Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ballseye's Firearms Training & Tactics - Some Observations of Bad Habits At The Range

While over the course of a few trips to a local range recently, I got to watching other people shoot. Nope, that is not why I went, I went to shoot but I also got to watch some others shoot. Of those of note, one of them was shooting a revolver, another a semi-auto pistol, and a couple of others were shooting 22 rifles. All of them (well one of the two shooting the 22 rifles anyhow, and the 22 pistol shooters) did things you should not do when shooting or examining guns.

I am not reporting on what they did in order to chastise them, I am dong it to save you some grief by pointing out what they did in the hope that you will avoid mimicking them. Let me start with the two guys shooting the 22 rifles. They were shooting safely, minding there own business, and doing nicely until they got curious. Now it was not the curiosity thing that got them doing anything wrong, it was probably a lack of manners or just lack of common sense where they fouled up. You see they came over to my shooting point and started to ask me about the Remington 870 shotgun my son and I were shooting. No problem since they waited for a break in the shooting, and were polite about it. Well almost no problem. As they were talking to me, one of them reaches out and picks up my shotgun. I remained calm and polite as I immediately explained that he should not be doing that without asking me for my permission to handle my firearms first. He put it down right away and all was well. The thing is, it is absolutely not alright to pick up someone else’s guns at a range or anywhere else without first obtaining there permission. Just don’t do it – it could get you yelled at, or could even result in something as extreme as you being shot.

The other things I saw happening were problems of a tactical/training nature, and are definitely things to avoid if you want to be the winner in a gunfight. One of them was, at least to me, so comical I almost burst out laughing. I mean it almost looked slapstick ala Charlie Chaplain and the Keystone Cops. I remained stoic though because I did not want to embarrass anyone. What was happening was that a pistol shooter was firing on a silhouette target and blasting away slow fire. No it was not the slow fire that was funny, but how the shooter was drawing his weapon. He appeared to get a decent grip on the holstered gun, then drew it, and as he drew the pointed it upward at about a 45 degree angle, pushed his arms out both forward and up at that angle to maximum extension, locked his elbows, then tilted his arms at the shoulder to raise the pistol even higher, then brought the pistol down to eye level to sight it (well actually dropped it a bit below eye level as do most shooters using this well outdated method of drawing and sighting in and then raised it back up a bit to eye level, then fired. All this drawing his pistol from a strong side hip holster. He then reholstered and started over again and repeated this over and over. I have not seen someone draw and aim in like that in years. I used to see it done often by old time shooters who shot revolvers, and who were trained in how to draw and shoot sometime, oh about in the stone age or at least 25 years ago or so. It seems to have been a method taught by police departments, federal agencies and the military, and was usually taught for one handed shooting though it carried over to two handed shooting. It was and is most obvious if the shooter was firing one handed.

So what is it about this method of drawing that I don’t like besides it looking funny to me. Well – it can get you killed. Anyone who draws and then sights-in in the manner I just described is using up valuable time that may mean winning or losing a gunfight. You see, when you draw from a strong side hip holster (the only type I recommend wearing) the best way to get your weapon on a target that is further than about 3 yards away is to punch it out at the target. I mean that almost literally too. By this method, as you begin to draw, already having acquired you grip, you pull the pistol up and out of the holster. This causes your arm and wrist to be bent at an awkward position but one necessary to effect the draw. As soon as the gun clears the holster though, you no longer need to maintain that awkward bends in wrist and arm, and you can point the muzzle toward your intended target. As you point the muzzle at the target, you immediately will notice that your arm and wrist are more relaxed and in more of a position to control the gun. So why ruin that better ability to control the gun by then contorting yourself into another position in which you have less control of the pistol? Instead of doing what the shooter above did, once the gun is clear of the holster, you should point the muzzle at the target, and then punch or push your arm out and up to eye level with one controlled continuous and smooth movement so long as the target/adversary is not close enough to attempt a takeaway.

Why not try it now and see how it feels. NO DO NOT USE A GUN. Place your hand at your side, with index finger extended like a gun barrel. Then pull up as if drawing from a strong side hip holster, when at the point where you think you have cleared your imaginary holster, point your index finger out at your imaginary target as if it were the gun barrel and push or punch your hand forward toward the target while smoothly raising the hand to eye level along with the movement of the punch. Have the left hand move to meet the right hand as doing so to acquire a two handed grip. Both hands are basically punching out and raising up in one fluid movement. Do not make it two separate moves - do not punch out your hands then raise up your hands. Do it all in one smooth motion so that as your hands are traveling toward the target they are also moving up at an angle to reach eyelevel or just under it when your hands are extended to shooting distance. You can also do this with just the shooting hand to practice one handed drawing and shooting. Once you get it, try it at the range with an unloaded weapon. When ready, try it with a loaded weapon with which you will actually shoot right after you draw and achieve you aiming hold using this method. Remember the trigger finger stays off of the trigger unless you intend to shoot and are actually ready to shoot. Do not draw from the holster with the finger on the trigger, only place the finger on the trigger when ready to fire.

If you have been doing it the wrong way as was the shooter whom I described above, well you will probably notice a few things right away. The movement is more natural the way I described, it gets you right on target faster and more accurately, it is easier to repeat over and over again with the same result and that is you being right on target, your shooting will probably improve.

Okay enough on that, now for the other bad habit I observed. I watched a revolver shooter who was shooting much the same as was the guy who was drawing incorrectly but who was also doing something else very wrong. It also happened to be another old school technique that was taught by many police departments and federal agencies, and probably in some branches of the military. Before I tell you what was being done wrong, allow me to say it was probably taught with neatness in mind. Now mind you, neatness is a good thing, but is not called for when you are shooting in a combat situation except maybe as to where you neatly put your bullets, and by that I mean on target.

What I saw though was neatness of another type and it had nothing to do with hitting your target, and could in fact prevent you from hitting it. You see, as the guy unloaded his revolver, he dropped the empty shell casings into his right hand. How did he do that. Well he activated the cylinder release with his right thumb while still maintaining a grip with his right hand. Then he pushed open the cylinder with the fingers on his left hand as he should have done. The he canted the muzzle upwards somewhat and took his left thumb and pressed on the ejector rod ejecting the spent shell casings. Instead of letting them fall to the ground as he was getting more ammo with his right hand (as he should have been doing to combat reload) he held his right hand cupped under the cylinder and allowed the spent casing to fall into his hand, then placed them into his pocket, then grabbed more rounds with his right hand and reloaded. How much faster would his reload have been had he allowed those shell casing to fall to the floor as he grabbed a speed loader, or even loose rounds, with his right hand. He wasted an awful lot of time - an awful lot of time in a gunfight could be a split second, and he wasted several of them – catching and placing those rounds in his pocket all for neatness.

Even if you only shoot competitively, you should unload and reload a revolver in the combat style in the event you are ever called upon to defend yourself with the revolver. It is a good habit to have, and you can always bend over and pick up the spent shell casings after you are done at the range, or after you win the gunfight – although it would be better to leave them there for the police in the aftermath of a gunfight. By the way, the same holds true for a semi-auto. Unless you are doing a tactical reload during a break in the action, you do not catch and retain a magazine that you are dropping from the magazine well. Instead you allow it to free fall to the ground, and as you are doing so your weak side or non-trigger finger hand should be reaching for, grabbing, then inserting a loaded magazine.

All the best,
Glenn B