Saturday, December 20, 2014

Training – “chasing the hole”


We’ve all been there with new shooters . . .

BLAMM! . . . A small .22 cal hole appears 2 inches above and 3 inches to the right of the “x-ring”.

ME: Alright, just keep your sight alignment and your sight picture in the exact same spot, right on the “x-ring” . . .

BLAMM! . . . Another small .22 cal hole appears . . . about 2 inches above and 3 inches to the right of the . . . last hole the new shooter had created – now about 4 inches above and 6 inches to the right of the “x-ring” . . .

ME: Nope – don’t “chase the hole” . . . watch your sight alignment, sight picture . . . try again.

This time the new shooter renews their focus on the “x-ring” and presses off the round . . . BLAMM!! . . . and a .22 cal hole appears within an inch of the very first hole. BLAMM!! . . . a third hole . . . BLAMM!! . . . fourth hole . . . a final BLAMM!! and a fifth hole appears. The final result? A nice little inch-ish group has formed slightly high and right of the “x-ring”. The “chase” has stopped and the new shooter has learned one of the “fundamental no-no-s”, don’t “chase the hole”.

The “error” is common – a new shooter sends a round down range, sees where it hits, decides his “aim is off” and then takes aim at the newly formed hole . . . only to make a new one a bit farther on . . . and so it goes . . . “chasing the hole”. The solution is simple, focus on your sight alignment/sight picture/trigger press . . . and don’t worry about the hole until your string of fire is complete – then view the results.

I often hear; “well – my sights must be off!” MMmmm – typically, not so much. Proof is usually provided by either having the new shooter take a bench rest position or simply sending a magazine downrange myself – it’s usually NOT the “sights being off”. It’s typically the fundamentals – sight alignment, sight picture, grip, trigger press, stance – shooting is not rocket science. With a bit more encouragement and success – new shooters can easily stop this temptation and begin to make reasonable groups within their selected target area. But thinking about this typical beginners struggle lead to a bit broader view . . . many of us “chase the hole” but in different ways . . . and that’s what I’d like to chat about today.

As in any “industry” . . . and believe me, there is a shooting “industry” (Shot Show anyone?) . . . there is a deluge of “must haves” to improve your gun, improve your grip, provide a better trigger, barrel, slide . . . the list of products is virtually endless with we shooters spending an estimated $6 BILLION annually to make sure we have the best weapon and we send enough rounds down range to be proficient – well, some of us do anyway. All well and good, I certainly wish all the providers every success! But for the folks I focus on – the new and inexperienced shooter – the temptation to “chase the hole” can be almost irresistible . . . so they buy this set of sights because it “guarantees rapid threat acquisition”, and that manufacturer guarantees their pair of grips on their 1911 will firm their grip up instantly, the folks in booth xxx say their laser sights will guarantee quick hits regardless of the light level, the manufacturer across the aisle is adamant that their holster makes every draw smooth as silk . . . and on and on it goes. The message? Spend money with us . . . use our gear . . . and you will “hit the x” every time.

“Chasing the hole” via purchasing new sights, grips, slides, attachments, holsters . . . you name it, is something virtually every shooter falls prey to at different points throughout their life – it just happens. For the new shooter though, it can be an expensive exercise that is meant to take the place of good instruction, good fundamentals, and good foundational equipment. If you find yourself “chasing the hole” buy buying the latest and greatest fad chunk of equipment . . . please, stop. Re-settle. Go back to the range and work on the fundamentals first . . . then, when you can place a fist sized group center mass on demand . . . play with gear. But never, NEVER expect a chunk of equipment to pick up the slack for a poor grip, poor sight alignment, poor sight picture, poor trigger press . . . it simply doesn’t work that way.

Let’s move from gear to . . . YouTube. God.Help.Us.All!!! The array of guaranteed techniques to help us all be faster, better, tacti-cooler-er is, again, endless. Many . . . MANY, MANY, MANY . . . new shooters try to get good training “on the cheap” and YouTube is pretty much irresistible. If the “instructor” has shooter pants and boots, a shooter shirt, appropriate amounts of facial hair, a shooter ball cap with dark shooter glasses, mag carriers on their hip (or a carrier on their chest), shooter gloves and acts like a cross between John Wayne and Rambo . . . “He’s The Man!!” and is surely imparting wisdom from numerous “engagements outside the wire!” Now, truth be told, there are a couple double-handfulls of instructors who are the real deal . . . and thousands that simple aren’t. As the Old Knight said . . . “Choose Wisely”.

For the new shooter – again – fundamentals matter . . . fundamentals let you get the hits consistently . . . fundamentals will save your life! YouTube derp . . . not so much.

Finally – trainers. There some very good, very professional, very experienced trainers in the training market. And no – you do NOT need to be an “operator” to be an excellent instructor. In fact, the number of folks that actually ride the very pointy end of the spear are far fewer than most expect. That said, the number of trainers that put the time in to learn their craft (both the teaching and shooting side) are also far fewer than most would suspect as well.

I have a number of suggestions when you are looking for an instructor . . .

Reviews matter – the internet can be a great tool to research an instructor. Many folks who invest substantial money in taking training will post an AAR – After Action Report – of the coursework. Look for them, search your prospective instructor and see what others are saying about them.

What do they have to say? There are a number of national trainers that have regular “columns” in magazines, websites or their own blog space. What do they say there? Does it actually make sense? Do they allow comments and if challenged have reasonable explanations for what they wrote? Or do they rely on the “I’ve been doing this a long time” argument?

Have they trained lately? Have they taken any recent training? Who do they go to? Who do they admire? Who would they recommend that you take coursework from? Have they read any new books of interest lately? What video series have they watched recently? In other words . . . are THEY still learning . . .?

For the new shooter – trainers are yet another way to “chase the hole”. Remember, your ultimate goal is to make a fist sized group of holes center mass on a mortal threat as quickly as you can. While instructors can certainly have a very positive affect (or negative for that matter) on your shooting ability . . . it is YOU and your willingness to work on the fundamentals that will make the difference. Is there value in taking instruction from different instructors? Absolutely – take coursework, participate FULLY . . . and then integrate what works for you into your fundamentals. But “chasing the hole” but shedding one instructor’s methods for another’s . . . and another’s . . . and another’s . . . will do nothing to make you a better shooter.

What’s the best way to “stay on target” and not “chase the hole”? It’s simple really . . . have a plan, and then work the plan.

If you’ve not done it before . . . for this coming year, 2015 – make a plan! Some suggestions.

Carry everywhere you can – every day, including at home. Make your   defensive weapon part of your wardrobe. Get comfortable with it. Update belts, holsters, pants, shirts so you can carry comfortably each and every day.

Do some dry fire work at least 3 days a week. Set aside 15 minutes 3 days a week to do 25 perfect draws, drives to threats and engagements. Set up a  range in your garage or basement with a good backstop, put up a standard defensive target, mark off 15 feet, pick up a “LaserLyte” round and do some good work while you are there.

Take a course this year. There are any number of trainers that travel nationally and hundreds of solid local trainers. Do your research, read the reviews . . . and book a course for yourself. Go learn something new!

Read at least 3 books on the shooting arts, defensive arts, legal ramifications of a good shoot, way to defend your home . . . there is no shortage of good material out there. Find 3 books and devour them.

Take 3 video courses this year. As with written material – there is a broad range of video material as well. A suggestion . . . leave the tacti-cool material sit for a while. Find good, solid defensive coursework that deals with the fundamentals, defense of your home, working around a vehicle . . . but set the “run and gun” coursework aside until your fundamentals are PERFECT!

Take a First Aid course – be it the Red Cross basic first aid/CPR/AED training or one of the new combat trauma courses that have been introduced. An annual refresher or some entirely new skillset may well save your life someday.

Set up a range schedule. How many times should you go to the range? Everyone has an opinion on that . . . here’s mine. Visit at least once a month, take 100 rounds with you. The most important part of a range trip? HAVE A FRICKIN’ PLAN!! What do you want to work on that particular trip? Perhaps it’s your draw . . . with full focus on it being smooth and allowing speed to follow from there. Or it might be doing the draw from concealment, perhaps just light concealment – an untucked shirt. Or, if it’s winter, from under a full winter coat. One trip might be center mass hits only . . . while others would focus on precision. The bottom line . . . it is THIS, HERE, ON THE RANGE . . . that brings everything we chatted about above together. Range trips should be the focal point of all your work.

Range trips are about so much more that simply “making holes” . . . they are about integrating new knowledge into your fundamental skill set, they are about affirming your continual growth as a shooter, they are about finding areas that you need work on, they are about polishing your skills . . .

. . . and not just “chasing the hole”.


  1. But it's REALLY embarrassing when one's sights ARE that far off... Not that 'I' would know or anything... sigh

  2. Thanks for all the great advice. Nothing in this is cheap that is for darn sure.

  3. Jim . . . Yep, your little problem still provides good fodder for some of my classes . . . :) Lesson . . . check the size of the baggage "apes" that handle your luggage and enclosed firearms!

    Brighid - thank you for your kind words. Agreed - our "industry" is certainly not shy about a "substancial" price point! :)

  4. See, I was good for 'something' :-) Merry Christmas to you and yours Bill!

  5. Thanks for the article and a very Merry Christmas to you.