5 Tactical Shooting Drills To Improve Your Shooting

It’s all good and well researching the best gun for you to have to help you in self-defense situations, but it’s surprising how many people don’t think of practicing with their gun. In a self-defense situation, emotions are heightened, adrenaline is pumping in your veins, and you have very little time to actually think. Practicing drills with your handgun allows your brain to go into reflex mode should you find yourself in a situation where you have to use your gun to defend yourself or loved ones.


You may have more than one gun. However, it is best to have a maximum of two pistols that you consider your ‘self-defense’ weapons. The reason why is that your brain needs to get used to your guns, so in a self-defense situation, your brain knows exactly what to do. You don’t have enough time to actually think, for example, is the slide locked back, how do I insert a new magazine in the correct orientation etc.

Having too many guns will only serve to confuse you. Having just one or two guns you rely on for self-defense allows your brain to store exactly what you need to do in heightened self-defense scenario into the part of your brain you can access as if it was a reflex reaction. Here are five tactical shooting drills to improve your shooting.

5 Tactical Shooting Drills

Tactical shooting drill 1 – Pistol reload drill

In a self-defense situation, seconds that you take to look down at your gun for reloading could be seconds that mean the difference between life and death. Practice reloading your pistol without needing to look at it, your hands, or magazines.

You need to practice something called emergency reload. This is when you’ve used all the rounds of your magazine. The slide of your pistol should be locked back. In normal situations, you are likely to lower your gun to reload. In self-defense situations, however, lowering your gun is dangerous, as your opponent may take advantage of the fact that your weapon is not trained on him, and you are likely to be looking down. Practice grabbing another magazine and, while you are moving the new magazine towards the gun, ejecting the old magazine and letting it drop. You will need to place the end of the magazine against the magazine well and push the magazine up using the heel of your hand. This may take some force. Once the magazine is in, depress the slide release. This will take some getting used to, but once mastered, will mean that you are able to reload your pistol with a fresh magazine whilst also at the same time getting rid of the spent magazine, without lowering your weapon or taking your eyes off your opponent.

This video is not the slickest video ever, but it illustrates the point:

Another reload drill worth practicing is the tactical reload. This is when you have been able to find cover somewhere and you are not in any immediate threat. At this point you have used a number of rounds from your current magazine and you want to reload so you are prepared for when the gunfight begins again. Always reload before you reholster your weapon so that you are fully prepared if and when the gunfight begins. Practice reaching for a fresh magazine from your pocket or magazine pouch and, at the same time, ejecting the partially spent or fully spent magazine into your hand. Then in one smooth action, load the fresh magazine into the pistol, tugging on it to make sure that it has fitted into the magazine well. This kind of reload does not require you to depress the slide release.

Tactical shooting drill 2 – Self-defense situation drills

It takes about a second and a half to draw a gun and fire. The FBI state a man can move about 7 yards during the same time. Practice shooting a target about 7 yards away from you. You need to start with your gun holstered, draw your gun and then fire at your target as quickly as you can. You can use a large target here (anything over 10 inches) as you are training in self-defense, and are likely to be attacked by a human. Using very small targets will only hinder you. Practice something called flash sighting, which is focusing hard on the front sight of your pistol, and then firing as soon as you see some of the front sight between the rear sites. Don’t worry if you are slow at first. The speed will start to come the more you practice.

The next step is to look at firing a number of bullets into the target. Again, have a target about 7 yards away from you, now step back about 3 yards. Have your gun in a holstered position and then draw your gun and fire once you have the flash site. The trick here is to fire two or even three shots very quickly, but actually find the flash site before each shot.

Once you have mastered this, you need to practice with multiple targets. Have around three targets, all about 1-2 yards apart. You are aiming for one bullet in each target. Also, don’t just shoot from left to right or right to left. Mix it up and shoot different combinations. The key here is to make sure that you actually hit your target every single time. Once you are hitting your targets every single time, try to speed up your firing. You are aiming to move your gun to the next target as it recoils. As your firing gets faster, you will already be pointing at the next target before your gun has completed recoil.

The next step is to practice shooting targets while you are moving. You should still be able to accurately hit targets at around 10 yards away from you when you are moving. Set up three or more targets ensuring there are a few yards between them. Now stand about 18 yards back from them. Run fast towards your first target with your gun holstered, and then try to draw your weapon and fire when you get to around 10 yards away from your first target. Remember to find your flash sight before firing. Once you’ve shot your first target, you want to sidestep and engage your second target. And then repeat for your third target, and so on. Try to get faster each time you run the course, whilst at the same time finding your flash sight before you shoot.

This video from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is a bit lengthy, but discusses flash sighting:

Tactical shooting drill 3 – Human target drills

Target-human_silhouetteNo, we don’t actually mean find humans to shoot for practice! However, so far, we been using large targets of over 10 inches to practice on. Adult humans are much larger than that and the part of a human body you shoot is very important.

There are 2 main areas you want to try and aim for; the center of mass in all human beings (the thoracic cavity), and the head (cranial cavity). The thoracic cavity is a large area of the human body starting from the diaphragm at the bottom up to the first lateral rib. It houses the heart, the lungs and major veins and arteries, to name a few. Shooting at the thoracic cavity can be effective to a certain extent. However, if you have a determined opponent, or an opponent high on drugs, they are unlikely to stop advancing on you. Even if you have managed to shoot someone’s heart, they are still likely to have around half a minute of physical ability, as well as cognitive functions, before they drop. Half a minute does not seem so long, but it is enough time for an opponent to kill you or damage you in some way. However, the likelihood is that you’ve missed the heart. It is a small target and very rarely will one bullet destroy it completely. If you have missed the heart, than your opponent will have even longer to advance on you.

Another factor to consider is that an opponent may be wearing body armor. Pumping a number of bullets into your opponent’s thoracic cavity when he is wearing armor is only going to deplete your magazine. Lastly, the kind of bullets you are using is a major factor. Some bullets penetrate further than others, and penetration is key. For example, a bullet with good penetration could possibly get to an opponent’s spine and at least partially incapacitate them so you can get away.

The cranial cavity is a smaller area containing the upper spine and brain. However there are still areas which could mean an opponent still advances towards you when you have fired at their head. The bone just above the eyebrows is a dense bone and does not break easily. Some lucky people have even had a bullet ricochet off their forehead! The optimal area to shoot into the cranial cavity is at the top of the upper jaw. This area is very soft and can give a bullet direct access to the upper spine, which incapacitates an opponent immediately.

In self-defense situations, it is unlikely that your aim would be so good that you could pick out the optimal areas to shoot, but you should aim to hit a number of shots into either the thoracic cavity or the cranial cavity. Replace your targets with ‘human-shaped’ targets. Practice all the previous drills (7 yard drill, multiple target drill, running drill etc) using your new targets, with the aim of shooting the thoracic cavity and / or the cranial cavity.

Tactical shooting drill 4 – Rapid fire drills

Unless you are an ace shot, or extremely lucky, the likelihood of one bullet stopping your opponent from advancing on you is unlikely. You are likely to need a number of bullets to incapacitate your opponent. Being able to rapidly fire at opponent, whilst also being accurate enough to hit the thoracic cavity and the cranial cavity each time, is important. To practice this drill, you need to look at the type of weapon you have, as the drill is different depending on this. Constant double action (DAO) pistols, such as a Glock, have a reset point after the gun has been fired. Practice firing a round at a target, and then slowly release the trigger. You will be able to hear a click and the resistance on the trigger should loosen. This is your cue to pull the trigger again. These kinds of pistols allow you to be more accurate because of the shorter trigger pull. Other pistols, such as double action (DA) double/single action (DA/SA) or single action (SA) have triggers that need to be released completely before you can pull it again. DA/SA and SA pistols usually have lighter trigger pulls than DA pistols.

Regardless of what kind of the pistol you have, practice firing as fast as your gun can at a target. The faster you can pull the trigger, the more bullets you are firing in a short time, the less likely your opponent is able to advance on you. An aspect to look out for is that when you are rapidly firing, the second bullet usually fires higher than the first bullet. To counteract this, practice firing your gun at the exact point it is falling past the rest position.

Tactical shooting drill 5 – Adrenaline drill:

Airman_doing_pushupThis isn’t a tactical shooting drill are such when it comes to using a weapon, but more something that can be added on before any of the above drills. In a self-defense situation, your heart rate is likely to be high and you are likely have a lot of adrenaline coursing its way around your veins. Once you’re comfortable with the above drills, it’s time to try and simulate what your body is likely to be feeling in a self-defense situation. Try doing a number of push-ups before attempting any of the above drills. Do as many as you can before getting up and practicing the drills above. You may find that you were outstanding on the above drills before, but now, with all the adrenaline coursing around you and being out of breath, your aim is much worse. Your objective is to get as accurate as you can with the above drills whilst being out of breath and having a racing heart. Over time, you will find that you can find your flash sight and hit targets despite the tiredness and the adrenaline.


No tactical shooting drills can 100% prepare you for every self-defensive situation. Each situation is different, and it’s very unlikely you can prepare for every single variation that could happen to you. However, following the above tactical shooting drills will give you a good head start in being prepared if the worst was to happen.