Smokey Merkley

Smokey Merkley

You have probably seen the police officer, or former Navy SEAL, in the movies that can run and jump from building to building while shooting a bunch of bad guys. He can then do a somersault, fire and get three more bad guys while upside down, before landing on his feet and telling the screaming woman that it is over and nobody can hurt her now.

Actually, I never got that kind of training and don’t know anyone who did.

I was taught that the first thing firearms training should cover is the basics. They may be boring to teach and take a lot of practice to master, but the basics are essential before advanced skills can be taught.

In this column, I will concentrate on handgun training. I have always thought that a basic handgun course should cover familiarity with one’s handgun, including assembling and disassembling the piece, handling handguns safely and drawing from a holster.

You should also know how to keep your finger out of the trigger well and off the trigger until you have identified your target and are ready to fire, with both a one-hand and two-hand hold. You should also know sight alignment, trigger squeeze and breath control, which should add up to proficiency and marksmanship.

The course should also cover positions such as the Weaver stance, the Modified Weaver stance and the Isosceles stance. I also like to include shooting the handgun from prone position.

Without strong basics skills, the shooter has a poor foundation for advanced skills such as transferring the handgun from one hand to the other using the palm-to-palm method of safe transfer, shooting with either your dominant or non-dominant hand, moving forward (not running) while shooting, low-light shooting and weapons transition drills.

I do not practice or teach the Bruce Willis method of taping a handgun to your back and jumping off buildings or anything else.

My point is that you can never become proficient in advanced shooting skills if you don’t have a strong foundation of basic skills to start with.

When I go to the range to shoot my handguns, I spend approximately 60 percent of my time on basic skills, 30 percent on intermediate skills and 10 percent on advanced skills. The time spent on the different skills may vary a little depending on whether my son is with me and wants to spend a little more time on intermediate and advanced skills, but I always start with the basics first.

The time I spend going over handgun shooting skills is heavily influenced by the time my family and I spend hiking, camping and hunting on the mountain property our family owns. When I’m not hunting, I carry a handgun while hiking and camping in the backcountry. I would rather have it with me and not need it, but the basic skills I practice should serve me well if I ever do need it.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He was a member of the faculty of Texas A&M University for 25 years. There he taught orienteering, marksmanship, self-defense, fencing, scuba diving and boxing. He was among the first DPS-certified Texas Concealed Handgun Instructors. He can be contacted at