Tag Archives: handguns

Friday Fundamentals 01 – Establishing Your Baseline

My friend Mark Luell, the author of Growing Up Guns suggested I provide a ‘Friday Fundamentals’ post weekly. We got the idea from my colleague Cecil Burch who wrote a blog post about Fundamentals. It’s a great idea to stay in touch with the basics.

The first installment is Session 01 of my Pistol Practice Program – Establishing Your Baseline. As in any journey, you have to know where you’re starting from before you can get to where you want to go.

The objective of this drill is to determine what distance you can make 100 percent hits on the vital area of a silhouette target. My feeling is that we need to work on achieving 100 percent accuracy because errant rounds in our homes or neighborhoods could be a major problem. Since I also think the first shot is the most important, I structured the session with a lot of first shots but also included multi-shot strings. A lot of people ‘walk their rounds’ into the target even with handguns. This is a huge problem and liability.

IL Qual w M39We don’t count hits on the head in this drill because they are actually misses if you are aiming at the body. The head is more than a foot away from the center of the body, if you hit the head when you’re aiming at the body, it’s just a lucky shot and doesn’t count in terms of performance measurement.

Required equipment:
Any silhouette target; B-27, B-21, Q, IDPA, IPSC, etc.
Masking tape (preferred) or magic marker to mark the target.
Pistol, 50 rounds of ammunition
Eye and ear protection
Overview
This drill consists of five (5) Sequences of 10 shots each. The Sequences are untimed.
Setup:
Place target at three (3) yards
Start loaded with five (5) rounds only.
Procedure:
The starting position is Low Ready. This means the pistol is aimed at the floor below the target. For double action pistols, you will decock after each Step.
Sequence 1 (10 rounds)
1) Start with handgun held in both hands, aimed at the floor below the target. Spare magazine loaded with 5 rounds or speedloader with 5 rounds or 5 loose rounds on the bench.
2) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 1 shot at the center of target. Followthrough for one second, then return to low ready. Decock, if appropriate.
3) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 2 shots at the center of target. Followthrough for one second, then return to low ready. Decock.
4) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 3 shots at the center of target. After two shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Reload it and fire the third shot. Followthrough for one second, then return to low ready. Decock.
5) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 4 shots at the center of target. After the shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Hopefully, the slide has locked back if it’s an autoloader.
6) Place your pistol down on the bench.
7) Bring your target back and mark all the hits, preferably with tape but a marker will do.
8) Write on the target how many hits you made in the body scoring area. I prefer to not count the outer scoring area as I mentioned in Why I hate the -3 zone. Use this format, (3) X/10, X being the number of hits. For this drill, do not count any hits in the head, they are actually misses.
Sequence 2 (10 rounds)
1) Send the target out to 5 yards.
2) Repeat Sequence 1 but with the target at 5 yards instead of 3 yards.
3) When you write on the target how many hits you made in the scoring area, it will be (5) X/10. The number in parenthesis is the distance in yards.
Sequence 3 (10 rounds)
1) Send the target out to 7 yards.
2) Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 7 yards.
3) Write on the target how many hits you made at 7 yards. (7) X/10
Sequence 4 (10 rounds)
1) Send the target out to 10 yards.
2) Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 10 yards.
3) Write on the target how many hits you made at 10 yards. (10) X/10
Sequence 5 (10 rounds)
4) Send the target out to 15 yards.
5) Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 15 yards.
6) Write on the target how many hits you made at 15 yards. (15) X/10

When you finish the drill, record your score for each yardage. Make this a part of your practice record. Shooting this exercise will give you a good idea of what your current proficiency level is. That’s an important starting point.

Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference (I)

The Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference is over and I am processing the things I observed and learned from it. The Conference has a long history, dating back to the early days of IDPA in 1998, when it was a sanctioned IDPA indoor Championship. Over the years, it has evolved into the foremost tactical training conference for private citizens in the United States. It is held annually, early in the year, in the Memphis area. The venue for the 2015 Conference was the Memphis Police Training Academy, a truly fine and modern facility.

This year, three dozen of the top personal protection trainers in the country, many of whom are referred to as “T-Rexes,” came together to present or conduct training blocks of two to six hours over a period of three days. The agenda has grown so large that it’s not possible to take in all the training that is available, since sometimes five blocks are going on simultaneously. Some of the training is classroom lecture, some is hands-on with sterile weapons, and some is livefire. There is also a shooting match, for those who choose to participate.

There were a wide variety of topics, ranging from psychology and communications to contact based skills to firearms manipulation. I was able to attend nine sessions.

In addition, I was able to make two classroom presentations.

Upon my return, several people have asked me what my most significant takeaways were. As usual, I learned a great deal, so it’s difficult to say what were the most significant, but here are a few that stand out in my mind, in no particular order.

  • A conversation with a mentor of mine, John Farnam, elicited from both of us the experience that when approached for help in a parking lot, it’s almost always a scam or criminal ambush. Fellow trainer Melody Lauer  pointed out that there are a few legitimate exceptions, but John and I both feel they are the exception rather than the rule. This indicates that a default response should be formed to immediately and firmly decline the invitation to be a victim and then rapidly vacate the area. Exceptions to that rule should be based on specific articulable reasons and conscious decision-making, rather than by default.
  • The T-Rexes are constantly working along the path to excellence. That path includes attitude, skills development, tactics, and a host of other areas. Recognizing that there is an element of chance in every encounter, we work hard on stacking the deck in our favor. ‘Doing the work’ means training regularly and practicing on a daily basis. ‘Good enough’ is never good enough for us. That’s probably why we’re regarded as T-Rexes.
  • There is an enormous amount of erroneous, misapplied, or misinterpreted information floating around in the broad firearms and personal protection community. This is especially true in relation to prioritization, legal issues, and skills development.
  • The community has a lot to learn about integrating women into it. There was a record turnout of female attendees and women trainers at the Conference this year, my co-presenter being one. Conversations with them, as well as the presentations, were highly enlightening. Many male paradigms either don’t apply at all or don’t work particularly well when used by women. My own presentation was an eye-opener to me in that regard. The Women’s Holsters and Accessories presentation, which was presented by a woman, gave several good examples. A pet peeve expressed by several T-Rexes is men who have women shoot excessively powerful firearms and then laugh when they fail. Our universal attitude is along the lines of the desire to give such jerks a knee lift in the crotch followed by a crack in the jaw and then laugh when they fall down writhing in pain.

I have several pages of notes but those jump out at me. Undoubtedly, more will occur to me as I reflect on the event. I will have more thoughts on specific topics in the near future. There is a photo gallery of the Conference training blocks available on the Rangemaster website.

Mistaken identity shootings

None of us can imagine the feelings that must occur in the case of a mistaken identity shooting of a family member. We don’t like to talk about this sort of thing in the gun community but it happens on a regular basis. Don’t let it happen to you, on either end.

I’ve written about this before and probably will again. It’s an avoidable tragedy.

Negative Outcomes: Mistaken Identity Shootings

Laser sights

I have seen too many people forget the basics and rely on finding the laser dot instead of looking down the sights on pistols. They became much slower with the laser.

So began a Facebook thread in a closed group of ‘operators.’ There’s an antinomy, a form of paradox, in this sort of discussions that I always find interesting.

The paradox arises from the often parroted statement that most armed encounters take place at night or in low light. This premise is less than provable, but let’s accept it at face value for purposes of discussion.

australianparrots-crop

Now, let’s follow up that premise with dismissal of a sighting system because ‘it doesn’t work’ during periods when gunfights are LESS LIKELY to take place.

In this particular FB thread, I will put myself in the category of ‘highly trained,’ since that’s what their membership group supposedly consists of. Years ago, it didn’t take me long to figure out that there were things I could do with a laser on a pistol that I simply couldn’t do without them. That held true even during the day, unless I was on a brightly sunlit ‘square range,’ which is so often said to be a poor and ‘non-realistic’ training environment. In any indoor environment, there is no issue with ‘finding the laser dot,’ even in a well lit room in daylight.

Note visible laser dot.

Note visible laser dot.

Once we get into the realm of low light, where the popular mantra says the majority of gunfights occur, most of us will agree that iron sights are fairly useless. We’re largely reduced to point shooting because the sights can’t be seen.

I wondered about the difference between iron sights and lasers during low light. I think of the time frame between sundown and End of Civil Twilight (dusk) as low light. The US Naval Observatory provides specific definitions of these and states

Some outdoor activities may be conducted without artificial illumination during these intervals, and it is useful to have some means to set limits beyond which a certain activity should be assisted by artificial lighting.

Target Acquisition and, to a lesser extent, Target Identification, is still possible during that period. However, between sundown and dusk, night sights aren’t really visible (not bright enough) and neither are the irons (luminous efficacy of the eye’s cones is insufficient).

To establish a quantitative measure for that difference, I chose several parts of the Handgun Testing Program at the elite Rogers Shooting School. The targets were more visible than they show in the video but I couldn’t see the irons. I proceeded to shoot the tests with a laser equipped Beretta. Having taught at Rogers for five years, I’m fairly confident in saying that, without the laser, I would have made the all the body hits (7) and around half of the hits on the number 1 head plate (8) for a score of 15 out of 69 targets. My score with the laser was four missed targets for a score of 65 out of 69.

There’s a reason I have a laser on my house gun.

The issue of parroting something that was heard without questioning, analyzing, or testing is a separate topic that the training community has yet to address adequately. That’s for another time, though.

SCCY pistol update

So far, I have 175 rounds through the SCCY CPX-2 that they sent me for T&E. It had a Failure to Chamber on the fourth round I fired but no malfunctions since then.

I shot it at an IDPA match today and was able to do reasonably well (5th overall) against full size service pistols. One of the stages was a true El Presidente (10 yards with targets 2 yards apart). I finished 2nd on that one with an overall time of 11.73 (10.73 with 2 down).

The front sight now has 3M Reflective Tape on it and I was able to remove the horribly distracting white dots from the rear sight. The three dot system does nothing for me, especially the way most manufacturers implement it. One of my friends commented that the front sight is visible from behind the shooting line, i.e., in the peanut gallery.

SCCY sights

The trigger takes some getting used to because of the length of pull and reset. Shooters used to riding the reset/catching the link will probably not care for it. Flip and press works well though. I am not wild about it being flat all the way across and may do something about that.

Although the gun has noticeable muzzle flip, as might be expected from a 15 ounce 9mm, it isn’t painful to shoot the way I found the PF-9. It’s definitely more pleasant than shooting an LCP.

I did several tactical reloads and did not get pinched at all.

Yesterday, I shot the old FBI Double Action Course with it and was able to make 96%. This is properly shot on a Q target but I used an IDPA -1/-0 scoring zone. The pistol’s accuracy seems to drop off quite a bit past 15 yards. That’s something I will have to verify further.

sccy FBI DA

Most of my shooting with it has been with locally remanufactured ball ammo. However, I shot one stage today with Winchester 147gr SXT and had no problems.

So far, so good.

Competition, Practice, Training, and Testing

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.

–Aesop’s Fables, The Fox and the Grapes,

Periodically, I see comments in the tactical/concealed carry community downplaying the value of competition for someone interested in personal protection. The commentary usually revolves around “the stress isn’t the same as a two way range” or “competition isn’t realistic; the targets don’t move, you don’t move” or some other blah, blah, blah. Oftentimes, the person making the statement is from the ‘tactical training’ side of the house.

In my role as the Georgia/Alabama Area coordinator for IDPA, I was recently reviewing some tweaked stages for the upcoming 2014 GADPA Georgia State Match Championship.  As I was doing so, I was struck by the complexity and marksmanship challenges presented in the match. Some of the aspects of the Championship include:

  • Moving targets
  • Shooting on the move
  • Shooting Strong Hand Only with holding something with the Support Hand
  • Shooting from inside and around vehicles
  • Head shots at distance
  • Steel targets with a concealed hit zone that have to be knocked down to count
  • Engaging targets while moving through a structure

Those tasks have to be accomplished with a limited supply of ammunition, requiring a minimum hit rate of about 60%, just to finish. To be competitive at all, the hit rate on a torso sized target (-0/-1) better be 100% or you’re out of luck. Rapid reloading is an integral part of each stage, requiring a high degree of weapons manipulation skills.

In short, it’s a very demanding test of one’s ability to effectively manipulate a handgun. Hitting the target with a high degree of regularity, while being confronted by awkward shooting positions and scenarios is an integral part of it.

I think of Preparation for Personal Protection as having three components; Training, Practice, and Testing. Training is something you get from someone else. The other person or group structures your experience, almost always outside your comfort zone. Practice is something you do on your own, hopefully with some kind of structure, based on training or re-creation of actual incidents. Then there’s the nasty little question: “Where is my skill level at?” Testing is the only way that question can be answered. In his book POLICE PISTOLCRAFT, Mike Conti mentions Police Officers who are so intimidated by firearms qualification that they become physically ill, simply from the thought of having to do it. That’s a good example of how daunting the testing process can be. Those of us active in the competition world often look at police qualification courses in a bemused way because they are so simple compared to the tests we are used to.

Bill Rogers once said to me “You and I are from the last generation that is comfortable being tested.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is quite obvious to me that there is a great deal of cognitive dissonance and ego defense that goes on when discussions about competition v. ‘training’ start. The next time you hear someone disparaging competition, keep The Fox and The Grapes fable in mind. And for those who make negative statements about competition, I invite you to come out and test yourself and see what it’s like. Firearms competition has evolved a great deal since the original Columbia Conference. One of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard is “I never saw a timer in a gunfight.” It was there every time; it’s called your lifeclock and it’s running all the time, at least until someone stops it.

 

 

Spot shooting

“Do you want it in the belly or in the teeth?” –my father, to a would-be robber, who suddenly remembered a previous appointment.

My dad’s eyesight was pretty bad by then, so he couldn’t aim at the eye. However, the teeth remained a viable aiming point for him. At age 83, he and I took the training to get our Nevada Concealed Handgun Permits. He outshot everyone in the class except me. One reason was he knew to aim at something.

One of the biggest problems I see in current training methods is the concept of “aim for center of mass.” Coupled with the blank targets used, it’s no wonder that people have a hard time learning to hit anything. That’s the equivalent of what’s called an “area target” in the Army. Area targets are best engaged with some form of area weapon, such as a machinegun, grenade launcher, mortar, or artillery. However, we don’t carry area weapons for self-defense.

One of the greatest handgun shooters ever, Ed McGivern, was asked how he could hit playing cards so quickly and with such tight groups. His answer was “I’m not aiming at the card, I’m aiming at a spot on it.” Ed established some speed records that have never been broken, so this is does not have to be a slow process, either. The idea that aiming at a spot on a target is too slow is a common misconception. It does require practice, though.

To facilitate this when I am dryfiring, I have targets with spots on them. The one I am using now has a variety of spots on it. There is a face, a cut out area of the IDPA -0 zone with a spot in it, and a series of circle and dots on the back. When I’m shooting IDPA, I do my best to pick out a spot on the target to aim at, such as a paster or group of pasters. So, I’m not aiming at ‘center of mass,’ I’m aiming at a spot.

front faceback spot
When I explain this concept to students in my Defensive Pistol classes, I reference the Internet meme “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” Whenever I hear that meme, I ask “What are the elements of your plan?” I have yet to receive any meaningful response; it’s just a platitude that people repeat to sound like they’re ‘switched on.’ I tell my students that one element of my plan is that as soon as I meet someone, I pick out the spot on their body that I am going to aim at, should it become necessary to shoot them. Then I describe to each person in the class what the aiming point for them would be. This tends to generate considerable discomfort but makes the point very clear. Most of the class is shot on dot targets. Only when the students shoot the qualification course do they shoot at a silhouette, which has a discernible aiming spot on it.

sb-2 crop

Spot shooting is a fundamental part of the instruction at the elite Rogers Shooting School.  There is always a spot on the body plates at the School. When practicing recoil control via the ‘Bill Drill,’ aiming at that spot is key to firing a good group.

What we are trying to achieve when aiming at a spot is not necessarily to hit the spot but rather to get our bullet very close to it. As I explain to my students, our groups are always going to be larger than what we are aiming at. This is true because guns are not generally capable of putting all the bullets in the same hole, nor are we Terminators who can hold and press the trigger exactly the same way every time. However, by aiming precisely, we minimize the amount of error induced by mechanical tolerances and our human fallibilities.

This is the fundamental problem with ‘aiming at center of mass.’ In that philosophy, the entire silhouette is the target. So if the group is larger than the target, misses become an inevitable part of the result. Throw in poor trigger manipulation and you end up with a 20% hit rate.

Try this out the next time you go to the range, I think you will notice a difference.

Stress Inoculation

I was thinking about Trevor‘s comment regarding “keep showing up” today.

I’ve found that there are three rules to successfully getting into a new discipline, and these rules have proven true across martial arts, shooting sports, Crossfit, and other endeavors:
Rule 1: Show up ready to learn and give good effort.
Rule 2: Keep showing up. Show up more than anyone else. If you don’t feel like going, see rule 2.
Rule 3: Put in the work and measure your progress honestly.

One of the ways I used to keep my mind occupied during road marches in the Army was to calculate how times I had done something. For instance, I was marching around Korea in 1980 and calculated I had already spent well over 1000 days in the field. That is one reason I have not the slightest interest in camping. At that point, I was about 1/3rd of the way through my career. I stopped counting after that.

Tonight’s exercise was figuring out the extent of my measured shooting performance when others were watching. There are two quantities I can calculate; IDPA stages shot and demos in front of classes I have taught.

Roughly, I shot about 200 stages a year for the first 12 years I shot IDPA. Quite a bit less per year since then but I’m working on increasing it. So let’s say some 2500 stages where I’m in front of a group.

Demos in classes would be Rogers classes and my FST classes. Rogers demos are grueling because the class oftentimes is looking for the instructor to screw up. I taught roughly 60 or so classes at Rogers. Probably at least 12 to 15, perhaps more, demos per day for 3 of the 5 days. So, let’s say 40 demos per class. That’s another 2400 exercises while I’m being watched and graded.

Then we have my Firearms Safety Training LLC classes and seminars. I believe in demonstrating most of the drills for the students unless the drill is really simple. Over the course of 16 years, I’ve taught 4 to 6 classes per year, plus quite a few seminars. Let’s say 100 total classes and seminars with around 12 demos per, average. So another 1200 evaluations in front of a group.

Overall, it looks like I’ve stepped up to the plate over 6000 times to stand and deliver while people are watching and, in many cases, waiting for me to screw up.

The value of that much experience at problem solving and having to perform to a standard is incalculable to me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I feel sorry for those who deprive themselves of that opportunity. It’s a very valuable form of stress inoculation, readily available to anyone who wants it. But you have to be willing to fall on your face for awhile because I certainly did.