Guns and Gear

Spicing Up the El Presidente

Amongst the world of firearm drills, there are a handful of classics. We have the Failure Drill, the Bill Drill, and the El Presidente. Firearms innovator and revolutionary instructor Jeff Cooper designed the El Presidente drill in the 1970s, and it was reportedly first published in American Handgunner magazine in 1979. This classic drill works on several skills. We get to turn, identify threats, draw, and engage multiple targets with multiple shots, reload, and then reengage multiple targets with multiple shots.

To improve your handgun shooting skills, modified drills, like this take on the El Presidente, can keep things fresh.

The El Presidente forms an amazing foundation for shooters to build on. The basic El Pres is a fantastic way to train, but it can also be a foundation we build on to work on other skills. Today we will focus on how we can modify the El Pres to work various skills. First, let’s run over the Classic variant of the El Presidente.

Equipment Needed

Before diving into the El Presidente drill world, we need to establish the basic equipment we’ll need for these drills. You will need the following:

  • Handgun (I used the Springfield Armory Echelon)
  • Two magazines
  • 12 rounds of ammunition per run
  • Holster
  • Spare mag pouch
  • Shot timer
  • Three man-sized targets (Original drill calls for USPSA/IPSC targets, but substitutes can be used)

The different variations will call for some slight equipment changes and may require some minor additional pieces of gear.

Classic El Presidente

With a par time of 10 seconds, the El Presidente requires you to place three IPSC/USPSA/man-sized targets one yard apart, 10 yards from the shooter. Load two magazines with six rounds apiece.


shooting the modified el presidente drill
This modified El Presidente drill can be run with any handgun and sight configuration. The author demonstrates here with an Echelon and red dot sight.

The shooter starts facing away from the target with a loaded handgun holstered and a spare magazine on the belt. Hands are in the air in a surrender position. At the command to fire, or beep of a shot timer, the shooter turns, draws, and fires two rounds into each target.

Shooter then reloads and fires two additional rounds into each target. Shooters are expected to land all 12 rounds into the A-Zone of the IPSC target in under 10 seconds.

El Pres Under Cover

This variation of the drill will introduce an element of cover. In a gunfight, the use of cover is absolutely a must. Getting behind cover isn’t using cover. Being able to get behind cover and effectively engage from behind cover is using cover. This version of the El Pres will give you the use of cover practice required to excel.


shooting the modified el presidente drill with cover
Using cover is an important aspect of defensive shooting. This modified drill incorporates it into the training.

The par time is again 10 seconds. Establish three targets one yard apart in a row. Set up a barrier or notional cover ten yards from the target line. Load two magazines with six rounds apiece.

The shooter will start behind cover with their firearm holstered and spare mag ready. At the beep of the shot timer, the shooter will draw and lean around the dominant side of the barrier and engage each target with two rounds.

As the gun runs dry, the shooter will get back behind cover and conduct a reload. After the reload, the shooter will lean out from the non-dominant side and engage each threat with two rounds.

One-Handed El Pres

If I had to grade my skills against a curve, I’d be failing my ability to engage with one hand. In a real-world engagement, you never know if you’ll have the time, opportunity, or ability to use both hands. With this El Pres variant, we will work with both hands but only one at a time.


shooting modified el presidente drill one handed
While two-handed shooting is preferred, defensive encounters could require the use of a single hand. It can be helpful to practice one-handed shooting whenever possible.

Par time is 10 seconds. Establish three targets one yard apart in a row. This drill requires no reload, so load one magazine with 12 rounds. A reload is forced if your handgun cannot hold at least 12 rounds.

You will be facing the target to start with your weapon holstered. At the beep of your shot timer, draw your handgun and engage each target with two rounds while only using your dominant hand.

Then, safely switch to your non-dominant hand, keeping the firearm oriented downrange. Now, engage each target once more with two shots.

Playing Card Presidente

For this drill, we’ll need to have a series of 3×5 cards. You can purchase or simply draw 3×5 boxes on your target if possible. Place two of these cards on each target. These cards can be placed anywhere on the target, and doing so as randomly as possible will create a more challenging target. I always place the cards opposite of each other with some distance between them. The Playing Card El President has us working on our transition skills and accuracy with small targets.


modified el presidente drill targets
You do not need a fancy range or electronic targets. Simple static targets can be used to help improve your shooting under stress.

Par time on this variation is 12 seconds. Place three targets one yard apart from each other in a row with the 3×5 cards placed on them. Load two magazines with six rounds each and establish a firing lane 10 yards from the targets.

Shooters will start with their back to the target. At the beep, they will turn and draw their handgun and fire one round into each of the 3×5 cards. Reload your weapon and once more fire one round into each of the 3×5 cards.

123 — 321 El Pres

This drill will break up the monotony of two rounds on each target. Sometimes a threat will take more than one round, and sometimes, they may only take one round. This variant of the El Presidente will shake up your cadence and force you to think as you shoot. To establish this, get your three targets and number them one, two, and three. Ensure the numbers are drawn nicely and big on the targets so that they are easily visible.


modified el presidente drill equipment
In addition to your safety gear, this modified El Presidente drill doesn’t require more than a timer and your carry gear.

Par time is the standard 10 seconds. Place your three targets in a row one yard apart. The order does not matter, and you can mix it up if you so choose. Load two magazines with six rounds each and establish a firing line 10 yards from the targets.

Shooter starts with their back to the targets. On the command, they will turn, draw and engage the targets. The shooter will engage the targets by number order with the number of rounds that corresponds to the target’s number. The target with the one gets one round, the target with the two gets two rounds, and so on and so forth.

After firing your six rounds, the shooter will then reload and fire the targets in reverse number order with the same number of rounds that corresponds to the target’s number.

Shake It Up

Never be afraid to shake things up when it comes time to train. Never get too comfortable and never rest on “good enough”. The El Presidente can be easily modified and changed to present a new challenge and the ability to sharpen other skills. Hopefully, we’ve given you some food for thought, and if you have your own alternatives to the El Pres, share them at The Armory Life forum!

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