Thursday, October 13, 2016

Choosing the Combat Handgun: Don’t get “wrapped around the axle”…

Many years ago, the late, great Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper told me, while engaged in a private conversation in his home, “The Sconce”, the three primary features required when selecting a combat pistol were “reliability, high visibility sights and a good trigger”. Hard to dispute these and I consider them iron clad, but in this day and age I would add fit. The number of pistol models has grown considerably over the years and the gun must fit your hand if you are going to shoot to your potential.

Today, a pistol made by a reputable manufacturer will probably be as reliable as human design and engineering can allow. Yes, individual models might be turds, but these lone samples should not reflect on the model line in its totality. In my classes, which occur most every weekend and have between 12 and 16 students, 70 % of the guns are Glocks. Seldom do I see a problem with a Glock, even the ones that have been (in some cases highly) customized. When I do see Glock problems, it is usually do to too weak springs in an attempt to make the trigger "better". The next 15% is the Smith & Wesson M&P with the remaining 15% a smattering of all other pistols...1911's, HK VP-9's and SIG 320’s for the most part. All of these guns are "reliable" and run well.

High visibility sights would be the next requirement and this would be up to the shooter. While I was recently criticized by a high profile instructor for saying "buy the sights you like" (he feels a good instructor can teach you to shoot with any sights which has some validity, but selecting what you like is certainly a plus. In reality, he was just stirring up shit where there was none), I stand by this statement/feeling. I like my Ameriglo CAP Sights, which offers a square in a square with a bright colored front sight, while others prefer thin black on black sights like those designed by Kyle Defoor. The Ameriglo Hackathorn Sight and the Trijicon High Visibility sight are quite popular and for good reason...they work! I have seen many students do good work with the XS Big and Small dot sights...I really don't care as long as you can hit what you are shooting at from contact distance to 25 yards. Being able to truly SEE the sights is also a big plus! The great case you missed there are a large number of sight configurations to choose from!

A "good trigger”...this is where many become confused, as a good trigger is not the same as a light trigger. A good trigger is one that can be depressed smoothly to the rear without glitches, snags and catches in the action. Having a smooth trigger helps keep the hand from clenching when trying to depress the trigger, which will take the muzzle off target. Keep in mind 1/8th inch of muzzle movement is 4 inches at 20 feet. Thus, having a smooth trigger is critical! It is wise to remember the hand works as a team, with four fingers opposing a thumb, while the thumb and index finger are also “hard wired” to work together. Isolation of the index finger is certainly possible, but is difficult to do when you ask it to apply pressure individually…the rest of the fingers WILL want to help!  Compression of the pinky finger can really move the muzzle…remember the pistol is a lever and what is done at one end will move the other.

Man…rifles are so much easier to shoot, aren’t they!! Too bad they are not as portable… crap…

When I was still carrying a revolver on duty, it was quite common to have an action job performed, as most revolver actions were atrocious from the factory. Consider all of the moving parts that engage and interact in a revolver…to cock the hammer and rotate the cylinder…most revolver triggers felt like one snag after another! A good action job did not lighten the trigger, it smoothed out all of the engagement surfaces so the trigger could be “rolled” to the rear without taking the muzzle off target. Revolver actions that were nothing more than “clipping coils” off the hammer spring resulted in an unreliable weapon, which violates the first requirement listed here. Not good…

Pistol actions should seek the same end result…a smooth depressing to the rear, not a light trigger. The popular Glock has the famous “catch” in the trigger action that occurs when the tail end of the trigger bar engages the connector shelf, which pulls the trigger bar down to release the striker. If you think about it, the Glock is just a big slingshot…pull back, let go! Sure wish I had thought of it…this simplicity is what makes it so popular…

 The 3.5 connector (like those available from Ghost Inc.) was created to offer a less severe angle to this shelf to help reduce this glitch or catch, but it also lightens the over all trigger weight which concerns some. Trigger weight can easily be added by increasing the weight or the trigger and striker springs. In addition, polishing the engagement surfaces of the internal parts on a Glock can smooth the action but make sure you don’t round the edges, which can make the gun unreliable. Sharp edges of the trigger components are required to properly engage one another and perform their function(s). When in doubt, let a qualified gunsmith do the job.

The 1911’s are the easiest pistols to shoot as far as the index finger is concerned. The trigger action is short and slides straight to the rear versus most other pistol designs, which rotate from the top. The downside of the 1911 is the additional safety levers that must be engaged and disengaged during operation, which makes the gun unpopular in some circles. I have shot 6, 8 even 10 pound pistol triggers that were smooth and worked quite well. Ernest Langdon performed an action job on my Beretta 92FC and turned that gun into a pistol that was VERY easy to shoot! The problem was I could not reach the trigger, which leads us to the requirement I have added…fit.

When I think of the word “fit” as it relates to the handgun, I picture the pistol fitting square into the web of the hand (along the bones of the fore arm) and the index finger engaging the trigger with proper “geometry”…placement of the pad square on the trigger face without having to stretch out to reach it. At the same time, not having too much finger sticking through to the opposing side of the gun as both conditions will affect a shooter’s ability to depress the trigger straight to the rear without muzzle movement.  Folks with large hands can easily find a pistol that will properly fit… it’s those of us (like me!) who have small hands or short fingers that struggle. A pistol with a single column grip can help, but I, for one, like the added capacity of a double column handgun. Having to reload in a gunfight is a complex task and adding a thin single column magazine/magazine well just adds to this complexity.  In my mind, more bullets is certainly better!

Changing the grip…something that was done with boring regularity on revolvers…can help and having pistols with inter-changeable back straps has been a real Godsend for many.  Being able to reduce the grip and length of reach around the grip tang helps achieve the proper finger geometry. Glock has been the real challenge and while the reduced grip of the 4th generation gun has helped (I am told the new M Series is even better), it is the after market grip reduction…first undertaken by Robbie Barrkman of Robar…that has made the Glock a more “shoot-able” pistol for many. Legal experts seem to agree changing the grip on any gun is OK; so to struggle with a too large grip is just silly.

What I would like to see is the incorporation of more reduced or short reach triggers. Triggers that are actually curved or reconfigured to reduce the reach around the grip tang by the index finger for enhanced placement. It would be best if the manufacturers did this…SIG used to offer a short reach trigger for their original P-226 and 228 pistols and I have one on my P-228…it really helps! Bob Meszaros of Templar Custom Arms has worked out a solution for a shorter reach trigger for the Glock he calls the FACT (Fast Action Combat) Trigger which does not lighten the trigger action. As a matter of fact (pun intended) it uses a five -pound connector but you would not know it! Those in the legal community argue such a trigger could increase liability, but I choose to enhance my shooting ability instead of worrying about this. If I am involved in a shooting and the short reach trigger becomes an issue, I am prepared to defend my use by arguing it made it more likely for me to hit what I am shooting at versus errant rounds flying astray. That said, this decision is certainly up to you and you should think about it.

Caliber…it wasn’t part of the opening paragraph, but how can we talk about pistol selection without at least mentioning it? While I have always been skeptical of ballistic gelatin, recent weeks have finally settled my mind on the issue and I believe we now have enough data…both from the street and from the lab…to predict handgun ammo performance. It also settled in my mind that current generation ammo design has made the .40 S&W (.357 SIG??) obsolete. If you like it, use it, but I am convinced its performance is no longer superior to the 9mm due to current ammo design…why put up with the reduced capacity or the added recoil? Again, up to you. The .45 ACP? I agree with Ken Hackathorn and believe it is about 10% better than the 9…which is not so much that it will make up for poor shot placement. In the end, you have to hit what you are shooting at. Again, caliber selection is up to you…

There you have it: reliability, high visibility sights, good trigger and proper fit (with caliber crammed in)…if you shop well and achieve all of these you will likely have a combat handgun you can count on to save your life! Of course, training and practice are JUST AS IMPORTANT as selecting the gun. Thus, choose wisely and train hard!

Thanks for checking in!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Handgun Ammo Selection: The best ever!

It has been an interesting month. Over the last four weeks I have taught several Vehicle Combatives courses along with a special event for Ruger at the FTW Ranch in Texas. In all of these events, I have been involved in a variety of handgun ammunition tests that have led me (once again) to state we have THE BEST combative handgun ammo ever!

It started in 1987 when several FBI Agents died in a shoot out with several armored car robbers in Miami, Florida. One of the two suspects fought like a rapid dog even after taking fatal wounds and it was later determined one of the 9mm bullets did not penetrate deep enough to reach vital organs. While this determination has been disputed and debated, what did happen was a revolution in handgun ammunition design and development. Yes, we worked our way though the 10mm Lite and the .40 S&W…and these were useful additions at the time…but we have once again settled on the 9mm or .45 as the aforementioned R & D into combative ammunition has pretty much eliminated any advantage the .40 had over the 9.

I have seen proof of this over the last few weeks as bullet after bullet has been fired into vehicles, though wallboard and into typical clothing on its way to ballistic gelatin, the international standard for testing ammo effectiveness. What I have seen time and again in the last few weeks is a wide selection of rounds punch though a variety of intermediate barriers, expand and penetrate to a depth that is potentially fatal to anyone on the wrong end of the bullet. While I will be the first to tell you ballistic gelatin in not the same as a human torso, it is a valid test when comparing one round against another. There is just no way to know how any small arm round will affect an amped up, attacking human being…there never will be until we can place our “Phasers on stun”. That said, ballistic gelatin is the best alternative to human tissue, but the smart student of wound ballistics will combine street data with laboratory testing…something I have tried to do for decades now.

While in Kalamazoo, Michigan, students fired a number of 9mm and .45 rounds through auto glass into paper targets to determine deflection, something that is greatly affected by the slant of any windshield. That said, rounds like the Federal HST, Speer Gold Dot, Hornady Critical Duty/Defense and Barnes-X all copper hollow points worked quite well. A few weeks later, I traveled to FTW and witnessed a VERY extensive ballistic laboratory put on by Hornady showing the across the board effectiveness of their Critical Duty ammunition in all of the FBI protocols. The impressive thing here is Hornady set up each protocol side-by-side and shot through each barrier one after another. The blocks of gelatin were next to each other so the participants in attendance could see the consistent expansion and penetration right down the line.

A week later, I headed to Brainerd, Minnesota for another Vehicle Combatives course where several Vista Outdoor (Federal/Speer) employees were students and brought along a nice supply of ballistic gelatin so students could see what their chosen load would do not only though auto glass, but what the bullet would do in the gel after it has passed through the glass. In every Vehicle Combatives course I teach, I set aside a block of time for each student to test their carry load against various parts of a vehicle for their own edification. In this case, the folks from Vista placed blocks of gel in the vehicle so the student could see the whole picture. What was unique about this set up was actual cars were used, not pieces of auto glass placed in a brace a set distance from the gelatin block.

Of course, with all of this ballistic gelatin available, students wanted to see as much of the FBI protocol as they could and the folks from Vista were more than happy to oblige. They had a nice supply of Federal 147 grain HST, Speer 147 grain Gold Dot 2 (the new FBI load), Speer 124 grain Gold Dot +P (the NYPD load) and Federal 165 grain HST .40. The results of the test were impressive! Every round penetrated and deformed as they passed through various barriers and penetrated 10 inches plus. The clothing used was not swatches of cloth, the old coats and shirts the students brought along. Great participation! While I had read some very critical tests of the Gold Dot 2 on line, I did not see anything like what I read during this test…and this was done with real cars, clothing and the like…not a laboratory setting in any way.

What the past month has done is make me rethink is my selection of the 9mm all copper hollow point as my carry load. While I still believe the all copper bullet has a bright future, in the most recent testing I witnessed I did not see a level of superiority over the bullets discussed here. In addition, as I travel to from class to class, I have received complaints from students about the all copper hollow points as they are hard to get, expensive and in the case of one company, they are treated rudely by employees when inquiries are made in regards to availability. Indeed, I have been blown off by this company myself over the last half year! This will certainly affect anyone’s viewpoint of a particular product and the desire to endorse it, no matter how good it is.

No worries, however, as we have THE BEST combative handgun ammo in history…of that I am convinced. I only know of one shooting with the new Gold Dot 2…certainly not enough to establish a track record…but the round performed as designed so this is certainly encouraging. The Federal HST is THE choice for American law enforcement and it has an increasingly impressive performance record in the street…something that can also be said for the NYPD’s 124 grain +P Gold Dot. Combine this with impressive test results and it would appear the choice is clear, right? Not so fast you say? There are other good choices? You are right, of course…but the choice/search is certainly much easier than ever before…

Thanks for checking in…

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Pistol Lights and Concealed Carry...the time is now!

The majority of time I spent on patrol was on the night shift. Flashlights, what are now commonly called “hand held white lights” (I love it when we make things simpler), were the size of a tail pipe and just as likely to be used as an impact weapon as a lighting device. I used my light in this fashion on several occasions and can honestly say that a large metal tube impacting the center of a suspect’s fore head was quite effective. Keep in mind this was before the Graham and Garner decisions and the Use of Force was not yet determined to be a "seizure" under the 4th Amendment, so it was more of a “no blood, no paper” period of time. Today the use of a flashlight as an impact weapon is a “no go” and carrying a large flashlight is non-existent for cops and armed citizens alike. It is also unnecessary as light technology has advanced to the point where flashing a light in someone’s eyes can be disabling in itself…no need to hit them. I have a light the size of a lipstick tube that offers more power than the one I once carried that was powered by five D cell batteries!

The next move was to mount lights on long guns, something that had been somewhat crude for many years. As far back as the mid 1970’s, law enforcement and military units were mounting full size flashlights on shotguns and sub-machine guns with tape and metal pipe strapping which was a big improvement over trying to hold a flashlight and shoot a long gun. When Surefire introduced their weapon lights molded into the fore grip of a Remington 870 and Heckler and Koch MP-5, agencies and individuals could not buy them fast enough. Today, it is a rare thing to see a combative-grade long gun without a white light attached.

In the late 1990’s, I commanded a multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force that conducted its own raids, something we were doing several times a week at one point. Heckler and Koch had introduced their USP Compact pistol, which was capable of temporarily attaching a white light to the frame. This allowed Task Force Agents to carry the gun “slick” while concealed, but mount the white light when conducting a forced entry. I purchased the gun and light with seized asset funds and the gun was greeted with medium enthusiasm as some of the agents chose to carry the gun they already had. Those that did carry the HK liked the quick on and off capability. Admittedly, one of my concerns with the new weapon system was agents using the gun/light combination as a lighting device and not a firearm and though I never did see any of them use the gun in this fashion, I did see a few of them looking through drawers and closets for evidence with the gun as a light.  This was quickly corrected…

Today, the pistol mounted light is common not just for tactical teams but on patrol as well and I admit to being concerned originally about how these lights/weapons would be used. Talking with trainers and commanders across the country, it appears my concerns were unfounded, as officers understand the proper use of the weapon mounted light. It seems law enforcement trainers are doing a good job of explaining the weapon-mounted light is a supplement to the hand held light and not a replacement! The hand held light can be pointed in directions the weapon mounted light should not, but when a serious threat arises, the weapon mounted light allows both hands to be placed on the handgun for greater accuracy, enhanced incapacitation potential and reduced liability. It seems the weapon-mounted light is as common as handcuffs and is being used in a tactically sound fashion.

In recent years, the weapon-mounted light has moved to the concealed carry pistol by investigators, off-duty officers and legally armed citizens for EDC.  Admittedly, this was not a trend I followed as I did not want to add more bulk to a gun I was trying to hide. I opted to stay with my hand held light clipped to my pocket or on my key ring, which served me well for decades.  That said I make it a point to tell my students to avoid the words “never” or “always” when it comes to developing combat skills or purchasing equipment. Note that I listed developing skills first as how does one know what they need until they learn the skills required to make a proper choice?  Buying before learning seldom meets with success…

I’m glad I never said “never” as it relates to mounting a light on a concealed carry pistol as we now have lights small enough to conceal. The pistol weapon light is better than ever before, offering greater power, reduced size, weight and enhanced ergonomics. Some of these lights also come with laser sighting devices, which some will like and some will not and that choice is up to you. One of my favorites of this new generation of compact weapon lights is the Surefire XC-1.  Specifically designed to accommodate railed, compact handguns, the unit features a high-performance LED with a Lumen output of 200. The Max Vision Beam is perfect for maintaining situational awareness and identifying threats, something that is often forgot when buying a weapon mounted light.  Max Vision offers a beam with no bright center…a bright white light across the beam meaning threats can be identified at the edge of the beam and not just the center.

The XC-1 is not only compact, but also quite robust with a body made from aerospace aluminum that is hard anodized for a tough Mil-Spec finish.  The unit measures just 2.5 inches, weighs less than two ounces and is powered by a single AAA battery so it adds little bulk and weight to your concealed carry pistol.  The ambidextrous activation switch is both momentary and constant on so it can be adapted to the situation at hand. Momentary activation is achieved by placing your support hand thumb on top of one of the two rear downward-activated switches and pushing down, or you can position your support thumb against the same switch and push forward until the switch toggles down. Simply remove pressure and the light will turn off.

If you wish to incorporate a laser into your compact white light then Streamlight has the answer.  The TLR-6 is designed to fit on to the front of 18 various compact and sub-compact pistols including the new Glock 43, M&P Shield, Kahr series and SIG Arms.  The unit features a 100 Lumen LED light combined with 640-660 nm read laser.  A parabolic reflector produces a balanced beam with peripheral illumination for greater on-site awareness.  An ambidextrous switch offers push button engagement on both sides of the unit long with laser or light only functions.  The TLR-6 offers a 10- minute auto shut off to conserve batteries and these batteries can be replaced while the light remains on the gun. The unit is powered by two CR1/3N batteries, which are included, while the laser is adjustable for both windage and elevation.  The unit is 2.3 to 2.7 inches in length, depending on which gun it is designed to fit, and is only 1.27 ounces in weight.

I have used both units extensively, the XC-1 on a Glock 19 while the TLR-6 was mounted on a Glock 43.  I did not hold back on rough use, wanting to see if either units would loose its light, while also wanting to know if the Streamlight laser would loose its zero.  I also left the TLR-6 on to see if it would, indeed, turn off on its own which I am happy to report it did.  I am also happy to report the two lights stood up to everything I could throw at them which is probably more rough treatment than the average plainclothes officer or armed citizen would do, which is mostly just dropping the unit on a hard surface.  Truth be told, I did just that from varied heights ranging from 3 to ten feet and both lights suffered no ill effects.

When selecting a white light, think more than just the number of lumens involved. Think about how the hand interacts with the light, how easily the light goes on and off the gun and about the beam itself. Oftentimes, the beam will have a very bright center and that is where the lumen level will be measured. I prefer a beam that is constant in brightness even if it offers a lower Lumen rating so I get the greatest field of view to look for additional threats, which is what I got with both of these lights. I tested a light a few months back that had such a bright “hot spot” in the middle of the beam that is was actually distracting! My eyes were pulled to the center of the beam, which is not good when the eyes need to scan as wide as possible for potential threats.

The compact pistol light is here to stay and I believe it will only be a matter of time before they begin to replace the larger lights found on patrol and SWAT officer handguns. Why not? They are just as tough, bright and easy to use as their larger counterparts. It’s also nice to have a gun that goes from patrol to SWAT to off-duty …”beware of the man who has but one gun for he likely knows how to use it!”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The 5 x 5 Drill

My good buddy Dave Timm of Learning Firearms  ( in Minnesota has come up with a great drill for both pistols and carbines. In a nutshell, the 5 x 5 Drill tests a shooters ability to be both fast an accurate, which is what is required to win in a gunfight. The target is available from the Learning Firearms web site:

If you check out their page, you will note that they have followed in the footsteps of Todd Green and his F.A.S.T. Drill and my 2x2x2 Drill and award a coin to any one who performs the drill successfully in a Learning Firearms course. The procedure is as follows:

Pistol Drill Procedure:

All stages begin from holster, hands at side. Holster shall be student's duty or daily carry equipment, concealed unless duty gear is used. All rounds must be within black box and within par time to count as a hit. The shooter will fire five rounds at each of the five distances for 25 rounds total within the listed par times: 25yards-10seconds, 20yards-8seconds, 15yards-6seconds, 10yards-4secounds and 5yards-3seconds.

Rifle Drill Procedure:

All stages begin with a shouldered rifle pointed at the ground at the base of the target target.
All rounds must be within the black box and within par time to count as a hit.
Shooter will fire five rounds at each of the five distances for 25 rounds total within the listed par times: 50yards-10seconds, 40yards-8seconds, 30 yards-6seconds, 20yards-4seconds and 10yards-2seconds.

I have shot the drill twice with my Glock 19 and missed one round in the prescribed time limits on the first run while in the second run got all hits but kissed the 25 yards time limit by two tenths of a second. It is a very instructional, fun and difficult drill that is attainable if you practice the skills needed to make the drill a success, not practice the drill time and time again. Remember! It is a learned skill if you have a high probability of success on the first attempt…not success after many attempts.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Pistol Sights…What is it you want? Do you even know?

I recently received a question from a shooter who purchased my CAP Sights but was concerned about his lack of accuracy. When I inquired as to what happened, he told me he had difficulty at 50 yards. I’m not surprised…the Ameriglo Combative Application Pistol (CAP) Sight was designed to be a very compact, low to the bore line, high visibility close quarter sight in which the shooter covers what they want to hit at 15 yards and in. It is a true “flash sight picture” sight where the shooters places the square in the square and depresses the trigger. There is very little “light” in the front to back sight spacing in order to reduce quick sighting error. As you move back, it is necessary for the shooter to experiment to see where they need to hold, in a nutshell, what the sight picture needs to “look like” to hit at increased distances. This “picture” should then be easy to recreate but, admittedly, the sight is not designed for long distance shooting.

In truth, the CAP Sight is likely too wide for this type long distance shooting. If this is your desire, a tall thin front sight, which offers greater target information further back, is the ticket. In my mind, sights like the Heine, 10-8, Travis Haley’s Th1rte3n Sight or Frank Proctor’s Y-Notch would be a better choice, all of which are terrific products. The down side of the thinner sight is it will be harder to “pick up” quickly at closer distances. Yes, you could paint the front sight, but that will affect its use at long distance, as its sharp edges will be “blurred” by the added color. I say this based on previous experience as I have seen it in my classes time and again for years. I see just about every variation of pistol sight in my courses and I often request to shoot a particular gun so I can see how the sights work. I also ask the student what they like about their sight…why they chose them… and I get some interesting answers. What I have noticed is students with thinner/taller sights do great when shooting a 3 x 5 card at 25 yards, but they are slower on target when shooting the close, fast drills as compared to the CAP or Trijicon high visibility sight. What is it you want?

I have read many, many research studies over the last few decades stating the eyes are incapable of sight focus in close conflict and there is truth in what these studies say. And while many instructors refer to these studies when discussing close quarter shooting, I think of it at a more basic, visceral level based on my personal experiences…when a person at close distance is trying to kill you it is real hard to take your eyes off of them and shift focus to the front sight. I believe this occurs at an instinctual level where they eyes just refuse to shift as they track the actions of the threat. Yep, the human body has a history of taking good care of itself and it takes a monumental effort to reprogram it.

If this is the case, why mess with the sights at all? In truth, you are more likely to miss due to poor trigger manipulation than lack of sight picture at close distances, but what is close quarters? 2 feet? 20 feet? 20 yards? While sights are certainly not needed at arms length, how far back can you hit without them? Some say 12 yards…other as much as 20! But this is certainly not the case for me. I practice out to around 20 feet without my sights and hit quite well but as I move back towards 30 feet, I start to loose the fight ending accuracy needed to stop a determined aggressor with a handgun. In addition, I need help referencing my front sight quickly, so I have colored the front sight since my revolver days in the 70’s and early 80’s. Revolvers with target-style sights came equipped with red, green or orange plastic insert front sights and those that did not, often times got a coating of Liquid Paper!

Coloring the front is not new, Jeff Cooper commented on this in the early 1970’s stating, “If you are going to color your front sight, use a color not normally found in nature”. For many years, a brass bead front sight was quite popular. During several situations I was involved in (while a cop) during which my pistol was deployed, I can definitely remember the “flash” of color my front sight gave me even at close quarters while moving quickly and visually tracking a threat, something I have also been told during many interviews I have conducted with gunfight participants over the last three decades. I am convinced a colored front sight is the way to go on combative handguns.

Some knowledgeable folks disagree, however. Many informed shooters and instructors believe handgun sights are for long distances only and they design or recommend sights intended for this purpose. As a consumer, you must decide which sight system is best for you based on your requirements, vision, level of training, experience, “real world of work”, etc. I am not convinced that one sight system will work well across the board (both fast at close range and precise at long range) especially if you suffer from any degree of vision loss. I have spoken to many shooters who, in their young years, advocated black on black sights only to age and find a colored sight was a better option.

There are additional questions when choosing a pistol sight: Is a tritium bead essential? Will a fiber optic work better? If a color, which color does my eyes see best? Which color is best for me across the light spectrum? Are you competing or fighting? Are you shooting white steel plates (or brown cardboard targets) or the multi-colored clothes of people? Will you be out at night? Are your eyes the same as the instructor recommending a particular sight? These questions are potentially endless and only you can answer them… but do you really understand the original question that started the whole process?! I had one student tell me he liked how his sights had a large round orange dot on the front and a round bottom rear window on the back in which he could “drop the round front sight in the round rear window”. However, when I asked him if this is what he is looking at when he sighted his gun he said “no…I’m looking at the top edges”. If this is the case, does the rounded lower of the two sights matter? I don’t know… but if you pick such a sight you should know!

In the end, it comes down to critical thought based on knowledge, training and experience. Do you actually know why you picked a set of sights or did you do so on the basis of an advertisement, seeing them on a gun or instructor recommendation/reputation? Such ads and recommendations can be helpful if they solve YOUR problem…but only you can know what your problem is!

As a side note, I admit to being concerned about the trend of emphasizing long distance pistol shooting… I believe it is a mistake as we have been here before and it was proven to be wrong. When I went through the Sheriff’s Academy in 1976, much time was spent at 50 and 60 yards even though handgun shootings at such distances were rare and still are. From the days of the Wild West forward, the history of pistol fighting has been close quarters with incidents like Wild Bill’s 75- yard shot in Springfield, MO. being unusual. What is the old saying, ”those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it?” Why are we returning to it? The Active Shooter/Terrorism phenomenon, I am told. I constantly hear questions/statements like, “How long is the front aisle of the Wal-Mart?” or “How wide is the parking lot at the mall” but should we be launching pistol bullets at such distances? A resounding “YES!” I have been told repeatedly. “If you can shoot at 25 yards, you can easily handle 5 yards”…you know, we were told this very same thing back in the 70’s but it was not born out by reality. Do you realize/understand what such a statement does not include? The pandemonium that will accompany a five-yard gunfight! Hostile and non-hostiles moving back and forth across the battle space, screaming, yelling, incoming and out going rounds…you see, it is much, much different than just planting your feet and shooting a few rounds at distance on a piece of paper or steel while on the square range.

Now, do not take what I have just said out of context…you should know how to shoot at distance, but should it be your primary focus as I am seeing more and more? Stop and ask yourself a question…are you more likely to face a mugger in the parking lot at 5 yards or an active killer/terrorist in the Wal-Mart center aisle at 50 yards? Don’t know? Do a simple on-line search of crime statistics and see which occurs more frequently…murder, rape, robbery, assault, home invasion or the active killer/terrorist? My good friend and former CIA SAD Officer Ed Lovette did a pretty extensive study of armed citizen shootings and discovered that not only are they close, they are most likely to happen in and around the home. I know I know…training for an active killer/terrorist just feels so much cooler as compared to a simple crime, but is doing so reality or a training scar? Keep in mind, reality is what it is…not what we WANT it to be…

 Again, keep in mind such a shot will not take place in a range vacuum…can you make a 50 yard shot in a pandemonium-filled event (people running and screaming, adrenaline high, respiration at maximum) such a situation would actually entail? I find it interesting the number of shooters who worry about the “liability” of modifying their carry gun, but think it is perfectly fine to launch bullets across a parking lot or down the aisles of a major store. Watch the videos from various terrorist attacks and active shooter events…could you make a long shot with people in panic everywhere? I tried this recently during a class, running a Moto-Shot robot target back and forth across the line of fire as students tried to hit a full size silhouette (no attempt at shot placement) at 50 yards. No one delivered a fight -stopping hit as they split their focus between the target and the robot. Rapidly moving, panicked people will only magnify this. Remember, the reason we shoot is to incapacitate…to end the attack…so you need to hit well!

Sure, anything is possible but what is more likely for you? This process is called critical thought and you should be using it when you select a set of pistol sights or decide how to prepare to handle your personal security. As I close, please understand I am not attacking the lesson plan of any other instructor…I don’t disparage others…it is unprofessional. But I do believe in critical thought! I truly believe no one teaches something they really believe is stupid (at least I hope not!). They teach what they think is important, which is why a good student of combative pistol craft learns from a wide variety of instructors, to get varied viewpoints, opinions and backgrounds...military, law enforcement, security contractors and armed citizens. They then combine what they have learned with what they know to be realistic for their real world of work and they make an informed decision via critical thought. Pistol sights are no different…choose wisely and smartly…

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A message to instructors…

The firearms training business is booming! I have never seen the large number of folks involved in the business as I do today. Every law enforcement agency in the country has at least one firearms instructor and with every state in the union having some type of CCW certification process, the armed citizen side of the market is exploding. But what are we getting in instructor quality? While some genuinely care, others are just interested in money and notoriety.  Which are you?  How have you prepared for your instructional career? A single NRA instructor course or a battery of courses from a wide variety of instructors and backgrounds? What is your background? Are you teaching a subject matter you really have no concept of?  Are you just recycling information you really do not comprehend?  Do you yell and scream or offer guidance and control?  Hell…do you even know why you do why you do other than you got it from someone else?!

I give careful thought to everything I do and teach in my classes. It is the result of many years of training, interviews and personal experience. I have even thought hard about the targets I use. I’ve shot at a wide variety of targets throughout the years. Some were just paper plates; others were elaborate, electronically controlled human torsos capable of life-like movement. Each type has its place and those of us who have immersed ourselves in perfecting our combative shooting skills understand what each target represents—the relatively small areas of the body vital for sustaining life. Handguns suck as tools of rapid incapacitation, but they’re portable. LEOs rely on them when instant deadly force is reasonable and needed. The shotgun and carbine are much better for this, but what are the chances you’ll have the bigger gun when a threat presents itself? If you know a fight is coming, you might want to take a sick day. Those who understand human conflict understand that no matter how skilled you are, there’s always a chance of losing.

However, if you’re on the job and a hot call comes in, you can arm yourself appropriately before deploying. What if the situation turns bad in front of you without warning? Many claim the handgun should be used “to fight to a better gun” and, although I understand the sentiment, you’ll probably fight with what you have at the time the fight starts, as time is quite restrictive. Reality stinks, doesn’t it?

The fact remains that law officers and armed citizens need to be good with their handguns.  All cops selected the profession voluntarily and that means that you will confront an armed individual sometime before you retire—maybe multiple times. Remember: Your chief will not be there, so your firearms skills are for you… not your agency. If you can’t shoot well enough to save your own life, then it’s you who will die. You owe it to yourself to have the best skills possible, and this will require commitment on your part.  In the case of the armed citizen, YOU decided to go armed…do it well!

Two or three practice sessions a year does not a shooter make, but this is the norm for most cops. If that’s all that’s being provided the officer or citizen needs more so find it! If that is all there is going to be, those sessions should be the very best! A quality program is the result of an innovative and knowledgeable instructor. Yes, having a well-equipped facility is nice, but it won’t make up for an instructor who’s unskilled, which I see quite often within the LE community. Remember: Qualification is not training! It’s merely a test and this is true whether it is a law enforcement program or a CCW certification. Training, on the other hand, is the building and refining of skills. I’m surprised by the number of certified firearms instructors who don’t understand how to look for and correct shooting mistakes…and don’t understand the physiology behind them.

A proper combative firearms training program must include skill building in three areas: fundamentals (how to run a gun), combative aspects (how to fight with the chosen weapon), and interactive aspects (e.g., force-on- force scenarios, crisis decision making and proving the skills taught in the other levels work). Without all three, shooters will never be truly prepared for armed conflict. I’ve had many instructors tell me that they just don’t have the time for all of this. I’ve been there, but this is where one must be innovative. NYPD has 40,000 cops to put through firearms training in any given year. They don’t have a lot of time with each officer, but they win far more confrontations than they loose. How? They study the problem and make the most of the time they have. You can too!

One area you can improve is to give proper thought to what type of targets you use. As I talk with instructors across the country, I always ask what targets they use. I want to hear their thoughts on how and why they do what they do. I’m disappointed, for the most part, that many instructors are more fixated on having their own agency or company target than truly understanding what they want the target for. Many of these targets have so many shapes, symbols and add-on targeting devices on them that they look less like targets and more like circus advertisements. Oftentimes, the target is created based on a target design used by an instructor/institution that they attended. Understand that such targets are often designed to build certain skills or complete certain drills and may not be the best choice for a more rounded combative level of training.

Ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish?” We have known since the research of S.L.A. Marshall and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman that targets are important. They prepare fighters to engage the enemy where bull’s-eyes and other non-human shapes do not. The soldier, cop or armed citizen who trains on a target that looks like a actual person is more likely to engage a living, breathing attacker than one who has never done so.
In addition, training on a realistic target better prepares the student for the combative and interactive aspects of the process. Have you ever experienced someone who just can’t bring him or herself to point a gun at another human? They often express safety concerns (never point your gun at anything you’re not willing to shoot, kill or destroy) as the reason they’re refusing to do so. But you can see the look on their face and know they’re simply uncomfortable pointing a gun at a human.  Not good…

During my classes, I’ll have my students disable their guns by plugging the barrel of their pistol in such a way so the gun cannot physically chamber a round. Afterward, I walk in front of the line so I can see how they present their gun from both ready position and the holster, because this angle just gives me a better view of the physical process. I correct them as necessary. REMEMBER…I KNOW they are unloaded and incapable of firing, so keep the snarky, know it all comments to yourself, Dickweed (you know who you are).

I also want the student to get used to confronting a live protagonist at the end of their gun. Approximately 30% of students won’t do it! I know the gun can’t fire because I render it inoperable, but they still refuse to point the gun in my direction. Even after I tell them it’s OK and they aren’t violating any safety rules, they still refuse! Once the drill is over, they tell me they’ll point the gun at a “real bad guy” when the time comes—but will they really?  In all truthfulness…I seriously doubt it!

Training targets not only need to reflect reality, they also need to offer different angles of confrontation. Gun- fights are fluid affairs. If a combatant stands still during a fight, it’s probably because they didn’t know they were in a fight. If they did, they’d be moving to some location where it would be less likely they’ll be shot. Thus, training targets must represent a wide variety of possible confrontational angles. A 3-D target would be best, but this is difficult when multiple shooters are on the line, so a training target should also be able to represent the restricted area of proper shot placement as the body offers differing angles. . Ensure your target reflects the reality of confrontation. Don’t accept crappy hits in the interest of getting students “qualified.” As Mel Gibson said in The Patriot, “Aim small; miss small.”

In the end, if you require a high level of skill on the range, you’ll likely get it back on the street. Lack of desire on their part doesn’t justify lackadaisical performance on your part. Stay alert, stay safe and check your 360 often.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Standards in Training

Recently, I was teaching a combative pistol course to a group of law enforcement professionals and legally armed citizens. Although many instructors call the basic handgun skills fundamentals, I prefer to use the word essentials because shooters must have these skills in order to use a handgun for personal security.

I begin some of my courses with several “time in” drills in order to evaluate each student’s skill sets. My time in drills are fired at 20 feet into a 6 x 10-inch rectangle as follows:

One shot from the ready position of 
their choice in one second; 

One shot from the holster in two seconds; 

One shot, slide closed reload, one shot in 3.25 seconds;
Four rounds from ready in two seconds

I look for essential skills such as proper grip, trigger control, recoil control, aggressive body position and general weapon handling ability. I also look at whether they’re confident in their gun handling or confused and uneasy. Bottom line: Do they look as if they know how to “run their gun”?

During class, one of my students drew their firearm and shot in a very slow, deliberate manner—it took him almost three seconds to get a hit on target. So I asked him to do it again, assuming he’d step up his pace on his second run. But he performed the drill with the same slowness. When I asked about the speed of his draw stroke, he said, “I have found that it leads to a higher level of success when I shoot the XYZ Drill. I have been working toward a faster time on this.”

I then asked him what other skills he practices regularly and he told me: none. “I feel this drill is an excellent compilation of what I will need in a gunfight ... it covers it all.” After a brief pause I said, “Except someone shooting back at you.”

It was obvious he didn’t know what to say. I find this mentality in my classes more often than I’d like. Few people have experienced armed conflict, so they confuse their competition experience with combat. They’re not the same. Although both involve shooting guns and stress, the stress level isn’t equal in severity.
I’ve competed in scholastic and collegiate sports as well as competition shooting at various levels (PPC, USPSA and IDPA) and I’ve had someone try to kill me —the stress isn’t the same. The activities themselves aren’t the same either. If there are rules, it’s a sport/competition. There are no rules in a gunfight—so if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough to win. This is an obvious difference in mindset compared to sport/competition.

Armed conflict should be avoided because you always run the risk of losing, no matter how well trained and prepared you are. Worse yet, many people believe they’re better trained and prepared than they really are… it’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Read up on it, its quite interesting. People “suffering” from this condition enter conflict with a serious disadvantage they don’t know they have. Con- fusing proficiency in a particular drill with combat preparation is a symptom of this affliction. Shooting standards and drills during training are an excellent way to build and maintain essential skills, but they aren’t a solution to armed conflict! A standard is “something established for use
as a comparison in measuring quality” while a
drill is “systematic training, practice or teaching
by repeated exercise.” A
skill is “an ability or proficiency; an art, craft, etc. using the hands or body.”

As these relate to the combative application
of a firearm, skills are those essential physical activities needed to shoot well enough to save your own life, a drill is used to reinforce the physical activity and standards are used to measure performance as training progresses. None of these are a gunfight and to confuse them as some type of equivalent is unwise—and potentially deadly. Standards and drills should be viewed as vehicles toward preparation, as should competition, but neither should be confused with being prepared to act.

With this understood, drills and standards are useful tools and most every student of combative weapon craft is always looking for new ones in which to test their skills. I thought I’d share some of my favorites and why I like them. They’re not all-inclusive, nor should any drill be thought of as such.

One of my favorite drills is the classic El Presidente, as pioneered by the late Jeff Cooper.  This drill is still used in classes at Gunsite ( and I like it because it tests a number of essential skills in a short exercise. From a distance of 10 yards, 12 rounds are fired at three targets one yard apart. The targets should represent the high chest region.

Col. Cooper used 10-inch circles while Gunsite currently uses an 8-inch circle. I use a 6 x 10 rectangle but 8-x- 11 sheets of paper work fine too. With your back to the targets, turn and draw from your holster and shoot two rounds at each target. Perform an in- battery reload and then fire two more rounds at each target. Try to get all hits in at 10 seconds or less.

Another drill I like also came from Gunsite, but is not part of their curriculum.  While attending a gun writer event years back, the Gunsite staff had those in attendance shoot a drill that required drawing from the holster (a new handgun and holster were being featured at this event) and fire two rounds on two targets in four seconds at 15 feet. I mentioned to the Range Officer that I felt a reload could be incorporated in that time frame.  Others threw the gauntlet down and the competition was on!  I do this drill now at 20 feet on 6 x 10 rectangles starting with the draw, two rounds fired, an in battery reload followed by two rounds. If the time is not a challenge, then incorporate an emergency reload.

Hopefully the difference between drills and standards is apparent. Both are designed to build and test skills, but they should never be confused with what will occur in armed conflict. In a gunfight expect nothing, plan on everything potentially failing and be prepared to move on to a contingency plan. The person who will win in armed conflict is someone who can adapt their essential skills to the situation they face. This isn’t something that can be taught in a drill or standard shoot but only by well-developed and thorough training.

For additional drills used in Handgun Combatives courses, check out the videos on or the Handgun Combatives You Tube channel.