Everyone loves earning a higher classification, however, it’s easier said than done. Classifiers are often very fast-paced shooting where one miss or mistake can turn a good run into something you’re not so happy with. Let’s break down classifiers into key elements that are essential if you want to improve your classification.
Fast draws look flashy and impressive. While you don’t need to be drawing in .80, a safe reasonably efficient draw is a necessity for a good classifier score. A helpful dryfire drill is setting a .4 par time for moving your hands from being relaxed at your side, to getting a full grip on the pistol, without lifting it from the holster. A few important things to pay attention to are the path your hand takes to the gun and the position your hand is in at the end of the drill. Try to avoid moving your hand way higher above the gun than it needs to and avoid pushing down on the pistol hard while it’s resting in the holster. Work to develop contact points or physical cues that tell you your hand is in the correct place. Common cues are feeling your thumb resting on the safety, or a specific place on the beavertail/backstrap of the gun that hits the web of your hand at a specific spot. The .4 par might seem really tight, but if you work at it for 3-5 minutes a day, you will be surprised how quickly you will get accustomed to it.
While you are training your firing hand to move to the grip, you should be training to move your support hand at the same time. Your support hand should move towards the center of your stomach with your hand open like you’re going to shake someone’s hand. Your support hand should be in position in roughly the same time your firing hand is on the gun. This sets them up to meet at the same time as you present the pistol so you can get your grip established sooner.
After you get used to the .4 par time, the next step is actually drawing the handgun. A common mistake is shooters throwing the gun out toward the target with a lot of force like the famous “punch the gun out” line. The issue with throwing the gun out hard is you lose precision. I recommend staring at a specific spot you want to hit and bringing the sights to that spot in a direct line. Relaxing your shoulders is a very helpful cue to use to keep you relaxed as you draw the handgun so the sights stop exactly where you want them to.
When doing the entire draw stroke in dryfire, I recommend not pressing the trigger as you race a par time. It can lead to developing bad habits of firing the gun as soon as it’s extended. Instead, race the par time as you draw the gun to an acceptable sight picture and observe how the sights stop on the target. As your draw gets more efficient and faster train yourself to draw to a stopped sight picture with a perfect grip within the par time you are working with.
You will often hear conversations discussing the speed at which you should fire your first shot from the draw. People get wrapped up in fancy buzzwords or using words like fast or slow. The problem is, none of those words correlate with actionable tasks and going faster or slower will mean something different to everyone.
As an alternate solution, I recommend deciding exactly what sight picture is appropriate for each target. For most classifiers, you will be drawing to a relatively close, open target and all that’s needed is just reacting to seeing the color of your dot or the fiber on your front sight. This sight picture will cut time spent from over-aiming or refining your sights longer than is needed, which costs time. Doing this will provide you with an actual process and rules to stick to that will assure success opposed to feeling fast or slow.
I also recommend setting up a single target and experimenting, just to observe the results and see where the bullets hit. The setup I use for training is starting from low ready, with my eyes staring at the center of the target. On the beep from a random start, I bring the sights to my eyeline and fire one shot as soon as I see the color of my fiber or dot. The results are often surprising as shooters learn what they can get away with and you should still be landing a very high percentage of your shots in the A zone. Doing this will provide a significant time savings. By verifying you see the color of your sight before you fire, you reduce the percentage of unknown misses since you aren’t thinking in terms of fast or slow. You have a process for exactly what you need to see before you fire.
Another sight picture I often use is having the dot stopped and stable as opposed to moving like a streak for red dot shooters or seeing the front sight in between the rear notch for iron sights. That sight picture can be tested the same way in practice, on a single target and is very useful for longer distance or partial targets. Your testing should result in a group that is much tighter and would be appropriate for smaller or distant targets.
Most classifiers require reloading the gun and a fumbled or missed reload can be disastrous. I find the angle the handgun is being held at and the angle of the path the magazine makes are far more critical than how much force or speed is used.
When reloading a handgun, the method I use is to bring the gun closer to me so I feel like I have more control. Most importantly, I angle the mag well towards the mag pouch I will be drawing a fresh magazine from.
The technique for drawing a magazine from its pouch is just as important as how you draw your handgun. You should train yourself to draw the magazine with the base pad hitting somewhere in your palm, as your index finger rests across the front spine of the magazine.
When you draw the magazine from the pouch, you should strive to angle it towards the mag well of the pistol that should already be angled toward it. By having the angles match, the magazine can be inserted with much less effort and you’ll avoid the danger of missing a reload by having the magazine hit the side of the gun or miss the mag well.
Relax and Stick to the Plan
I mentioned the cue of relaxing your shoulders during your draw to reduce tension, but it can be applied to all your shooting. It’s very easy to tense up while trying to go fast and that tension can cause a variety of mistakes and slow you down, which costs valuable time. Without exception, you will see the best results when you are loose and relaxed. Obviously, it’s much easier said than done.
When you get nervous or have an adrenaline rush, it’s easy to be tempted to push just a little bit beyond your capabilities or play it extra safe. Programming in rules, such as reacting to a specific sight picture for each target, will keep you running the program exactly how you trained yourself. It will keep you from aiming too hard and refining your sights more than is needed and will also wire you to remain in control, so you don’t just spray bullets at targets.