One of the most common questions we hear is what makes for a “consistent shooter”. The simple answer would be a lot of practice. But some instructors will say, “Do exactly what I do”. Unfortunately sometimes it’s not that easy. Everyone is built with different physical attributes such as size, strength and agility. Couple that with the fact that many people have deficiencies such as eye sight, arthritis or even previous injuries then you can see that there’s no blanket answer for this question.

As an advanced firearms instructor for a sheriff’s department with over 1000 employees, I’ve had an opportunity to work with a majority of those members, and regardless if they were a new recruit or seasoned veteran, each came with different capabilities and knowledge in regards to firearms training.

One of the best ways to work with a group, regardless of their physical attribute was to develop muscle memory and muscle mechanics. There are some out there that say muscle memory is just for police. The term “muscle memory” is basically the repetition and the mechanics for all aspects of your weapon’s operation, to include the drawing from the holster, the manipulation of any safety devices, and the execution of malfunction clearing procedures.

Having been trained the different physiological stress responses prior to an incident, instructors are able to understand how repetitive training allows shooters to overcome stresses “under fire”. Muscle memory is a powerful tool for anyone who wishes to perform well when the pressure is on, and it is an essential component of defensive readiness.

Let’s cover the reasons why muscle memory training is important, as well as the positive and negative effects it can have. I consider the instantaneous and intuitive manipulation of your firearm to be the single-most important factor in surviving a close-range defensive scenario. Caliber, shot placement, and sight picture mean nothing when you’re fumbling to get your weapon clear of its holster and presented towards the known threat.

Facing a threat is stressful, and it becomes more stressful the closer you are to that threat. Increased heart rate and adrenaline cause a loss of fine motor skills as well as tunnel-vision, auditory exclusion, and a host of other side effects. When one considers the fact that the vast majority of defensive handgun use takes place within 3 yards, you do not have time to think about what you’re going to do.

Each second can mean the difference between life and death.

The ability to draw a weapon and take aim without conscious thought is critical. The brain can’t process a dozen things for you all at once without the results coming out muddled. That’s why what goes on under the surface is so very important. If you have to think about your grip, stance, sight alignment, breath control, and so forth, you’ve wasted several precious seconds. Your attacker won’t wait for you to process and apply all of that information, making muscle memory so helpful. It turns drawing, aiming and shooting a gun into a singular, fluid movement that requires little conscious effort. You can respond quicker and more accurately than if you had to concentrate on each and every little step beforehand.

“Train How You Fight Because You’ll Fight How You Train”

You can make your own training as realistic as possible by doing just a few basic things. For instance, never take shortcuts on the range if at all possible. Often times we like to make things more convenient for ourselves on the range, tucking your shirt in behind your holster to make drawing the gun easier, or wearing easy to manipulate clothing.  If you carry concealed, every draw should be from concealment. If you expect to be able to overcome obstacles you’ll face in a real life defensive shooting scenario, then you’ll need to incorporate those same obstacles into your training.