Gear

Shot timer: A shot timer is a must for both live- and dry-fire practice. Timers will have two modes of operation: standard and par. In standard mode, the buzzer sounds a start signal and the timer then records the times at which shots are fired using an internal microphone. In par mode, the buzzer sounds twice: once as a start signal and a second time as a stop signal. It records shot times the same way as in standard mode. Par mode is particularly useful for dry-fire practice. Say that you’re working on your draw. You set the par time to a value that you know you can make and then ratchet down the time during your practice session. I used a PACT Club Timer 3 for about a decade before it died. PACT’s lifetime warranty wasn’t, and I switched to a Pocket Pro 2, which I like a lot. There are also iPhone shot timer apps, and ones may exist for Android as well.

Notebook and pen: It’s hard to track progress if you’re not recording times off the shot timer for standard drills.

Electronic ear muffs: Electronic ear muffs are a revelation if you’ve never used them. They amplify quiet sounds and cut out loud ones. This lets you easily hear range commands and the sound of a start buzzer while muffling subsequent shots. I’m using a ten-year-old Peltor 7, which works well enough, but would recommend springing for a Pro Ears model. They have clearer sound and muffle loud sounds instead of cutting them off. Be sure to keep an extra battery in your shooting bag should you accidentally store the muffs in the on position. Electronic muffs are also great for working with power tools. Ear muffs can get toasty on warm days, so it’s nice to have regular ear plugs for those time. I really like the SureFire EP4.

Eye protection: I buy cheap, clear glasses in bulk from Lab Safety Supply or Home Depot. I find shooting with tinted glasses difficult because the tinting and lack of anti-reflective coatings give a low-contrast sight picture. That’s not so say that there isn’t a color out there that works well.

Dummy rounds: These are invaluable for dry-fire practice at home and setting up malfunction drills at the range. I buy mine from S. T. Action Pro. They stock a wide range of rounds and couldn’t be friendlier.

Grip tape: Polymer pistols like the Glock and M&P feel slightly slippery as they ship from the factory. Pre-cut grip tape from Eric Wesselmen solves that problem in a jiffy.

Holster: My friend Mike Benedict makes fine kydex holsters and magazine pouches that you can order online at his web site. I particularly like his A10 model and have one or two for each of my pistols. These days, I primarily carry my M&P in a Raven Concealment Phantom, which gives up a little speed to the A10 but holds the pistol slightly higher and closer to the body for better concealment. Other holsters that look good include the Comp-Tac belt holster.

Belt: A holster needs a belt. Look no farther than Talon Tactical and Wilderness Tactical for one.

Targets: The Target Barn stocks all kinds of cardboard and paper targets and pasters. I order my cardboard IDPA targets and tan pasters from them.

Stapler: I have an old PowerShot 5700 that works like a charm. I left it in a friend’s car by accident and bought a new one. The current version is cheaply constructed and jams frequently. I was very happy when I got back my old one.

Shooting Mat: Midway’s shooting mat is inexpensive, well constructed, and rolls out to make a comfortable shooting surface. It’s a must-have for shooting prone.

Rifle case: Midway’s Pro Series Tactical Rifle Gun Cases work beautifully for protecting a scoped rifle while driving to and from the range. The 35” case will just fit an AR-15 with a 16” barrel and a collapsable stock. A hard-sided case like a Pelican 1700 or 1720 works better for air travel.

Spotting scope: Any spotting scope will show bullet holes at 100 yards, but seeing them at significantly greater distances requires spending a few hundred dollars. I’ve been using an Orion Apex 102 mounted to a camera tripod. The stock eyepiece gives 52x magnification and resolves .223 bullet holes at 300 yards if mirage is not too heavy. This is about the largest practical magnification for this scope, as more magnification merely gives a bigger, dimmer images without resolving any additional detail. A pricy refractor will offer higher contrast than this scope’s catadioptric system, and several of them are reviewed in this article. Note that atmospheric conditions set a limit on resolution, particularly when the sun is shining directly on the ground and creating heavy mirage.

Steel targets: Action Target and Metal Targets sells a wide range of AR500 steel targets and stands and will also make custom targets. Widener’s simply sells a variety of plates to hang from your own stands. It’s much easier to see hits on painted steel than paper, and the impact sound and target motion also confirm hits. No spotting scope will resolve bullet holes past 600 yards, but the impact on steel is easily seen at that range and beyond.

Books

Practical Shooting: Beyond Fundamentals: This is hands down the best book on shooting ever written. It's not so much a book about stance and trigger control, although it does cover those things, as about the mental side of shooting, which becomes the real factor for intermediate and advanced shooters. These sections will likely sound like complete gibberish the first time you read them as they’re trying to describe a mental state or experience. It’s hard to grasp such concepts without first getting a glimpse of them. Imagine trying to describe the sensation of blasting down an open road in a convertible with the top down to a cave man. Read, go to the range, then read and shoot some more. Eventually, the ideas will start to crystalize and change not only how you shoot, but how you experience life. The parts of the book that are hardest to understand on first read are the ones that will pay off the most in the long run in developing pistol shooting skills. Note that is book is entirely geared toward hitting targets quickly and accurately—it’s not a gunfighting book.

Tactical Pistol Shooting: This book provides a quick overview of pistol fundamentals such as stance, reloading, clearing malfunctions, single-handed operation, low-light techniques, and using cover. The text is clear and to the point and supported with helpful pictures that walk the reader through everything step by step. It’s an excellent complement to Practical Shooting, Beyond Fundamentals.

The Tactical Advantage: Gabe’s book picks up where Tactical Pistol Shooting leaves off to cover tactics such as room clearing. Somewhat dated, but still a good reference.

In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection: This book covers the legal aspects of using firearms in self defense. The hardware sections are long out of date, which is expected since it was originally published in 1980, and case law has also changed since then. I’m told that the books at Firearms Law provide up-to-date information on the legal environment.

Green Eyes and Black Rifles: This is a soup-to-nuts guide on running an AR-15. It includes sections on weapon selection, zeroing, reloading, shooting positions, malfunction clearance, shooting on the move, cleaning, and maintenance.

Jim Owens’s books: These books provide an excellent introduction to configuring, shooting, and maintaining a service rifle. The book on sight alignment and trigger control is particularly good.

The Rifle Shooter: This is the graduate-level text on high-power rifle shooting.

Videos

The Art of the Dynamic Handgun: The filming and production of this four-DVD puts you in the middle of an introductory pistol class with two good instructors and students at varying skill levels. The video and production values are first rate—the camera runs with the shooters like you’d expect in a Hollywood film. You see not only the instructors demonstrating the techniques but them diagnosing and correcting problems in the students’ execution of them. The instructors start with the fundamentals and finish by putting the students into scenarios where they need to solve complex problems. The fundamentals include the hows and whys of drawing, aiming, firing and reloading a pistol. The instruction then gets into clearing malfunctions, shooting from different positions, shooting on the move, and single-handed operation. The dynamic portion refers to dealing with unplanned events. For example, your stance or grip on the pistol may not be perfect, but you need to drive on and get your hits. The sections on concealed carry discuss different pistol placements (e.g., hip, small of the back, and purse), cover garments, and mindset. The outtakes are quite funny. You can watch a trailer here.

3GM and 3GM2: These videos features Saul Kirch, Max Michel, and Angus Hobdell, three world-class shooters, each giving independent 10–15 minute presentations and shooting demos on a range of topics. So you get to hear three different takes on each topics. The shooters are shown from multiple angles when demonstrating the technique and in slow motion, so it's quite clear what they're doing. There's a good explanation of why they do things the way they do, but it's left as an exercise for the viewer to find what works for them.

Saul teaches with an Open gun (a fancy STI), Max with a Limited (double-stack 1911), and Angus with a Production (CZ-75 SP01 Shadow). So some of the variation is attributable to that.

3GM covers stance, trigger/recoil control, accuracy, draw, specialty draws, reloads, and transitions between shooting positions. It's a solid video geared toward beginning shooters. You'll learn a bundle if you're not already IDPA SS or USPSA C, but folks at that level should still find the video worth their time.

3GM2 covers target transitions, kneeling and prone shooting, shooting around barricades, strong/weak hand shooting, shooting on the move, and shooting swingers. These are more competition-oriented techniques geared toward intermediate shooters, say IDPA EX or USPSA B.

Both are pure technique videos that are only concerned with shooting quickly and accuracy. No attempt is made to recommend training techniques or practice regimens. Production quality is adequate with cheesy transitions; don't expect the polish of Magpul's videos. The advantage is that these guys are far better competitive shooters.

The Art of the Tactical Carbine: These three DVDs put you in the middle of an introductory carbine class that begins with basic weapon manipulation and progresses through basic team tactics. Everything about he handgun video applies to this one. One potential critique is that the videos have a strong Coast Guard influence that can throw people already familiar with running carbines. Even so, it’s a must-have. You can watch a trailer here and a live-fire drill here.

The Art of the Precision Rifle: Extremely focused on gear and gizmos. Save your money.

Training

An NRA Basic Pistol class will teach you how not to shoot yourself by accident. I’d recommend at least a weekend course from a notable instructor to learn the basics of practical shooting, such as the items in my pistol skills list. Such instructors will also have seen all sorts of equipment and can give good advice on what to buy (or not).

Matches

There’s nothing like competing in IDPA, USPSA/IPSC, or Steel Challenge matches for an objective test of shooting ability and learning to shoot under pressure. These are timed events, and new shooters are often impressed with how much ability and dexterity evaporate as soon as the timer buzzes. But shooting well in matches confers a certain amount of confidence in your abilities. Matches are also a great way to meet and learn from experienced shooters. Steel Challenge matches are very simple and a great place to get your feet wet.

Vendors

Certain shooting-related items can prove tough to find, and it’s helpful to check multiple sources. I’ve had good luck ordering from all of the following companies.

Bravo Company: Great source for AR-15 components and accessories. The house brand items are all top quality.

Brownells: These folks stock just about everything, including parts for firearms you’ve never heard of.

CED: These folks stock all manner of gear for competitive shooting including belt systems, holsters, magazine pouches,

LaRue Tactical: Great source for AR-15 components and accessories.

Midway: Almost as wide a selection as Brownells.

Rainier Arms: Great source for AR-15 components and accessories.

Top Gun Supply: The best supplier you’ve never heard about.

The only place I’d steer clear of is Botach Tactical. These folks are notorious for shipping delays of weeks or more.

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Last edit: 10 September 2013