Thursday, January 12, 2017

Your opinion does not trump my personal experience.


                                         "Your opinion does not trump my personal experience".
                                                                                                      - Jon Willis

Hard to believe, but Jon and I were sitting in a bar. I had not seen him in a few weeks and we were catching up after the holidays. The last time we had been together it was a group of guys sitting around a campfire enjoying fine whiskey and cigars after a grilled steak dinner. Again, hard to believe...

During this outing, I had over heard Jon get into a rather "lively" discussion on tourniquets and which one was best. Jon is a Firefighter/Paramedic and I know he has used these devices on the street numerous times, so I defer to him on the topic and his choice is what I carry in my IFAK and vehicle Trauma Kit.  What many people might not know is the tourniquet is debated in the TCCC crowd and its graduates like 9mm vs. .45 is in the handgun crowd.

Truth be told, I don't pay attention to this or many other debates as I have some personal experience, extensive training and I have a real good idea of what actually works. For situations that I don't, I have real world practitioners like Jon to advise me. In regards to tourniquets, I'm just glad to see the quality of tourniquet we now have! You should have seen the tourniquet I was taught to use back in the mid 80's when my SWAT team first created their own IFAK. Done at the direction of Emergency Room Physician and SWAT Doc Dr. Nicholas Pancol, my first tourniquet was merely a nylon strap with a slider buckle and locking device. It worked but it was BRUTAL to apply, hurt like a stick in the eye and probably did result in limb loss in a few hours due to it's thinness.  Listening the the debate of which tourniquet is better makes me smile...hell, I would have taken ANY of them over what we had back then!

The person Jon was talking with was not a street practitioner, merely a student, though his opinion on the topic was strong. Jon tried to explain to him why he liked his tourniquet based in using it in actual blood loss emergencies on the street, but this fellow was having none of it! I'm guessing whoever taught him was an instructor he held in high regard and such a person could not be in error due to iconic status. I was amused at how easy Jon sluffed it off. When I asked him about it, he just laughed and said "I tried to talk to him but he would not listen. I don't care...anyone can do what they like...but your opinion does not trump my personal experience."

BAM! There it is...I have never heard it said better. In a time when so many people are GREATLY affected by what they see and read in the movies, video games, blogs, You Tube, Facebook, Instagram , etc. etc. we need to stop, take a deep breath and see what has actually works in know, those stress filled events in which you are under great PRESSURE to perform...when lives are on the line...maybe YOURS...and not just what is currently popular or looks cool.

OPINION IS NOT FACT! Just because a noteworthy person says this is the way to do something does not mean we follow blindly without critical thought. I wish I had a nickel for every time I have asked a student why they are doing what they are doing or using the technique they are and I get a blank stare. "Huh? What do you mean?" they ask. "Why are you holding the gun like that?" or "Why are you doing this?" or  "What are you trying to accomplish by using this technique?" I will say in response. What do I get back? "I went to a class taught by XXX and he said do this." "OK", I will say, "WHY are you using it? How does it benefit you? How does it enhance your performance?" It is distressing to see how many students do not know beyond they were told to do it by a famous person.

Look, that instructor may be right on, but the student/shooter using it should know why! It's called Critical Thought and we are all capable of it, its just that many have decided to blindly follow and not ask why something will benefit them. If you are building skills to be used to save your life or the lives of those you love and care about you should know WHY THEY WORK! You should also want to have learned them from people who have used them in crisis mode! Why? Because they can tell you what it was like to do it, where it was strong, weak and what they did to improve it for next time.

Charisma is not fact, scientific sounding, non-sensical jargon is not fact, having a great time on the range is not fact, feeling cool and looking good is not fact. The fact is if you get it wrong you could die...

Your instructor has told you that actual conflict experience is not necessary? Gee...I wonder why? What I can say is their opinion does not trump my personal experience...

Thanks for checking in...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

“Load when you want to, not when you have to!”…Probably not…

The above statement has made a lot of sense to me over the years. I first heard it while taking the Heckler & Koch MP-5 Instructor Course in the late 1990’s.  Those who have used the weapon system know it does not lock open on the last round. The non-reciprocating cocking handle is located above the hand guard and protrudes from a tube at approximately a 45° angle. It is not connected to the bolt carrier and therefore cannot be used as a forward assist to fully seat the bolt group or lock open. The lever is locked back by pulling it fully to the rear and rotating it slightly clockwise where it can be hooked into an indent in the cocking lever tube. The FBI requested a “bolt open” feature on their 10mm version the MP-10. Thus, when the MP-5 ran dry, not only did you have to “push through” the hesitation caused by no round fired, you then had to eject the spent magazine, insert a new one and work the bolt handle to chamber a new round.  If you had the presence of mind to merely swap magazines before you drained the 30 round box magazine, life was a whole lot easier!

I have long felt the same concept should be applied to semi-automatic pistols.  The idea of shooting your pistol empty while a bad guy is shooting at you is almost mind numbing! Think about bullets impacting around you when suddenly the slide locks open and you have a dead trigger.  There is that moment it takes to recognize what has transpired followed by grabbing a new magazine, ejecting the spent one, inserting the new one, dropping the slide and reacquiring both the threat through the sights. If you “suffered” the misfortune of not having your slide lock open on the last round maybe you went through a “tap-rack” manipulation before you discovered your gun was empty? Never happened to you, you say? Murphy has this weird sense of humor…

A lot if time has passed here…combine it with someone trying to kill you while you were possibly on the move and it makes one start to think about “load when you want to, not when you have to” as being a good idea!

One problem…it doesn’t happen! I have tried VERY hard to keep the traditional speed load alive. First, it is like the “training wheels” for the slide lock or emergency reload, a way to teach the magazine exchange alone. Second, if you have the presence of mind to swap out magazines before the gun runs dry, life is so much easier! It has and can be done. My friend and Special Forces veteran Bob Keller told me recently he never runs his M-4 or Glock dry and used this methodology in hundreds of direct action missions during the GWOT. “ If I had a chance I reloaded…I may have only fired ten rounds but I kept my gun topped off at every opportunity.” The difference, of course, is Bob had a load out that included a high number of magazines (I don’t know how many, but he did tell me he sometimes did not carry a pistol so he could add more M-4 mags) so running low on ammo while following this methodology was slim.  He did tell me if he could retrieve the partially spent magazine he did.

When fighting with a semi-automatic pistol the argument against topping off like Bob describes is the VAST majority of folks (I’m sure there are some hard core, John Wick types out there who have magazines all around their belt) do not carry a sizable number of pistol magazines daily. Hell, some carry NO SPARE AT ALL, which makes this article a mute point for you.  Conversely, the argument can be made that pistol fights, historically, do not require a high number of rounds to “solve”. Most are over quickly with few rounds fired. Yes, yes, I know…do you want to bet your life on this? Well, many do as they choose to carry a low capacity handgun with no or just one reload. How many rounds does it take to win a gunfight? Yeah…I don’t know either…

Ok, at this point you might be thinking loading when you want to and not when you have to sounds like a good idea, provided you carry a spare magazine, that is.  This is where the problem lies…most do not have the presence of mind to do it!  Yes, there are a few gunslingers out there that do (before you post below how awesome YOU are I acknowledge this!) but they are the minority.  The fact of the matter is, students of combative pistolcraft shoot their pistols dry, period! I have been fighting it for decades now and I have decided to give up. As Dirty Harry once said…”a man has got to know his limitations” and I have reached it. While I still think it is a sound tactic to “load when you want to” (and I will still personally use it) I have given up on trying to introduce the classic speed load to my students.  Starting this year (2017) I will only address the slide lock/emergency reload in my courses.

Please do not take this as sour grapes as it is not. It is merely recognizing the tide and accepting it. I realize the time spent trying to introduce the speed load is time wasted that I could be using for other skill introduction and development.  Students pay good money for my courses and I owe them as much as I can offer. Why waste time on something students just will not do? Forget high stress, students continually shoot their pistols dry even during low stress drills such as “draw and shoot” ,“shoot from ready” or other simple exercises.  Students from my classes will tell you I continually walk the firing line offering the admonition, “there is no requirement to run your gun dry” or “ it is perfectly acceptable to top off your gun as you see fit’” but students just do not do it no matter how often I remind them.

What really surprises me is the number of folks who step up to the firing line to complete a known round count drill (for example, “draw and fire tree rounds in three seconds”) and do not have enough rounds in their gun to complete it!  Of course they always say, “I meant to do that…I wanted to push myself through an emergency reload under stress” (the look on their face when their gun runs dry unexpectedly tells another story!) which sounds one hell of a lot better than saying “I was not sharp enough to keep track of how many rounds were in my gun” and we all know one of the hallmarks of a true armed professional is always knowing the status of you gear.

While I do not think this is the best move, I think it is the correct one.  Hell, many students question why you would want to load before the gun is empty!  “These are perfectly good rounds, why waste them?”  The only thing I can think is they do not really understand the confusion and delay of action they will suffer when their gun runs dry in a REAL fight … “It only takes an additional half second to drop the slide…big deal!”  How many rounds can you fire in a half second, especially if the gun is already being fired? Also keep in mind the delay of action you will suffer when you expect a round to fire and it does not…something that does not happen when you expect the run to run dry, like in a range drill.  Additionally, will you notice the slide locked open or will you automatically “tap-rack” in a fight? So many questions…

Training, like any things in combative pistolcraft, is the answer but I can’t help but think we are making a mistake when it comes to when to reload. That said, from here on, its emergency reloads only in my classes but we will work hard to execute them well!

Thanks for checking in…

Monday, December 26, 2016

Every Day Carry…considerations for your REAL world of work and play!

As I advanced through my police career, I continually evaluated my individual readiness for conflict. I “war-gamed” potential scenarios, talked to my family about what to do, upgraded my weapons and everyday carry (EDC) gear and generally tried to stay prepared for the dangers that lurked on and off-duty. During several off-duty situations, I ran into people I had arrested. Recently, an older man walked up to me at Wal-Mart and told me he had just gotten out of person after 20 years and I had put him there! I had no idea who he was until he told me (to all my cop and former cop friends…this can happen to you! You might not remember them, but they remember you!), it made for a few tense moments until he told me he harbored no animosity and wished mea Merry Christmas. This renewed my need to stay vigilant to the possibility of attack for no other reason than what I had done for a living.

Street cops are called “first responders” and I like the term. When trouble starts, and everyone else is running away, cops run into the fray no matter what the situation. As Col. Dave Grossman has stated, cops “run to the sound of the guns.” It’s what cops do, and I’m damn proud to say I’ve done it. That said, how many armed citizens could suddenly find themselves thrust into the role of first responder? In a time of 4th Generation warfare where every citizen is a possible combatant (according to our enemies!) we must all be “active participants on out own rescue.”

I’ve been involved in a number of situations off-duty that had nothing to do with fighting and I had the proper state of mind to act instead of dither. I’ve helped traffic crash victims, found lost senior citizens, directed traffic until additional patrol units could arrive, pulled a drowning child from a pool, did CPR on a heart attack victim, treated a severe wound, talked to a suicidal subject and even cut away the trouser leg of a child whose pants got caught in an escalator. Yet with all of these situations, I never thought about my EDC carry gear being appropriate for anything other than armed conflict. A situation not too long ago, reaffirmed the need for everyone to be a potential first responder, to be ready for a wide variety of situations, whether cop or citizen, during the course of our everyday routine.

River Rescue

I read a story in the Salt Lake Tribune that gave me pause (Dec. 31, 2011: “Passers-by rescue children from submerged car in Utah river”). Three children were saved by passers-by after the car they were riding in lost control, fell down an embankment and landed upside-down in the icy Logan River. The 46-year-old driver was able to free himself, but the children, two nine-year-old girls and a four-year-old boy, were trapped in the freezing water. The doors of the car wouldn’t open, so a retired police officer named Chris Willden, shot his Glock 23 through the window to break it. Passers-by then assembled, flipped the car over and helped pull the children out of the broken windows.

Although the youngest child wasn’t breathing when freed, he was resuscitated and flown to a hospital. The two girls were treated for hypothermia. Calibre Press founder Chuck Remsberg interviewed Willden later on Willden offered these learning points to all who might face a similar circumstance.

• Never leave home without a knife, gun or flashlight.
• Keep current on first-aid and CPR certification.

• Train rain or shine—but rain is better: If you can perform in bad weather, you can
• Seatbelts are hard to cut. Consider carrying a seatbelt cutter and glass-breaker.

Fellow trainer and good friend John Farnam stated Willden was one of his students. After talking with him about the incident, John stated: “There were several other well-meaning citizens present, who bravely endured the freezing waters that day. But only Willden was truly prepared! He had the necessary tools at hand and the boldness to unhesitatingly take unilateral, dicey, audacious action, not waiting around for ‘someone else’ to ‘do something. Through preparation and boldness, he snatched victory from the jaws of disaster.”  Even though Willden is retired he rose to the occasion and took action when others didn’t. He was prepared mentally and had the gear he needed to accomplish the task.

How many of you can say the same? Could you stand back and watch three children drown? Nope, I couldn’t either! So it’s smart to stay ready.

EDC Gear

When it comes to EDC gear, what do you carry? Have you given it careful consideration based on your real world of work and play? Let’s examine the subject a bit. Like Willden, I carry a gun, knife and flashlight every day.

A Gun: It’s obvious—it’s a tool of personal security to be used when deadly force is reasonable based on the circumstances. In the case above, it was used as an impromptu window breaker…would you have thought of this? Would you know how to do it? True, not the best choice, but when nothing else will work as Clint Eastwood said in the movie Heartbreak Ridge, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.” My gun of choice: A Glock 19 in a some type of Kydex belt holster and accompanying magazine pouch with a 15-round magazine loaded with Speer Gold Dot 2 “impact expansion” hollow points. The G19 is compact enough to carry in all but the hottest weather, and is as reliable as any human-designed and engineered product can be.

I carry at three o’clock even though the current trend is towards appendix inside the waistband. While some call it hazardous, I have no problem with AIWB as long at the user trains with it and keep their finger away from the trigger when re-holstering… an accident that happens more often than many realize! I have spent decades building the familiar task of drawing from three o’clock and I am not going to go through the process required to change this late in my life. Regardless of where you carry…carry!

A Folding Knife: It’s a cutting tool to me. Sure, it could be used as a weapon, but how many people can remove it from their pocket and get it open while under attack? Very few without extensive practice! If you disagree, grab a folding trainer and try it as you spar with a training partner…a humbling experience to be sure. Having cut a few people out of seat belts, I can tell you a knife is a handy thing to have. I can also tell you that not having a cutting tool when you need one is a gut-wrenching, hopeless feeling. How would you feel if you were in Willden’s place and had to watch those children perish because you had no way to cut them free?

Although I’ve carried any number of folding knives over the years, I’ve settled on the Rick Hinderer three-inch Spanto folder. This knife is no larger than the palm of my hand but also fills it! It has a three-inch blade that can be opened with either the dual thumb studs or index finger flipper that doubles as a hand guard. With a titanium and G10 grip and a titanium blade lock, this lightweight knife is also rock-solid and tough as nails. I wish it had a small section of serrations for sawing through tough materials, but seldom can you have everything you want. That said, this Hinderer folder is everything I look for in an everyday folding knife. There are so many fantastic folding knives available; you should have no problem finding what fills your needs…just give it careful thought.  Part of the fun is finding it!

A Flashlight: An EDC flashlight doesn’t have to be a large or exceptionally bright light. It just needs to be able to search and navigate in bedroom-sized places. Or, in many cases, just needs to be bright enough to find a light switch or find your way out of a smoke-filled room. I had the opportunity to hear one of the survivors of the 9-11 World Trade Center attack speak, and he made it quite clear that the people who had flashlights were able to find their way out of the smoldering buildings. Smoke, dust and other debris can easily fill the air to the point where the naked eye can’t see. Having a white-light source can mean the difference between life and death.

My EDC flashlight has also been a bit of a journey and I admit to being a bit of a flashlight geek. While many folks want a “tactical” style light with a momentary tail cap activation switch for gun fighting, I’m not convinced it is essential for EDC. As we have tried to establish here, EDC application does not necessarily mean gun fighting…it means preparation. The Surefire Titan and Titan Plus are two key ring lights that are compact, robust and bright and can easily be carried everywhere. The twist cap activation does require a bit more effort but it also helps keep the light super compact. If you feel more comfortable with the momentary tail cap, the Streamlight ProTac 1AAA is a palm size light with three modes of light that can also be carried just about everywhere. Brite Strike, Fenix and a host of others offer a very impressive line of lights
for law enforcement, military
and EDC applications. A search on Amazon reveals a staggering number of white lights…just be careful, as there is also a lot of junk out there. If the light offers a tremendous number of features for a unbelievably low price it is probably crap!

A Cell Phone

Instant communication…a no-brainer. In this day and age, why would you be without one? I-Phone, Blackberry, Android? Who cares? Pick one…

First Aid Kit

The growing popularity and understood importance of Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) has made many folks think about what they can carry with them at all times that will address wounds. Some folks I know are ready for Armageddon on their belt but my concern is they will grow tired of the load and go from ready for every thing to ready for nothing. Its best to compromise and decide what is most likely needed for everyday use and keep it sleek.

People argue tourniquets these days like we used to argue 9mm vs. .45 or Weaver vs. Isosceles. Soft-T Wide, CAT, RAT, TK-4 ...the styles seem to be constantly growing and are lauded by some, demeaned by others. Truth be told, I use what my Paramedic friend Jon Willis recommends, as I do not know enough about the various types to independently select. There are a sizeable number of videos that explain the various models…again, choose wisely. Bandages and Combat Gauze are also widely available and should be considered. The great thing about all of these items is they are easy to use with simple training and while hands on training is ALWAYS best, you can get a lot of information on line about how to use TCCC related gear.


Its great to have gear, but if you are not fit enough to take action then what is the point? You don’t need to look like my buddy Greg Ellifritz to be considered “fit”, you just need to be able “to do”… to pull someone out of a window, run far enough to escape danger, climb a fence, pull yourself out of harms way, have a strong enough heart to withstand conflict, flexible enough to get through a tight space…you just never know! A big part of being able to “keep your head” in a crisis is keeping your heart rate low. If your resting heart rate is in the high 80’s or low 90’s this is going to be real hard to do. My resting heart rate is 63 and I am 61 years old…it can be done. Yes, it requires effort, but most thing worth doing… does!

The bottom line: As a possible first responder, whether you be law enforcement or legally armed citizen, be prepared for a wide variety of situations, not just a gunfight. If you haven’t given careful consideration to your EDC gear, it’s time. Take a good look at what you need— someone’s life…or even your own…may depend on it.  Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Reloading: Essential or insignificant?

Opinions on reloading, especially when running a semi-automatic pistol, vary greatly, even among the instructional community. Depending on your background or desired application, reloading is everything from critical to useless…”something that seldom happens” except in competition where it is often times forced on the shooter. So, what is the reality of the reload in combat? Do we ignore it or do we emphasize it? Remember what they say about opinions and those stink! Also consider an opinion is not fact, even if you do read it on line from a “famous” person…

Based on my many interviews and life long study of armed conflict (something many claim to have done) I will offer this: reloading in a pistol fight does not happen often…but it HAS happened and when it does there is a need to reload very, very quickly! Based on my many years of training law enforcement officers, legally armed citizens and some military folks, most do not reload very well. They are slow, look clunky and uncoordinated, are imprecise or carry their spare magazine in a piece of crap magazine pouch (LE issues the worst!), having given NO thought to what they bought other than price. A properly fitted magazine pouch should cover no more than half of the magazine body so the shooter can get a proper grip on it. Proper grip is important if you wish to do it well! A magazine pouch made for a Glock 17 is not a good choice for the 26, regardless of what the gun store clerk told you.

Others do it so well it is all they want to do!  Go on You Tube and watch all of the homemade videos of people attempting a one second speed reload. Many are quite good, but what does it mean? Bragging rights mostly, as performing a reload that fast, unless you are expecting it (like in a competition) is unlikely.  What about “load when you want to, not when you have to?” Having used the H & K MP-5 for many years (it did not lock open on the last round unless you had an MP-10) I am a BIG proponent of the concept, the problem is most are not capable of that level of focus…they will shoot their gun empty, even in practice. Yes, YOU may be the exception, but I am talking the typical student of pistol craft. Please resist the temptation of logging in to dispute this by telling me how awesome you are. I get it…

Even keeping the gun “topped off” seldom happens. I emphasize in my classes to keep the gun topped off. “There is no reason to start a three round drill with one round in your gun”, I say time and again, yet students continue to ignore my words. “I wanted to have a slide lock reload to force myself through it” I am told. Why would you do that? I know its bullshit and the student knows I know, but saying it is a way for them to save face. An armed professional always knows the status of their gear…something that can be accomplished with a bit of discipline. There is a time to reload under pressure, but a three round drill that is emphasizing some other skill set is NOT the time to do it! I want the student to concentrate on the skill being taught, not doing an unnecessary reload, which divides said concentration. And let’s be honest, most adults have only so much concentration capability, so I do not want to waste what they have on unnecessary actions!

So, when do we practice the reload? Some say we do not practice it at all, claiming that when the gun needs reloading during other training activities it will be enough. Sounds good, but will it? In my almost four decades of experience, this depends on the training regimen. If running the gun empty seldom happens in your routine, then it will probably not be enough. In addition, watch people when they do practice. The gun will go empty and they will reload it at some lackadaisical pace, as they do not want to “damage” their magazine by dropping it or don’t want to bend over to pick it up. If it is not “reload practice”, then it is not what will be emphasized. Lack of discipline, you say? Yep! It is…but saying this will not change it…its human nature, pure and simple. In my classes I constantly yell, “do not waste the opportunity for a good practice repetition!” meaning when you need to draw, reload, clear a stoppage, etc. do it like you are in a fight! But they won’t unless I ride them; they will fall back into just getting the task accomplished. Yep…lackadaisical…I sometimes wish I could just threaten my student’s lives just a little bit…make them understand what is at stake…but I just don’t want to go to jail at this late stage of my life. In the end, its up to them…

This is why I teach the reload and I make people practice it. I still teach the classic in battery speed load versus just teaching the emergency or slide lock reload. I do this as I think of the speed load as ”training wheels” for the emergency load.  If you take a moment to think about it, the emergency reload is the same as the speed load, you just have to drop the slide. Should we discuss the “controversy” of how to drop the slide? Shooting hand thumb, support hand thumb, over hand (saddle) grip, “pull on a rope” grip? You have no idea how much I do not give a shit how you release the slide! As long as you get it done as quickly as possible, that’s all I care about. For more on this, go to the Handgun Combatives You Tube channel where I address this subject in one of y videos.

What is interesting to note is even though I teach the speed load and tell students “load when you want to, not when you have to” the only time they will do so is when they are forced to do it…when they gun runs dry! You know what else is interesting? How they stand and stare at the gun when it does happen, especially when the slide does not lock open due to a malfunctioning slide lock lever or their shooting hand thumb was resting on it. This results in a five to six second reload which is a “get killed” level of speed…

Tactical or magazine retention reload? I show students a couple of ways to do this but spend little time practicing it. Why? They seem to get plenty of practice as they perform the “lackadaisical reload” previously discussed. You know, so they don’t damage or have to bend over a pick up their magazine. Ok, ok…rant off…sorry…

How fast should a reload be? As I previously stated, if a shooter does have to reload in a fight, it needs to be fast as the history of pistol fighting over several centuries has shown us they are over quickly...seconds not minutes. Just like the draw from the holster, I think you should be able to perform a shot to shot reload in around two to two and a half seconds with a pistol, regardless of the situation faced. No, this is not hard to do standing still with no stress on the square range, but can you do it on the move in the middle of a fight? Sitting behind the steering wheel of your car? Hunkered down behind low cover? Something to consider.  A revolver reload will be slower…no way around this even with speed loaders, but we have known for a long time that the primary advantage of a pistol over a revolver is capacity (not firepower…and AC-130 has firepower) and speed/ease of reload. The “New York Reload” as popularized by Jim Cirillo is the answer here.

Should I just “look” the magazine into the magazine well? Sounds inviting, but from personal experience…and the experience of the many people I have interviewed…you will have a hard time taking your eyes off of the person who is trying to kill you. And if you are behind cover, you will probably want to track where they are so they don’t flank you. “It is only a brief second” you say? Then go ahead and believe it /do it…I don’t care… I’m just telling you what will happen when someone is trying to take your life. You are welcome to any gun fighting fantasy you choose. I think it is ok to watch your magazine as you are learning, but as you get better, it is a good idea to do it quickly and efficiently by feel. There is a method for doing this that many instructors do not know or teach…reloading should be done by feel, not sight just like the draw.

In order to reload…or any crisis-level skill, really… to a level of motor skill “automaticity” you will have to practice it. PRACTICE is the key to any skill development and anchorage and anyone who disputes this does not understand proven motor learning skill development. How often should you practice? It depends on how much you suck at the particular skill! If you struggle with reloading, you will have to focus on it. I would suggest you practice reloading in a dry fire environment…don’t waste expensive ammo practicing to reload. If you can walk out on the range and perform a 2-2.5 second emergency reload cold, go practice something else! I start each of my practice sessions with a series of skill drills and I use them to tell me what I need to practice on that day. My reload standard is 1.5 seconds for a speed load and 2 seconds for an emergency reload. I add .25 second for garment removal. I will be honest here, if I am struggling with a skill, I will work it unconcealed until I smooth it out, then I will conceal.

I do each drill three times and if I hit the standards, I practice what I want on that day. If not, that is where I focus. It is a system that works for me and has done so for decades. As Bruce Lee so eloquently said, “Advanced skills are the basics mastered.” To me, “mastered” means automaticity.

So, did I change your opinions on reloading? Probably not…but if I have gotten you to think about it, consider what you do or how your practice, then I did my job. Did I step on what your guru thinks? Yeah…don’t care. What I do and teach I know works in the street over many years. It doesn’t mean other techniques don’t work; I just have confidence in mine. Stay safe, thanks for checking in and have a great holiday season!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Federal HST…the new standard of excellence.

There was a time when I collected shooting reports from all across the country. It started in the late 1980s when I was working on my master’s degree in criminal justice administration and I needed to pick a thesis topic. I proposed a research project entitled "The Incapacitation Effectiveness of Police Handgun Ammunition" and my student advisor and counseling professor accepted it.

In addition, I conducted ballistic research by shooting bullets into various mediums—including ballistic gelatin, wet undertaker’s cotton, duct sealant and water tanks—to determine whether or not one substance was better than another based on the bullets removed from human tissue. I was also permitted to use my agency’s letterhead to solicit shooting and autopsy reports from across the country. I contacted many of the country’s largest agencies and they responded to my request. I kept many of those contacts open over the years and continued to exchange data with officers across the country. I quit doing it several years ago as I retired (along with many of my contacts) and in truth, I wasn’t learning anything new.

This network kept me abreast on the types of ammo that worked on the street and which did not. Many promising ammo styles (based on lab testing) ended up as dismal failures in the street. Others proved worthy. I’ve seen continued success with the .38 special all-lead hollow point regardless of brand; the Winchester SXT and Speer Gold Dot regardless of caliber; and the Federal Hydra-Shok in slow- moving bullets, like the 230 grain .45 caliber or 147 grain 9 mm.

Recently, while driving home from a course in Richmond, VA with co-instructor Brian Buchanan, “Bucky” told me about a recent shooting his agency was involved in. The reason this event was significant is due to the department changing from .40 “back” to 9mm, something many in the department felt was moving in the wrong direction. If the first shooting had been a disaster, controversy would follow. As it turned out, the officer stopped the suspect with a 147-grain Federal HST load, which was selected after an exhausting test period, which included ammunition styles from across the spectrum. The Federal 147 HST was selected as the selection committee felt it had the best performance parameters, loosing nothing from the .40 S & W. The bullet performed flawlessly and raised confidence across the agency.

I’ve been watching the progress of Federal’s HST over the years as it takes some time to see street results and HST’s results have been impressive across the caliber spectrum, offering consistent expansion and optimum penetration for terminal ballistic performance, i.e. incapacitation potential. HST’s specially designed hollow-point tip won’t plug while passing through a variety of barriers, and it holds its jacket in the toughest conditions…two claims that have been born out over a growing number of shootings. HST is engineered to provide 100% weight retention through most barriers and impressive expansion, often as much as doubling its original diameter.

The hard object penetration was really brought home to me recently during a vehicle combat course I taught in Northern Minnesota. Two Federal employees were enrolled in the course and offered to insert ballistic gelatin into the cars during the small “lab segment “ in include in each class. During this block, I normally allow the students to shoot the vehicles with the ammo they carry to see how well it will penetrate. The gelatin just added to the experience and I can honestly say the HST loads in both 9mm and .40 worked flawlessly! They were only eclipsed by one load, the new Speer Gold Dot 2, designed for the FBI.

I should note, I was made aware of the encouraging lab results of the HST before it even hit the market. I was at Federal’s Anoka, Minn., plant writing an article on the Expanding Full-Metal Jacket (EMFJ) ammunition when I was asked if I wanted to see the next-generation hollow point. Hell yes—who wouldn’t I thought?!  I was shown a series of bullets that had been fired through various mediums into ballistic gelatin and all displayed incredibly consistent performance. I was then allowed to enter the ballistic lab and watch tests being conducted. I admit to being impressed by what I saw, but I wanted to see actual shooting data. Well, HST has been on the market long enough for shooting data to roll in and results show the bullet is as good as the early testing said it would be. As a matter of fact, it would not be out of line to say it is the most street proven load currently available.

Although some say HST stands for High Shock Two, Federal says it really doesn’t stand for anything other than a designation for
a line of ammo. During an email exchange
with Tom Burczynski, 
the inventor of the
 HST bullet as well
as several other
successful bullet designs, he
 wrote, “After
 testing, I submitted two different concepts (for two different bullets) to Federal. One concept dealt with a serrated core while the other dealt with a series of highly effective scores in the jacket. Federal engineers incorporated both concepts into the same bullet and dreamed up a way to align the serrations with the scores in the jacket. It is a pre-stressed core, which is why the expanded bullets look like El Dorado Starfire (no longer in production) and Speer Gold Dot.” It’s also the reason why the HST expands and penetrates so well through various barriers and materials.

According to Burczynski, early versions expanded well through FBI cloth, but not International Wound Ballistics Association denim test medium. Federal re-worked the bullet and later versions expanded well through denim as well. Over the years, Federal tweaked the bullet’s velocity—raising the velocity of some loads while lowering others—to get the maximum performance parameters from each load. In the end, Federal has a bullet design that’s only rivaled by the Gold Dot in on-the-street effectiveness. I have seen actual shooting data on the 124 and 147 grain 9 mm, 165 and 180 grain .40 S & W and the 230 grain +P .45. The performance of the HST in this limited number of actual shootings is exemplary. The 124 and 147 loads expanded to .65 and .63 in tissue, while the .40 loads deformed to .66 and .65 respectively. The +P .45 was recovered at autopsy to have expanded to a whopping .74 caliber—that’s three fourths of an inch! Even though this is a limited number of shootings, it’s certainly enough for me to recommend with HST with confidence.

Recently, I decided to perform my own tests with the HST using both 10% ordnance gelatin ( a real pain in the ass, to be honest) and rolls
 of-wet undertaker’s cotton. The cotton material was a substance formerly used by the crime lab in my jurisdiction to trap bullets for ballistic comparison. David Taulbee, the late master firearm’s examiner at the lab (and one of the smartest ballistics experts I’ve ever met), noticed the bullets he fired into the cotton looked very similar to those removed from bodies at autopsy. He conducted a number of tests in the mid-1980s and determined the rolls of cotton were an excellent way to test bullet expansion and I couldn’t agree more. I fired the bullets into the gelatin and cotton at 15 feet with the bullets crossing the screen of a Shooting Chrony chronograph. I only charted penetration in the gelatin, as it is difficult to do in the cotton. Cotton is a great “back yard” test medium for those who wish to do it yourself. The leg of a pair of blue jeans covered the gelatin and cotton and the guns used were a Glock 17, 22 and 21.

To test accuracy, I bench rested the three guns and grouped each load at 25 yards that, admittedly, is outside the normal distance law enforcement or armed citizen use of a handgun, but in the age of the Active Killer, “normal” is being pushed out further. That said, when testing a gun’s accuracy, why not take it to the limit?

In the end, only you or your agency can determine what load or caliber is right for you and yours. Note: I don’t recommend purchasing ammo solely based on a magazine article review. Instead, research and test any potential issue or carry load for yourself. HST is a real good place to start!

Caliber      Load Type      Velocity    Cotton   Gelatin      Penetration
9 mm   124 grain +P  1,177 fps   .65 .62           12.5 inches
9 mm   147 grain    987 fps   .64 .61           14.5 inches
.40 S & W 165 grain  1,112 fps   .66 .67           14.5 inches
.40 S & W 180 grain  1,008 fps   .64 .66           15.5 inches
.45 ACP    230 grain +P    977 fps    .70         .71             13.5 inches

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Choosing the Combat Handgun: Don’t get “wrapped around the axle”…

Many years ago, the late, great Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper told me, while engaged in a private conversation in his home, “The Sconce”, the three primary features required when selecting a combat pistol were “reliability, high visibility sights and a good trigger”. Hard to dispute these and I consider them iron clad, but in this day and age I would add fit. The number of pistol models has grown considerably over the years and the gun must fit your hand if you are going to shoot to your potential.

Today, a pistol made by a reputable manufacturer will probably be as reliable as human design and engineering can allow. Yes, individual models might be turds, but these lone samples should not reflect on the model line in its totality. In my classes, which occur most every weekend and have between 12 and 16 students, 70 % of the guns are Glocks. Seldom do I see a problem with a Glock, even the ones that have been (in some cases highly) customized. When I do see Glock problems, it is usually do to too weak springs in an attempt to make the trigger "better". The next 15% is the Smith & Wesson M&P with the remaining 15% a smattering of all other pistols...1911's, HK VP-9's and SIG 320’s for the most part. All of these guns are "reliable" and run well.

High visibility sights would be the next requirement and this would be up to the shooter. While I was recently criticized by a high profile instructor for saying "buy the sights you like" (he feels a good instructor can teach you to shoot with any sights which has some validity, but selecting what you like is certainly a plus. In reality, he was just stirring up shit where there was none), I stand by this statement/feeling. I like my Ameriglo CAP Sights, which offers a square in a square with a bright colored front sight, while others prefer thin black on black sights like those designed by Kyle Defoor. The Ameriglo Hackathorn Sight and the Trijicon High Visibility sight are quite popular and for good reason...they work! I have seen many students do good work with the XS Big and Small dot sights...I really don't care as long as you can hit what you are shooting at from contact distance to 25 yards. Being able to truly SEE the sights is also a big plus! The great case you missed there are a large number of sight configurations to choose from!

A "good trigger”...this is where many become confused, as a good trigger is not the same as a light trigger. A good trigger is one that can be depressed smoothly to the rear without glitches, snags and catches in the action. Having a smooth trigger helps keep the hand from clenching when trying to depress the trigger, which will take the muzzle off target. Keep in mind 1/8th inch of muzzle movement is 4 inches at 20 feet. Thus, having a smooth trigger is critical! It is wise to remember the hand works as a team, with four fingers opposing a thumb, while the thumb and index finger are also “hard wired” to work together. Isolation of the index finger is certainly possible, but is difficult to do when you ask it to apply pressure individually…the rest of the fingers WILL want to help!  Compression of the pinky finger can really move the muzzle…remember the pistol is a lever and what is done at one end will move the other.

Man…rifles are so much easier to shoot, aren’t they!! Too bad they are not as portable… crap…

When I was still carrying a revolver on duty, it was quite common to have an action job performed, as most revolver actions were atrocious from the factory. Consider all of the moving parts that engage and interact in a revolver…to cock the hammer and rotate the cylinder…most revolver triggers felt like one snag after another! A good action job did not lighten the trigger, it smoothed out all of the engagement surfaces so the trigger could be “rolled” to the rear without taking the muzzle off target. Revolver actions that were nothing more than “clipping coils” off the hammer spring resulted in an unreliable weapon, which violates the first requirement listed here. Not good…

Pistol actions should seek the same end result…a smooth depressing to the rear, not a light trigger. The popular Glock has the famous “catch” in the trigger action that occurs when the tail end of the trigger bar engages the connector shelf, which pulls the trigger bar down to release the striker. If you think about it, the Glock is just a big slingshot…pull back, let go! Sure wish I had thought of it…this simplicity is what makes it so popular…

 The 3.5 connector (like those available from Ghost Inc.) was created to offer a less severe angle to this shelf to help reduce this glitch or catch, but it also lightens the over all trigger weight which concerns some. Trigger weight can easily be added by increasing the weight or the trigger and striker springs. In addition, polishing the engagement surfaces of the internal parts on a Glock can smooth the action but make sure you don’t round the edges, which can make the gun unreliable. Sharp edges of the trigger components are required to properly engage one another and perform their function(s). When in doubt, let a qualified gunsmith do the job.

The 1911’s are the easiest pistols to shoot as far as the index finger is concerned. The trigger action is short and slides straight to the rear versus most other pistol designs, which rotate from the top. The downside of the 1911 is the additional safety levers that must be engaged and disengaged during operation, which makes the gun unpopular in some circles. I have shot 6, 8 even 10 pound pistol triggers that were smooth and worked quite well. Ernest Langdon performed an action job on my Beretta 92FC and turned that gun into a pistol that was VERY easy to shoot! The problem was I could not reach the trigger, which leads us to the requirement I have added…fit.

When I think of the word “fit” as it relates to the handgun, I picture the pistol fitting square into the web of the hand (along the bones of the fore arm) and the index finger engaging the trigger with proper “geometry”…placement of the pad square on the trigger face without having to stretch out to reach it. At the same time, not having too much finger sticking through to the opposing side of the gun as both conditions will affect a shooter’s ability to depress the trigger straight to the rear without muzzle movement.  Folks with large hands can easily find a pistol that will properly fit… it’s those of us (like me!) who have small hands or short fingers that struggle. A pistol with a single column grip can help, but I, for one, like the added capacity of a double column handgun. Having to reload in a gunfight is a complex task and adding a thin single column magazine/magazine well just adds to this complexity.  In my mind, more bullets is certainly better!

Changing the grip…something that was done with boring regularity on revolvers…can help and having pistols with inter-changeable back straps has been a real Godsend for many.  Being able to reduce the grip and length of reach around the grip tang helps achieve the proper finger geometry. Glock has been the real challenge and while the reduced grip of the 4th generation gun has helped (I am told the new M Series is even better), it is the after market grip reduction…first undertaken by Robbie Barrkman of Robar…that has made the Glock a more “shoot-able” pistol for many. Legal experts seem to agree changing the grip on any gun is OK; so to struggle with a too large grip is just silly.

What I would like to see is the incorporation of more reduced or short reach triggers. Triggers that are actually curved or reconfigured to reduce the reach around the grip tang by the index finger for enhanced placement. It would be best if the manufacturers did this…SIG used to offer a short reach trigger for their original P-226 and 228 pistols and I have one on my P-228…it really helps! Bob Meszaros of Templar Custom Arms has worked out a solution for a shorter reach trigger for the Glock he calls the FACT (Fast Action Combat) Trigger which does not lighten the trigger action. As a matter of fact (pun intended) it uses a five -pound connector but you would not know it! Those in the legal community argue such a trigger could increase liability, but I choose to enhance my shooting ability instead of worrying about this. If I am involved in a shooting and the short reach trigger becomes an issue, I am prepared to defend my use by arguing it made it more likely for me to hit what I am shooting at versus errant rounds flying astray. That said, this decision is certainly up to you and you should think about it.

Caliber…it wasn’t part of the opening paragraph, but how can we talk about pistol selection without at least mentioning it? While I have always been skeptical of ballistic gelatin, recent weeks have finally settled my mind on the issue and I believe we now have enough data…both from the street and from the lab…to predict handgun ammo performance. It also settled in my mind that current generation ammo design has made the .40 S&W (.357 SIG??) obsolete. If you like it, use it, but I am convinced its performance is no longer superior to the 9mm due to current ammo design…why put up with the reduced capacity or the added recoil? Again, up to you. The .45 ACP? I agree with Ken Hackathorn and believe it is about 10% better than the 9…which is not so much that it will make up for poor shot placement. In the end, you have to hit what you are shooting at. Again, caliber selection is up to you…

There you have it: reliability, high visibility sights, good trigger and proper fit (with caliber crammed in)…if you shop well and achieve all of these you will likely have a combat handgun you can count on to save your life! Of course, training and practice are JUST AS IMPORTANT as selecting the gun. Thus, choose wisely and train hard!

Thanks for checking in!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Handgun Ammo Selection: The best ever!

It has been an interesting month. Over the last four weeks I have taught several Vehicle Combatives courses along with a special event for Ruger at the FTW Ranch in Texas. In all of these events, I have been involved in a variety of handgun ammunition tests that have led me (once again) to state we have THE BEST combative handgun ammo ever!

It started in 1987 when several FBI Agents died in a shoot out with several armored car robbers in Miami, Florida. One of the two suspects fought like a rapid dog even after taking fatal wounds and it was later determined one of the 9mm bullets did not penetrate deep enough to reach vital organs. While this determination has been disputed and debated, what did happen was a revolution in handgun ammunition design and development. Yes, we worked our way though the 10mm Lite and the .40 S&W…and these were useful additions at the time…but we have once again settled on the 9mm or .45 as the aforementioned R & D into combative ammunition has pretty much eliminated any advantage the .40 had over the 9.

I have seen proof of this over the last few weeks as bullet after bullet has been fired into vehicles, though wallboard and into typical clothing on its way to ballistic gelatin, the international standard for testing ammo effectiveness. What I have seen time and again in the last few weeks is a wide selection of rounds punch though a variety of intermediate barriers, expand and penetrate to a depth that is potentially fatal to anyone on the wrong end of the bullet. While I will be the first to tell you ballistic gelatin in not the same as a human torso, it is a valid test when comparing one round against another. There is just no way to know how any small arm round will affect an amped up, attacking human being…there never will be until we can place our “Phasers on stun”. That said, ballistic gelatin is the best alternative to human tissue, but the smart student of wound ballistics will combine street data with laboratory testing…something I have tried to do for decades now.

While in Kalamazoo, Michigan, students fired a number of 9mm and .45 rounds through auto glass into paper targets to determine deflection, something that is greatly affected by the slant of any windshield. That said, rounds like the Federal HST, Speer Gold Dot, Hornady Critical Duty/Defense and Barnes-X all copper hollow points worked quite well. A few weeks later, I traveled to FTW and witnessed a VERY extensive ballistic laboratory put on by Hornady showing the across the board effectiveness of their Critical Duty ammunition in all of the FBI protocols. The impressive thing here is Hornady set up each protocol side-by-side and shot through each barrier one after another. The blocks of gelatin were next to each other so the participants in attendance could see the consistent expansion and penetration right down the line.

A week later, I headed to Brainerd, Minnesota for another Vehicle Combatives course where several Vista Outdoor (Federal/Speer) employees were students and brought along a nice supply of ballistic gelatin so students could see what their chosen load would do not only though auto glass, but what the bullet would do in the gel after it has passed through the glass. In every Vehicle Combatives course I teach, I set aside a block of time for each student to test their carry load against various parts of a vehicle for their own edification. In this case, the folks from Vista placed blocks of gel in the vehicle so the student could see the whole picture. What was unique about this set up was actual cars were used, not pieces of auto glass placed in a brace a set distance from the gelatin block.

Of course, with all of this ballistic gelatin available, students wanted to see as much of the FBI protocol as they could and the folks from Vista were more than happy to oblige. They had a nice supply of Federal 147 grain HST, Speer 147 grain Gold Dot 2 (the new FBI load), Speer 124 grain Gold Dot +P (the NYPD load) and Federal 165 grain HST .40. The results of the test were impressive! Every round penetrated and deformed as they passed through various barriers and penetrated 10 inches plus. The clothing used was not swatches of cloth, the old coats and shirts the students brought along. Great participation! While I had read some very critical tests of the Gold Dot 2 on line, I did not see anything like what I read during this test…and this was done with real cars, clothing and the like…not a laboratory setting in any way.

What the past month has done is make me rethink is my selection of the 9mm all copper hollow point as my carry load. While I still believe the all copper bullet has a bright future, in the most recent testing I witnessed I did not see a level of superiority over the bullets discussed here. In addition, as I travel to from class to class, I have received complaints from students about the all copper hollow points as they are hard to get, expensive and in the case of one company, they are treated rudely by employees when inquiries are made in regards to availability. Indeed, I have been blown off by this company myself over the last half year! This will certainly affect anyone’s viewpoint of a particular product and the desire to endorse it, no matter how good it is.

No worries, however, as we have THE BEST combative handgun ammo in history…of that I am convinced. I only know of one shooting with the new Gold Dot 2…certainly not enough to establish a track record…but the round performed as designed so this is certainly encouraging. The Federal HST is THE choice for American law enforcement and it has an increasingly impressive performance record in the street…something that can also be said for the NYPD’s 124 grain +P Gold Dot. Combine this with impressive test results and it would appear the choice is clear, right? Not so fast you say? There are other good choices? You are right, of course…but the choice/search is certainly much easier than ever before…

Thanks for checking in…