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Defensive Handgun Drills for Beginners

Target shooting is fun, but becoming proficient with your new handgun for self-defense requires more than just hitting bullseyes. Practice these drills for a smooth draw and a quick and accurate first shot.

If you bought a handgun for concealed carry purposes—great job! Bear in mind that learning to use a firearm for self-defense involves much more than simply shooting bullseyes on a range, where everything is easy. After the fundamentals—proper stance, grip, sight alignment and trigger squeeze—are mastered, try these two defensive drills.

Defensive Handgun Drills for Beginners

(You’ll need your handgun, ammo, a sturdy belt, a strong-side belt holster, a live-fire range, paper plates and masking tape. These drills can also be performed in your home, as a dry-fire drill with no ammo.)

The Draw Stroke Drill

When you carry your handgun in a holster, you must be able to draw it smoothly and bring it to target for quick and accurate shooting. However, much like swinging a golf club or shooting a basketball, this “draw stroke” is not something we are born with; rather, it must be practiced frequently to commit it to “muscle memory.”

The Drill: With an unloaded handgun holstered, practice the following steps of the draw stroke, and count the numbers as you perform each step. Start slowly and increase in speed as you are able.

  1. While looking at a target, not at your gun, reach down and get a good grip on your handgun. Be sure to keep your trigger finger alongside the frame of the gun, NOT on the trigger.
  2. Aggressively pull the gun upward vertically until the gun’s muzzle clears the holster. At this position, your elbow should be fully bent and cocked backward at a 45-degree angle toward the sky. Your trigger finger should remain on the side of the gun’s receiver, pointed toward the ground.
  3. Without pushing the gun forward, merely rotate your hand so the gun’s barrel and your trigger finger are pointed toward the target. Your bent elbow should now be pointing straight behind you.
  4. Punch the gun forward from your chest and slightly up so it comes to arm’s length with the sights in-line with your vision. At the same time, bring your support hand forward to meet the gun and find its grip, while simultaneously shifting your focus from the target to the front sight. As your sights find the target, move your trigger finger to the trigger. 

Defensive Handgun Drills

Without looking, reholster the gun and start over, saying “1, 2, 3, 4” out loud, until the entire draw stroke becomes fluid. As the stroke becomes ingrained, speed up the drill cadence so the draw stroke feels like one fluid movement rather than individual steps.

Smooth Draw Fast Fire Drill

For the next drill, you’ll need ammo and a range. Tape a paper plate to a target backer and stand 5 yards from it. (The paper plate will help you forget about bullseyes, but instead will help you concentrate on centering your shots in the middle of a non-descript mass.) Perform 20 of these drills while trying to get smoother and therefore quicker as you go.

Defensive Handgun Drills

Using the draw stroke drill above, draw your handgun, but add a step 5. (Remember, step 4 should leave you in a good shooting position with your eye on the front sight, your sights on target and your finger on the trigger.) This time, as your eye finds and focuses on the front sight, align the sights on the center of the paper plate and smoothly press the trigger. Your goal is to shoot in cadence with the draw stroke. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (shoot.)  After firing one shot, reholster and repeat.    

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