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The El Presidente drill is one of the most widely-known and useful drills for testing your pistol shooting skills. It was created by Jeff Cooper while training with South African presidential protection personnel and it’s a great framework for developing and coordinating your own pistol skills.
During our week-long gun test at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, AZ, which was founded by Cooper, we tested this year’s best handguns and even tested a field of best 1911 pistols. We fired close to 10,000 rounds of pistol ammunition, and a big part of our test protocol was to run pistols through standardized drills to see how they compared to one another.
The El Presidente drill may have been designed with the 1911 in mind, but it’s an incredibly useful drill that you can shoot with any handgun. It’s easy to set up, tests your skills, and is one of the best ways to measure your proficiency.
How to Set Up the El Presidente Drill
Shooting the El Presidente drill requires three targets. Generally, you’ll use silhouette-type targets like the Gunsite paper targets or USPSA/IPSC cardboard silhouettes, but the specific type of target you use isn’t critical.
Place your three target stands approximately one yard apart, parallel to the firing line. You want the targets to be at the same height. This drill is traditionally fired from 10 yards. For most the accurate timing results, you want to use a shot timer to start your run and track your times.
The El Presidente Drill uses three targets, evenly spaced a yard apart. Scott Einsmann
Running the El Presidente Drill
Starting position for El Pres is on the firing line at 10 yards, facing up-range (away from the targets), with your hands in a surrender position. Your pistol is locked, loaded, and holstered, and you want a spare magazine at the ready.
At the “beep” of the shot timer, you will turn toward the targets, draw your pistol, and fire two shots into each target. You’ll then drop your magazine, reload, and fire two more shots into each target. Your time stops when your last shot is fired.
The targets can be shot from left-to-right, or right-to-left, it doesn’t matter, but they all need to be shot twice, then twice again after a reload. It’s helpful to turn into the gun, or pivot towards the side that your holster is on.
Tips for Shooting the El Presidente Drill
The El Presidente drill tests several key skills—and how well you use them together. It will show you where you are strong, but also where you need improvement. Every element of El Pres is designed to test a skill, and understanding it can help you improve both your time and your proficiency. Mastering each step of this drill means making your movements smooth, deliberate, and efficient.
The El Presidente drill starts with a curveball. Simply turning around, drawing your pistol, and acquiring your target are simple tasks, but combining them smoothly and efficiently takes practice.
When turning toward the targets at the beep of the timer, you should pivot smoothly, toward the side that your holster is on. If you’re right-handed, pivot to the right. Pivoting around the gun reduces the distance that the gun needs to travel before drawing, and you should acquire your grip as you turn. As soon as you’re pointed downrange, pull the gun from the holster.
When turning, you want to pivot around your gun while establishing a solid grip to draw. Tanner Denton
Lead the turn with your head, looking to lock in on the first target while you’re still moving. You should pivot on one foot, swinging the other around smoothly. A common mistake is for shooters to take little steps as they turn. This costs precious time and concentration. If you’re pivoting to your right, your left foot should swing freely around and land in a stable stance position. By the time your foot hits the ground, you should be locked onto target and drawing the pistol.
Drawing and Aiming
The most important part of drawing your gun is getting a solid grip established before you pull it from the holster. If you have to take time to adjust your grip after drawing, you’ll lose time and focus. Dry-fire practice can help you correctly index your hand on your grip and draw the gun smoothly every time.
When you’re drawing your pistol, you should already be locked onto the target. Bring the gun straight out of the holster, drive it toward the target. At this point, it’s critical to take a fraction of a second to establish a good sight picture on target. Because it’s a timed drill, your inclination will be to start shooting as soon as you see the sights over the target. If you take the time to establish your sight picture and make a precise first shot, it sets the rest of your drill up for success. If you don’t establish that sight picture, you’ll flounder through the drill.
The shooter fires two shots at each target, reloads, then fires at each target again twice. Scott Einsmann
Shooting and Transitioning
Timed drills like El Presidente test both your speed and accuracy, and unlike what you want to do for slow, precise shooting, you will definitely be smashing the trigger quickly. To do this while maintaining acceptable accuracy, it’s critical that you’ve built a good position, solid grip, and obtained a good sight picture.
Because there’s so much movement involved, you’re depending on your grip and position to keep your sight picture and alignment intact through rapid firing. Watch your sights, yes, but you don’t have the time to fine-tune every shot. With strong fundamentals, you can fire fast strings and maintain good accuracy.
Once your sight picture is established on the first target, fire two shots as quickly as you see your sights fall back onto target. As you’re firing the second shot, move your eyes to the center of the next target, and bring the gun straight there. Check your sight picture, fire two more shots, and repeat. You’ll be able to shoot more quickly and accurately by focusing on your next target while you move the gun than by looking at the gun or the sights.
The reload is a stumbling block for many shooters. It’s a skill that takes practice and familiarity with your equipment—but also patience. This step is easy to rush, and that can cost you precious time when things don’t go smoothly.
As soon as your sixth shot is fired, your support hand should reach for your spare magazine while the strong hand presses the magazine catch. Smoothly and deliberately load the new magazine, making sure it’s seated securely. You can use a speed loader if you’re shooting a revolver. Then engage your next target.
Mastering the pistol reload is a subject unto itself, but the biggest takeaway for a smooth reload is to go slow enough to do it correctly. You’ll never cut time by fumbling. Also, position your magazines so that they’re easy to grab, and index them so that the bullets are facing in a direction that doesn’t require extra movement to turn and load them into the gun.
In What Order Should You Shoot the Targets?
Every gamer has tried to hack out the fastest method to shoot the El Presidente drill, and ultimately it comes down to your preference. Some folks like to shoot left-to-right, others prefer right-to-left. Some shooters switch directions after the reload, some repeat what they did on the first string. Ultimately, a lot of that is lost in the wash, and most shooters should just experiment and see what seems to help them maintain their concentration the best.
Keeping your Concentration
Although this drill is simple, there are lots of places to falter. That will cost you time and accuracy. To shoot the El Presidente drill quick and clean, you need to be focused on each step completely, not the one ahead of or behind it. This is why establishing good position, grip, and sight picture are critical. If any one component begins to slip, your focus will be on that, not the task at hand.
Read Next: How to Shoot a Pistol Accurately
Interpreting your Target
As a standard measure, a proficient shooter should be able to successfully shoot through the El Presidente drill in 10 seconds or less, with all center-zone hits. You can’t miss fast enough to win, so accuracy should be your first priority—speed will come with more practice.
Your targets can tell you a lot about where you can improve after shooting El Pres. Wild shots on the first target can mean that you’re not taking the time to acquire a good sight picture—something that I need constant reminding of. Horizontally strung shots on the second and third targets can mean that you’re sweeping the pistol too fast and breaking shots wide as you move through the course of fire.
The most sage advice for shooting the El Presidente drill is that if your shots are straying from the center zone of the target, slow down and focus on making accurate shots. If you’re shooting slower, and all your shots are grouped tightly in the middle of the center zones, you can speed up.
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