How Many Guns Should You Practice With?

WeaponsMan raises the question of how many guns are best to regularly train with – examining both “the man with one gun” and Burt Gummer extremes. His conclusion is that training is best done with one gun at a time, with the exception of advanced training, like weapons transitions. Further, and more obviously, the weapons you’re most likely to need to use should get priority over the ones you’re not, and the weapons (.22s and airguns being his examples) which help develop and maintain skills applicable to all guns priority over those:

There is one gun that is most important. It is the one you carry regularly, whether it’s a holstered revolver or a slung carbine. It is the one that will almost certainly be with you when you need to shoot (a deer, a jihadi, a Wealth Redistribution Specialist, whoever’s on your menu).  It’s true that this gun should be the focus of your training and you should be able to put it into action and in a safe condition, fire accurately as the sights allow, point fire it at close-in targets in pitch black or otherwise without sights (an often neglected skill, but guess where most gunfights take place?), reload it eyes-off (because your eyes will be on the target, or visibility will be restricted), and reduce probable, and possible, stoppages, again, without relying on your vision. That’s a lot to master!

You should conduct most of your training with the gun you are most likely to use, because that is where most of your proficiency should be.

But this does not mean you should neglect training with other firearms, your own, your potential enemies’, common weapons and ones with unusual features. Nothing is quite so sad as seeing a recent-grad 18B stumped by one of the WWII or Cold War weapons that are no longer covered in training and have unusual controls. We sent one guy searching a Vz26 submachine gun for the selector switch in 2007, and we think he’s still looking, because he’s the sort of guy who would only crack a book under extreme duress. (The trigger acts as the selector and enables both semi and auto fire). In a perfect world you’d train with all that stuff, but not more than your main gun. At a dance, you always pay most attention to your own date, right?

It’s always been a bugbear for me that I greatly prefer (and am greatly more proficient at) shooting rifles to handguns, but am far more likely to need to use the former. Often, I have to leave my beloved long arms at home just to get a decent practice session in with the Glock. “Oh I’ll shoot the Glock; I need to” I’ll say while packing up my AR-15 and Enfield; and then of course before I know it I’m short on rifle ammo and it’s getting close to dinner time, and the pistol hasn’t left it’s case.

What guns should you practice with more? Do you practice with too many guns, or too few? Do you dry-fire with all your guns, a few, or only one?

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • I agree, stick to practicing with the guns you intend to use whether they be for concealed carry, home and self defense, sport etc.

  • Phil McRakin

    All of them.

  • Manny Fal

    Why not go further though, such as practising within realistic combat distances. Because it seems official pistol training in government and military is woefully insufficient given the accuracy stats of gunfights they have. Then you gotta consider almost all ranges don’t allow you to shoot under realistic circumstances. Seems to me it’s wiser to eschew shooting at the range and instead practice with airsoft or dry fire/laser.

  • Andy

    I just dropped by to say I enjoyed the Tremors reference.

  • Jeff S

    Ugh. I was just talking about this yesterday. My personal handguns are all DA/SA SIGs… My work gun is a LEM H&K. After shooting my personal pistols, I can’t shoot the work gun worth a damn – that’s relative, but you know what I mean.
    The fun part? We now only qual TWICE a year and aren’t allowed to practice outside of that time because we can only shoot agency ammo and we aren’t provided with extra ammo in between quals. I suppose I could go buy the same stuff that we carry and no one would know the wiser… But, knowing my luck the damn thing would KB.
    Oh well… back to the SIGs! :p

    • Nicks87

      “We now only qual TWICE a year and aren’t allowed to practice outside of that time because we can only shoot agency ammo and we aren’t provided with extra ammo in between quals.”
      That is just ridiculous, and people wonder why some police officers are such horrible shots. I’m guessing your chief is a politician who would rather save money and accept the liability instead of having officers that are confident in their abilities. My dept is required to shoot at least 800 rnds per year but we usually shoot more. We qualify three times a year and are required to do low-light and tactical training as well. My recommendation would be to trade in one of your DA/SA Sigs for a Sig with the DAK trigger. The trigger will feel more like your duty weapon. I carry a P229 DAK on duty and I love it.

      • Jeff S

        My chief a politician? You could said that… LOL. Apparently this is a cost cutting measure because getting certain officers qualified 4x a year was very expensive due to TDYs to cover normal shift as well as to get instructors to remote locations. Here’s hoping no one is involved in a shooting… The news media would love to find out why some soccer mom caught a round. Oh no real reason, we just halved qualifications to save money.
        Trade in one of my SIGs? Noooo!!! The most cost effective method to maintain proficiency would be to go buy the same Winchester Ranger that we’re issued.

        • Jon

          As a current LEO firearms instructor I would say your department lack training and leadership in the area of firearms. Qualifications are to test your training, it is not meant to replace it. You should always cold shoot qualifications. Giving a shooter time to practicing right before really defeats the purpose of qualifications. With that said I have to say I have never heard of an agency that prohibited an officer from going to the range on their off time.
          For me I have multiple Glocks, that way there is no need to remember which one I am carrying today that might have a different safety setup. Just rather keep it simple!!!

    • TexTopCat

      H&K would gladly sell you a gun similar to your work gun.

      • Jeff S

        I’m sure they would… I hear they’ll even give me a $200 Visa card.

  • Training? I just like shooting.

  • tikkafan

    one solution is to have the same model of gun in different calibres, I don’t shoot my big caliber much, a few sight in/confirmation, but I have the same rifle in 223 and 308 with the same stock

  • John

    Speaking of which, I have several friends who, talking about Special Forces, are impressed at their “ability to pick up any gun and know how to use it”. I just nod politely….

    • Phil White TFB

      why do you nod politely- because you saw it in a Hymiewood movie?

  • STW

    My wife and I have several pistols that are all variations on the same theme – M&Ps 45, 9, 9c, and 22. We can practice cheap, expensive, or mid-range and not have to learn something new. Very handy.

  • Don Ward

    See. This is the problem with today’s firearm culture where everything is geared towards “warriors” who think they need to train like Seal Team Six every weekend to fight of Zombie Muslim Biker Gangs. But there’s more to shooting than just doing room clearing drills with your tacticool $4,000 AR and 1911 combo.

    Here’s a reasonable look at my shooting needs and I am hardly a hardcore shooter.

    I need to know how to use my main bolt-action hunting rifle with a scope. I also use my 30-30 Winchester 94 with iron sights as my backup because of the terrain and foggy weather requires close in work.

    I need my clay pigeon shotgun in 12 gauge. I plan to do more dove and quail hunting and am relying on the old .410 that I have until I get a good deal on a 20 gauge. I also need that “home defense” shotgun.

    I have my everyday carry revolver. But I recently learned that situations might arise where I need to rely on my second pistol as a temporary carry.

    I black powder shoot/hunt on occasion.

    On top of that there’s my 22 bolt action rifle. I’m one of the few gun owners in the country who DOESNT own a 10-22 but I’ve done enough shooting with it that it has become second nature.

    On top of that there are our high caliber Alaska guns we carry in the summer while commercial fishing for “brown bears”.

    And that’s not counting my hobby of collecting old military rifles although I suppose I don’t “need” to be proficient in those.

    Nor have I included the weapons of family members. So that is over dozen firearms that I frequently use at least once a year. And – again – I don’t even do that crazy much shooting.

    So, to me, it seems naive for a Mark 1 civilian to limit themselves to “training” on just one or two weapons.

    • In WeaponsMan’s case, they are speaking in part to an audience of soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, and law enforcement officers, so it’s not entirely out of place to talk about preparing for possible combat.

      I agree; train with all the weapons you need to. In your case, that’s a lot, I guess. 😉

      • Don Ward

        We’re on the same wave-length since you ninja’d my post script.

    • Don Ward

      Now, if I am being paid by Uncle Sam and I’m in an exotic foreign location and the only thing I have to do is eat, masturbate and play XBox in between killing Haji, it would behoove me to really only focus on my main weapon. The trouble is that a small handful of these guys get out of the military, work at or start new gun stores, make their own YouTube channels or write for gun magazines and all they know about shooting is what they did in the military. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. But there’s more to shooting than blowing 20,000 rounds through an AR.

      • Phil White TFB

        “eat, masturbate and play X-Box(typical cop?) in between killing hajis so Israelis don’t have to bother”- fixed it for ya

    • “This is the problem with today’s firearm culture where everything is
      geared towards “warriors” who think they need to train like Seal Team
      Six every weekend to fight off Zombie Muslim Biker Gangs.”

      This is what makes the comments section here just as great as the articles.

  • Phil White TFB

    “a Wealth Redistribution Specialist”- this guy is condoning shooting US govt employees? yeah baby.

  • Phil W “Associate Editor TFB”

    I can go all day you fucking cunts. the great thing is I use this name on Disqus all over the internets. LOL.

  • Franciscomv

    I teach (not a firearms related subject), that has lead me to read a lot on how different people actually learn things. Every one of us has his own little quirks and incorporates knowledge in a certain way.

    Long ago, I learnt that for me to become proficient at anything I need to decompose it into small basic units that I’d practice ad nauseam before trying to perform the full action. For instance, when I started wrestling I divided each new throw into very short movement sequences and I’d spend my Sunday afternoons in front of a mirror doing maybe a simple hip movement hundreds and hundreds of times. After I had practiced each part separately, I joined them all and the throw came out beautifully.

    Other people are quicker more intuitive learners. I’ve got team mates who can watch a throw or a choke on YouTube and execute it to perfection right away. I’m not like that, I over think and learn slowly. So when it comes to firearms, I stick to a single type as much as I can.

    I used to own a variety of handguns, I’ve sold them all and only kept double action revolvers in .22 or .357. I ONLY shoot them in double action, even my plinking or target shooting .22s are fired as if they were DAO. I’m only able to go to the range for a few hours every ten days or so, I think that because of the way I learn it’s best for me to focus almost exclusively on the kind of firearm that I will have on me in an emergency.

    It’s worked well for me. Although I’m not a highly skilled competitive shooter or anything like that, I’m quite happy with my skills with a revolver, pump action shotgun and iron sighted bolt actions (no semiautos for the masses in my country).

    I do try out new guns every once in a while, usually swap guns with friends at the range and stuff like that, but it’s not “training”. That’s purely recreational shooting.

  • Don Ward

    I just noticed Chuck Heston in the story photo. The reason you need to familiarize yourself with a wide variety of firearms is that you never know when you’ll find yourself on an alien planet that in reality is Earth in a future where primates rule the world and you find yourself using an Ape Rifle.

    • Don Ward

      Out of my cold, dead hands you damn, dirty ape!

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    Weaponsman has always had a solid, hardheaded and practical approach to weapons handling and training, no doubt based to a large extent on many years of operational and combat experience with Special Forces, I know that his advice cannot possibly encompass each and every individual’s requirements, but it is still excellent universal information that will cover at least 90% of shooters — which is more than I have seen by far for any single set of recommendations.

  • DIR911911 .

    all of them , next question 🙂

  • Koh

    Call it training or just shooting….rounds down range and experience with the system is what counts. When I was young I shot my mom’s(!) 1927 Argentine 1911A1 and Browning High-Power (Belgium MkI), and my dad’s M1 Garand & ’97 Winchesters extensively. If you put one of those firearms into my hands i don’t have to think about it, entirely muscle memory. Safeties are not a problem, slamming en-bloc clips in without getting bitten aren’t a problem, maintaining them aren’t a problem. Muscle memory, your hands know what to do, no different than opening the car door without looking at it after doing it over and over and over. If you do the same thing right enough times, you get programmed to not have to think those actions through in the future. (This is a good thing when I am 3/4 asleep and am making coffee at 3 AM before work)

    • Ethan

      I can now do that with my carry pistol (CZ 75 ) and my HD AR, but only after doing dry fire drills almost every day for about 6 months. Draw-Front Sight-Press, blind mag changes (eyes on for target), drawing from concealment, over and over and over again.

      When I really started training, I found out I was not half as good as I *THOUGHT* I was.

      Train. Train. Train. Train. Train….. then Train some more.
      I found if I did 3 times as much dry-fire practice at home as I did live range time, suddenly increasing my skill was affordable and progress was noticeable.

  • Sickshooter0

    How Many Guns Should You Practice With? Hummm, all of them!

  • Charles

    I think you need to be at least familiar with the operation of the firearms you are likely to encounter. You need better understanding of the ones you are likely to use, and in depth knowledge of the one(s) you are likely to use in high stress situations (hunting, self defense). I shoot everything I own. Not as frequently as I would like. I practice a lot with the handguns I am likely to use for self defense. At some point I will narrow that down to one, but not yet. I have several rifles of various calibers but I have used the same 30-06 bolt action rifle for hunting for over 20 years. I know that rifle. If I were limited to one rifle, it would be the one even though I have much more expensive ones. I also have a beat up pump shotgun that I will use, hands down, over the fancier semi-autos. I have owned it longer and shot it many more times. You need to be very familiar with at least one handgun, one shotgun, and one rifle. The rest is gravy.

  • We appreciate it!