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6 Best Shooting Drills: Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun

Do you want to be a better defensive shooter?

Of course you do! So…can you attend a defensive firearms course, across the country…basically once a month?

If you can, great!  But if you can’t…welcome to the club.

We’ve put together a few defensive firearms drills to keep your skills sharp & build a solid base in defensive firearms use.  All from the comfort of your local range.

pistol shooting drills
Our goal is for everyone to be more prepared in the event they have to use a firearm to defend themselves.

Table of Contents


Why These Drills?

There are lots of great drills out there to improve your shooting ability.  The ones I’ve chosen here were done for a purpose. First they are great drills to master.

Second they can be done with minimal supplies.

Third they can most likely be done, or modified to be done in accordance with your range’s rules. Some drills are a bit more complicated and would give some RSO’s a heart attack.  These drills can be modified to comply with range rules, and you can still take a good amount of lessons learned from them.

range rules

1. The “Oh Crap” Drill

Applicable Weapons – Handgun, Shotgun, Rifle

Drill Goal – So the ‘Oh Crap’ drill is all about learning to get your gun back into the fight when it goes down with a malfunction.  The objective is for the shooter to safely and effectively learn how to clear a malfunction.  This specific drill is designed to teach shooters how to defeat a complicated malfunction, not something simple like a misfire.

Setting the Drill Up

So you need to set up a malfunction.  You can use an empty brass case, or a Snap Cap to make sure it’s nice and complicated.  I prefer to load a double feed to make things nice and hard on myself.

All standard PPE is required, and if you are shooting quite a bit that day I’d suggest gloves to help avoid burns.  Set the drill up with your Snap Cap or brass case and create a complicated malfunction in your weapon of choice.  

You want live rounds in the magazine, or tube ready to rock and roll.

round in chamber
Round in chamber

The Drill

Start the drill in the ready position, as if you had just fired and are going to fire again.  If you are using a timer, wait for it to sound off.  When it sounds off, the drill begins.

This is a very simple drill, but also an important one to master.  If you have a complicated malfunction it may be a literal oh crap moment in a gunfight.  During my first deployment I was in charge of carrying the machine gun.

The gun I had during the first half of the deployment was best described as ragged.  It was older than me and constantly had issues.  My squad depended on my gun to suppress the enemy, so if my gun stayed down my whole squad had an Oh Crap moment.

soldier in Afghanistan
Author in Afghanistan Circa 2009

So I learned how to run it, and how it functioned, and how to get it back in action as quick as humanly possible.

If you aren’t using a timer for this drill, start when ready.  The drill ends when a round is fired, using a Shot timer you can record your times.


With a Handgun your are going to want to remove the magazine, retaining it, or dropping it if you are carrying a spare mag.  Pull the action the rear several times as you tilt the weapon ejection port down.  Once the malfunction is cleared, reload the weapon and fire.

pistol stovepipe

Firing a shot on target completes the drill.


Different rifles function differently, this drill assumes you are using a modern rifle.  If not adapt the drill the best you can.  Starting in the firing position drop the magazine with the firing hand as the non firing hand locks the bolt to the rear.

rifle malfunction drills

With the bolt to the rear the jam should clear, if it does not, go digging with your hands, and clear the brass.  Reinsert the magazine and fire a single shot and the drill is over.

clearing rifle malfunction


This drill is for shotguns with tubular magazines, revert to the rifle drill for box mags.  With a pump shotgun pull the pump fully to the rear, and if necessary reach in and remove the malfunction. With an automatic lock the bolt back to the rear and clear the malfunction with your hands.

shotgun malfunction drills
Snap Caps are totally fine for most of these drills.

Put another round in the chamber and fire a round.

shotgun malfunction drill

Make It Harder – Randomly load an empty case into the magazine, and let the malfunction surprise you.

2. The Failure to Stop Drill

The Failure to stop drill is two shots to the chest and one to the head.  The failure to stop drill is the same drill with any weapon platform.  Except for a machine gun, because with an MG it’s basically just a whole lot everywhere.

failure to stop drill
Failure to Stop is one of the most important drills to practice.

The Failure to Stop Drill, or FSD for brevity’s sake, is mostly useful with a rifle or pistol.  A failure to stop drill with a shotgun tends to be unnecessary, but can be done.  Regardless of the weapon the being used the drill is the same.

Setting It Up

You’ll a silhouette target with distinguished chest and head areas.  Set it up anywhere from 7-10 yards with a handgun to 15 – 25 yards with a rifle or shotgun.

If range rules allow the shooter starts with their handgun holstered, or their long gun at the low ready.  On the go signal the shoot fires two rounds into the chest of their target, and one round to the head.  Shooter keeps weapon aimed at target to ensure it’s down.

mozambique drill
The Failure to Stop drill is also called the “Mozambique” drill.

This drill stresses shot placement into critical areas of an opponent.  It also teaches shot transition drills on the same target.  Shot placement is the most important factor in ending a defensive encounter, more so that any kind of supposed knock down power.

Make it Harder – Place a 3 x 5 index card on the chest of the target, and a playing card on the head of the target.  Shots will only count if they hit the index or playing card.  This will challenge the shooter’s shot placement skills even more.

What’s your take on the Failure to Stop drill?

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3. The Box Drill

The Box Drill is almost identical to the the failure to stop drill.  However, it’s shot on two targets. Remember that movie Collateral with Tom Cruise?  He did a box drill on two targets.  

Like the FSD you can use any weapon’s platform to complete this drill…as long as it can hold 6 rounds.

box drill
The box drill is one of the more popular drills out there.

I place the targets about a yard apart.  It’s faster to engage with your dominant hand, so that’s where you should start.  Engage the first target with two to the chest, transition to the second target, fire two to his chest.

On the second target take your headshot, then transition and finish the drill with a final headshot on the first target.

This drill stresses shot placement, and multiple target engagement.  It forces you to think under stress, and focus on kicking ass in a proactive way.  The Box drill lets you get your inner Collateral out, and dominate your target.

box shooting drill
Just about any defensive handgun class is going to use the box drill, in some form or another.

Make it Harder – You can make it a little harder by placing the targets further apart if possible.  If not, mix in a reload in somewhere between shots.  Make it interesting by loading three rounds per magazine and reloading right in the middle of the drill.

Pistol Specific Drills

4. The El Presidente

The El Presidente was designed by the King of Combat handgun shooting, Jeff Cooper.  The drill is designed to challenge a pistol shooters ability to draw, engage, transition targets, reload, and then re engage multiple targets again.  The drill should be completed in ten seconds, or 5 if you are an advanced shooter.

Eric did a great piece on the El Presidente Drill if you want to learn more.  

Setting Up the Drill

You’ll need three man sized targets set 1 meter apart, and the targets will be 10 meters from you. You’ll start with a holstered handgun, and a spare mag carried as you please.  You’ll need six rounds in each mag.  

el presidente shooting drill
El presidente shooting drill.

You’ll need a timer to really gauge your ability, but if running it just for fun don’t worry about it.

Running the Drill

You’ll start with your back to the targets, and hands in the air, in the false surrender position.  On the go signal you turn, draw and shoot each target twice.  You then reload, and shoot each target two more times.

The drill is quite challenging, and does have a lot of moving parts.  It admittedly is hard to find a range to allow this drill to occur.

Rifle Specific Drills

5. 1 to 5 Drill

Designed by Kyle Lamb the 1 to 5 drill is perfect for any modern defensive rifle.  Kyle Lamb was a Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army, he was a Delta Force Operator, and participated in numerous deployments, including the Black Hawk Down Incident.

He’s the lead instructor at Viking Tactics and the subject of a serious man crush on my part.  He designed the drill to stress shooting until the target is down.  Instead of focusing on the double tap and transition you’ll place a multitude of rounds on multiple targets.

1-5 shooting drill
Courtesy of Polenar Tactical

Load one magazine with 15 rounds and insert it and make ready with your rifle.

Setting the Drill Up

You’ll need three man size silhouettes set about a yard apart.  The targets are only five yards from you. Start in the low ready position with your rifle.  On the signal to go you put one shot on the left most target, two shots into the center target, and three shots into the rightmost target.


Next you shoot four shots on the center target, and finish with five shots on the left target.  You should be able to do this in about 5 seconds.  Anything less means you are doing pretty dang good.

Shotgun Specific Drills

6. Shoot Two – Load Two

The thing with is a shotgun is the low ammo capacity.  Even in the most kitted up combat shotguns you are likely only getting 9 rounds or less.  It’s an essential skill for any shotgunner to know how to reload their weapon.

shoot 2 load 2 drill
The shoot 2, load 2 drill is a common military training drill as well.

The S&L drill is built to help shooters really master how to load a shotgun in the middle of using it. A shotguns tubular magazine is an advantage since you can constantly load the gun as you shoot. Being a speedy reloader is the key to mastering the shotgun.

Set up the Drill

Place any target downrange, and start ten yards from it.  I prefer to use clay pigeons set on the berm for shotgun training.  Shotguns rip targets apart, so paper targets are kind of not needed.

Clay pigeons explode, and are fun to shoot.  You’ll need at least 5 shotgun rounds.  Three in the tube, two secured outside of the shotgun to load the gun.

Running the Drill

It’s simple shoot two rounds, reload two shells.  You want to reload with your non dominant hand, and keep the shotgun point at the targets.  You can do it once, or as long as you can continue reloading the shotgun.

The key to this drill is repetition.  The faster you get the better.

shotgun side saddle
If you use a side saddle you’ll have up to 6 rounds so you can run the drill three times.

A way to measure your progress is by keeping time.  Shoot two, reload two, and observe your time.

Accessories to Maximize Training

I’ve mentioned a few accessories above, and I want to go ahead and double down on just how handy they are.  These tools will make it a lot easier to train, and ensure you get the most out of your training.

Shot Timer

A Shot timer is an invaluable tool to track your skills and ability to shoot.  Sure a target makes it possible to see how accurate you are but a shot timer shows how fast you are.  You can record the data and track your progress.

shot timer
This CED timer is an industry standard.


A shot timer also adds stress to your shooting, and makes you work to overcome stress. There is the anticipation of the BEEP which get the blood flowing.  Depending on the timer the alarm can sound randomly to start the drill.

It will then record the time between the start signal and your shots fired, as well as your split times.  Split times being the time between shots, not the time between shots and the go signal.

If you can’t afford a shot timer there are a number of apps that function OK for shot timers.  They aren’t perfect, but better than nothing.

Good Targets

While just about any target can work, I prefer targets that resemble an actual opponent.  This makes it easy to determine how I’d shoot on an actual attacker.  Some drills really can’t be shot with a standard Bull’s Eye target.

One of my Favorites of all time is the Thompson Target’s B27 IMZ.  It assigns small sectors to the vulnerable parts of the body, ensuring you learn where to properly place shots to stop a target.

b27 imz target

Snap Caps

Snap Caps are invaluable training aids in general, be it dry fire, basic firearm safety, or inducing malfunctions.  These rounds are quite distinct from actual rounds, but are built perfectly to the spec of a real cartridge.  Snap Caps are cheap, easy to find, and are made for nearly any caliber imaginable.

12 gauge snap caps

9mm luger snap caps

.223 snap caps

A Little At a Time

When it comes to training you got to remember you better in increments. Increments of an inch in your hits or misses, increments in seconds, and increments in group size. Be patient, keep training, if you feel you’re at the bottom all you can do is go up.

Got drills of your own…or any of your favorites we’ve missed?  Let us know…and in the meantime check out our How to Shoot a Pistol More Accurately post.

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1 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    S. Spade

    Not the best pick for snap-caps because their rim's are soft aluminum and so break off. Also, they are not weighted correctly and are too light. And, yes, believe it or not, your pistol will feel differently if it is not loaded with correctly-weighted rounds.

    I went through lots of different caps, threw most of them out for the above reasons, until I found B-Unique. (www(dot)dryfiresnapcaps(dot)com). Their caps are not only correctly weighted, but also have solid brass rims which don't break off and are balanced like the real things, too. I don't dry-fire without my magazine loaded with them to be sure the 'feel' is right.

    August 24, 2020 12:26 pm