Gunhandling

Marksmanship, gunhandling, mindset.The Combat Triad originated by Jeff Cooper.

I had two interesting experiences relating to gunhandling last week. Gunhandling is an often overlooked component of the Combat Triad.

The first was the result of shooting the Swiss concealed weapons qualification test. A friend of mine lives there and recently obtained his license. The Swiss don’t have a training requirement, per se; rather they have a testing process consisting of a written test on legal aspects and a practical test (what we would call a qualification course). They are both administered by the Swiss Polizei. The written test must be passed before the practical test can be taken.

He sent me the qualification course that is required to get the license. The material he sent me is in French, so I may have mistranslated it, but I believe all the strings start with empty chamber. Since whether to carry with a round in the chamber or not is frequently a topic of discussion among new weapons carriers, I decided to shoot it that way even if my translation was incorrect.

The course is shot at 7 meters, 5 meters, and 3 meters. At each distance, three strings of two shots each are fired. The time limits are 4.0 seconds, 3.5 seconds, and 3.0 seconds for each string, respectively. Each string starts with the pistol holstered and concealed. The target is a silhouette with a bottle shape on it, which appears to be roughly the size of an FBI ‘Q’ or the IDPA -0/-1 zone. The Swiss score this with a points system. Shots in the bottle count as one point, shots on the silhouette outside the bottle receive zero points, and shots that miss the silhouette result in a one point penalty. Shots over the allotted time also received one penalty point. Fourteen points are required to pass the test.

Swiss qual target 751-87_wtb12

To get an initial feel for the difference between chamber empty and loaded chamber start, I did five one shot unconcealed draws using each technique. Overall, chamber empty was slower to the tune of .48 seconds average. I was shooting my Beretta 92G Centurion from a Safariland 567 open top holster.

Centurion crop

Having established a baseline difference, I proceeded to shoot the Swiss qual course twice, once with the chamber empty and once with a loaded chamber. I used the same gear but also my favorite concealment vest, a construction worker’s fluorescent vest. What I found was that chamber empty was not only slower (0.48-0.67 seconds) but somewhat less accurate than having a round in the chamber. I had to work really hard to get the front sight on target after loading the chamber. Unlike a smooth loaded chamber drawstroke, there’s a lot of rotational movement of the pistol going during the period of driving the gun to the target. I didn’t have any trouble making the times, but it’s not exactly a cakewalk, either. Not long into the course, the safety ears were beginning to hurt my fingers, which may have had some effect on the results, too.

Unchambered
Distance    1           2          3        Average
7m          2.84      2.67      2.77      2.76
5m          2.50      2.60      2.47      2.52
3m          2.17      2.46      2.07      2.23

Years ago, I took a pistol course from Kelly McCann. He said that the Israelis just accept that they are going to throw away the first shot when using the chamber empty technique. After doing this exercise, I can see why. With all the gun movement, and if using the strict Israeli technique, 90 degrees of rotating of the gun, it’s hard to get even the muzzle indexed on target, much less get the front sight on it. Notice also the inclined to the low left classic group, indicating the trigger jerking that was going on. I expect this is because of the amount of complex (gross simultaneous with fine) motor skills that are involved.

Swiss qual targetscrop

Note that I drew the IDPA -0 zone on the target after the shooting for analytical purposes.

The second observation occurred at an indoor IDPA match. There was a blind stage in which the shooter’s gun had a dummy round randomly inserted in the magazine, without being told it was there. While this isn’t strictly legal for IDPA, it did provide an interesting laboratory when watching the shooters’ reactions. I watched about 20 iterations of the stages, so it gave me a decent view across the range of shooter abilities, Novice through Master.

There was a wide range of reactions. Unfortunately, many people were positively flummoxed upon encountering the click. They would just look at their gun and not do anything. The Safety Officer had to tell several to 1) clear the malfunction and 2) how to do it. What I found disturbing was how many people immediately ejected that magazine and reloaded with a fresh one. The follow-on action to the reload was about evenly divided. Half would then work the slide to eject the dummy and resume shooting. The other half would attempt to fire the pistol again without clearing the dummy, which resulted in nothing happening. Then they would work the slide and resume shooting.

After the initial malfunction, which was set up to occur within the first few rounds, many shooters experienced a series of subsequent malfunctions. I wondered about this, so I asked the Safety Officer who was placing the dummy if he was doing anything else to their guns to mess them up. His answer was: “The first one is on me, the rest are all them.”

So, having a malfunction early in the string then produced a cascade of malfunctions for some shooters. Perhaps, this was due to grip issues or incorrect shooting posture, I’m not really sure. Observing this phenomenon gave me some serious food for thought. It’s well known that I don’t think spare ammunition is as necessary for Armed Citizens as is often made out to be the case. But if someone’s first reaction to a malfunction is to jettison their only magazine, that could be a big problem.

These two sets of observations reinforce to me that those who carry or keep pistols for personal protection need to do more practice than simply go to an indoor range and shoot a box of ammo periodically. Pistols are complex mechanical devices that require proper manipulation skills as well as acceptable marksmanship ability. I will talk about practice possibilities in the future.

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