Carrying a concealed handgun puts you at a decided advantage in a self defense situation. Yet, this advantage carries only as far as your training and practice. Pick a cliché: You fight like you train. Train hard to fight easy. The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat. Any one of these will serve you well, but remember if you fight like you train, you’d better train the right way. Part of that is understanding that if you are forced to draw your gun, you may not be required to fire it.
Let’s stop and take a realistic look at how your concealed handgun may be put to use. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll have to draw and fire in self defense. The more likely scenario is that you’ll have to draw and hold your fire; either issuing commands, holding the assailant at gunpoint or watching the scumbag turn and flee once he realizes he’s made a possibly catastrophic error in the victim-selection process.
As far as your practice schedule goes, once you’ve selected your own personal mantra, the likely course of action is to head to the range and burn up a bunch of gunpowder in an effort to improve your skills. Now, I’ll never speak ill of spending time on the range, but consider this: It takes 5,000 to 7,000 repetitions to create the muscle memory required to master an activity. At that point, your response becomes smooth—almost automatic. If you spend hours on the range learning to draw, acquire the sight picture and fire, consider what will happen under the stress of a potentially life-threatening encounter. You might fire on instinct when a shot is not required. At that point the legal meat grinder gets switched on with you in the feed chute. Most of the time, you won’t need to fire. Yet, if you perform a perfect draw and get your sights on target quickly, you will be able to fire if need be. Remember the all-important rule: Keep your finger off the trigger until you have made a conscious decision to shoot.
Learning to draw is done as dry training. As the name indicates, dry practice is done without any ammunition.
So, in reality, you need to practice the draw much more than you need to practice the shot. The most important thing you should learn to do effectively—every time, without fail—is to bring your gun to bear and immediately align the sights. All the while, train to keep your finger off the trigger until you have made that conscious decision to shoot. If your finger is along the frame above the trigger and you decide to shoot, you will be able to do so without delay. This position greatly reduces the chances of an accidental discharge.
Learning to draw is done as dry training. As the name indicates, dry practice is done without any ammunition. The primary goal here is to acquire the skills to get your gun into action quickly and smoothly. The secondary goal is to serve as a reminder that once you draw, you must make absolutely sure of your need to fire before you actually pull the trigger. Anything less than absolute certainty on your part could mean the difference between the justifiable use of lethal force and legal a nightmare that lands you in prison.
The first element of an effective draw is to remove your handgun from concealment. You’ve got to clear your clothing or open the fanny pack and get a good firing grip on the gun. This is the reason you carry your gun in the same place every time you strap it on. Simply put: You know where it is. Once you have repeated the drill 5,000 times, you will automatically reach to the right place. The gun had better be there.
A full-sized pistol under an open sport coat or light jacket is easy. You simply brush the jacket back out of the way with your gun hand and grab the gun. Practice that rearward sweep of the gun hand until you instinctively know how far back you need to bring your hand to allow you to acquire a firing grip. Lift the gun up to clear the holster and thrust it forward toward the target as you bring it up to your line of sight.
If you have a pocket pistol tucked into an inside-the-waistband holster, you will find that leading with your thumb provides the best option for pulling the small pistol from its holster. You need to hook the gripframe with your thumb because the rest of the piece will be concealed behind that tiny holster. As the pistol comes up, do whatever it takes to get a comfortable firing grip on that gun and then repeat it until you can do it without thinking.
When using a fanny pack, the key is to get the pack open as wide as possible to insure your firearm doesn’t hang up as you draw. Grab the gun and drive your elbow straight back until your gun hand (which is now holding the gun) draws about even with the seam of your trousers. From there, get the gun up and on target.
If you are wearing a closed-front garment, the first movement will be made with the off hand. Reach as close to the gun as possible and lift the garment straight up—high. No need for modesty here. Get that shirt or pull-over out of the way, then complete the remainder of the draw.
With the gun in your hand, you must now get it on target. Nothing good comes from an errant shot. This is where all the basic marksmanship and pistol shooting skills apply. Bring the gun up to your line of vision. Focus on the front sight. Keep a firm grip. Shift your weight a bit forward and assume the most convenient firing stance. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
At this point you are engaged and on a typical range session, you would fire a double tap. And, as with all training, if you do it enough times it becomes automatic. This becomes a serious issue if, upon seeing you draw your pistol, the knife-wielding assailant turns to flee. In the one second it takes for you to complete your draw and instinctively fire, your attacker could have his back to you. There is no end to the problems shooting someone in the back will cause you.
With the gun up and on target, your training should tell you to take control of the situation…“Stop! Drop your weapon or I will shoot.”
With the gun up and on target, your training should tell you to take control of the situation. Do so. Issue a firm command. “Stop! Drop your weapon or I will shoot.” Yes, I understand this is dry practice and you are talking to a target, but remember that District Attorney—the gun-hater—he is going to want a complete statement for the investigation of your self defense shooting. And you fight like you train. The command gives the assailant clear indication as to your intentions. It turns bystanders into witnesses, giving them a chance to see that you are defending yourself. If you must fire, you can do so very easily. And you may not have all your legal bases covered, but you certainly have the first two.
Run this scenario through to a trigger press only one time in 10. In between your sessions of dry practice, you will of course be practicing the fundamentals of trigger press and recoil control on the range. This dry practice gives you everything you need—including dropping the hammer—without the recoil, the report and the flying lead. There is no danger of acquiring a flinch and dry practice keeps your ammo costs way down. Think about it: You’ve practiced the draw. You’ve focused on the front sight and you’ve covered your legal bases with your warning command. If you practice all of this regularly and then one day find yourself in a bad situation that requires you to pull the trigger, the accuracy you need will be there. More importantly, the gun will be out of its holster and on target, where it can do the most good.
The Rules for Dry Training
To avoid any possibility of a tragic accident, dry training must be conducted in a suitable location under very strict rules. The first rule is that no ammunition should be in the room in which you are training. Unload the firearm. Unload any magazines you will be using during the training session. Insure the chamber is empty and use snap caps if you feel the need to buffer the firing pin.
A suitable location is one that is free of distractions and offers a training area that will effectively stop a round from the gun you use in the training. If you are thinking of using a stud-framed sheetrock wall as your training background, realize that a round from most common handguns will pass right through. A better choice is to conduct your dry training in a locked basement room or up against some other cinder block or cement wall.
Don’t use a light switch, clock or photograph as an aiming point. Use a standard target. Conduct your draw, issue your commands and finish each sequence with a trigger press or a reholstering according to your planned training. When you are finished, leave the training room to reload your gun and say aloud, “Dry training is over. This gun is now fully loaded and ready for action.”
Only vigilance will prevent accidents.
Simple Rules for Effective Carry
Same gun. Same place. Every time. In an emergency, you can count on being only half as effective as you are in training. Because repetition builds skill, choose one gun for concealed carry and try to carry it in the same manner every time you leave the house. If the time ever comes that you need the gun to defend your life, you’ll know where it is, how to get it into action quickly and how it works.
Photography by Kevin Michalowski.
[ Kevin Michalowski is an NRA-certified pistol trainer and a member of the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department Reserve. ]