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Two aspects of anatomy are important in the defensive use of handguns. First, the range of movement allowed by the body will help us understand trigger manipulation, the grip, and the motion of an efficient draw. Second, effective shot placement requires knowing the basics of target anatomy.
The body's range of movement progresses from limited central flexibility to generous movements of the extremities. We use smaller, more delicate parts remotely controlled by smaller muscles. What we gain in motion, we sacrifice in durability, strength, and control. Outside the extreme distal joint is the pad used to pull the trigger. If the outer tip of the finger is used, there is not enough strength to pull a double action revolver's trigger, and an application of a controlled, steadily increasing pressure is difficult. Conversely, if the flesh inside the distal joint can apply more controlled force to the trigger, it nevertheless lacks the mobility to move the trigger straight back or at the proper arc without pulling the gun out of alignment. Therefore, a compromise between strength, control, and mobility must be found.
The most important fundamental to good shooting is trigger control, or finding a way to roll the trigger back along its arc of travel, or straight back on some pistols, so that when the hammer is released, there is no movement of the gun whatsoever. With some triggers, a bit of over travel after the hammer breaks can cause unwanted motion of the gun. In addition, there cannot be any movement of the gun while the hammer is falling or while the firing pin strikes. Knowing what needs to be done is simple. Doing it will require experimentation and continuous practice dry firing while watching the sights for any slight, perceptible movement. Then, if that isn't enough of a challenge, perfect trigger control must be used while shooting from awkward postures and angles, using available rests, with both one and two hand holds. Now begin all over with the weak hand. Keep in mind that each gun has a different trigger personality, like each car has a different feel to its clutch, when you hear the old saying, "Beware of the man with only one gun. He probably knows how to use it." Most good shooters will place the trigger close to or slightly outside of the distal joint for the best control, even when using the easy triggers of single action autos. Fast follow up shooting requires the same discipline of gradually increasing the trigger finger pressure to roll back or roll up the trigger to release the hammer. It is just done in a compressed time frame, and in between, the trigger is released only as far as necessary for it to be reset.
The strong hand has the important job of holding the handgun steady. Our hand is so versatile it can grasp and manipulate objects of any shape from throwing rocks or spears to sword fighting or playing musical instruments. Hand eye coordination, easily learned in youth, can still be mastered in old age with patience and practice. Holding a handgun for the first time would be no different from a musician holding a guitar for the first time. The muscles and joints need to learn their positions around any object until it feels natural and comfortable. Handgun grips are continually evolving in the name of ergonomics. The fact of the matter is that any grip of any handgun can become a perfect fit after the hand has grasped it enough times and held it long enough. In today's politically charged environment, guitars are ok, but it may be advisable to draw the shades in the living room while watching TV with guns in both hands.
The job of the gun hand is to draw and hold the gun steady with repeatable consistency. Since the recoil thrust is directed back along the line of the bore, grip the gun tightly and as high as possible to minimize the flip up torque for faster follow up shots and more reliable cycling of auto pistols. The elbow should be just slightly bent, the wrist must be locked so the recoil can be controlled by the arm, and better accuracy can be achieved when the bones in the hand and wrist are lined up with those in the arm. The gripping pressure is firm enough when two quick shots stay on a piece of typing paper. For stability, two hands are better than one. The weak hand, with its rather bent elbow and locked wrist, must come from below and provide a platform or wraparound rest for the gun hand. This forms, at least in one horizontal plane, a steady triangle with the back and arms. The off hand shouldn't alter the gun hand's primary job. When hunting and a convenient rest isn't available, sit to form a vertical triangle with bones of the knees and legs outside and under the forearms of the two hand hold. Bones should not contact other bones, the ankles should be locked, and just enough pressure should be used for steady consistency. Where possible, lean the middle of the back against a wall or tree to form the final triangle for steadiness, ensuring no obstruction to some recoil of the gun shoulder.
The gun shoulder has the least range of motion in the draw, followed by the elbow, and then the wrist, which has the most flexibility. Like the hold, the draw requires repetition to become natural, fluid, and efficient. Practice in front of a full length mirror, but be careful, many aspiring gunfighters have shot themselves with unloaded weapons. If a draw seems awkward or cumbersome, keep practicing, look for ways to smooth it out, or simplify it with a different holster location. Remember that different concealing clothing should be made part of each type of draw. The best gun position can be demonstrated by pointing the trigger finger as if it were the barrel and moving the hand, with the least contortion, in and out of the holster location, as if drawing a gun. A notable exception to this is high on the belt behind the strong side hip. For the hand to reach this location, the shoulder has almost run out of range of motion, and consequently limits upward movement. However, the elbow is free to swing forward, and the more flexible wrist may be twisted back. Thus, a gun may be drawn smoothly from that location, if it's grip is tilted forward, or canted, enough at the belt. Leaning forward and away from the holster may aid the draw in some situations. In the old West the holsters were worn at the hip, far below the belt, at hand level. This required strings around the leg to hold the bottom of the holster against the pull of the draw. Once the rawhide gun retaining loop is lifted over the top of the hammer spur, there isn't a faster way to bring a gun on target.
The anatomy of the target helps the hunter place his shot for maximum effect. After correcting for range and wind effects, a hunter will need to lead a running target. The game body will be moving as one large mass, and the vital zone is stable relative to the mass. Human body movements are more complex. The head ducks and moves sideways very quickly, the upper chest bobs and weaves, so vital zones are made more difficult to hit. The body section slowest to change direction or move is the pelvic area. Most schools of thought suggest high center of mass shot placement, but a lower center of mass target may be easier to hit. Criminals may use body armor, but the pelvic area is still exposed. Follow up shots will tend to rise anyway, and the target will be less mobile after a hit in the pelvis. Don't hesitate to keep firing at the center of mass until the threat is stopped. Hampering an assailant's mobility is one thing, but curtailing his ability to shoot may be quite another. Nevertheless, all animals and humans may be instantaneously and completely incapacitated by a hit to the brain stem. This is a small target, about the size of a lemon, located between the bottom of the ears and behind the tip of the nose, if the head is level. With three dimensional spatial visualization, the correct aiming point can be deduced. In an hostage situation, the target presentation probably will be at an angle.
How far away can you hit this every time under the stress of an hostage situation?
For the fastest, most efficient means to stop an assailant, three anatomical systems should be considered: muscular-skeletal, cardiovascular, and central nervous. Drawn from the strong side hip, a weapon can be quickly aligned with the pelvis of the attacker for the first shot, and a heavy bullet serves better to break down the heavy bone in this muscular-skeletal structure. As the weapon is raised, two or three rising shots, called a stitch centered in the mass of the torso, will start the time delay for cardiovascular shutdown, and finally, a two hand shot using the sights has a better chance of hitting the now less mobile medulla oblongata, or brain stem. The challenge of this drill is its execution during and after exploding laterally off the line of force.
The Tactical Salt Shaker
The word tactical has been added to just about every noun in English, and some believe that a tactical salt shaker will somehow be more effective getting salt on a bird's tail. Tactics, by definition, is the skill of using available means to reach an end. For example, hiking in the woods with a short barreled, lightweight magnum revolver is comfortable. Firing it without ear protection will cause permanent hearing damage. A tactic to avoid self injury could be practiced. Lift the gun shoulder and tilt the head toward it to seal off the gun side ear. Use the weak hand to seal off the other ear. Thumb back the hammer, because in single action mode, the trigger is easier to control with a one hand hold. The eye is now positioned to look straight down the arm and through the gun sights at the threat.
In life or death situations, threats are going to be moving, and so should you. Movement straight forward or back is not good. It can cause stumbling, and it is not visually confusing to an attacker. Sideways, backwards oblique, or angular motion is better. The object of motion should be to use available cover for a shield against bullets, to use concealment, which only hides from view, or to reach a position offering a better shot. Even in the home, it is generally much safer to wait behind cover than it is to search for trouble. Have a safe room designated for the family with a strong door, a cell phone, a flashlight, a weapon, and a set of keys that can be tossed out the window to arriving police so they don't have to break in the door to announce their arrival. Stay on the line with the 911 dispatcher, so the police will be aware of the situation as it unfolds.
An awareness of surroundings and available means for escape, cover, or defense can reduce the time to make decisions in a crises. The use of bulletproof cover before shooting starts may be preferable to standing in the open while you wrestle with clothing that covers your concealed gun. An early awareness of possible threats while distance and time permit defensive decision can increase the odds for a successful outcome. An attitude of confidence, survival, and alertness without paranoia are all that are needed, in most instances, to make a predator choose another potential victim. They count on the element of surprise, and their greatest fear is finding that their victim is aware and armed.
Try to make very brief eye contact with everyone as part of being aware. Oftentimes, an occasional glance to the rear will dissuade a would be predator. Watch for suspicious movements like someone duplicating your changes of direction and speed, or signaling, nodding, and hand gestures between people in front and back of you. Watch for people who are approaching you, especially from an angle, from the rear, or positioning themselves to block your progress. After selecting you as a likely victim, it is common for an attacker to test you with a verbal question, plea, offensive comment, or demand, so that he can close into your safe zone. When your early warning systems sound the alarm, it is time to have a full grip on your holstered weapon. As soon as you realize you are being targeted, yell to the assailant in the loudest, most commanding tone. "What do you want!" or "Can I help!", or "Back off, sir!" If an attacker suddenly rushes toward you, use a sidestep to get off his line of force as you draw. Keep in mind that an attacker may cover ten to twenty feet in the time it takes you to present your weapon. You decide what really is a comfortable safety zone around you. Please explore the link to The Beginner's Guide To Self Defense, here or on the links page, and, in particular, a Guest Article by Darren Laur entitled Street 101. If your comfort zone is encroached, the options for defense shrink quickly.
If an assailant has reached arms length or slashing distance, the defensive gun should be fired from one hand, close to the body, so the gun is protected and the weak arm is available to protect the head. Hold the weak arm so it's arteries, veins, and flesh are away from a strike, as if you were holding an imaginary shield. This is a case of lightening fast draw and fire, which requires the utmost careful practice with an unloaded gun, while paying attention to the position of the trigger finger until the barrel is aligned properly. At a target distance of two steps, the gun should still be fired quickly from one hand, with the arm more extended at belt level and centered with the body while crouching. This increases accuracy. Examples of this instinctive crouch can be seen in young boys playing with cap guns, tennis players awaiting service, or someone unexpectedly being tossed the hot potato. As distance increases, there may be time to use a two hand hold with the gun centered at chest height or chin height. This is sometimes called "point shooting." In low light situations, the gun's silhouette will be an aid to aiming. At a more comfortable distance of five steps, there may be enough time to bring the gun to eye level with a two hand hold and full use of the sights. This is the most accurate. Beyond five steps, it may be difficult to justify the use of deadly force.
Unfortunately, unless one has trained with stress, the eyes may not focus on the sights at all, as tunnel vision locks them onto the threat. We have reptilian ancestry to thank for our instincts. Some instincts make the task easier, and some require training to overcome. The instinct to flee can be channeled into movement to cover. Rage and anger can be focused into concentration and determination. Tunnel vision, however, must be broken frequently by forcing the eyes to do concentrated lightening search sweeps. When facing a threat, glance to the left for a split second, use peripheral vision, then concentrate again on the threat in front of you, glance to the right for a split second, then concentrate again on the threat. We are already trained to do this in a car when we come to an intersection, but when faced with a threat keep your gun pointed at the threat as you move your eyes. Order your eyes to concentrate, your ears to hear any strange noises behind, and your voice to yell commands authoritatively to an assailant as you try to back obliquely into a position that protects your derrière. By regulating your breathing, ordering your senses to concentrate, and forcing your legs to move to cover during practice, your heightened consciousness in a crises will be able to make good decisions instantly. Do not hesitate or dither. Do not fire more than three shots or spend more than three seconds in one place. Actions should follow instantly from decisions based on an up to date orientation assessed by your own keen observations. This is called the OODA loop, Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. The faster you can cycle through the loop the better the chances that you will prevail. Practice the aimed double tap, two quick shots, visual and sensual sweep, lateral movement to the rear, the aimed double tap, sweep, movement, over and over, until you can multitask with a fluidity of focused awareness, purposeful motion, and effective power.
At night, the eyes may give up on focus altogether, as the ears become the brain's defensive front line, and low light practice will employ more crouch and quiet stealth moves. Practice silent breathing and movement to give your ears every advantage, keep your balance, and stay on your toes in more ways than one. Many defensive encounters will be in low light.
Most defensive encounters will be defused at several steps distance by the mere presence of a gun, especially if you have been paying attention to early threat indicators and your weapon is large enough to open the eyes of a would be attacker. Most encounters will offer time to exercise restraint until there is no other option but deadly force to stop an attack. Until a threat has been identified, consider what might happen if you blindly wheel around as you draw to find the attacker already has his gun aimed at you. Each situation is unique, and any generalizations or assumptions could be deadly. That said, it is always better to fight than to submit. An attacker who has a gun trained on you may not have as much shooting skill. It is likely he is very nervous. The fact that he has his gun in hand and has not yet fired may mean that he's using it to bolster his confidence and to intimidate you. As long as an attacker doesn't see that you are armed until your gun has been drawn, it will take him time to realize that you are a threat to him. It may take him more time to make the decision to shoot at you. Without good trigger control, his handgun may easily be pulled out of alignment as he tries to hit a moving target. On the other hand, you have trained to fire accurately and repeatedly upon drawing, and that gives you the advantage of surprise when an opening , opportunity, or distraction occurs. Nevertheless, it ain't over till it's over, as Yogi would say. The element of surprise has been known to shift back to the attacker's advantage following a successful defense, when the victim relaxes his or her guard in the belief that the attack is over.
Plan to use distractions like fumbling with your wallet, dropping it to the side, tossing something at or to him, and looking at or shouting to an imaginary third person beside and behind him. While seeming to comply with his demands, cause him to lower his guard, turn his head, or point his gun elsewhere. Use one hand to retrieve your fake wallet in a manner that he doesn't notice your other hand drawing your gun. Although you appear slow, dumb, and weak to your audience, your act is shrewd and calculating. Your mind may be going ninety miles an hour, and that's ok as long as you direct it to go on the offensive, evaluate opportunities, and quickly act decisively. If there are more assailants, play to the one holding the gun, or to the closest one whose body might shield your from the others. An expert in martial arts was successful in defeating his assailant, only to be shot and killed by the assailant's girlfriend who had a small 380 ACP auto. The more you read about and study actual defensive encounters, the more you will know how to practice for the street. Since no two situations will be identical, look for common elements in the most likely scenarios. We don't all have the time to practice like Hollywood stuntmen, and there won't be a director to yell "cut" for a second take.
Excellent skills and training will come from envisioning "what if" scenarios based upon plausible situations. For example, what should my hiking companions do when they hear me shout a mutually predetermined warning to them as they see my Magnum revolver being drawn against a threat in the woods? What if the breaking sound of sticks in the woods or glass in the home wakes me at night? What if the bank robbers are in the line next to me? What if I'm struck from behind and I'm falling to the pavement? What if my eyesight has been impaired? What if a car boxes me in at a stop? What if a carjacker is at my window? What if there's someone under my car when I return from the mall who grabs my ankle as I unlock the car door? When, in a threatening situation, should I reach for my gun, or try to flee? What avenues of escape are available? Are there more assailants that I haven't seen yet? What if my children or loved ones are with me? Will I just make a target of myself and annoy everybody around me? Are there people or objects in the background that preclude me from shooting. What if I see someone whom I don't know under attack? What If I come home and the door has been kicked in? When should I call the police and let the professionals go in where angels fear to tread? See the Minnesota Statutes regarding force and the limitations on the use of deadly force at the end of the next page. What would a jury of my peers, given the circumstances, think was both reasonable and necessary?
"The winner of gunplay was the one who took his time. I would shun flashy trick-shooting, grandstand play, as I would poison. In all my life as a frontier peace officer, I did not know a single proficient gunfighter who had anything but contempt for the gun-fanner or the man who shot from the hip." -Wyatt Earp
The idea of a drill is to pose as real a situation as possible, so that reactions and decisions can be formed that, hopefully, will supercede the panic, freeze, or hysteria of crisis. George Carlin said, "We should all practice panic, because in an emergency, that's what we're going to do." We can all remember the grade school fire drills that we marched with excitement, happy just to get out of the classroom. The seriousness was felt, but not dwelled upon. We trusted the adults, and now we are the adults. It is assumed at this point that you have done everything in your power to avoid a confrontation, the bad neighborhood, the dark alley behind the bar, etc. Negotiation, reason, and the best psychology have all failed or there was no time for them. The only thing standing between you, your loved ones, and death is your skill and will to survive.
We need to design our own drills with safety in mind. The trigger finger should be placed and kept straight in register alongside the frame and never on the trigger itself. Only after a weapon is trained on a safe target, whether by pointing or with the sights lined up, and after the decision to fire has been made, should the trigger finger be placed on the trigger. This technique is so important to practice until it becomes second nature, because in defensive uses, it is many, many times more likely that a gun will not be fired at all. Most jurisdictions consider that just the pointing of a gun at another person is the use of deadly force, even when no shot is fired. Training drills will be based on the "what if" questions which seem the most likely situations in which we will need to use deadly force. Most shooting ranges limit firing to standing or fixed aiming positions at defined distances. Advanced courses under the supervision of accredited trainers who have access to liberal, yet safe, shooting facilities are a definite advantage. Anytime shooting is done at relatively close range, move up closer to the back stop, but be sure it is free of rocks and other hard objects.
Novice shooters have an advantage over most trained competition and target shooters. Some experts use a speed holster which I have yet to see worn on the street. Target and sport shooters have the bad habit of prematurely putting their fingers on the trigger. They don't duplicate the unimaginable stress of a life or death event, and a finger on the trigger, when fine motor skills are so degraded by an adrenaline rush, is an unsafe condition. Some stand out in the open shooting at targets. However, heading for cover and shooting on the run, if necessary, are lifesaving actions that need constant practice in order for them to become instinctive. They fire six to eighteen shots using a timer, but most defensive uses seldom require more than one shot and a follow up. They use a two hand hold with the gun raised to eye level. That may be fast, but maybe not fast enough. Remember, it's the first effective shot that counts, and that shot must come from your weapon. At a few yards distance, there may be time for a two hand hold and a quick flash sight picture. In an hostage situation, a rock steady two hand hold is mandatory using the finest sight picture. But the ultimate speed required for a surprise attack at extremely close range will come from practicing a different sport, the most efficient fast draw and effective fire with a follow up shot from a concealment holster covered by various clothing apparel. You may have to design drills on your own. Use the links in this site to further your understanding, and hopefully find an instructor who includes these concepts in your training. Join the IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) in your area.
Training drills should be choreographed by splitting them into several parts which can be assembled as each simple part has been mastered. For example, practice clearing the clothing away from the concealed holster as the gun hand acquires a firing grip without drawing. Use movement away from the line of force while you acquire the full firing grip. Do not move straight back, but rather sideways and rearward while you keep your balance. It will surprise you to find out just how far away you can get to cover, before you're ready to draw. With a firing grip on an unloaded weapon using snap caps or an Ammo-Safe bore insert, draw, clear any safeties, and practice trigger control progressively from close to the body, from a partly outstretched arm centered with the crouching body, from a one and two hand hold at chin height, and finally a two hand hold at eye level using the sights. When clearing down the thumb safety on a 1911 style pistol, drop the thumb down under the safety before firing. Even when the decision to fire has been made prior to the draw, practice keeping the trigger finger alongside the gun and off the trigger until the gun is aligned with the target. Keep both eyes open and focus back and forth on an imaginary threat and on your front sight. Add shouted commands, scanning, and more movement.
The best gun control will use a power stance, similar to a boxing stance, that provides stability front to back and side to side. The weak side foot is forward with a two hand hold, and the strong side foot is forward with a one hand hold. The head and shoulders are leaning slightly forward. That's idealistic. In real life, who knows what stance or body position will be the platform for an effective double tap? Master the power stance, but also practice the surprised stance, the recoiling from a blow stance, and the running for cover stance. Draw from concealment and fire the instant the weapon clears on target. If the weak hand has had to open a coat or jacket or lift a sweater, make sure the muzzle doesn't flash any part of your weak arm or hand, and forget about the two hand hold. Practice a one hand shot with one follow up. Make sure you see each bullet strike, or when using the sights, make sure you see the front sight rise and fall again. Otherwise you may be blinking. Then move for cover and use a two hand hold. If your assailant has a firearm in hand, you should move or dodge before your first shot in order to spoil his aim. This is called sidestepping the line of force, and it should be part of you drills. If you're facing multiple assailants, prioritize the threats and fire doubles while your weak hand gropes for that spare magazine or speed loader. You don't have one? Then use a two hand hold, make every shot count, as you retreat to cover or safety.
If you're caught unaware, a close range surprise attack may come from any angle, without time to square off with a power stance or good balance. The Four Quadrant Drill is designed to practice the fastest double tap possible at close range threats coming from the front, back, and sides. Some rotation or bowing of the body is employed, but that should be kept to a minimum. Turn the head to face and identify the threat before the draw. If possible during the draw, sidestep away from the threat to create separation, but don't let that delay your first shot. The two shot drill will be fired from one hand, close to the waist, at a target three feet away, as soon as the weapon clears on target. At this close range, if the weak arm has not had to clear away clothing that impeded the concealed draw, it may be raised against threatening strikes or slashes, keeping the arteries away from the attacker.
Practice reloading behind cover before running out of ammo. Top up the revolver's cylinder. Remove and pocket the pistol's magazine before acquiring and inserting a fresh one, using the off hand. Make a visual confirmation that the new magazine is indeed loaded, and rack the slide to insure a live round is definitely in the chamber. If the spare ammunition can be habitually kept in the same location, away from other frequently used items, you won't find yourself trying to jam a cell phone into the magazine well. Keep it simple and efficient. Don't try to hold more than one thing at a time, because under stress, it's easy to fumble or drop magazines and ammunition. Practice correcting stoppages, clearing jams, using a flashlight, and drawing backup weapons. Rehearse lifesaving first aid like CPR, stop bleeding, shock symptom stabilization, and emergency transportation options.
Concentrate on basic and simple techniques before attempting the more difficult ones. Insure that your gun's muzzle never, ever flashes any part of your own body. Watch for possible snags or entanglements with clothing. An inexperienced shooter with a gun, who has only practiced a safe, efficient draw, is far better off than an expert who, with a self delusional feeling of security, neglected to bring a weapon. All drills should be done slowly, without ammo, until they become second nature. Then speed things up. Start very slowly again with live fire, always have a companion nearby, and please practice safely.
In the old West, ammunition was not to be wasted, and young gunfighters would spend hours practicing drawing and dry firing. Today there are many types of lasers and bore lights to show us where our guns are pointed. We can use these tools in dry fire drills until we validate our confidence with live ammunition. Most criminals don't practice. Studies show their successful hit rate is about 10%. Law enforcement officers need to qualify about four times a year. Their successful hit rate is about 20%. One study indicated that of all the felons that are shot each year, only one out of five is shot by law enforcement. Guess who shoots the rest?
As your daily activities present different environments, look around you from time to time, and imagine how a threat might proceed. Veteran motorcyclists and good defensive car drivers are doing this constantly. This drill is purely mental; you don't need to suddenly spin and pretend to draw in front of your co workers or other patrons at Starbucks. Visualization and "what if" thinking should go hand in hand with a familiarization of the local laws relating to self defense and the use of deadly force. See Gun Laws on the links page. Throughout your home, you should know where cover can protect you. In new situations and settings, your mental drills will enable you to make quick assessments, so you can truly relax and enjoy yourself. Life is way too short to be plagued by a vague uncertainty about personal safety. When you have the knowledge and skill to use a concealed handgun, and you maintain a calm vigilance, you have the liberty and freedom to pursue happiness.
In this short from the movie COLLATERAL, Tom Cruise takes care of two bad guys ( .8 meg ) for dial-up
In this same scene from the movie COLLATERAL, Tom Cruise takes care of two bad guys ( 5.8 meg )
The bill drill short illustrated ( .7 meg) for dial up
The bill drill illustrated ( 6.7 meg)
Revolver speed loading ( 7.4 meg)
Fastest quick draw in the world (link)
For other interesting videos on the net click here.
Watch the inline video above as Lenny Magill, owner of Gun Video, demonstrates excellent form for a ten to fifteen foot encounter. Click on the image above to view a great selection of video training resources. His site and others are listed in the training section of the link page at the end of the Gunthorp Web.
Tactical drills from Gunversation online magazine
Here are some good drills from Dan Young's Firearm Pages.
Here is more information on close quarters combat techniques.
Use drills that fit your situation according to your common sense.
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