Bad Training Habits at the Range

by Drew Beatty

Even if you are spending enough time at the range, are you inadvertently reinforcing bad habits?

What you do on the range repeatedly will become a habit, even if it's a bad habit. If you consistently drill a detrimental skill into muscle memory, the consequences could be deadly if you had to use your gun in self-defense.

Inadvertently training yourself to do something unfavorable is referred to as a “training scar." Here are several examples that I've seen or caught myself doing on the firing range:

  • Slowly removing an empty magazine by hand and placing it in a pocket instead of dropping it on the ground and immediately loading another.
  • Lowering the gun after each shot to look at the target.
  • Sighing and taking time out to be disappointed when you miss the target.
  • Holding the pistol far out in front of you to rack a round in or perform any administrative function.
  • Freezing on any malfunction instead of clearing it immediately.
  • Standing completely fixed and stationary at all times.

Training scars happen in professional law enforcement circles too. In Lt. Col. David Grossman's book “On Combat," he gives numerous examples where law enforcement trainers unintentionally built training scars in to their officers' training scenarios. In one example, the FBI required that agents draw, fire two rounds, then re-holster in training. The FBI found that agents would in turn replicate this training scar in life or death situations — even if more than two rounds were required to stop the threat.

Grossman also details one training program where arresting officers, instead of using a dummy gun, used their finger in the shape of a gun. Grossman said, “This came to a screeching halt when officers began reporting to the training unit that they had pointed with their fingers in real arrest situations."

Another example Grossman provides in his book is from the time when revolvers were the predominant law enforcement weapons. During practice, officers would commonly dump their brass in their hand and pocket it so they wouldn't have to pick it up from the ground. In real gunfights, officers were found dead with spent brass in their pockets.

I highly recommend concealed carriers read and re-read Grossman's book.

Law enforcement training expert Greg Ellifritz provides additional examples of training scars in his article “Training Scars" on the Buckeye Firearms Association website.

Training Scars are a universal phenomenon — we all do it. The point is to be able to recognize where you might be building bad habits and correct them when you are practicing.

In an actual gunfight, you don't rise to the occasion, but instead fall to your lowest level of competence. I always keep this in mind when I'm training, and I work to raise my lowest level of competence. Some of the “good habits" to work on in training are simple things:

  • Dropping magazines on the ground instead of pulling them out by hand.
  • Dealing with malfunctions immediately and effectively.
  • Lateral and vertical body placement instead of standing still.
  • Performing administrative functions with the gun close to the body instead of held out in front (which makes it easier to retain your weapon).

As someone who has made the decision to carry a concealed firearm to defend my life, it is my responsibility to raise my competence level. If that level of competence includes bad habits repeated over and over, the consequences could be grave.

Drew Beatty is a 50 year old husband and father, and a lifetime resident of the great state of Colorado. He is an NRA Life-Member, and a long-time firearms enthusiast, as well as a strong advocate for The Second Amendment.