Practice like you play

by Steven Lindemann

A young, passionate rugby player and coach once told me: “Steve, practice like you play.” In other words, how you practice is how you will perform in a match. I never realised how those four simple words would change the way I looked at training as an adult.

Time went on, and hunting and guns grew from an interest to a passion, and then into a career. What I did not realise, however, is the effect that my practice would have in my development of habits.

We do not live in a static world, so why do we train in a static world?

It was time for more training and, in this particular case, Advanced Weapons Handling. During the first day of lectures, the presenter told about a shooter who experienced three misfires in a row while culling elephant out of a helicopter. Upon further investigation this was determined not to be three misfires, but three muscle-memory errors that occurred after being bitten badly bitten by his .458 Winchester Magnum.


As panic and stress took over, the ranger was closing the bolt with his thumb, and pulling the trigger at the same time. It was muscle memory; a habit developed over time. Whenever he would make a rifle safe, he would squeeze the trigger, and close the bolt with his thumb. I developed a similar error while hunting as a young boy. The second day of training saw us carry out timed static range drills. During one of the drills, I fired my first shot and cycled the bolt, only to experience a failure-to-feed. Stress and panic set in, and muscle memory. I cleared the issue, and ran the bolt closed, squeezing the trigger. There was no bang or click.


I had just done the exact same thing as the shooter in the helicopter! Needless to say, that was the last time I ever made a rifle safe with only one hand. Lucky for me, it was not a life-threatening situation. It was at that point I realised that “Practice like you play” was not only for rugby. Careers and skills sets changed and improved, and allowed me to spend most of my time around people and firearms. It was then I realised how poorly we train with our firearms, regardless of our shooting discipline, be it hunting, sport shooting, or tactical applications.


Hunters take their rifles out of the safe a month before their first hunt. They go to the range, put the rifle on the bench, and shoot ten shots. They then head off on their hunt, believing they are good and ready to go. Now here is the question: How many hunting situations allow you to hunt off a bench? Very few. Shots will be taken out of the shoulder, over a natural rest, or a bipod or stick, and sometimes, sadly, off the vehicle itself.

As the saying goes, amateurs train until they get it right; professionals train until they get it wrong.

That does not mean you need to shoot a 100 rounds at each position. However, do shoot some, and dry fire if needs be. Even use a pellet gun at home to run through those positions. Shoot with conscious actions; this helps to create and build positive muscle memory.


We do not live in a static world, so why do we train in a static world? The reality is that targets move, we move, and bullets move in all directions. We need to be aware of this as we train. When last did I practice my draw? When last did I engage multiple targets? When last did I shoot on the move or shoot moving targets? When last did I do my reload drills, and so the list goes on.

Static training is useful to develop basic skills and maintain good fundamentals. However, you need to push your training and skills to the failure point, make them your comfort zone, and keep on advancing that cycle. As the saying goes, amateurs train until they get it right; professionals train until they get it wrong. Now before you head out to the range, start to think of your particular situation, and in what environment you use your firearm, and train to those requirements and beyond. Always use thoughtful, positive, controlled movements that create healthy muscle memory. Should a time come when panic and stress set in, you do not want to get caught out by poor habits that may cost you dearly.


Last modified on Friday, 12 May 2017 08:30
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