Train on a budget with focused low round count range exercises

October 16, 2018  
Categories: Learnin'

Firearm training on a budget; persistence pays off, and not just when you’re looking for online porn. There are few sins more egregious than when an armed professional refuses to hone and maintain their skills.

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This article originally ran on 6-27-17.

It’s drilled into most young cops, especially those just out of the academy, that they must practice marksmanship otherwise those skills will atrophy.

Most young cops, at least in my experience, do try to get to the range at least a little bit. But before you know it, there’s a young spouse who wants more time spent with them, there are babies on the way, and shift work invariably beats them up. All that free time the rookie had is suddenly gone, replaced with trips to Home Depot and other family outings — that all takes money, too.

I know, I’ve lived it. But it doesn’t mean that your skills need to completely atrophy — and this applies to everyone who goes heeled, not just the LEOs.

You can train on a budget, and should; paper shooting targets are relatively inexpensive and low round count pistol shooting drills can be very beneficial.

This image shamelessly stolen from Tamara Keel, whose mastery of the handgun humbles most of us and makes the rest want to call her bad names.

All you need to keep your skills intact is about fifteen minutes and fifty rounds a week. This is the exact program I used when I was working patrol and then assigned to a specialized unit where my range time was limited. Now look, this isn’t going to get you better. It’s a pure sustainment program and is what I consider the bare minimum for anyone who carries a pistol professionally. If you added a couple of five-minute dry practice sessions per week, you’d be way ahead of the game, but hey…let’s not get all crazy here.

Naturally, this program will help any armed professional (or citizen) much as someone On The Job.

Marksmanship Sustainment Program

Stage                     # Rounds           Distance

1                                    5                        7 Yards                                      

Drill: Slow fire, smallest group possible, no time limit, out of battery speed reload with 6 rounds

2                                  6                          7 Yards                                      

Drill: Three controlled pairs, each from the holster. Maintain 10 ring accuracy. Out of battery speed reload with a 10-round magazine.

3                                           9                   7 Yards                                      

Drill: Three failure drills. Push the speed a bit, 9 ring hits are acceptable in the body, slow down for the head shots. Each failure drill is shot from the holster. Perform a retention reload (there should still be a round in the chamber) with a 5 round magazine.

4                                           6                   10 Yards                                    

Drill: Three accelerated pairs. Push the speed just a bit, but try to maintain good combat accuracy (9/10 ring). If you start to get into the 8 ring, slow down. Each pair should be shot from the low ready. Out of battery speed reload with a 5-round magazine. Stage an additional 5-round magazine in a pouch.

5                                           10                  15 Yards                                    

Drill: Draw and fire 5 rounds slow fire, reload with the 5-round magazine and continue with another 5 rounds. Slow fire, focus on accuracy and follow through. Reload with a 4-round magazine. Draw quickly and reload quickly, press the trigger slowly.

6                                            4                    20 Yards                                  

Drill: Draw the pistol and assume a kneeling position or a prone position, fire all four rounds slow fire. Reload from your firing position with a 10-round magazine.

7                                            10                    10 Yards                                    

Drill: From the low ready, come on to target and finish with your final 10 rounds, slow fire.

Shooting range exercises do not have to be time consuming, nor do they have to burn through vast amounts of ammunition. Train on a budget.

Another picture stolen from Tamara. Because #ourgirlsshootbetterthanyou – and because Jeremy got tasked at work and couldn’t get us his imagery. Plus he’s a terrible photographer.

This is not a qualification course and it sure as hell won’t allow you to improve if it’s the only thing you do.

Any jackass can blaze away at the target, but the focus on good shots allows for sustainment of baseline skills.

What it does is allow the shooter to work fundamental marksmanship skills as well as some fundamental manipulations. To make it challenging and worthwhile, I impose a fifty-burpee penalty for anything outside of the ten-ring on the slow fire phases and anything outside of the nine-ring on the faster phases.

I’ve found that the self-imposed physical penalty allows me to give myself “permission” to slow down and focus on quality shots, which is the whole point of the process. Any jackass can blaze away at the target, but the focus on good shots allows for sustainment of baseline skills.

I can’t emphasize enough that this sustainment session is just that – sustainment. If you want to get better, you need to put in the time on the range as well as getting good dry presses at home. Law enforcement is not a job, it’s a profession. If you want to be a professional, act like it and stay on your game.

That’s just my tip, promise…

The RE Factor "Essentials Target" is just one option for good paper shooting targets to use with your pistol shooting drills (or other range exercises).

The Range Essentials Target is just one of several inexpensive paper shooting targets for your range exercises.


⚠️ Some hyperlinks in this article may contain affiliate links. If you use them to make a purchase, we will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. It’s just one way to Back the Bang. #backthebang 



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Jeremy Stafford

Jeremy Stafford

About the Author

Jeremy Stafford is a truculent old school LEO and a combat veteran of the Marine Corps. He has just one beady eye (the right), a single shriveled testicle (the left) and is rumored to be the adopted son of Burt and Heather Gummer. Probably only part of that's true, but really, does it matter? Jeremy has been serving with the Los Angeles Police Department for nearly 20 years, both on the road, in specialty assignments, and occasionally to the sound of the T.J. Hooker soundtrack. He recently left a position as a senior instructor at the LAPD Firearms and Tactics Division to a different assignment that is more hunting than fishing. He's a Krav Maga instructor, a court recognized firearm and use of force SME, and is likely the guy responsible for those few times you see some Hollywood type actually handling a gun correctly. Jeremy has written for a number of publications (like SureFire's Combat Tactics Magazine) and is one of the main reasons we started reading Guns & Ammo again. The other is Mudge. Stafford teaches for the SureFire Institute, mentors local youth (including kids doing the Spartan Race) and he runs many courses himself - think marathons, Tough Mudders and assorted other needless exercises in self-flagellation. Connect with him on Instagram if you're up for it (and don't require trigger warnings): @jestafford.


  1. Catherine

    Jeremy, what target do you use for this course of fire?

    • Jeremy Stafford

      Hi Catherine,

      I generally use my department version of the Alco BT-5. Thanks for reading!

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