Dig For It: Getting Your Gun into the Fight

» IN THE TIME I’VE BEEN STUDYING the gun side of the counter-offensive fight, I’ve seen numerous articles, photo sequences, and videos demonstrating the drawstroke. Some of them have gone into almost instant-by-instant detail regarding how to clear a cover garment, access the weapon, and bring it to a firing position. Most were good to great and a few not so much, but most of them were useful to at least some degree.

I do, however, have a problem with the vast majority of drawstroke instruction that I’ve seen: almost none of it references the way I cover my weapon(s).

This is because, with very few exceptions (I can remember three), even when the weapon was covered, it was covered with what is called “open-front” cover, whereas I and many others carry under what is called “closed-front” cover.

The alternative, however, is that you don’t get the gun out, and adding a couple of tenth-seconds to the time to fire is a small price to pay when compared to not being able to fire at all.

The alternative, however, is that you don’t get the gun out, and adding a couple of tenth-seconds to the time to fire is a small price to pay when compared to not being able to fire at all.

›› (1) When drawing from open-front cover, the first step is to brush the garment aside with the draw hand and establish a firing grip on the gun. This is also the time to defeat any retention devices on the holster and to lock your support hand onto your chest to keep it out of the way and to stage it for the third step of the draw. (2) Keeping your off-hand tight in on your chest, bring the gun up to a position from which you could fire if you had to. (3) Solidly plant your support hand into a two-handed firing grip and punch both arms out straight, locking them into a stable and consistent firing platform.

Open-front cover is, as the name implies, a cover garment that can be opened at the front. Jackets and coats, vests of various kinds, button-down shirts, and zippered sweatshirts are all examples of open-front cover. Open-front cover can be swept aside and back (as many guides to the drawstroke demonstrate) to clear the weapon and allow unobstructed access.

Closed-front cover cannot be opened and cannot be swept aside. T-shirts, sweatshirts, and pullover sweaters are examples of closed-front cover. Note that an otherwise open-front garment can become closed-front by the simple act of buttoning or zipping it up. Closed-front cover will not sweep away from the weapon; it has to be pulled up. This can be a simple task, but not quite as simple as the sweep-away of the open-front cover.

I find that my hand chooses the way it wants to move as long as my intent is to get the weapoin up and into action.

I find that my hand chooses the way it wants to move as long as my intent is to get the weapoin up and into action.

I want to be upfront with you about this: there is greater risk of a closed-front garment getting in the way of your draw. However, it is not a risk that I worry about for two reasons: 1) When the draw is executed correctly, the cover presents a small enough risk of interference that I am not concerned, and 2) I know how to go past, around, or through that intereference very quickly when accessing my weapon becomes necessary.

Of the two types of cover, I believe that more people carry under closed-front than open-front garments. This opinion (that in my experience is fact-based) is why I remain so puzzled by the dearth of guidance regarding the best way to draw from this condition, and why I hope to give you some guidelines on how to best perform the drawstroke from under closed-front cover.

Here is the most important thing you can do to successfully perform the draw from under closed-front cover:

USE BOTH HANDS

Begin the cover clearance by grasping the lower edge of the cover garment with both hands. Hands should be spaced so that they are at either side of the holstered gun, shooting hand on the grip side. Spacing should be the length of the grip or width of the holster at minimum and perhaps an inch more at the maximum.

Get a good grip on the garment with both hands, lift with both hands, and clear the cover from the gun with both hands, pulling up and a little out. As soon as the cover is clear of the weapon, release the grip of the shooting hand and get a firing grip on the butt of the sidearm with that now-free hand. The other hand will continue to pull the cover up while the shooting hand acquires the grip and begins the drawstroke. Until the cover has cleared the weapon, though, keep both hands on it. Once the weapon is clear of the holster, you can release the cover and start moving the support hand to meet the gun for a proper two-hand grip.

Using both hands is especially important when clearing a closed jacket or coat, even more so if the garment is of more than medium weight and especially if the pistol is under both a shirt and a jacket. Be advised that you will probably need to pull outerwear farther and higher than any shirt, and that a jacket will not pull as freely as a shirt will. This aside, it has been my experience working from under coats and jackets that you should still have enough room to clear the weapon.

If you have to clear a garment one-handed, begin with the shooting hand ahead of the gun. Pull up and back in an arc from where you grip the cover to where your hand is over the grip of the gun. Make sure you spread the thumb out as you open your hand and drive it into the grip of the sidearm. The thumb will help keep the cover clear of the weapon, allowing you to draw and, if necessary, fire.

Let me advise you not to let yourself default to one-handed clearing, but to save it for when you have no other choice. There is an increased risk of the cover falling back into the way or otherwise getting caught on the weapon when you don’t use both hands, and two-handed clearance is surer, safer, and just as fast if not faster than single-handed clearance.

Here is the most important thing you can do to successfully perform the draw from under closed-front cover: use both hands.

Here is the most important thing you can do to successfully perform the draw from under closed-front cover: use both hands.

›› (1) Firmly grasp the cover garment on either side of the gun. (2) Sharply yank the garment out, up, and away from the gun. (3) While still holding the cover garment with your support hand, get a firing grip on the gun and execute the draw. (4) Bring the gun up into a one-handed firing position and release the cover garment. (5) Solidly plant your support hand into a two-handed firing grip and punch both arms out straight, locking them into a stable and consistent firing platform.

CLEARING SNAGS

In my experience, I’ve encountered two principal types of snags: situations wherein the cover came back down either just before or just as I started to raise the gun from waist level. In either case, the cover becomes involved with the weapon, leaving me hung up on the fabric as I try to drive the gun out and up into shooting position.

There are two ways I find most useful for clearing this kind of snag. They can be performed as isolated movements, or they can be combined into one compound movement. With experience, I find that my hand chooses the way it wants to move as long as my intent is to get the weapon up and into action.

One way is to point the weapon straight toward the ground and “punch” it a short distance down before turning it level and back up to where it can be fired. The other is to stall the wrist in place long enough to circle the gun around the pivot of the wrist to the inside so the end of the barrel goes in a circle under and then out of the cover. The hand can start moving forward around the halfway point of this movement to begin the process of driving out and into firing position.

In practice, I find that I tend to combine the movements, circling the weapon all or part-way and adding a short downward movement close to where the barrel goes straight down. This does make for a larger movement or sometimes more of an arcing than straight-line maneuver that is a bit slower to firing position. The alternative, however, is that you don’t get the gun out, and adding a couple of tenth-seconds to the time to fire is a small price to pay when compared to not being able to fire at all.

Another snag I have experienced involves the thumb of the shooting hand getting hold of the edge of the cover and pulling it down, trapping it against the gun as the firing grip is acquired. This does not interfere with clearing the gun from the holster, but will prevent you from going to full extension. There is no fast way to clear this snag; the thumb is pinching the cover to the gun and sometimes has more than one layer of material trapped there.

Faced with this snag, my recommendation is to not try to get it loose unless you have reached cover and have several seconds to work on it. Instead, thrust the gun out as far and high as you can and use any of the number of alternative-sight methods (otherwise called point-shooting) if you have to shoot right there, right then.

PLAYING THROUGH

There is one other alternative to “clearing” the cover when it falls over the gun, that being to shoot through it. I have tested this option a number of times with semi-auto handguns and found that one thing that does not happen immediately is the gun jamming. I have, in fact, only had an auto jam once while firing through a shirt. On that occasion it still fired three rounds before a clearance technique was required. Other occasions, I could have emptied the weapon if I had chosen to.

So don’t expect the gun to stop after the first shot with a clothing jam. Check with your own weapon and get some idea of whether and how long it will operate in the event you have to shoot through a cover garment. (This is different from shooting through a pocket; I would expect a jam to happen pretty quickly were a semi-auto to be fired from inside a pocket.)

According to my experience and observation, it is more common to see guns that are carried under closed-front cover than those that are carried under open-front cover. If you are part of that majority, the guidelines here will help ensure that you can access your gun where you need to, at the moment you need it, quickly and safely.

That’s what you’re after if you need to draw the gun, isn’t it?

You be safe out there. If you can’t be safe…you be dangerous.