Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm

Compact handguns, whether semiauto or revolver, are among the most popular choices for concealed carry. Their modest size and light weight makes them easy to tote. Unfortunately, this also makes them among the most difficult handguns to fire quickly and accurately—the two factors that are most important in personal-defense situations. Here’s how to become proficient in their use.

Start Empty: Start off by facing your target at a close range—3 to 4 yards—with an empty gun secured in a carry holster. Practice drawing, dry-firing on the target, and re-holstering. Repetition is key. The goal here is to do this over and over until you can perform it without conscious thought, the same way your feet and hands operate a motor vehicle.

Take a Shot: Once you’re comfortable with dry firing, it’s time to start putting holes in the target. Begin at 4 yards. The best targets to use are the ones that represent a human torso and head—IDPA or USPSA targets are good; avoid bull’s-eye-style targets. Follow the same procedure as with your dry-firing drill. Draw from the holster, put a single shot in the central portion of the target, and reholster. The goal is to create a fist-size cluster of hits. Focus on being smooth, but work to build up your speed. Next, increase the distance to the target. Move from 4 yards to 7 yards. Then move back to 10 yards. Finish up at 15 yards.

Take Multiple Shots: Two hits are always better than one, and virtually every reputable shooting trainer out there teaches a multiple-hit technique. There are two techniques you’ll want to master: the double tap (sometimes called “hammers”) and the controlled pair.

A double tap is delivered when a shooter draws and takes one sight picture on the target, but then presses the trigger twice, rapidly, from that one sight picture. This works well to deliver two hits quickly at a close range, because the recoil of the first shot will not throw the second shot too far off. Start at 4 yards, and then see how far back you can move while making two good center mass hits. Once you reach your limit, it’s time to shift to controlled pairs.

A controlled pair is delivered when a shooter triggers the shot on the initial sight picture, and then brings the gun down out of recoil and achieves another sight picture—or at least a good glimpse of the front sight—before triggering the second shot. It’s a little slower, but allows for better accuracy at longer ranges.