Back in February 2021 I hosted Ben Stoeger at the KR Training A-Zone Range for three 2-day classes, each focused on a different level of student. Ben was using his new book Practical Shooting Training as the student manual for the courses.
Ben has written a lot of books and revised some of them as his training program has changed. I frequently recommend his Dryfire Reloaded and Breakthrough Marksmanship books to my students. What’s in this book that’s different from his other books?
The rest of the table of contents repeats the same four sections for levels 3 and 4. Separation of the material by level is one of the new things about this book. Ben and Joel use these definitions for the four levels:
- Complete a club match without a penalty
- Get to USPSA B class
- Get to Master/Grand Master
- Achieve competitive excellence
Many of the competitors at local club matches never reach the level 1 goal of having no misses and no no-shoots for the match, including those shooting a B or higher level. It’s fairly common for shooters to be so focused on getting their stage times down that they minimize the impact of misses and no-shoot hits on their score. The nature of USPSA hit factor scoring, particularly for those shooting major power factor, rewards speed and moderate accuracy more than careful precision. Achieving that goal requires safe gun handling, marksmanship, stage planning and ability to execute a stage plan without errors. From there to their next goal (USPSA B class) is a fairly big step.
USPSA B class is roughly equivalent to IDPA Expert. Someone at the top of B class is likely at the IDPA Master level. In our book Strategies and Standards for Defensive Pistol Shooting, we reference John Hearne’s chart relating skill level to the mental skill called “automaticity”. It’s possible to be a USPSA D class shooter and meet the book’s level 1 goal, simply by being slow and deliberate. To get to B class requires automating skills like the draw and reload, and being able to program and execute a stage plan without stopping to decide which target to engage next, which position to move to, or whether to reload or not.
Classification in IDPA is based on as few as 25 rounds fired; getting to B class in USPSA requires that the average of 4-6 classifier stages (usually shot by attending 4-6 different matches) exceed the B class threshold of 60% of the 100% Grand Master standard. It requires some consistency in performance, across a wider variety of skills than the IDPA rating does. For those that aren’t USPSA competitors, especially those focused on pure defensive shooting, B class level equates to the skill level many in the tactical, military and law enforcement training world consider as their “minimum acceptable” standard. Anyone that gets to the B class level and can maintain their skills at that level has put in quite a bit of work.
In their book, Stoeger and Park recommend training 5 days a week for a month, to progress from level 1 to level 2 (B class). All those days do not have to be live fire (and progress will likely be faster if dry and live fire are mixed). The key to this plan is frequency of training. Spreading out the 20 days of training over a longer period is unlikely to produce the same result. Several decades ago, the professional shooter J. Michael Plaxco told me, “if you aren’t training 3-4 days a week, all you can do is maintain your skills, but you won’t improve.”. Over the 30 years I’ve been a USPSA competitor, I have found that to be true.
Level 3 is to reach the USPSA Master/Grand Master level. They recommend that someone train “five days a week for several years” to make the jump from B to GM. My own experience was that I made the jump from B to M during a year when I shot 50,000 rounds and trained 4-5 days a week, and stalled out at the M level for more than a decade when my commitment to improvement was only enough to maintain my skills at the low Master level. It took a serious, multi-year effort to push from M to GM – and the past few years’ failure to keep that pace up resulted in backsliding down to A class scores.
Level 4 is what they call “competitive excellence”. This requires the motivation and training focus of an Olympic or pro-level athlete. Ben once told me that it took him 9 months to go from U to GM, in his early days of USPSA competition, firing less than 5000 rounds of live fire but doing hours of daily dry fire using the methods he’s shared in his previous books. He also said that after reaching the GM level, it took him another 5 years of work to win a National title.
The book is laid out in 4 sections, each with the same structure, but with different focus and goals for the 4 levels. Even if you never progress beyond level 2, it’s valuable information as it shows the path forward and what is required to get to those higher levels. The sections include drills with performance goals and plenty of guidance as to what and how to practice.
The first part of the book is a series of essays on topics common to all levels, including the “Why You Suck’ chapter.
Some of my favorite nuggets of wisdom from this section include:
“Think about what you are willing to put in over time. Pick a goal that works for you. None of this comes for free. There will be varying costs based on what you choose, but the greatest price you are going to pay is in the form of your time. The reason that practical shooting has built up its own subculture is because this thing does not lend itself to casual participation. It is not easy to be half in.”
“Par times…should not be considered a pass/fail test. If the par time is 5 seconds, shooting the drill in 5.2, 4.8, 5.1, 4.7, 5.4 means you are pretty much in the range you want to be in. Shooting the drill once under 5 seconds does not mean you pass.”
During my push to get to GM, I learned that the only way to be sure I could shoot a GM score on a classifier stage was to work until I could shoot the required score cold, as the first drill of a practice session, which meant my “warmed up” average score had to be higher.
“Training is where instead of focusing on the score you shoot, you focus on the process by which you produce the score. Instead of focusing on the hit factor, focus on specific pieces of technique.”
My own experience was a hybrid of this approach. If the time goal was 2.4 seconds, and I was stuck at 2.8, I had to break the drill down (draw, splits, reload, transition, etc.) and look at the timing of each part of the drill, to identify which skill needed the most improvement. Then I had to work on that specific thing to get it to the speed needed to make the overall time goal. One trick I learned from Ben, that I didn’t see in the book, was to move closer to the targets until I could make the goal time, then start backing up, one yard at a time, not slowing down. The point to this approach was to learn how to execute the skills at the required speed (and see at that speed) and become comfortable running the gun at that speed.
The book includes a long discussion of predictive vs. reactive shooting. What they mean by this is how much visual confirmation is used for the 2nd shot of a pair fired at a paper target. “Predictive” means the same thing as what Jeff Cooper called a hammer pair, where the shooter aims once and uses “the strong grip and shooting platform to take care of recoil mitigation so the second shot will still hit in a desirable location”. Reactive shooting takes more time and requires seeing a sight picture for the second shot. Most defensive shooting training emphasizes reactive shooting, with some trainers focused on splits no faster than 0.50, giving time for a shoot/no-shoot decision between shots (for legal and tactical reasons). For USPSA competition, the ability to do predictive shooting on smaller targets and at longer distances is essential.
They make many recommendations to make your training more effective – with the most effective being to do a lot of dry practice, which takes the time spent doing these live fire tasks:
- driving to the range
- hanging targets on stands
- setting up stages
- loading magazines
- running drills
- scoring and pasting targets
- picking up brass
- tearing down stages
- driving home
- cleaning guns
- cleaning brass
- reloading ammunition
and replaces that time with
- walk to dry fire area already set up at home
- dry fire drills
- walk away from dry fire area already set up home
If you add up the total number of hours spent in all the tasks associated with live fire practice, and skip every other live fire session, replacing it with an equal amount of time spent dry firing, you are likely to see more improvement than you would see from the live fire only work. There’s also a significant cost savings in range fees, gas, supplies and ammunition. There’s actually no point to doing a live fire session until your dry fire sessions get you to the point that you are meeting performance goals in dry fire. Since live fire is a lot more fun than dry fire, that provides motivation to dry fire – to get to the point you can reward yourself with a live fire session.
I liked this book. It’s a good companion to the DryFire Reloaded book, particularly for someone motivated to go beyond B class, or anyone interested in understanding what it takes to get to those higher levels, whether they intend to pursue those levels or not.