There are two categories of manipulations required to operate a firearm- administrative manipulations and functional manipulations. Administrative actions include loading, unloading, or checking the status of the weapon. The functional manipulations cover the actions needed to keep the firearm operating. This category includes reloading when empty and clearing malfunctions should they occur.
A lot of people take the administrative manipulations for granted, but they are extremely important, especially if your anticipated use of the firearm includes fighting. Loading, unloading or verifying the status of your weapon is normally done in the home, or somewhere similar, so these actions need to be performed safely. Also, and equally important, these manipulations serve as the foundation for all the functional manipulations, so it’s important to learn them well.
Small details make a big difference. For example following the proper sequence is critical to performing the administrative manipulations safely and properly. The correct sequence always begins with the magazine, and ends with the chamber. The loading sequence begins by inserting and seating the magazine.
Next you chamber a round, then end the process by checking the chamber, visually or physically, to verify there is a round chambered and the weapon is ready for action. The chamber or press check is cheap insurance to ensure your weapon goes bang when you press the trigger.
Unloading begins again with the magazine, except now you’re removing it, taking away the source of ammunition. The weapon is cycled to empty the chamber. We teach cycling the action three times to be sure of ejection. The administrative unload ends by running a chamber check, visually confirming the chamber is clear. Again, starting with the mag and ending by checking the chamber is critical. Cycling the action, then removing the mag means you eject one round from the chamber but with the same action chambered another round. This has lead to many people having a negligent discharge with an “unloaded” weapon.
To verify the status of a weapon you run the same sequence. Confirmation of an unloaded weapon starts by confirming there is no magazine in the magwell. I stick the fingers of my support hand into the magwell for a physical confirmation that it’s clear. I cycle the action three times, which is consistent with unloading, and finish by visually checking the chamber for clear. To confirm the weapon is loaded I remove the magazine, making sure it does have ammunition in it, and then insert it back into the weapon. I perform a press check to confirm the chamber is loaded.
Knowing how to manipulate your weapon safely and efficiently begins by learning the proper techniques to load and unload it. The key is consistency, manipulating the weapon the same way every time regardless of the circumstances. The way I unload is the same on the range during training or practice, inside my home when I’m clearing the weapon for storage, or during a fight, using the same actions to clear a Type III malfunction.
Shooting accurately requires you to know how to work the sights and trigger. For fighting the term ‘accuracy’ is very subjective. Some situations call for efficient shots to a large target at close range. The threat is two yards away; hits to the chest don’t require a perfect sight picture and you don’t have all day to press the trigger. For a longer distance shot, or when firing at a smaller target, if you don’t get a good sight picture and smooth trigger press you ain’t gonna get the hit.
In the last column we talked about obtaining a sight picture, aligning the sights between the eyes and the point on the target the shot needs to go. Once you have the sight picture, as defined by the accuracy required, you hold steady by focusing on the front sight. The degree you focus on the front sight is determined by the accuracy needed. For a large target at close distance a flash sight picture, a quick confirmation the front sight is on the area the shots need to go, will suffice. As the distance increases or target size decreases you have to focus more intently on the front sight.
With red-dot sights, which a lot of people are putting on pistols now as well as rifles, your visual focus is always on the target and you place the dot where it needs to go. Focusing on the dot will get you into “chasing the dot,” which will never settle down exactly where you want it. Focus on the target and put the dot on the spot.
Once you’re holding steady, regardless of what type sights you’re working with, it’s time to smoothly press the trigger. The time it takes to press the trigger depends on the accuracy. The only way to learn how to press the trigger smoothly, no matter what the speed of the press is, is to start slow.
Your job to point the weapon in the right direction, using the sights, then press the trigger, allowing the internal components of the weapon to do their work and firing the round when it’s time. Trying to make the weapon fire when you’re ready, going “now” and slapping or jerking the trigger, usually results in recoil anticipation, which is going to affect accuracy.
There are a variety of ways to learn how to achieve a smooth trigger press. In the beginning you have to consciously think about the press. If you’re not thinking about pressing smoothly it won’t happen. One technique is to achieve a smooth press is to verbalize the word “press,” dragging it out, saying “pressssss” as you steadily increase pressure on the trigger. At some point the shot is released. You can use a count method, starting at 1, slowly going through 2, 3, 4, … steadily increasing the pressure as you count up. Another technique is to see just how much pressure you can apply to the trigger without making the weapon fire. At some point the pressure will override the trigger and fire the shot. Imagining they are slowly pressing the bullet out of the barrel while holding the sights steady works for some people. We all have a different method or technique that works. Discover what works for you.
Once you discover your mental key for pressing the trigger practice, over and over, always properly working your sights. Eventually you get to the point where you shorten up the time required to press the trigger. After time and repetition it becomes an action that doesn’t require conscious thought. Pressing the trigger becomes a subconscious act; you press the trigger smoothly because of thousands of repetitions.
In part III we’ll talk about the importance of “follow-through.”
To shoot a firearm accurately you have to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship: Aim, Hold, Press, and Follow-Through. In addition to these fundamentals you use the proper stance, arm position, and grip, but these things are subject to change according to the situation. In a fight you may not be able to acquire a textbook stance. The arms may not be indexed in the ideal position. You could be firing with only one hand. But anytime you’re firing a shot the four fundamentals still apply – even more so when the other basics are compromised.
When you fire a shot it should be with predictable results. You aim, hold, press and follow-through to ensure accurate shots. Just keep in mind that accuracy is defined by distance and the size of the target. The speed you can cycle through the four fundamentals depends on the accuracy necessary for the shot you’re attempting.
Aiming basically means getting the weapon pointing in the right direction, but it’s a little more complicated than just pointing. Very few things required to fight effectively with a firearm are instinctual. Under stress we are programmed to visually focus on the source of our problem. When faced with a threat we shift our focus to the person, then begin visually assessing to determine how big the problem is. Normally this means watching the hands to see what they are doing. Do they have a weapon? Are they responding to our commands for them to drop the weapon, or did their hands start out empty and now there is a weapon. Watch the hands. It’s also a good idea to watch their feet. The feet will predict what movement a person is about to perform, often even before the suspect consciously realizes what they’re about to do.
When the situation turns to the point that we have to use our weapon, it’s time to shoot, our focus should shift to the point on the threat that we want the bullet to go. With the eyes focused on this point we bring the weapon up so the sights intersect our line of vision. Now we have a sight picture, the alignment of the weapon’s sights between our eyes and the point of impact, where we want the bullet to strike. This is much more efficient than seeing the whole target, bring the weapon up and lowering the head down to find the sights and then having to align all that onto the target.
The precision in the alignment of the sights between the eyes and target is dictated by the accuracy needed. To put shots into the chest of a target five feet away you can get by with just having the front and rear sights close to actual alignment. To hit a four-inch plate from twenty-five yards the sight picture is going to need to be more precise.
Once you have a sight picture it’s time to go to step two, holding the sights steady. We’ll discuss that in part two of this series.
I do not like the .40 caliber. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who disagree with me on this, but since it’s my column I get to state my opinion. This opinion is based on two issues with .40 caliber pistols. Keep in mind that an issue is something that is common, you see it a lot, as opposed to a problem, which is normally limited to an individual or particular weapon.
The .40 was developed specifically as a law enforcement caliber by Smith & Wesson and Winchester and as a direct result of the 1986 F.B.I. Miami shootout between agents and two hard criminals, Platt and Matix. Both bad guys were killed, but two agents were killed with five others injured. Basically the F.B.I. was looking for a cartridge that had the performance of the .38 Special +P load that would work with a semi-auto pistol. The .40 is supposedly the ideal blend of bullet size and velocity.
There is no doubt the .40 performs well, but it has a very sharp recoil impulse, which is hard on shooter and pistol alike. The most common issue we see with shooters is related to recoil. With the .40 you must use a good aggressive stance, arm position with isometric tension between the arms, and the proper grip to provide the resistance necessary for the pistol to function properly. Failures to eject, commonly called stovepipes or smokestacks, are more frequent with the .40 than 9mm’s and .45′s. This is especially true when shooters are working with one hand, during injury drills, or firing using a less than ideal platform, like laying sideways on the ground.
The sharp recoil of the .40 literally beats pistols to death. No, you probably won’t see a problem if you only run a few rounds through your pistol a couple times a year. But with heavy shooting sooner or later with the .40 you’ll likely see problems develop, and a lot sooner than with a 9mm or .45. A few years ago one area department we train sent several of their officers here for five-day handgun classes. We worked hard and during the class each officer fired approximately five thousand rounds. After the classes the officers’ pistols had send their pistols in due to problems with the rails on the slide and frames. They had been beat out. (The pistols were replaced, but they were never given a good reason from the factory why this problem appeared in the first place.)
The recoil also presents a problem with individual shooters who come to fear the snap of the .40 and begin anticipating the recoil, which of course drastically affects their accuracy. You can take the same shooter, give them a 9mm or .45, and their accuracy improves. I know recoil shouldn’t be an issue, but with most shooters it is so we might as well go ahead and acknowledge it. Several departments I deal with have switched from .40 caliber pistols to .45acp weapons with a noticeable increase in their qualification scores.
When new shooters me what they should get my immediate answer is a 9mm. And, as we know, it’s a lot more about where you put the bullets as opposed to how big or fast they are moving. Get a pistol that works for you, plenty of ammo, and practice the fundamentals until you can perform them under any conditions.
Glocks are great pistols. I have several of them, all 19′s, and lately have been practicing with ‘em on the range. But, like every other weapon I have, I found they needed some work to make them fit me.
My favorite 19 I have is a Gen II, without finger grooves, so that’s the one I chose to modify. Step one was installing good sights. An order to Brownells put a set of XS tritium sights on the bench, (006-000-061) medium size dot. The instructions were clear and precise, tools were included, and skill required minimum – my favorite combination. A few minutes of shop time had them installed. A few rounds downrange, a little adjusting on the rear sight, and I called it good and locked it down.
The second modification was to install an extended mag release. The Glock is a little fat for my hands. With the extended release I don’t have to twist my hand around the pistol as much to drop the magazine. My order from Brownells included a Vickers mag release, (100-003-404) which is 3/32′s of an inch longer than the factory release. I know nothing about Glocks, but a few minutes on the ‘net provided the info needed to remove and replace this part. Installation was easy, again something almost anyone can do, and for my hand size it works great.
The Glock was slippery, especially when sweating, so I had wrapped athletic tape around the grip to provide me with additional friction. This worked ok, but not well enough, plus it didn’t really look that great, especially if I was going to be using when teaching. Since this was a DIY project I didn’t want to send it off to have the grip re-worked, so I decided to attack it with a soldering iron and give it a stipple pattern.
Stippling the grip was easy, but if you’re thinking about doing this a few words of advice. First, always wear eye protection whenever performing any shop work. Second, have a fan near to blow the fumes of melting plastic away from the air-holes in your head. Practice on something else before doing the work on your pistol to get a feel for the technique. Start out slow and careful; some of the areas are thin and it wouldn’t a lot of heat or pressure to burn a hole right through. Move from one area to another frequently so you don’t overheat the grip and deform it. Mark out where you want to stipple with a pen to provide you with a boundary, and use a metal ruler as a guide for clean, straight lines. When you’re done use sandpaper to remove any sharp edges and smooth out the texture some.
The stippling, combined with the sights and mag release, created a totally new feeling pistol. I’ve had this pistol for years just because I figured everyone needs a couple of Glock 19′s. Now I have something I like and will probably end up carrying. And, I did it all at home for cheap.
With most pistols you can’t go wrong with factory magazines. Do not try to go the cheap route. (See above.) The biggest problem we see on the range is students bringing aftermarket mags that don’t work. They learn how to clear malfunctions really well, but it does distract from the learning process. I would also steer clear of mag extensions that increase capacity. These come apart a lot on the range, scattering ammo and springs across the ground. If you think you need more rounds get a bigger pistol.
1911′s are a completely different breed of pistol. Regardless of what should be, the fact is they all have different personalities. 1911 #1 may work great with brand X mags, but these same mags won’t work in pistol #2. Some pistols function well with eight round mags. These same mags won’t work in another 1911. Base-pads are mandatory. The extended base helps when seating the mag or if you need to strip it out of the pistol during a malfunction. I use Wilson seven round mags, which are tough, reliable and work in all the 1911′s I own.http://www.brownells.com/.aspx/pid=16398/Product/1911-AUTO-WILSON-ROGERS-MAGAZINE They worked for every student I ever loaned them to during a class. I’ve been punishing some of these Wilson mags in training and practice for over fifteen years and they still get the job done.
You need two sets of magazines, numbered or marked in some way that allows you to keep track of them. One set is for training and practice. They see a lot of hard use. If you constantly keep having a problem with mag A3 get rid of it. The other batch of mags, they are for actual carry. You’ve tested them enough to make sure they function properly, which means always, no exceptions, with the ammo that you carry. They don’t participate in training or practice. If you change brands or style ammo then retest them. You’re betting your life on these, so take care of them.
Mags have to be cleaned. Completely take them apart and clean them with soap and hot water. Pay attention to how the mag comes apart during disassembly so you can put them back together correctly. A mag brush:http://www.brownells.com/.aspx/pid=8764/Product/MAG-BRUSHcatalog isn’t required, but it will make the job a lot easier. Do not oil your mags. They are made to run dry, and any lubricant will attract grime of all types.
Carry your spare mags in a mag pouch. Sticking them in a pocket isn’t a good idea. They move around, making it difficult to get to when you need it. They gather lint, pennies, cigarette butts, and all sorts of other foreign matter, which makes it really hard to insert and seat into the mag well.
We carry pistols to defend against an attack. Make sure every piece of your gear is up to this task. Your life depends on it.
The systems check is an administrative action performed with the pistol, or any firearm, to confirm weapon’s status. The process only involves a couple of steps, but the correct sequence is critical and as with all gunhandling proper technique is mandatory.
Keep the head and eyes up maintaining visual contact with your environment during all manipulations. Use your tactile sense, operating the weapon by feel in order to maintain visual contact with threat(s) or looking for family/friends, cover, the exit and such. Operating the weapon without looking at it is also critical for low-light environments, where over seventy percent of all “misunderstandings” occur. Practice this habit, especially during administrative actions such as the system check, regardless of how mundane it may seem.
To check an unloaded pistol extend your arms outward in a low-ready position with a proper two-handed grip on the pistol, pointing the muzzle in a safe direction with your finger clear of the trigger and trigger guard. (Rule 1: Treat every firearm as though loaded.). From here I take my pinky finger of the support hand and stick it into the mag well, physically confirming the magwell is empty.
Step two is to confirm the chamber is empty. While the primary hand retains a proper grip the support grasps the slide between the heel of the hand and fingertips, thumb pointing towards you, forming a “C” clamp on the slide. Make you don’t cover the ejection port with your hand. For example with a 1911 I can only get my last three fingers on the slide otherwise my lil’ finger’s blocking the port. Aggressively cycle the slide three times. Grab the slide again in the “C” clamp, then slip the hand forward so it’s in front of the ejection port. I press my thumb against the rear serrations of the slide for more control. Crack the slide open and visually check the chamber for clear. (This is the only time I actually look at the handgun.) Release the slide so it snaps into battery and bring the support hand back and underneath the pistol to insure you don’t sweep yourself with the muzzle as you reacquire a two-handed grip.
Remember the sequence is critical. Cycling the slide, then discovering and removing a loaded mag is trouble. I highly recommend against pressing the trigger to confirm the chamber is empty, which is a bad way to discover its not.
To verify a loaded pistol remove the magazine to insure it’s full, reinsert it and seat it firmly. I press check the chamber using the technique above, but instead of looking to see if it’s empty I use the index finger of my support hand to physically feel for the round. This method allows me to maintain a proper grip on the pistol with my primary hand and is consistent with my other manipulations. Your technique depends on hand and pistol size, and should insure the muzzle doesn’t cover any part of your body. Use safeties or decockers as recommended for your weapon.
The systems check is an essential skill, and while it isn’t complicated don’t get complacent. Consistency is key for safety, concern number one, and efficiency, using proper techniques that fall in line with all your other manipulations. Never assume the status of a weapon when you can check it. This is especially true if you know in advance there’s a chance of having to fight with your pistol, which could be the next time you leave home. Check it.
A major advantage of the 1911 style pistol is the single action trigger. It is the most efficient action out there, and once you learn how to manipulate the trigger it works well for target shooting and fighting.
Another advantage is size, especially the width of the pistol. The thin design fits normal or smaller size hands well. The width also makes it easy to carry concealed, especially with an inside-the-waistband holster.
The handgun’s design makes it index on target naturally. The angle of the grip in relationship to the barrel is just right. When you extend your arms with the hands and wrists in a natural position the 1911 points right on target with the sights falling into alignment with your eyes.
The .45 ACP round works well when it comes to “terminal ballistics.” After all, it was chosen after other calibers proved to be ineffective on the highly motivated, drugged up Moro warriors during the American-Philippine war of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This is especially true with some of the new bullet designs that can expand up to three-quarters of an inch or more when they open up.
Modifying the 1911, either for function or to make it fit your hands, is an easy process. You can buy a pistol, set up to go, and then fine-tune it for your needs. The basic design is good, and I don’t want or need a full-length guide rod. A thumb safety that allows you to keep the thumb on top of the safety at all times is mandatory, as well as sights you can see, under a variety of lighting conditions. Stocks, or grips, are available in different widths and textures. Triggers come in short, medium, and long, allowing you to position the center pad of the finger on the middle of the trigger for a smooth press straight to the rear. And the list goes on. Just keep in mind any modifications should serve a specific purpose.
Carrying a 1911 is a commitment, similar to a marriage. Once you decide a 1911 is the handgun for you, then that’s what you stick with. It’s a great fightin’ pistol, but it demands more time and effort for practice. They require maintenance and upkeep, kind of like an old Harley with solid lifters and a distributor with points. I’ve been carrying the same 1911 for the last fifteen years. It’s ugly, but works every time. It rattles, probably doesn’t group very accurately locked into a rest, but it shoots better than I can, especially under combative conditions. It took me the first six years to find the ideal combination of parts but now it literally feels like part of my body.
That’s why I carry a 1911.
When it comes to the combative arts consistency is key. Consistency leads to predictable results. Apply the fundamentals of marksmanship – obtain the sight picture you need, press the trigger smoothly, and follow through, preparing to shoot again if necessary – and the results are accurate hits on target. Proper technique for reloading or clearing malfunctions allows us to perform these actions efficiently.
Consistency is also crucial when it comes to your pistol, or other weapons. Having a pistol that works every time, fits your hand, and has a good trigger and a set of sights you can see is mandatory. Once you determine what works put together another one just like it.
Having two of the same handgun may seem like overkill but it’s really a matter of being prepared. Your pistol breaks, requiring you to send it back to the factory for repairs, which sometimes takes longer than we would like. Doing without your favorite handgun may be just an inconvenience for training and practice.
However, if you are forced to fight not having your pistol could diminish your capabilities. In a fight we need every advantage possible. As long as you’re familiar with how to operate it you can fight with any weapon, but using the one you’re most familiar and intimate with means better performance. More importantly fighting with your weapon creates confidence, which is essential to success in combat.
Should it be necessary to fight then your pistol will be taken away until legal proceedings are completed, which could be several years. Having another pistol just like you’re the one you’ve given up equips you for any possible future situations, and mentally it’s a great comfort to have the “same” weapon ready on the hip.
I would much rather own a pair twin pistols than three completely different handguns. Redundancy means one consistent set of finely honed skills and commonality between gear. The sights and triggers are the very same, mags and holsters are interchangeable, they use one caliber of ammo and I can swap out parts. This simplifies life and fighting.
Once you determine what weapon and modifications work for you, then get another one of ‘em. Buy lots of ammo and magazines, and train and practice until you can operate the weapons at a subconscious level. (Keep in mind the best way to obtain this skill level is dry practice.)
I’m not saying you shouldn’t own different style pistols, and you definitely need to be able to grab up any type firearm and fight with it. What I am saying, and there is no debating this, for fighting you will do best by sticking to one type weapon. Victory is based on results, and you get the best results by doing the same thing, over and over, very well.
To operate a pistol effectively the weapon has to fit your hand; a proper grip is especially important with revolvers. The good thing is that revolver stocks, what most people call “grips,” come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. Working through the different type stocks allows you to determine what style works best for you.
Stocks come in smooth, no finger groves on the front, with finger groves, slim and thick, and with the grip extended on the bottom to provide more area for your hand to grip. You can get stocks made of composite material, in rubber, and of course wood.
When it comes to outfitting my revolvers with stocks looks are not a major concern. My focus is function, and under all conditions, wet, wearing gloves, or with only one hand.
Lately I’ve brought some revolvers out of the safe to start shooting more. I need to put proper stocks on them, had recently received my new Brownells catalog, http://www.brownells.com/ and a few days later hit the shop. First on the list is a couple of J frame S&W’s. A rubber Pachmayr grip without finger grooves feels great on a 640-1, a J frame .357. It’s a little larger grip than normal, but with full load .357′s I need the size to control the pistol. For my snubbie .38 I picked one of Ahrends’ Boot stocks, cut from cocobolo wood and without finger grooves. This small grip is ideal for concealed carry, especially in an ankle holster. Future plans include some of Ahrends’ Retro Target Stocks for a pair of K frame model 13′s I’m putting together as twins.
My favorite S&W’s are the K frames. The size of the frame fits my hand and the .357 is a proven round when it comes to stopping power. My Model 13, a three-inch that’s been reworked by the S&W Performance Center, has Spegel stocks, which have finger grooves that actually feel right in my hands. I can’t remember where the Spegel stocks came from, but the website is: http://www.craigspegel.com/.
There are also stocks that convert your round-butt revolver into a square-butt. For shootin’ I prefer the square-butt stocks; with my hand size and shape they provide a good consistent grip. The round-butt revolvers are generally preferred for concealed carry because they don’t print as much due to the shape of the frame’s grip.
The proper stocks on your revolver are key to finger placement on the trigger. Having the correct grip and finger placement, basically the proper geometry between your hand and the pistol, makes it possible to press even a heavy trigger smoothly.
You’ll also need to make sure your pistol’s stocks will allow you to use a speed-loader. I have seen stocks that were too large, blocking the loader from centering on the cylinder for loading.