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The Process Is The Plan

The Process Is The Plan

One of the perks of my job is that I get to read and edit the content for Shooting illustrated before the rest of you get to read it. In reading Steve Tarani’s post for this week, I realized what I needed to do in order to take the next step and improve my shooting skills a bit. 

First off, I knew I had to reach a specific, measurable goal. Rather than just say “I want to take a little bit of time off my draw,” I want to say, “I need to reach this plateau,” and the plateau I’ve chosen is IDPA Master. 

To see if I can actually reach the level I want, let’s look at the IDPA 5×5 Classifier, which will probably be the test I must pass to reach that level of performance.

  • String 1: Draw and fire five shots freestyle
  • String 2: Draw and fire five shots, strong hand only
  • String 3: Start with only five rounds in the gun. Draw and fire five shots freestyle, then perform an emergency reload and fire five more shots freestyle
  • String 4: Draw and fire four shots to the body and one shot to the head, freestyle

Target is one IDPA target set 5 feet high at 10 yards distance. Scoring is limited. Cover garment is optional.

So a few things jump out at me right away. The first is that all four stages begin with drawing your pistol and firing at least four shots into (ideally) the Down Zero region of the target. This task breaks down into the following specific skills: 

  • A smooth, consistent draw
  • A good initial sight picture on the target
  • Pressing the trigger so as not to move my sights
  • Having a solid grip on the pistol and a good stance so I can suck up the recoil
  • Wash, rinse, repeat

Performing those tasks quickly and efficiently is going to take up 19 of the 25 shots in the classifier. The other six are one-handed shooting (where grip and trigger become even MORE important) and a precisely delivered headshot. The good news is, I shoot a reduced version of the Federal Air Marshal Qualifier at least once a month and a Bill Drill every time I do a CCW class, so I have a pretty good idea of what my current raw time is for each of these tasks, assuming no shots out of the Down Zero.

IDPA Classifier (Current Skill Level)
Draw Shots Other Each Shot Total time
Stage 1 1.6 2.5 0.5 4.1
Stage 2 1.6 3.4 0.68 5
Stage 3 1.6 4 3.3 0.4 8.9
Stage 4 1.6 1.2 0.8 0.4 3.6
1.6 second draw to Down Zero, 3.3 second reload, 0.4 second splits


Which is more or less good for Expert level for ESP Division, which is where my current carry gun of choice falls into.

What does actual mastery look like? Something like this: 

IDPA Classifier (Required Skill Level)
Draw Shots Other Eech Shot Total time
Stage 1 1.3 1.7 0.24 3
Stage 2 1.3 2.75 0.55 4.05
Stage 3 1.3 3.3 3 0.33 7.6
Stage 4 1.3 1.6 0.6 0.44 3.5
1.3 second draw to Down Zero, 3 second reload, 0.3 second splits


It doesn’t look like much of a difference, but shaving those few tenths of a second off my times is going to take a LOT of work. 

Why that one in particular? Well, it’s pushing the right edge of column three of John Hearne’s automaticity chart. Currently, I’m more on the left edge of that same region, and it’s time to get better. I shot a 17 second Casino Drill at my Rangemaster Instructor course, so I know I can reach that level of performance on occasion, the trick is going to be doing that sort of thing on-demand. 

Secondly, it covers a lot of basic pistol skills, such as a smooth draw to an accurate first shot, fast follow shots and the ability to go from a “volume of fire” approach to making a precise, aimed shot. 

Another thing I like about this test is that it is just pure shooting skill; there is no movement involved or changing from standing to kneeling. 

Lastly, the Classifier is easy to set up, easy to shoot, and only requires 25 rounds of ammo, which is a big deal these days. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Aren’t you studying just to pass this test?” 

Well, yeah. But the skills involved in this test cover just about everything you want in a good defensive pistol marksman. True, it doesn’t cover transitions from target to target or the use of cover or weak-hand only shooting, but a good trigger press and a good followup shot are universally applicable.