The Dog Ate My Target…

When was your last range day? In this article for the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Women’s Magazine, I cover many of the common excuses people have for not getting to the range and outline some ways to help you work more training into your schedule and budget.

Reprinted from January 2019 Issue

It’s Saturday morning after a busy week at work. You’ve fed the children and are now looking at a long to-do list for the weekend. One item on the list is a training session at the shooting range with a local instructor. You need some real training, more than just a plinking session with your range buddies, but you know the cost will be high in both dollars and time. There are so many other important things to check off your list at the moment. Will you take the afternoon for yourself and work on your shooting skills or get moving with a few other weekend chores?

Those who choose to carry daily face the challenge of prioritizing our training because we have to – the seriousness of our task demands a commitment to regular training. However, fitting training into our schedules and budgets is often times easier said than done. Our lives are busy in different ways which makes it difficult to describe an ideal training regimen. Hopefully, we can agree that “regular training” should include both practicing known skills at a local range on a regular basis and learning new skills with a qualified instructor via private lessons or with a group class at least once per year. If you are anything like me, the difficulty in prioritizing training over family or work responsibilities comes down to the availability of two finite resources: time and money. No shocker there!


If money (and time) were no object, you could learn more at Gunsite Academy in a week than most average shooters learn in a lifetime. If you could take classes regularly with industry veterans such as Massad Ayoob and Tom Givens, you would find that they have probably forgotten more than most of us know about shooting. The reality of training for most of us falls short of those scenarios, but there remain plenty of quality options.

While many top instructors travel extensively and offer classes for a variety of skill levels, trying to find an open week or weekend in the family schedule can, unfortunately, be difficult. Most top defensive handgun courses are at least two-day events, with many pushing into a third day and some running a full five days (including classroom and range time). Add in a travel day on both sides of the class and you’ve got a fairly significant time cost for attending a top class.

In a perfect world, we would always be on vacation with an open schedule and no time clock to punch. Unfortunately for most of us, our employers allow us limited vacation time and this priceless time off can only be used for one thing or the other. If you choose a pistol class, will your spouse and kids understand? When you look back on life will you remember the beach vacation with the family or the weekend learning close quarters shooting techniques more fondly? In the real world, it seems that our families can be both the reason for our training and the reason we do not train as often as we should.


Maybe traveling to a weekend handgun course is out of the question for you. Getting to the local range on a more regular basis is surely easier, right? Not so fast. If you’re like me, you have soccer practice to coach, school projects to oversee, friendships to maintain, family birthday dinners to cook, fitness regimens to stick to, and on and on and on. Telling yourself you have to get to the range more often is easy, but we’re all familiar with the old adage about the best laid plans.

Regularly making it to the range to maintain your skills takes a commitment just like anything else worthwhile. Try these tips to help you improve your range time management.

Mark range days on your calendar or digital planner. Once you put it in writing, it is more likely to happen.

Find a friend who also makes training a priority – bonus points if it is a family member! This teammate will hold you accountable and give you feedback on improving your skills.

Set specific goals for your shooting abilities and document your progress. Evidence showing results (time spent equals improved skills) will help you stick to the plan. There are many drills and qualifications that can provide snapshots of your progress.

Remind yourself why you train. Could you live with an outcome that could have been better for you or your loved ones if you had only spent more time training?

Have fun. Yes, training is serious business, but shooting is fun too! Make sure you spend some time playing shooting games or trying out a new gun just for the fun of it.


If you can clear the first big hurdle of managing your training time, you’ll quickly see the second hurdle racing toward you. Finding the money to attend classes and/or private lessons to build skills is a real challenge for many who struggle to train often enough. Even though the cost of local range training does not seem to be much at first glance, the yearly total is still enough to make a dent in a modest budget.

For example, if you look at a local range, the lane fees might be $15; 200 or so rounds of 9mm (which you may have to purchase on site) might cost $50; and approved targets might be another $5, making for a total of $70 per visit.

Following this example, an average monthly cost of hitting the range bi-weekly is approximately $140. Yearly, that total works out to $1680 or about 3.4% of a $50,000 income. (Note: this does not include any cleaning supplies or gas to and from the range.)

In addition to your regular local training, you will want to get some high quality instruction at least a couple times per year via private lessons or an organized topic-specific class. The cost of private lessons ranges widely, usually a per hour rate between $25 and $80 plus ammunition. Take a $50/hour 100 round count lesson once per quarter and your total cost is about $300 per year.

If you can find the time, most well-recognized classes cost between $200 to $1000 or more, depending on the length of the class, the topics covered, and the resume of the instructor(s). If you must travel to the class location and stay in hotels or rent a car, the cost obviously increases. The financial and time costs associated with this type of class can be extensive, although many would argue the cost-to-benefit ratio is still very positive.

A two-day class might cost $450 and the 500 rounds of 9mm (which you will most certainly have to purchase on-site so you don’t have to travel with said rounds) might be another $125. Your flight might be about $375, and your four-day car rental about $160.  $100 in food, and $50 in gas….you’re up to a total of $1,610 for that “two-day class for $450.”

Budgeted out over a year you’d have to save about $32 per week or ($128 per month) to make this type of advanced firearm training possible.

To put it all together, you have about $1,680 per year in regular local training twice per month, $300 per year in quarterly tune-ups with a private lesson, and at least $1610 per year for an annual class with a recognized school or instructor to add some new skills. The yearly total of $3590 represents about 7.2 percent of a $50,000 annual income. This cost is for one person so you can come close to doubling it if you have a spouse that wants to share in your defensive handgunning journey. The struggle is real: $4000-$8000 buys a pretty nice beach vacation, and that’s a tradeoff that some people find too tempting to resist.


With the right approach, all of this can be made a lot easier to afford. Research the instructors you like and the classes you want to attend and pick a date far into the future so you have plenty of time to save for the class.

Many ranges have memberships that seem costly up front, but save you money in the long run (assuming you go on a regular basis). Knowing you have to go to the range twice a month to make the membership worth it might help you squeeze in a few extra training sessions too.

Be a smart shopper and watch for sales on bulk ammo, flights and accommodations. Use social media to arrange house splitting and/or car-sharing with students who may be attending the same classes as you.

Start a dry-fire training regimen at home to keep your skills as sharp as possible between range sessions and classes. Strive for 75% of your training done at home and 25% at the range. Staying sharp will help you get the most out of the classes you save for. Even better, talk to other shooters and local instructors. They may know of a class nearby that meets your needs and eliminates the costly travel expenses. Wherever you go, clearly define your training goals and find a class that teaches to that need. You can get more bang for your buck when the class is specifically focused on a particular skill you want to learn. No one likes spending money on an experience he or she wasn’t even looking for in the first place.

Every time I go to the range, I remind myself why I train. For me, it is to protect my family. The love I have for them makes regular training paramount and allows me to prioritize with clearer vision. Of course, it isn’t easy to manage range time and budget for classes, which is why I use many of the tips listed above to help me out. It’s taken a few years, but eventually I have found ways to balance the needs of my training regimen with the demands of family life.

I had a teacher in seventh grade that always said, “I don’t want to hear about how your dog ate your homework – no excuses, just results!” Even though time and money can be substantially challenging, these and other excuses ultimately boil down to…the dog eating your target. They’re just excuses. The importance of personal defense in your life should help you prioritize your tasks to get the results you need – and should help keep “the dog” safely away from your target.