By Scott Crawford

Marksmanship is a motor skill. A motor skill is a function which involves the precise movement of muscles with the intent to perform a specific act. A motor skill is also perishable. Similar to fitness, it takes consistent training to improve or maintain. The old adage, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” applies to marksmanship. If you carry for self-defense, the level of your skill could mean life or death for you or a loved one. Long gone are the days where regular trips to the range and shooting off a bench will give you the skills needed in a self-defense scenario. Alas, there are many fun and creative ways to keep your skills sharp as a razor.

A simple and cheap way to increase your marksmanship skill and get the most out of your training is to change up the targets. Instead of using the classic bullseye target, look into targets that challenge you to think before you shoot. For example, look for targets that depict a silhouette or the classic hostage/criminal target. I enjoy shooting paper targets I buy online from RE Factor Tactical (The Essential target and IQ target are my favorites) or download a target pack from Another option may be to purchase a steel target. Steel targets come in all shapes and sizes… and prices. Although they have a higher price they will last longer with proper maintenance. Steel targets also add a new dimension: an audible responsive. It gives a shooter quick feedback on a successful shot. A downside of shooting steel is that after a few shots, the paint wears off and it is near impossible to see exactly where the shot impacted. Keep this in mind: shooting steel targets may be more entertaining than paper but paper targets keep you honest.

A tool many professional shooters use are shot timers. Shot timers allow a shooter to measure an essential aspect of marksmanship skill: time. If you are new to shooting, I would suggest waiting to purchase a shot timer. I would recommend practicing the fundamentals before taking the next step of purchasing a shot timer. Having a solid understanding of the fundamentals before using a shot timer is critical in your long term development of skills. If you’re reading this article, you may already know who the legendary Wyatt Earp is. He has a quote that says, “Fast is fine, but accuracy is final.” A shot timer promotes a shooter to accelerate his or her shooting and sometimes, unfortunately, at the cost of fundamentals. To help new shooters, I relay a catchphrase the Marine Corps taught me: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, and fast is sexy.” Take the necessary time to master the basics before adding in the element of a shot timer. It will pay to be patient.

With a solid understanding of the fundamentals and new tools in your tool bag, another step to take your skills to the next level would be competition. Competition is a great training aid. I view competition in two separate groups when it comes to shooting: formal and informal. Informal competition would be a game between friends with rules made on the spot. Typically they are very simple, flexible and can quickly be adapted to many different circumstances. A formal competition would be an IPSC, IDPA or a 3-gun match. These formal types of competition have local, state, and national levels. They have rule books that each competitor needs to follow. Formal competitions are a great way to test your skill and find weaknesses in your marksmanship skill set. Although these types of competition require more initial investment than an informal competition, the benefits can be greater.

With the increasing complexity of terror or criminal active shooter attacks, the average marksman’s level of training also needs to increase. The thing to avoid with training is complacency and building a comfort zone. Shooting, as with other motor skills, needs consistent and incremental exercise. Start slow and build up from there. If you carry, train as often as possible. It is better to shoot 50 rounds every week than to shoot 500 rounds every other month.  Using new training methods could help identify weaknesses which you may have overlooked. Training can be fun but do not forget that every time you go to the range there is a goal to achieve, whether that is recreational or improving skills for competition or self-defense. Stay safe, have fun and fight the good fight.