Before you buy a gun, you should go to a range that rents guns and try different ones out to see which one is best for you.
What does “try them out” mean? How do we measure “which one is best for you?” Here is a list of worthwhile items to evaluate for you to make an informed decision about an autoloading pistol. For those who are helping a prospective purchaser, demonstrate the technique but then place the pistol in a sterile (unloaded with slide forward) condition and let them do their own evaluation without comment or coaching. You won’t be there to coach them if they need to use the pistol for real; that’s part of the evaluation.
- Load the pistol. This has two components.
- Load a magazine to full capacity.
- Load the fully charged magazine into the pistol and chamber a round.
- Manipulate the controls of the pistol.
- If the pistol has a decocker, decock the pistol after loading it.
- If the pistol has a safety, engage it, and then disengage it.
- Remove the loaded magazine from the pistol.
- Engage the slide stop while safely ejecting the round from the chamber. The muzzle must remain pointed downrange during the unload sequence.
- Inspect the chamber visually and physically (with a finger) to be sure it is unloaded.
- Let the slide go forward.
- Shoot the pistol.
- For new shooters or prospective purchasers, use a standard silhouette target.
- Experienced shooters should use a more meaningful target.
- An 8 inch circle at 3 yards.
- A sheet of paper in landscape orientation at 5 yards.
- Two sheets of paper stacked one above the other in landscape orientation at 7 yards and 10 yards.
- A suitable target can be downloaded here. Printable Silhouette drawn face
- Fire six shots at each of four distances (Stages); 3 yards, 5 yards, 7 yards, and 10 yards. This will replicate the difficulty level of most States’ Carry License Qualification Courses of Fire. A Carry License Qualification is the most likely shooting task the average purchaser will use their handgun for so you may as well evaluate the ability to pass it. This shooting evaluation consists of 24 rounds so two different pistols could be evaluated with one fifty round box of ammo.
- The six shots for each Stage should be fired in three Strings of Fire. The magazine should be loaded with six rounds only except when evaluating stoppage clearance.
- Fire One shot
- Fire Two shots
- Fire Three shots
- If the pistol has a decocker, decock the pistol after each string and then disengage the decocker.
- If the pistol has a safety, start each string with the safety engaged.
- After shooting at each distance, czech to make sure the pistol is unloaded, let the slide go forward, and decock, if the pistol has a decocker.
- Record how many hits were made on the target and then cover them with masking tape. You should bring a roll of masking tape with you to the range.
- Start the next distance’s shooting by loading the pistol from a sterile condition.
- The 3 yard string should be fired with the Primary Hand Only, i.e., One Handed.
- The six shots for each Stage should be fired in three Strings of Fire. The magazine should be loaded with six rounds only except when evaluating stoppage clearance.
- Evaluate your ability to reduce stoppages of the pistol.
- When shooting the 5 yard Stage, start with the chamber empty and a six round magazine inserted. Attempt to fire the first shot on an empty chamber. After the click, tap the base of the magazine, cycle the slide, and then fire one shot (Tap-Rack-Bang). This is a simulation of clearing a bad round or a partially unseated magazine.
- When shooting the 7 yard Stage, start with the slide locked open and a six round magazine in the pistol. Eject the magazine onto the table, pick it up, insert it into the pistol, release the slide, and then fire three shots. This is a simulation of an Emergency Reload because most rental pistols will only come with one magazine. After the three shot sequence, fire the two shot String and then the one shot String.
- When shooting the 10 yard Stage, start with the chamber empty and a six round magazine inserted. Attempt to fire the first shot on an empty chamber. After the click, remove the magazine, cycle the slide three times, re-insert the magazine, and then fire three shots. This simulates clearing a double feed. After the three shot sequence, fire the two shot String and then the one shot String.
This evaluation procedure will give you a good idea of two different aspects of how well the gun works for you or a prospective purchaser. The ability to shoot the gun to pass a possible standard for obtaining a Carry License and also manipulation tasks that are frequently overlooked.
Here is a downloadable checklist you can take to the range with you. Autoloading Pistol Suitability Checklist
Testing the effect of adverse weather on our shooting ability is useful. This year is already starting out with a colder winter than usual and it’s not even officially winter yet. That may be the ‘climate change’ trend for a while. The temperature today is 36 degrees and there’s a very light mist. Wearing a zipped up down jacket with a sweatshirt underneath and gloves may be the uniform for a while.
A good test for starters is the NRA Basics Of Pistol Shooting test. It consists of firing five shots into each of four circles, four inches in diameter at three increasing distances. Red Level is fired at 10 feet, White Level is shot at 15 feet, and Blue Level finishes the test at 20 feet for a total of 60 rounds. There is no time limit.
Consistent. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
marked by harmony, regularity, or steady continuity: free from variation or contradiction
During his Technical Handgun: Tests and Standards class last weekend, John Johnston of Ballistic Radio commented to me that the class had been heavily influenced by two conversations he and I had. In one, I said
You’re a good shooter but your consistency sucks.
He took that to heart and developed a personal program to increase his consistency. Technical Handgun is his road show about how shooters can use a personal program to increase their consistency and competency. Good shooting, even decent shooting, is the result of consistency. By that I mean the ability to perform at some level with a high degree of regularity. As we develop our consistency, the level we are able to perform at ‘on demand’ increases. Many shooters are perfectly content with being incompetent. Many others are not but don’t know how to go about increasing their competency.
How do you forget you’re carrying a gun?
This question was posed in relation to a recent article about a former teacher leaving his pistol in the stall of a public restroom. The pistol was shortly thereafter fired ‘to see if it was loaded’ by the homeless man who found it. A spirited discussion ensued on my Facebook Tactical Professor page about the topic.
The discussion brought to mind something John Farnam spoke about at his class I attended 20 years ago. John wrote one of his published quips about the topic years later. It is well worth reading and considering. One of his points about competent gunhandlers is: “We don’t have accidents with guns.” Accidents is a category that includes more than Negligent Discharges by the homeless. It also includes losing control of your personally carried weapon, either by leaving it behind or by unintentionally allowing others to gain access to it.
Following is John’s commentary.
Living with Guns
By John S. Farnam
Many years ago, while attending The US Army Command and General Staff College at Ft Leavenworth, KS, I submitted a paper entitled, “Living With Guns”. In it, I described my sometimes exasperating experiences as an infantry second lieutenant, platoon commander in Vietnam in 1968. I observed that, during that War, although we all had been theoretically trained to operate small arms, nobody had ever taught us how to actually live with them!
I submitted that individual soldiers need experiences that prepare them, not only to operate, but to actually live with, loaded guns during prolonged periods of intermittent (and sometimes continuous) fighting. One may argue that such training is dangerous, but without it I contended, our soldiers will continue to accidentally shoot themselves and each other with distressing frequency the moment they enter an area of active fighting.
What do you teach the students in your classes, Claude?
That question was posed to me recently by an older gentleman at my gun club.
I teach them how to handle guns safely and how to hit the target, Ray.
He looked at me quizzically when I said that. He’s a competent shooter who can hit a six inch plate at 50 yards with a handgun. I could tell he didn’t understand so I told him a story.
I received a call a while ago from a range I used to teach at, which has subsequently burned down. The call was from the guy working the counter where they sign people into the range. “Can you come down right now and give a lady with a snub nose revolver a lesson right now? She will pay you and she’s willing to wait for you to get here.” It was 20 minutes away so I grabbed my gear and went.
The lady had a very nice 2 inch Model 15 Combat Masterpiece. She had purchased it at a gun shop when her husband died. This was her second visit to the range to ‘practice.’
I’ve been encouraged to restart the Friday Fundamentals series and I think that’s a good idea. My upcoming series of articles about the J Frame revolver and how to get the most of it will be a good platform since the J frame can be unforgiving of poor fundamentals. People who learn to shoot a J Frame adequately can usually learn to shoot other handguns well. But first, let’s have a philosophical discussion about learning the fundamentals.
Bottom line up front, as is often said in the business world.
Most training classes are a condensation of much more training, practice, and skill development on the instructor’s part than their students will ever experience or be able to make use of. Only a few instructors use the term “feeding them with a firehose” but that’s what most training usually turns into, whether the instructor understands it or not. That philosophy doesn’t reflect the way adults learn.
Distilling many hours, years, or decades of experience into a single half day, full day, or weekend class isn’t setting the students up for success. That’s especially true when at the end of the class, the instructor gives a certificate to the students and tells them they’re now ‘trained.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Indoctrinated’ would be a much better term. The lack of follow-on practice curricula is a major weakness in the training industry. It’s one of my major pet peeves about the way training is conducted.
The NRA Training Department progression of Basics Of Pistol Shooting, Personal Protection In The Home, Basic Personal Protection Outside The Home, and Advanced Personal Protection Outside The Home are really the only exception to this situation in the industry. Some instructors will contest this and say they offer a series of classes. My rebuttal is that if the first class requires a holster, the students have already been led to the hydrant and positioned in front of the firehose.
More on this next week.
I had an interesting philosophical discussion during the Contextual Handgun, The Armed Parent/Guardian class this past weekend. The instructor, John Johnston, is very good about attributing his sources. One of his points was a comment by the late Paul Gomez.
The hardest part of the drawstroke is establishing grip.
I told John that I disagree with that. In my opinion, the hardest part of the drawstroke is gaining an adequate sight picture. Establishing grip is the most time-consuming part of the drawstroke.
A good instructor can usually get students to consistently establish grip in a relatively short period of training time. However, getting them to consistently get an adequate sight picture usually takes quite a while longer.
Something to keep in mind during your live and dry practice.
I’m taking the NRA Personal Protection Outside The Home Course this week. Taking the Course is a prerequisite to becoming a PPOTH Instructor but I also like to get back to Basics periodically.
Yesterday, I did the Range Exercises for the Basic level of the Course. PPOTH has Basic Level range exercises of 100 rounds. The Advanced Level range exercises total 112 rounds. The exercises are detailed in a Condensed Reference Guide available from the NRA.
The exercises are nothing fancy or ‘high speed’ but they emphasize fundamental skills that everyone who carries a weapon should be able to execute flawlessly. Most are shot at seven yards.
- Presenting the pistol and firing one shot (that hits) while not wearing a concealment garment
- Presenting the pistol and firing one shot (that hits) while wearing a concealment garment
- Presenting the pistol and firing two shots (that hit) while not wearing a concealment garment
- Presenting the pistol, moving to a position of cover and firing two shots (that hit)
- Presenting the pistol and firing one shot (that hits) using the Shooting (Dominant) Hand Only
- Presenting the pistol and firing two shots (that hit) at close range (2 yards)
The exercises are done dryfire first and then live fire. Generally, 10 to 20 repetitions of each exercise are done. Accountability for the rounds is stressed. I like that. I’ve used the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program in a number of classes. What my students found was that getting 100% hits on a 12 inch circle at seven yards wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be.
Repetition and performance measurement are the midwives of skill development.
The standard I established for myself yesterday to get all my hits in the 10 ring of the NRA AP-1 target. This is an eight inch circle, which is a relatively well established standard for defensive accuracy among those who can shoot.
I’m looking forward to taking PPOTH and doing the exercises with someone else watching. That’s another of my standards; being able to perform on demand while others observe what my results are.
There are several sets of rules regarding safe gunhandling. All the sets of rules emphasize the concerns of their originators. However, many similar things are said but stated in different ways.
Which set of rules you choose to use is less important than picking a set and following it scrupulously. Firearms are instruments of ultimate personal responsibility and can be very unforgiving of even a moment of carelessness. Gunhandling is just as important as marksmanship, but many people are careless about the way they handle firearms, which can result in death or serious injury.
The National Rifle Association’s set. Link
The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s set. Link
Glock has its own set. Link
Like most competitors in the Action Shooting Sports, I use The Four Rules originally developed by Jeff Cooper. Lists of more than three or four items are difficult to memorize, so I still prefer them. There are minor variations but they all follow the same pattern.
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
- Identify your target, and what is behind it.
When talking about gun safety, we need to be careful about taking our subject matter knowledge for granted, especially nuance. Each of the Four Rules has a given amount of unstated subject matter knowledge inherent in them. I have had this discussion before and I continue to maintain the following: telling people with little experience four sentences and expecting 100 percent positive results is ridiculous.
The Four Rules are a memory aid like OCOKA, not a teaching paradigm. Glibly reciting them and expecting people to understand the depth involved in them is like showing someone a flashcard about algebraic formulas and then expecting the person to understand Mass-energy equivalency. The written explanation I provide my students about the Four Rules is three pages long with multiple (2-7) subsections explaining the nuances of each Rule. In the case of Rule #2, there are seven subsections.
“Never point your gun at something you’re not prepared to destroy,” to someone who doesn’t know much about firearms, can be easily interpreted as “Don’t horseplay around with your gun and act like a toothless buffoon by pointing it at your wife or dog.” There are multiple nuances that are not immediately apparent in a one sentence reading. For instance, here is one subsection of my handout:
“c. In many cases, you will have to choose between pointing the gun at an inanimate object, such as the floor or gun cabinet, or pointing the gun at a person; always choose the inanimate object, never point the gun at a person.”
I speak for no one else but there’s nothing in a gun shop I am prepared to destroy when I handle a gun. However, the choice between shooting a gun cabinet and shooting the person behind the counter is fairly easy to make.
Granted a few people are exceptionally stupid. For instance, the guy who disabled his hand by negligently shooting it and then did it a second time because he insisted the only way he could manipulate the slide was by pushing it against his disabled palm. He posted pictures of the second incident on GlockTalk years ago and almost seemed proud of them. People like that are untrainable.
I think most people would be much more competent if we in the industry didn’t take so much for granted. People who have never operated a handheld device more complicated or dangerous than a coffee maker need an explanation first and the memory aid second to reinforce the explanation.
When explaining the Four Rules, I always include the statement:
In addition to the Four Rules, always store firearms so that they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.
The attached explanation is NOT all inclusive of the implications of the Four Rules. However, it is a starting point to allow shooters to think about the proper way to handle guns safely. Feel free to distribute the PDF to anyone.
In response to queries and comments about the Pistol Practice Program, I have created a downloadable eBook called Indoor Range Practice Sessions. It is structured as a PDF eBook that you can download to your smartphone or tablet and take with you to the range. That way you always have your practice session with you. Most (99%) gunowners only have access to an indoor range, so the Sessions are designed with this limitation in mind.
The book contains 12 Practice Sessions and 12 Courses of Fire from various States for their weapons carry licensing process. The Sessions are designed to progressively increase in difficulty so when done in sequence they challenge shooters without overwhelming them. The Courses of Fire were chosen to be complementary to a respective Practice Session. Each Session or Course of Fire is 50 rounds or less. They are all structured to maximize the effectiveness of your range time. It also contains sections on:
- Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling
- Gripping the Autoloading Pistol Properly
- Trigger Manipulation
- Using the Sights
- Use of Force philosophy
- and more!
There are considerably more restrictions placed on shooters at indoor ranges than at outdoor ranges. These Sessions were designed with those restrictions in mind. For example, most indoor ranges do not allow drawing from the holster, so the Sessions work on the general idea that no drawing is possible. Similarly, multiple target arrangements are not possible when shooting in a booth at an indoor range, so the Sessions do not include multiple targets.
These Sessions are intended for people who have purchased a firearm for personal protection. They are directed toward newer gunowners; however, ‘newer’ is a relative term. Many people who have owned, and perhaps shot, firearms for years aren’t as proficient as they think they are. Being a hunter, military veteran, security guard, or even police officer is no guarantee of being competent with a pistol. The difference in contexts is huge and often misunderstood.
Learning to shoot is an ongoing process. A misunderstanding that people have is thinking they can take a short training course, attend a seminar, or read a book and then feel they are ‘trained’ or ‘knowledgeable.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. We can only absorb so much information at one time. If we don’t practice what we’ve learned, that skill or knowledge slips away quickly. Repetitive reinforcement of our learning is key to developing and maintaining skill.
The eBook is available for download HERE.