Best Defensive Handgun Training Program – 16 Key Skills

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We found the American Warrior Society to be the best overall Defensive Training Program available.

Once you have made the decision to carry a handgun concealed, starting a defensive handgun training program early is key so you can develop the skill and carry safely.

The Stoics would say that one can never learn what they think they already know. I have found that when I start to learn a new skill, I quickly find out how much I don’t know.

Best Defensive Handgun Training Program
Jason's concealed carry handgun, shot timer, holster, and ear protection at the range
To be a responsible gun owner, training is a must

Our team has over 25 years of concealed carry experience. I am a competitive shooter and a range safety officer, but I started the wrong way. I just took a few classes, watched a few videos, and started shooting.

I learned that there is definitely a right and wrong way to train with a handgun.

Keep reading to learn how to properly train and learn more about my favorite defensive handgun training program – the American Warrior Society.

Defensive Handgun Training – Your Complete Concealed Carry Training Guide

In this guide, I will provide you with a clear structure and guidelines for your concealed carry training. First, I will outline the different aspects of training that you should focus on. Then, I will introduce you to our favorite training program that covers all of these techniques and more.

By the end of this guide, you will have a better understanding of how to approach your concealed carry training effectively.

A few tips before we get started:

  • Remember that concealed carry training and military training are two different things. While many aspects overlap, the environment and training aspects differ significantly.
  • The concealed carry permit class you will take to get your permit does not teach you how to shoot or any of the aspects below. It is focused on the legal aspects of concealed carry. When you go to the class, they expect that you already know the basics of shooting.
  • Learn the basic fundamentals first. Don’t get in a hurry, and try to shoot fast right out of the gate. I did this and trained myself to anticipate recoil, which made me a poor shooter. It took months of going back to basics to correct it.
  • If you have not been following our concealed carry guide, be sure to go back and follow the mindset sections and the gear selection guides. This training guide is the final piece you need to defend yourself and your family proficiently.
  • In-person classes are great, but they usually do not provide long-term training programs. You must follow a proper training program and practice over time to be proficient. The in person classes I have been to have gone over some fundamentals and drills, but I found they did not make me a proficient shooter in a few hours. I did not leave with a training program or plan either.

Why Should You Train?

It is crucial to develop proficiency in shooting a handgun in a defensive situation, even if you are familiar with handguns and have shot them before. Shooting in a real-world situation is very different from messing around on the range.

In a stressful situation, we fall to the level of our training. Our subconscious takes over and performs actions it is familiar with. Have you ever seen someone freeze when stress is induced? This is because the subconscious did not know what to do.

Two shooters and an instructor at a gun range
Proper training is much more than a 4 hour range class

Defensive shooting is a degenerating skill, meaning that if we don’t follow a consistent training program, we will lose the skill. It includes not just aiming a handgun, but movement, manipulation, drawing from a holster, presentation, situational awareness, and decision-making.

To develop any skill, we must train. It can take over 10,000 repetitions before you’ve even begun to master something.

However, remember that it is much more than just training. Every repetition must be done with the proper technique. Your training should follow a proper progression and have goals. One should not be out shooting an El Presidente drill until they master gripping the handgun, for example.

In Mark Minervini’s book, Mindset Secrets for Winning, he says practice does not make perfect, but rather “perfect practice makes perfect.” Just putting shots down range does nothing.

Training is one of my concealed carry responsibilities, as well as the discipline to follow a proper program.

Is Dry Fire Training Important?

Dry fire training is practicing with a handgun without shooting live ammo. Most beginners and even some “veterans” think this is a waste of time. Why would you want to play around with a handgun without shooting it?

Jason's dry fire training gear. A concealed carry handgun, dummy rounds, cool fire trainer, shot timer
Some of my dry fire gear

I believe that dry fire training is more important than live fire training.

The top handgun shooters in the world dry fire more than they live fire.

Here are a few reasons I dry fire multiple times a week:

  • It is free. I don’t have to buy ammo.
  • I can do it at home.
  • I can train how to grip my handgun properly.
  • I can train the proper presentation of the sights.
  • I can train how to manipulate my handgun.
  • I can train drawing my handgun from concealment.
  • I can train reloads.
  • I can train how to clear malfunctions.
  • I can train shooting while moving.
  • I can train shooting from cover.
  • I can test my holster and my mag carrier: both position and durability.
  • I can test different clothing options.
  • It is a safe way to do all of these things in the beginning since I don’t have a loaded handgun.

Most will say the biggest negative of dry fire training is there is no felt recoil. I have also heard a theory that it trains that a dead trigger is a good thing. In a defensive situation, if the gun doesn’t go off, you won’t know what to do.

I have found over many years that having no felt recoil during dry fire is a huge advantage.

When a beginner first shoots a handgun, their brain’s natural reaction is to protect the body. After all, there is a small explosion going off in their hand. I find that this usually means they are closing their eyes and moving the handgun as they pull the trigger.

After this, beginners will want to move to shooting fast. This causes them to anticipate the recoil of the gun in order to get it back on target quickly. This causes their accuracy to be absolutely terrible since they are pushing the handgun down just as it goes off.

As I discussed in the concealed carry tips for beginners, I experienced these problems myself when I first started shooting. It took me many months to correct my poor accuracy. I was moving the gun when I was pulling the trigger, and it became a habit.

How did I correct it? With dry fire training.

Plus, most gun ranges don’t allow people to draw from holsters except in special classes or matches. For some dry fire training is the only way they can practice their draw process.

I recommend that all beginners start with dry fire training. While it may not be so exciting starting out, it will help you be a better shooter quicker. There are certain safety precautions that you should take, be sure to read our concealed carry safety tip guide.

If you miss the felt recoil, you can always purchase a Cool Fire Trainer. I have two of them for my training. They replace the barrel of my handgun and use compressed gas to simulate recoil. This is great since my handgun doesn’t change and the recoil resets the trigger every time.

Learn Basic Handgun Operation

When you purchase a new concealed carry handgun, the first step is to learn the basic operation. Even if you have years of experience with handguns, there is one thing you should do first.

Read the manual.

Jason's concealed carry handgun and the manual it came with
Just read the manual…

Our Egos often get in the way of making logical decisions. In this case, you must admit the people who made your handgun know more about it than you do.

You should read and understand the manual before you load the first round into the handgun. Getting a new handgun is exciting, but a smart gun owner will take their time.

Items to pay attention to:

  • How to properly load and unload the handgun.
  • How to operate the Safety (if included.)
  • How to set up the handgun for your preferences. Some include different backstraps or ambidextrous features.
  • Any notes on how to install a red dot.
  • How to disassemble the handgun.
  • How to properly clean the handgun.
  • How often to clean your gun

I always find a tidbit of the info in the manual that I didn’t know. At the very least, the info about where to oil the handgun and how much is important and often differs between manufacturers.

Learn How to Properly Hold a Handgun

Holding a concealed carry handgun seems straightforward. You hold the grip and pull the trigger, right?

Not gripping the handgun properly is one of the biggest mistakes I see shooters make. In order to be accurate and fast, I have found that my grip needs to be built consistently.

Hand placement is key, along with grip pressure. This all starts at the holster, which goes back to dry fire training. With repetition and focus, I found that I could train a consistent grip over time. This is the foundation for all the other aspects of shooting.

Here is a great tip from Mike Seeklander.

Learn How to Properly Aim

Of course, you need to be able to aim your concealed carry handgun to be able to hit your target. I find there is a lot more to it than just lining up the sights.

Depending on if you chose iron sights or a red dot optic for your handgun, there are differences in how you aim. (See our Iron Sights vs Red Dot for Concealed Carry Guide)

Eye dominance, both eyes open vs one eye closed, and transitioning between targets are all aspects to focus on.

An element that most do not realize is a part of aiming is watching the sights for feedback. High-level shooters can “call their shots.” Meaning that they watch where the sights are pointed when the gun goes off. I find that this allows me to understand and correct any issues with my technique in real-time. This takes time to learn, but again, dry fire is a big part of it.

Here is a great video about “calling your shot.”

Learn How to Properly Control the Trigger

Pulling the trigger on a concealed carry handgun is a variable motion. This means that sometimes I pull the trigger fast, and sometimes it is a slower and more deliberate process. This all depends on the scenario and the distance to my target.

I find that anytime I pull the trigger, there is the possibility that I will move the gun. In a perfect world, the gun doesn’t move at all. Many things come into play here, including my grip, fatigue, and the gun I am shooting.

Dry fire training and paying attention to the sights as I pull the trigger help me understand if my technique is good or if I am moving the gun. Using a red dot, even if just for training, is a great tool here since it is easy to see the dot move.

Here is a great video of Mike Seeklander explaining how he manages the trigger in real-time.

Learn How to Draw from a Holster

As I mentioned, most ranges do not allow me to practice drawing my concealed-carry handgun. The main reason is so many people do not take the time to practice proper technique, and they flag themselves or others when they draw. It creates a dangerous situation.

When I get a new holster or handgun, I draw it without concealment first to ensure my holster and belt are set up correctly. I recommend all beginners start here with dry fire before carrying it in public. (Also follow our how to choose a concealed carry holster guide.)

Yes, when I first started, I dropped my gun on the ground a few times, trying to be fast while drawing and dry firing. You certainly don’t want to throw your handgun on the ground in front of a potential attacker, so you need to progress past this point in dry fire practice.

As you get better at it, add the concealment garment and continue to practice until you are consistent.

Learn How to Reload

Learning how to reload your handgun efficiently is essential when carrying concealed. There are key positions for your hands and the handgun as you reload.

There are two main reload types to learn: tactical and emergency.

Tactical reloads are done when the magazine in my handgun still has ammo in it.  After firing a few rounds, I may want to exchange it for a full magazine, so I am back to maximum capacity. This could be done on the move or when I am behind cover.

Emergency reloads are done when the handgun is totally out of ammo and needs to be reloaded.

Here is Mike talking about some of the nuances of the reload process.

Learn How to Clear Malfunctions

Handguns and ammo are devices that can malfunction at any time. When a malfunction occurs, it is important to be able to identify it and correct it quickly. This must be trained beforehand.

I like using dummy rounds to simulate malfunctions during dry and live fire training. I like to occasionally load a dummy round into a magazine and then mix up a few magazines, so I don’t remember where it is. Once I hear the click with no bang, I can practice that feeling and quickly fix it.

Dummy rounds can also be used to simulate other malfunctions during dry fire practice, along with reloads.

The dummy rounds that Jason uses
Dummy rounds are a great training tool

My favorite dummy rounds are the ST Action Pro Dummy Rounds. These are orange, so they are easy to identify.

Learn How to Shoot with One Hand

While shooting with two hands is preferable, I could face a situation where I can only use one hand. It’s best to train shooting with one hand before it happens in an emergency situation. There are details in how to grip, manipulate, and shoot a handgun with one hand that differs from two hands.

Reloading with one hand also comes into play here and gets complex. This is certainly something that needs to be practiced during dry fire and not for the first time during live fire.

Learn How to Shoot while Moving

In a defensive situation, I will likely want to be moving to safety or cover while firing, not just standing “on the X.” Getting off the X is a defensive technique that teaches you to start moving once a threat is identified. After all, an attacker hitting me while moving is much harder than hitting me when stationary.

Shotting while moving is not allowed at most ranges, but it can still be trained effectively while dry firing. Using a red dot here gives me a lot of feedback on how much the sight is moving while I am moving. Watching the sight and changing how I move helps me train and improve my technique.

Generally, getting this skill down just requires a lot of practice. I found that I have to move in a specific way to keep my gun from moving too much. If you practice it a lot, it will eventually become muscle memory.

Learn How to Shoot from Cover

Shooting from cover or concealment has a slightly different technique than just standing. Foot placement and the way I position my body are important. I often practice these techniques at handgun matches as well as during dry fire.

Knowing the difference between cover and concealment is important as well. Cover is an object that will stop the incoming fire, while concealment does not. Concealment only hides your position from an attacker.

Here is Mike with a tip on how to shoot around cover.

Learn How to Shoot a Moving Target

Most of the time, at a range, we shoot at stationary targets. This goes back to the traditional target shooting that has been done for years. But in defensive situations, an attacker will often be moving.

Shooting at a moving target is challenging, and most people struggle with it because it is difficult to train. However, there are techniques for how to aim at a target that I find helpful. The AWS has a training section on this.

Learn How to Shoot in Low Light Conditions

Many violent crimes occur at night under the cover of darkness. I find that using my handgun with a flashlight or a weapon-mounted light is much different than during the day.  First, you must assess which method is the best for you (handheld vs. weapon mounted) and then train. Just like most other techniques, this can’t usually be done at a range, so dry fire training may be your only option.

Regardless, this is something that needs to be trained so it is not a surprise when an attack at night occurs. Mike Seeklander has a great Low Light Training course that I recommend. It is also included with the American Warrior Society membership.

Learn How to Defend a Vehicle

Many violent crimes also occur in or around a victim’s vehicle. I find that defending myself while in my vehicle requires certain strategies and techniques to keep my family safe. Shooting from a vehicle is impossible except at special training facilities.

I have found it is possible to practice with dry fire, though. This has the advantage of using my vehicle and my gun instead of what they provide at the training facility. The AWS has a whole section on vehicle defense.

Use a Shot Timer

They say anything that can be measured can be improved, and I have found that to be true. Using a shot timer not only for live fire training but also for dry fire training is an important training tool. It not only allows me to see improvement in my speed with different techniques but induces some stress in my training as well.

It is surprising how being timed can induce subconscious stress. I have seen many people who shoot very well normally, but when they are being timed on a stage at a match, they just fall apart and make many mistakes.

Just think back to taking timed tests in school.

Three of Jason's shot timers
Some of the shot timers that I use

My current favorite is the Shooters Global SG Timer. It is a little more expensive than the standard PACT shot timer or the Competition Electronics shot timer but has a great dry fire training feature that is better than the others. Soon we will have a full shot timer review.

Physical Fitness

While most do not want to hear it, physical fitness is a big part of concealed carry, emergency preparedness, and survival in general. I even consider it a benefit of concealed carry, because it give me another reason to take care of myself. But there are thousands of fitness and training programs out there, from weightlifting to cross fit.

One of the best programs I have found is the Warrior One firearms and fitness program from Mike Seeklander and Jake Saenz. This program combines both exercise and handgun training into one program. It can be done at home with minimal equipment.

After doing this program myself, I can suggest starting with less volume if you do not regularly exercise. On the first week, only do half of the prescribed sets and repeat the first week a few times before progressing.

The Best Defensive Handgun Training Program

I have attended many great in-person concealed carry and defensive classes at ranges near me. Usually, I have to drive to a larger city, but even then, I would recommend attending at least one basic in-person class.

However, I leave these classes without a training program I can follow, and they almost never mention dry fire training. They may give me a few ideas on drills I can do, but that is it.

The absolute best defensive training program I have found is the Defensive Handgun Training program by Mike Seeklander. I took it years ago myself, and it helped me more than any instructor or YouTube video ever did.

But the best value for the money is becoming a member of the American Warrior Society. Not only is the defensive handgun course included, but many other great courses are included. The Warrior One fitness program I mentioned above is included plus a low-light course, vehicle defense, and many other self-defense topics.

Jason's membership into the American Warrior Society
I am a coined member of the AWS

Here is Mike explaining what the American Warrior Society is all about.

I am a member myself, and I can say that it is the best self-defense and emergency preparedness information and training I have found. You can cancel your membership anytime, and the price is very reasonable, so the risk is minimal if you find it is not for you.

Go Back to the Concealed Carry Guide

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Jason has an engineering and problem solving background. He is an avid outdoorsman, survivalist, and competitive shooter. He enjoys researching the best and most practical solutions for the problem at hand, studying stoicism, and finding innovative ways to be prepared.