your limits. If you know you can’t hit that 3×5 card, don’t put yourself in that situation where you’ll have to.

Personally, I’ve practiced enough to be able to put multiple rounds inside a 3″ square at 60ft from a “quickdraw”. I’ve done it over and over. Is that kind of accuracy really needed? I hope not. My carry gun won’t do it. …and yours probably won’t either.

Be aware that you may be able to do it but your gun will not. Most of the guns people carry are inaccurate in the extreme. …especially with some of the +P+ hot rod self defense ammo.

While its a lot of fun and useful to be able to hit that 3×5 card, it may not be all that practical for some of you. If you can draw and fire and hit an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper at 10 yards, you’re good enough to carry. Doing better is better but don’t let anyone tell you you should not be carrying. I’m worried that this guys idea of accuracy will discourage a lot of people.

I preach pratice is good but knowing your limits is way more important. If you can increase your limitats, thats good but always know what you can do. Egotism, in this case, can be fatal.

George Ruff

I agree with the author that being on target from the first shot is more important than hitting with the last of a dozen shots. I usually shoot 3 rounds and check my accuracy. If you can’t hit a 3×5, then an 8 1/2×11 sheet of paper it still well within the strike zone of an assailant’s chest.

American Bob

At the Freedom Ranch, once they have taken my course, they can come out and practice all they wish, but I hear what you are saying. it is hard to find that


Maybe in your experience, you can never “find a range that allows you to draw and fire”, but here in CT and New England we have outdoor ranges that allow exactly that, with certain days of the week devoted to various competitive techniques.

Maybe you could look a little harder near where you live.


wm tipton

I dont think the two that Ive been to here would allow it, but I have a cousin with a lot of property in the sticks who wouldnt care. Maybe private property is the better choice anyway for safety sake.


Try BLM or join a gun club, usually ranges allow club member to shoot from holster or rapid fire. Or sign up for USPSA/PPC/IDPA matches.

Jerry Joslin

The only way for me to have fun at the range is to challenge myself every time! When it gets easy it’s time to mix it up!

Michael Darby

I have used this method for a long time, it is very efective. Aim small miss small, two to the body one to the head down to the ready and assess your situation.


To RossA: Then don’t do the actual draw; I have my students start with their gun af the position after the ‘grip, lift, rotate’; it’s at your side, but not in the holster. I haven’t found a range yet that questioned this because the gun is pointed down range.
To itstjs: I have my students put a strip of 2″ painters trim tape down the middle of their silhourettes. I also use small ballooons where the heart is on either the front or back of the target. I use balloons on the head as well. They are to train when to stop shooting even though one shot to the heart may not stop the threat; we also practice shooting the tape that held the balloon for 1 or 2 rounds.
To Jason: Great thought provoking topic and a great idea for breaking bad habits we create for ourselves at the range. Also reduces the amount of ammo we burn. Here are a couple of my favorites:
1) Don’t always shoot the same number of shots (Jason mentions always emptying the magazine – very bad habit). Bring the gun to the target and shoot a avariable number from 1 to X; then bring the gun down, look left and right (maybe check out your neighhor’s target) and then raise and shoot again.
2) Put your second mag where you carry it, not on the bench in front of you. Then you practice retrieving your spare to reload.
3) Don’t take an empty mag out of your gun, use the mag realese and drop it on the bench while you retrieve your spare.
4) Practice not shooting full magazines before you reload. I shoot up my first mag, but then only shoot a few from my backup. If I’m where I can rehoster loaded I do so, then look around and mentally say ‘exercise is over’ before unloading. When I can’t reholster a loaded gun I bring it to the side position referenced above and do the mental ‘exercise over’.


I don’t think he’s in reference to shooting at a range using LIVE ammo ….. How bout a stop watch, your basement or private spare room in your house and some A-Zoom SNAP CAPS ! ! ! This combination works for me, or if you wanna get creative you can try this…… If you have a revolver as I, (.45 Long Colt Buntline ) 6 shoot. Take a casing and load the primer only, NO powder, NO bullet. Load, holster your weapon. Draw and Fire. ……. Using a timer of course.


You used to be able to get plastic bullets (Speer I think). I still use mine in the basement when ammo gets low. Can be reused if you have a soft bullet catch that doesn’t deform the projectile. Uses primers as you describe.


You can also use plastic bullets and a primer and a piece of paper (magnum primers work best). Don’t forget the shooting glasses! I’ve used 38/357 plastic bullets over and over and over. While accuracy isn’t great, you get a bang and you definately get to hit the target.


Reminded me. In Ruidoso New Mexico, the Flying J ‘Wranglers’ (Bar D in Durango Colorado,) they have a little western town set up where they do some really fun, full wardrobe SAS re-inactments, with lots of noise and sarcastic remarks. In the hour or so waiting for their absolutely excellent ‘Chuck Wagon’ Bar B Q to open, they have a few .45 revolvers in a short range. They are set up with primers and wax plugs. At a few yards, it is cheap fun to splat holes in 81/2 x 11’s. Their chow hall is the best part. Oh yeah, they really can Sing the night away :>)

Jack Sprite

I prefer to use a business card rather than a 3×5 index card.


I like to use postage stamps but it gets expensive 😉


In the old days they used ‘Silver Dollars’… the real ones…thrown into the air :>)


The bullseye on a standard NRA B-2 target is smaller than a 3X5 card, they’re allowed by all ranges, and they provide scoring for all shots if you care to use it. But I agree with his basic two points: 1. Train and practice in a way that makes you better. 2. Shoot small to shoot accurately.


“you’ve had 12 rounds go somewhere else, but more importantly, you’re probably dead.” I appreciate the target shooting ideas presented here but this quote is indicative of someone who has not trained to fight with a gun or been in a gun fight. Honestly, if your first 12 shots do not hit the index card you are probably dead?? Why do people practice at four feet, as you snidely ask?? What’s the range of the majority of lethal encounters, Jason Hanson, former CIA officer? I wish I saw more people at the range practicing at four feet. Thanks for your input.

Adelbert Waldron

@John Amen Brother. This guy is clueless and I’m betting he was never an officer in the CIA. A janitor, yes. An Agent, no.


Sounds good if your range will permit working from a holster. My range does not allow that, so I would have to place the pistol on the bench, pick it up , click off the safety, and fire.
That would approximate the same drill as working from your holster.

Fred Huddle

All the waste paper I get out of my computer printer… I reuse it as targets. I tear them in half, and affix a colored 1-inch dot (get them at a One-Dollar store). I’m good enough that I hit the 4 X 51/2 paper, and the one inch target is a challenge. Cheap targets!

Christian Gesualdo

At Fixed Sight Training, my training range just east of Denver, CO you can draw and shoot. I use 6″ steel targets in front of a dirt bank at 20-25 yards. Then I tell the students the steel is the bullseye and explain to them about combat accuracy.
The dirt gives a good splash and the instant feedback that helps the students learn the grip and point shooting technique that allows them to put shots on steel or within inches (close enough) quickly. The range helps with confidence and shows the importance of looking at the front sight.


perfect timing my friend just gave me a stack of index cards and now i have a great way to make use of them 😉 thanks love reading your articles

Dan Ess

I don’t practice from a holster, but I do use 3″ and 5″ round Shoot N’ See targets. My range will allow holster practice if you are checked out to do so. I usually wear an inside the waistband holster somewhere around 10, 11, 1 or 2 and on hiking trips a beltslide at 9 or 3 give or take an hour. Depends what firearm I am carrying and what I am wearing it under. In a home defense situation I wouldn’t be firing from a holster and most likely not with a pistol.


How else are you supposed to train for comp or any other use without practicing drawing technique? I’ve used this method but not in awhile. I will next time I take my CCW out for a ride…I normally use the 8″ shoot-n-see or such targets for all my pistol work…

wm tipton

Ive used 4×6’s but it was mostly to check to see how far out I could rely on my 12 gauge to take down a squirrel.
Once the pattern was too sparse Id know it wasnt worth risking just wounding the animal.
Never thought about using them for practicing with my SD gun….


I’m kind of surprised at all the haters on here… The guy is just saying, in a nut shell, practice. Nothing wrong with that. How ever you do it, just do it. Yea, a 3×5 will definitely be harder to hit, it will get you to focus more on that “center” mass. Nothing wrong with that,,, no egos involved here. Ease up folks!


where in las vegas nv will they let you draw and fire?

Adelbert Waldron

Jason, Would you please, please, please stop posting on this site. Your recommendations are ridiculous. You advice is typical wrong and causes more harm then good. Please man. Stop you endless self-promotion and take some classes!


Can you point out which part of this article is ridiculous?

Ken Hackathorn and Larry Vickers also suggested similar methods in lieu of actual silhouette targets (which might not be allowed in some areas), are they also making self-promotions?


plinking ammo for home i use magnum primer and 1/2″ floor pads i pick up at lumber yard just press empty case through floor pad on plastic cutting board just to cut pad then put in primer. Lots of soft bullets, and clean gun when finished shooting.

Emily Boyd

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i practice on blacks. more realistic.


A standard NRA B-2 target accomplishes the same thing as a 3X5 card. The author’s point to “shoot small” (i.e., to a small target) to shoot well is exactly right. I’ve seen so many range buddies shooting a big silhouette targets with rounds all over the place. They feel good that they hit the paper, but they’re not accurate shooters by any means. When the actual bad guy is crouched, taking cover, or moving, I know I hope I’ve trained to be an accurate shooter.


@Jason, thank you for another drill that will be incorporated into our Advanced Defensive Pistol Course (non-NRA).
For everyone else, you have to be a little creative and really think about the situation. If you are at an indoor range that allows you to draw and fire from the holster, great. However, if you cannot, then add in there an unloaded firearm with magazine/speedloader next to it. Turn around so your back is facing the bench. Either have a friend with a timer with you or just count down in your head (i.e.: 3, 2, 1, Go!), turn around, load and fire your gun using the rest of the techniques described above. This can actually simulate your home at night being broken into and you having to reach for your firearm in the dark. Most indoor ranges will allow you to do this because you have no firearm in your hand when turned around, as long as you stay in your lane. I would also say start out at 9ft (3yds) and increase by 3ft once you have become proficient at each distance.
Stay safe!


I agree that training to draw, and hit small targets, is the correct way to train for real world accuracy. With that said, I also believe that you do in an emergency what you have trained yourself to do. In my opinion, Firing two (2) shots off the draw to a small target placed at center mass, and one (1) shot to a second card placed in the head area, will be a more effective technique if God forbid you actually have to use your firearm to stop an attacker.


I agree with the general direction the author is stating to go in (pushing yourself) but disagree with the index card.

The idea of holding yourself to a tighter standard for success so that you fail more often in order to improve makes sense. But WHEN you fail, it’s important to know HOW you failed. A larger target allows you to see where the stray shots are going and gives you a LOT more information about how the failures are happening, and how much you are failing by. That’s very important info to know for self improvement. Info the index card idea fails to give…a miss is simply a miss.


well, he didn’t say that you can only have the index card.
You can tape the card on a larger board for reference.