tHE PERFECT PISTOL SHOT BLOG
It is getting hard to find a handgun for sale. There are waiting lists and back orders. Some dealers are finding it difficult to stock certain brands and models. I was recently told by a screenwriter that sample firearms are getting harder to acquire for film projects. Everybody wants guns. They should. Firearms, as I wrote in Practics, are a tool for the civilized. The person who craves a safe, productive, and independent life may live outside the safety of the pack through the possession and mastery of a firearm. The hordes are yelping at the gate. So it's a good time to be in the firearms business.
Naturally, I have to find something wrong with all this as it relates to marksmanship. (It's my job.) The trouble with handgun mania is the same as the infuriating problem with gun nuts: A Thing is expected to substitute for competence. Of course, that doesn't work. Safe-actions, double-action-only pistols, etc., did not make police officers (or private defenders) more likely to hit their mark. I am not claiming that some improvements have not been worthwhile but not any of them could get around the need for shooter development. In the nineties, I wrote a policy and testing standard for laser sights on patrol handguns. I did so reluctantly. Many officers believed that within a few years, lasers would replace mechanical sights. They didn't, and the truth is mechanical sights were the quickest way to move the laser point within visual reach of the target. It just wasn't that big of an advancement in practical law enforcement terms.
Today, many people who never expected to buy a gun are doing just that. Many of them will become the victims of the always present camouflaged, kill-or-be-killed crowd who have succeeded, in my opinion, in being among the worst generations for marksmanship skill. I am defining marksmanship as the ability to hit your mark under diverse conditions and circumstances, throughout the range for which your firearm was designed. Read a gun magazine and see photos of hyper-extended arms, clinched fists, and exaggerated postures. A police sergeant once told me, he trained that way because that's how his body would react under duress. Which is true by half. Fear will increase grip and lower the body, shrink vision, increase rate of breathing, and flex the muscles. So what? You don't think a form of that phenomenon happens to brain surgeons operating on children? I wonder if they train by gripping the scalpel with an additional fifteen pounds of pressure. Apparently not, or the mortality rate for brain surgery patients would be 100%. We train for perfection, knowing that perfection may be unattainable, and hoping that diminished proficiency will be sufficient. Then we can master tactical skills.
The Perfect Pistol Shot and Practics Handgun Defense System have just had their e-book prices reduced for a limited time.
If marksmanship (the ability to hit one's intended target through a series of deliberate actions under various and often adverse conditions) required a blood sacrifice, or an epic adventure, or simply agreeing with every half-wit who ever stumbled through a handgun instructors course, I would have had an easier time of it. The unfortunate truth is, hitting your mark requires only a mastery of some fundamental principles and some disciplined exercise to marry experience to knowledge. That's it. Anyone could do it, and there is the rub. Marksmanship is too easy to be accepted and requires too much effort to apply. So, students buy news guns, read articles about special operations, and listen to old wives' tales about shooting. The truth remains that after a couple hundred years, very little has changed in terms of marksmanship principles. Today's SWAT member knows no more than did Wyatt Earp, when he said, "Fast is fine but accuracy is everything." There has arisen an entire industry which produces books and videos to overcomplicate marksmanship. I wrote two gun books, the first on marksmanship and the second on defensive use of a handgun. I firmly believe that defensive pistolcraft is still being discovered but marksmanship is as well known as are skills such as typing and throwing a ball. That's why I didn't write a part two to what turned out to be a very successful marksmanship book. There's isn't more to say. Like dieting, we know what to do (if we're honest) and yet the diet industry is always fat with the next new thing. Why? Because nobody wants to do the hard work.
After the The Perfect Pistol Shot had been out for a few years, I read a review in which the critic did not try the instruction in the book but was certain that if anyone did, their shooting would worsen. Common sense is uncommon when it comes to the endeavor of hitting the mark. Students are searching for answers but only if the answers confirm the very bad habits that are presently failing them.
I appreciate the concerns over my hiatus from this blog but the truth is, there's not much more to say. Still, let's go over a couple tired themes for old time's sake:
1. You are a right-hander shooting between seven and eight o'clock because you over-grip your handgun. A southpaw is doing it between four and five o'clock. I don't give a red rat's patoot what picture you saw, what article you read--you're over-gripping. Firearms are not outside of the physical laws which govern the universe. Reason it out for yourself. If an object requires forty ounces of pressure to hold it in the hand, and you apply one hundred and twenty ounces of pressure, where does the difference go? Movement, of course. If you apply force to any object beyond what is necessary to hold that object or rest yourself, either you or the object must move to dissipate the extra energy. Energy is movement. If man pushes building with all his strength, man will shake and vibrate but building will not move because building is bigger than man. What then happens when man squeezes handgun with all his might? Handgun moves off target. It really is that simple, friend. Honestly.
2. You don't know where you are going to hit and you often are surprised by good and bad shots because you do not fanatically watch the front sight tip. The eye can only focus to one depth at a time. If you hold your hand in front of the screen and focus on your hand, this text will become blurry. Read the text and your hand will become blurry. So obviously, you cannot focus on both sights at the same time, nor can you focus on one sight and the target at the same time. Impossible. So we focus with fanaticism on the front sight tip because wherever the front sight goes, the barrel goes, and so goes the bullet.
I encourage you to read The Perfect Pistol Shot if you are struggling with accuracy. If you read the Amazon reviews, you'll find many shooters who read the book and enjoyed immediate improvement at the next range session.
Enough of the old.
Since my former publisher, Paladin Press, went out of business, The Perfect Pistol Shot has not been available to stores by the normal distribution routes. That will change shortly, though I expect it will take a while for the book to funnel back down to the gun shops and sporting good stores. In the meantime, both paperback and kindle are available on amazon.com.
For defensive shooters or those interested in more advanced shooting, Practics is available in both formats. It is a much larger book based on a multi-week training course with all training exercises and even some instruction in making necessary training aids. I will caution against novice shooters using Practics, and warn all hands that it is a big book, at least as far as shooting books go. It is not similar to The Perfect Pistol Shot in terms of reading commitment. It's a genuinely tough study, covering defensive tactics, legal considerations, strategic planning, etc. I am grateful for the positive response and reader suggestions were certainly a part of Practics.
I wish all a Merry Thanksgiving, and as always, good shooting.
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.
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)