How Not To Get Shot Training

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

Recently a negligent shooting occurred at a training event down in Texas. From what I can gather about the event, students were being brought one by one through a shoot house doing low light training. An assistant instructor was coaching a shooter inside the shoot house when the lead instructor for the class started going through the shoot house without using a light.

When all was said and done, the assistant instructor took two shots to the abdomen and one to the arm. Thankfully he was stabilized on the scene and last I heard was still alive.

This event was definitely a failure safety-wise on a number of accounts. First of all, no-light shooting isn’t really something you do (at least without night-vision or thermals). You are responsible for every round that comes out of your gun, therefore you must know your target and what is beyond. It’s a well known safety rule.

The other failing was in the organization of the event itself. Obviously the operating procedures for running that shoot house were either lacking or were not followed, and as a result someone is in the hospital.

While what happened is a tragedy, and the guy who was instructing that class should suffer the consequences for his irresponsibility, it is also a learning experience. What this class demonstrates is a failing of not only the instructor, but of the students themselves. Sure, the instructor pulled the trigger, but the students have a responsibility for their own safety as well.

Your safety is your responsibility!

No matter what course you take, whether it is a very simple firearms safety or self-defense seminar, or the latest and greatest high-speed, low drag class, you can’t rely on anyone but yourself to keep you safe.

A good instructor will make sure things are safe and implement good safety protocols to prevent or mitigate an accident, but you can never trust them 100%. Second guess everything, because if you don’t you might just take two to the chest.

Do not assume the instructor knows what is best for safety

Last year I took VCAST, an excellent course put on by Southnarc that is geared specifically towards operating in and around vehicles. Craig (Southnarc) is one of the most safety conscious instructors I have had the pleasure to learn from. His safety briefings are second to none. Some of the shooting evolutions he puts his students through are far from textbook. You shoot in confined spaces with classmates in close proximity.

Despite this I have never felt like I was in any serious danger because the exercises were well thought out, and always under his direct observation. That was until I got to VCAST. My group was the second to go through VCAST with Craig, so some of the kinks just hadn’t been worked out.

One of the exercises involved us shooting inside the confines of a vehicle, unbelting, unholstering, and shooting out a side window. As there were 10 students in the class, Craig had us line up 5 vehicles end to end with 2 shooters per car, each getting a turn.

Before we started I noticed something that made me very uneasy. When going from the holster to the shooting position, the muzzle ended up pointing forward such that unless you were in the rear most car you had a chance of being muzzled. Not cool.

Did I suck it up and go along with it? Follow “big boy rules”? Hell no! My safety is important. Being well trained doesn’t help me if I’m dead or crippled. Instead I spoke up and called him out on it. Instead of taking everything Craig says as gospel, I provided a friendly suggestion. Instead of end to end, the cars could be lined up staggered such that you had a clear 90 degree space to point your muzzle. Problem solved. In fact, if you take VCAST, that’s how Craig does it now. If you get a chance, ask him about it – he’ll tell you it was me.

Don’t assume that the instructor knows what’s best safety-wise, we’re all human, and therefore can all make mistakes.

Do not assume your classmates are competent

I probably don’t need to go into much detail here. Every class I have been to has had at least one guy who is so unsafe they probably should not be allowed out of a padded room. Every one. You need to keep alert and aware of your surroundings 100% of the time, from the moment you get near the class until you get well clear of the facility.

You never know what some moron might be playing with in his car or what another student might do. At the Larry Vickers course I took this summer, there was an incident where someone managed to point their muzzle 180 degrees from the main berm towards the parking lot. With two side berms he still managed to find the worst possible direction.

Just because you are in an advanced class doesn’t mean your classmates are even remotely competent. Watch your surroundings, and be ready to be vocal about it. If the situation is minor or it’s after the fact, be polite but firm. But if someone is pointing a muzzle at you or being a doofus, be that jerk you always wanted to be (warning: language). Safety always needs to be the first priority.

Your safety is your responsibility. You almost always sign away your rights to sue when you show up at a class. That means you need to make sure you’re safe. Even the best students and instructors make mistakes and can do stupid unsafe things. Please don’t assume that someone’s credentials will keep you safe. Some people advocate body armor for taking classes, instead I recommend you bring the same attitude and awareness you bring with you every day in the real world. It will keep you far safer.

Do you have an experience from a class to share? Please comment below!

Toss the Sandbag, Rest, or Bipod

Photo credit: UK Bench Rest Shooting

Recently the club I belong to opened up a 200meter range that used to be for rimfire shooting only to now allow center-fire rifles. As a part of this process, they now require shooters to qualify in order to use the range with a center-fire rifle. Since I love me some long range shooting, I jumped at the chance to qualify. But…

What really disappointed me when I made it to one of the qualification sessions was that everyone was shooting off of a bench. Maybe I’m some sort of rifle marksmanship snob, but shooting off a bench rest or bipod doesn’t really seem like a demonstration of skill to me. I can lock my rifle in a vice and prove my rifle is qualified to shoot on the range, but I would rather demonstrate my ability instead of the rifle’s.

Shooting off the bench seems to be the norm these days. So normal in fact that the requirement for qualification was a 5” group at 200 meters, roughly a 2.3 minute of angle group. Most skilled shooters with a rack grade rifle and surplus ball ammunition should be capable of a 4 minute of angle group (that’s 9” at 200 meters) without the need for a bench (try prone with a sling).

If shooting from a bench was the requirement for use of the range, I think this expectation would be perfectly acceptable. Instead since prone is allowed once you have qualified, it just reinforces the fact that most people just can’t shoot a rifle these days. The majority of people qualifying showed up with some sort of .223 with a high-power scope and a bipod or shooting rest. Partly because that’s what people do these days, and partly because the requirements made it so most shooters who normally could pull off a 9” group at 200 meters from the prone position with a sling were concerned about qualifying.

Rather than play their game of shooting a scoped rifle off a rest, I took my M1 Garand. I got into a solid prone position, adjusted my iron sights based on my zero and understanding of trajectory, and proceeded to put a qualifying group on paper. I say this not because I want to show off (though I am really proud of my group!), but because I think it highlights what is wrong in the shooting world right now. To further rub it in, my wife then used the same rifle and qualified from the seated position… with a better group. I doubt that the majority of the bench rest qualifiers could achieve the same. Many seemed to have enough trouble getting a 5 inch group with their fancy rest and high-power scope.

Once, America was known as a nation of Riflemen. It was said that you would find one behind every blade of grass. Do you really think a Rifleman would need to shoot off of a bench rest? I don’t.

Want to really prove your marksmanship skills with your rifle? Do it without the rest.

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?

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