Gun Skills | Nine-in-Nine Drill: Accuracy and Movement

posted on September 4, 2022
shooter at the range
Photo: Peter Fountain

Most defensive firearms drills seem simple, which is logical, since you’re not going to remember a lot of detail while suffused with the adrenaline inherent in such situations. 

Longtime law-enforcement and combat-pistol instructor Dave Spaulding’s nine-in-nine drill is no exception in terms of simplicity, but it is well-regarded as a means for practicing what really matters: fast, smooth accuracy with defensive movement.

shell casingsWhy practice movement? In a defensive scenario, you must move. Moving targets are harder to shoot, for one thing, and, for another, you should be seeking cover or at least concealment. Perhaps most importantly, movement breaks up “vapor lock,” something I saw in action last year at Gunsite’s Team Tactics course: During a hiking scenario, when an “assailant” took out a knife, I was able to remember to move two steps to the side, and then, thanks to that movement keeping the oxygen flowing to my brain, to shoot the bad guy (with simunition, of course). My partner, who forgot to move, was still staring at the knife, fully vapor-locked. For our scenario, it worked out—he distracted the aggressor while I acted—but it certainly brought the lesson home.

Here’s how to set up Spaulding’s nine-in-nine drill. You will need a 3x5 index card, a larger target (ideally an IDPA target), a timer and some way to mark two positions on the ground. As always, observe all NRA safety rules throughout the drill. (Find these at If you’re unused to moving on a range, pay particular attention to muzzle control.

1. Put a 3x5 index care on a target at chest-height, ideally on an IDPA target.

2. Draw an X or otherwise mark a spot on the ground at the firing line 5 yards away.

3. Mark a second spot 5 yards laterally from the first one. (You will be moving from one X to the next and back again.)

4. Standing on the first X, start a timer and, on the beep, fire three shots at the index-card target.

5. Quickly but smoothly—and without crossing your feet—move to the next X and fire three more shots.

6. Move back to the first X and, again, fire three more shots.

7. Note your time. Nine seconds to shoot this whole drill is ideal; 10 or 11 seconds is more common. (If more than that, keep practicing!)

8. Now check your target. You should have nine shots on the card. For any shot outside it, add 1-3 seconds to your time; for example, if you used an IDPA target outside the index card, add one second for any shot on the target but outside the card area. I change my one second to two if the shot is far outside the target zone. Add three seconds if the shot was completely outside the IDPA target.

9. To add further complexity, do the same drill from concealment (thus testing your defensive realities). You can also move back 5 yards.

shell casingsA Few More Words on Movement
Many students find movement is what they need to work on the most to get their time down and their accuracy up. It’s probably worth your while to research and try out various methods from various instructors, but you can move however you’re most comfortable while maintaining safety. Consider videoing yourself as you conduct this drill so you can isolate any problem areas, particularly with the way you’re moving. The most-important thing is to keep your feet from crossing each other as you go, since you could trip; you also ideally want to stop in a decent shooting position, and half-crossed feet aren’t great for that. Remember that in a defensive situation, you will likely fall back on whatever feels the most natural, and that will be whatever you’ve practiced most.

Spaulding’s nine-in-nine is so popular because it is simple, yet there’s more complexity than it initially seems. You don’t need to remember a lot of detail, but you must maintain all your fundamental shooting skills and move quickly and smoothly between shots, all while under time pressure. Every element of what you’re practicing in the nine-in-nine would matter greatly in a defensive scenario, so it’s worth your time on the range. 


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