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.


  1. The phrase "Balance of Speed & Precision" comes from the Combat Focus Shooting Program. It actually references the fact that ALL Shooting is a balance of those two things... the higher the requirement for precision, the lower the speed of the shot. It establishes the idea in a defensive shooter's mind that they cannot have some fixed idea of "how fast to shoot" because the variables of any circumstance will affect their speed. Learning to adjust their speed appropriately is part of defensive shooting skill development. For more information on the concept, check out the CFS Book, DVD or various articles published over the last decade. -RJP

  2. Good post Bill, and glad you 'caught' the squib...