A History Of The El Presidente Drill

The El Presidente Drill originated with Colonel Jeff Cooper and his founding of the American Pistol Institute, now known as Gunsite. According to Charlie McNeese, a long-time instructor at Gunsite, Cooper created the drill as he was traveling to a South American country. The Colonel was on his way there to train a security detail for the country’s president, hence the name “El Presidente.” 

Cooper created the drill as a way to evaluate the existing skill levels of the security detail. It was never meant to reflect a specific tactical or defensive situation. Rather, it compresses many different elements into one effective teaching tool. The El Presidente may seem simple at first, but mastering it requires a shooter to excel in a number of different areas. 

Shooting The El Prez

USPSA El Presidente Drill

The course of fire for the USPSA version of the El Presidente drill

The course of fire for the El Presidente drill is fairly simple. 

  1. Set up three targets 10 yards away, spaced 1 yard apart from each other. Use silhouette targets with a center-chest scoring zone and place them so that the shoulder of the silhouette is about 5 feet off the ground. 
  2. The shooter starts with their back to the targets, aka “facing uprange.” 
  3. On the start signal (usually the “beep” of a shot timer), the shooter turns, draws their pistol and engages each target with two rounds apiece. 
  4. The shooter then performs a mandatory reload and engages the three targets again with two rounds apiece. 
  5. Scoring is a combination of the best four hits on each target and the amount of time needed to get your hits (lower is better).

Complexity in Simplicity 

The beauty of the El Presidente drill is in how we can use it to assess many different skills. Requiring the shooter to turn and find the target helps us with target acquisition in tense situations. Drawing a gun after the turn helps us learn to find our pistol quickly after movement. Shooting just two rounds compresses the essence of pistol marksmanship into a very short time. By shooting two rounds, we learn to acquire the sights, press the trigger smoothly, and then re-acquire the sights again and press the trigger once more. Those actions are the heart of fast, accurate pistol shooting. You’re going to do them over and over again in this drill. 

Draw and Fire

If you’re worried about the turn and draw, don’t be. Everyone who shoots this winds up finishing their turn before their gun clears the holster.

People tend to move when someone is shooting at them. So, moving the gun quickly and reacquiring your target if needed is another skill that the El Presidente teaches. Lastly, the reload serves a couple of different purposes. While modern semi-automatic guns are very reliable, the fact is that things can still go very wrong at the worst time. A quick reload can solve many gun-related issues, such as misfed ammo. Learning to solve issues quickly, under the artificial stress of the timer is never a bad thing. 

Not Just for Defensive Training

In addition to founding Gunsite and his groundbreaking work on firearms training, Jeff Cooper also was involved with the creation of the International Practical Shooting Confederation, or IPSC. IPSC went on to become a worldwide sport, and the United States Practical Shooting Association, or USPSA, was created to concentrate on practical shooting as a sport in the United States. 

In USPSA, competitors with similar guns and similar skill levels compete against each other. The guns are compared on the basis of features and calibers. Pistols with red dot sights aren’t in the same division as pistols with iron sights. 9mm and .45 ACP guns are scored differently. We determine the skill of the shooter by shooting a number of standardized shooting drills. Similar scores compete against each other.

There are many different Classifiers in USPSA. The El Presidente is one of the oldest and most well-known

Know When To Game

It’s that connection with “gaming” that causes some pistol trainers to dismiss the El Presidente drill. Some trainers believe there is little, if any, benefit to practical shooting when it comes to defensive firearms training. The El Presidente, they believe, teaches people to shoot two rounds at a target and move on to the next problem, without evaluating their hits or making sure the target is down. 

And they’re right… in a gaming context. However, as we said earlier in the article, the El Presidente was designed to be a diagnostic tool for growth. It’s not a set routine you should master and perform by memory. Cooper himself could tell, just by sound, if a student was performing well on the El Presidente. According to Cooper, the proper cadence for the El Prez, as it is also called, shouldn’t be shot as a blazing string of six shots followed by six fast shots after the reload. Rather, each shot on each target should have its own sight picture. Think “Bang.Bang…Bang.Bang…Bang.Bang.” not “BangBangBangBangBangBang.” That slower, deliberate pace means that a shooter is getting a good sight picture with every shot, not just throwing rounds towards the target. 

Shooting the El Presidente drill

The El Presidente is a good reality check on your ability to make the shot when it counts.

However, that doesn’t mean you should dawdle while shooting this drill. Faster times lead to better scores. Taking too long to get a perfect center-chest shot can drastically affect your scores.

Jeff Cooper said that if a person is getting center-chest shots with each hit, that shooter needs to pick up the pace and shoot quicker. The point of the El Presidente drill isn’t to teach you how to shoot bullseyes. Rather, the point is to teach you how to make combat-effective hits on a target in as little time as possible. Taking all the time in the world to make each shot can affect your scores as much as missing a shot does. So, shoot straight, and do so quickly. 

Scoring The El Presidente Drill

The Gunsite method of scoring an El Presidente is to set a ten second par time. Go with twelve seconds if you’re shooting a revolver.

Award five points for every hit in the upper chest region of the target and two points for all other hits on the target. That means the best possible score is 60. Five points are added to the score for every full second under 10 seconds. However, five points are deducted for every full second over 10. Remember when I said “don’t dawdle?” There’s a reason for that. A good shooter should be able to score 40 points on this drill. Great shooters will score 50 or more. In case you are wondering, I shot a 38 on this drill at Gunsite.

Your Skills Check Just Bounced

Created as a benchmark test for a presidential guard, the El Presidente drill is still a useful standard to gauge your progress with a pistol. It combines speed, accuracy, and gun-handling into one tidy little drill that allows you to measure your growth as a marksman. It’s also a drill that has a long history with the practical shooting community. This history makes it one of the best-known and most-used drills around.