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Firing Practice Helps Make Survival Possible

Get to know not only your weapon, but your own abilities for confidence on the street.

August 01, 2000  |  by Res. Sgt. R.K. Campbell

If you are reading this magazine, and carry a firearm, hopefully you are interested in preserving skills attained through long hours and hard work.

Personal investigation indicates that only about 25 percent of officers practice on their own time.  Supervisors, concerned by a low hit rate in critical incidents, may push for better handguns and advanced training.  But officers are responsible for their own safety and should practice on their own.

Experience Makes the Difference

Most of the officers in my agency at least know in which end of the gun the bullet exists.  But many do not devote the training time needed to master an instrument as difficult as the handgun.  Most trainers never really have enough time to train as thoroughly as they'd like. Bit we can give the officer at risk a good idea of the types of drills he or she should execute to attain proficiency at arms.

Handguns can be especially difficult to use well, and no matter how skilled a marksman is, skill level can quickly degrade.  It isn't like riding a bike!  However, carrying a deadly weapon, with which you are not skilled, may be likened to keeping, in the garage, a Harley-Davidson you have never ridden, in case some day you have to get somewhere in a hurry.

If you cannot draw and hit the X ring of a target 10 yards away, from a normal carry, in 1.5 seconds, you are in bad need of remedial training and practice.  Experienced shooters must remain that way!

Mental Preparation

The most important indicator of gunfight survival is mental preparation.  This means more than any other factor.  Martial arts demand all of your concentration and handgunning is certainly a type of martial art.  The experienced shooter must not rely upon skills he cannot demonstrate.  The experienced shooter should be confident in proven abilities.

Everyone has occasional bad days at practice, but undue stress must be fought.  Learn stress-relieving exercises, such as various breathing techniques borrowed from martial arts and other disciplines.  One good yoga exercise that some find effective is as follows:

• Stand straight up

• Take a good, deep breath from your diaphragm

• Hold

• Flick your finders straight out to the sides

Another way to exercise some SWAT snipers, weary from looking through scopes, report finding helpful for eye strain simply involves staring into the distance without focusing on anything.

A single bad shot is not as important on the range as it is for real.  On the range, there is ample time for relaxation before beginning a run on a course of fire.  While training should introduce a certain level of stress, it is important to learn the basics in order, with a good attitude.

Some authorities sear by dry fire as a training aid.  It is the best way to learn proper trigger control.  Of course, the gun must be triple-checked for assurance that it is empty.  Gunhandling and trigger press can be practiced at home in this manner.

A good regimen is 10 perfect draws or trigger breaks.  Concentrate and believe that the shot you are breaking, or the draw you are commencing with is the only important one.  You will probably be right.

The front sight should remain stationary as the shots are broken, with as little wobble as possible.  If you botch a trigger press, you should realize it.  This is an advanced skill, termed 'calling the shots.'  Proper sight alignment guarantees hits.

Firing Time

Don't go the range without a plan.  I recommend simple drills at first.  This means draw and fire.  Initially, time limits are not important. The drill must be accomplished perfectly.  But planning the drill is key.

A good standard is to draw and fire from increasing distances: first at 5, then 7, then 10 yards, always looking to achieve a center hit.  Also, don't neglect retention drills and other techniques such as "Speed Rock" (the close-range technique of standing flat-footed, drawing the gun and firing from belt level, while rocking forward slightly at the torso).

Firing a great deal of ammunition at one time can be daunting and may not produce skill.  Some trainers refer to this as 'making brass.'  Jeff Cooper has noted that perhaps an hour of firing is the maximum for maximum retention.  Short, frequent trips to the range are probably best.

After a few tries, it will become obvious which skills the operator needs to work on and over which he has gained a certain degree of mastery.

I don't devote nearly enough time to speed loads or weak-hand practice and probably should.

On the range, it is common to use both hands in firing. However, I am seeing a greater need for one-hand firing skills, especially in the context of building searches, close-quarters situations, crowded areas, the need to switch weapons, etc.  In fact, half the shooting histories I collect concern one-handed shooting.  Many officers develop the habit, in the field, of holding a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other.

But each situation is different and personal scenarios are just that-personal. For instance, urban and rural officers have different needs and this should be reflected in training.  Urban officers often spend more time patrolling neighborhoods in police cars and need to know how to draw a weapon and fire from a car if necessary.  Rural officers may be faced more often with long-range types of situations and also must know how to cover themselves for longer periods of time as help is often farther away.

In any case, here is a sample of a good, general practice session that could be beneficial to anyone:

• Speed Rock-two rounds, 3 yards, repeat five times.

• One-handed shoulder point-two rounds, 5 yards, repeat five times.

• Draw to a center hit-single shot, 7 yards, repeat 10 times.

• Two targets, 5 feet apart-single rounds, 7 yards, repeat 5 times.

• Same two targets-double taps, repeat five times.

• Hostage rescue shots-five rounds each, 7, 10, 15 yards.

• Rollover prone-10 rounds, 25 yards.

• Barricade position-10 rounds, 25 yards.

Is this session more demanding than your agency's qualification? Almost certainly it is.

Consider the potential problems at hand and train properly.

Res. Sgt. R.K. Campbell is a 22-year law enforcement veteran, currently working with the Campobello (S.C.) Police Depart.  He is a firearms trainer, holds a degree in criminal justice and is an occasional contributor to POLICE.

Tags: Firearms Training, Holsters, handguns


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