How Police Firearms Instructors Can Increase Budgets and Time

By Lieutenant Matthew T Borders

With budgets getting tighter and ammunition harder to find, here’s a four-step approach for departments to maintain firearms standards for officer safety, professionalism, and avoid liability.

1. Conserve ammunition

Shooting courses should address basic skills, such as movement and shooting, shooting from cover, recovering from unexpected emergencies, such as breakdowns, and weapon transitions. Document these exercises over time so that you can demonstrate training that provides essential officer survival skills.

Since firearm skills are perishable, firearms training should be done at least twice a year to maintain these skills. One training history should focus on marksmanship and qualification while the other should focus on tactical skills.

Archery qualifications

Do dry fire drills that build shooting skills. Some of these drills should get officers off their holster by starting slowly and building up speed. The old adage “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is true. Have the officers pull their weapon, hit it on the target, and pull the trigger. The trainer can operate the slide so the adjuster can pull the trigger again. This can be repeated, or the officer can take up arms and start the exercise again. There are many other dry fire drills out there but don’t use too many of them because students may get bored.

Another drill that helps with accuracy and uses less ammo is punching. Line the officer on the three-yard line and have them draw and fire one round at the target at a slow speed. The officer remains on target and attempts to hit the same hole in the first left round for the next two rounds. This drill emphasizes sight alignment and trigger control and uses very little ammunition.

Have the students shoot targets from the 25- and 50-yard line after some basic drills. When students realize that they can shoot accurately at longer distances through the use of good sight alignment, trigger control and manipulation, closer distances seem much easier and confidence will rise. As confidence rises, you’ll find previously marginal shooters more inclined to attend range dates.

Plan shooting sessions in advance of training to keep ammunition counts within budget.

Police1 resource: Great gun training with low ammo drill

Shooting courses should address basic skills and recovering from unexpected emergencies.

Shooting courses should address basic skills and recovering from unexpected emergencies. (Photo/Matthew Borders)

Tactical firearms training

Unfortunately, many departments go into the range only once a year to qualify their officers and fail to provide tactical training. This is a great responsibility, and the departments do their officers a huge disservice in terms of the officers’ survival.

Tactical training is essential. Here you will want to use courses on fire that teach fighting rather than shooting skills. These skills include moving while shooting, moving and then shooting, looking for cover, getting off the X and working with flashlights. Shooting decision-making sessions, such as to shoot or not to shoot, should be conducted during this training. These exercises provide officers’ practice of articulation and teach that firing weapons is not the only consequence of potential hostile targets. Departments that use outdoor scopes should schedule a rehearsal later in the day to get some shooting in low light.

This type of training requires the student to be close to the teacher’s lineage to maximize one-to-one instruction. Some courses require that the course run one student at a time for safety.

Box exercises allow students to work in motion and then shoot, or you can restructure them to shoot in motion. Allowing students to have two rounds per objective allows you to emphasize accuracy as part of the exercise. A coach can even run the workout for time and add error time to increase stress, introduce competition, and raise performance levels.

Place barriers in the range and perform drills that have the student looking for cover and getting off the X. Combine drills that simulate urban environments by setting friendly and hostile targets in the range. Many of these drills can be easily performed with ammunition limited to 10 to 15 rounds.

Conducting or not shooting drills where targets must be identified with a flashlight simulates real world scenarios.

Conducting or not shooting drills where targets must be identified with a flashlight simulates real world scenarios. (Photo/Matthew Borders)

If officers carry patrol rifles or shotguns, weapons transfer exercises should be part of this training. Design your firing path around moving with each weapon and then switching to the gun at closer ranges (letting the long gun dry with the distance closed is a good way to force transitions). Also, keep in mind that the students will deploy the weapon the way it is carried. If you keep the long gun in the trunk, you have a car in range and the students are asked to get out of the car and get the weapon from the trunk.

Include low-light shooting exercises. Conducting or not shooting drills where targets must be identified with a flashlight simulates real world scenarios. Also, use drills where the student has to reload their weapon or it crashes in low light.

Finally, incorporate elements of non-firefighting training, such as flashlight deployment, into regular roll call, control tactics and active incident response training.

Police1 resource: How to set up a training exercise in low light

2. Use of technology

Officers should receive training in force-on-force scenarios and shoot/no-shoot decision making. Simulators provide this training while not using any ammunition.

Review the use of strength videos and extract training points from them. Many good power use videos can be viewed from media sources, such as YouTube, and they provide valuable training.

Police1 resource: How simulation technology improves police student training

3. Sustainability programs

Scope cleaning provides a valuable commodity, copper. Most brass can be sold. Smaller departments can collect hundreds of dollars of spent brass collection and this can be returned to the training budget.

4. Do not shoot instructions

A comprehensive firearms program will involve more than just shooting. Instructors should address the topic of off-duty safety; Bullet Safety Review the use of force, general orders relating to firearms, and laws relating to the use of force; and annual weapons inspections. Document all of these items.


Even if you have limited resources, your training should not be limited. By being selective when creating shooting courses for firearms training, using firearms simulators and developing sustainability programs, you can do quality training.

next one: How to buy firearms training equipment

About the author

Lieutenant Matthew Borders is a lieutenant in the mid-sized Northern Virginia Police Department. He has a total of 23 years in law enforcement and has worked for four different agencies. Lt. Borders has been a Certified Public Instructor of Criminal Justice Services since 2004 and a Certified Firearms Instructor since 2009. He has developed, created, and directed a firearms instructor development class for the Rappahannock Regional Academy of Criminal Justice.