Some days on the range are better than others. Ironically, although yesterday was cold with a soaking rain, and despite the fact that I only fired 50 rounds, I had one of the best range sessions that I can remember in a long time. I’d like to think that I rediscovered and more fully realized a few key lessons about shooting.
A week prior, I had visited the range for the first time in weeks and had gotten a harsh reality check that shooting is indeed a perishable skill set. My shooting was commensurately disappointing. Short on available daylight at this time of year, I had decided to revisit the fundamentals by shooting Mike Pannone’s (CTT Solutions) “Changing Gears” drill. In short, it involves 50 rounds with freestyle, strong, and support hand shooting, incorporating multiple draws and reloads. The drill is designed to focus on Pannone’s concept of “conscious contradiction.” I like to do it occasionally when I am short on time and need to work on the basics. If you look at my target below, you’ll see a lot of low shots and a few flyers. Obviously, I was out of practice.
This week, I was again rushed due to time constraints, and the weather was crappy. I encourage everyone to go to the range no matter the conditions, simply because unless you live in a virtual paradise, you are unlikely to need your gun when it’s sunny and 70 with manicured grass and perfect lighting. Thus, yesterday found me drawing from concealment under multiple layers with fading overcast light in the rain. Perfect!
I hadn’t intended to repeat the “Changing Gears” drill again, but in the end, seeing an available reduced silhouette steel in the pistol bay, I decided to forego hanging targets in the rain. I shot the drill again, with one minor tweak. Just for scale, below is are a couple of pictures of the steel target I used. Again, I shot from approximately 10 yards…
So what did I learn? Several things. As I said, it was a surprisingly good day at the range.
One of the things that the drill incorporates is transitioning the gun into the support hand. While I feel pretty decent about my draw stroke overall, I’ve been working to try and drive the gun up and out in my line of sight when shooting one-handed. For whatever reason, transitioning the gun between hands didn’t feel as natural as it usually does for me. I remembered something I learned specifically from a class with Pannone. Pistol manipulations should happen in a position of maximum strength and dexterity, roughly where you hold something to read or hold a jar to unscrew the lid. After concentrating on that point, I felt a lot better about my pistol transitions and one handed presentation. I think this minor epiphany got my brain in gear, because I had a few other revelations as well.
As an aside, I’m not convinced that transitioning the pistol between hands is all that important. To reiterate a point I learned from Tom Givens, the reality is that you’ll be picking a pistol up with your support hand after it’s dropped by an injured strong hand. Or, you may have to draw one handed with your support hand if your strong hand is either injured or otherwise occupied. Nonetheless, Pannone’s drill is a good opportunity to practice transitioning the pistol between hands, and you should probably know how to do it safely and efficiently.
Another thing I want to discuss is grip. Many prominent instructors consider grip to be one of the most, if not THE most important fundamental. Shooting one handed does wonders to emphasize this, as accuracy is absolutely dependent on proper execution of the fundamentals. When I missed my first support hand shot, I really began to concentrate on my grip and did something that I recently watched John Correia of Active Self Protection advocate in one of his YouTube videos. Specifically, building the grip by concentrating on gripping with the little and ring fingers. In essence, tightening the grip on the handgun from the little finger up. I was rewarded with hits on the steel, and when it was time to shoot freestyle again, I did the same thing with my strong hand. Neglecting this is commonly referred to as the “three amigos” by instructors. When your bottom three fingers aren’t tight on the gun, the contraction of your fingers with the trigger press leads to the typical low and left shot.
Finally, on my ride home, listening to a brief discussion about vision on the latest Sheriff of Baghdad podcast (#28), I think I realized why I am most accurate with the plain black Defoor sights. The photos above don’t really do justice to how dark and overcast it was at the range. I actually had to look to see my sights. And when I did, I got my hits. I’ve often complained about prominent front sights being distracting, and I think this is what I was trying to say. With a prominent front sight, I can basically push the gun out there and shoot, fully believing that I’m seeing my sights. With black sights, I really have to look for them and focus on that front sight. I don’t pretend to understand why, but that is generally easier for me with sights that aren’t festooned with bright colors and dots. I should also point out that this isn’t necessarily universal for me. My Ruger LCR has a very prominent front sight from XS Sight Systems, but it also doesn’t really have a rear notch to frame that front sight in. I also fully expect that individual readers may have completely different conclusions and experiences regarding sights, and that’s okay! Sights are so subjective, it’s almost not worth it to write about them anymore. Get out on the range and see what works for you!
The tweak that I mentioned above was to spend my last ten rounds doing a one to four progression of shots as demonstrated by Mike Seeklander in some of his drills. I wanted to practice multiple shots, and the progression prevents making a habit of firing a set number of shots. I understand that the entire point of Pannone’s drill is the “changing gears” thought process, but I don’t have a lot of use for the ten shots devoted to magazine exchanges at the end. I think a slide lock reload is more important to practice, and I get a magazine exchange repetition every time I set up for a slide lock reload again. Quite frankly, I’ve done so many tactical reloads in various classes that it has been refined nearly to the point of unconscious competence for me over the past 23 years.
In trying to make for a more productive practice session, I think that the last ten rounds are better spent on recoil control for multiple shots. I will also commonly do a failure drill on the three shot sequence. Another good idea would be to use the last ten rounds on “The Test.” In fact, I’ll probably do exactly that next week at the range and put everything on a timer to see where I’m at on my draw and reloads as well.
What’s the moral of the story? Make your range sessions count. Try to learn something every time you go, no matter how minor. Practice even when you don’t want to and even when the weather sucks. As I said in my introductory paragraph, this was one of my most productive range sessions of late, and I certainly didn’t expect it to be.
As always, thanks for reading. If you haven’t already, please follow our blog or our social media. We’ve sort of slowed down with content lately since life has gotten in the way, but the new year will bring a new training season and we still have a lot of irons in the fire. Comments, questions, and civil discourse are always welcome!