Archive for May 17, 2012

The mindset of situational awareness

Spend any significant amount of time with self-defense experts and the idea of situational awareness will come up. In its simplest form, situational awareness is nothing more than being aware of your surroundings; but even more than that is being able to correctly interpret what is going on around you to determine what threats might be present.

Many of us who choose to carry a gun for self-defense train regularly to increase our shooting skills. But skill is sometimes not enough. Every year, thousands of highly trained law enforcement officers are assaulted and dozens are killed in the line of duty showing a stark example that training is not always enough to survive. As civilians, we have a luxury they do not: avoiding the confrontation. The best way to avoid the confrontation is to see the threat before it becomes a confrontation. Yet, for all the time we spend training our physical skills with the gun, how much time do we spend training our minds for the mental aspect of situational awareness?

Just like we use repetition to build muscle memory shot shooting skills we can use awareness drills to shift situational awareness from a conscious action to an effortless state of mind. Some examples:

  • Note how many people in sight are wearing the same color shirt. This trains you to look for details and patterns.
  • Count how many rings people are wearing to get you used to watching hands for threats.
  • Watch how many people around you make eye contact with you. Criminals don’t like eye contact because they want their victims to be unaware of their approach.
  • Every time you walk into a room look for things that are different from the last time you were in there. This can help you spot things that are out of place.
  • As you walk up to a store, look through the door or window and try to guess who will be the first person to notice your arrival. This can lead to you identifying a dangerous situation before you enter the building.
  • Observe the faces and demeanor of passersby and try to guess what mood they’re in. This will get you used to reading emotions and can help determine who might be a threat for violent behavior.

These practice sessions will build the “muscle memory” for your brain to continue subconsciously observing your environment and raise your awareness. This projects an air of alertness that most criminals instinctively avoid. A potential victim who is paying attention means a lesser chance of success for an attack. It also helps you to spot potential trouble before it is too late or you are forced to employ deadly force so that you can take steps to avoid the encounter.

You don’t need to be paranoid or constantly on high alert to be safe. In fact, trying to maintain the highest state of awareness at all times can lead to fatigue and burn out which can in turn cause you to miss the threat when the time comes. In contrast, a state of relaxed awareness where your subconscious mind does most of the work is easy to maintain.

It is also important to note that since you are training your subconscious, you might not always realize exactly what the threat it. You’ll just have a feeling that “something’s not right.” Trust your gut and go on conscious alert! You have to discipline yourself to listen to your intuition and not dismiss it as “nothing.” With a little practice, you’ll be much more aware of your surroundings and prepared to avoid threats if possible and less likely to be caught unawares if avoidance is not possible.

Testing Sellier & Bellot buckshot for home defense

As a pistol instructor, I tend to spend a lot of time on the issue of armed self defense with handguns. However, most experts will tell you that defending yourself with a handgun is what you’re stuck doing when you don’t have access to a better option: a long gun.

Whenever someone asks me what gun I recommend for home defense, I always first recommend a shotgun. Shotguns tend to be easy to use and maintain, plus they have far more stopping power than any handgun. However, they aren’t the universal threat eliminator some people think. I’ve heard many times shotguns extolled as having a wide field of shot that no threat can escape from. As you will soon see, simply pointing from the hip may not be enough to save your life.

To make sure I had some quality ammo for testing, I purchased some Sellier & Bellot 00 buckshot from I had never ordered from them before so I figured this would be a test of them as well as of the ammo. I found the site to be a bit odd looking with its bright green shamrock theme, but it was certainly easy to use. Three days after placing the order (really only two since I placed it in late evening), I had my ammo and was ready to go to the range.

The ammo itself was a bit different than what I was used to. The case is transparent plastic and the end of the shotshell is capped instead of crimped. I was a bit worried about performance based on a couple of negative reviews I read, but I had very good results.

I conducted the test at a local hunt club on a slightly windy late afternoon. I used a Benelli M1 Super 90 semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun with improved cylinder choke. For the test patterning of the shot, I simply used white posterboard stapled to a stake.

Size 5 shot compared to 00 buckshot

To start the test, I fired with only 10 feet from the end of the barrel to the target, a typical self-defense range. Upon the initial shot I immediately noted the recoil was very light and manageable. As you can see in the image on the right, the spread from that first shot was merely 2-1/4″. The shot held a tight group even with the improved cylinder choke at this close range, similar to what you might encounter should you find an intruder in your house. Not much room for error and certainly debunks the myth of a vast cloud of shot negating the need to aim at the target!

For comparison, I also fired a Federal Hi-Power shotshell loaded with 5 shot. Even that gave just a hair less than a 3-1/2 group with the main part of the pattern roughly the same size as the 9 balls of buckshot.

In order to get a better look at the spread and check for consistency, I backed up to 21 feet. This is the generally accepted lethal force range even for an attacker armed with a knife or other impact weapon.

Buckshot on the left, 5 shot on the right patterned from 21 feet

In the next picture, you can again see the comparison between the buckshot and the 5 shot. At this greater distance, the pattern did indeed open up but still not enough to blindly point at the target. One interesting thing I did note was that the lower group for the buckshot was more open. I got 2-1/2″ with the buckshot and 7-3/4 inches with the 5 shot at just below level. With the slightly lower shots, the groupings were 4-1/4″ and 7″, respectively. So, the pattern was similar with the 5 shot but almost 2 inches bigger with the buckshot. I wondered if this was due to the different angle of the barrel or indicative of inconsistency in the shot pattern. So, I fired more rounds with just the buckshot.

Below you can see the results. With the first one, I had a 2-1/2″ and 2-3/4″ on the upper two and 2-1/2″ and 3-1/2″ for the bottom two. The second target yielded the top two both at 2-1/2″ and the bottom two came up 3″ and 3-1/2″.

Continued testing showed good consistency

This confirmed that there was truly a variance caused by the angle of the shot which would be expected to be even greater at longer distances, though more difficult to simulate since the angle of the shot would be less since the target would appear smaller. Even more revealing was that the difference of the pattern from the different angle was even more pronounced than the increased distance for the buckshot. The test also showed that there was very good consistency between the shots so you know what to expect from your gun.

Of course, one of the most important things with any ammunition is that it is reliable. This is especially true for self-defense rounds. I did not experience a single malfunction nor did I have any problem with the ammo cycling the shotgun.

Overall, I was very happy with the ammo and would be comfortable relying on it to save my life. I also plan to do additional business with