Are Long Range Skills Valuable For Self-Defense?

Photo by AMagill

Most people will readily agree that if you are using a rifle for anything other than defending yourself in relatively close quarters, then it is probably not self-defense. Taking a shot at 300 yards is not easily construed as self-defense except for the most extreme of circumstances.

The simple conclusion to take from this is that working on skills for shooting farther than what self-defense ‘dictates’ is probably unproductive for our goals of preparing for self-defense scenarios. This is mostly true, but I believe that there is still plenty to be taken from long distance shooting that can be applied to running a gun in a fight.

Long distance shots might be unlikely but not impossible

Most gunfights occur in relatively short distances. Everything from bad breath scuffles at point blank range to 10 yards or farther. It is logical to assume that training for longer range shots would be counter productive.

But just because we are not as likely to take shots with our carry guns at 25 or 50 yards doesn’t mean that those cases can never happen. Keeping distance between yourself and an attacker is a great strategy. If someone is shooting at you from those distances do you really want to get closer?

Pistols have drop too

Most of us will never get into a gunfight with a rifle at full-distance rifle ranges. Unless you are serving overseas, you are unlikely to be defending yourself from an attacker taking shots at long distance. So what is the value to knowing how to shoot at these extended distances?

One key to mastering your rifle is learning about trajectory and bullet drop. Bullets don’t fly flat, and as a result you need to compensate for the path of the bullet when shooting. You might not find yourself needing to apply these concepts with a rifle, but what about your pistol?

Most of us shoot our pistols at distances where any sort of drop is negligible, but when you push out to farther ranges you will experience bullet drop. If you want to be capable of using that pistol at all practical (and maybe some unpractical) distances, you need to understand the trajectory of your rounds. There is no better way to explore and understand this concept than long distance rifle shooting. When you understand trajectory with a rifle, you can apply the same concepts to learn what your pistol does at distance.

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals

Finally, practicing at distance is a great way to practice your fundamentals and push yourself beyond your current limitations. Long distance shots require great sight alignment and excellent trigger control. If you can make a torso shot at 50 yards with a handgun, then making the same shot at 5 yards can only be easier.

Even if you don’t think long distance shots are likely to occur in a self-defense situation, there is plenty of value to be had practicing these shots. Whether it’s to be prepared for the unlikely event you need to take a long shot, or just to reinforce the fundamentals, practicing at extreme distances is a great way to push your limits and improve your skills.

Do you practice long distance shooting?

Every Range Trip Is A Training Session

Photo by AMagill

The usual course of fire I follow tends to consist of some sort of drill to assess my ability, most often the FAST, followed by a series of drills to work on my biggest deficiencies and the things I can’t work on in dry fire.

I get the most enjoyment at the range from trying to improve my skills instead of just transporting high quantities of lead as fast as I can. Many people take a different view.

The other day I was at the range going through my normal range routine. In the next bay over, there were some members of my club shooting a variety of firearms at a rate that leads me to believe they were there just to have fun.

I’m not against going to the range to have fun. I will on occasion head to the range and bring guns that are really not in any way, shape, or form practical for any defensive purpose. After all, the right to bear arms is not limited to hunting or even self-defense. But I like to spend my time at the range wisely.

Make every shot count

Now just because I might be shooting something for fun, it doesn’t mean I’m not training. Even if you aren’t shooting your designated defense pistol, you should make an effort to have every shot give you the maximal training value. Don’t squander opportunities to improve.

Trigger Squeeze

Every time you squeeze a trigger, it should be just that – a squeeze. Don’t slap or jerk a trigger just because this isn’t your usual gun. An unusual gun is a perfect chance to practice being surprised by the trigger breaking. A trigger really isn’t all that different between a 1911, a 12 gauge, or a Mosin-Nagant. They may have different pull-weights, and have a different ‘break’, but a trigger is a trigger.

Sight Picture

Looking down the sights, even if they aren’t your carry piece’s sights, gives you another repetition of getting a good sight picture and maintaining it through the trigger pull.

Manipulations

Every opportunity to manipulate a firearm gives you a chance to work on those manipulation skills. If you are shooting something of the same action type as your normal defensive firearm, then this is a no-brainer. A 1911 and a Glock really operate quite similarly once you look past the the safeties.

Some things in shooting are universal. Proper grip, sight picture, breathing, and trigger squeeze are required in just about every shooting discipline. Every time you go to the range, whether it’s a well-planned training session, or if it’s just an afternoon of fun at the range with some friends, you should always try to maximize the training benefit you get from it. Use every opportunity to work on the fundamentals. If you work the fundamentals, you avoid building bad habits, and you will be improving your training skills.

A Casualty in the War Against Unused Guns

An example of wear and tear from hard training.

Ironically enough, last night while I was dry-firing I noticed a casualty of my own.  I spoke yesterday about not letting dings and dents to your firearms caused by training to bother you.  Here you will see that my own Glock 17 lost a chip around the magwell.  I can only assume that thousands of repetitions practicing my emergency reload put some extra stress on that part of the frame.

Stuff happens.  When I noticed, I didn’t cry over spilled milk.  I grabbed a camera to document the occurrence and then went right back to what I was doing.  These things will happen if you use your guns.  The only thing worse you can do to a gun is to not use it at all.

 

5 Reasons You Should Get Medical Training

Picture by UNC - CFC - USFK

When we train for self-defense we are often concerned primarily with the encounter. If you are smart, you train for everything leading up the encounter – handling the ‘interview’, taking a dominant position, and picking up pre-assault cues. You should also train for everything following the encounter, which may include surveying the scene, dealing with first-responders and bystanders, applying medical aid to those who need it, and possibly escaping if the scene is not secured.

Medical training is a huge part of dealing with the aftermath of a violent encounter, but it can even be useful during the event, depending on the scope of the encounter. It would be good to not bleed out during a prolonged shootout while waiting for help to arrive.

Getting medical training is a good idea for a number of reasons, here are 5 of them:

First aid skills are an asset in many situations

At the local gym where I teach karate, a gym member collapsed about a month ago after getting off an elliptical machine. Heart failure can happen anywhere, and so can a variety of other medical situations. You never know where or when your first aid skills might come in handy. Thankfully this woman survived thanks to the quick action of several staff members at the gym, and their CPR and AED skills. Even if you don’t ever need to defend yourself, basic first aid can be an asset.

You might be injured in an encounter

If you are ever attacked, your opponent might have the drop on you. Even with the best training we can get, there is still a good chance of becoming injured. We could get stabbed or shot in a fight. Being prepared to deal with these calamities includes being able to manipulate your chosen tools with either hand, and learning to operate them with a single hand.

You also want to know how to apply first aid to yourself. The goal is to keep yourself alive and conscious while waiting for first-responders to arrive on the scene. These skills can be the difference between going home to your family or not.

A friend or bystander could be injured in an encounter

When we prepare for a violent assault, we put great emphasis on making sure we don’t spray and pray. We make sure to know where our rounds are going to ensure we hit the threat, and no one else. Our attacker might not be so conscientious. This means that upon resolving a threat, we might have injured people that need aid.

While it may not be your responsibility per se to be prepared to help those around you who may be harmed by a violent assault, are you prepared to look into the eyes of your wife, husband, son, or daughter as they lay bleeding on the asphalt, unable to do anything about it?

Your attacker could be injured

If you are successful in thwarting an assault, it is highly likely your attacker is at a minimum wounded. You could say “screw him” and let him die (and in some localities this might be legally the best option you can take). I would like to think that if I used deadly force on another human being, I would also make my best effort to apply aid to that person if they needed it. Using deadly force is not something to take lightly, so having the ability to help someone and turn a deadly self-defense shooting into just a self-defense shooting is a good skill to have.

Injuries in training

In training, whether just a trip to the range or at an organized shooting class, injuries can happen. Put a bunch of new acquaintances in a confined area, give them weapons and have them move and shoot while under pressure. Accidents can happen. Gun shot wounds have happened at classes before, and I’m sure they will happen again. Be prepared for it, and reduce the risk that you have to watch someone die because you weren’t ready.

If you shoot alone this is even more important. Something could happen while you are alone, and you won’t be able to count on anyone else for aid. Knowing how to stabilize yourself while you wait for help to arrive could easily be the difference between this being your last trip to the range or just one of many to come.


*** warning: explicit language ***

Violence can happen just about anywhere. It goes without saying that injuries including gunshots, knife wounds, and even just heart failure can happen just about anywhere. Get some training, and be prepared for these occurrences so if they ever happen in your life, you’ll be ready for them.

What medical training do you have? Let us know in the comment section below!

Quantity vs Quality

A few months ago when I started this blog, I used the blog’s launch as a way to boost my own training. I have always enjoyed training in various ways for self-defense, but with this new mission in life to encourage others to train, I gave myself a great reason to take a look at my own training regimen. I have (happily) found ways to increase my own training time, and do so on a more regular schedule. One significant area of my training that has dramatically increased is my dry fire practice.

I knew dry fire was something I should be practicing, but I never seemed to have the time. Now I dry fire 5+ days a week. My sessions have been fairly long (30+ minutes at a time) consisting of dozens of reps for various skills. Depending on the day and my particular routine, I might end up practicing hundreds of repetitions.

What I’ve noticed recently is that after the first 10 or 20 reps my practice seems to start going down the drain. Each rep becomes less perfect than the one before it, and the focus dissipates. The part of my brain that knows about the one million other tasks that need to be done that day takes over and tries to influence me to get done sooner.

Over the past few days I’ve started changing up my routine, and instead of working on a few skills per day for many reps, I’m working fewer reps on a larger variety of skills. I notice that I get less fatigued with any given skill and I maintain interest much longer. Instead of 50 or 100 reps for each skill I practice 10 or 20.

This observation of mine has led me back to the question of quantity vs quality. Is it better to practice many imperfect reps or fewer reps that are closer to perfect? I have discussed on this blog the topic of perfect practice makes perfect.

Where exactly do we draw the line between quantity and quality? Would practicing one perfect rep a day be better than 10 mostly perfect, or are we better off doing 200 far from perfect reps?

One Take

Like all things in life, training is a balancing act between quantity and quality. The guiding factor for determining how much quantity we can handle is fatigue.

When we train we all suffer from fatigue eventually. We might have fatigue in our focus, our bodies, or our interest. To get the most out of our training, we need to maximize how much we can train before fatigue overpowers our gains.

Focus

For me focus can be one of the first things to go. The more reps I practice the more diluted every rep becomes. It is easy to focus on a single rep with the intention to make it as perfect as I can. Ten reps are a little harder, but provide more benefit than practicing something once. Try focusing for 100 reps, and you’ll be more likely to lose your focus on at least one.

Body

Muscle fatigue can set in with just about any physical activity. Even dry fire can cause fatigue in the arms from holding a pistol up, working the trigger, or practicing presenting the pistol. As fatigue builds it gradually introduces more error into your practice. Just as with focus, it’s easy to do one rep, but 100 might tire you out. When you get tired, expect to make mistakes.

Interest

Finally, interest wanes the more you practice. Like focus and your body, interest will become fatigued with time. If you practice the same skill for hundreds of repetitions, will you bore yourself? An uninterested student is less likely to put in the optimal effort. How many reps can you do before you get bored?

When you train, balance your fatigue with the gains you want to make. Find the point at which you can train enough to have the number of reps improve your skills while not fatiguing yourself to the point of practicing incorrectly. Make every rep perfect because you are focused, interested, and not exhausted and you have a higher likelihood of improving than if you are unfocused, disinterested and dead tired.

Where is your balance between quantity and quality?

Revisit Your Gun Handling

Photo by DrJimiGlide

If you practice any aspect of shooting, whether it be for self-defense or even pure enjoyment, you need to periodically take a look at your gun handling. Safety is always a top concern around firearms, and we all know that familiarity breeds contempt.

The more you train or practice with a given firearm the more familiar you become with it. This can be a good thing – operating it under pressure should ideally be second nature. It is better to know where the controls are instinctively then have to figure it out every time you need to use it.

But increased familiarity also has a downside. The more familiar you are with a given firearm, the less you will be thinking about “the little things” when you are using it. This will be particularly true of things like firearm safety. If I build a bad trigger finger habit into my draw stroke I might not notice because of my familiarity and comfort level with the gun.

Clearly this is not a good thing.

My suggestion to you is to stop every once in a while and take a careful look at your gun handling and watch for these kinds of mistakes and habits. This is where using video in your training or working with a training partner can be helpful. If you do use either of these methods, then there is no need to wait to do this periodically, your eyes should always be open for safety issues, and no safety issue should go unchecked.

What should you look for when you are checking your gun handling?

There are two main categories of safety issues to watch out for in your own gun handling: muzzle and trigger.

Muzzle issues can come in a variety of flavors:

  1. Muzzling yourself on the draw-stroke

  2. Muzzling yourself when re-holstering (I once saw a woman at the range re-holster into a retention holster and muzzle her arm repeatedly holding the holster open. When called on it she said it was the only way…. Oh yeah? What about bringing the gun around your arm?)

  3. Muzzling yourself during any other manipulation (keep your hands behind the muzzle)

  4. Muzzling anyone else ever – watch where you are pointing that thing.

Trigger issues are also in abundance:

  1. Trigger finger in the trigger guard when drawing

  2. Trigger finger in the trigger guard when re-holstering

  3. Trigger finger in the trigger guard during any other manipulation (you don’t want to squeeze off a round while your hand is on the slide clearing a malfunction do you?)

Watch out for these safety issues when you train. If you don’t have the means to check yourself every time you are at the range, pay special attention every once in a while to make sure you don’t lapse into being unsafe. If you find a bad habit, fix it. Safety is of the utmost importance around firearms. Don’t let familiarity cause an accident.

What do you do to make sure you continue to safely manipulate your firearms at the range?

Train in All Wardrobes

When you train for self-defense, the goal is to be ready to defend yourself whenever or wherever you may need to. Part of ensuring this preparedness is to train in the entire variety of clothing that you may wear. Drawing a pistol while wearing a vest for concealment is far different than drawing from underneath a t-shirt. Still harder is drawing from underneath a variety of winter layers. Unless you live somewhere warm and tropical you will probably be wearing multiple layers at some point during the year.

Image by frankh

Adapt

Self-defense is all about adapting. In this case you need to either adapt your training to work with what you wear, or adapt what you wear to meet the criteria of what you train for. If option two is available for you, take it. The narrower your set of wardrobe choices, the easier it will be to train for each possible scenario.

The rest of us need to be just as prepared for the day we wear a t-shirt as we are for the day we conceal in a tuckable holster in a suit. Take some time to practice at least occasionally in all modes of dress that you use.

Go to the range in a suit, you say?

I would rather not dirty my best suit at the range, so the way I achieve this type of practice is through dry-fire. Each day I take some time to dry-fire wearing whatever clothing I happened to wear that day. If it is a weekend, I’ll be drawing from beneath a t-shirt or a sweatshirt. During the week it might be a polo or a button down shirt. If I want to practice drawing from a suit I might need to set aside a special day to do so – I don’t wear suits very often.

Not just pistol training

The same training concept applies to more than just training to use a firearm for self-defense. You should practice any self-defense skill in the type of clothing you typically wear. Many martial artists spend their time training in various dogi and other uniforms. These uniforms are usually designed for maximum mobility. Compare this to most business wear and you’ll find many differences. Most business attire will hamper mobility to some extent, so it is a good idea to consider your limitations if you need to defend yourself while going about your day. You aren’t very likely to be caught in a life or death situation while wearing a dogi.

Training occasionally in your street clothes can be enlightening. You will find that different articles of clothing all have different effects on your mobility. It is better to know you can’t throw that kick or punch now while you are training than to discover it at the worst possible moment.

Wardrobe choice is just another aspect of train like you fight, fight like you train. In order to be truly prepared for self-defense, we must identify the scenarios we are most likely to encounter and practice accordingly. Our clothing is a big factor to consider when envisioning these possibilities. Make sure you understand your limitations in all modes of dress – and then figure out how to minimize them.

Pistolcraft – The New Way of Strategy?

Miyamoto Musashi was a great swordsman who lived in the late 1500’s into the early 1600’s. He excelled in the use of the sword, but also as a tactician. As a practitioner of swordsmanship, Musashi like many other swordsmen was considered a strategist. And more so than studying the sword, these men practiced the way of strategy.

Picture by MShades

For them the sword was a tool. They needed to have the raw skills to manipulate that tool, but it was just one part of the big picture. Over the course of his life, Musashi defeated many men in duels. He has been credited with defeating a large group of warriors sent to kill him, and he ultimately lived his life undefeated. Musashi didn’t win all of these encounters purely based on his raw technique being better than his adversary; instead, he was a master of strategy.

During this time period it was common for the members of the warrior caste to carry with them their swords at all times. These strategists were always armed, and always ready for whatever threat might lay before them.

Translating the Sword to the Pistol

If you fast forward to today, it is uncommon to see anyone carrying a sword. The sword is in many ways a classic weapon, but not one that is considered part of the modern stable of fighting weapons.

In its time the sword was the weapon of choice for the armed citizen. Today the weapon of choice for the armed citizen is the pistol. We carry pistols to protect ourselves in the same way that the sword was carried in feudal Japan. The pistol has replaced the sword as the preferred implement of combat.

You could break the study of Musashi’s way of strategy into two parts: the study of the sword and its techniques and the study of the strategic and tactical use of the sword. We could similarly break down the study of pistol strategy.

Pistol as the New Way of Strategy

As with the sword, we can spend an eternity perfecting the use of the pistol. Marksmanship takes dedicated effort to master. Drawing the pistol and getting on target, recoil management, reloads, malfunction clearance, and retention merely scratch the surface of all of the skills that come along with studying the pistol.

Learning how to manipulate the sword does not make you a strategist, and neither does learning how to manipulate the pistol. To be tactically sound with the pistol there are a variety of skills and tactics that need to be mastered. Moving through structures and making best use of your environment to maximize cover and concealment both immediately come to mind.

The modern strategist goes above and beyond simply studying and perfecting the manipulations of a weapon. He learns to use that tool as part of a broader strategy. Raw skills are worth the investment of time and effort, but without strategy they will always remain just skills.

Stop Trying To Shoot Better

When I went shooting a few days ago I came to a familiar realization. Like many times before, I realized that when I try too hard I tend to screw things up. The more I ramp up the pressure on myself, the less smooth my actions become, and the more mistakes I make in my efforts to perform better.

Last weekend I was at the range working on improving my draw stroke and slide-lock reloads. To practice these skills I was using a 1Reload2 drill (draw, fire one shot, reload and fire two more). I was doing this drill with my shot timer in an attempt to measure how I was performing and push myself towards a faster time. What I found was that the harder I tried, the more often I would flub the draw or screw up the reload. My actions became jerky and not the smooth and calm movements I had emphasized in my dry-fire practice. Ultimately this hurt my time instead of improving it.

The same problems occur in my marksmanship training. These days I spend much more time teaching others how to shoot rifles than I spend shooting them myself. I’m trying to change that, but whenever I do get a chance to shoot a rifle I feel like the pressure on myself to do well is a huge barrier to success. I often start with a decent shot group, but the problem is knowing that I can do much better. I push myself to the point where my performance just gets worse, causing me more and more frustration. Eventually I have to pull myself back from the stress of trying too hard, and force myself to simply relax.

Rifle marksmanship, especially when you are talking about shooting using a sling, is ultimately about being relaxed. Let your bones and the sling do the support work while you align your body so you can make the shot. As they say, shooting is very much a mental game at this point. The harder you (or I in this case) actively try the more likely muscles are to become involved. I fuss the shot and as a result of trying too hard my groups open up.

Relax

If you find yourself having this problem yourself, go back to the basics. Be calm and collected and stop trying so hard. You’ll usually find that going a little slower and not making mistakes is actually faster than going as fast as you can and struggling the whole way there.

We put pressure on ourselves to do better with every shot, to increase our speed and get tighter groups. This pressure ultimately serves to do nothing other than to make things more difficult.

Personally I shoot the best when I have no expectations for myself. A couple years ago I had a chance to shoot my AR15 out to 600 yards. I was having trouble seeing the target through my iron sights and figured my rough elevation adjustment would be off anyway, so I really didn’t expect to even hit the target. I relaxed and shot a carefree group by the basics, and I was totally shocked when I saw the great group on my target.

I am fastest and most efficient when I worry less about speed and instead just worry about being smooth and practicing the fundamentals. You too may be surprised at the difference when you stop trying so hard to shoot your best. Focus on the technique rather than trying to make each shot perfect.

Remember slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Does self-imposed pressure negatively impact your performance? Let us know and post a comment below!

Debunking the Revolver Myth (or Why Revolvers Suck)

Image by szuppo

There is a crowd in the armed citizen world that would have you believe that a revolver is the ideal weapon for home defense (or to put in your wife’s hands for home defense, or to carry, etc). They are wrong.

Here is a point by point breakdown of why a revolver is not the ideal gun for home defense, even for the lazy jerk who doesn’t want to invest training time.

Reliability

The majority of these revolver fans will tell you that their revolver doesn’t malfunction. This is mostly true. The only malfunction you can really expect in a revolver is a failure to fire. If this occurs the immediate remedy is to squeeze the trigger again and try the next round. Most revolver malfunctions are going to be blamed on the ammo and not the gun itself.

Most modern semi-auto pistols are plenty reliable. I’ve put thousands of rounds through my Glock 17 with very few malfunctions. Sure there have been malfunctions, but these are rare. If you maintain the gun properly, it won’t be likely to malfunction.

Simplicity

Revolvers are said to be simple. They have no external safety, so there is essentially a single input – the trigger. Aim and squeeze is all you need to do to shoot the target.

I’m sorry to break this to people, but my Glock 17 has a control interface that is just as simple. I too can aim and squeeze without the hindrance of disengaging a safety mechanism. If the lack of external safety is your reason to use a revolver, there are plenty of semi-auto pistols to fill that role as well.

Safety

Revolver proponents are often quick to judge semi-autos based on the risk of injury. It shouldn’t be news to anyone that firearms can be dangerous when used improperly. Revolvers come with their own caveats.

Both types of pistol can hurt you. Semi-autos used improperly can bite you as the slide reciprocates (a bad grip on the pistol where your hand comes too high on the back-strap of the pistol). This type of injury would be unpleasant, but it can be easily avoided with a little training. A revolver on the other hand can take off or seriously injure your thumb if it is placed too far forward next to the cylinder. Also correctable with training, but not as easily. Do you really want to worry about becoming thumbless under pressure? I don’t.

Capacity

Most revolver users will claim that a revolver has enough ammo to get the job done. Most defensive revolvers carry a maximum of seven rounds. What if seven isn’t enough? Do you feel confident that seven rounds could put down multiple attackers? Reloading a revolver requires much more skill than the semi-auto pistol. The motor skills required are also far finer since you need to either load each round or line up speed strips or a moon clip to reload it. When the adrenaline starts pumping, fine motor skills like this will be out the window.

If I want to reload my Glock, I slide a fresh magazine into the mag well and at the press of a button, I’m ready to keep shooting. Its a little more complex than that if you are worried about speed, but it is certainly easier than futzing with rounds in a cylinder under pressure.

Unfortunately, it seems that many revolver fans completely overlook the reloading issue. Maybe you won’t ever need more than those seven rounds, but are you willing to gamble this way with your life? Your family’s lives? Even sillier, if we assume that we will never need to reload, a semi-auto generally carries many more rounds than a revolver. My Glock for example carries 17+1, and with an extended magazine can carry as much as 33+1 rounds if home defense is my goal.

Ultimately revolvers are the lazy man’s answer. Too often people choose a revolver thinking they won’t need to invest as much time and energy into learning how to use it. You are kidding yourself if you think you can avoid putting in substantial time training with any firearm. If you honestly can’t find time to train, I still think a semi-auto offers tremendous advantages over a revolver, and has fewer problems than you may think. If you can’t invest the minimal time to learn the basics of your weapon, should you really be arming yourself at all? A weapon in the hands of an unpracticed individual is a threat to yourself and those you love.

Revolvers may sound like an easy option if you are looking for something you can simply point and shoot, but I think many of us in the self-defense community should have higher goals. I’ll take the capacity of a semi-auto over the purported reliability of a revolver any day.

Do you agree that semi-autos are superior to revolvers or are you a revolver fan?

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