Three Pistol Shooting Drills with One Box of Ammo

You can use one box of ammo and these three drills to improve your pistol shooting skills
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Tyler Freel firing a pistol
You can get quality practice in with only one box of ammo. Tanner Denton

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I use a variety of pistol shooting drills to hone my skills, but it wasn’t always that way. There was a time in my life when I’d proudly exchange my hard-earned cash for ammo, drive straight to the nearest shooting range or gravel pit, and burn it all without even setting up a target. It was second in stupidity only to the days that I didn’t wear ear protection when shooting. There was some overlap.

I’m not sure if it’s age, wisdom, or the requirement to be financially responsible, but these days I feel that every round I fire should have purpose. It’s an ethos I can live with, considering that ammunition isn’t unlimited these days—even for a gun writer. Time and ammo are finite resources, so replace volume with quality.

Even if you’ve only got one box of ammo to take to the range, you can run through pistol shooting drills that will test and develop a variety of fundamental skills. With just 50 rounds, here’s a range session that you’ll actually benefit from.

Step 1: Dry Fire and Warmup Shot

Rounds: 1 

Distance: 7 yards

Set up a single IPSC/USPSA or other silhouette target at 7 yards. Start from a holstered or low-ready position with an empty gun. Set up a shot timer or use a shot timer app, and at the starting beep, draw or raise the gun, aim, and dry fire. Focus on deliberate movements, a good grip, good sight picture, and a crisp trigger pull. When you’re ready to go hot, load a single round in the pistol and repeat the drill with a live round. 

The Takeaway: Unless you specifically want to run drills without warming up, it’s helpful to run through a few dry fire draw cycles to grease the wheels so to speak. Drawing, getting a good sight picture, and dry firing will help loosen you up and get you in a good frame of mind. The live round cements it. 

Freedom Munitions pistol ammo
If you're intentional and focus on quality practice, you can do a lot with 50 rounds. Natalie Krebs

Step 2: Bill Drill, Two Repetitions

Rounds: 12

Distance: 7 yards

Par time: 5 seconds

Tape up the impact from your warmup shot and keep the single target at 7 yards. The first of these pistol shooting drills is the Bill Drill. Start from the holster or a low-ready position. At the starting beep of the shot timer, draw, raise and aim your pistol. Fire 6 rounds as quickly as you can into the center zone of the target. Fire quickly, but not so fast that you miss the center zone. The Bill drill focuses on skills including grip acquisition, drawing, target and sight picture acquisition, trigger pull, and maintaining focus through the long string of shots. Repeat the drill.

Tyler Freel shoots a Bill drill
Intentional practice with limited ammo will improve your skills. Scott Einsmann

The Takeaway

Record your times and track your progress. An experienced pistol shooter should be able to finish in 3.5 seconds or less. If you can get to 2.5 seconds, you’re doing really well. Only clean hits count in this drill. If you missed some center-zone shots, slow down and concentrate more on your grip and sight picture. If all your shots are clustered tightly in the center, speed things up a bit. Keys to doing this drill well are getting a good grip and sight picture before firing the first shot. 

Step 3: X-Drill, Two Repetitions

Rounds: 8

Distance: 7 yards

The X-drill has several variations, but you can run it with just 4 rounds per repetition. Set up a second silhouette target alongside the first, space them about 1 yard apart. You’ll still be shooting from 7 yards, starting from a holstered or low-ready position. At the timer’s beep you’ll draw, raise the pistol, and fire a single shot at the center chest zone of target one. Then you’ll move diagonally and fire a second shot at the center head zone of target 2. You’ll quickly drop down and fire a single shot to the center chest zone of target 2. In an X-like pattern, move back across and fire a quick, well-aimed single shot at the center head zone of target 1, completing the drill. Repeat the drill.

Tyler Freel at Gunsite
The X-drill incorporates diagonal movement and transitions between large and small targets. Scott Einsmann

The Takeaway

You can run this pistol shooting drill in a different order, but the point is to focus on all the skills covered in the Bill drill, adding transitions between large and small targets. You want to shoot the larger center chest zones quickly, but you have to slow down to hit the center head zones precisely. Run the drill as quickly as you can and still hit all four zones. If your hits are all dead center of the target zones, try to shoot it faster, but not so fast that you miss.

Step 4: El Presidente, Two Repetitions

Rounds: 24

Distance: 10 yards

Par time: 10 seconds

The El Presidente drill is one of the best-known pistol shooting drills, and it will test all your skills. Set up a third silhouette target and move all three frames back to 10 yards. You want the targets to be equally spaced, about a yard apart. You’ll start this drill facing away from the targets with your pistol holstered and loaded with six rounds. Have another magazine loaded with six rounds in a magazine carrier or pocket. Mind your muzzle direction if you do not have a holster. At the sound of the timer, you will turn towards the target, draw your pistol, and shoot the center zone of each target twice. Then, drop your magazine, reload, and shoot all three targets again with two rounds each. Repeat the drill.

Tyler Freel reloads a pistol
A big component of the El Presidente drill is a reload. Tanner Denton

The Takeaway

The El Presidente drill incorporates all the previously mentioned skills like grip and sight picture acquisition, target transitions, and adds some movement and a reload. It’s an excellent drill to incorporate many skills, and if you can pull it off clean in under 10 seconds, you’re doing well. This means you hit the center zone with every shot. If you’re missing some center zones, you might be trying to shoot too fast, or not acquiring a good sight picture with each shot. Slow down and focus on smooth movements and clean shots. As you get comfortable, you will speed up.

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Step 5: Confidence Group

Rounds: 5

Distance: 3-7 yards

After running all these pistol shooting drills, you’ll have five rounds left. It’s always good to leave the range on a high note, and a great way to accomplish that is to slow down, set a target close, and simply shoot a slow-fire, five-shot group for accuracy. Even if that means a ragged hole from three yards, that final work on your sight picture and a clean trigger squeeze is an ideal way to  boost confidence while finishing out your range session. 

Gunsite target
A confidence group from short range at the end of your session will have you leaving the range in a positive frame of mind. Scott Einsmann

Final Thoughts

Pistol shooting isn’t easy, and it’s even tougher when you’re not getting quality practice. With ammo being as expensive as it is, you’ll see the most benefit by focusing your time and energy on quality practice that will truly improve your skills. These pistol shooting drills will help you sharpen up, whether you’re shooting your bear protection pistol or the micro-compact 9mm that you carry every day—with just a single box of ammo.