Millions of Americans exercise their right to legally carry a concealed firearm for defense, but simply having a gun in your pocket isn't enough to save your life. To protect yourself in a deadly encounter, you need to develop the proper mechanical skills to draw, aim and fire your weapon without conscious thought. These skills are developed over time.
Once we commit these actions to muscle memory, we can perform these tasks without direct attention and conscious effort. It's the same method you employed when you learned to ride a bike, write your name in cursive, and it is the same method that will allow you to defend yourself with a handgun.
If you're carrying a concealed handgun and you aren't practicing often, then you aren't truly prepared to defend yourself. Having that gun close at hand may make you feel more confident, but that is a false sense of security. To be truly prepared to draw your weapon in the worst situation imaginable, you need to commit yourself to developing the skills necessary to properly defend yourself.
Let's face it, ammunition is expensive. But that's no reason not to practice, and you can learn a lot during dry fire drills. Using snap caps or laser training devices like Laserlyte's Laser Trainer, practice drawing, aiming and firing your gun. This allows you to practice the entire series of actions — drawing the gun, grip, presentation and firing — hundreds of times a day without any live fire. This is also a great way to diagnose problems that might otherwise go unnoticed during live fire drills, such as flinching, improper sight alignment or poor trigger control.
New shooters who are afraid of recoil and muzzle blast will improve dramatically after just a few dry fire sessions because they can focus their attention on their mechanics and won't be anticipating the shot. Extended dry fire sessions will also help you develop muscle memory by repeating the same movements dozens or even hundreds of times.
A note about dry fire drills: Whenever you conduct dry fire training, you must be absolutely sure your gun is completely unloaded. Check the magazine and the chamber thoroughly, and never have any live ammunition on your person during dry fire drills. Treat the gun as if it were loaded at all times. Many 'œaccidental' shootings occur during dry fire drills because the shooter thought there were no live rounds in the gun or magazine.
Draw & Fire
For many shooters, there is a disconnect between carrying a gun and firing a gun. They've been to the range, but they neglect to practice the steps necessary to get the gun from the holster into shooting position. If you can't draw your gun properly and quickly, you've got a major problem in the event of a violent attack.
I prefer strong-side carry, and I spend as much time practicing my draw as I do actually firing. During the act of drawing the gun, I'm most likely to get hung up in clothing, miss my grip or lose my mental focus. If there's a bad guy coming at you, and your gun is drawn and aimed, you've got a chance of surviving. If your front sight is hung-up in your jacket, you're dead.
The bulk of my draw and fire drills are conducted when I'm practicing dry fire. The draw begins with a firm grip on the gun, a strong upward draw, rotation — the gun is now in a retention position close to my body — off-hand grip and presentation of the gun. This is an important drill and one I recommend you spend a lot of time working on, and be sure to wear the clothing you'll have on when you're out in the real world. You may find out some garments — sweatshirts with elastic waistbands, for example — make it very difficult to draw a concealed handgun quickly.
What are you going to do if your magazine runs dry and you're still in danger? If you've never practiced tactical reloads, odds are you'll spend time fumbling around looking for a spare mag and hoping you don't get hurt or killed before you can get that gun back in battery. No matter what you're carrying, you need to know how to reload in a hurry.
If you're carrying a semi-auto, begin by grasping the spare magazine with your off hand. Touching the nose of the top bullet will let you know that the magazine is facing the proper direction, and with the spare magazine clutched in your hand between your index finger and your middle finger, reach for the bottom of the grip while simultaneously pressing the magazine release with the thumb on your strong hand. Drop the empty magazine into your hand, load the fresh mag and release the slide. You're back in battery.
If you carry a revolver, push the cylinder release button, swing the cylinder out from the frame and with the gun tipped with the muzzle pointing upward, strike the ejection rod with the palm of the left hand. New rounds are released into the cylinder from a speed loader, and the cylinder is closed.
Both of these tactical reloads require a great deal of repetition to master, so spend plenty of time on this drill. Begin slowly and audibly announce what you are doing to help keep yourself focused. Being able to reload in a hurry might mean the difference between surviving an attack and becoming a victim.
Far-Middle-Near with Lateral Movement
This is a modified drill used by big game hunters to practice shooting dangerous game, but it also works well for defensive pistol shooting because it incorporates a variety of important skills. At the range, place the 'œfar' target about 12 yards from the shooting line. Ten feet to the right, place the 'œmiddle' target about 8 yards in front of the shooting line, and 10 feet to the right of that place the 'œnear' target at 4 yards, about the range of the average deadly encounter. You'll begin by shooting one shot center mass on the far target, and then will move laterally to shoot the middle target and the close target.
You're accomplishing several things with this drill: First, you are learning to change focus and engage targets at different ranges; second, you're incorporating movement, which is critical a skill for surviving a gunfight; third, you're training your brain to rapidly lock into a defensive shooting stance, improving your overall mechanics. As you improve, try double taps at all ranges, practice in the opposite direction (right to left), and incorporate tactical reloads.
Double Tap with Retention Hold & Movement
The double tap is one of the oldest and most basic drills in defensive shooting, but it's effective. Why? Because it teaches shooters to refocus and deliver a second shot quickly and accurately. When your entire time on the range is spent practicing slow-fire drills, our mind has a tendency to fall into a natural rhythm — shoot, relax grip, drop the gun to see where we hit, etc. The double tap is to defensive shooting what the swinging follow-through is to shotgunning. It keeps the shooter focused on the target, and it forces shooters to get back on target.
Double tap drills are also a good diagnostic tool. If the first shot is centered but the second is low-left or low-right then you may be having issues with trigger control on your follow-up shots. Sometimes, especially with new shooters, the second shot is scattered, indicating the shooter is losing focus on the target for the second shot — a common problem with novices.
Between double taps, I like to bring the gun back to a retention hold close to the body with the muzzle pointed downrange. This helps me to get into the habit of keeping my defensive weapon close to my body where an attacker can't grab the gun or knock it away. This is also a great drill to practice moving toward or away from the target. Beginners can fire two shots, step back and repeat. I like to practice moving backwards while delivering double taps on the target because that requires me to focus my attention on two things at once: moving and trigger manipulation.