Shooting One-Handed: Rethinking the Old Ways

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Is firearms training based on dogma? Let’s ask one simple question and see if you have an open mind when it comes to firearms training and practicing the much-needed skills that will keep you alive in a gunfight. Ready?

When shooting one-handed, what do you do with your other hand?

I’m sure those of you who have been to any reputable firearms training school will know the right answer. It’s easy. The instructor made it very clear during the class that when firing with one hand, you must hold your other hand across the front of your chest. That’s how you MUST do it. But have you ever asked why you must do it this way?

Here is the answer I got: “If you are shooting with one hand, it is very likely because your other hand is injured. You’ve probably been shot, so you will be keeping that hand up and out of the way. Have your elbow bent, with your arm and hand across your chest.”

There’s More Than One Way to Practice Shooting One-Handed

Is that pretty much what you heard? Did the instructor include something about balance and movement in the explanation about why you must have your hand across your chest while shooting with the other hand? And you, as a good teachable student, believed it. After all, the recommendation likely came from someone famous like Jeff Cooper, Bill Jordan, Jim Cirillo or someone else revered in the firearms training industry. So no one was ever allowed to question it. In fact, I was very nearly asked to leave a training class when I questioned this teaching and then demonstrated something different. There was one way to shoot one-handed, and the instructor insisted that I fall in line. I did. But I didn’t feel good about it.

Now, what I am about to tell you is not something I came up with. I credit Jason Speller from D.R.A.W. School with this little tidbit of wisdom. I truly enjoyed his class and took away a lot of information from the time I spent with him.

Here is what he suggested as we moved through the one-handed shooting drills at his instructor course: “Fire with your right hand only and let your left hand hang limply at your side.”

Solid Reasoning

The reasoning behind Speller’s explanation was quite sound: If you are shot in the arm, especially the upper arm, you may not be able to bend your arm at the elbow. What are you going to do then … quit fighting? Nope. You might still need to fight for a time with just one good hand and one injured hand hanging at your side.

I have been questioned angrily for shooting in such a manner. People, including other trainers, have remarked about my apparent lack of intelligence, my inexperience and even my stupidity for shooting one-handed with my arm hanging slack at my side. None of those people stopped to ask why I was doing it. They were all just very upset that I was doing something different.

Speller also said something in that same class that made me chuckle and think at the same time: “Firearms training is decades of tradition unimpeded by progress.” To me, that was an eye-opening statement. It is profoundly disturbing to think that people are not even allowed to question the time-honored traditions associated with defensive firearms training. Speller’s idea about allowing the arm to hang free makes sense to me. But I thought more about it and came up with some more questions … and maybe even some answers.

Statistics and Averages vs. the Real Deal

Let’s look at this bent-arm suggestion as it applies to the statistics surrounding gunfights. Three rounds. Three seconds. Three yards. Those are the oft-quoted “averages” when it comes to gunfighting. So that means some gunfights are longer, from farther away and require more ammo. So that is something to consider.

For the sake of this discussion, let us assume that your gunfight is going to last 10 times as long as the average. You get yourself a full-on, 30-second gun battle that includes you firing 10 or more rounds. Now let’s assume that you are shot in the left arm during this gunfight. You could take a round in the lower arm or the upper arm, or maybe you are just lucky and the round passes through your lower arm and strikes your upper arm. I know you will want to test this, so … go ahead. Assume a standard two-handed shooting stance with the gun in the high ready and press out to full extension. Is there any position there where a bullet could penetrate both your upper and lower arm? I think there is.

What Will You Do?

This wound is inflicted on you within the first three seconds of the shootout. Now you have 27 seconds left. I’ll give you five full seconds to look at your arm and realize it hurts terribly and will not work. But remember, during those five seconds, the bad guy might still be shooting at you. Now you have 22 seconds. What are you going to do?

Are You Going to:

A. Try again to figure a way to get that arm across your chest and keep it there?

B. Move as quickly as possible to better cover?

C. Let the arm dangle and start shooting one-handed at the bad guy?

D. Stop to apply a tourniquet and then get back in the fight?

To my thinking, B and C are the two best options. Forget about that arm for half a minute, because you need to, in the remaining 22 seconds (which is an eternity), stop the attacker or force him to run away. The location of your left arm is of lesser importance than your need for cover and your need to return fire. Moving that arm could be impossible, or it could cause intense pain. So you need to learn to shoot accurately with that arm simply hanging there, limp. During the actual shooting, while the gunfight is still going on, the arm is very likely going to be hanging limp at your side while you have more important things to think about.

Then, when the immediate danger from the armed attacker has passed, you can apply your tourniquet and position the arm where you think is best.

And Finally…

I am sure those who disagree with me will comment down below as to my level of ineptitude, but I say those folks are not thinking things all the way through.

When you see someone doing something different than the way you have been taught, instead of chastising, maybe start by asking for an explanation. See if that explanation makes sense to you and can or should be incorporated into your personal-defense training. Be open to new ideas. They might mean progress.

About Kevin Michalowski

Kevin Michalowski is executive editor of Concealed Carry Magazine and a fully certified law enforcement officer working part time in rural Wisconsin. He is a USCCA and NRA Certified Trainer. Kevin has attended training across the U.S. as both a student and an instructor in multiple disciplines. These specialties include pistol, rifle, shotgun, empty-hand defense and rapid response to the active shooter.

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