Want to make certain your pistol goes bang each time you pull the trigger? Then home in on these six vital facets that ensure your gun runs like a top.
What Factors Ensure A Properly Functioning Pistol:
- Ammunition Compatibility
- Stoppage Mitigation
- Trigger Reset
- Cognitive Shot Cadence
- Pistol Maintenance
- Magazine Maintenance
With the limited time we all have available, what skills and drills do you practice?
Well, you practice the basics, of course; even a simpleton should know that. No use practicing multiple target engagements and shooting from unconventional positions unless you’re performing the basic skills acceptably. Just like working with a hammer, you wouldn’t try driving two nails at once or hammering from the reverse position if you simply can’t effectively drive a single nail straight on.
When I speak of basic skills, I’m talking about drawing the handgun from the holster safely, swiftly and efficiently. I’m talking about lining the sights up on the target and pressing the trigger and putting a bullet where it’s supposed to go.
But let’s assume you’re smarter, or at least, better trained, than the average bear. If so, what other skills should you practice, and which drills should you perform? Your time is valuable; no use wasting it when you have it.
One of the most critical things to sort out with your pistol is reliability. Unlike revolvers that tend to reliably fire any ammunition they’re chambered for, semi-automatic pistols can sometimes be finicky when it comes to ammo they’ll reliably cycle all the time. The only thing worse than having unreliable ammo on the range or during a shooting match is having unreliable ammo during a gunfight.
Select quality practice and defensive ammunition from a reputable manufacturer. I’ve seen case-head separations and guns almost come apart due to using poor-quality or remanufactured ammunition. Some manufacturers even offer practice and defensive loads that offer the same recoil impulse and point of impact on target. This can be a good idea. Regardless of the ammunition you purchase, run at least 100 rounds of the defensive ammunition through your pistol in whatever condition of “clean” you intend to carry it in before you ever trust your life to it.
Of course, some like to handload to save money, and if you shoot a lot, you can, indeed, see a savings—although I wouldn’t suggest using handloads for defensive purposes. This isn’t because of liability reasons but because few of us can handload ammunition that is as reliable as the major manufacturers offer. Sure, a squib load, failure to fire or a cartridge stuck in the chamber can be sorted on the range, but you won’t have the time to do it when some goblin is trying to hammer you into a blood puddle.
Speaking of jams or stoppages: If you shoot enough, you’ll experience them. This is a reality of shooting—and it doesn’t matter how reliable you think your Glock or whatever pistol might be. Some stoppages are caused by the gun, some by ammo and some by the shooter. No matter how you end up with one, it’s a good idea to know how to sort it out in a hurry.
Some trainers classify stoppages in different categories, such as a “class I,” “class II” and “class III.” I don’t. I figure the problem is that the gun will not go bang! and my job is to fix it as easily and quickly as possible.
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When I was training police officers, I kept it really simple, because police officers did not train nearly enough. The protocol was that if your gun stopped shooting, reload it. By ejecting the magazine in the gun, inserting a new one and racking the slide, you’ll instantly clear just about any type of stoppage, and you don’t have to do any investigating to figure out what “type” of stoppage you have.
Another facet of reloading that’s important is the way you release or cycle the slide. Lots of shooters like to use the slide lock as a slide release. On some handguns with proud slide locks—such as the Walther CCP—that’s easy to do. However, consider that you might need to cycle the slide to sort out a stoppage or to reload if the slide lock fails to work. That’s why I always taught, and continue to suggest, releasing or cycling the slide by hand. That system always works; and, keep in mind that you might find yourself using a handgun that is not equipped with a slide lock.
Working with trigger reset is a drill that too few shooters practice enough. When you pull a pistol’s trigger, it will travel all the way to the rear and cause the pistol to fire. As you ease the trigger forward, it will reset for the next shot. When this audible and tactile reset occurs, there’s no reason to let the trigger travel any farther forward. Stop the relaxation of the trigger finger at that point and assess to see if another shot is needed. If so, begin the trigger-pull sequence again.
A good way to work this drill is to start by slow firing and working with the trigger reset between every shot. Once you get comfortable doing this, increase the speed between shots while maintaining a focus on resetting the trigger correctly. Ideally, you should spend about 50 rounds working with trigger reset during each practice session.
As you decrease the time between each shot, you’re speeding up your shot cadence. At each distance you engage targets, you will have a set cadence (that is, the time between shots) that will allow you to still get accurate hits on target. As the distance to the target increases, so does your time between shots. You’ll learn this cadence with practice.
Where cadence becomes important is when you’re transitioning between targets at different distances. You might be able to hammer three or four shots center mass on a hostile target at 5 yards, but at 10 yards, you’ll likely have to slow to controlled pairs. To practice shot cadence, set up targets at 5, 10 and 15 yards. Then, work to put about three or four rounds on each target as fast as you can to keep all the shots in a 5- or 6-inch circle. Soon, you’ll be able to transition between distances and adjust your shot cadence accordingly.
I mentioned chainsaws and hammers earlier. Like pistols, they are tools, and the more moving parts a tool has, the more frequently it needs to be serviced. Hammers don’t need a lot of attention, and I’ll bet few ever get as much as a wipe down. Chainsaws, on the other hand, need constant attention. Pistols fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Fortunately, performing maintenance on a pistol is relatively easy. After field-stripping, it’s a good idea to use an air hose to blow away all debris from all the parts and magazines. Then, apply some lubricant—something such as Mil Comm is ideal—to the hood of the barrel where it locks up with the slide and to the muzzle end where it contacts the slide or barrel bushing. Beyond that, pistols don’t need a lot of attention, and some lubricant along the slide rails is about the only other place it’s needed.
How often do you service a pistol? There is really no set time frame. In the military, they make soldiers clean firearms after every range trip. This is not so much because it’s necessary; it’s a method to help soldiers learn/train to care for their weapons. If you want to clean your pistol after every range session, go ahead. If you only want to clean it when it’s necessary, I’d strive for at least a field-strip, wipe down and lube about every 500 rounds. Of course, if you have reliability issues before you get to 500 rounds, you might want to consider a more frequent cleaning.
A final note relates to pistol magazines: They’re often neglected and taken for granted. Magazines are more than just ammunition delivery devices. They are, in fact, a very critical part of a semi-auto pistol. Without them, you have a single-shot that’s not very easy to operate.
Take care of your magazines. Field-strip and inspect them regularly. Wipe them down after every range session—but avoid oil and/or lubrication; these only serve to attract debris and dust to a mechanical device that doesn’t like debris and dust.
The other thing you can do with your magazines is number them. This will allow you to keep track of them and identify one or more that might be causing feeding issues. If you’re having reliability issues that appear to pop up infrequently, it could be a magazine. If you don’t have yours numbered, you’ll have a hard time identifying where the problem might be coming from.
There you go: a half-dozen skills and drills you might have been overlooking when it comes to developing proficiency with your defensive pistol. Too often, I think folks find a few hours to spend at the range or mess with their pistol. And even though they might have fun, during the process, they effectually waste time by not engaging in constructive drills or skill development.
Time is too precious to waste … and so is your life. Best prepare accordingly.
The article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.