How to Become Great At Shooting UNDER PRESSURE

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In my How to Become a Good Shot article, we touched on the importance of mastery of the fundamentals of marksmanship, how to measure your equipment and yourself with the 5 For 5 Dime Challenge, and the importance of a first round hit when ammunition could be in short supply.  

In What You Need to Know About Rifle Slings, we talked about carrying your rifle, and how to use the sling to get steadier.  

In the comments section, Misreading The River and Paul noted about shooting after carrying all day long, or under stress. In this article, I would like to address some exercises that while may not be actual combat, but give you an idea and how to train to shoot under pressure along with some additional exercises both physical and marksmanship.


The infamous SHTF Mr. Mutant Zombie Biker (or MZB) is not just going to let you roll out your shooting mat, set up your bi-pod rifle, set rear bags and then stand perfectly still while you take a shot from the prone at him at 100yrds.  

shooting under pressure

More like,


And then rush you with his AR15 with the under rail mounted chainsaw, buzzing at full tilt while you roll out your mat. We all know how that ends in a 1980s style horror/slasher flick. That, and don’t go down into the dark basement to investigate that really creepy sound unarmed.

As I mention in How to Become a Good Shot, there are different competitions you can compete in to become a better shot.  

Likewise, there are competitions out there that test the shooter from on the move, dynamic positions and field positions. 3-Gun Run competitions, Precision Rifle Series and its small bore rim-fire counterpart NRL22 (even has a air rifle division), IPSC and IDPA to name a few. There are also some shooting schools and academies like Gunsite, or the Sig Sauer academy

However, how do you train for shooting under pressure in between competitions or after taking a class?  

Or if there is not a event or class within reasonable driving distance (that is really questionable in these 5 dollars a gallon at the pump era)?  

If you have the space and can set up your own mini-course, by all means.

But first, a friendly reminder of the 4 Primary Rules of Firearm Safety:

           1. Always Keep Firearm Pointed in a Safe direction

           2. Treat All Guns as Though They are Loaded

           3. Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger until You are Ready to Shoot

           4. Always Be Sure of Your Target and What’s Beyond It

In the past I set up a running path about a mile long to improve my shooting under pressure.

Then with the rifle leaning up against a tree at the shooting lane, took 5 shots at a target from the standing off hand as fast I could (.22 air rifle at 30yrds, 4 inch targets 4x fixed power scope). Ran three miles total, 3 targets, a total of 15 shots taken.

It. Is. Dang. Tough.

The point is, if you can safely set up some kind of exercise at the shooting lane to get your heart rate up, and then take 5 shots from the standing off hand as fast as you can. 

Do it three times in a row and see how you do.  

If you can, vary it from the sitting, the prone, or even field positions.

The Snap Shot Exercise

In his book, The Art of the Rifle, COL Jeff Cooper measured the Snap Shot exercise as a

“…standard test is conducted at 25 and 50 meters, utilizing the IPSC Option Target, which includes a four-inch head ring and a ten-inch chest ring. At 25 meters, the shooter stands at the standard ready, butt on hip, safety on, and muzzle aligned exactly between the shooter’s eye and the target. At 25 meters, the targets is the head ring and the shooter is allowed one and one-half seconds to mount his rifle and deliver the shot.”  

For clarification, magazine inserted, live round in the chamber, safety on. One and one-half seconds to shoulder the rifle, remove the safety and take a single shot at a four-inch target.  

It. Is. Dang. Tough.

shooting under pressure
Hordes of 80s horror villains chasing you? The snap shot exercise will make you comfortable with shooting under pressure.

My best time was just over 3 seconds. 4 and a half seconds and hitting a 4 inch target was more realistic. But I had a lot of misses too.

The 50 meter, ten-inch target has the same requirements. Despite the increase in target size, my times were not much better. Adjust to your capabilities. 

Try at 12 inch target at 25 meters in 4-5 seconds. As you get better, more practiced, either reduced the target size, or increase your speed. Work your way up in capability. Personally, I think a 8 inch target is more practical. Either way, this is a great way to learn how to cope with shooting under pressure.

Scaled Targets

If you are limited on range, try scaled targets. Not as good as the real thing, namely when it comes to reading the wind and adjusting at range, but if what you have is what you have, then make do. The NRA has a number of scaled targets for shooting at ranges less than actual ranges.  

Physical Exercises 

As I mentioned in What You Need to Know About Rifle Slings carrying prolonged from the low tactical can put a strain on your muscles.

This is an exercise we did when I was shooting NRA High Power. With your rifle unloaded (safe), held in a relaxed position, with your support hand on the forearm, trigger hand on the grip, place the rifle in the pocket of your shoulder and raise the slowly up into the standing off hand position. 

Aim through the sights/scope at a point in the distance. Try to keep the sights aligned, and hold that position for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, lower the rifle back into the relaxed position for one minute. Repeat this exercise until you arms, shoulders feel like they are on fire.  

Then do a few more.

As time goes on, increase the time and the reps.

Here are some other exercises I recommend to make you a better shooter.

  • Planks  

Shooting from any position, a strong core will help keep you steady.

  • Stretching

This sounds like the opening from the movie, Zombieland, but yes, stretching can help. Granted, you will not be able to call a “time out” before hostilities ensue to stretch out, but I do find stretching before going to bed, and first thing it the morning does help. This applies more so as one ages . . . sigh.

Marksmanship Exercises

When sighting in a scope, or using a new ammo, we take a shot, then adjust one plane (e.g. windage). Then we take another shot and adjust other plane (e.g. elevation) to bring the sights (POA) in alignment with the hit (POI). There we have established our zero for that scope and ammo at a given range.

Try this one:

Without looking as you know what the settings are (or should and have it written down) for that given round on that scope/sights, add/subtract clicks (dont count, or better yet, have someone else do it for you) to elevation, then windage, yet keep it on paper (i.e. within the 6 ring).  

Take the first shot at the 10X. Note your POA vs POI. Then, without looking, add or subtract clicks to get the next shot as close to your initial POA as possible. Don’t try it on one plane then the next. Try adjusting both at the same time!

On more than a few occasions I have added clicks in the wrong direction (usually windage) and find myself even further to the right when it should have been to the left.  

Then, flip it.

Again, add/subtract clicks to both planes without looking (or have someone do it for you). Then take your first shot at the 10X.  

Still aiming at the 10x, this time note the reticule hash marks and the POI. Imagine a line from the windage and elevation hash marks extending to where they would intersect with the POI. Keep that imaginary line/intersection in your mind. Then apply that intersection with the 10X and take a shot.  

How well did you do?  

If you have a scope with a “Christmas” tree style reticule and the shot falls in the lower left or right quadrant, no worries! But if the POI falls in the upper quadrants? Then, worries. As M/SGT Jim Owens USMC (ret) notes, adding/subtracting clicks is more precise. Using what he calls Kentucky windage is faster. In some cases, clicks is more practical. In others, Kentucky windage is more practical. 

Know how to use both for a given situation.  

Rings and Things

I am sure many of TOP readers have more than a few scopes.  

Different scopes require different ring height. A high powered, 6-24x50mm scope will require high rings, whereas a 1-4×24 might require medium rings. Unless you have a stock with adjustable comb, your cheek weld may differ between the two scopes, albeit slight, still requires adjustment.

Same could be said for eye relief and exit pupil diameter for different scopes, position of cheek weld on the stock, further forward or back. Even with the same scope in different positions e.g. the standing vs the prone your cheek weld position may change.

Saved Rounds

One piece of equipment I highly recommend, is a chronograph (I have a MagnetoSpeed myself). This piece of equipment will measure the feet per second the ammunition you are shooting through your rifle. With that information, you can enter the data into a ballistic app, apply the ballistic coefficient (most ammunition and powder manufactures have this data online or in reloading manuals, note, many reloading manuals use “universal” receivers with a certain barrel length and twist rate, may not match your particular rifle), and then compute the dope for a given round at a given zero out to practical ranges. Print this data off, laminate it, and tape it to the side of the butt stock of your rifle, or memorize it.

Shooting under pressure is a valuable skill.

shooting under pressure
Chased by hordes of zombies? Best of luck.

Note, I intended to write this using a .22LR rimfire rifle. The local gun shop and big box stores did not have any .22LR on the shelves. 

So, I had to make do with the .22 air rifle.

All the fundamentals of marksmanship still applied. Eye relief, and exit pupil diameter still applied to cheek weld position between different scopes.   

The mastery of the fundamentals of marksmanship apply to everything from air, to rimfire, black powder, to center fire. Regardless of the energy behind the round, while it may not always be possible, a first round hit should be the goal.

And always remember when shooting under pressure, a slow hit is always better than a fast miss.

What are your thoughts on shooting under pressure? Do you have more advice to give? Tell us below.

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About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.



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  • Having competed at the lower State levels, I agree 1st Marine, it is a lot harder than it looks and sounds. Many of the drills and exercises you’ve listed are the same ones I used and a few I still use. Age and infirmity has restricted much of what I’m capable of today, and that’s only going to get worse.
    These days I do a lot of dry fire drills. One of these days, the Laser System makers may add some of my firearms to the list of compatability adapters (so far they tend to favor Glocks), when they do, I’ll buy one.

    Good Article Sir, and Thank You for your service.

  • Although this is all well and good training.
    Most violent encounters are distances of 25 ft and less. So you better be practicing drawing and firing a pistol.
    After SHTF, you will spend most of your time doing close up activities that require you attention and ties up your hands, like making a fire, cooking, chopping wood, etc.
    So the chances are that some wild animal ( 2 legged or otherwise) will get within 25 feet, before you notice them. Now that is your problem to train for.
    Even if you carried your rifle slung over your shoulder 24/7, you would not have time to stand up and bring it to bear on the target.

    So the main training should be focusing on close encounters. Pistol, Knife and hand to hand combat. For most people that will be the most terrifying, where they will be most likely to hesitate or freeze.
    Even the military is starting to realize that battle lines, Enemy territories and battle lines on a map, are losing their meanings. Formal long range combat is becoming more and more rare, even in standard war scenarios.
    Now it is becoming; zones of conflict and safety zones, urban warfare, guerilla warfare and close quarters combat.
    SHTF will mostly be up close and personal combat. So beware you are not training for the wrong thing.

    • MIC,
      Did you read about that Ukrainian platoon, armed with only America provided M9s, that took on an entire Russian straight leg infantry battalion armed with AK-74, PKMs and RPG and won?

      Nor has anyone else.

  • Great food for thought– hoping I can get a setup that enables me to put these exercises into practice.
    (Can I offer proof-reading review?)

  • Gun fighting ,Hand to hand Combat
    The skills all get lost fast in real world of “ Sum of all Fears
    All training go out the Preverbal window on Contact ,train for
    First shot Move period roll away ,run to cover Move period
    Movement is Life in a gun fight ,do not STAND STILL
    I can say thru the Tests of real world just don’t Stand UP
    Understand Coopers Color code
    White ,Yellow ,Orange , RED
    This simple code is the best practice for everybody
    L ‘

    • Mike Day,
      Well said.
      I recommend book The Art of The Rifle by COL Cooper.
      However, as the publisher has gone out of business, might be hard to find copies.
      Not sure about digital copies.

  • I would drink a caffeinated beverage and do jumping jacks then practice pistol quick draws with a shot one 6 steel plates with 7 shots in two magazines, forcing magazine changes at 10-15 yards.

    • Micah,
      Seriously, I chuckled reading your post.
      And, brought back memories of eating at Waffle House before a match, and NO COFFEE by any of the competitors!

  • “… a first round hit should be the goal”. Yes, this!

    Great post as always 1StMarine, excellent advice. Keep´em coming.

  • Add force on force to the exercises. Use Simunition or rubber bullets that can provide incoming rounds, that hurt. (Hurting increases concentration) Plus it will help you test which tactics actually work and which are “range expert nonsense.” Enlist equally skilled shooters–or a group of shooters–for the bruise inducing practice sessions. It will bump up your game.

    • I was involved in a exercise where we used Simunition. Good training!
      One thing when it is on the DoD dime. Mine now, not so much.

  • 1stMarineJarHead, You offer wise and well thought out ideas, as always. Where we find different paths is how to zero a new scope / scope rifle combination.
    By “chasing the POI” with various clicks, you are using (expen$ive) ammunition. Here is my technique:
    Shooting from a rest (or a gun vise) print 3 holes at 50 mts. Using a felt tip pen mark the center of the group and tape over the 3 holes. Using a gun rest (or a lot of sandbags, steady the rifle at your old aim point and adjust the scope to point at your POI. 3 more shots at 50 mts to confirm. Repeat as required. Now move the (heavily duct taped) target out to 100 mts. Repeat the process. Less than a box of ammo will get you on target. Repeat at longer ranges is needed. Where I hunt in WV, shots much beyond 100 mts are unheard of with ethical hunters due to the underbrush and unpredictable winds in the valleys and draws.

    • Marc M,
      Thank you for your response.
      What usually works for me is I take a shot at 100yds. Say I am 4inches low, and 3inches to the left. Knowing my scopes adjustment values (i.e. 1/8, 1/4 inch@100yrds) I apply clicks to elevation accordingly.
      Take my second shot. It should have come up the 4inches and be right on the horizon line of the bullseye.
      Now I adjust for the windage.
      Take my third shot. If I applied clicks correctly to come right 3inches, I should be on the bullseye.
      Some minor adjustments/clicks might be required.

      Granted, I know my rifles, I know my scopes, and as I reload, I have a pretty good idea how the ammo should perform.
      My most recent purchase (a Ruger Scout Rifle with a forward mounted long eye relief scope, both new to me) using SAAMI specs for a match 168grn BTHP load@2,600fps, I took my first shot at 25yrds just to get on paper (no idea where the dials on the scope were). Took a ballpark guess on the adjustments. Reset the target out to 100yrds.
      First shot, 12 o-clock, just on the inside of the 7 ring line. Adjusted elevation down accordingly.
      Next three shots were all in the 10.

      • 1stMarineJarHead – You have skills and patience that are beyond me. I am frequently asked by my WV neighbors to check the zero on their rifles. This is the technique I use when dealing with a totally unknown platform. I also hand load a similar projectile for .308 and .30-06. I regularly print ~ MOA groups at 100 mts. How you get there means less than what you get when you get there 🙂 PS – my son builds 100 mts sub MOA AR platforms, hand lapping the important parts with differnt grades of jewelers rouge. He also advocates using 0-W-20 synthetic motor oil for all firearms. It doesn’t gum up after prolonged storage (like some of the big name brands). It also provides reliable lubrication under the heat of rapid fire conditions.

        • Marc M,
          Unknown rifle, ammo, yep, I can see where your technique might be better.
          Thank you/son for the tips!

  • One of the best articles ever run here about common sense shooting 1stMJH. Bravo! So much good info that it prompted me to start a shooters prep list

    Thank you

  • Okay, I’m late getting here, but I’ll chime in, just for shits and giggles.
    I like the article. I remember going to a modified 3 Gun event a few years ago. About 50 competitors. Everything from novices to really experienced (borderline professional) shooters. In the sign-up they told us to bring a bolt action centre-fire rifle. One of the first stages involved shooting a bolt action rifle, and having to hit a 4” square at 100 meters offhand, (Had to hit it 3 times) before you could advance. A lot of guys went through their entire box (20 rounds) that they’d brought and still didn’t advance. A little pressure, and lack of practice standing and shooting unsupported humbled a lot of the so called “hot shots”. It doesn’t take long, standing, holding a rifle on target before your arms will start to give out – that’s a lesson I learned as a young buck while deer hunting. Once your arms start to shake, even a little – you’re done.

    Sighting in. I sight in similar to what you do at 100, except I tend to use 3 shots rather that one before adjusting. That insures I’m adjusting off of a group, and that I didn’t pull the first shot. It also lets me verify my scope. One trick I’ve learned over the years. Once the rifle is sighted I put a small piece of masking tape on the stock or action with the ammo used to sight, and what it’s sighted for, written on it. If you have more than a couple rifles, or ammunition, it’s a neat little trick so that you don’t have to depend on memory. For example: some of my 308’s like 150gr pills, and some like 165gr pills. And generally, but not all the time, I’ll sight my 308’s about 1.5” high at 100. That puts me just about dead on at 200, and about 8-10” low at 300. I just write “165gr SST. +1.5 @ 100. Then I know when I grab the rifle a year from now, exactly where it’s sighted, and what it’s sighted with.

    You mention the Ruger Scout rifle. They are a neat little gun. I had one, but wound up selling it. I like the rifle, I like the scout rifle concept, and I even like the forward mounted optic, I just disagreed with Col. Cooper about a bolt action. I built my own off of a Remington 760 carbine in 308. Amega Ranges builds a forward rail for the 760. ( although we can no longer get them in Canada). It gives all the accuracy I need with the advantage of a quicker follow up shot than a bolt will give me. The trigger isn’t as nice as a bolt, but it’s not horrible. I also have a Winchester 94 set up in “Scout Rifle” configuration. Yes it destroys the classic lines, but us old guys need an optic of some sort when our eyes start to go. Still a great little bush gun. I even built a scout rifle on an M1A1 years ago. Now THAT was a rifle! But to be honest, it was a heavy pig for everyday use, and would tire you out quick if you used it for hunting.

    Simper Fi my friend.

    • Lone Canadian,
      Great post!
      I have found shooting at such a small target at any range, using a standing off hand competition like hold gets me hits more so than a tactical hold.
      Of course, steadying yourself with anything available is always better, but sometimes, you dont get that luxury.

      Concerning sighting in, as I know my rifles, optics ammo, and do my part (mastery of the fundamentals), I can usually use fewer rounds to get my zero. Of course I do send a few more to make sure of that zero, and I am usually getting more data across the chrony for SD, ES, average FPS to input into the ballistic app. Take notes accordingly, as in post-SHTF, a ballistic app may not be available.

      A M1A as a scout rifle . . . I am green with envy. I ran a NM M1A shooting NRA High Power rifle. I loved with that rifle. Is she heavy? Yes. But she put a big ol grin on my face shooting her. I was beating others at the 600 line running AR15s with 80grn VLD bullets top a compressed charge (their bullets were keyhole-ing, i.e. tumbling, exceeded magazine length) while I was shooting match grade 168grn BTHP, still supersonic at the 600 line. Granted, 90 degrees and nearly 100% humidity might of had a factor in that (re: HEAVY air).

      What I like about the Scout Rifle/bolt rifle, unless you have a bad round, squeeze trigger, go BANG!
      I have had semi-autos, both pistol and USGI M16A2 service rifles go “click,” rather than BANG!
      And, we get stupid cold weather up here. Bolt rifle is more likely to do the job in single digits or negative, than a semi.

      • The 760’s are the pump action. I’ve had a couple of the 742’s (semi-auto) over the years, and agree, they can be finicky at the best of times. Don’t get me wrong – I love my bolts for the accuracy and dependability, but I think Jeff missed the boat in some ways. The idea (his idea) of a short, handy, do-it-all rifle was great. And I agree that you can’t get much more dependable than a bolt. But for the military application that he was advocating for, I have always just believed that the lack of an immediately available follow-up shot was a determent.

        Single digits….LOL! Up here we hunt at 30 and 40 below zero. That’s when you find out what your rifle will do, AND whether you remembered to clean all the lube off of it. Bolt, semi, pump, or lever, at 30 below, your bolt can actually freeze into place if you don’t get the oil out of it. I’ve seen guys on more than one occasion have a nice buck, or even a moose or elk pop out of the woods and their bolt handle is frozen in place.

        As you mention – take copious notes. Again we come back to 30 below zero. You’d be surprised at the effect that has on powder/velocity. Sight your rifle in the conditions that you will be hunting in. I always try to put at least 20 rounds down range right at the start of hunting season, just to see what the ammo is doing in cold weather, and to make sure the scope hasn’t been knocked around since last time it was used. Brother-in-law missed an elk a few years ago. Brought the rifle out to the farm for me to check out. Low and behold….he’d had a new scope installed on it, and it had only been bore sighted. Some people’s children!

        Probably a good thing you live so far away. I’ve got a feeling that you and I would get into wwwaaaayyy to much trouble if we lived near each other……and have way too much fun doing it!

        • Negative temps is the reason why I keep a few boxes of polar biathlon ammo on hand (Lapua).

          Good point about you and I getting into trouble!

          I wondered at if we had a TOP four day weekend jamboree, where TOP fans get together at a given location, hosted by the Boss herself, Daisy with special guests like Aden, Toby, and Selco.

          Have some classes on everything from canning, making bread outdoors, herbal medicines, water purification, land nav, primitive fire starting, traps, marksmanship, cold/wet/hot weather shelter/clothing survival, foraging, sanitation, economics and logistics of post-SHTF survival, etc.

          Could be cool!
          And of course, expect a few, certain . . . informants to be present. Could turn that into a game, spot the informant!

          Group dinners over open fire using canned meats and veggies, or home made bread, fresh veggies, meats or cured meats.

          Post dinner entertainment to include a bit of hand made hard cider, home brew beer or black berry wine, story telling, board or card games and musical instruments, singing and dancing. (that could get dangerous! Good times!)

          • TOP jamboree! Yeah! Don’t forget to bring extra treats for the 15-20 undercover FBI assets attending. They’ll appreciate your generosity… could be a great scenario for the next Daisy authored novella. “Ladies and gentlemen, 15 of us are not who they say they are. Your mission is to identify them without their knowledge.”

  • Thank you for an interesting article. But what do you do if you are sound asleep and your home is invaded? How do you prepare for a catastrophic event like that, other than keeping dogs and locking up your kitchen knives so that they are not used on you?

    • Native,
      I apologize for not seeing you comment earlier.
      We, the wife and I, are dog people. We have always had dogs and more than one.
      As for sound asleep, when my daughter was an infant, she would cry in the middle of the night. I would be up and moving even before I was actually awake. Her room was a good 30 feet down the hallway.
      Power has gone out in the middle of the night. I woke up as even when sleeping my mind sensed something was off.
      A few years ago, the blower on the wood furnace gave up the ghost in the dead of night. It emitted a ozone like smell. As soon as I smelled it, even asleep, I woke up and knew what had happened.
      Some people’s senses will change and adjust to the situation. I can tell myself that I need to be up at a given time. I may set my watch alarm for that time, but more times than not, I wake up 10 minutes before my alarm.
      Also, I have firearms within arms reach nearly at all times within my home. As I type this, there is a .308 rifle next to me, loaded magazine inserted, bolt closed on empty chamber. Is it for varmints of the two legged kind? Not so much. But, we get coy, foxes, even black bear here.
      I also have a few long blades within reach.

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