Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Massad Ayoob Group’s MAG20 Range class, taught by Master Instructor David Maglio near Saukville, WI. After two days and more than 500 rounds, the results spoke for themselves. Three components in particular made a huge difference in my shooting.
The first was a small but critical adjustment in the angle of my off-side wrist and resulting placement of my thumb on the frame of the pistol. This minor shift in grip position took the feel of the gun in my hand from “awkward” to “natural extension of my arm.” It also seemed to cure my pulling shots low and to the right on the target.
The next was a training technique called the Blind Swordsman Drill, done while not even holding a gun. The instructor had us assume our stance, extend our arms with simulated grip toward the target and close our eyes for 30 seconds or so. When we opened our eyes, if we were still on target, we had identified our “natural point of aim.” We made note of the position and used it from then on.
If, upon opening our eyes, we were off target, we pivoted our body until the aim was back on target and closed our eyes again, repeating until we found our natural point of aim. The difference this made in accuracy was remarkable. Evidently, this is a technique known and used by many successful competitive shooters.
The third was a live-fire trigger pull exercise, called the Exemplar Drill. The instructors had us assume stance and grip on the handgun, but then they pulled the trigger to fire, first with our trigger finger on the frame, then with our finger on the trigger under theirs, and finally us pulling the trigger with their finger over ours so they could feel what we were doing. This essentially isolated the effects of recoil from any movement created by the student’s trigger pull.
This was when the light bulb really lit up for me: recoil results in some minor vertical action, but any side-to-side shot variance is all my doing. The exercise helped me to think of it as cycling the trigger, rather than pulling or squeezing it. This shift in understanding created huge and immediate results.
David Maglio is a former Marine MP with 25 years of experience in law enforcement, has won several state and regional IDPA matches and is one of very few 5-Gun Masters in IDPA. He is the sole trainer authorized by Massad Ayoob to teach the MAG Instructor Course (MAGIC).
To receive information about upcoming MAG training courses by David Maglio in Wisconsin, or to host MAG training in your area, contact David at email@example.com.
“We did not know what (or if) we would need to shoot, when, or from what position or distance. Sounds a bit like how a defensive shooting situation might happen, right?”
In the ongoing series of what seems to be turning into “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” today’s blog post is a report of my weekend attending the Combat Focus Shooting program of I.C.E Training. The weekend was hosted by Gila and Marty Hayes at the Firearms Academy of Seattle, and the class was taught by certified Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Grant Cunningham.
The Class: Combat Focus Shooting
According to the official website, “Combat Focus Shooting is an intuitive shooting program designed to help the student become a more efficient shooter in the context of a Dynamic Critical Incident. This is not a marksmanship course, nor is it designed to accentuate skills that only work well on a square range in front of paper targets.”
This handgun training program teaches you to think while under pressure and with a lot going on. This is quite intentional. The experience is designed to, as much as possible, prepare you for a “dynamic critical incident,” which is by definition surprising, chaotic and threatening. The basic premise is a maintaining a proper balance of speed and precision given the conditions under which you are shooting.
I won’t go into detail about the drills here; this is not the place and I am not the person to convey that information. Rob Pincus has already done that in his book Combat Focus Shooting, and Grant Cunningham relates the essential concepts in his soon-to-be-released title Defensive Revolver Fundamentals.
To summarize, we learned to react to a simulated “sudden threat,” identify the threat, and execute the balance of speed and precision necessary to place accurate shots into the identified target.
We started with extend-touch-press from the high ready. Then, we quickly went to the holster – drawing, orienting the gun toward the target, coming to high-ready, extending toward the target and firing shot groups into “high center mass” of the target.
As the training progressed, variables were quickly and continuously layered into the drills: smaller target, now from farther away. Once we were used to shooting while standing still, we added movement prior to the shooting command: gun holstered, walking away from and toward the target, not knowing when the signal would come to fire. Which one will I need to shoot, and when? Reload? We’re not stopping for that, make it happen, it’s part of the drill. The instructor yelled, “Three!” Spin, locate and identify the target (damn, it’s the small circle! where are my classmates standing right now?), only then draw and fire. Balance speed and precision, while always exercising the basic rules of safe gun handling.
The training culminated with us performing a casual task (walking a figure eight) waiting for the signal. At this point, when the signal (which had become ever more complicated) was called, we did not know what (or if) we would need to shoot, when, or from what position or distance. Sounds a bit like how a defensive shooting situation might happen, right? We practiced thinking before drawing and firing, quickly and precisely as dictated by each circumstance. And no, you probably can’t do some of these drills at your local range.
Before class, and during much of the first day, I was anxious that I would feel overwhelmed and freeze. The instructors were constantly asking for more: “Now do all of that, and add this.” At the same time, they never let any of us off the hook for a lapse in judgment or performance. Every shot that landed outside the identified target was addressed so we knew what had caused the lack of precision – shot too fast, didn’t start with proper grip, etc.
To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. However, the instructors were adept at regulating the pressure so that no one in the class had any extreme “vapor lock” incidents. They pushed each of us right up to the edge of our ability, then pushed just a little more, past our perceived limits, while always stopping short of complete meltdown. This allowed us to vividly experience the extent of our abilities, but not remain complacently within them.
By the second day, I was surprised at how competent I felt managing all of the different aspects of the training, as they added one element after another to the drills. It was really intense, but also really fun.
Being relatively new to handguns, after shooting 800 rounds over two days of training I certainly came away with better shooting skills. More importantly, though, I developed confidence in my command of the equipment, a clear understanding of my habits/tendencies and how they affect shot placement, the ability to recognize what’s happening when my shot placement isn’t where it should be, and skills to continue improving on my own. I know exactly what I need to practice, as we identified two consistently recurring issues that resulted in missed shots.
In the MAG20 class, with regard to armed self defense, Massad Ayoob referred to the KISS principle, saying, “This is not simple, and you are not stupid.” At the time, I agreed with the first part of that statement, for sure. Having experienced success shooting under pressure in the Combat Focus Shooting class, I now feel confident in the second part of the statement as well.
The Instructor: Grant Cunningham
In the spirit of full disclosure, it is relevant to state that I have worked with Grant Cunningham on several Gun Digest books over the past few years. His professionalism, depth of knowledge and collaborative disposition make it a pleasure to work with him. That said, I will be as objective as possible in my review of his teaching.
Grant’s insatiable curiosity leads him to look deeply into any subject that catches his attention. In the case of Combat Focus Shooting, that characteristic works to the benefit of any student that attends one of his classes. His grasp of the CFS techniques, as well as his technical/mechanical understanding of guns, ammunition and marksmanship, are in themselves impressive. However, his understanding goes beyond firearms fundamentals, into anatomy and physiology, how the brain works (when learning new skills, as well as when under sudden attack), how to teach and more. His understanding of the “how and why,” along with his ability to convey the practical application of that knowledge to self defense training, makes him a gifted educator.
All of that, combined with the nature of Grant’s personality, results in an unpretentious and accessible delivery of handgun training. His approach offers a unique/refreshing alternative for the less “tactical-minded” segment of the potential self defense training market. The qualities that make it a pleasure to work with Grant make it a pleasure to learn from him as well.
Also deserving acknowledgment are CFS Instructors Vincent Perrizo and Joe Lentz. They generously donated time from their weekend to help Grant run the class. It was nice to have several sets of eyes to make the many minor corrections that help develop good form. They were alert to the details and made corrections consistently, safely and efficiently, without interrupting the flow of the class. Kudos to them, and to the CFS program for inspiring such skill and commitment in its instructors.
Special thanks to Jake Edson and JJ Reich at ATK for providing the ammunition that made this weekend of great training even better!
Recommendations for more information
Watch the blog for the announcement of availability for Defensive Revolver Fundamentals, due out in August. Other titles by Grant Cunningham include:
In the meantime, stop by the Gun Digest Store for your copy of Combat Focus Shooting. The program is also available on DVD, where Rob Pincus and several certified Combat Focus Shooting Instructors from around the world present the fundamentals and the drills that continue to make Combat Focus Shooting the most progressive defensive firearms program on the planet.
Remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping on your order.
Do you know when you can lawfully use lethal force? Can you explain your self defense choices? If you have any doubt, Massad Ayoob's class can clear it up.
I recently spent two very long and intense days with 25 other students in the MAG-20 Classroom – Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement course. Mr. Ayoob lived up to his reputation, and it will come as no surprise when I say that the class delivered what was promised, in spades.
A two-day, 20-hour immersion course in rules of engagement for armed law-abiding private citizens, emphasizing legal issues, tactical issues, and aftermath management. Topics will include interacting with suspects, witnesses, responding police officers…threat recognition and mind-set…management of social and psychological aftermath after having had to use lethal force in defense of self or others…and preparing beforehand for legal repercussions and minimizing exposure to them.
“Immersion course” indeed When they describe it as an “immersion course,” they are not kidding. Once we started on Saturday, we worked straight through for 11 hours. “Breaking for lunch” meant getting our lunches and bringing them back into the classroom to continue working. Sunday was the same, although we did finish in only 10 hours.
The content and presentation of the material was so captivating that my mind never had a chance to wander. The first time I looked at the clock on Saturday, it was already 4:00. There was a continuous stream of new and technical information and, while questions were answered and clarifications made, very little time was spent on review of material already covered.
If I knew then what I know now The class I attended was close enough, about a 90-minute drive each way, so I went home Saturday night. If I had it to do over again, I would get a room and stay nearby. Many from the group went out for dinner that night, and I think that time to process with the other students would have been valuable.
Along that same line of thought, I wish I had attended with a friend or associate. It would be nice to have someone who had been through the experience to process with after the class.
Do you understand when you can/cannot use lethal force? Are you sure? Can you explain and defend your choices (choice of weapon for concealed carry or home defense, choice of ammo, modifications to your gun, why you fired when you did)?
If you cannot articulate the reasoning for your choices now, you will have the ability to do so after you take this class. When threatening circumstances arise, you will have the information you need to make a reasonable and prudent decision.
Ayoob’s presentation of the material is based on an intricate knowledge of black letter and case law, and decades of experience testifying as an expert witness in self-defense shooting cases. When it comes to the use of lethal force, to quote Massad, “The power and responsibility are commensurate.” Do not fire unless you are on solid legal ground. If you own a firearm for self defense or home protection, you have a duty to be crystal clear about what that means.
My three main takeaways 1. On a couple of different occasions, Massad alluded to his confidence in the justice system, and had first-hand examples to back it up. He said that if the truth is on your side, and you can communicate the truth, “the truth will set you free.” Prior to this class, that was not my impression of the system.
2. Many commonly misunderstood issues (shooting someone who is running away, furtive movement, using hollow point bullets for self defense, and interacting with law enforcement after an incident has occurred, for example) are now much more clear to me.
3. A cognitive understanding of the choices involved in using a handgun in self defense is one thing. Confidence in the ability to do so is quite another.
The announcement said “Learn to Shoot Pistols!” With a Combat Focus Shooting clinic on my schedule for June, I thought this local basic handgun training class would be a good way to avoid showing up at the clinic completely unprepared.
The class, which was for women only, offered instruction on safe gun handling, firearm storage and the basics of pistol shooting, and time on the shooting range. Students, 18 in all, varied with regard to their level of shooting experience, and included several mother/daughter participants.
Overall, I guess the class delivered what it promised, but I would have to say not with any depth. The instructor read each of the points on the class outline, but didn’t offer much in the way of explanation, insight or experience related to the information. We did get a chance to shoot about 80 rounds each, all with .22 pistols, and the range part of the class was safely executed and fairly well organized.
Afterward, what stood out most to me were the gaps – the opportunities that the instructor missed to relieve the puzzled looks on the faces of students. It occurred to me later that the books I’ve edited here at Gun Digest – one in particular – had given me a solid understanding of fundamentals I expected would be covered in the class.
Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to Handguns gives excellent instruction on the basics of handguns, ammunition and shooting. The firearms experience and insight of author Grant Cunningham, as well as his skill in conveying information, is apparent throughout. Particularly helpful in relation to this class was the facile description of how an autoloader works. I think that knowing what the gun would do, prior to firing it, took away some of the intimidation factor.
Surprising (to me, at least), was the benefit that came from a basic understanding of ammunition and how it works. Based on the aforementioned puzzled looks, very few participants in the class knew the simple process that occurs when a round is fired. The Shooter’s Guide to Handguns presents this information in a really accessible way, too.
Being in this industry, it's easy to forget that shooting a gun, especially for the first time and inside a small room, can be intense. Along with the knowledge gained from books, a couple of simple experiences I’ve had contributed greatly to my comfort level and success in the class.
One of my jobs here is to take apart guns to get cover photos for the assembly/disassembly books. Spending time handling pistols and understanding how all the parts work, before heading to the range, helped me feel much more at ease when it came time to shoot. Malfunction? No need to panic – I know how this works. Evidently, stripping something down removes the mystique, and in the case of both guns and ammunition, that seems like a good thing.
Prior to attending this class, the extent of my experience shooting handguns was a few rounds through a .41 mag revolver, and half an hour at the outdoor range shooting a Glock 19 with fellow editor Corey Graff. He schooled me on Massad Ayoob’s five elements of stance, grasp, grip, sighting and trigger roll that provide a solid foundation of shooting skills. (More on the five elements in Chapter 4 of Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery.) That brief time with Corey, practicing those basic principles, made a huge difference. At the end of the class we did a simple shooting competition. Applying those five principles, I easily won first place.
Next on my list of adventures for this summer is a MAG20 classroom experience with Massad Ayoob. Stayed tuned for the report . . .
If you order any of the books mentioned above, be sure to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping on your order.
The Advanced Armament Company has been making suppressors for some time now. In the process, they had to learn a whole lot about how rifles work. You see, simply hanging a “can” on the muzzle can do a lot to change the gas flow dynamics of a system. You keep the pressure higher, longer than the system was designed for, and that can cause difficulties.
The big one for 5.56 users is that a whole lot more gas than normal gets pumped back through the gas tube. So much so that the receiver can have the lube cooked or blasted, and a lot more powder fouling/soot builds up.
So when it came time to design a cartridge and build an upper to house it, they knew a thing or two about the job.
The cartridge is the .300 AAC Blackout, aka 7.62X35, made and loaded for them by Remington. It is an AR-magazine-length .30 caliber round that fits an unmodified 5.56 bolt, and as such the only real modification you need to make to your AR (or a new upper for it) is a replacement barrel. And while plugging new barrels into existing ARs can be fun, the real fun is in seeing what a maker decides they want in their own-built upper or rifle.
In order to make the deadline for this volume, I could not lay hands on a complete rifle. I was competing with every other writer out there, and a slew of paying customers as well. So, I had to wait until AAC did a short run of carbine-length uppers.
The 1/7 twist barrel is of medium weight (you really can’t make a lightweight, or pencil-barrel AR barrel, and do so with a .308” bore in it) and the 4150 steel alloy is black nitrided inside and out. The muzzle is threaded for the standard .308” bore AR threads: 5/8-24, so you can use any flash hider that would work on an AR-10 or other big-bore self-loading rifle. The one sent to me has the AAC Blackout® flash hider and combo suppressor mount on the end. The Blackout® is built to be a very effective flash hider, while also allowing a quick-attach system for the most-excellent AAC suppressors. As if that wasn’t enough, AAC makes the Blackout out of an unspecified aerospace alloy, to withstand the hard work of muzzle blast and the vibration of a suppressor in the end.
The barrel is plugged into a flat-top upper from Keyhole Forge, and marked on both sides with the lineage. One side is just “AAC” while the other side has “300 AAC BLACKOUT (7.62X35) ADVANCED ARMAMENT COMPANY” on it. Inside is a parkerized carrier and bolt, with a standard 5.56 bolt face.
The handguards are where things get really interesting. Since the rest of the exterior is (as our British cousins phrase it) bog-standard, you could put any handguards you wanted on the .300 AAC Blackout upper. And I’m sure there are those who will insist on installing what they feel are the perfect handguards. But this upper came with the perfect handguards already in place.
It came with a Knight’s Armament URX II Mid-length forearm in place. Woo-hoo! While railed forearms can be a bit bulky (some can even be described as “porky”), the Knights are among the slimmer ones. And even with the rail covers in place, it is not too bulky until you start shooting with winter gloves on.
The really cool part of the Knight’s URX (besides being hard to obtain, and the same company that provides many of our high-speed low-drag military units) is the front sight. What, you don’t see a front sight on it? That’s because it folds down. And when folded, it appears to be just another section of the upper rail. Really, it is so low-profile that if you didn’t tell someone there was a sight there, they might mount a light or laser over it. And as a final bit of coolness, the Knight’s sight has its own thumbwheel elevation. Best to zero it and paint-mark it, in case one of your buddies decides to play with it in a moment of boredom.
The AAC upper fit just fine on a cross-section of my rifles and lowers, so I didn’t have to dedicate it to any one of them. The feeding was flawless, and the ammo I had (at this time, I can only lay hands on the subsonic, 220 grain open-top match load) worked without fail.
Accuracy was top-notch, and you would not have any problems tagging a deer in typical woods distances, or a sentry at “across the clearing in the moonlight” distances. Actually, the 220 grain subsonic load is a lot more accurate than just across the clearing, but the trajectory is quite a bit to deal with. If you really are planning to use it at more than 25 yards distance, you would be well-served to find a ballistics program, calculate the trajectory, check it at the range, and keep a printout with you when you are loaded.
One thing I liked about the AAC upper was that it came with an owner’s manual. The corrective actions pages are good, as they tell you correctly that most of the problems are solved by unloading, cleaning and lubing your rifle. However, they still instruct the reader that the gas rings have to be turned so the gaps don’t line up, or the rifle will short-stroke. Alas, this is not the case, but it is very difficult to get such things out of the collective consciousness, once they get lodged there.
But the rest is good info, and the upper is primo. I just wish they wouldn’t use an SBR as the demo rifle in the photos. Each time I see it, I have to fight back the urge to consider moving to a friendlier state.
Test-firing The ammo I had available that was real-deal, honest-to-god .300 AAC Blackout was Remington 220 OTM subsonic. However, the chambers are close enough that I had to test, because I know you guys will. I had on hand Hornady .300 Whisper and Cor-Bon .300 Whisper ammo. In the Hornady, I had the 110 V-Max and the 208 A-Max loads, and from Cor-Bon I had 125 JHP self-defense rounds.
They all worked just fine. The velocities they delivered were right in line with other rifles of the same barrel length, and the groups were on the point of aim and as good as you’d expect from top-notch ammo makers.
I think what we’re going to see from the short .300s in the future is a lot of reloading experimentation going on. Everyone out there with one or the other is going to load up, test, report and advocate their loads.
As long as you’re using an upper or rifle as top-quality as this one, you won’t get bad results.
The U.S. Military M-14 rifle is available to civilians in semi-automatic form from Springfield Armory. Several slightly altered versions are marketed, as well, usually with a shorter barrel and modified muzzle attachment. These variations should pose no particular difficulty for the disassembler. Other than that, all the existing copies of the M-14 should follow the standard disassembly steps with little or no deviation.
When it comes time to reassemble your M1A, however, it will be critical to remember these important points:
Note: The same basic assembly/disassembly steps for the Springfield M1A also apply to the following guns: Springfield SOCOM 16 Springfield SOCOM II Springfield M1A Scout Springfield M21 Tactical U.S. M-14 Polytech M14S
The boss says it’s time for me to get handgun training.
For several years now, I’ve been editing books written by notable handgun trainers – Massad Ayoob, Grant Cunningham and Gila Hayes, to name a few. However, since knowledge is not the same as understanding, and the focus on handguns doesn’t seem to be waning, the time has come for me to get some first-hand experience shooting a pistol.
While I’ve been shooting rifles and shotguns for several decades, my experience with handguns has been limited to less than a box of ammo getting to know a .41 mag revolver prior to a trip into the wilderness. So, yesterday I spent some time at the range with Gun Digest Online Editor/in-house handgun expert Corey Graff and a couple of 9mm pistols.
Off to the shooting range
Our planned activities for the day included a Glock Model 19 and a KelTec PF-9.
Corey chose the mid-size Glock because, in his experience, this pistol is simple, reliable, accurate and safe to use for a beginner. We took the KelTec along so I could experience the contrast. The KelTec is an emergency pocket pistol (per KelTec, “one of the lightest and flattest 9mm ever made”), and one would expect it to be not super-pleasant to shoot and not real accurate beyond a few yards. That’s the trade-off – less weight equals more recoil, and a smaller frame is more difficult to grasp and aim properly.
Corey explained the mechanics of the pistols we were shooting, and then reviewed his go-to training method based on Massad’s “5 Lost Secrets of Combat Handgunnery” (power stance, high-hand grasp, crush grip, front sight and smooth roll). Then he handed me the Glock, and the shooting commenced.
With the 12 gauge as my shotgun of choice, experience with the M-16 and a few shots from a 50-cal rifle under my belt, it would seem the idea of recoil from a handgun should not concern me. However, with all of the bad press it gets, I have to admit it crossed my mind.
Shooting the Glock
Even with the smallest backstrap on the Glock, my hand was not big enough to put my finger on the trigger where I would have liked – closer to the first joint rather than out toward the tip of the finger.
Also, because of the smaller size of my hands, the ergonomic shape of the grip made it challenging to keep the web of my thumb snugged up to the frame tang, to take full advantage of that position during recoil. Ultimately, the trigger pull on the Glock was very comfortable, and the recoil not objectionable. It was fun to shoot.
Shooting the KelTec
The smaller KelTec was a better fit for my hand. However, upon firing the first round it was apparent that this pistol jumped noticeably more than the larger Glock. This definitely makes it more challenging to keep/refocus on the target for the next shot.
The next trigger pull, nothing happened. Hmm. After clearing the malfunction I continued shooting. Compared to the Glock, the trigger response on this one seemed abrupt. This snappy little gun may have fit better in my hand, but I sure preferred the feel of the trigger pull on the Glock, and also had better control of the recoil with the larger gun.
My overall impressions of this first (admittedly limited) experience shooting a pistol? First, I had some trouble getting used to sighting with both eyes open (my trifocals progressive lenses may be part of the problem), so that’ll be something to work on.
Also, I can see why experts recommend trying different guns to find one that you like. The size and configuration make a huge difference in the shooting experience.
In addition, as Corey reviewed technique at the beginning of our session, I found myself repeatedly asking “Why?” In each case, he had a reasonable answer, but it demonstrated to me the idea (espoused by each of the author/trainers noted earlier) that there is no one “right” method for handgun training, only that different methods were developed for different purposes. What works for target shooting, for example, may not be the best method to learn for use in self defense.
When choosing a class, understand the differences. Be clear about what you want from the training, and find out if that is available from the class or trainer you are considering.
For my next adventure, I’ll be attending a NRA Women on Target Instructional Shooting Clinic at a local shooting club. Watch upcoming blog posts for updates.
No matter what you like to shoot, there is a handgun for you. Whether you’re interested in hunting, competition, concealed carry or self defense, you can find a handgun that fits. When deciding between a revolver and an autoloader, one important factor is the size and strength of your hands. Consider this perspective, from Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Grant Cunningham:
Sometimes physical needs come into play. The autoloaders will generally have a fatter grip than the revolver, making it harder to handle by shooters with shorter fingers or smaller hands. The revolver can be more easily modified for smaller or larger hand sizes simply by changing the grips. Some autoloaders have interchangeable grip parts, but overall still don’t have the adjustability of the revolver.
The autoloader’s slide can be harder to manipulate for those with muscular issues, while the revolver’s cylinder is easy to open and close. Similarly, the revolver’s heavy double action trigger requires more finger strength than does the typical autoloader. For someone whose hands are a little on the weak side, the revolver presents a greater challenge than the auto.
One deciding factor is that the auto’s slide manipulation is more a matter of technique than strength, but there is no corresponding solution for the person who can’t pull the revolver’s long and heavy trigger. (In the chapter on shooting techniques, we’ll go over the procedure that allows almost anyone to operate almost any autoloader slide, regardless of upper body strength.) In most such cases the autoloader is the better choice.
Accuracy requirements for center-fire big game rifles vary. The kill zone of an antelope might be as small as six or seven inches, while that of an elk or moose will be ten to twelve inches or even larger. Therefore, even if our rifle/ammo combination shoots 1.5 inches at 100 yards, and say five inches at 300 yards, we can reasonably expect to land a shot in the kill zone of even an antelope at 300 yards if we do everything right. As you can see, such accuracy would suffice for any larger animal at that distance, and even further. Even a garden-variety rifle shooting six-inch groups at 300 yards will do the job on a deer or an elk inside that range – if the shooter can steadily hold correctly.
Therefore, while having a rifle that shoots sub-inch groups off the bench at 100 yards is nice and will help your confidence level in your equipment, please don’t think it’s at all necessary for general-purpose big-game hunting out to 300 yards. There are other and better ways to build confidence in yourself, as we shall see, and I believe that, as long as your equipment is not inferior to your task, your rifle shooting skill matters more than your equipment.
Example: A shooter who takes ten shots at a 10-inch target at 300 yards from an unsupported field position (no bipod, rest or shooting sticks) with a rifle capable of a three- to four-inch group at that distance, and who only gets five or fewer hits on that target, will gain far more hits by learning better marksmanship skills than by buying a rifle that shoots a 1.5-inch group at 300 yards.
If the original equipment will easily do the task, the reasons for missing are not the equipment, but the shooter, so trying to improve the equipment does nothing to solve the problem. A more accurate rifle might gain one or even two more hits in this scenario, but a properly skilled marksman can take that 3-4-inches-at-300 rifle and shoot all ten shots into a nice round five- to six-inch group dead center in the target from prone with a sling.
This may make perfect sense to you, but I have run into some folks who would shake their heads and first go for that 1.5-inch rifle. For some, it’s way more fun (and easier!) to buy better equipment than to work up a sweat in long sessions of position practice. Please, try to not let an obsession for perfect equipment prevent you from perfecting yourself.
The purpose of perfecting yourself is to be able to shoot up to the capabilities of your rifle. In my not-so-humble opinion, to buy new, better equipment with extra, expensive capabilities you cannot even come close to applying is a waste of money which would be better spent on practice ammo with your current rifle. When you can shoot up to the capabilities of your current rifle, that is the time to upgrade.
SHOOTING DRILL: MEASURE YOUR CURRENT ABILITY Before applying the techniques and training from this book, first try a simple exercise to measure your current ability level. This is the “Plate Drill” (thanks to John Schaefer of Arizona).
Take a paper plate (9-10-inch diameter) set at 100 yards and take ten shots at it, time limit two minutes. Start the drill standing with the rifle slung on your shoulder and loaded with no more than five rounds. Shoot from any position you desire, but NOT off a bench, bipod, or other rest. Use your sling if you so desire.
Run this test a couple of times and note how many times you hit the plate, the time required, group size, and the position you used. Later, after learning and practicing the techniques, you can try it again and see what improvements you’ve made.
Peter's new book, Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Rifle Marksmanship is available from the Gun Digest Store. When you order, remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get freestandard U.S. shipping* on your order. Thanks for reading the Books blog!
*Promo code fine print: Items which ship directly from the manufacturer do not qualify for free shipping.
Introduced as an inexpensive plinker, the High Standard Sentinel .22 revolver was ahead of its time, and may be the best buy in a used handgun today.
This is an excerpt from Massad Ayoob's Greatest Handguns of the World VOLUME ONE:
Introduced as an inexpensive plinker and woods gun, the High Standard Sentinal .22 revolver was ahead of its time with landmark revolver design features. Perhaps most important, it broke a more than half-century logjam of design stagnation. Unfairly tarnished with a “junk gun” image, it may be the best buy in a used handgun available today.
Shooting the Sentinel
In the hand, your typical Sentinel feels like a J-frame Smith & Wesson with semi-square grip frame, but with more weight forward. The double action trigger pull also resembles the J-frame Smith, with which it shares a coil mainspring and a short-stroke double action trigger pull. This made the DA pull necessarily heavy; a Sentinel may have as much as 12 to 14 pounds pull weight. However, it will be a smooth pull, and that’s the key to good double action shooting. In single action, the Sentinel series always offered a let-off so crisp it was virtually target grade.
The overwhelming majority of these guns are encountered with fixed sights. The rear sight sits in a dovetail that can be drifted for windage adjustment if the shooter is both adroit and gentle with a brass rod and a hammer.
If the gun is not on for elevation, I’ve found it’s more likely to shoot high than low. While higher, rounder front sights were produced on the cowboy versions and the JC Higgins version made for Sears, Roebuck, the Sentinel is typically found with a graceful ramp that is too low rather than too high. The sight would have to be soldered up to make it higher, or a new one made. The latter would be easy to install, since that series of Sentinel front sight secured to the barrel with an Allen screw.
A swing-out cylinder that worked by pulling forward on the ejector rod was foreign to shooters of the time, though it was later widely copied by such firms as Charter Arms and RG. Unique to these new Sentinels – and uniquely irritating – was the fact that none of them had a spring loaded extractor rod like a Colt, a Smith or even a the swing-out H&R. The shooter would punch out the last nine empties, forget to manually pull the rod back forward, and attempt to close the cylinder. The result was a jarring collision of the protruding ejector star with the left side of the frame.
As a result, virtually all of these guns unless they are unfired will have characteristic and distinctive scarring on the left side of the frame behind the cylinder window.
There is no doubt that the minor production economy of not putting in the self-returning ejector rod, a standard feature with every other name brand swing-out revolver, contributed to the public’s impression of the Sentinel as a cheap gun. It was a time when “cheap” was often seen as a synonym for “junk.” High Standard finally realized that.
The 2003 Standard Catalog of Firearms notes, “The Sentinel revolvers begin with the R-100 design series and continue through the R-109 series…beginning with the R-102 series the ejector had a spring return.” The fact that the majority of Sentinels and Double-Nines I’ve run across don’t have this feature tells me that consumer interest in the guns cooled fairly quickly. As the numeric model designations went up, sales were going precipitously downward.
These are surprisingly accurate revolvers. They don’t have the gilt-edged precision of your true target revolver, such as the S&W K-22 or the Colt Officer’s Model Match, but they’ll keep pace with the smaller frame S&W .22/32 Kit Gun or Colt’s rare lightweight .22 revolver in the Cobra series. A 2.5-inch group or better is par for the course at 25 yards, shooting off the bench.
I’ve never put one in a Ransom Rest and don’t know if the machine rest people ever even made an insert for the High Standard .22 revolver. However, I’ve learned as a rule of thumb that if five hand-held shots from the bench look and feel to the shooter as if they’ve gone off perfectly, measuring the best three will factor out human error sufficiently to get a very good approximation of what the same handgun will do from the Ransom for all five shots. By that standard, a Sentinel that hasn’t been too battered over the years should be good for 1-to 1.5-inch potential accuracy.
To achieve this, however, you want to experiment until you find the most compatible ammunition. Many technical tests in The Accurate Rifle and Precision Shooting attest to this fact in match grade .22 rifles, and it’s likewise true in recreational or target grade .22 rimfire handguns. Groups I shot with Remington .22 Long and Winchester .22 Long Rifle HP had stayed in the head of the International Practical Shooting Confederation target, but in disappointing four to five inch groups, when I shot my $75 Sentinel snubby. It was not until I switched to the Remington Thunderbolt that the five-shot group shrank to a magic inch and an eighth.
The Sentinel literally had a built-in grip adapter, to which Keith alluded in the first quote above. Interestingly, only Gaylord chose to fit a grip adapter to his Sentinels. Virtually every other specimen you see was left as is by its owner, testimony to a design that naturally fits the human hand.
If you have to pull your head back to see a full field or prevent the ocular ring from dinging your brow, your rifle scope is mounted too far back. Check out these tips on how to scope a rifle.
Many hunters mount their scopes too far back. They install it on a table or a shooting bench, not in the woods after a fast shot at a whitetail or on the steeps following an uphill poke at a ram. When you fire at game, you’ll likely lean into the sight; prone, sitting, and uphill shots put your face even closer to the sight. If you must pull your head back to see a full field or prevent the ocular ring from dinging your brow, the scope is too far back.
The scope must be mounted so aim comes naturally and immediately from a range of field positions; you see a full field at first glance, as soon as the stock hits your cheek. So, as you mount the scope, snug the rings gently, then throw the rifle up as if snap-shooting. Kneel, sit, flop prone on the ground. Chances are you’ll push that tube forward before you tighten those screws!
This excerpt is from Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Rifles by Wayne van Zwoll.
Cartridge identification is important to anyone who works with ammunition cartridges, whether it's reloading or collecting. While it isn't foolproof, often the easiest way to identify a cartridge is to look at the headstamp, if there is one, because in many instances that will tell you exactly what it is.
The headstamp is the stamped markings on the head of the cartridge. Information that can be obtained from the headstamp is extremely varied and depends on the intended purpose or use of the cartridge and who manufactured it. Headstamps consist of one or more parts or information elements. Cartridges intended for sporting or civilian use usually have two elements; one identifies the specific chambering, the other identifies the manufacturer. Military cartridges can have from one to five elements, including cartridge, date and place of manufacture plus other identifying markings.
Some headstamps are segmented, that is, these have one or more segment lines that divide the head into two to four equal parts. This usually indicates an older cartridge, since most countries discontinued segment lines shortly after World War I. The location of the elements is most conveniently indicated by its clock-face orientation, with 12 o'clock at the top, 3 o'clock at the right, 6 o'clock at the bottom and 9 o'clock at the left. The basic U.S. military headstamp prior to World War II had two elements, with the factory code at 12 o'clock and the date at 6 o'clock. Rapid expansion of ammunition manufacturing facilities as the result of the war introduced many new designs without any effort at standardization. Some used three elements spaced equidistant from each other while others adopted a four-element system located at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock. Also the location of the factory code was changed, in some instances, to 6 o'clock or other locations.
Worldwide, there are over 800 military headstamps in existence plus some 400 or more commercial headstamps that have existed at various times. Obviously, this is a complex and highly specialized field. Since it would require another whole book to adequately cover the subject, it is quite impossible to include more than a few examples. Headstamp markings of the principal American ammunition manufacturers are as follows:
Federal Cartridge Co. Rimfire, AL EP, G or G, HP, F, XL, XR and WM Centerfire, FC General Electric Co. GE plus date (military) Newton Arms Co. NA plus caliber (Made by Rem.) Peters Cartridge Co. Rimfire, P or PETERSHV Centerfire, P, PC, P.C., PCCO PETERS E. Remington & Sons E REMINGTON & SONS (1870-1890) Remington Arms Co. U, UMC, REM, REM*, UMC, R-P, RAH Robin Hood Ammunition Co. R, RHA, R.H.A. Co. Savage Arms Co. S.A. Co. (made by U.S. Cartridge Co.) Savage Repeating Arms Co. S.A. Co., S.R.A.C.O. Richard Speer Manufacturing Co. SPEER WEATHERBY Union Metallic Cartridge Co. U, UMC or R B (Purchased by Remington in 1911) United States Cartridge Co. US, U.S., *U.S CARTRIDGE CO*,U.S.C. CO. or RL (1869 to 1936) Western Cartridge Co. SUPER X, SUPER-X, W, WCC, W.C. Co. WESTERN Winchester W, H, SUPER SPEED, W.C. Co. Winchester-Western W-W, super speed
There were about 15 other companies that manufactured ammunition at various times, particularly during the 1860-1900 period. Also a number of private firms manufactured military ammunition during World War I and II.
When buying a used handgun, how do you know if it’s a gem, or a problem that someone dumped? Check out these tips to evaluate a used handgun before buying.
Because guns have such long lives, there are lots of them available for sale at any used gun counter or gun show. When buying a used handgun it’s important to be able to determine if it’s a gem, or a problem that someone else dumped on an unsuspecting buyer. Check out these tips for evaluating a used handgun prior to purchase, from Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Handguns by renowned gunsmith Grant Cunningham:
Safety first! Before checking out any handgun, make sure that it is unloaded, then double-check. With an autoloader, operate the magazine release and take the magazine completely out of the gun. After the magazine is out, pull the slide or bolt back and lock it in the open position. Once the slide has been locked back the chamber is checked. Look in the chamber and make sure it’s empty; many instructors also recommend that a finger be inserted into the chamber to feel for a missed round.
Now the double check: feel and look at the magazine well to make sure that there is no magazine inserted, then look and feel the chamber one more time just to make sure that there’s no live ammunition anywhere in the gun! The entire clearing process is repeated just to make absolutely sure that the gun is truly unloaded.
AUTOLOADER CHECKOUT Once the gun is checked and double-checked to be unloaded, lock the slide in the open position and take a look at the outside. Look at the screwheads on the grips; they should be clean and in good condition. Check for any splits or looseness in the grips. Check that the sights, front and rear, are tight on the slide, as it’s not uncommon for them to loosen under the forces of the slide’s reciprocation.
Check the muzzle’s condition. It should be free of nicks, burrs, or any damage. The muzzle is critical to handgun accuracy, so look carefully.
At the breech end of the barrel look at the ramped portion which guides rounds into the chambers; it should be clean and without gouges or scratches, which can affect the feeding reliability of the gun. Check the bore for pitting or rust.
Double check, again, that the gun is unloaded, and gently let the slide down. The gun should now be in battery, striker or hammer cocked, and can be dry fired. Pointing the muzzle in a safe direction, pull the trigger and hold it back. The sear should release, letting the hammer down or the striker to fly forward. Be sure to hold the trigger back – do not let the trigger reset!
As the trigger is being held back, pull the slide all the way to the rear and let it go forward under its own power. If the gun has a visible hammer, it should remain in the cocked position. (If the gun’s hammer dropped when the slide ran forward, it is extremely unsafe and needs immediate attention!) Now slowly release the trigger; it should make a discernible “click” as it resets. After it has reset, pull the trigger again; if the sear doesn’t release, there is likely a problem with the disconnector mechanism and is unsafe to fire.
Again operate the slide to cock the gun. If the gun has a manual safety, put it into the “on” position and try to pull the trigger; the gun should not fire. Take your finger off the trigger and immediately release the manual safety; if the gun fires without the trigger being touched, the safety is defective.
For autoloaders with a decocking mechanism, operate the slide to cock the gun and then operate the decocker. The hammer or striker should drop with an audible sound; pulling the trigger should result in the hammer or striker being cocked and then released to fire.
For guns with a combined decocker/safety, such as some Beretta, Ruger and Smith & Wesson autos, use the slide to cock the gun and apply the decocker. When the hammer or striker has dropped, leave the safety in the “on” position and pull the trigger – it should move with very little resistance and should not fire the gun. Put the safety/decocker in the off position and pull the trigger again; the gun should now fire.
The failure of any of these tests indicates a gun that is unsafe to use, and should be sent to a gunsmith before using.
Finally, gently let the slide go forward (closed) and put an empty magazine in the gun. Pull the slide all the way to the rear; it should lock in the open position. Remove the magazine with the slide locked back; the slide should stay locked. If either test fails either the magazine or the slide lock mechanism needs attention from the gunsmith.
Competitive shooting certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of firearms training. Rather, it is a component of your training. It conditions you to shoot under stress, with your hands shaking and your knees knocking and your mouth as dry as Jim Cirillo told me his was when he faced three armed robbers with only his S&W .38 Special in his hands…and shot down every one of them in what was later determined to be approximately three seconds.
If you study the work of police psychologist Alexis Artwohl, perhaps our leading authority today on altered perceptions as they occur in gunfights, you’ll find some interesting similarities to what match shooters experience at every tournament if they’re taking it seriously. Dr. Artwohl notes that the most common such phenomenon is auditory exclusion, in which even gunfire may go unheard, along with shouts of comrades or witnesses, with an 84% occurrence rate. Almost every match shooter has experienced stages of fire where they don’t recall hearing their shots, or hearing a range officer say or even shout something.
Tunnel vision is next, with 79% of those survivors she studied experiencing it. Ever shoot a practical match and not see one of the targets, or miss an identifier such as a badge that one of the targets was “holding”?
Tachypsychia, a sense of things going in slow motion? It happened to 62% of the gunfighters she studied, and if you’ve shot a match, you’ve probably experienced it there.
Memory distortion, such as events being recalled out of sequence, 21% of her study group experienced it in gunfights, and probably something close to 100% of action pistol competitors have experienced it after a complicated IPSC or IDPA stage.
Being familiar with these things beforehand makes them easier to handle when they occur in the real world. All these things taken in context contribute to making the match a microcosm of the gunfight and, therefore, useful live-fire preparation for such an encounter.
Competition is part of an on-going skill test, a personal laboratory in which you can acclimate yourself to using your defensive firearm swiftly and accurately under pressure. Track from McBride in WWI to George in WWII to Hathcock in Vietnam to a generation that has come back from the Middle East as I write this with stories of how practical shooting competition before they went made them more formidable fighters and helped them come back.
History tells us that the person with more experience in fast, accurate shooting under stress has an edge when the stress goes all the way up to life-or-death stakes on the table.
Which is why I keep saying that a shooting match isn’t a gunfight, but a gunfight damn sure is a shooting match.
From Combat Shooting with Massad Ayoob. Stop by the Gun Digest Store to order your copy. Remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to getfree standard U.S. shipping on your order.
Selecting a handgun is personal—too personal to allow me or anyone else to do it for you. That said, it needs to fit your hand, have a recoil impulse you can control, and be small enough and light enough you might actually carry it and have it with you when you need it. Yes, you need to like it.
Not I nor anyone else is qualified to make those decisions for you. I don’t want you buying my underwear and I’ll bet you don’t want me picking out yours. Never buy a defensive handgun unless you have fired at least a box of ammo through one like it, and don’t be afraid to spend some money. With handguns, you often get exactly what you pay for in terms or longevity and reliability. Having said all that, I can offer some advice based on my experiences teaching others to shoot:
A single-action semi-automatic handgun like the 1911 is not just a pistol for a professional. In fact, many new shooters find the single-action trigger easier to learn, and they find the thumb safety to be a common-sense switch.
Compact revolvers are very often the worst first gun for a man or a woman. Their short sight radius makes them difficult to shoot accurately, the triggers are generally hard to pull, and the recoil is often objectionable.
Most shooters will find they can comfortably shoot a 9mm handgun that weighs anywhere between 20 and 30 ounces.
The smaller a handgun gets, the easier it is to carry and the harder it is to shoot. If you are a new shooter, consider a full-size/duty-size pistol as a starter sidearm.
If you are reading this book, it is likely you are hoping to learn how to shoot a defensive handgun better. The only way you can do this is by shooting—a lot. So, don’t discount a .22 LR handgun, and it might even be wise to select a handgun for which you can purchase a .22 LR conversion kit.
Get a handgun laserof some sort. It will be a tremendous help to you while trying to learn the secret and, very possibly, during a life or death encounter.
Select a handgun that has easy to see sights or have the handgun fitted with sights that are easy to see.
For more practical advice on handguns and shooting from Richard Mann, get your copy of his new book, Handgun Training for Personal Protection, from the Gun Digest Store today. Remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to getfree standard U.S. shipping on your order.
Here's a look at the chapter line-up:
PART 1: THE FOUNDATION Chapter 1: The Secret Chapter 2: Mindset Chapter 3: The Modern Technique PART 2: MODERN ACCESSORIES Chapter 4: Handgun Sights Chapter 5: Express Sights Chapter 6: Lasers in General Chapter 7: How Lasers Work Chapter 8: The Laser’s Edge Chapter 9: Red Dot Sights Chapter 10: Why Light Matters Chapter 11: Handheld Lights Chapter 12: Weapon-Mounted Lights Chapter 13: Calibers & Ammunition PART 3: TRAINING & EVALUATION Chapter 14: Introduction to Training Chapter 15: Dry-Fire Practice Chapter 16: Live-Fire Practice Chapter 17: Evaluation Exercises Chapter 18: Other Stuff Chapter 19: Opinion Appendix A: The Rules Appendix B: Mixing Ordnance Gelatin Appendix C: Evaluation Drills Score Sheet
With the opportunity to expand on his previous work in Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry, Massad Ayoob took the opportunity in Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry 2nd Edition to talk about the issue of concealed carry and spare ammo.
An amazing number of people who carry loaded guns carry them without a reload. I’m not going to dump on them here—in my (much) younger days, I used to be among their number. Hell, I had a gun, didn’t I? And I was a good shot, right? How much ammo was I likely to need, anyway?
The years taught me the fallacy of those arguments, as well as others that I hear from folks in gun discussions, particularly those on the Internet. There seems to be a strange “Interwebz” ethos that says, “If you carry more (or more powerful) guns and ammo than I, you must be a paranoid mall ninja … and if you carry less, you must be a sheeple.” I dunno about that. Let’s look at some of the excuses not to carry extra ammunition.
Odds are I’m not gonna have to fire this thing at all, let alone run it dry and still be in a gunfight. True enough. Trouble is, we don’t carry guns because of the odds of needing one, or most of us wouldn’t carry at all. We carry because if, against the odds, we do need one and don’t have it, the cost of being unable to save our own life and the lives of those who count on us to protect them is so catastrophic as to be simply unacceptable. If you are in the uncommon situation where you run the gun dry and the danger is still present, you’re back to not having a loaded gun when you desperately need one.
If I need more than the five shots in my snub-nose 38, I couldn’t have won the fight with more. No. If you haven’t won the fight with five shots, all it means is, you need more than five shots to win the fight. In the 1970s, the Illinois State Police gave me free rein to poll their troopers and study their gunfights, back when they were the only troopers in the country carrying auto-loading pistols. I was able to identify 13 troopers who almost certainly survived because they had auto-loaders (single-stack 9mm S&W Model 39s) instead of the six-shot revolvers they carried before. Nine of those were survivors of “snatch the cop’s gun and kill him with it” assaults, and prevailed when they felt themselves losing the struggle for the pistol either because the bad guy couldn’t get the gun off safe, or because the trooper had pressed the magazine release button and activated the disconnector safety that kept the chambered round from firing.
More germane to the topic at hand, however, four of these officers survived because they had more firepower remaining when they went past five or six shots. Trooper Ken Kaas, with the seventh shot from his 9mm, dropped a shotgun-wielding attacker who was rushing him. (The gunman survived and reportedly told his attorney that he had been counting and was sure the cop had fired “all six” and emptied his service revolver when the perp broke cover and charged the trooper; he didn’t know Illinois troopers carried semi-automatic pistols.) Sargent Glessner Davis shot and killed a shotgun-armed murderer with either the seventh or the eighth shot in his department issue Model 39. Troopers Bob Kolowski and Lloyd Burchette shot it out with a homicidal outlaw biker and both emptied their 9mms, with Kolowski reloading and sustaining fire before the gunman fell dying.
They had fired 20-some rounds between them and hit him 13 times before he was unable to continue the fight. Illinois troopers in uniform today carry Glock 22 pistols loaded with sixteen 40-caliber hollowpoints and backed up with two more 15-round magazines on their duty belts.