A group of us used to make a circuit of three different monthly PPC (Police Pistol, Combat) matches. At least, those who had the time and really got into the competitive spirit made the circuit.

My competitive spirit had to be split with raising a family, shooting on an informal police pistol team and the ever-important hunting season in the fall.

So I never became a full-time, big-time competitive pistol or revolver shooter, but I competed fairly steadily somewhere, about once monthly.

And I never forgot a comment I read by Massad Ayoob, one of the deans of gun writing and a recipient of the American Handgunner award.

Ayoob, a cop, said he would rather have a backup with a "C" class competitive rating than a shooter who could stand on the range and make little bitty groups with his handgun all day long - but never shoot competitively.

The point he was making, a valid one, is that competition hones skills, and a competitive shooter is training in various scenarios against a clock. That stress will be good if he ever finds himself needing his gun in a life-threatening situation.

I shot with and watched some top-notch competitive shooters over the years, and there is a lot you can learn watching these people.

Jerry Miculek is from the Thibodaux, La., area, and known as the finest and fastest revolver shooter in the world. He is a Team Smith & Wesson shooter, and you can be amazed at what the human body can do with a handgun by watching him in one of the many videos on the internet. Just watching Miculek load a revolver with speed loaders will make you wonder how a hand can move that fast.

Remembering how we all strived to reach a higher skill level, and the high bar set by Miculek and some of his contemporaries, I have continued to use some of the common competitive drills to keep the "edge" up on my handgun skills.

If you are going to carry concealed for self-defense, you need to practice on a regular basis to enhance your skill levels.

And practicing doesn't simply mean going to the range and shooting a couple of boxes of ammo at some paper targets. You have to stress and push yourself.

The old adage of "shoot fast, slow" applies now just as much as it did in Wyatt Earp's time - who was famous, incidentally, for ice water in his veins and the ability to identify the most dangerous threat and concentrate on taking out that combatant, ignoring all the other lesser marksmen shooting at him. Earp shot fast, but he shot fast aiming at what he wanted to shoot.

At least once monthly we go to the range and run simple drills. These aren't IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) drills or IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) stages or even PPC practice stages.

They are simply a couple of tried-and-true handgun drills that can be shot on a range from behind a standard shooting bench or tray without needing to go in front of the shooting stations and thus shutting down the range.

You can get a lot out of these drills. The surprising part of it is by taking turns you will vastly improve your reaction times and accuracy, while burning less ammo than you would use simply shooting at paper by yourself.

The first is called "Bill Drill."

Developed originally by Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat, a designer of high-end 1911-style competitive pistols, the "Bill Drill" is simply a quick test of the shooter's skills and skill level before going into a competitive mode.

Standing at 7 yards in front of any standard competitive target, at the sound of the buzzer or whistle, the shooter draws his handgun and fires six rounds into the "A," or high-score area, of the target. All six rounds have to be in the high scoring area or they don't count.

High Master shooters can do this drill in under two seconds. I can't do it - but I can sometimes come close - and the fun is trying to beat yourself.

This one will eat ammo. Believe it. But it's a load of fun.

The second and easy one we always go back to is the El Presidente - developed by Col. Jeff Cooper, who started the first professional handgun academy at Gunsite, Az., way back when.

Actually, we sort of modify it to what is known as the "Vice Presidente." Cooper made it a lot tougher than ours.

His premise was a shooter should be able to stand with his back to three targets hung a yard apart from one another, and 10 yards from the shooter. At the sound of the buzzer, the shooter whirls and draws, putting two shots in each target's "A" zone as rapidly as possible.

We hang three targets at 7 yards, face the targets, and at the whistle or buzzer, pull our sidearm and as quickly as possible fire two shots into each target's "A" zone.

That's it. Six shots on three targets. Do that in under three seconds, and you are on the way to being a successful competitive handgun shooter.

It doesn't sound like it's very complicated, and it is not. It is also hard to describe just how much fun this stage is, which probably explains why it's been around and used for so many years.

I won't go into any more detail; these and many more are available by the hundreds, even thousands, with a simple internet search.

The point is any training is better than none at all, but pushing yourself against a clock and trying to fire accurately will hone your personal defense skills much faster than simply punching holes through paper - and it's a lot more fun.

Finally, while shooting the other day and using a clock device on a "smart" phone to time ourselves, I asked, "With everything else they do with these things, why can't someone come up with a shot timer - that way we won't have to spend several hundred bucks on an electronic timer?"

So I called my computer wizard son, described what I wanted, and was informed it would be easy.

Except in a quick internet search, he found someone had already done it - several times. We downloaded the free app to my Droid phone, and tried it out - it works great.

I wouldn't rely on it for matches - but as my shooting buddy says, "For screwing around on an afternoon at the range, it works fine and costs a heck of a lot less than a PACT timer."

The address is appbrain.com/app/shot-timer/com.marzig.shottimer.

Remember to watch your front sight, and push your time until your accuracy goes, slow down, and try again.

Every time you shoot, you should push yourself to shoot "Fast - Slow."