Precision Rifle Training: Keep it Complicated

Law enforcement firearms training has always adhered to the "keep it simple" axiom. After all, the less complicated the process, motion or rule in a high-risk maneuver, action or situation, the better. When it comes to precision rifle training, however, keep it complicated.

Police precision shooters who adhere to a regular practice schedule are doing the right thing. They go to the range, and shoot and shoot. Unfortunately, this routine of practice instilling shooter confidence can be detrimental to the training program. The way to improve precision rifle training is to make it complicated. A complicated training program will reduce complacency, instill a sense of urgency and keep training interesting.

Induce stress
When an officer attends a firearm school, he has an apprehension about doing well. This artificial pressure is not only healthy, it makes better shooters. Physiologically, it causes a shift in the shooters ability to handle stress. Just as a person can condition himself to recognize stress levels and control them, an artificially induced stress creates a classroom for breath and trigger control.

Most psychological studies support the theory that a moderate level of stress creates a higher focus to task. For shooters attending an instructional shooting school, the initial pressure of "needing to do well" is good for the shooter. This stress must be monitored as there is a point in time where stress can be detrimental towards performance.

Besides the "need to do well," there are two other ways to introduce stress into the shooting program. The first is to invite an audience to training — a friend, spouse or other party whose scrutiny will add to the equation. For both training situations, it should be recognized that peer and social influences are powerful and should be exploited.

For administrators, the best training influence might be a visit to the range while the tactical team is training. Several studies on military leadership have concluded that regularly inspected troops (whether scheduled or unscheduled) perform better under stressful conditions.

The second method of inducing stress for the shooter is to compete in shooting matches.

There are mixed emotions about shooting matches among experts. Some say that paper punching is just "playing," whereas preparing for the enormous responsibility of exercising deadly force goes beyond just playing games.

It does. However, it is a skill building and often humbling experience in which a law enforcement marksman should indulge. Police precision shooters can arrange closed competitions, provided the participants are thick skinned.

In a study of the stress levels of parachutists, scientists found that novice jumpers experience high levels of arousal (stress) from the moment of commitment to the moment they emerged from the aircraft. Experienced jumpers were aroused following commitment, and then demonstrated a reduced arousal just before they jumped. Experience with stress may moderate the arousal level when the operator needs calming the most.

Stress experience creates a shift in arousal levels. That is, a precision shooter can shift the time he or she experiences the most stress by accumulating experience. This shift in the timing of stress is very significant. Wouldn't it be more efficient for a marksman to have an increased pulse rate at the time of a callout rather than just before squeezing the trigger?

Train complicated scenarios
Imagine a precision shooter taking an overwatch position on a tactical team preparing to serve a warrant at a suspected lab location. As the team approaches the residence, a dog appears and attacks the breaching officer. The precision shooter recognizes the threat immediately and successfully engages the dog. The sound of the shot alerts occupants of the residence, who begin firing and barricading. For this precision shooter, multiple engagement training works.

Long before Bill Wilson began building coveted combat firearms, he was a world-class competitor. Wilson designed a training drill for practical pistol shooting, which is still known as the "Bill Drill." This drill is a training exercise where the pistol shooter begins by standing 7 yards away from an International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) target. The shooter must draw and fire six "A" hits within 2 seconds. An "A" zone is about the size of an index card in a vital area.

The Bill Drill is much harder than it sounds. Modified many times to suit the needs of the training, it is an excellent rifle training drill as well, but done from 100 yards.

This modified Bill Drill is perfect for inducing pressure on the precision rifle shooter. A standard Milpark target should be used with the precision rifle shooter targeting threat-neutralizing zones only. That is, the precision rifle shooter should concentrate on sinus cavity shots. Second, five shots should be fired within 15 seconds. This will accommodate bolt action shooters who generally use five-round magazines. If this drill gives an advantage to semi-automatic precision shooters, that is simply the way it goes. When the precision shooter becomes proficient at this drill, it should be practiced offhand.

The modified el Presidente
The Bill Drill is good training for the "el Presidente," a handgun drill designed by Col. Jeff Cooper. Originally fired at 7 yards, it was later adapted to 10. Shooters stand with their backs toward three IPSC targets, each target 3 feet apart. On command, the shooter turns, draws and fires two shots into each target, reloads and fires two in each target once again. The shooter is scored by their accuracy and time with a goal at about 6 seconds.

A modification of the "el Presidente," as with the Bill Drill, should be fired at 100 yards, with peripheral hits severely penalized.

Balloon drills
There are two excellent ways of using balloons in precision rifle shooting. The first is to suspend helium-filled balloons in front of a target so shifting winds obscure parts or the entire target. This forces the shooter to time the shot. Obviously, if a balloon is popped, the shooter fails.

The second method of using balloons is to obscure the target by stapling or taping a balloon to the target. This presents a smaller target zone. The balloons should be attached in such a way that they will shift in the wind.

Regardless of the balloon drill method, photo targets — rather than predictable target zones, should be used. This causes the precision shooter to use judgment, perception and accuracy at same time.

Multiple distance drills
Engaging several targets at different distances requires a precision shooter to quickly calculate distances and priorities. This type of drill is best performed using four photo targets with prominent numbers on them. The targets can be placed at any distance within the confines of the range.

Precision shooters shoot against each other in a one-on-one competition. The scorer calls out the list of targets and announces their threat level. For example, "Target 1, gun — Target 2, gun — Target 3, knife on hostage — Target 4, gun." Based on the scenario, the precision shooter must judge the priority of engagement and engage.

Friendly competition is an excellent group tightener. If the shooting range is wide enough, performing this drill while shooters are prone will cause them to shift and reacquire their natural point of aim.

All of these drills are multiple target or multiple engagement drills which require at least one follow-up shot. This will introduce bolt manipulation, magazine changes and the need for shooters to shift positions toward additional targets. Some drills require judgment, others timing. The purpose is to train the officer to recognize they may need to fire a follow-up shot because the threat was not neutralized or more than one threat exists. When it comes to training precision shooters, keep it complicated.