Cautionary Tale

One of the most important aspects to preparing oneself to use a defensive firearm in an encounter is regular practice.

It is often not practical to practice certain elements of defensive handgun use at the range.  Many ranges won’t permit presenting from concealment prior to shooting, moving and shooting etc.  Ammo is expensive so having the gun go “bang” every time you practice sight alignment, breath control and trigger control can be cost prohibitive; but lots of practice is essential to burning the requisite motions into “muscle memory” and refining technique.

As a result, in my role as a firearms instructor I’ve often advised students to practice at home with an unloaded gun.  Practicing the drawstroke from concealment, movement while drawing to gain space from an assailant, drawing while seeking cover or concealment, dry firing to practice sight alignment, trigger control etc.  All these are legitimate training evolutions that can be safely and effectively performed at home…if done correctly.

When not done correctly, however, the results can be disastrous.

A combat veteran of three tours in Iraq accidentally killed his 9-month-old daughter earlier this year when he was practicing drawing his loaded handgun in their home.

The story is a little contradictory, as later on it says he was “dry firing” by drawing and aiming at candles on the wall.  Based on the story, it sounds like he wasn’t dry firing, but was just playing around drawing his loaded firearm and pointing it at the wall.

The story doesn’t indicate if the child was in the same room or a different room and was hit through a wall, but it doesn’t matter either way.  This was a tragedy to be sure and my sympathies go out to the family and even to the person who so negligently killed their own child…as a father myself, I can’t begin to imagine how devastating that must be…but the tragedy was completely preventable. 

I think this would be a good opportunity to review the rules of gun safety as they pertain to practicing outside of a range environment.

The NRA rules for gun safety are:

1.  Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

2.  Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.

3.  Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Some prefer Jeff Cooper’s 4 rules, but I disagree.  Any set of rules where the very first one is demonstrably false is not a valid rule set.  If rule number 1 MUST be broken sometimes (cleaning/maintenance, dry fire practice, etc) it is necessarily implied that all of the rules may be broken from time to time.   You can fix rule one by saying “Always treat guns as if they are loaded unless you have personally and immediately verified otherwise”, but that doesn’t make for a very clean, concise bullet point so I just stick with the NRA rules.

I do like Jeff Cooper’s rule number 4, however, and it is imminently applicable here:

4.  Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

The NRA argues that this is covered by rule 1, keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, but what is a safe direction when you’re not on the range?

And that’s one of the keys to safe dry fire practice in the home.  You can’t just look at the wall you’re pointing at and decide that’s a “safe direction”.  What’s on the other side of that wall?  What’s on the other side of two or three walls?  Is that TRULY a “safe direction”?

So, here are my detailed rules for dry fire practice in the home:

– Choose a location in your home that provides the safest area for your practice.

This location needs to have a safe “target area” for you to point at.  I like to use corners as my target area because in a standard frame constructed house, the corners are typically formed from a relatively solid arrangement of 2×4 studs.  If you can aim so that your sight line goes through two or three corners, that’s even better.  Your sight line should not be in direct line with nearby neighbor’s houses and the best bet is to have a solid backstop at some point.

I have a large brick fireplace in the family room.  I practice in the living room, standing in a location where I can aim at a corner, but still pointing it at the fireplace.  If the unthinkable occurs and I have a negligent discharge, the bullet will have to travel through the studs in the corner, another wall and will end up hitting the bricks of the fireplace.

Needless to say, choosing an aim point in direct line with your $2000 60 inch plasma TV probably isn’t the wisest choice.  Won’t kill anyone should the worst happen, but may be hazardous to your bank account and marital stability.

Once you’ve chosen your location, always use the same location and get into a regimented habit of preparation.

– Always ensure that the gun you are practicing with is unloaded and that there is no ammunition in the room you are practicing in. 

I keep ammo in an ammo locker.  Before practicing, I lock the loaded magazines and the single round from the chamber in the locker with the rest of my ammo.  I always check that the gun is unloaded at least three times:  Once immediately after unloading and locking the ammo up.  Once after I enter the room for practice, and once immediately prior to beginning the first practice drill.  That’s the minimum.  I generally check several other random times whenever the mood strikes me.

Always check both the magazine and the chamber.  This is especially important if you have a gun with a magazine disconnect safety, and that’s the reason I won’t own a carry gun with one.  If the gun has a magazine disconnect safety, you can’t dry fire it without magazine inserted.  It is MUCH safer to dry fire a gun that allows you to do so with the component that holds the ammunition removed.  I think magazine disconnect safeties are a solution in search of a problem and cause more safety issues than they solve.  The only true safety is the one between your ears.  Relying on mechanical do-dads to do your thinking for you is a recipe for disaster…but I digress.  If you have a gun with a magazine disconnect safety, every place where I say “make sure the magazine is removed”, change to “remove the magazine and make sure there are no rounds in it.”

When ensuring that the gun is unloaded, don’t just look, actually stick your finger into the magazine well and chamber.  This physical act will slow you down and help prevent “perception errors”.  Just glancing at the bottom of the grip to see if there’s a magazine there can be deceiving.  We often see what we expect to see rather than what’s really there.  If you expect to see an empty magazine well, there’s a good chance that that’s what you’ll see, whether it’s true or not.  Physically stick your finger in there just to make sure.  The same goes when checking the chamber.  Lock the slide back and physically stick your fingertip into the chamber.  Don’t just look.

– Always be sure you know where everyone (including the furry members of the family) in the house are located while you are practicing. 

If you are home alone with the kids, that’s not a good time to practice.  Kids tend to wander, even when told to stay put.  You don’t want them wandering into an area that is in the line that you’ve chosen as “safe” for dry fire practice.  If your kids are at home, they need to be under adult supervision so that they stay in a safe part of the house.

Be sure you tell the other people that are home that you are going to be practicing, tell them where the unsafe area is and get their agreement that they will stay away from that part of the house until you give them the “all clear”.

Have the other people in the house verify that the gun is unloaded.  This both serves to satisfy them that you are being safe as well as providing you with independent verification that your gun is unloaded.

Finally, if you have pets, secure them so that they can’t wander into the “hot zone” where you’ll be pointing your gun.

– Enter your practice area.  Prepare in whatever way you want.  You can post a target at your aim point, set up something to simulate cover or concealment, set up anything you need to facilitate your practice, but before beginning your first drill, check again to ensure that there is no live ammo in the room with you and re-verify that the gun you are using is unloaded.

– After finishing your practice, you’re finished.  Don’t decide to try it “just one more time” after you’ve decided you’re done and have started putting things away or have left your practice room.  That break in routine can lead to deadly mistakes.  Always have a defined starting routine and finishing routine and don’t vary from them.  That will help you get in the proper mindset and will prevent you from doing something silly like, say, reloading and holstering your gun, and then absent-mindedly deciding “I’ll just try my draw from concealment one more time before I stop…”

-Finally, after you are finished and the gun is locked up or reloaded and snugly in your carry holster, let everyone in the house know that the firing line is cold and it’s safe to go downrange…er…wander the house at will.

Practicing at home is not only permissible, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a requirement for proficiency, but it must be approached with all the seriousness and gravity that one would approach any potentially deadly task.  With the proper precautions and care, it is a safe and effective means of gaining proficiency, but treating the use of any potentially hazardous tool in a nonchalant, lackadaisical manner can end in disaster.

Practice, practice practice…but lets be safe out there.

Crossposted on The Sentinel

Timely

On Wednesday, I wrote about the Atlantic Fleet Rifle match, how well I did reading the wind and how squirrely the winds were on EIC day from the long line.

On the same day, Cheaper Than Dirt blogged about the finer points of reading and compensating for wind and mirage.

I just stumbled across their post today, but the timing was pretty interesting.  What a coinkydink.

One thing that I would add to their discussion:

They mentioned that the Ballistic Coefficient of a bullet has an impact on the amount of effect the wind will have on it for a given flight time.

All bullets have a ballistic coefficient that is usually computed by the manufacturer. This number, combined with the flight time of the bullet, can help you determine how much your bullet will be affected by a given wind.

They also talked about using the 1mph standard to derive the amount of correction needed for a specific wind velocity and direction at a given range.

Our chart shows that M2 match ammunition for an M1 Garand from American Eagle will drift approximately 5.8 inches at 600 yards with a full value wind at 1 mph. If we actually have a 10 mph wind blowing in at a 45 degree angle (1:30 o’clock) we assign it a value of 3/4 and do the math (5.8 inches X 10 mph X .75) to arrive at 43.5 inches of drift.

But one thing they weren’t very clear about:  Wind effects on bullets over varying distances is not linear because the flight times are not linear.

Due to the drag of the atmosphere through which the bullet is traveling, the velocity of a bullet is constantly decreasing throughout its flight. 

Therefore, on a 600 yard shot, the bullet is moving faster during the first 100 yards of travel than during the final 100 yards.  Because it takes longer for the bullet to travel that last 100 yards than it does the first, the wind has a longer time to act upon the bullet’s path during the final 100 yards.

This is especially true under strong wind conditions.

What that means is you can’t just take your 100 yard correction for the prevailing winds and multiply by 6 to get an accurate 600 yard correction.

For example:   Using the match ammo that I generally prefer:  77gr Sierra Match King HPBT at 2750 fps at the muzzle, the correction for a “full value” 20mph wind at 100 yards is 1.75moa.  If I just multiply by six, I get 10.5moa correction at 600 yards.  In reality the correction at 600 yards should be 14.5moa. If I just tried to multiply the 100 yard correction by 6, my point of impact at 600 yards would be off by a full 4 minutes of angle or 24″.  That would take a perfect center “X” hit out to the 6 ring on a standard NRA target.  If you were shooting for a bad guy at that range, it would mean a clean miss…unless the bad guy was unusually hefty in which case you might wing him.

Even the difference between 300 and 600 yards is significant.  The correction for a full value 15mph wind at 300 yards with the same ammo would be 4.5moa.  Multiplying by two for 600 yards would give a correction of 9moa, when, in reality the correct adjustment should be 10.75moa.  The difference is less significant with the lower winds and less difference in range, but it still would change the point of impact by 10.5″, or would throw my perfect center X shot out to the 8 ring.

So, what I would add to the CTD blog’s discussion is that it is important to know (or have written down) the 1mph standard for your ammo for various distances.  Don’t just know one and expect to be able to calculate the rest with basic math.

Shotgun shooting tip

UPDATE:Although the shooting tip below is still valid, apparently Field and Stream magazine (and myself as a result) have been had. The video embedded is a fake. It’s a PR campaign by the NFL that uses special effects to create the illusion of their players doing improbable things. I’m a bit embarrassed that I took it at face value just because the source was a “reputable” magazine. Should have known better./UPDATE

One of the most difficult things to teach a rifle or pistol shooter about shotgun shooting is that you don’t really aim in the same sense as aiming a rifle or pistol.

There are no “sights” (other than a bead) on a typical shotgun for a reason.

Shotgun “aiming” with moving targets is the exact opposite of rifle and pistol shooting in that you don’t focus your vision on the sights, you focus your vision on the target.

Allowing for the relative motion between the target and the shot pattern so that they meet in the middle requires practice and experience. After a while, you just kind of get a “feel” for it. It’s no different than hitting a moving baseball with a bat, or a tennis ball with a racket, or a running receiver with a football, as Joe Flacco ably demonstrates in this video:

When shooting moving targets with a shotgun, keep your eye on the target and let your instincts find your “lead”. And Practice, practice practice.

Hat tip to Airfield Shooting Club senior instructor and accomplished shotgunner Dale Mullin, via e-mail, and by way of Field and Stream magazine.

Crossposted on The Sentinel.

The mark of a gunny.

Even though I fit many of the right demographics, I’ve never gotten a tatoo.

I’m a born and raised farm-boy redneck. I’ve been a biker all of my adult life. I spent 21 years in the US Navy, with the requisite trouble-making, port-calls and “spending like a drunken sailor” (mainly because that’s what I was) and retired as a Chief.

It’s almost mandatory that my body be decorated with ink…yet I’ve always resisted the urge; I consider it my own personal rebellion against stereotypes.

That fact notwithstanding, I will wear my newly acquired “gunny body art” with pride.

click to make bigger

Observe how well formed it is: shaped exactly like the hot .223 shell casing that made it.

Perfect.

No. It wasn’t on purpose.

Yes. It hurts like hell.

I still think it’s cool.

In other news: I am not capable of springing out of the prone position nearly as quickly as I used to be able to…even with hot brass burning into my flesh.

Repeat after me: “Long sleeves are my friend. Long sleeves are my friend. Long sleeves are my friend…”

These are the days…

…that make me question why I blog. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a “man, I wish I could write like that” kind of way.

Don Gwinn, the Armed Schoolteacher, with his take on the Appleseed project.

My point is that an Appleseed shoot might really help me, because I DO want to shoot highpower competition, and I think it might be more fun if I sucked less. To argue that Appleseed is lacking because it apes highpower competition doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Are we against the Civilian Marksmanship Program now? They’re pretty big on the three-position rifleman training over there, too, you know.

I understand the argument that you’re not ready to fight a guerilla action against crack Imperial Stormtroopers (the crack ones still miss, but they don’t give away their positions as quickly) just because you can hit man-sized targets out to 600 yards. But it IS a basic skill, and if you can’t hit that target on demand at closer ranges, it won’t matter much that you also can’t hit a moving, camouflaged target on demand.

RTWT.

Reading how good writers do it often makes me wonder why the few people that read me regularly even bother. Are you just gluttons for punishment?

The Todd Jarrett…

…Sooper Sekrit Kung Fu GripTM

[Update]:I fixed the formatting problem that was making the text so small. Sorry. I didn’t realize it was messed up because I had the resident page font sizes over-ridden because of my rapidly deteriorating old-ass eyes. Thanks to reader Richard for e-mailing me about it.[/Update]

Before anyone says it, I know I’m way behind on CZ-82 posts. These types of posts take a while to put together what with formatting the pix and uploading them and formulating the descriptions and all. This is the first time I’ve had to sit down and hammer out a post of this length in a while and I really want to share this with everyone. I promise that I’ll get the CZ series finished up soon.

The first time I had any exposure to Todd Jarrett’s grip philosophy was with this video. I’ve seen it posted by several different bloggers and I’ve watched it several times. He covers a couple of facets of the proper grip in it, but not everything.

The remainder of what I got was from Robb Allen, JR and a couple of others after they got back from their training session with The Man.

I got a chance to try it out during my range trip last week and I was very impressed with the results. It feels a little unusual at first, but after I got used to it, it made a significant improvement in my rapid fire shooting.

I’m posting this for a dual purpose: First to share my newfound knowledge with others. Something that I take great satisfaction in. Also, so that any of the bloggers who actually attended the training first hand can correct any mistakes I may be making. I incorporated this grip based on descriptions, not first hand training with feedback, so if I’m doing anything wrong, or describing anything incorrectly, I hope that one of the bloggers who were there will correct me either in comments or through e-mail. If that happens, I’ll update this post immediately.

First is the stance. It’s kind of strange, because I was initially taught the Isosceles stance in boot camp with my first “official” marksmanship training. I’d shot with my dad and other family members over the years, but the emphasis had always been more oriented around safety than technique and marksmanship…especially with handguns. Handgun shooting was more “for fun” than anything else in the rural area I grew up in. Long guns were what put food on the table and protected the homestead. But I digress (as usual).

About ten years later, the isosceles had gone out of vogue and the Weaver was all the rage. I was assigned to security and served as a Naval Police Officer and Ship’s Response Team (SRT) member. As such, we received some pretty extensive training using the weaver stance and that’s what I’ve used ever since. I actually resisted the Weaver at first because it wasn’t what I was used to, but once I became accustomed, it came to feel natural.

Now, full circle. fifteen years later, one of the most accomplished shooters and instructors in the world, Todd Jarrett, says “don’t use the weaver, that’s old-school, use the isosceles.” [not an actual quote…my interpretation -ed] His contention is that the isosceles is easier to be consistent with and, if movement is necessary, easier to stay on target while moving. To be honest, I really hadn’t thought about it for years, but I have to admit, It didn’t take long to fall right back into the stance I’d been taught from the get-go and it really did make a difference in my accuracy while moving.

So, the stance is isosceles: feet about shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, leaning slightly forward toward the target, hips and shoulders perpendicular to the target.

Now to the grip.

NOTE: I verified and double checked that the chambers were empty before taking these photos. If you look closely you will be able to tell that the magazines have been removed. Even so, I was sure to keep the firearms pointed in a safe direction at all times while taking these pictures.

NOTE 2: I am left handed so these pictures are backwards for those poor souls born using the wrong hand for everything. I tried to avoid using “right hand” and “left hand” but if it’s still too confusing, feel free to download the pix and use your favorite photo editing tool to flip them right to left.

This is the part I got out of the video and had tried with limited success in the past. Most people…including myself…tend to grip the firearm with the center of the grip lined up with the innermost thumb joint like so. (as usual, click pix to make bigger)

This grip tends to feel the most natural because of the hinge point of the thumb joint and because the fingers can wrap further around the front of the grip.

There are three disadvantages to this grip. First the barrel is not aligned with the bones of the arm. I had my hand turned a little bit in this picture, but even if the barrel is held so that it is parallel with the bones of the forearm, the centerline is off axis. They are not directly aligned.

Secondly, the trigger finger goes farther into the trigger guard with this grip…typically all the way to the first knuckle.

And, finally, there is not much of the weak hand side grip exposed. This means that the weak hand cannot make good contact with the firearm.

By rotating the pistol just slightly in your grip, you can alleviate all three of these issues.

The barrel and bones of the forearm are not only naturally more parallel, but they are aligned. That means that more of the recoil will be directed straight back into those bones rather than to one side or the other.

Less of your trigger finger will be through the trigger guard. Unless you have very long fingers, you will be much less likely to use “too much finger” to squeeze the trigger which will cut down on the possibility of “pushing” during the trigger squeeze.

It also exposes more of the weak side grip to ensure good contact between the non-shooting hand and the firearm.

Next is the non-shooting hand. This is what I picked up from Robb Allen that I’d never heard before. The key is to bend your hand down at the wrist as far as you can. It should stress the tendons on the top of your wrist and will probably be uncomfortable at first.

It definitely felt awkward for me at first.

With your fingers angled down in this manner, place the palm of your non-shooting hand against the exposed portion of the grip.

Wrap your fingers around the front of the fingers of your shooting hand. The tip of your shooting hand thumb should be somewhere near the first knuckle of your non-shooting hand thumb. I would imagine that different grip widths and hand sizes would make this different for everyone, but it should be somewhere in that general area.

Both thumbs should be pointing toward the target.

Depending on your firearm, you may have difficulty with the slide rubbing your thumbs. I had no trouble with that with my Ruger, but it was a minor consideration with the CZ. I got used to it. I would imagine that blood running down your hands from the slide rubbing holes in your hands would be problematic and you may have to adjust the grip a little to fit your situation. But that is the basic idea.

The bloggers that attended Todd Jarrett’s training said that they were instructed to put their shooting hand thumb atop the safety. That may work for a 1911 pattern pistol but my Ruger doesn’t have a thumb safety. I still used the basic technique and just adapted it to my specific situation. The concept is the same.

The final consideration is the tightness of the grip. Tipping the non-shooting hand down naturally causes your grip to pull down on the front of the pistol which helps minimize muzzle flip. I found that the tighter I gripped with both hands, the quicker the sights came back onto the target after each shot. Basically, I was holding pretty tight. I also tend to put pressure on each hand toward each other. The way I always describe it is like punching your non-shooting hand with your shooting hand. You should be pushing the gun forward with your shooting hand and pulling it back with your non shooting hand. This also tends to reduce muzzle flip.

I will say that when I first tried the grip, the sights were not coming right back down onto the target but slightly to the right. I think this was just residual muscle memory from holding the pistol slightly more rotated in my shooting hand. After just a little bit of practice, this tendency went away and the sights were coming right back onto the target every time. Basically, I could shoot almost as fast as I could pull the trigger and still hit the target consistently. The grip reduced felt recoil, cut way down on muzzle flip…even with the blowback operated CZ which has a quite snappy recoil…and sped up my recovery between shots considerably.

I used this technique with good success with all three of my pistols, even though the grip widths, angles and controls are different on all three. I just had to adapt the grip very slightly to work with the different setups. I didn’t take pix of the S&W 22A, but I did take pix of the CZ so I could show a different configuration with the same grip.

My old “natural” grip.

The new shooting hand grip.

Proper wrist/hand angle.

Placing the palm.

And the final grip.

You’ll notice that the CZ does have a thumb safety and placing the shooting hand thumb on top of it worked well with this pistol.

Not only does placing the thumb on top of the safety help ensure that your hand is properly and consistently positioned, but it also ensures that the safety is off and cannot be accidentally actuated by your thumb while firing.

That’s it. If you are interested in accurate and consistent rapid fire shooting, I’d recommend trying this grip. Give it an honest try. Don’t give up on it after a magazine or two just because it feels a little weird. Anything different feels weird at first.

If you do try it, be sure to post a comment about your experience and the results. Pro or Con, all comments are welcome here.