tHE PERFECT PISTOL SHOT BLOG
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.
Many new shooters complain of sight-wobble while aiming; they can't keep their sights still. That's good, actually, because the only people who don't have to contend with sight wobble are people who are dead. If you have a working circulatory system, respiration, muscle and nerves, your sights are going to move during aiming. So how do fire that perfect pistol shot? (Aside from purchasing a copy of my delightful and educational book The Perfect Pistol Shot.) We minimize and control:
Minimize by using a light grip. Any pressure beyond what is necessary to hold the weapon in the hand during shooting is excessive pressure. Excess pressure becomes movement. This is true in every human action using muscle. If you squeeze your cell phone very hard your cell phone will tremble. If you push against a building with all your strength the building won't move but your whole body will shake. Any pressure beyond what is necessary to hold the handgun will be dispersed through barrel movement because you outweigh the handgun. Think about it. Squeezing the grips doesn't control recoil, body positioning controls recoil. Shoulders past hips. We've discussed recoil many times in this blog and in the book. Don't think over-grip does anything good.
Control sight wobble by allowing the front sight to move in a very slight figure 8 pattern. My personal preference is a vertical 8 for handguns and a horizontal 8 for rifles but it doesn't matter. The main point is to have the intersection of the figure 8 at the exact point of where you want the front sight to be during firing. The goal is the smallest figure 8 possible. Training will reduce wobble and your figure 8.
Physical fitness improves blood flow, heart rate, and muscle control. The better shape you're in the less wobble you will have to contend with. Old guys needs to walk and work their arms to keep themselves shooting fit.
Wobble is natural and does not indicate shooter problems beyond the need for fundamental marksmanship skills.
A couple night ago, Fox News Channel's Megan Kelly (cute as a bug) told her audience that at least one of the San Bernardino murderers engaged in "dry-fire." Kelly explained that experts said dry-fire was shooting a gun without bullets in order to "train the mind to kill." Dry-fire is indeed the practice of pressing the trigger on an empty weapon while sighting on a target. This practice is wide spread and well established within competitive and traditional military shooting. Olympic shooters and local target enthusiasts engage in dry-fire because it allows the shooter to more easily spot flaws because there is no disruptive discharge and recoil. Wherever the front sight is when the firearm goes "click" is where the shot would have gone. I do not expect any news organization to have an army of fact checkers nearby with expertise in all areas but this error is one that could have been caught with a 30 second internet search. We must remember Bill O' Reilly thinks fully automatic rifles are on sale at gun shows for instant purchase (despite being corrected on-air) and MSNBC commentators want police to "shoot to wound," like Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger. Yee-Ha! When it comes to guns, everybody is comfortable giving an opinion because it is a an area of interest that has been on the periphery of American consciousness since our founding and too many "experts" within the field are camouflage pants wearing, kill-or-be-killed, gun nuts. So say what you want, wing it. If your brother-in-law took a criminal justice class at the local community college, he's probably a firearms expert.
Winter is coming. Every firearm needs maintenance including proper cleaning, a light coat of oil on exposed machined surfaces, and a good wipe down with a silicon rag or glove. Just because you're not shooting doesn't mean you have no maintenance responsibility. Firearms are uniquely inanimate objects that require husbandry. Don't let moisture eat your guns, and don't expose them unnecessarily to severe temperatures. You wouldn't store Granny's antique dinning room table in a deep freeze, don't do it to your Model 70 either.
The book is coming. I'm finally very pleased with completeness of the text. The book covers about a three week defensive training course. You can read more about it on the www.practicsusa.com web site.
I'd like to thank readers for the continued success of The Perfect Pistol Shot. Its been out for a full 4 years and it still sells well enough. There's a lot of shooting books available and I'm mindful that there's always some risk in buying a book. Thanks, I appreciate the readership.
In any pursuit, we can only succeed to the extent that we achieve a predetermined goal. In other words, we have to hit at what we aim. That's a major problem for at least a broad majority of shooters. If you aim a barn door and hit the barn door door, are you a good shot? Maybe, if the shot was taken from 300 yards away. Otherwise, there's no way to know because the target was too big. Let's say your handgun is made to deliver 2.5" groups at 25 yards from a machine rest. The only way that is mechanically possible is if the handgun is pointed in exactly the same direction for every shot. If you're getting 12" groups at 25 yards, you have a problem. A competent marksman in good health can match or nearly match the mechanical accuracy of a handgun. The underlying cause of that success is consistency in aiming. Aiming is a function of two things: sight alignment and sight picture. Alignment is controlling the handgun to perfectly align the sights and picture is placing that perfect alignment on an exact point on the target WHICH APPEARS NO LARGER THAN THE FRONT SIGHT TIP. You can't aim at a barn door at 25 yards, you have to aim a knot hole in a barn door at 25 yards. You can't use a full size silhouette at 10 yards but you can use it at 100 yards where it will appear to be the size of your front sight. Pick an exact aiming point for exact results. Letting your front sight drift over a black bullseye means you will never learn to keyhole shots because you're practicing to shoot groups the size of the bullseye. Don't use a paper target, draw a cross on the blank side of the target and use the center point of the cross. Shooting cans and paper plates at 5 yards is a great way to learn how to miss at 10 yards.
Aim like you mean it. Train intelligently.
Let's say you have a firearm, have successfully received both safety and handgun operations training, learned the fundamentals of marksmanship, accessed a handgun range, acquired quality safety equipment, and now are alone on the range for the first time. What do you do?
A handgun shooting career is either a deliberately built pyramid of skill built on the knowledge derived from disciplined experience or it is a hodgepodge collection of unrelated events which will prevent the shooter from ever improving. To benefit from your time on the range you first must recognize that range time is self-education. It can be great fun but it can't pointless. Here's a few suggestions:
1. Record every shot to spot your errors. Keep a simple log of where rounds strike and any reason you have to account for the error: 3" low left--overgripped.
2. Limit the amount of rounds fired to those which you can shoot perfectly. We learn by the experience of applied knowledge. If you're throwing boxes of ammo downrange, you're probably unable to extract any knowledge from the experience. Ten or 20 recorded and controlled rounds beat 100 wild shots every time.
3. Fire at an aiming point which appears no larger than your front sight tip. If during sighting, your front sight tip floats around on a black bullseye, how will you know exactly where you aimed and then accurately judge your results? Use a black marker and draw crosses on the blank side of a target. (Saves money too.)
4. Begin at 3-5 yards. This eliminate the psychological problems associated with distance, as well as light and wind influences. The only problem occurs when shooters begin to drift focus onto the target before the round is fired but that can easily be defeated by camouflaging the background as described in my book. Shooting is not throwing a football, you don't shoot "harder" for longer distances. However you shoot at 3 yards is the same way you shoot at 300 yards; only the aiming point changes.
5. Stop before you are fatigued. Your range session should take no more than an hour including breaks between strings of fire, set-up and clean-up.
6. Know what you ought to do before you arrive and do not be dragged into foolishness by the local gun nut. Do your training, whatever clean up the range requires, and flee.
7. Review your range log, dry-fire at home and check your firing posture in a mirror.
The above is more fully explained in my fundamentals of marksmanship book, The Perfect Pistol Shot.
As you may have noticed, men and women are not the same. Thank God. At any rate, these differences extend to learning how to shoot a handgun safely and accurately. Women have a couple of advantages, such as a lower resistance to accepting firearm education, and a general tendency to not make training assumptions. At least, that's been my experience. Men, on the other hand, tend to do better with physical replication of technique and training endurance. There are some particular difficulties that seem generally peculiar to women and are worth a woman being mindful of during her training:
Women have dramatically more joint and muscle flexibility than men, and physically enjoy (I guess) hyperextending joints. What I mean by that is women will casually flex and lock joints, whereas men will avoid it. During shooting women will most often hyperextend the arms. This is a common enough problem for men but not as common as with women. Hyperextension almost always ensures over-grip and a bad (jerked) trigger press. The solution is a natural break in the joints. I recommend women who are self-coaching ought to exaggerate the break initially because most will not "feel" they are hyperextending when they slip back into it.
A problem common in tall, slender men is leaning backward. It is also common with women. Leaning backward exaggerates recoil and uses the handgun as a counter-balance causing extreme highs and lows during rapid fire, once the shooter has lost her balance. The answer is to stand straight with relaxed legs and slump the shoulders forward, causing the arms to hang in front of the body and the hands to land on the front of the thighs. Maintaining that position, simply lift the arms, bringing the hands up to eye level. The result is the appearance of bad posture. The crucial elements are no locked joints, and the shoulder carriage forward of the hips--do not bend at the waist, just roll the shoulders forward.
There is a horrible shooting posture that women often fall into, which I have dubbed "The Ballerina." The ballerina occurs when a woman places one foot behind and inline with her lead foot, causing the hips to be canted and the upper body to square-on the target. Sometimes the rear foot is partially lifted and the shooter balances on the ball of her trailing foot. This stance often happens during concentration and the shooter may be unaware of it. The answer is a good natural position, facing the target with toes, hips, and shoulders facing the target, and loose, natural joint position.
Women, as shooting students, do better, in my experience, when they discipline themselves to rest every ten minutes on the firing line. A two or three minute break is sufficient. Limit the entire session to 45 minutes. Now, let's be clear. I'm talking about the training as I describe in The Perfect Pistol Shot where concentration and perfection take priority over how many shots can be fired during a session. Women tend to have hand fatigue sooner than men but more importantly, they glaze over sooner than men--when female students are done, they're done, and successful training disappears. I learned this the hard way as a law enforcement instructor.
Women have no disadvantage in learning how to shoot, provided they are properly instructed. Physical strength is not a factor in marksmanship and has absolutely nothing to do with handling recoil. The point is, each of us must train appropriately within our strengths if we hope to overcome our marksmanship deficiencies.
The new book is coming. Interested readers may sign up for advanced email notification at www.practicsusa.com The new book is a comprehensive training plan for the sole defender. I hope it will provide the defensive shooter with what The Perfect Pistol Shot attempted to provide the aspiring marksman.
Thanks for reading.
Sighting controls the other three fundamentals, it usurps them in importance, but the most difficult fundamental for students to master is grip/trigger (hands). Trigger control requires knowledge combined with the experience of "feel." Fortunately, that experience is easily acquired but most students have difficulty recognizing trigger press flaws. Over the years, I watched a wide variety of shooters attempt trigger control and found a very small minority actually control the trigger through the entire length of the press. Meaning, if the trigger must travel x-distance in order to release the hammer, then most shooters will only control the trigger press for 40% of x-distance. Watch the next time you go to the range. An average shooter will gently press the trigger while sighting until the hammers gets near the halfway point, then the movement is so fast that it cannot be observed. The reasons for this phenomenon are: 1) the shooter has no experience feeling how far back the trigger may go under control, and, 2) the shooter believes that a quick yank, with everything in place will end the misery and get the round on target. Obviously, the target confirms that partial trigger control doesn't work. Shooters become frustrated and say things like, "I AM watching the front sight" and "My trigger control is good but my gun keeps shooting low and inside." None of that is true but until shooters experience full length, slow trigger movements while controlling the sights, nothing will improve.
If you have read The Perfect Pistol Shot you know that all marksmanship is about perfect sighting, including the following trigger press exercise. While this drill will improve your trigger press, it only works if the student is executing perfect sighting while conducting this training. Why? Because the experience which you need is to feel perfect trigger press while sighting. In other words, feel trigger press as a secondary action subordinated to the sights. Good trigger control without perfect sighting translates into a miss.
Our trigger press drill is simplicity itself.
This drill can be done dry fire or live fire. A training partner/observer is necessary. First, make a target featuring an aiming cross with the intersecting point appearing no larger than your front sight tip during sighting (our standard target). Then, while keeping perfect sight alignment and sight picture, focusing on the front sight tip to the point of fanaticism, press the trigger without disturbing the sights. Here's the trick--do not fire the weapon. Press the trigger as far back as you can WITHOUT firing the handgun. Your partner will watch your press and tell you how far back the hammer has gone based on percentage of available travel: "Forty percent," "Seventy percent," etc. Handguns with internal hammers will require watching the trigger and the observer will need to be more vigilant. Keep adding gradual pressure urging the trigger rearward as far as you can without causing the hammer to drop. You may stop your press at 95 percent and release the trigger. Obviously, we want 99.99 percent but we have to be fair and reasonable with our observers. You will get a few butterflies in your gut waiting to hear the shot or hear the click of the hammer-fall at about the halfway point when you first begin this training. That's because you won't believe you're only halfway. If you're a typical shooter you've never been halfway on a controlled trigger press. Remember this drill is pointless if you're not achieving perfect sighting at the same time. The instructor's secret concerning this drill (since you'll be self-educating) is that the hammer will inadvertently be dropped as the observer urges more trigger press. When I conduct this training my intent is to deceive the student with one perfect trigger press resulting in a perfect shot. When self-coaching, the student must keep pressing toward that 95% in order to get the feel of perfect pistol shots. In other words, the gun fires without the shooter preparing for it and yanking the trigger..
The new book Practics Holistic Handgun is coming despite a tortuously slow process. The book is large but it does provide a training plan for the sole defender that is comprehensive and practical. Practics is an entire system of armed defense and this book is the first public offering of that system. Because of the size of the book and in order not to reprint previous material, the book assumes that readers are already masters of their own handguns' operational procedures and are proficient marksmen. My first book, The Perfect Pistol Shot, is often referred to by well meaning readers as "great for beginners." While I appreciate that praise it is not quite accurate. Perfect was based on a class that I gave to Marines, patrol officers and detectives, federal guards, and SWAT members. It is fundamental but not for beginners because it assumes the reader is competent in both safety and mechanical operation. Practics assumes the reader is already a marksman which may mean both the readers and I are in for some disappointment. If you're considering one of my books, I'd recommend the much less expensive The Perfect Pistol Shot, as Practics assumes you already have that knowledge and skill. In fact, the long range shooting chapter in Practics will be unusable for students without marksmanship training. After the first book was published by Paladin Press in 20111, readers expressed an interest in training and specifically, in defensive training. Practics is an answer to those requests. I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude for the success of my book based on the generous support of readers who recommended it to others. Along those lines, some blog readers wonder why there are no comments posted with my two blogs (perfectpistolshot.com and practicsusa.com). The reason is that I receive almost all comments by email and answer those questions directly to the best of my ability while a small percentage of other comments tend to be marketing links to hook my readers. Nonetheless, general comments will be posted here in the future. Don't forget to sign up for advanced book info at practicsusa.com
Let's try a drill. Hold your thumb out in front of you and focus your vision on it. Alternate shutting your eyes. As you swap eyes you will perceive a movement in perspective. In other words, it looks like your thumb has shifted left or right. The reason for that is your eyes are intended to work together, triangulating vision between the three points of left eye, right eye. and object of focus. So when one eye is closed perception is skewed. A shooter could compensate for that error by adjusting sights but if that shooter were to fire with both eyes open the shots would be off the mark even if everything else were properly executed. The problems with keeping one eye closed:
1. Spontaneous defensive shooting is likely to include both eyes for which the shooter is untrained.
2. Closing one eye is a matter of degrees in relation to squinting with the open eye. When the muscles around the shooting eye are flexed differently each session (if not each shot) the results will naturally vary.
3. One eye closed means one half of your world is blind and you are taking a risk that nothing will pass in front of your weapon from the blind side or present a threat without your knowledge. That's why boxers get vision tests.
4. Most importantly, above all else, a one-eyed shooter, even after adjusting the sights, is still making sight alignment and sight picture decisions based on one visual survey rather than two. The shooting eye has no verification.
People with vision in one eye can shoot well but they must work all the harder and they have the advantage of not having to close an eyelid and contract facial muscles which may influence the shooting eye. If you have two eyes, use them.
Like Dracula, an abandoned training gimmick keeps returning to life to suck marksmanship out of gullible shooters. The new/old next-best-thing is to place a coin on the top of the slide during dry-fire. Supposedly, this will assist you with a smooth trigger press. Let's examine this tired and inane practice.
What is the purpose of a smooth, non-disruptive trigger press? To assist the shooter with maintaining proper sight picture and sight alignment immediately before and during firing. What then is the purpose of sight picture? Sight picture is the selection of a target, a destination for the bullet. Sight alignment is the means by which the shooter physically directs the strike of the round, makes the bullet hit the pre-determined mark. So, it can be said with finality that trigger press can be measured by whether proper sighting is maintained throughout the firing sequence. In other words, if when the hammer strikes in dry-fire (or live-fire) your front sight is not where it should be you have a problem. However, if you maintained perfect sighting during the exercise your front sight will reflect that too. What would a coin on the slide tell you? It would tell you that you can balance coins but have no direct correlation to whether you could sight and correct as needed. The coin, then, is a false measure because that drill, even if done successfully is no indication of your ability to shoot accurately. Balancing the coin may require subtle movement or control contrary to that needed for perfect sighting. Sighting is THE priority in marksmanship. Anything which diverts your efforts from sighting is counterproductive. Grip has to be mastered but the reason for that need is to enable perfect sighting. Sighting is movement, that is the body never stops moving from circulation, nerves, respiration, and muscular tension. The body is in movement so sighting must be a constant effort until the round is fired. Your focus cannot be sight first, coin second. The marksman sights and doesn't stop sighting until the hammer has dropped. How should we dry-fire, then? By properly sighting on an aiming point which appears no larger than the front sight tip and then manipulating the weapon so that the hammer fall does not disturb the sights. You know, traditional, time-tested dry-fire.
There is a systematic method for improving your shooting, the study of the fundamentals of marksmanship. You can easily do it. No gimmick, no lazy man's shortcut, no half-witted bait-and-switch can give you that knowledge or earn you that skill. Find an experienced and successful instructor whose students have demonstrable improvement during his training. Get a copy of The Perfect Pistol Shot. Study. Master. You can be an excellent shot, friend. It takes just a little effort and some organization. You can do it.
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)