Monday, December 29, 2014

Commentary – Use a “cautious tongue” . . .


As the character Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg said in the movie “The Fifth Element” . . . “I’ve heard this music before.” Those that did not experience of national meltdown of the late 60’s have little idea how bad things can get. I was in Detroit the day the wheels came off in that city. The summer of ’67 was permanently market by the violence and destruction that covered our nation. “I’ve heard this music before”.

Fast forward to 2014. Our nation’s summer ended badly with criminals and thugs and “terrorists” burning through Ferguson, MO – parts of LA and Southern California. Marchs, “die ins”, looting . . . who could ever believe it would get worse.

The usual suspects took to podiums – Sharpton, Jackson, Holder . . . even Obama. They decrying the death of a man who had committed a strong armed robbery and attacked a police officer while wrestling for the officer’s weapon. Once outside the car, rather than submitting to arrest he charged the officer – and paid with his life.

New York saw a man selling “singles” die of a heart attack while resisting arrest. I fully acknowledge that the “crime” verges on insanity – yet the same lawmakers of New York that decry his death are the very same ones who have inflected their ridiculous taxes on cigarettes with the goal “protecting” the smoker from his/her self. When a 300+ pound man resists arrest – after the police are called by local businesses that he is being a nuisance to their operations – they will use whatever force is necessary to subdue the man. Pro tip . . . don’t resist.

These unfortunate deaths lead to more prattling by the elected and appointed officials about the actions of the police force – their heavy handed manner, their implied brutality. From the Mayor to the Governor – officers were thrown under the bus, investigations promised and flames were fanned.

So here we are today, nearly the end of 2014 . . . and it appears to now be open season on the men in blue as well as firefighters. What started with the assassination of two police officers in New York has grown to nationwide “hunt” for our nation’s police officers. Take a walk through this article – this is where we are today . . .

This summary should send a chill through all of us. So what does this mean “us”, our community of defensive handgun users, our students made up of the new and inexperienced shooters?

Things are becoming more “frayed around the edges” of the fabric of our society. It is becoming much easier to simply “take” rather than “earn”. And should you be in the possession of a thing someone else wants – be it an iPhone or a new pair of court shoes – there is a new “permission” to simply take it by whatever means is necessary. How real is this fear? Take a few moments to read this story recently posted by Greg Ellifritz – about a mother’s strength and determination to defend her family and Greg’s kindness – something we should all strive to emulate. I’ll wait right here until you’re done . . . .

She took up arms out of determination and fear for her family . . . we’ve all seen that from time to time in our courses, something to be admired and fostered.

What should our response be?

Support our local police forces. That does NOT mean to not hold them accountable for their actions – but if we don’t have their backs, why on earth should they even make an effort to defend our communities. Are there bad cops – yep, just like there are bad clergy. But the vast majority is fulfilling their personal need to serve their community by putting their lives on the line each and every day. They deserve our support and our thanks.

Carry . . . EVERY FRICKIN’ DAY. The “time” chooses you . . . the predator chooses you . . . very hard to defend yourself if your defensive weapon is locked in the safe.

Be smart . . . YOU know the places in your communities that are “no go” zones . . . don’t go. Period.

Train. That defensive weapon on your body is of little use if you can’t employ it or hit your threat once you’ve drawn it.

Finally, my advice is to have a “cautious tongue”. This caution is on a lot of levels.

In crowds, behavior is “herd” based, not individually motivated. Should you encounter one of these street scenes – die ins, blockages, protests – my first advice is to LEAVE THE AREA. And, right behind that – shut your mouth because you will not just engage the person in front of your face . . . you will “speak” to the herd, to the mob mentality . . . and it will not end well. Add to that the just plain fact that the entire encounter will be caught on multiple cell phones and be posted to every social media site before the last words are fully out of your mouth. Should it end very badly with a body at your feet . . . every word you said will be reviewed, replayed, distorted, exaggerated and you will be well and fully tried before you place a single foot in the courtroom. One more time, with feeling . . .


In my opinion, the same rule of thumb should extend to the comfort of your own home as well. Especially regarding social media. Honestly, I’m enraged by what is going on in our country – on a fairly broad spectrum. Still, that does not, in any way, give me permission to act on that anger, and seldom do I express it publically.

Should you express a desire for raw, physical violence against specific people, specific races, specific occupations . . . and are then drawn into an altercation with any of them – you have left a large physical body of evidence as to your intentions regarding them. In the event that things end very badly, again a body at your feet – rest assured that every syllable you have typed, every dotted “I” and crossed “t” will be presented at your trial. One more time, with feeling . . .


My bottom line advice . . .

Defend your police force – they are a large part of the glue that holds a civil society together.

Defend yourself – you have the right to life – PERIOD. Carry. Train. Be willing to defend yourself, your family or someone placed in your charge should the need arise.

Observe. You know your community. Watch it. Protect it. Keep a good sense of how things are going.

Share in private – with trusted friends. The world of social media doesn’t need to know your thoughts on Ferguson, New York, the assassination of officers – express your condolences . . . not your anger and threats.

Be vigilant. Carry a “cautious tongue” . . . and a loaded weapon.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Training – “chasing the hole”


We’ve all been there with new shooters . . .

BLAMM! . . . A small .22 cal hole appears 2 inches above and 3 inches to the right of the “x-ring”.

ME: Alright, just keep your sight alignment and your sight picture in the exact same spot, right on the “x-ring” . . .

BLAMM! . . . Another small .22 cal hole appears . . . about 2 inches above and 3 inches to the right of the . . . last hole the new shooter had created – now about 4 inches above and 6 inches to the right of the “x-ring” . . .

ME: Nope – don’t “chase the hole” . . . watch your sight alignment, sight picture . . . try again.

This time the new shooter renews their focus on the “x-ring” and presses off the round . . . BLAMM!! . . . and a .22 cal hole appears within an inch of the very first hole. BLAMM!! . . . a third hole . . . BLAMM!! . . . fourth hole . . . a final BLAMM!! and a fifth hole appears. The final result? A nice little inch-ish group has formed slightly high and right of the “x-ring”. The “chase” has stopped and the new shooter has learned one of the “fundamental no-no-s”, don’t “chase the hole”.

The “error” is common – a new shooter sends a round down range, sees where it hits, decides his “aim is off” and then takes aim at the newly formed hole . . . only to make a new one a bit farther on . . . and so it goes . . . “chasing the hole”. The solution is simple, focus on your sight alignment/sight picture/trigger press . . . and don’t worry about the hole until your string of fire is complete – then view the results.

I often hear; “well – my sights must be off!” MMmmm – typically, not so much. Proof is usually provided by either having the new shooter take a bench rest position or simply sending a magazine downrange myself – it’s usually NOT the “sights being off”. It’s typically the fundamentals – sight alignment, sight picture, grip, trigger press, stance – shooting is not rocket science. With a bit more encouragement and success – new shooters can easily stop this temptation and begin to make reasonable groups within their selected target area. But thinking about this typical beginners struggle lead to a bit broader view . . . many of us “chase the hole” but in different ways . . . and that’s what I’d like to chat about today.

As in any “industry” . . . and believe me, there is a shooting “industry” (Shot Show anyone?) . . . there is a deluge of “must haves” to improve your gun, improve your grip, provide a better trigger, barrel, slide . . . the list of products is virtually endless with we shooters spending an estimated $6 BILLION annually to make sure we have the best weapon and we send enough rounds down range to be proficient – well, some of us do anyway. All well and good, I certainly wish all the providers every success! But for the folks I focus on – the new and inexperienced shooter – the temptation to “chase the hole” can be almost irresistible . . . so they buy this set of sights because it “guarantees rapid threat acquisition”, and that manufacturer guarantees their pair of grips on their 1911 will firm their grip up instantly, the folks in booth xxx say their laser sights will guarantee quick hits regardless of the light level, the manufacturer across the aisle is adamant that their holster makes every draw smooth as silk . . . and on and on it goes. The message? Spend money with us . . . use our gear . . . and you will “hit the x” every time.

“Chasing the hole” via purchasing new sights, grips, slides, attachments, holsters . . . you name it, is something virtually every shooter falls prey to at different points throughout their life – it just happens. For the new shooter though, it can be an expensive exercise that is meant to take the place of good instruction, good fundamentals, and good foundational equipment. If you find yourself “chasing the hole” buy buying the latest and greatest fad chunk of equipment . . . please, stop. Re-settle. Go back to the range and work on the fundamentals first . . . then, when you can place a fist sized group center mass on demand . . . play with gear. But never, NEVER expect a chunk of equipment to pick up the slack for a poor grip, poor sight alignment, poor sight picture, poor trigger press . . . it simply doesn’t work that way.

Let’s move from gear to . . . YouTube. God.Help.Us.All!!! The array of guaranteed techniques to help us all be faster, better, tacti-cooler-er is, again, endless. Many . . . MANY, MANY, MANY . . . new shooters try to get good training “on the cheap” and YouTube is pretty much irresistible. If the “instructor” has shooter pants and boots, a shooter shirt, appropriate amounts of facial hair, a shooter ball cap with dark shooter glasses, mag carriers on their hip (or a carrier on their chest), shooter gloves and acts like a cross between John Wayne and Rambo . . . “He’s The Man!!” and is surely imparting wisdom from numerous “engagements outside the wire!” Now, truth be told, there are a couple double-handfulls of instructors who are the real deal . . . and thousands that simple aren’t. As the Old Knight said . . . “Choose Wisely”.

For the new shooter – again – fundamentals matter . . . fundamentals let you get the hits consistently . . . fundamentals will save your life! YouTube derp . . . not so much.

Finally – trainers. There some very good, very professional, very experienced trainers in the training market. And no – you do NOT need to be an “operator” to be an excellent instructor. In fact, the number of folks that actually ride the very pointy end of the spear are far fewer than most expect. That said, the number of trainers that put the time in to learn their craft (both the teaching and shooting side) are also far fewer than most would suspect as well.

I have a number of suggestions when you are looking for an instructor . . .

Reviews matter – the internet can be a great tool to research an instructor. Many folks who invest substantial money in taking training will post an AAR – After Action Report – of the coursework. Look for them, search your prospective instructor and see what others are saying about them.

What do they have to say? There are a number of national trainers that have regular “columns” in magazines, websites or their own blog space. What do they say there? Does it actually make sense? Do they allow comments and if challenged have reasonable explanations for what they wrote? Or do they rely on the “I’ve been doing this a long time” argument?

Have they trained lately? Have they taken any recent training? Who do they go to? Who do they admire? Who would they recommend that you take coursework from? Have they read any new books of interest lately? What video series have they watched recently? In other words . . . are THEY still learning . . .?

For the new shooter – trainers are yet another way to “chase the hole”. Remember, your ultimate goal is to make a fist sized group of holes center mass on a mortal threat as quickly as you can. While instructors can certainly have a very positive affect (or negative for that matter) on your shooting ability . . . it is YOU and your willingness to work on the fundamentals that will make the difference. Is there value in taking instruction from different instructors? Absolutely – take coursework, participate FULLY . . . and then integrate what works for you into your fundamentals. But “chasing the hole” but shedding one instructor’s methods for another’s . . . and another’s . . . and another’s . . . will do nothing to make you a better shooter.

What’s the best way to “stay on target” and not “chase the hole”? It’s simple really . . . have a plan, and then work the plan.

If you’ve not done it before . . . for this coming year, 2015 – make a plan! Some suggestions.

Carry everywhere you can – every day, including at home. Make your   defensive weapon part of your wardrobe. Get comfortable with it. Update belts, holsters, pants, shirts so you can carry comfortably each and every day.

Do some dry fire work at least 3 days a week. Set aside 15 minutes 3 days a week to do 25 perfect draws, drives to threats and engagements. Set up a  range in your garage or basement with a good backstop, put up a standard defensive target, mark off 15 feet, pick up a “LaserLyte” round and do some good work while you are there.

Take a course this year. There are any number of trainers that travel nationally and hundreds of solid local trainers. Do your research, read the reviews . . . and book a course for yourself. Go learn something new!

Read at least 3 books on the shooting arts, defensive arts, legal ramifications of a good shoot, way to defend your home . . . there is no shortage of good material out there. Find 3 books and devour them.

Take 3 video courses this year. As with written material – there is a broad range of video material as well. A suggestion . . . leave the tacti-cool material sit for a while. Find good, solid defensive coursework that deals with the fundamentals, defense of your home, working around a vehicle . . . but set the “run and gun” coursework aside until your fundamentals are PERFECT!

Take a First Aid course – be it the Red Cross basic first aid/CPR/AED training or one of the new combat trauma courses that have been introduced. An annual refresher or some entirely new skillset may well save your life someday.

Set up a range schedule. How many times should you go to the range? Everyone has an opinion on that . . . here’s mine. Visit at least once a month, take 100 rounds with you. The most important part of a range trip? HAVE A FRICKIN’ PLAN!! What do you want to work on that particular trip? Perhaps it’s your draw . . . with full focus on it being smooth and allowing speed to follow from there. Or it might be doing the draw from concealment, perhaps just light concealment – an untucked shirt. Or, if it’s winter, from under a full winter coat. One trip might be center mass hits only . . . while others would focus on precision. The bottom line . . . it is THIS, HERE, ON THE RANGE . . . that brings everything we chatted about above together. Range trips should be the focal point of all your work.

Range trips are about so much more that simply “making holes” . . . they are about integrating new knowledge into your fundamental skill set, they are about affirming your continual growth as a shooter, they are about finding areas that you need work on, they are about polishing your skills . . .

. . . and not just “chasing the hole”.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Range Trip – Speed, Hits and Squib Loads


I found myself with a chunk of time this morning after a quick visit to a client. The range I use is a few minutes north of town so after a quick trip past the Post Office, I headed out to the range. The weather was fairly heavy fog and mist but the temps were in the low 50s – not “primo” weather, but a heck of a lot better that our usual sub-freezing temps for this time of year.

As is my habit, there were specific things to work on with this trip. There is a phrase that flies around the training community – “a balance of speed and precision”. Basically what it means is that in the vast majority of lethal force encounters, speed is paramount because they occur at close distance and happen very quick . . . hence the need to engage a threat with real speed.

That is balanced by the need to actually hit the threat. The bullet that leaves your barrel is yours – you own it and all that it does. It is far better to leave it inside your lethal threat than some innocent bystander . . . hence the need for precision.

To refine this a bit farther – you need to remember what a “hit” means. Again, a phrase that roams the gunny world is “combat effective hits”. We’ve discussed this before but by way of reminder it means that the hit must degrade – in a real manner – your lethal threats ability to continue their attack.

There is a primary region on a person’s body that contains a concentration of vital functions to a body – that pie plate size area roughly known as “center mass”. Here you can affect the circulatory system, respiratory system and nervous system.

So . . . your want your hits to be a quick as possible while being as certain as you can that they impact your lethal threat in that pie plate sized area. A combination of both speed and precision.

Let’s talk a bit about speed. In this context it means how quickly you can draw your defensive weapon, aim it at your lethal threat and engage it with multiple rounds in an effort to stop it. How much time do you have to accomplish this? Not much . . . let’s call it two-ish seconds depending on a whole range of variables, the most important being the distance between you and your lethal threat. An average person can cover 20-30 feet in 2 seconds – THAT is your time limit.

There are a number of things that impede your ability to meet this time limit . . . your level of training, your clothing, your holster, your ability to overcome your fear/surprise/shock and your will to win. It’s a complex formula. There is a simple solution . . . hard work, period. You need to do the time, choose good gear, get good training, spend time on dry fire and polish that with range work.

Other environmental issues can arise too. For me, in Iowa, winters require multiple layers of clothing. On COLD!!! days I typically have on Underarmor, a long-sleeved shirt and a layered jacket along with some kind of reasonably heavy glove. Does this affect speed?? Oh Hell Yeah! Look for my post from January 2014 about my range trip. -1*F, 25 MPH wind, wind chill running about -13*F . . . yep chilly. My draw? 3 seconds was about my best for that trip. Honestly, without changing my mode of carry, that’s going to be it. (That’s a whole other topic – we’ll pass on that for right now.)

For this trip, my average time was 2.02-ish. It’s been some time since I focused on just speed but I wasn’t terribly disappointed with this time. Today I could shed the heavy coat and only had on my Henley shirt. My goal was to spend a couple hundred rounds doing this . . . it didn’t quite work that way. More on that later.

Following speed is accuracy – hit what you mean to hit. I was just using a standard Tombstone target, the center 6” circle highlighted with a 2x2 post-it note for the “head” shot. Distance was 15 feet. And, each draw was timed as well.

If you had all the time in the world, you’d take a good stance, get a proper sight alignment and sight picture and press the trigger straight to the rear. If you had all the time in the world . . . is there a way to do it faster? Well, yes and no. At this point “words” become important because everyone hears what they hear from their own training and POV. You hear words like “point shooting”, “focal point shooting”, “combat focus shooting”, “top of slide” aiming, “metal on meat” aiming, “coarse sight alignment” . . . all headed in the same direction. They are all leading you to align your defensive handgun on the center mass of the threat as quickly as you can, as accurately as you can given the distance between you and the threat.

For very close distances – contact distances – you will simply draw, index your body on the threat and press the trigger. Once you have some effect on the lethal threat, you can create distance and reengage if the threat persists.

At distances allowing more “time” it is inherent on you to balance the speed of your engagement with the accuracy you need to make sure your hits on the threat have a real effect. This requires you to focus on the threat, draw your defensive weapon and transition your focus from the threat to the front of your weapon as you create a solid sight picture. And, as soon as you’re confident of your shot placement – engage your threat. Sound complicated? Well, it is . . . and it isn’t. This is exact point where the balance between speed and precision comes in. It is also a time to focus on the goal – solid hits on your lethal threat – and not so much on the words that are used. Again, you need to be able to clearly articulate YOUR process in getting a solid sight alignment and sight picture on your lethal threat. You need to be able to explain your words. And, you need to be able to listen and understand what other folks are explaining as well.

So how did my day go with that? Well, I sent 28 rounds down range – 4 at the head and the rest center mass. My hit rate? 79% My goal is typically 80% though I have been moving that up to 90% for most of my recent range trips. Obviously – work left to do here. Which I had intended to do – 28 rounds is hardly worth the trip.

Target (Medium)

Round 29 went “pphhhhttttt!!!” As my body was running through a “slap, rack and shoot” drill, by the time I hit “rack” my brain registered THAT WAS A FRICKIN’ SQUIB LOAD!!!. So, I dropped the magazine, racked the slide a couple of times ejecting a live round and had a “look see”. I popped off the slide, removed the spring and took out the barrel and looked down it from the chamber end . . . nothing but black. I took out my flashlight and threw some light down the barrel – only to be greeted by a copper glow. Heavy sigh.

Squib in Barrel (Medium)

I have a lightweight pistol cleaning kit in my range bag so I screwed a couple sections together and tried to push out the stuck bullet . . . nope, wasn’t happening. So, packed it up for the day and headed back to the office. Once on the work bench a steel rod was easily hammered down on the bullet pushing it out the chamber end. A quick reassembly and reload – my trusty Glock 17 was once again loaded and at my 4 o’clock.

Barrel and Bullet (Medium)

So the moral of this tale Sherman ( come on – you know who Sherman is ) – speed matters . . . as does accuracy. One means little without the other. This needs to be an integral part of your training – period. Spend the time, make it your priority . . .

. . . and get the hits.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Training - Course Development Part 2


Course development is an interesting task. For me it hits a number of my hot buttons.

I love to teach. I enjoy the process of taking something I believe is important – and sharing it with others. From teaching new clients how to use our product to teaching a new shooter how to safely handle their firearm – I simply enjoy the entire process.

I enjoy the learning part of teaching. Things change – technology, points of view, skill sets, best approaches – and if I, as an instructor – am not moving forward, neither are my students. For example – I first learned to shoot a 1911 on a military range in the summer of 1969. The process was to blade to your target (it was never a threat, it was a target), take your support hand and stick it in your pocket – or waistband, or hip pocket – extend your shooting arm fully, get sight picture/sight alignment and pull the trigger. This was the introductory shooting stance – which has much in common with bulls eye shooters of today and a far cry from today’s defensive shooting stances.

Enter Jeff Cooper and things changed with the “Modern Technique” of shooting a handgun. Obviously much more suited for defensive shooting but typically taught in a fairly static position. Still, the company he founded, today known as Gunsite, is pretty much a “have too” on the list of schools “shooters” have on their list to attend.

Within the last 15 or so years, new techniques for defensive shooting have appeared from trainers like Travis Haley, Rob Pincus, Gave Suarez, Chris Costa, Larry Vickers to name just a few. They have taken much of their personal experience from the law enforcement and military world – lessons that were hard earned – and adapted them to skill sets that can provide a defensive shooter a leg up should the real world intrude on their life in a very harsh way.

As an instructor the lesson here is clear – grow, learn, adapt and share with your students through the current coursework you provide. For me, what that meant was that it was time to update the handgun coursework I offer. I have long offered a “Handgun 1” and a “Handgun 2” course. But, since I first put them together – I’ve grown both as a shooter and instructor, it was time for an update.

If you remember, in November a friend and I headed east to yet another friend’s company to run our first blush of updated coursework past a number of his instructors and former students. You can read the full account here. Honestly, it being our first time rolling out the coursework, I could have done things better. I made the error of presenting the material in “parallel” presenting it from both a new student POV, as well as sharing the information with instructors. While it went OK, it left us with no real feel for overall course flow and timing. Lesson learned. Which brings me to this week and my presentation to some of my trainer friends and students of theirs – as well as some very special “guests”.

Let me chat with those of you who are trainers first – some considerations. When you are starting down the path of developing your own course work or updating your course work – one of the things to remember is that you’ve been “in the forest” a long time. Your course is “your baby”. You’ve developed it, taught it, enhanced it . . . you are very much emotionally invested in it. When you begin the process of updating it – or developing the next level to it – it behooves you to bring in folks from the “outside” to periodically review it and offer suggestions. I’ve been fortunate during this process to have access to a number of experienced trainers to offer advice, share their experiences and offer suggestions. Frankly, my friend and I are pretty darn happy with what we have. During the presentation linked above – even after all our efforts – a handful of holes were found. Good to find – frustrating to realize we left them out – but it provided the chance to add that material to the mix.

So what would a second round evaluation look like? For me, over the past few days, as I stated I had the opportunity present the material again to a solid set of “students”. A quick run down – A police Captain of a medium city-sized police force that has been a weapons and team instructor for over 15 years. Two other medium sized city police officers that are also team members and trainers – one in combatives as well. A young woman who is an active trainer and blogger as well as an active combatives student. The CEO of our state’s premier gun rights organization along with that organization’s current President. A young woman who is a very new shooter with only a basic pistol course under her belt over the past 2 years. Another young woman who is an avid trap shooter and just getting into defensive pistol shooting. And, the developer of what will be Iowa’s largest indoor shooting range opening mid-winter 2016.

What’s that saying – go big or go home?? The officers have all attended every large name school you can imagine. They are active instructors within their departments as well has having their own “line” of CCW coursework they teach in their area of the state. They are demanding instructors – and they took the coursework as students.

The first day was rolling through my updated Handgun 1 course, this time – taught as though all were students. What this revealed is that my time estimates were pretty much on the button for classroom time – right at 4 hours. This was followed by lunch and the range work – coming in at around 3 ½ hours, about what I had expected.

Once the course had been taught, another hour of “debrief” took place with me taking in the feedback. Suggestions were made to integrate a dry-fire block into the classroom element, some thoughts on the range work (which would be smoothed out by the dry-fire block in the classroom) and then on actual course content. Overall – the thought was that the material, the flow and the overall content were solid. With the tweaks – we are pretty much there. The advantage to reviews provided by this level of “student” is that they have a broad range of experience, little tolerance for BS and a willingness to be honest and direct. Exactly what you need to develop relevant coursework.

Another option as part of the debrief is to have a meal together. After the day, after a quick cleanup, after your mind has quieted a bit – go out together. And that is what we did, with as many as could make it, had some good Mexican food and a more relaxed period of sharing information, asking questions and evaluation. Here to, points got made, refined – as well as tummies filled. It was a good night.

20141208_175938 (Medium)

Day two started at the same time – 8AM. I make the assumption in HG2 that it is a course that may well be taken weeks or many months or even a year or so after HG1 has been taken. That means my first lessons are very similar to HG1. That allowed me to focus on new material, and “play with” some ideas for the dry fire block recommended after the first day’s work. Given it was a bit ad-hoc, I think it went well with the new shooters virtually all saying – “would have been good to do this yesterday”. Yep, would have . . .

Again the classroom material was covered in about 4 hours, followed by lunch and hitting the range again. HG2 deals with moving from using a handgun from pretty much a fixed location (think home defense and a safe room) to becoming a person who carries a firearm throughout the day. We began with a quick refresh, integrated a large sidestep, holster draw and both aimed fire with a very rapid site acquisition based on distance as well as precision shooting requiring the ability to place a single round within a colored/numbered square, circle or box. The phrase is a “Balance of Speed and Precision” – but the lesson is that hits matter and if you have enough time to place an accurately aimed shot, use the time.

We progressed from single round engagements or controlled pairs to strings of fire – all interrupted by the call for a precision shot on a numbered shape. Worked through a set of drills using a barricade and then on to the final drill - a “figure 8” drill. A single student walks a “figure-8” around a couple markers on the floor. The instructor calls a target and an aim point on that target. The result is a multi-round engagement on the “UP” command or a precision shot on the called numbered-shape.

After a quick cleanup, we adjourned to the classroom for one more AAR/impressions/ideas session. This was by far the most complicated day and generated more thoughts on content, methods of teaching it and a few more holes that were found. It accomplished exactly what it should have. Kindly, they – the LEO trainers – ended on the things they liked – a nice way to finished – thanks guys. Here too the bottom line is that content, drills, pace were very good. Fill in the holes, we should have our coursework for the next year polished and ready for spring.

So why even share this process? Well, for one I always do an AAR (After Action Report), it lets me get things on paper while fairly fresh. It also lets those who took the course see what “I heard/saw”. I am asking that they each write a comprehensive AAR as well so if I missed something, they can see it and remind me. Feedback is the instructors “gold” – and worth every word!

And, if you are an instructor looking to update coursework for the coming year, it’s my encouragement to you to gather a development team, define your “end game” – what do you want to have the student be able to do when they are finished with your course – and develop your coursework in that type of environment instead of just on your own. Finally, you simply must wring it out before you begin to market/teach it. I promise you there will be holes. Teaching it to other experienced, seasoned instructors is simply invaluable

Again, to the folks willing to give up two very full days of their life to have me a hand – thank you! If I can ever return the favor, just call.

A photo of the happy crew!

20141209_151058 (Medium)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Training - Long Guns - Part 3 - Consistency - The Barrel


I started this group of posts on shooting a long gun accurately with a definition of exactly what I mean when I use the word “accurate”. Next, I began with one of the fundamental components that play into an “accurate” shot – the cartridge. In this post, I want to address a second element that affects an “accurate” shot – the barrel.

The two primary purposes of a long gun’s barrel are to contain the explosion from firing a cartridge and to project the majority of the energy that the explosion generates down the barrel towards the muzzle. And, to then grab the bullet, spin it and send it towards the intended target with as high a degree of accuracy as it can.

Again, just as a quick reminder, “accuracy” is a subjective term tailored to the task at hand. A sniper’s definition when making a cold bore shot at 500 yards is something entirely different than an armed citizen engaging a threat in their home at 45 feet. Accordingly, barrels can vary widely between tasks. For matters of this discussion, it is a broad based topic and not meant to completely cover the fine details of producing a barrel that can consistently shoot a sub 1-MOA out to 500 yards and beyond. It is simply my intent to provide enough information to see how much time, effort and money it can take to build an “accurate” rifle barrel.

Raw Material

Let’s begin with the raw material. First what it must do. It must contain chamber pressures approaching 50,000 and handle bullet velocities in excess of 3,000 fps. And, do so again and again and again . . . while maintaining its individual form factors insuring that the 10th shot or 100th or 300th is within the design specifications of the barrel.

In today’s world there are two primary types of steel that are used for this task. The first is Chrome Molybdenum used for such items as drive shafts, connector rods or axels for heavy machinery. In the US, these are typically designated 4140, 4150 and 4340. These particular types of steel are typically cheaper than other alternatives and can be readily coated for the familiar “blue” or “black rifle” color we are all familiar with.

The alternative material is typically stainless steel. Designated as 416 stainless it has the ability to be hardened by heat treating. It has a high chrome content, typically around 10% and has sulfur added to enhance it machining ability. In this configuration it is described as “free machining” and is “rust resistant”. It is widely held that stainless barrels have a longer life and are more accurate. Again, keep in mind is context driven.

Since a barrel needs to contain an explosion that can approach 50,000 psi, its “tensile strength” becomes another important characteristic you must pay attention to. Tensile strength is measured in PSI and it that force required to break a 1” rod by pulling on both ends until the rod separates. For the types of steel we are talking about, their tensile strength typically exceeds 100,000 PSI, twice the expected pressure expected to be contained by the chamber.

To adjust a barrel’s tensile strength it can be “hardened” – typically through heating. The balance that needs to be struck here is between tensile strength and how “brittle” the barrel becomes. Very brittle barrels that are struck on everything from rock to trees may well fracture making for a very bad day the next time a round is fired. In general, measured on the Rockwell C scale of hardness, barrels comes in at between 25 to 32.

Finally, while being heat treated to adjust the tensile strength and hardness of a barrel, stress can be introduced into the steel. As the barrel is run through the milling process and steel is removed these stresses may well bend the metal. To circumvent that, the raw rod is typically heated to a temperature around 600*C and then allowed to cool slowly over the better part of a day. This process may be repeated more than once to make sure the metal going to milling is as stress free as it can be made.

Most barrel “stock” is 1.25 inches in diameter and between 12 and 20 feet long. It is from this stock that a raw barrel is cut and prepared for milling.

Barrel 1

Drilling the Hole

There are specially built drills – Gun Drills – that are used to drill a very precise hole in the center of the stock barrel. Modern metals have made this process a bit easier as have modern lubricants. Depending on the machine either the drill is pressed through the barrel or the stock barrel is pressed onto the drill. The final result is a hole, precisely down the middle of the barrel that is typically 5 thousandths smaller than the desired bore diameter.

Reaming the Hole

Once the preliminary hole is drilled, a ream is used to mill the hole to the proper bore size as well as putting a high quality finish on the bore as well. Again the range of material used to make the ream varies providing tools that can ream a bore at speeds that vary from 1 inch per minute to as quickly as 10 inches per minute.

Rifling the Barrel

Rifling is the creation of “lands” – which are the diameter of the bore and “groves” which is where material is carved out typically to a depth that is a few thousandths. There are three primary methods of rifling a barrel – Cutting, Button Rifling and Hammer Forging.


The oldest method invented in Nuremburg in the very late 1400s. Each of the grooves is removed, one grove at a time. Each cut, 1/10,000 of an inch is made. Once the first pass in made, the process is repeated until the desired depth is achieved. The typical time to do a barrel using this method is one hour.

As is the case many times, war accelerates technology. During WWII larger machines with advanced cutting heads replaced the “single point” machines that greatly accelerated the rifling process.

Button Rifling

The Button method radically accelerated the rifling process. A tungsten carbide “button” is formed with the rifling pattern created in “relief” – i.e. the grooves are raised to remove material and the lands are indented to leave material behind in the barrel.

The button is then attached to a “rifling head” that sits atop a steel rod that is then hydraulically pushed – or pulled - through the bore. The rifling head is rotated in such a way to provide the correct “twist rate” for the finished barrel. The metal for the grooves is removed, the metal for the lands is left behind.

Using the button method a barrel can have its rifling added in approximately a minute.

Hammer Forging

War again entered the picture with the German’s development of hammer forging. A tungsten carbide mandrel with the rifling in relief – as with Button Rifling – is inserted into a bore. A series of opposing hammers then use a rotary process to sequentially hammer the barrel down on to, and into the shape of the tungsten carbide mandrel. As this process continues the barrel physically lengthens growing as much as 1/3 in length.

Today’s hammer forges can turn out a finished barrel in about three minutes. While having the advantage of a highly polished interior there is significant stress introduced into the barrel during the hammer forging process. As such, true target shooters shun this type of barrel. That said, many manufacturers have begun to adopt hammer forging for many of their firearms for uses from hunting to military.

Adding the Profile

The final profile of the barrel is added nest – from “pencil” barrels to fluted barrels, care must be taken during the profiling process to assure that there is no changes in the centerline of the finished barrel. The material that is removed it typically done by a simple lathe.

Barrel 2


Lapping is a finishing process to polish the bore, remove any machining marks and tight spots. While embraced by some, others simply consider this part of a breaking in process and rather than lapping, prefer to “shoot it out”.

Final Accuracy of the barrel

There are two elements to this. First, that the bore is perfectly centered on the chamber milled into the rear of the barrel. The bore needs to be perfectly concentric for its entire length. The rifling must be consistent from the front of the Free Bore area to the end of the barrel.

The second element is the chamber that is milled into the rear of the barrel and centered on the bore. It is there that the worlds of a consistent cartridge, a finely machined barrel and chamber meet. One must fit the other perfectly with the bullet perfectly centered in the bore and its Bearing Surface resting in the Free Bore area. A perfect cartridge, containing a perfect bullet shot down the bore of a perfectly milled barrel will deliver as accurate a shot as the firearm is capable of delivering.

Barrel Chamber - 2

It is at this point again where we once again meet up with the word “accuracy”. The more accurate each and every shot must be, the more the machining of the barrel and the manufacture of the cartridge matters. For defensive purposes, at ranges out to 300 yards – you have much more flexibility than you do for precision shooting out to 500 yards and beyond.

Know why you are purchasing that particular long gun – then pay for the accuracy you need for the purpose of the gun.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Training – Why did you shoot?


As I write this, it’s very late November 2014. We are in the immediate aftermath of the Grand Jury Verdict in the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson. I suspect even years in the future you’ll be able to easily Google information about the shooting. The purpose if this post is not to rehash the past 3+ months of news stories about the incident, but rather to use it as a catalyst for a discussion with you. Why did you shoot?

I’m taking you to a – hopefully – fictitious future where you have used your defensive weapon to defend yourself against what you perceived as a deadly threat. Your use of force as resulted in the death of the attacker . . . and you have been asked to explain yourself.

First a few disclaimers. I am NOT an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. Nor am I a law enforcement officer either. Yet I have spent hundreds of hours on different parts of this specific topic. It is a topic you need to put on your “urgent to-do” list. The information I am about to present is but the tip of the iceberg of the things you will be expected to know. So why bother? Because everyone needs to start somewhere. Everyone needs to understand that simply saying the words “I was in fear for my life” get you bupkis! I want you to begin to really think how you would articulate (remember that word) your specific actions – beginning with why you carry a gun . . . all the way to why you pressed the trigger. While watching the allegations being made against Officer Wilson, the outright perjury that was offered to the grand jury and the 24/7 media hype – it should be apparent to all reading this that should you ever take a life in defense of yourself, your family or someone in your charge . . . you better be able to explain why. So, as you read through this article . . . picture yourself in one of the TV cop interrogation rooms – with your attorney – answering the many aspects of the question . . . Why did you shoot?

Why do you own or carry a gun?

Let’s start there. On the day you took a life you had a gun . . . why? Now, today, would be a good time to starting thinking of the answer to that. Perhaps you have been physically threatened by someone and you feel the need for protection. Perhaps your home has been broken into in the past, or you’ve already been physically attacked. Perhaps you were assaulted or raped in the past. Maybe crime is on the rise in your part of town. Something has moved you to purchase a defensive weapon. You need to be honest with yourself and clarify your answer so that should the need arise, you can clearly articulate why.

For me personally, I’ve chatted about this in many articles in the past. Even here in central Iowa, things have become frayed around the edges. Once quiet larger towns that now see weekly shootings, an increase in drug traffic, use of farm chemicals in the manufacture of Meth, folks stretched thin . . . thin enough for them to take shortcuts. The carrying of a defensive weapon doesn’t feel “out of line” but rather it just makes common sense.

Why did you choose that gun and ammunition?

Another questions that the gunny side of the house loves to talk on, and on, and on, and on about. But . . . really . . . should you be forced to defend yourself with the handgun on your side . . . why did you choose that gun? And, past that . . . can you shoot it? Can you show your training history – both course work presented by training professionals and your personal training that you do when you go to the range? How many hours did you spend on the range this year? What did you work on? How many rounds did that work require?

How about your defensive ammunition? What defensive round do you carry in your gun? Why? Do you have a round in the chamber? Why? Why not?

Let’s move forward to the “event”. You chose to use deadly force . . . why? Let’s talk a bit about definitions, your ability to articulate your choices and a few very specific things you need to keep in mind when thinking about your ability to defend your actions.

Use of Force

Most states allow an individual to use force to defend their own life, the lives of family members or individuals in their charge. However, there are limits. The amount of force used should meet the “Reasonable Man” test. Would a reasonable man, examining all the information pertaining to your specific use of force, determine that the amount of force was justified? Remember, you must only use the amount of force reasonable to protect yourself, your home, your property or to stop a crime.

There is a phrase that is used to describe this particular part of the examination of the “facts” . . . you may have only a handful of seconds or less to choose to use force . . . the jury has as much time as it wants to decide if you made the right choice.

Use of Deadly Force

The use of Deadly Force is limited to those instances where an individual is in imminent threat of the loss of their life or grave bodily harm and there is no other reasonable option available - either to escape or to use some other alternative other than the use of Deadly Force.

Remember, you must not be the person who had initiated the attack and there must be no other options available other than the use of Deadly Force. You must have a “Reasonable Belief” that your death was imminent or grave bodily harm would occur.

Many folks seem to see the words “deadly force” and automatically think of some type of firearm. In reality, there are a host of weapons from knives to ball bats that can easily fit the bill. For example, while handguns take a significant number of lives each year, hands, fists and feet claim over twice as many lives as do rifles.

Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy and Preclusion

There are generally four specific aspects of a “threat” that are considered when you begin to look at defending your actions. These would be Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy and Preclusion.

The use of lethal force that can end in homicide is justified in the situation of immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent. — Massad Ayoob

“I had to shoot!!!” you say in court. The words “had too” are justified by your attacker having the Ability to attack you, the Opportunity to attack you, you – as a “reasonable person” had to believe you were in imminent danger of grave bodily harm or death – imminent Jeopardy and that the use of deadly force was your only available safe response – to the Preclusion of all other options available.

Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy, Preclusion are the foundation of your justification for the use of deadly force.


The person attacking you has both the physical and practical ABILITY to inflict “immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm”. Remember, what a “reasonable man” would conclude, as well as context – comes into play. It is beyond what you think . . . can you convince a “reasonable man” that your attacker had the ability to kill you or do grave bodily harm.

A person with a gun has the Ability to inflict grave bodily harm or kill you throughout a broad range of distances. A person with a knife, a ball bat, a hatchet, a hammer, a screw driver when used as a weapon against you has the Ability to inflict grave bodily harm or kill you.

A very large man that is physically strong and determined has the Ability to beat you to death given the right circumstances.

You MUST be able to clearly articulate why you believed your attacker had the Ability to inflict “immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm”.


An attacker may well have the Ability to inflict “death or grave bodily harm”, but they must also have the Opportunity to do so – right now. They must present an “immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm”.

For example, while a person with a knife – a football field away has the Ability to inflict grave bodily harm or kill you – he does not have the immediate Opportunity – because he is 100 yards away.

A person with a knife – at a close distance – DOES have the Ability to inflict grave bodily harm or kill you and also has the immediate Opportunity as well because of the short amount of time it takes to cover the distance between you and them.

An armed intruder separated from you by a safe-room’s door has the Ability to inflict grave bodily harm or kill you, but lack the immediate Opportunity because of the door. A “reasonable man” may not believe you had the right to shoot them through the door. However, should the armed intruder break through the door and into the safe room – they now have the immediate Opportunity to inflict grave bodily harm or kill you.

Again - you MUST be able to clearly articulate why you believed your attacker had the Opportunity to inflict “immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm”.


Jeopardy is a very subjective component of the need to use deadly force. Would a “reasonable man”, in your exact situation, come to the same conclusion you did – that you were in immediate Jeopardy ofotherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm”. Your situation is NOT Potentially dangerous . . . it has Actually Become dangerous. We are surrounded daily by people who could potentially harm us. Some carry knives, some carry guns, some drive cars – but without an action meant to do you harm – they remain a Potential threat

The person who draws a gun and shoots at us, pulls a knife and attacks us, raises a bat to strike us, they have become an Actual threat and have put us in immediate Jeopardy

And keep in mind, should your attacker break off the attack and leave – you are NO LONGER in immediate Jeopardy – and would no longer be justified in the use of deadly force against them as they leave.

Again - you MUST be able to clearly articulate why you believed you were in immediate Jeopardy of “immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm”.


Preclusion looks at the attack on you and your response through a “wide-angle lens”. We are expected to use only the amount of force necessary that a “reasonable man” would determine was necessary to stop the attack, protect our family or to protect our property. This “wide-angle” lens of the “reasonable man” would Preclude all other options – and determine that our only possible response to defend our self was our “tool of last resort” – the use of deadly force.

The word implies that there were no other safe options – you could not run away, you could not use a non-lethal weapon without placing yourself in “immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm “.

You MUST be able to clearly articulate why you believed you had no other choice but to use deadly force to protect yourself from “immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm”.

Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy, Preclusion . . . all individual elements in your personal defense once the shooting stops and your second fight for survival begins – in the court system. If you’ve never taken any time to think about how you would defend your actions, please let this article prompt you to get more education on this topic.

My first recommendation would be to take Massad Ayoob’s MAG20 course. It’s a great starting point. He also has a number of books in print that also addresses this exact topic. Bottom line, training in this topic is every bit as important as the training you do on the firing line. You ignore it at your own risk.

Disparity of Force

Let’s talk a bit about something called Disparity of Force. A few examples may help to better explain the meaning of the term

The attacker has a significant size advantage. A 230 pound male attacks a 120 pound female with intent to do her grave physical harm. This is a “Disparity of Force and plays into the decision to use Deadly Force. Would a “Reasonable Man” decide that the use of Deadly Force was justified by the woman to defend herself.

Or, home owner is confronted by multiple individuals entering their home – some are armed. Here too the Disparity of Force comes into play. Would a “Reasonable Man” decide that the homeowner was justified in using Deadly Force to defend against multiple intruders – some of which were armed?

Perhaps you are the victim of the “knockout game” and suddenly find yourself down on the sidewalk with a handful of attackers doing their best to knock you unconscious.

This “disparity” between your ability to defend yourself and the amount of force brought to bear against you by multiple attackers is one more element to consider in your personal defense in the court system.

Local, State and Federal Law

The laws regarding personal defense and the use of Deadly Force can vary widely from community to community, county to county and state to state not to mention at the federal level. It is your responsibility to know the law in your community and the laws of any other community or state you may travel to as well as all Federal laws regarding the use and transportation of firearms.

Remember that word “articulate”? That is what you MUST be able to do, across the board, from the type of defensive weapon your carry, to why you carry it, to the type of ammunition your carry in it, to responding to the task explaining that the circumstances of Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy and Preclusion were such that you had no other choice but to use your defensive weapon to save your life, the life of a family member or the life of someone in your charge. You must be able to clearly explain your actions in such a way that a “reasonable man” would agree with you.

It might make sense to begin to think about some of the answers now . . .

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review - NRA RSO Course AAR - 11-22-2014


The Range Safety Officer course is typically one of those “must have” courses that an instructor looks at, nods their head in agreement and then sign up for the next offering because it “just makes sense” to get your RSO certification. Fair enough, I agree . . . every instructor should become a RSO. Now, let’s look a bit deeper.

The responsibility of an RSO is essentially three fold . . . to insure that the range is safe and the range and any events they’re called upon to staff are run in a safe manner. To know, understand and run the range in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedures for that range. And finally, to use their head and be the go to guy/gal for everything from a malfunctioning firearm to someone misbehaving on the range to being expected to handle a catastrophic health emergency.

I got to the chapter house a bit early to fire up the heat and to lay out the classroom. For an RSO course I typically bring a broad range of handguns, shotguns and rifles. They provide some hands on experience for students who may have a somewhat limited exposure to some types of firearms. They’re also used for loading/unloading and clearing evaluations. While I fully realize that some of these folks have not touched some types of the firearms I bring . . . the fundamental process for loading/unloading is similar across broad types of firearms as well as clearing the most common types of malfunctions. Being able to watch them hands-on, to offer suggestions and field questions is invaluable to me as well as the student.

20141122_073413 (Medium)

20141122_073427 (Medium)

Chapter house warmed a bit, the students arrived, introductions were done and we rolled through the course. For many, this is the first time they’ve actually thought about a range from the POV that they would be responsible for its safety and its safe use. Early on we talked about the SOP for a range, its contents, why certain things were included, examples of range specific items and how this document and approach helps insure the range is safe and can be run safely.

Once they had the concepts of a safe range and running a range safely, small groups developed and gave their one range safety briefing. One was for a general pistol target match, one for a day of zeroing in rifles and finally a trap shooting event.

I also include an hour or so inspecting four different out door ranges – a pistol, rifle, trap and archery range. We talk about everything – from the general condition and cleanliness of the facility from the time they enter the driveway to the condition of each range. The care taken to keep a range up says a lot about the general safety one can expect to find on the range. A range filled with trash would imply general rules of courtesy are lacking . . . and so to general levels of safety. A tidy range facility generally implies that care is spread throughout the range . . . including insuring the safety of the shooters.

20141122_115045 (Medium)

20141122_115106 (Medium)

20141122_115528 (Medium)

We split the group into 3 teams that then evaluated each range with a debrief following the end of each range inspection. Everything from the benches and firing lines to the condition of the berms was looked at. This, again, can be quite an eye-opener, realizing that if they are the RSO for the day . . . they are responsible for insuring all of these areas are safe.

We started with the pistol range, moved to the rifle range, then archery and finally trap. There are things in common between each range – backstops, fields of fire, range condition and cleanliness . . . and some quite different like the raised platform for archery and the shooting positions on the trap range.

Other side discussions also took place, particularly in the area of responding to emergencies. Here too, this is a discussion that may well be missing from some coursework – many times because the magnitude of the discussion can be just too off putting. Yet, as instructors and RSOs, it is always within the realm of possibilities that things go sideways in a truly big way and you have an injured student on your hands.

I really push first aide training at some level. I’m personally fond of the Red Cross basic first aid course and their CPR and AED course as starting points. Their Wilderness Survival First Aide course is an excellent in-depth course as well. Bottom line, as an instructor and RSO . . . get some training!

After lunch we spent a fair amount of time discussing various types of malfunctions and then demonstrated clearing them with orange plastic ammunition and the firearms I brought into class. When you actually do some of this work hands on, it is easy to see how much of the process is very similar across platforms. That’s something much easier to show than to explain.

The exam and exit discussions followed . . . ending with the class photo and 7 brand new certified NRA RSOs. It was nice hosting you all, thanks for all your hard work!

20141122_163308 (Medium)

Congrats to Derek, Doug, Charles, Kevin, Todd, Tony and Don! Good Job!!