Ronald Andring, Sr. is a veteran of a 30+ year career in law enforcement and corrections, serving with the Washington State Patrol, the Walla Walla Police Department, and the Washington Department of Corrections until his retirement in 2005.
Looking back to my first pistol purchase I also bought a box of ammunition and some targets, went to the range, shot some holes, and believed I could adequately defend myself in any situation. Such is the ignorance of youth. That was 45 years ago. Since then I have become both older and wiser. Not only have I become aware my practice strategy must evolve, but also the skills I developed must be constantly renewed as they can fade over time. I am now constantly asking myself when is good enough enough?
Regardless of our present skill level, those skills will degrade to some degree over time. The adage “use it or lose it” applies to all of the skills we develop in life, most importantly, self-defense skills. In an actual self-defense situation those skills will be degraded further because of the body’s natural stress response. We all respond similarly, to some degree, in stressful situations. Our heart rate and respiration quicken as our visual focus narrows. While this response helps us focus on a potential threat, it also leads our brains to fall back on our training for a response.
Regular training of defensive skills is important to successfully surviving a potentially deadly encounter. While a shooting range is required to actually practice firing your weapon, many related skills can be regularly practiced without firing a shot. These skills can be practiced using an inert firearm, or with an actual firearm, as long as it is unloaded. Before doing any practice with a firearm outside of a range be certain the magazine or cylinder is empty and there is no round in the chamber.
Practice Your Draw Stroke
The draw stroke is a skill which can be practiced anywhere. All it requires is a holster and your firearm. When practicing the draw stroke you should focus on each step, beginning slowly and working up your speed as your proficiency improves. The last thing you want is a premature discharge while drawing your weapon. The draw stroke is not a single action, but a series of steps that must be completed in order to successfully bring your weapon on target ready to shoot if necessary. There are four elements to the draw stroke, and each contributes to a successful presentation of your weapon to a target, and returning it safely to the holster.
The first step is getting your firearm ready to draw. Whether your firearm is concealed or opened carried this step is the same. It will also be similar whether your firearm is carried in the appendix, hip, back, shoulder or ankle position — use your support hand to sweep any cover garment up and away from your firearm. The last thing you want is to catch a sight, hammer or other portion of your firearm on your clothing. This could result in a delay, or worse, pulling your firearm from your hand.
At the same time you want to get a full firing grip on your firearm. A full firing grip means you are grasping your firearm in the same manner you do when you eventually shoot. If you do not have a full grip this will mean losing precious time resetting your grip later in the process, or possibly dropping your firearm. Without a full firing grip, at the end of the draw stroke your accuracy will likely suffer a decrease in accuracy. At this point you want to be sure your finger is off of the trigger to prevent a premature discharge.
In the second step your shooting hand should move sufficiently to bring the muzzle well out of the holster and bring your weapon to your chest with the muzzle facing forward. From this position you can fire quickly if necessary, which may be necessary if an attacker is on top of you already. If your firearm is equipped with a safety you should also practice releasing the safety in this step.
The third step of the draw stroke is to bring your support hand to your shooting hand and establish your strong two handed grip. Your shooting hand will be pushing forward into the palm of your support hand while your support hand is pulling back into your shooting hand. You should still be keeping your finger off of the trigger at this point, unless you need to shoot.
The fourth step is extending your arms into your firing position, focusing on your front sight, and if necessary to shoot, putting your finger on the trigger. At this point you will be acquiring your target, and making your decision about shooting. This same step can be used to bring your firearm to a low ready position, with your finger off of the trigger, if shooting immediately is not warranted.
Whether firing or not, re-holstering your firearm is equally important practice. Before re-holstering your firearm, be certain your finger is off of the trigger. Many an accidental discharge has occurred because the shooter had his/he finger on the trigger while re-holstering. To re-holster bring your arms back toward your body, separate your hands, bring the muzzle to the opening of the holster and push your firearm firmly into place.
Practice Target Acquisition
The best pointing device I know is my finger. I regularly practice target acquisition by holding my firearm in my shooting hand, extending my arms and aiming at a preselected target. It may be a picture on a wall, a light switch, a character on the TV. After pointing my firearm I check the accuracy of my aim. Generally the aim is accurate, but if not, I make the minor adjustment before pretending to pull the trigger. With practice you will find target acquisition becomes second nature. You should also practice acquiring multiple targets, firing a couple of rounds at each target before moving to the next.
Practice A Tactical Reload
While most shootings are with a single threat, and end with an average of 3-4 shots fired, there are exceptions. You may be faced with multiple threats, or a magazine malfunction, requiring a magazine change. If you are using a semi-auto pistol practice pressing the magazine release, letting the magazine fall to the ground. At the same time move your support hand to your spare magazine, grasp it firmly, and bring it up to the magazine well pushing it firmly into place. Make certain the magazine is firmly seated, otherwise when you release it from your hand, it too may fall to the ground. Then with your support hand work the slide back and release to chamber a round. Finally, return your support hand to your shooting grip position.
Carrying a spare magazine or two can be problematic. They can be carried loose in a pocket or purse, but you will most likely have difficulty manipulating them quickly into position. It is best to carry spare magazines in a holder which orients them top down, and bullets pointing forward. From this position the base of the magazine can be grasped between the thumb, index and middle fingers, pulled straight out, rotated 180 degrees and properly oriented for insertion into the magazine well. In the past I used belt mounted pouches, but in recent years have switched to using the SnagMag holder. The SnagMag clips inside my pocket with the magazine securely positioned top down with the bullets facing forward.
If you are using a revolver, you will need to push the cylinder release while rolling the cylinder open. Tip the revolver back, and push the ejection rod letting the spent brass fall to the ground. Stopping to catch the brass in your hand will delay your reload. Finally, insert fresh rounds, close the cylinder rotating it until it locks, and return to your support hand to your shooting grip. As with a semi-auto pistol, having a speed loader secured in a pouch will speed up your reload by keeping the rounds oriented for a clean insertion.
Practice Clearing Malfunctions
While modern firearms and ammunition are very reliable, malfunctions do occur. A round may fail to discharge, a magazine may fail to feed, or a spent casing may fail to fully eject, leaving the pistol in a condition known as “out of battery”. Out of battery means the pistol will not fire. In a stressful situation it is imperative you be able to clear the malfunction and restore your pistol to battery as quickly as possible.
The first step to clearing a malfunction is releasing the magazine. If you have only one magazine it will be necessary to grasp the base of the magazine between the last two fingers of your support hand before depressing the magazine release as you will need to reinsert that magazine once the malfunction is cleared. If you have a spare magazine, you can let the magazine drop to the ground. Once the magazine is out grasp the slide of the pistol with your support hand and work the slide back and forth a couple of times, being certain your finger is off of the trigger. Then firmly insert a magazine, pull the slide back and release to charge a round into the chamber before returning your support hand to your shooting grip.
Practice After Shooting Steps
Should you find yourself having to shoot in self-defense, what you do next can be just as important as the shooting itself. The first thing you need to acknowledge is you will be in a state of shock. This is completely normal. You may not be thinking clearly, which is why practicing the after incident steps is critical. It is a mistake to assume once the primary attacker is down the threat is over. He/she may have accomplices, so it is important to bring your firearm to a low ready with your finger off of the trigger. Take a moment to do a 360 degree visual sweep of the surrounding area to determine if any additional threats are present. If the attacker was armed, and his/her weapon is still accessible, move that weapon away if safe to do so. Otherwise, do not disturb the scene. There will be an after shooting investigation, and moving items may lead investigators to suspect the sce
investigators to suspect the scene was staged after the shooting. If the attacker is moving it is important to cover him/her at a low ready, giving clear instructions to stay down, not move, keep his/her hands visible, and to not touch the weapon.
As soon as it is safe to do so, call 911 to report the shooting. Tell the authorities it was a defensive shooting, the attacker is down, and you will surrender to the responding officers. If safe to do so, place your weapon in an open area away from you, and position yourself in a non-threatening manner, with hands empty and visible. Do not use your phone to make additional calls until after the responding officers have cleared you to do so. Having a cellphone in your hand when police arrive may get you shot because they mistook it for a weapon. Be prepared to be taken into custody while the preliminary investigation is conducted. Finally, give the officers a brief statement regarding the shooting, stating just the basic facts, and tell them you will submit to a more in depth interview once you have spoken with an attorney.
How Much Practice Is Enough?
Ideally the answer is to practice every day, but in reality, practicing these skills at least monthly if possible should keep your skills fresh. These skills can be completed in a short period of time, and will help you be confident you can defend yourself should the need arise.