You bought a handgun for self-defense, and you’ve put a good amount of hours into a defensive shooting class. You did pretty much whatever any responsible gun owner should do. But is that enough? How do you maintain those critical skills? How do you practice?
In this article, we will look at three drills from home defense that you should consider practicing in order to keep your skills sharp. You should practice these practical preparedness scenarios at the range to be sure you can protect your family when SHTF.
Drills for Home Defense
Drill Numero Uno – Home defense retrieval
In the training world, we often say that there are only two safe places for your firearm: on your person or in a locked container. That is doubly true if you have children in your home; an unlocked, unattended gun is dangerous to curious children (even if your kids aren’t curious, their friends are likely to be).
The result of this realization is the common recommendation that you should always carry your gun at all times, even when you’re in your home. It’s almost a point of pride amongst the training cadre that they never take their guns off except to go to sleep.
The trouble with that line of thinking is that we don’t always have our guns on us. If you’re taking a shower, for instance, it’s unlikely that you’ll be wearing your gun. Yes, I’m sure the super-ninjas out there have one within arm’s reach at all times, but realistically it’s out of your immediate control and should be secured in some manner.
It’s possible that you could come out of that shower to the sound of breaking window glass, signaling an intruder. You might also be one of those who doesn’t have a concealed carry license (in those jurisdictions where they’re needed) or works in a job where guns are forbidden.
In either case, you’re not likely to be packing when you come home after work, and someone follows you into your house. It happens.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but you’re also not going to have your gun on when you’re sleeping. As I’m writing this, news of a self-inflicted gunshot is making the rounds; a fellow who slept with two guns in his bed rolled over one night and somehow managed to fire one of them, resulting in a wound to his pelvis! That’s just one reason why you shouldn’t have a gun with you when you go to sleep.
In all of these cases, your gun isn’t in your immediate care and custody and, therefore should be stored in a secure, locked container, preferably one of the quick-access safes that are on the market. If something happens where you need that lethal force tool, you’ll need to be able to retrieve it quickly and efficiently.
Getting to the storage container and doing what’s necessary to get into it and access the gun under pressure is a specific skill set that you really should train and rehearse before needing to do it for real.
Even if you don’t have children and choose to stage guns in your home without the benefit of a locking container, you still need to practice getting to them, loading them, and getting into a solid shooting position/stance. Practicing that now would be a good idea, which is why this drill exists.
This isn’t a drill where you shoot a lot of ammunition; this drill really is intended more to test your movement to and manipulation of your gun and/or its storage container.
As a result, one full magazine per repetition will be more than sufficient, though I recommend having a second one stored with the gun to take with you in case you need to move away from the storage area.
I recommend that you run through this drill several times to embed the sequence of events firmly in your mind.
I suggest using the LE Targets #CFS-BSP, simply because of its general resemblance to the human silhouette. In reality, you can use anything, including a paper plate. Again, this isn’t as much about shooting as it is your physical access to the gun.
A quick-access safe or a suitable substitute (a latching ammo can works well). You may also need masking tape or some sticks to set up a floor plan (cheap 1×2” lath works well). The range you use must allow you to move between some starting point and your gun, and it’s best set up on a range where you can recreate your own floor plan on the ground or floor.
While a training partner isn’t absolutely necessary for this drill, having one to make your start signal random, unpredictable, and somewhat realistic (like screaming, yelling, or perhaps even a board breaking to simulate a door being kicked in) is most helpful.
If the range allows it, use the masking tape or 1x1s to recreate the room in which you store your gun. Layout the walls, the doorway, and perhaps any large furniture around which you need to navigate.
Make them as true to scale as you can. (You can see where a large indoor range or outdoor shooting bay is best if you’re trying to recreate a large bedroom.) Be sure to layout any hallways down which you need to run to get to the “room.”
Orient the “room” to the target so that you’re in the same shooting position (relative to the rest of the room) from which you expect to mount your defense.
Even though this isn’t really a drill about shooting, don’t allow yourself to get complacent or sloppy with your shooting. You still need to hit the target with all rounds inside the target area.
If you’re not, that means you’re either lazy or don’t have a complete understanding of the fundamentals; if the latter is true, go back to basic marksmanship drills and practice some more.
Drill Numero Dos – Sudden response
This drill addresses two separate and important concepts in defensive shooting.
First is the need to be able to think and function with a gun in your hand — to be prepared for action while at the same time being able to process the information that’s flowing into your brain.
It’s one thing to stand in front of a target, draw on command and shoot; it’s a different thing altogether to have that gun in hand, keep it pointed in an appropriate direction, and carry on a conversation with the 9-1-1 operator whom you’ve called to report that bad guy in your midst.
What happens if, while you’re trying to tell the operator where you are and what’s going on, the bad guy decides to run at you — or break in the door of your bedroom?
Can you efficiently switch tasks from proactive (calling for help) to reactive (dealing with that immediate threat)?
In a complex situation like that, it’s easy — too easy — to get fixated on one thing: the gun, to the exclusion of the call for help, or the call for help, to the exclusion of keeping track of the threat. We don’t often practice this “juggling” of duties, and that’s a mistake.
This is the kind of scenario where things can go very wrong: for the innocent who comes around the corner when you were expecting a threat, or for you when the police officer tells you to drop the gun and you whirl around to face him — and get shot for your mistake.
Managing tasks and processing information is critical to both an efficient response and your own safety, and that’s what this drill is designed to accomplish.
The second aspect of this drill has to do with your anticipation of shooting. If the situation is such that you’ve got a gun in your hand, you’re likely to be ready to shoot, but the point at which you actually make and execute the decision to shoot is yet unknown. Your general readiness is high, but your anticipation of any specific shot is low.
That anticipation affects your balance of speed & precision because you aren’t ready to shoot at the moment you need to. Understanding this dynamic will help you refine your understanding of that balance and under what conditions it’s adversely affected. Before you try this drill, you should already have a good grounding in one-handed drawing and shooting.
I’d suggest having two magazines loaded between 40- 60% of capacity and repeating this drill until both are empty. This will give you additional experience in recognizing an empty gun and reloading efficiently even in the midst of a chaotic situation.
I recommend using any one of the DT-2 series targets, so that your training partner can increase the difficulty level by making you figure out which target really needs to be shot.
The scenario is simple: You’re on the phone with 9-1-1 reporting someone who has broken into your house. As you’re talking on the phone, the suspect, armed with a knife, bursts into the room.
Stand a plausible distance from the target, based on your measurements of the rooms in your house: your living room or kitchen, for instance.
Carry on a simulated conversation with the imaginary 9-1-1 operator, who is played by your training partner. Make the call like a real 9-1-1 call: tell the “operator” you need the police, give your name and address, describe the “suspect,” where he is in your home, where you are in your home, a description of yourself, who else is in the home, their ages, and so on.
Your training partner is to act like a real call taker, asking you what you need, where you are, what the suspect looks like, etc.
At some point, while you’re holding this conversation, your partner is to call out a target identifier (color, number, shape, or any combination of those), and your job is to determine which target to shoot and then to deliver several accurate rounds into that target.
Like every other drill, you’re looking for all accurate hits on the targets as fast as you can shoot — but this drill is slightly different.
This drill is a little more difficult than most from a marksmanship standpoint, given the varied shapes of the target areas and the slightly increased distance, and the fact that you’ll likely be shooting one-handed.
Add to that the sudden nature of the “threat,” and you’ll likely find more missed shots than usual. That’s okay, because it’s those missed shots that show you the effect of surprise on your ability to shoot; doing this drill two or three times (which should use up the allotted two magazines) will help you adapt to that surprise, and you should see those misses disappear by the last repetition.
If they don’t, you have some work to do on your one-handed shooting skills!
Drill Numero Tres – The barricaded defender
Over the last few years, the approach to defense in the home has evolved into a comprehensive plan:
- evade (get away from the intruder, get out if you and any family members can do so in complete safety);
- barricade (secure yourself in a prearranged safe area or room);
- arm (by whatever means you have at your disposal, be it a firearm, electrical defense tool, chemical spray, or even improvised weapons);
- communicate (call emergency responders to help);
- and, finally, respond (use those self-defense tools as necessary to protect your life or the lives of your loved ones).
Shooting from that ensconced or barricaded position is likely to be different than from a standing position on the range. You’ll ideally be behind cover, probably shooting from around or over something, and possibly from a kneeling position.
What’s more, unless you have someone in the room with you to handle communications with emergency responders, you’ll need to do that along with shooting your gun. It’s a lot of stuff to keep straight and not at all easy to do if you’ve not practiced beforehand.
This drill is designed to give you some practice dealing with the physical parts of that response, shooting from a realistic home defense position.
If you haven’t already, you need to identify your safe room — the place where you’ll go (or take your family, as the case may be) and where you can secure yourself behind a solid locked door. You’ll want your position in that room to be at right angles to the path of entry (so that you can see the bad guy before he spots you, giving you valuable reaction time) and behind some sort of cover.
Cover, remember, is anything that will stop a bullet; a bookcase loaded with books works very well, but even the mattress on your bed can provide some small measure of ballistic protection. Once you’ve identified how your safe room will be arranged, you can decide how to conduct this drill.
If your plan is to stand behind a bookcase, looking around the right side to view the door, you’ll need to practice this drill by standing and shooting around the right side of your barricade.
If your room’s best ballistic protection is your bed (or perhaps a low cedar chest filled with books), you’ll need to practice crouching or kneeling behind that barrier as you shoot.
For the purposes of this drill, a tall barricade can be something as simple as the divider on your range’s shooting lane. If you’re on an open range, a couple of stacked plastic barrels work well.
Many ranges have actual barricades that are used for shooting competitions, and those are ideal. If your range has none of that, an extra target stand covered with cardboard to the height of your head will suffice.
If you need something to take the place of low cover, some cardboard positioned low on a target frame can be pressed into service. A large cardboard box, like that from an appliance, can also be used as can one of those plastic barrels set on its side.
Since this drill is designed to test your ability to shoot from compromised positions, such as over or around cover, you’ll want to run it several times so that you can determine for yourself how you’re going to shoot and still keep yourself safe.
I’d suggest at least a couple of magazines of ammunition, shot in successive repetitions of 3-5 rounds each. Revisit the drill occasionally to keep those skills sharp.
I prefer the LE Targets #CFS-BSP for this drill, for its more realistic depiction of the target zone of an attacker.
You’ll want some sort of equipment or prop to substitute for cover (target frames with cardboard, barrels, etc.) and something that resembles a cell phone.
You’ll be dropping this prop, so if you have an old dead phone or something roughly the same size that you can drop, use that.
You should shoot at a distance that closely matches that of your safe room. Measure your room and then measure that same distance to the target.
To shoot this drill, start with the gun in the ready position — close to your chest, with your elbows at your sides. If you have a training partner, he or she should give you an agreed-upon fi re command; if not, you can decide yourself when to shoot.
For the first repetition, hold the cell phone (or substitute) to your ear and keep the gun close into your body with your shooting hand. On the command to fire, simply drop the phone as you establish a good two-hand grip on the gun, extend and shoot.
Remember to keep behind cover as much as possible — that’s why you chose it, after all — as you make your hits.
Make sure you get 3-5 solid hits on the target. For the second repetition, you’ll do the same thing but shoot one-handed. This is an important skill to train, because your natural grasp reflex may cause you to doggedly hang on to the phone when the attacker bursts in.
Practicing both one-handed and two-handed from behind cover is important in a well-rounded skill set!
On the command to fire, extend out in a one-handed stance and fire 3-5 rounds into the center-chest area of the target. If you need to reload, drop the cell phone and reload using both hands.
I know this is starting to sound repetitious, and it is: you’re looking for all solid hits inside the upper chest target area.
You should find that there’s a big change in your balance of speed & precision as you switch from two-hand to one-hand shooting.
This is natural; no one shoots as well one-handed as two-handed, but it’s important for you to learn how much difference there is so that you can adjust your shooting to make sure that you get all your hits on the target.
Shooting from a disadvantaged position will reveal those differences even more starkly, and you may discover that you need more work on your one-handed shooting if you’re to be able to reliably incapacitate your attacker
SAFETY WARNING: Shooting from low cover, with a target set at normal height, can result in the bullet’s path going over the berm or bullet trap on your range!
Check your angles carefully before you start shooting. If the angle is such that it creates a safety hazard, move your entire setup close to the backstop or drop the target down so that the angles are safe. The latter is not the very best arrangement, as you don’t get to practice shooting at a standing target, but it’s better than injuring someone because your bullet wasn’t properly contained.
SAFETY FIRST! If you normally carry your gun in your home, practice drawing the gun before you get into your barricaded position. Do not try to draw the gun when you’re in a cramped or compromised position!
These three drills for home defense are some of the most common preparedness scenarios for home defense we see at the range. Practicing them will give you that needed advantage to keep your loved ones safe, and it will make sure you will tell the police what happen from the comfort of your own home and not from a hospital bed.
Suggested prepping learning: