Pistol Skill: How Good is Good Enough?

The Gun Matters…or Does it?

I recently taught a Pistol Intelligence class in Phoenix, AZ. I drove from Colorado where I live, to the venue in AZ. Since I drove, I could bring more equipment than when I fly, including a variety of guns. My idea was to shoot and demo in front of the class using 6 different guns.

I wanted to show that, provided they meet basic standards of reliability and accuracy, and the shooter can reach the trigger and controls easily, the particular gun you shoot with makes only a minor difference in performance.

I think most students in my class noted this and saw that over a two-day class, my performance during demonstrations of drills and various shooting exercises remained quite consistent, even though the various guns I used were quite different. Some of these guns were completely stock models, while some were fairly “tricked-out.” Over the two days, I used the following 6 guns, in this order:

  1. Heckler & Koch VP9L OR–9mm, stock, with a Holosun 508T optic
  2. Beretta 92 LTT Elite RDO–9mm, with a Holosun 407C optic
  3. Glock 47 MOS–9mm, stock, with a Holosun 407C optic
  4. Sig Sauer P365XL with XMACRO grip module–9mm, Grayguns trigger shoe upgrade, with a Holosun 407K optic
  5. Springfield Armory TGO 2–.45 ACP, some modifications, adjustable iron sights
  6. Sig Sauer P320 X-Five Legion–9mm, Grayguns Competition Hybrid Trigger Kit, Grayguns grip texture, and recoil spring and guide rod, with a Sig Sauer Romeo3Max optic


Please understand, I’m not saying equipment and gear make zero impact, just that it’s less impactful than most think. The ROI (Return on Investment) is far less when compared to actually working on and developing skill. But many people spend the more money on their guns and gun upgrades, and less on investing in developing the skills to shoot.

Gear and It's Impact on Performance—

This is certainly a nuanced topic. Not all gear considerations or upgrades are equal in their influence on performance. I put together the below “bell curve” graph, not to communicate a specific science regarding this concept. Rather, it is based upon observations I've made during my personal journey learning how to shoot, and also what I've witnessed in other shooters in my work as a shooting instructor and coach, and from paying attention to the variety of shooters I encounter at the many USPSA matches I take part in across the country.

I didn't intend the graph to be perfect or to representing a particular scale. Instead, I designed it to illustrate that the influence of gear on shooting performance is typically greatest for those that find themselves somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

Influence of Gear on Performance Graph

Low-skilled, entry -level shooters are just that… low-skilled. They don't have developed shooting skills and are still learning. At this stage, it almost doesn’t matter what gun they select because they’re going to not be great no matter what they use. At least at first.

Therefore, a brand new shooter should focus their initial purchase decisions on what works reliably and is relatively low maintenance, assuming the gun fits their hand to begin with. “Focus on the learning. Focus on the training”.

Intermediate-Skilled shooters have developed solid skills and attained proficiency. They're learning what works for them, what doesn’t, and which preferences maximize performance based on their personal strengths and weaknesses. They can more intelligently make good gear purchases and upgrades that work for them.

High-skilled shooters operate at a higher level and will almost certainly have even stronger gear preferences. But the truth of the matter is, their skill level is such that they can extract most of their performance potential out of almost any gun.

When the Skill-Gap Narrows—

An interesting side note: we typically see the greatest performance gaps when switching between guns in shooters who are working their way up the curve, from low to intermediately skilled. Once a shooter passes that median in terms of skill, the performance gap narrows when switching between various guns.

Again, the focus here should always be on skill improvement and training, especially early in development. In the grand scheme, the impact that the particular gun has on performance is less than what people commonly believe… or want to believe. It’s easy to derive satisfaction and false security from gear purchases thinking that we can buy our way to skill. We can’t buy skill… but smart gear choices and upgrades remove roadblocks and make it easier to realize potential when you already possess fundamental skills.

Where Are Your Skills?

Here is the next natural progression in discussion of this topic. People wonder about their own shooting skill, where they stand, how much unfounded faith in their gear they've placed, whether they've invested in themselves properly, etc.

You may even have wondered or asked yourself the question:

“How good is good enough?”

This is a hard question to answer because it's going to depend on your own priorities and goals.

If you're a competitive shooter, what are the goals you hope to achieve, and have you reached them yet? If not, why not? What stands in your way? If you haven't yet gathered it from this article, let me state my point one more time: it's almost certainly not your gear that is keeping you from achieving your desired performance goals!

But let's come at this from the self-defense context and try to answer the “good enough” question that way. Again, this is a tough question, but first let me address two harsh truths:

  • 1-95+% of firearm owners have very low skill especially where it comes to handgun shooting skill.
  • 2-Most defensive firearm incidents are won by individuals with below average skill.

That's a bit of a conundrum, isn't it? But it's the truth. If we were to ask a large sample of firearm owners about their skill level, almost certainly the large majority of them would exaggerate their response. Some of that fallacy or misbelief comes from an overconfidence provided by the gear they've purchased. Most of it is just pure Dunning-Kruger effect, or a case where they simply do not know what they do not know.

Obviously, it is not wise to settle for low skill or make excuses that just because most defensive encounters are won by those with low skill, that it's acceptable to not pursue skill development.

So How Good is Good Enough?

Nearly a decade ago, John Hearne of Two Pillars Training solicited from the hive mind at a major online pistol shooting forum opinions on automaticity as it relates to shooting skill and where various measurements of skill might land on that spectrum. His “Typical Performance Automaticity Speculation” chart is the result of that endeavor.

Typical Performance and Automaticity Speculation-John Hearne

Now, I've grossly misappropriated John's chart and adapted it (squished it) to fit within the “bell curve” chart I posted earlier in this article. Neither chart is perfect. Don't read into anything too much here. My bell curve was just an illustration of thoughts I had regarding gear and performance benefits.

But it is ALL just speculation, based on experience and educated estimates. I included the “Influence of Gear on Performance” bell curve together with Mr. Hearne's chart because I wanted to draw some parallels between investment in gear and actual quantifiable standards of performance.

How Good is Good Enough and Keeping Gear in Perspective

I've added in some percentages of where I think groups of shooters of like skill land within that spectrum. And then I've added a red line right in the middle, which happens to correspond with what I've thought for some time now; that somewhere around 50% performance of a top Grand Master shooter in USPSA is dead middle of C-class, and everything to the right of that suggests skill that shows a strong likelihood of automatic performance.

In other words, I drew the line where I think we should strive to attain as a “minimum performance standard.” It is realistically attainable by anyone that puts in a reasonable amount of consistent, deliberate practice of even just a few minutes every day.

Do you have a shot timer? I ask because many people don't have, or never used, a shot timer. In order to assess your skills and track progress, you need to have metrics and without a shot timer, that is impossible. Here is a post that provides some basic skill drill metrics that can help you quantify your abilities today.

Why This Stuff Matters—

If you're in a deadly force incident, a situation requiring thinking on your feet, application of tactics, and decision making, do you want your shooting skills—should they be called upon—to come from a place of automaticity? Or do you want to roll the dice and hope that today you're just another in a long string of the lucky ones?

Now put that in the context of this discussion about gear and equipment, and ask yourself where you are skill-wise. Where do you measure up? What do you lack? How are you going to get there? What plan will you implement and follow to guide you to achieving your own performance goals?

I hope this discussion is helpful to you in guiding you towards maximizing your personal investments in those things that will get you to where you want to be, smartly and efficiently.

Feel free to leave a comment below, and if you like this stuff, consider signing up for one of my Pistol Intelligence classes, or check out Guardian University to access our massive library of online training classes.

About Riley Bowman

Riley Bowman is the Director of Training at ConcealedCarry.com and the Host of the Concealed Carry Podcast. He came up in this world initially through his 8-year experience with a state-level law enforcement agency in Colorado. Riley has trained extensively under instructors such as: Rob Leatham, Mike Seeklander, Tim Herron, Scott Jedlinski, Matt Little, Kyle Lamb, Dave Spaulding, Jeff Gonzales, Bill Blowers, Chuck Pressburg, and others, amassing many hundreds of hours of formal shooting and tactics training. He is an NRA Pistol Instructor, a Colorado P.O.S.T. Handgun and Patrol Rifle Instructor, a graduate of Trident Concepts Concealed Carry Instructor course, and a Modern Samurai Project Endorsed Instructor. He also competes in USPSA and 3-gun competitions including numerous top-10 finishes at major matches and championships. He is the current USPSA Carry Optics Colorado State Champion and most recently won 3rd place in Master Class at the 2022 USPSA Carry Optics National Championship.


  1. Clark Kent on April 14, 2023 at 12:58 am

    Hate to break it to you, but to become a better shooter you need to spend much more on ammo than gizmos. Kind of like claiming you become a better driver by spending more on tires than gasoline.

  2. Chris on April 15, 2023 at 12:47 pm

    In my opinion, practice not ammo expending is more important. You learn to practice correctly by obtaining good instruction. This instruction teaches sight alignment, trigger press, and grip. Couple that with dummy rounds and skip loading practice and you will be well on your way. Learning to not move your muzzle during trigger press using dummy rounds is good. Of course practicing drawing from a holster is needed for proficient presentation. Daily dry fire practice with a laser in the chamber has helped me tremendously. You can really check and refine your trigger press.
    Blasting away at the range with no clear training plan will not improve the vast majority of shooters. Dry practice adds deposits to your shooting skills bank, using ammo mindlessly at the range are withdrawals or debts from your skills bank.

  3. Clark Kent on April 23, 2023 at 9:03 pm

    So you DO become a better driver by spending more on tires than gasoline? Or should you spend more time at the arcade playing the driving games?

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