Tag Archive for Training

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.

Dry fire

Today we’re going to talk about a type of shooting practice called dry fire.

Dry firing is simply pulling the trigger on a gun that is not loaded with live ammunition. The gun can be empty or can be loaded with dummy rounds or snap caps. Both dummy rounds and snap caps look and may feel like real cartridges but are fake and cannot be fired. They are designed to reduce wear on a guns firing pin by giving it something to hit and transfer its energy to.

Dry firing guns can have many useful results. One benefit is that it helps you become familiar with a new gun. With dummy rounds, you can practice loading and unloading the gun safely. You can get used to the weight of the gun and the feel of it in your hand. And you can get used to the trigger pull (every gun is different!).

Dry firing can also be used to overcome common problems new shooters have, such as flinching. Flinching often happens when a shooter anticipates the recoil of the gun and tightens up their muscles right before the gun fires. This can result in a badly spoiled shot. Dry fire can be a cure for this problem as it allows the shooter to focus on the fundamentals of pistol shooting without worrying about the recoil. The body becomes accustomed to the process of firing a gun without flinching and that can translate to greater success on the gun range.

Dry fire is also far cheaper than going to the range and can be done from the comfort of your own home. This lets a shooter work on proper grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger squeeze, and follow through on a more regular basis. It is also very useful for practicing drawing and reholstering a firearm.

I like using dry fire to help with target acquisition and decision making. A good monster movie or crime thriller is good for this. Because the camera jumps from person to person quickly, when the bad guy or monster appears on the screen you have to quickly recognize the threat and engage.

However, there are several serious safety issues requiring careful precautions to be taken before every dry fire session to reduce the possibility of an accident.

First, no live ammunition is to be present in any room where dry firing is taking place. Not in magazines, speed-loaders, pockets, bags, boxes, or lying around. This is a zero tolerance policy!

Second, you should always dry fire with the gun pointed at something that could stop a bullet should there be an accident. A bookcase, solid door, brick wall, gun safe, etc. are all good choices.

Third, keep distractions to a minimum. Don’t talk on the phone, surf the web, or carry on conversations with others. Keep your focus on what you are doing. If you set your gun down for any reason, check to be sure it is unloaded when you pick it up again.

Fourth, when dry fire is done it is done. I know of one person who after a dry fire session was putting his stuff away and decided to fire “one last shot.” Unfortunately, he had forgotten that he had reloaded his gun and the gun went “boom” instead of “click.” Luckily, nobody was injured.

Dry fire can be a great practice tool and can be done safely as long as those basic rules are followed religiously.

Improving accuracy

Many new shooters, and to be truthful many experienced shooters, get discouraged at the shooting range by targets that look like they were hit by a shotgun blast. The problem is, they don’t know what to do about it.

The best way to correct accuracy issues is to get help from a professional trainer. If you don’t know or can’t afford one, there are a few things you can do to improve your shot grouping.

Make sure the gun fits you

A gun that doesn’t fit your hand well is much more difficult to shoot well, particularly one that is too big. Not only the size of the grip is important, but the weight of the gun and the amount of recoil (kick) as well. A big, heavy gun that noticeably rises with ever shot can be very difficult to control. If this is a problem for you, consider downsizing. Shooting accurate groups is far more impressive than shooting a big, loud, magnum caliber.

Conversely, a very small gun is inherently less accurate because of the shorter barrel. This gives less time for the bullet to develop a stable flight path as well as making for a shorter sight radius. A medium sized gun in a small caliber (.22, .38 or 9mm) is often the best choice for a newer shooter.

Take your time

The vast majority of shooters have accuracy problems while shooting quickly. Take your time and be sure to aim carefully with each shot.

Proper grip

I see a lot of shooters who hold a pistol incorrectly. A proper, consistent grip can go a long way towards improving accuracy. Your hand should be high on the grip in order to line the gun up as closely as possible with the bones in your arm as well as providing maximum grip surface area for your second hand. For a semi-automatic, the top of your hand should press against the beavertail (a small projection at the top of the grip below the hammer) if your gun has one. Be careful on a semi-automatic to not hold too high or your hand will be cut by the slide (slide-bite).

Take a firm grip with your shooting hand and then add your non-shooting hand getting as much contact between your hands and the grip as possible. You want your non-shooting hand to have considerable contact with the grip as opposed to simply closing around your shooting hand.

Grip pressure is important as well. You want firm pressure, but not so much that you get muscle tremors. You also want a little less grip strength with the fingers of your shooting hand so there is not too much tension interfering with a smooth trigger squeeze. A good rule is to apply 40% of the grip pressure with your shooting hand and 60% with your non-shooting hand.

Trigger squeeze

Proper trigger control is one of the most common problems shooters face. The trigger should be smoothly “rolled” to the rear in a continuous motion while disturbing the sight alignment and sight picture as little as possible. For the proper motion, it is helpful to think of a medicine dropper. If you squeeze a medicine dropper hard and fast, it sprays all over the place. However, if you squeeze it slowly and smoothly a perfectly formed drop will fall.

Be careful to not anticipate the shot. You should not know the exact moment the shot will break. Again, a medicine dropper is a good example. The drop slowly gets bigger and bigger until it falls, but you do not know exactly when it will do so. Anticipating the shot (mentally telling yourself to FIRE!) leads to flinching which will ruin your aim.

I also see a lot of people “slapping” the trigger. After each shot their finger flies off the trigger and outside the trigger guard, returning with force to take a swing at the trigger. This leads to a jerky shot.

Don’t forget your follow through! After the gun fires, continue depressing the trigger those last few millimeters until it stops. Like in many other sports, correct follow through will help you be successful because it minimizes unnecessary movements.

Sight alignment and sight picture

This can be a difficult concept for some people.

Proper sight alignment means the top of the front sight is aligned with the top of the rear sight. It should also be centered in the rear sight with an equal amount of light visible on both sides.

Sight picture is aligning the sights with the target. Some people shoot better with the sights splitting the target like a pie, others shoot better with the target sitting on top of the sight alignment like a pumpkin on a fence. Use whichever works best for you.

The front sight is the most important part of the sight picture. The front sight should be in crisp focus with the rear sight and target slightly blurry. Think of it as looking through the rear sight at the front sight.

Shooting stance

Like a building,  it is important to have a good foundation for your shooting position. You feet should be about shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. You should lean forward slightly and resist the urge to lean backwards to counterbalance your gun. You want to be stable and balanced. Some people find it more stable to have one foot ahead of the other and their body turned at an angle to the target, similar to a boxing stance. Whichever works best for you is fine as long as you are stable and balanced.

Breath control

Proper breathing is essential for good accuracy. At an extreme, gasping for breath creates a lot of muscle movement which will disturb your sight alignment and sight picture. You should take slow, controlled breaths. Breath in, let it out slightly, and then hold your breath while squeezing the trigger as you try to minimize the arc of movement of the sights over the target (the movement of the gun). If your trigger squeeze is taking too long and you need to breath simply stop squeezing the trigger, take a few seconds to breath, and then start the process over again.

These are just a few general tips to help improve your accuracy. There is far more to it than just these and as I said earlier, the best solution for poor accuracy is to get help from an experienced trainer.

Protecting against home invasion

There have been several stories in the news lately regarding home invasions. A home invasion occurs when whether intentionally or unintentionally a criminal enters your home while you are present; as opposed to a burglary where they do so when the house is empty.

Many times during accidental home invasions the criminal is not expecting to encounter anyone and will quickly flee when confronted. Intentional home invasions are much more dangerous as the criminal is expecting to confront someone (or is at least prepared for the possibility should they attempt a theft at night without waking the occupants) and will already have a plan for dealing with the residents. This may be as simple as threatening them with a weapon, restraining them, forcing them to assist with the robbery by leading the criminal to valuables or the confrontation could lead to rape or murder.

One such home invasion occurred in Elyria, Ohio in the morning of Thursday, January 5th. According to her account, she was in bed watching television when she heard a suspicious noise. She armed herself and was creeping down the stairs when a 31 year old drug addict kicked down her door and entered her home. She kept yelling for him to stop and when he succeeded in getting inside she fired three shots at him and he fled before later being arrested.

Since a neighbor reported hearing him yell “Oh My God!” as he ran away, it is likely he expected nobody to be home; or at the least not an armed response. The man was suspected to have broken in several weeks earlier when the woman’s daughter and granddaughter were home but they stayed upstairs and did not encouter the robber.

This is contrasted with another incident in Elyria on the same day. This time, the resident woke up to find a man with a gun in his bedroom. The robber forced the man to help him load up two garbage bags full of loot before escaping. Since this victim was taken by surprise while sleeping, being armed might not have led to a better outcome.

In both of these cases, there would have been warning if the resident had an alarm system. Even if you can’t afford a monitored service, an inexpensive stand-alone system can sound an audio alert to warn you of intrusion and possibly even cause the criminal to flee without a confrontation. At the very least it will give you more warning that awaking to find the intruder already in your bedroom giving you time to arm yourself and possibly lock your bedroom door or get to your children.

A common thing a criminal will try is to see if your doors or windows are unlocked to allow for easy entry. To prevent this, you should keep your doors and windows locked whenever practical, even if you are home.

Another frequent ploy is for the home invader to summon the victim to the door and press an attack when the door is opened. The best defense against this is to not open the door to someone you don’t know to keep a physical barrier between you. A door chain can be of use here if it is of high quality and properly installed so a simple push won’t break it. Likewise a good, solid door can help keep an intruder at bay.

Not only should you have a strong door at all entrances to your home, but having a good door and strong locks on your bedroom can allow you to use it as a safe room. Losing your possessions is much preferable to losing your life or becoming seriously injured.

Arming yourself before answering the door can also be an option, though a sudden rush by the invader can render you unable to bring your weapon into play. If there is more than one person home it might be better to arm the second person instead. If attacked, the first person can create separation either by running, shoving the attacker, or going to the ground allowing the second person to enact an armed response.

In addition to an alarm, there are several other things you can do to make your home a less attractive target. Keeping shrubbery trimmed back can prevent an attacker from hiding himself or an accomplice. A well-lit exterior, particularly with motion activated lights, can help make the criminal less comfortable. Owning a dog, particularly a large one, can be a strong deterrent.

One dangerous situation that can occur is surprising a burglar when you come home. Always be aware of your surroundings so you can take notice if things seem out of place or there are signs of forced entry. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security when you enter your home, either. Glance around for things to be out of place and you also might catch a glimpse of the invader. If you do see someone as you enter, get out immediately. Even if armed you do not want the risk of confronting a possibly armed criminal. Discretion is definitely the better part of valor.

If you do manage to successfully enact an armed response you should attempt to verbally repel the intruder before firing if safe to do so. Most criminals will take an available escape route which is preferable to needing to win a gunfight or risk a round from your gun striking a neighbor or passerby. Attempting to apprehend the intruder can be dangerous as well, giving him opportunity to counter attack or forcing an accomplice to attempt a rescue.

These are just a few suggestions to help protect yourself against a home invasion. There is a lot of good information on the internet, and the NRA offers several good courses covering these topics including Refuse to Be a Victim and Personal Protection in the Home.

Firearms Fundamentals: gun safety rules – Part 2

Yesterday, we talked about the three primary rules of gun safety. As pointed out in the comments section, safe gun handling goes far beyond just those three.

Of utmost importance when shooting, whether target practicing or hunting, is to know your target and what is beyond. Most targets don’t stop bullets, so you need a solid backstop large enough to account for misses. A short backstop can be a problem because a poorly aimed shot could miss it entirely. Misses must be taken into consideration while hunting as well. If you shoot uphill at a deer and miss, where is that bullet going to go? Shooters are responsible for every bullet that leaves the barrel.

I also mentioned yesterday at one of the biggest causes of accidents is ignorance, or a lack of knowledge of safe gun handling. In keeping with that, it is very important to know how your particular firearm operates. How to load it, how to unload it, and how to handle it in a safe manner. When buying a gun, be sure to always ask the seller to show you how it works and read the manual. If one is not provided by the seller (for a used gun, for example) you can often contact the manufacturer or search for one on the internet.

When you target practice, you should always wear ear and eye protection. Hearing can easily be damaged by repeated gunfire, and there are a myriad of ways your eyes can be injured: spent casings (brass) hitting you, bullet fragments ricocheting back from the target, etc. It is also a good idea to wear a hat, long pants, and long sleeved shirts to guard against being struck by brass or fragments. When shooting, you must not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This includes any legal medications that warn against handling automobiles or machinery. Anything that can impair your judgment or abilities must be avoided while shooting.

You also need to be sure that your gun is in safe operating condition (have it checked by a gunsmith if something doesn’t seem right) and that you only shoot the proper ammunition in it. Accidentally loading it with the wrong size ammunition can cause the firearm to malfunction and result in injury. Sometimes the type of ammunition can cause problems. For example, with 9mm ammunition there are cartridges loaded with additional powder which creates higher gas pressures when it is fired. This is referred to as +P or +P+ when even more is added. A handgun that is not rated for those higher pressures can fail if loaded with that ammunition.

Even when storing firearms, there are important factors to consider. Guns and ammunition should be stored so they cannot be accessed by unauthorized persons and should be stored separately so that if one is accessed the other is not. Trigger locks can be a great form of secondary protection, but a gun with a trigger lock can still be stolen if it is not in a safe or locked storage cabinet. Never put a trigger lock on a loaded gun as you would then be manipulating the trigger on a loaded gun!

I highly recommend that anyone who owns a firearm take at least one gun safety class. Yesterday, I mentioned the NRA Basic Pistol program, which is a great beginner class for learning gun safety. Many gun ranges and gun shops offer training as well, and the cost is very reasonable considering that such training could very well save your life or the life of someone you love.

Owning a firearm is a serious responsibility, but with proper training and observance of some basic rules is a very safe activity.

Stay safe out there!

Firearms Fundamentals: gun safety rules – Part 1

The topic for this week is the most important: gun safety.

A firearm is a tool designed to propel a projectile (the bullet) at a high rate of speed. Where that bullet goes is up to the person pulling the trigger. A gun by itself is neither good nor evil, it is the person handling it that makes that determination.

One of the things you lean in an NRA Basic Pistol course is that there are two main causes of firearms accidents, ignorance and carelessness. Ignorance is not stupidity, it is a lack of knowledge. If you don’t know how to safely handle a firearm you will make mistakes. Carelessness is knowing those rules, yet failing to apply them. The three basic rules are the most important:

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until it is ready to use

If these rules are known and always followed, injuries due to gun accidents are much less likely to occur. If the gun is pointed in a safe direction yet fires, nobody will be injured. If your finger is not on the trigger (the most common mistake I see), the gun will most likely not fire, even if dropped. And if the gun is unloaded, it can’t fire.

Keep in mind for that last rule that “unloaded” means verified unloaded. Every gun is to be considered loaded until you prove otherwise. It doesn’t matter if the Pope himself tells you a gun is unloaded, you always verify for yourself. Open the cylinder, rack the slide, and physically check the chamber to be sure no ammunition is present. We’ve all heard about accidents occurring when somebody “thought it wasn’t loaded.” Trust, but verify. If you ever watch someone experienced with gun safety handle a firearm, you’ll see them check to see if a gun is unloaded every time they touch one, even if passing it from one person to another. Each one will check.

Sometimes I get asked, well, if you are supposed to keep a gun unloaded until it is ready to use, how does that apply to a gun for self-defense? Are you supposed to load it while someone is breaking in to your house? The answer is simple, a gun being relied upon for self-defense is currently in use for that purpose.

The last thing I want to say about keeping a gun unloaded until ready to use is that it is especially important while cleaning a gun. Anytime a gun is being cleaned it should be triple checked to be sure it is unloaded and no ammunition should be present anywhere in the room.

Gun safety is an important topic with a lot to cover, so we’ll continue this discussion tomorrow in Part 2.