Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Reloading: Essential or insignificant?

Opinions on reloading, especially when running a semi-automatic pistol, vary greatly, even among the instructional community. Depending on your background or desired application, reloading is everything from critical to useless…”something that seldom happens” except in competition where it is often times forced on the shooter. So, what is the reality of the reload in combat? Do we ignore it or do we emphasize it? Remember what they say about opinions and those stink! Also consider an opinion is not fact, even if you do read it on line from a “famous” person…

Based on my many interviews and life long study of armed conflict (something many claim to have done) I will offer this: reloading in a pistol fight does not happen often…but it HAS happened and when it does there is a need to reload very, very quickly! Based on my many years of training law enforcement officers, legally armed citizens and some military folks, most do not reload very well. They are slow, look clunky and uncoordinated, are imprecise or carry their spare magazine in a piece of crap magazine pouch (LE issues the worst!), having given NO thought to what they bought other than price. A properly fitted magazine pouch should cover no more than half of the magazine body so the shooter can get a proper grip on it. Proper grip is important if you wish to do it well! A magazine pouch made for a Glock 17 is not a good choice for the 26, regardless of what the gun store clerk told you.

Others do it so well it is all they want to do!  Go on You Tube and watch all of the homemade videos of people attempting a one second speed reload. Many are quite good, but what does it mean? Bragging rights mostly, as performing a reload that fast, unless you are expecting it (like in a competition) is unlikely.  What about “load when you want to, not when you have to?” Having used the H & K MP-5 for many years (it did not lock open on the last round unless you had an MP-10) I am a BIG proponent of the concept, the problem is most are not capable of that level of focus…they will shoot their gun empty, even in practice. Yes, YOU may be the exception, but I am talking the typical student of pistol craft. Please resist the temptation of logging in to dispute this by telling me how awesome you are. I get it…

Even keeping the gun “topped off” seldom happens. I emphasize in my classes to keep the gun topped off. “There is no reason to start a three round drill with one round in your gun”, I say time and again, yet students continue to ignore my words. “I wanted to have a slide lock reload to force myself through it” I am told. Why would you do that? I know its bullshit and the student knows I know, but saying it is a way for them to save face. An armed professional always knows the status of their gear…something that can be accomplished with a bit of discipline. There is a time to reload under pressure, but a three round drill that is emphasizing some other skill set is NOT the time to do it! I want the student to concentrate on the skill being taught, not doing an unnecessary reload, which divides said concentration. And let’s be honest, most adults have only so much concentration capability, so I do not want to waste what they have on unnecessary actions!

So, when do we practice the reload? Some say we do not practice it at all, claiming that when the gun needs reloading during other training activities it will be enough. Sounds good, but will it? In my almost four decades of experience, this depends on the training regimen. If running the gun empty seldom happens in your routine, then it will probably not be enough. In addition, watch people when they do practice. The gun will go empty and they will reload it at some lackadaisical pace, as they do not want to “damage” their magazine by dropping it or don’t want to bend over to pick it up. If it is not “reload practice”, then it is not what will be emphasized. Lack of discipline, you say? Yep! It is…but saying this will not change it…its human nature, pure and simple. In my classes I constantly yell, “do not waste the opportunity for a good practice repetition!” meaning when you need to draw, reload, clear a stoppage, etc. do it like you are in a fight! But they won’t unless I ride them; they will fall back into just getting the task accomplished. Yep…lackadaisical…I sometimes wish I could just threaten my student’s lives just a little bit…make them understand what is at stake…but I just don’t want to go to jail at this late stage of my life. In the end, its up to them…

This is why I teach the reload and I make people practice it. I still teach the classic in battery speed load versus just teaching the emergency or slide lock reload. I do this as I think of the speed load as ”training wheels” for the emergency load.  If you take a moment to think about it, the emergency reload is the same as the speed load, you just have to drop the slide. Should we discuss the “controversy” of how to drop the slide? Shooting hand thumb, support hand thumb, over hand (saddle) grip, “pull on a rope” grip? You have no idea how much I do not give a shit how you release the slide! As long as you get it done as quickly as possible, that’s all I care about. For more on this, go to the Handgun Combatives You Tube channel where I address this subject in one of y videos.

What is interesting to note is even though I teach the speed load and tell students “load when you want to, not when you have to” the only time they will do so is when they are forced to do it…when they gun runs dry! You know what else is interesting? How they stand and stare at the gun when it does happen, especially when the slide does not lock open due to a malfunctioning slide lock lever or their shooting hand thumb was resting on it. This results in a five to six second reload which is a “get killed” level of speed…

Tactical or magazine retention reload? I show students a couple of ways to do this but spend little time practicing it. Why? They seem to get plenty of practice as they perform the “lackadaisical reload” previously discussed. You know, so they don’t damage or have to bend over a pick up their magazine. Ok, ok…rant off…sorry…

How fast should a reload be? As I previously stated, if a shooter does have to reload in a fight, it needs to be fast as the history of pistol fighting over several centuries has shown us they are over quickly...seconds not minutes. Just like the draw from the holster, I think you should be able to perform a shot to shot reload in around two to two and a half seconds with a pistol, regardless of the situation faced. No, this is not hard to do standing still with no stress on the square range, but can you do it on the move in the middle of a fight? Sitting behind the steering wheel of your car? Hunkered down behind low cover? Something to consider.  A revolver reload will be slower…no way around this even with speed loaders, but we have known for a long time that the primary advantage of a pistol over a revolver is capacity (not firepower…and AC-130 has firepower) and speed/ease of reload. The “New York Reload” as popularized by Jim Cirillo is the answer here.

Should I just “look” the magazine into the magazine well? Sounds inviting, but from personal experience…and the experience of the many people I have interviewed…you will have a hard time taking your eyes off of the person who is trying to kill you. And if you are behind cover, you will probably want to track where they are so they don’t flank you. “It is only a brief second” you say? Then go ahead and believe it /do it…I don’t care… I’m just telling you what will happen when someone is trying to take your life. You are welcome to any gun fighting fantasy you choose. I think it is ok to watch your magazine as you are learning, but as you get better, it is a good idea to do it quickly and efficiently by feel. There is a method for doing this that many instructors do not know or teach…reloading should be done by feel, not sight just like the draw.

In order to reload…or any crisis-level skill, really… to a level of motor skill “automaticity” you will have to practice it. PRACTICE is the key to any skill development and anchorage and anyone who disputes this does not understand proven motor learning skill development. How often should you practice? It depends on how much you suck at the particular skill! If you struggle with reloading, you will have to focus on it. I would suggest you practice reloading in a dry fire environment…don’t waste expensive ammo practicing to reload. If you can walk out on the range and perform a 2-2.5 second emergency reload cold, go practice something else! I start each of my practice sessions with a series of skill drills and I use them to tell me what I need to practice on that day. My reload standard is 1.5 seconds for a speed load and 2 seconds for an emergency reload. I add .25 second for garment removal. I will be honest here, if I am struggling with a skill, I will work it unconcealed until I smooth it out, then I will conceal.

I do each drill three times and if I hit the standards, I practice what I want on that day. If not, that is where I focus. It is a system that works for me and has done so for decades. As Bruce Lee so eloquently said, “Advanced skills are the basics mastered.” To me, “mastered” means automaticity.

So, did I change your opinions on reloading? Probably not…but if I have gotten you to think about it, consider what you do or how your practice, then I did my job. Did I step on what your guru thinks? Yeah…don’t care. What I do and teach I know works in the street over many years. It doesn’t mean other techniques don’t work; I just have confidence in mine. Stay safe, thanks for checking in and have a great holiday season!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Federal HST…the new standard of excellence.

There was a time when I collected shooting reports from all across the country. It started in the late 1980s when I was working on my master’s degree in criminal justice administration and I needed to pick a thesis topic. I proposed a research project entitled "The Incapacitation Effectiveness of Police Handgun Ammunition" and my student advisor and counseling professor accepted it.

In addition, I conducted ballistic research by shooting bullets into various mediums—including ballistic gelatin, wet undertaker’s cotton, duct sealant and water tanks—to determine whether or not one substance was better than another based on the bullets removed from human tissue. I was also permitted to use my agency’s letterhead to solicit shooting and autopsy reports from across the country. I contacted many of the country’s largest agencies and they responded to my request. I kept many of those contacts open over the years and continued to exchange data with officers across the country. I quit doing it several years ago as I retired (along with many of my contacts) and in truth, I wasn’t learning anything new.

This network kept me abreast on the types of ammo that worked on the street and which did not. Many promising ammo styles (based on lab testing) ended up as dismal failures in the street. Others proved worthy. I’ve seen continued success with the .38 special all-lead hollow point regardless of brand; the Winchester SXT and Speer Gold Dot regardless of caliber; and the Federal Hydra-Shok in slow- moving bullets, like the 230 grain .45 caliber or 147 grain 9 mm.

Recently, while driving home from a course in Richmond, VA with co-instructor Brian Buchanan, “Bucky” told me about a recent shooting his agency was involved in. The reason this event was significant is due to the department changing from .40 “back” to 9mm, something many in the department felt was moving in the wrong direction. If the first shooting had been a disaster, controversy would follow. As it turned out, the officer stopped the suspect with a 147-grain Federal HST load, which was selected after an exhausting test period, which included ammunition styles from across the spectrum. The Federal 147 HST was selected as the selection committee felt it had the best performance parameters, loosing nothing from the .40 S & W. The bullet performed flawlessly and raised confidence across the agency.

I’ve been watching the progress of Federal’s HST over the years as it takes some time to see street results and HST’s results have been impressive across the caliber spectrum, offering consistent expansion and optimum penetration for terminal ballistic performance, i.e. incapacitation potential. HST’s specially designed hollow-point tip won’t plug while passing through a variety of barriers, and it holds its jacket in the toughest conditions…two claims that have been born out over a growing number of shootings. HST is engineered to provide 100% weight retention through most barriers and impressive expansion, often as much as doubling its original diameter.

The hard object penetration was really brought home to me recently during a vehicle combat course I taught in Northern Minnesota. Two Federal employees were enrolled in the course and offered to insert ballistic gelatin into the cars during the small “lab segment “ in include in each class. During this block, I normally allow the students to shoot the vehicles with the ammo they carry to see how well it will penetrate. The gelatin just added to the experience and I can honestly say the HST loads in both 9mm and .40 worked flawlessly! They were only eclipsed by one load, the new Speer Gold Dot 2, designed for the FBI.

I should note, I was made aware of the encouraging lab results of the HST before it even hit the market. I was at Federal’s Anoka, Minn., plant writing an article on the Expanding Full-Metal Jacket (EMFJ) ammunition when I was asked if I wanted to see the next-generation hollow point. Hell yes—who wouldn’t I thought?!  I was shown a series of bullets that had been fired through various mediums into ballistic gelatin and all displayed incredibly consistent performance. I was then allowed to enter the ballistic lab and watch tests being conducted. I admit to being impressed by what I saw, but I wanted to see actual shooting data. Well, HST has been on the market long enough for shooting data to roll in and results show the bullet is as good as the early testing said it would be. As a matter of fact, it would not be out of line to say it is the most street proven load currently available.

Although some say HST stands for High Shock Two, Federal says it really doesn’t stand for anything other than a designation for
a line of ammo. During an email exchange
with Tom Burczynski, 
the inventor of the
 HST bullet as well
as several other
successful bullet designs, he
 wrote, “After
 testing, I submitted two different concepts (for two different bullets) to Federal. One concept dealt with a serrated core while the other dealt with a series of highly effective scores in the jacket. Federal engineers incorporated both concepts into the same bullet and dreamed up a way to align the serrations with the scores in the jacket. It is a pre-stressed core, which is why the expanded bullets look like El Dorado Starfire (no longer in production) and Speer Gold Dot.” It’s also the reason why the HST expands and penetrates so well through various barriers and materials.

According to Burczynski, early versions expanded well through FBI cloth, but not International Wound Ballistics Association denim test medium. Federal re-worked the bullet and later versions expanded well through denim as well. Over the years, Federal tweaked the bullet’s velocity—raising the velocity of some loads while lowering others—to get the maximum performance parameters from each load. In the end, Federal has a bullet design that’s only rivaled by the Gold Dot in on-the-street effectiveness. I have seen actual shooting data on the 124 and 147 grain 9 mm, 165 and 180 grain .40 S & W and the 230 grain +P .45. The performance of the HST in this limited number of actual shootings is exemplary. The 124 and 147 loads expanded to .65 and .63 in tissue, while the .40 loads deformed to .66 and .65 respectively. The +P .45 was recovered at autopsy to have expanded to a whopping .74 caliber—that’s three fourths of an inch! Even though this is a limited number of shootings, it’s certainly enough for me to recommend with HST with confidence.

Recently, I decided to perform my own tests with the HST using both 10% ordnance gelatin ( a real pain in the ass, to be honest) and rolls
 of-wet undertaker’s cotton. The cotton material was a substance formerly used by the crime lab in my jurisdiction to trap bullets for ballistic comparison. David Taulbee, the late master firearm’s examiner at the lab (and one of the smartest ballistics experts I’ve ever met), noticed the bullets he fired into the cotton looked very similar to those removed from bodies at autopsy. He conducted a number of tests in the mid-1980s and determined the rolls of cotton were an excellent way to test bullet expansion and I couldn’t agree more. I fired the bullets into the gelatin and cotton at 15 feet with the bullets crossing the screen of a Shooting Chrony chronograph. I only charted penetration in the gelatin, as it is difficult to do in the cotton. Cotton is a great “back yard” test medium for those who wish to do it yourself. The leg of a pair of blue jeans covered the gelatin and cotton and the guns used were a Glock 17, 22 and 21.

To test accuracy, I bench rested the three guns and grouped each load at 25 yards that, admittedly, is outside the normal distance law enforcement or armed citizen use of a handgun, but in the age of the Active Killer, “normal” is being pushed out further. That said, when testing a gun’s accuracy, why not take it to the limit?

In the end, only you or your agency can determine what load or caliber is right for you and yours. Note: I don’t recommend purchasing ammo solely based on a magazine article review. Instead, research and test any potential issue or carry load for yourself. HST is a real good place to start!

Caliber      Load Type      Velocity    Cotton   Gelatin      Penetration
9 mm   124 grain +P  1,177 fps   .65 .62           12.5 inches
9 mm   147 grain    987 fps   .64 .61           14.5 inches
.40 S & W 165 grain  1,112 fps   .66 .67           14.5 inches
.40 S & W 180 grain  1,008 fps   .64 .66           15.5 inches
.45 ACP    230 grain +P    977 fps    .70         .71             13.5 inches