5 Gun Training Skills for Mastering Defensive Shooting

Defensive Shooting Skills
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5 Gun Training Skills for Mastering Defensive Shooting

The Importance of Gun Training and Defensive Shooting

With the growing number of American citizens taking responsibility for their own (and family) personal security and safety, the need for proper gun safety is more important than ever.

Because self-defense with a firearm is not intuitive by nature, acquiring the necessary defensive shooting skills could mean the difference between life and death. But where and how does one start to develop these skills?

Your first step should be finding a knowledgeable, reputable organization that offers basic handgun and defensive handgun classes. In addition to quality gun training, there are several gun training tips and skills for owners to master on their path to improving their defensive shooting.

The Combat Triad Mindset

When it comes to self-defense, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the endless number of important factors and considerations. For example, which handguns are best for concealed carry? What type of ammo is best for self-defense? And so on, and so on...

For this reason, Gunsite Academy founder Jeff Cooper created and popularized his concept of the "Combat Triad" to help his students focus on the most essential considerations.

Jeff combined three critical elements to form an equilateral triangle of skill - Marksmanship, Tactics, and Gun Handling. With the keyword being equal, when it comes to combat triad, neither element is any more important than the other.

Marksmanship is what allows you to direct the bullet to the point you desire. Tactics encompass how to execute and survive a fight. Proper gun handling deals with everything you do with a defensive handgun when you're not shooting it.

Proper Gun Handling Is Key

Cooper’s combat triad could also be referred to as “weaponcraft,” which is a better term I like. However, I also believe that the most overlooked element of weaponcraft is gun handling.

As a firearms instructor, I learned early on that you could tell a great deal about a shooter's weaponcraft just by watching how they handled their gun. How they took it out of their range bag, holstered it, drew it from the holster, and reloaded it.

The ability to perform these skills effectively, safely, and almost naturally can be directly tied to the effectiveness of your marksmanship and tactics.

Firearm Safety

A big part of this is safety. There are four safety rules that every gun owner needs to follow regardless of training or protecting their home and family.

However, it's not entirely uncommon for trainers and gun owners to believe that simply committing these four rules to memory is all that is required to meet the minimum safety threshold required for firearm training.

As a result, shooting accidents during range training sessions occur not because someone did not know the four safety rules but because they violated them.

For example, another student or instructor gets shot because someone's muzzle was allowed to point in the wrong direction.

A shooter shoots themselves in the leg because they left their finger on the trigger when holstering. Or, fingers are lost or worse, because someone attempted to clean or work on a loaded gun.

Four Rules of Firearm Safety

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond.

If you're struggling to hit your target while at the same time you're also struggling to draw, holster, or even load your gun safely, it's harder for you to learn to shoot with precision.

Suppose you cannot safely and confidently handle your handgun when it is not in the holster. In that case, it will have a negative impact on your ability to comprehend or even participate in tactical training.

Look at it from the standpoint of driving. Suppose you cannot safely and efficiently handle your automatable and all its related controls. In that case, you'll not be able to maneuver to avoid collisions or learn to drive on slick or off-road surfaces.

Proper Pistol Stance

Gun handling may not necessarily be more important than marksmanship or tactics in the big picture, but they are foundational concepts. The good news is I have two suggestions that can drastically improve your weaponcraft and gun handling skills without ever firing a shot. 

First, you'll want to develop a proper pistol stance. *I would encourage you to try both stances multiple times and in different scenarios/settings before deciding which works best. 

The Isosceles Stance: Named because of the shape formed by the shooter's body and extended arms form an Isosceles triangle. This shooting stance is favored by many gun owners (especially for competitive shooting) because it's easy to learn and can be very effective. 

To assume an isosceles stance, fully extend your arms with the pistol held with both hands at or near the body's centerline. Some trainers advise you to lock your elbows, and others advise against it.
*Personally, I tend to meet in the middle by allowing a slight bend in the elbow that will allow for a bit more flexibility. 

The Weaver Stance: Named/credited to Los Angeles Sheriff Jack Weaver and popularized by Jeff Cooper, the weaver stance works by using opposing forces to control the recoil of the firearm and by proper foot positioning for rapid transitions. 

To assume the weaver stance, place your weak foot ahead of your strong foot and slightly bend your lead leg at the knee. Your shooting arm should be almost fully extended, with a slight bend at the elbow, and your support hand should provide resting support for your pistol hand. 

Dryfire Training

By spending a few minutes every day (or once a week) to practice drawing & holstering your pistol, proper shooting stance, and dry firing your handgun with magazines filled with dummy rounds, you will measurably increase your reaction timing and marksmanship proficiency.

For example, a few years ago, I decided I wanted to learn to shoot a defensive handgun with my left hand as though it was my dominant hand.

Initially, my marksmanship was decent, but my struggles with left-handed gun handling slowed and negatively impacted my shooting.

So, I dedicated a few dry-practice minutes each day to learning to handle a handgun with my left hand. In only two weeks, the improvements were monumental, and ultimately, I could complete shooting and tactical drills faster and more efficiently.

As an armed citizen, marksmanship and tactics are critical to your ability to survive a lethal encounter. However, they are no less important than gun handling.

Admittedly, learning to handle a gun is not an exciting endeavor - although it is necessary. Firearms were decided to be shot, and practicing good firearm fundamentals can be much more fun than having them collect dust inside your safe.

However, let's be clear, you should be highly proficient at gun handling before developing your defensive shooting skills.

The best soccer players in the world are the best soccer players in the world because of their ball-handling skills, not because they score a goal or stand in the right place sometimes.


How have you developed your skillset for defensive shooting? Do you agree with our tips and techniques?
Let us know if the comment section below and share any training tips of your own!

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