tHE PERFECT PISTOL SHOT
Nice weather is upon us, at least in most of the country, and it's time for hunters and target shooters to get back to school for safety and accuracy. The best accuracy training remains dry-fire. Dry-fire is actually better than live-fire because live-fire is not as easy to read. What I mean is the instant the hammer drops during dry-fire, the shooter will know exactly where the round would have struck the target. Live-fire requires greater alertness to see the sights prior to the hammer actually striking because recoil will move the firearm to some small degree. Dry-fire remains the purest, most accurate measure of marksmanship. Faults are more easily spotted. Of course, live-fire is used for training, too. Reading targets, and reading the sights at the instant the round is discharged, and immediately after discharge, is not as accurate a measure as proper dry-fire. Dry-fire is explained in The Perfect Pistol Shot and you'll find it previously addressed in this blog.
We still get assaulted over the principle of using a light grip but most often, apparently, by those who have never applied the principle but are certain it would not work if tried. Again, this is in the book and throughout this blog. I'm trying not to abuse reader patience by continually repeating myself but marksmanship is simple in scope, just exacting in execution. Meaning, there's only so much to talk about because these simple precepts are mastered through understanding and application, not continual revision.
The term "gun nut" appears in my writing from time to time and is not meant to disparage those that like guns. Rather it is meant to label those who chase after products at the expense of foundational skills. Marksmanship requires work; there's no shortcut but the diligent student can grasp the principles in one session. Consistency, skill, and knowledge will take awhile but the average shooter can double proficiency without much effort within a couple of hours. Its not about guns. A marksman with a bad gun beats a poor shot with a good gun. Treat marksmanship as a learnable skill and ignore talk of "born-marksmen", and "best guns."
The new book Practics: Handgun Defense System is on sale at the big on-line retailers now. It is not a marksmanship book. It is a defensive skills book for advanced shooters. I mention this because the first book called The Perfect Pistol Shot was occasionally berated for having little defense application. Please read the blurbs and reviews before purchasing any of my books, I do try to be as clear as possible about the limits of my knowledge, writing, and offered materials.
This afternoon, Amazon.com posted the book for sale in paperback. I wish to thank all readers for their patience over the last two years.
The year is nearly passed; I hope all enjoyed a merry Christmas.
The Perfect Pistol Shot has suffered a recent market absence because our Publisher, Paladin Press has gone out of business. Paladin Press was an excellent small house, in my opinion, and it will be sorely missed by firearms enthusiasts. Perfect Pistol Shot is back on amazon.com now though it will require a little searching for the present to separate the new book from third seller used books. The contents are the same, only the publisher has changed.
Practics Handgun is being formatted for paperback and kindle and will be available soon. I deeply regret what has become a two year delay on the release of that book.
Over the past few months, I've noticed some criticism regarding PPS, and its all the same old stuff, often issued from those who haven't actually taken the training but are certain that if they had it would not have improved their shooting. You can't just read it, you have to do it.
The light grip seems to be a great stumbling block for many readers. I don't know how to make it easier. I do assume a certain inquisitiveness and reason on behalf of my readers, I can't dumb it down because marksmanship is not simply a checklist of physical skills. It is an intellectual pursuit. That is why I would rather attend an all-you-can-eat tofu buffet than write a follow the pictures book. The truth is if Paladin hadn't made me include photos in the first book, I would not have done so (they were right, I was wrong). Reason makes marksmen not mindless imitation. Notice who are your local, consistently good shots--they may not be geniuses but they're rarely idiots.
Back to light grip. Does the handgun move off target during aiming by its own movement or by the shooter's? Does movement of a gripped object increase or decrease the harder the person holding it squeezes? Can the recoil from a service handgun lift your arms and shoulder carriage during recoil? The answers, you already know: The handgun doesn't move, humans move--constantly; the harder we squeeze anything the more it moves or we move, depending on weight; recoil cannot move us if we are properly balanced. Grip lightly with only enough pressure to retain the handgun between shots. What about when terrorist ninjas attack us? Well, I'm not an idiot either. You will grip harder under duress, but don't magnify your shooting faults through bad training. Duress increases error but it does not abolish ingrained reactions gained through proper training. "Perfect" can become "good enough" under stress but imagine what happens to "marginally competent."
Next time we'll talk about sighting. Good shooting and a happy new year.
Safety has to be trained. It is not enough to have rules read to the shooter. Firearm safety includes muscle memory actions, which by the nature of muscle memory require repetitive training. Certainly, properly conducted range time reinforces safety practices and develops a second nature of safe handling. However, all skills deteriorate and require formalized training to correct and maintain them. The next time you're on the range, watch how many experienced shooters have slipped into sloppy slide manipulations. The muzzle should always be downrange but the further the shooter gets from training, the more the muzzle begins to wander to the side. Training for basic safety (indexing, holstering, loading, engaging safeties, and unloading) is not wasting range time. Too many shooters unintentionally discharge firearms on the range and in the home to dismiss safety training as entry-level only.
I apologize (again) for the delay of the first Practics book. It is coming. Thanks for your patience.
Its been vigorously reported that an extraordinary number of Americans are now buying their first handguns. Interestingly, many of those buyers are over 50 and a good number over 65. Much of the correspondence I receive comes from older shooters with questions about sighting with vision defects. Here's some suggestions concerning imperfect vision and marksmanship:
Be aware of lighting. Indoor range lighting is dramatically different from natural light. You can test this by trying to read small print indoors and then trying the same after stepping into direct sunlight. If you must shoot indoors consider light-colored, reduced reflection, shooting glasses which will magnify light and reduce glare.
Extremely bright sunlight or darkness can cause visual distortion even with perfect vision at longer distances. Bright light causes light colors to appear to bleed onto dark colors and darkness causes the opposite. Meaning that a 50 yard bullseye target in bright sunlight will appear to have a smaller bullseye as the white background reflects light onto the edges of the black bullseye. A good pair of dark lens glasses will help with bright light and light lenses are worthwhile for sundown. Aside from glasses, avoid eye fatigue. If you see distortion or a mirage, lower your sights but keep your vision on the sights. After a second or two raise the sights back onto the target. The longer you try to "muscle through" a mirage the worse it will be, to the point where your general vision will become temporarily blurred.
Remember what you're trying to accomplish. Focus must be fanatically placed on the front sight tip. The target and rear sight should be blurred. If your target is clear you are incorrect. Glasses need to give you crystal clear vision for about 3 feet and an ability to distinguish shapes with peripheral vision at your target ranges.
Dry-fire as explained in The Perfect Pistol Shot will enable you to develop perfect sight alignment. Every serious marksman needs dry-fire but those with vision problems need it even more.
Eyes are muscles and they need rest from intense focus and light strain. Shut your eyes after a string of fire for at least 60 seconds. If your vision problem is severe, limit your shooting sessions to 15 minutes. Remember the goal is perfection, not how many aimless rounds we can throw downrange. As hands begin to tremble and eyes begin to weaken, the shooter needs to be smarter. Self-restraint and patience will do you more good than firing countless rounds.
I don't mean to insult anyone but when was the last time you had your eyeglass prescription checked? Most men would rather drive off the road than get another eye exam. A pair of glasses that no longer fully corrects your vision to its best possible standard is really no better than a pair of drugstore cheaters.
Know your dominant eye. Again, The Perfect Pistol Shot has my best explanation for finding and using the dominant eye but the goal is to make sure that you are using both eyes but with the dominate eye as the primary guide to the sights.
On an unrelated topic, the Practics book is still coming along, the manuscript is 100% completed and now the photos and formatting are being finished. Those who signed up for advanced notice will receive an email with details as soon as a date is set with Amazon. A general notice will be made on this website and at www.praticsusa.com
Thanks for reading.
There is very little that is intuitive about successfully shooting a handgun. The same thing applies to good driving, splitting firewood, cooking a pot roast, or any other human endeavor. We all understand that education is required to master a skill but for various reasons many of us believe that shooting is like being left-handed, some are born with it and others are not. I suppose this comes from the informality which imbues marksmanship and guns in general. In the 19th century it was not uncommon for homegrown medicine salesmen to refer to themselves as "Doctor." Today, every guy who has shot a gun twice is "Instructor." Consequently, we too often rely on myths, old wives' tales, and pop culture to form theories about shooting.
If you're struggling with mastering your handgun take control of your training in the following manner:
1. Start over. Accept that you may believe things which are incorrect. Receive formal instruction in handgun operations; I am referring to basic operations not marksmanship. Many shooters, cannot load a semi-automatic pistol while keeping the muzzle pointed downrange. Muzzle control in marksmanship is the next step after muzzle control for safety.
2. Learn the fundamentals of marksmanship from someone qualified to teach them. I'm sorry to offend, I know there are many good independent instructors out there but I also know you probably haven't found one. An NRA instructor course is worthwhile but it does not qualify a shooter to teach. Being a lead instructor requires having spent a lot of time coaching on the firing line in order to understand why shooters miss their intended targets. Being a good shot doesn't mean one can teach. The instructor has to see errors repeated in many different shooters to understand how corrective action can be applied by a particular shooter. It took me years.
3. Record every shot and analyze your results. A right-handed shooter tends to shoot low left for a very specific reason. If you know that reason you can correct the error, and panic and hopelessness disappear.
4. Be patient. I am certain that no one expects to fly a plane through a storm the first hour of flight school. Marksmanship is a skill that you can learn and apply as you learn.
My first visit to a gun range was as a teenager. I took my father's revolver and went as the guest of a range member. I was told by a well-intentioned shooter (who was kind enough to let me shoot his 1911 pistol) that "maybe the .45 isn't your gun," and the local gun nut insulted me for not being able to hit a bullseye with my dad's Colt Python. I learned to shoot the .45 pistol (and handguns in general) because the U.S. Marine Corps knew how to teach. Leaving your shooting education in the hands of unqualified instructors will succeed only in making you give up shooting. For more, read my book, The Perfect Pistol Shot.
As a young cop, I was taught to "stack charges." That is, write arrest reports to include all possible and applicable crimes. For instance, if a rape arrest could include lesser burglary and vandalism charges they were to be included. The prosecutor would winnow through the whole thing and make the ultimate decision on charging crimes but they wanted the report to be broad enough to support any prosecutorial strategy. What all this means is many criminals who got arrested for one particular crime wound up being booked for three to six crimes. There is no shortage of statutory law. In California, there's probably 50,000 violations in the state vehicle code, which means every driver is guilty of something every time they get behind the wheel. Yet people still needlessly die every day on California roadways. Law lessens crime when the citizen believes punishment is likely and the risk of such punishment is not worth the risk of getting caught. Decriminalizing marijuana, for instance, means every young derelict will gladly accept the occasional citation to appear in court for the freedom to smoke pot. A professional criminal may choose to commit a robbery without a gun for the sake of avoiding an enhanced sentence. But what about the human being who has decided that he wants to walk into a crowded location and murder people while they scream, cry, and beg for an ounce of mercy? Does that fellow care about the wrath of legislation? Laws at their best motivate the honest toward honesty and provide for the lawful force needed to stop the dishonest. But men have been killing each other since Cain and Abel, and every governmental body since long before the Babylonians have tried to legislate peace. The difference is in the old days people knew that crime could not be prevented but it could surely be punished, causing a righteous cultural change over generations. You will notice that crime has always existed but social restraint continues to disappear. In part it is because we now assume that it is the law's responsibility to end crime and create decent human beings. Law never created a decent person. We need another law against guns like we need another excuse for taxation. Forcing the law-abiding to undergo greater restriction of civil rights does nothing to criminals. It never has.
Yesterday, the president announced another plan to prevent gun violence. Of course, as with every other gun scheme the focus was not on the offenders. Notice no one ever suggests lessening armed robberies by outlawing convenience stores or banks. Some will argue that the president's plan does address potential offenders by "keeping guns from those with mental health problems." Sure, provided they're in a magic mental health database which is only accessed by reasonable and detached psychologists and psychiatrists, and not the local NGO nut with a mental health worker certificate from a community college. The problem is that the right to keep and bear arms is primarily for defense against tyranny. Now we must trust the tyrant to be fair when deciding who may possess a gun. Lunatics should not have firearms but I fear we are not speaking of those who have been legally determined incompetent through a medical/legal process. Every child custody dispute, VA treatment for PTSD (a disorder the military almost promotes amongst veterans), or restraining order (a process often with little judicial scrutiny) will create a whole new class of "crazies" everyday. A database depends on the integrity and restraint of those who determine the entrants. Do you think discretion and care of the rights of the governed are going to be the primary concerns of whatever agency oversees the magic database? As a former peace officer I assure it doesn't work that way.
The other new fix that will prevent us from having to hang violent criminals is the magic gun. The magic gun will have a fingerprint reader on it and it will only allow the proper user to shoot it. Decades ago there was something similar that worked off of magnetism. The shooter wore a ring that allowed the trigger to be pulled. The problem with making guns electronic is the same problem with cars. Today, many new cars can be shut down by satellite. Eventually, if we don't prevent it, the police will be able to stop your car as easily as using a radar gun. Now imagine if they could shut off firearms within a home or within an entire city. The problem with that is that if the government can "grid" firearms, firearms as a constitutional protection will instantly cease to exist. It's over. You may think that citizens should not have the right to ever use guns against government agents regardless of the actions of government. King George III would have agreed with you. He certainly believed that the government had absolute authority over the governed. George Washington, on the other hand, did not. Rather he and his comrades believed that God granted rights that could be protected by government but never usurped. To be an American, in the only way that matters is to believe that the government is also under the law and when it is not, the law itself may not be used to prevent the governed from controlling the government. The day all guns can be turned off electronically we will become dependent on the largesse and restraint of professional politicians. If you doubt me, look at this citizen seizure of federal property in Oregon. Regardless of your opinion of that action, you must admit that without guns they'd all be on their way to federal prison and nobody would be talking about government overreach in relation to ranchers. I realize that the magic fingerprint gun is not a fully electronic gun. If you think that's not the next step, you've not been paying attention.
Freedom is risk. If you want no risk, you want no freedom. We have created an entire criminal class in this country. When that's been abolished, then we can argue about spying on people's medical records. But the guns must stay as they are, simple tools for the citizen-soldier.
Let's return to a familiar topic before everyone gets their Christmas guns. No single marksmanship fault impacts as many shooters as improper grip. In my book, The Perfect Pistol Shot (Amazon) I discuss the elements of a good grip, and in this blog, on several occasions, we have discussed the need for a light grip. But let's take another look at grip solely from the standpoint of pressure. How much pressure is really needed? To begin, we have to know the reasons for applying pressure to a handgun, or any object for that matter. The purpose is allow the firearm to be held in the hand and adjusted for the purpose of sighting and operation. We don't want to drop the handgun, right? But we don't want to drop cell phones, babies, or pencils either. Do we hold an 8 pound babe as if he weighs 100 pounds? If we do, we'll rightly go to prison for murdering a child. Our cell phones are held lightly because if we squeeze them tightly they will shake and make it difficult to use the key pad. In other words, we only use enough pressure to hold the object in place. Someone will scream about recoil at this point but recoil management has very little to do with the hands. Recoil is the direct rearward force from the explosion of the round. It is the shooter's body that manages recoil not the hands. Bad posture exaggerates recoil but that has nothing to do with the hands. How much pressure does a 40 oz. handgun need to hold it in place? About 40 oz. Any pressure applied to an object beyond what is necessary to hold that object will be dispersed through movement. Energy is movement. Extra energy, that is energy not absorbed by the task of holding weight, will be shed in the form of extraneous movement. This applies to every human being and physical object in the universe. If a man grips an aircraft carrier and squeezes with all his might the ship will not move but the man will shake violently. If the man over-grip a handgun, the gun will shake. People outweigh guns and therefore the majority of extraneous energy is dispersed by the lighter firearm. I have instructed more shooters than I can count and I have never seen over-grip improve a single shooter, but I have seen hundreds of shooters improve accuracy by lightening their grip. There's no argument here. The less you impose yourself on your handgun the less movement and negative influence you will experience.
So how much pressure should you use when gripping your handgun? Only enough to keep the weapon in place between shots and not one ounce more.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
Albert League is a former Marine Corps and law enforcement firearm instructor who consults on a variety of security topics. He is the founder of the Practics firearms defense system and author of the Practics book series.(www.practicsusa.com)