Oftentimes when we go to the range, we see well-intentioned people “practicing” with their snubnose wheelguns by running the target out to about five or seven yards, thumb-cocking their revolver while carefully sighting at the target, and squeezing off a box or so of ammo. The ambitious will sometimes run the target out to twenty five yards just to prove to themselves that they can in fact hit the target at that range. While target shooting may be better than no practice at all, it does little to develop the skills required for defensive shooting, and may even engrain some bad habits that could reduce survivability in a defensive situation. So, what are methods of practice that will enhance our real-world survival skills? While this list may not be complete in every respect, it can form the basis of a practice regimen that can help to develop real-world skills.
Double Action Only: Practice “double action only” fire. There are virtually no situations in which single action fire is appropriate in self-defense. Most self-defense situations unfold rapidly. There isn’t time to thumb cock a revolver and take careful aim in the way one would do while target shooting. A cocked revolver is dangerous in the adrenaline dump of a lethal force encounter. The trigger is just too light. It’s too easy to fire when you don’t mean to. For more on this, click here. When you are new to the gun, double action fire is harder. As you get used to the trigger through practice, the difficulty of double action fire goes away for the most part. Work at it until double action fire is the natural and preferred method of fire.
Range: Self-defense handgun encounters are close-range affairs. One would have a hard time justifying a shot fired in self-defense at a range of twenty five yards. At that range, there are simply other options, and it would be very difficult to explain or prove that you needed to fire on someone at that range in order to defend yourself. The more realistic range for self-defense is between three and seven yards. Col. Askins said that one should not bother with “belly gun” practice beyond ten yards.
Draw: One of the great things about snubnose revolvers is that there are so many ways to carry them – belt holsters, ankle holsters, shoulder holsters, purses, pockets, fanny packs, belly bands, etc. Very few self-defense situations are actually settled by a cowboy quick-draw, but it’s important to be able to bring the gun into action smoothly and quickly. The only way to get the draw smooth and quick is to run through it. Rigs like fanny packs may require some extra work. The goal is to get familiar with the system you use so that you don’t fumble with it in an emergency. A lot of ranges won’t let you draw on the firing line for safety reasons so you may need to practice your draw at home with an unloaded gun. Please don’t practice with a loaded gun in your home.
If you practice at a range that does not permit drawing from a holster, here is a basic drill to help you get on target quickly. Run the target out to about 3-5 yards. Hold the gun at “low ready” pointing the muzzle down at about a 45 degree angle. Snap the gun up until you see the front sight on the target and fire two shots, smoothly but quickly. Lower the gun to low ready and repeat. This leaves you with one round if you’re using a J-frame and you can apply your own creativity to that, perhaps a strong hand only shot starting from low ready. Another variation is to do the controlled pair and then do the “Mozambique” which is two to the center of mass and one to the head. That makes a tidy five. While performing this drill, give special attention to maintaining a firm grip on the gun. Control the gun; don’t let it flip and bounce around.
Reload: The subject of reloads can spark some lively debate among hand-gunners. Some will argue that carrying a reload is unnecessary and, “If you can’t get it done in five rounds, you’re probably toast at that point anyway,” and, “Most self-defense shootings involve three rounds or less.” While these old chestnuts may be true in most cases, until someone proves to me that they will be true in all cases, I will carry a reload, and often two (and perhaps a second gun to boot).
Quick reloading of a revolver is difficult. It’s easier to reload a semi-auto rapidly. You must practice reloading a revolver if you want to get the procedure smooth and fast. Take three speedloaders to the range with you and load them to load the revolver with rather than loading from the cartridge box. Just the motion of using the speedloaders will help to familiarize you with their operation.
Basic Method for an Emergency Revolver Reload:
- Remove the weak hand from its firing grip and with it grasp the revolver from under the trigger guard so that the two middle fingers of the weak hand and the thumb hold the cylinder. The index finger and the pinky finger should be against the frame of the gun.
- With the strong hand thumb, press the cylinder release and open the cylinder using the weak hand which is grasping the cylinder.
- Turn the muzzle of the revolver up and slap the ejector rod. Cases should fall clear. It is possible to bend the crane of the revolver it you hit it too hard, but in an emergency, you want a brisk slap of the ejector so that the cases are ejected. You have to hit a balance here between getting the empties out and not damaging the gun.
- Turn the muzzle down and visually inspect the cylinder to be sure it is clear. (If cases remain in the cylinder remove them with the strong hand.) Grab a speedloader from wherever you have it with the strong hand.
- Insert the cartridges into the cylinder using the speedloader and drop the speedloader.
- Close the cylinder and regain the firing grip on the gun.
For those who use speed strips, see the procedure here.
Strong Hand Only and Weak Hand Only Shooting: All sorts of situations may arise which can make it difficult or impossible to shoot with a two-handed grip. Your other arm may be injured; you may be fending off an attack, moving, or you may be trying to hold onto something. Being able to shoot one-handed is an important skill. Run through a couple of Mozambiques strong hand and weak hand only. Five yards is a good range.
Point Shooting: This is a controversial technique. It involves bringing the gun up quickly and looking over the barrel, but not actually using the sights. Click here for a more detailed discussion of point shooting. Another excellent article on point shooting is here. Disciples of the Modern Technique of the Pistol will often insist that sighted fire is the only truly effective defensive technique for handguns. On the other hand, studies have shown that police officers tend to point shoot when faced with a sudden close-range attack. I would rather have more tools than less tools, and since I know that we tend to default to point shooting in certain kinds of emergencies, it may pay off to practice it.
The following require a range where you can draw and shoot on the move:
Speed Rock (Shooting from Retention): Quoting Massad Ayoob, “My old friend and mentor Bill Jordan recommended “shooting from the hip” in this situation [close-in sudden attack]. Jeff Cooper and Chuck Taylor promulgated the “Speed Rock,” stylized from cowboy fast draw, with the shoulders rocking back and the officer firing as the gun clears leather. The posture keeps the shot from going downward, correcting a failing in hip shooting, but it’s still awfully tough to put the shot in the center of the opponent’s body. Rotating the pistol’s sights outward, toward your gun-hand side, helps angle the muzzle more toward the center of the opponent’s body, and also helps prevent a recoiling auto-pistol slide from jamming against your body or winter coat.” A closely related, but not identical technique is “shooting from retention.”
Shoot While Moving: If you are fortunate enough to have access to a range at which you can shoot while moving, practice this, and practice it a lot. You don’t have to move a whole lot at first, just practice moving laterally, off the line of fire, while drawing and shooting a target. The master trainers such as Jim Higginbotham, Tom Givens, Clint Smith, and Gabe Suarez all speak with one voice on the issue of learning to move off the line of fire while accurately returning fire. It is perhaps the single most important self-defense technique in defensive pistolcraft. For a video of this technique, click here (May require broadband).
It always drives me crazy when I’m in a gun shop and I see a clerk putting a newbie into a snubnose. Why? Because snubbies are hard to shoot and they don’t carry a lot of ammo. When I go to a match and want to act like I know what I’m doing, I’ll whip out the 34 oz. Colt Combat Commander and blaze away. Snubbies are not easy to shoot well, and if one chooses to carry one, it requires a lot of practice to handle them effectively. Yes, revolvers are easier handle for beginners and “non-dedicated personnel,” but using them effectively for self-defense is vastly different from punching paper at the range. Too often we do our practice and match shooting with guns that we don’t carry, and neglect practice with the gun we actually depend upon for self-defense. This is a dangerous practice. Until we are confident and sure of what we can do with the carry gun, we are taking a serious risk. Disciplined and regular practice with the snubby is the only way to reduce the risk factor of carrying a gun that we really don’t know how to use.
Comments, suggestions, contributions? Contact me here