Post-ignition recoil control vs. pre-ignition flinch

I guarantee one of the first comments on this video will be “nice flinch” – which was the entire reason why I posted it. This post is targeted more at new shooters than our experienced readers, so please feel free to share it with the filthy casuals new shooters in your life.

First, let’s take a look at both terms. What is flinch? To put it simply, flinch is when a shooter, for various reasons, attempts to compensate for the gun’s recoil before the gun goes off. The most common reason for this is fear of recoil/muzzle blast, and the result is usually to drive the shot low and to the left (for right handed shooters).

qualification target - you suck

Post-ignition recoil control is exactly what it sounds like. The gun has gone bang and you’re now using your body to control the recoil to bring the gun on target for the next shot. What creates confusion is that to an untrained shooter who is just learning the fundamentals of marksmanship, what I do in the video looks exactly like the flinch that they’ve been told is bad.

To put it simply:

Flinch: trying to control recoil before the gun goes off, bad.
Recoil control: controlling the recoil after the gun goes off, good.

In the video I posted, what happened was I was working on running the gun at speed from the holster. My brain tells my index finger to pull the trigger, and then tells the rest of my body to prepare for the loud noise that is supposed to follow. When the loud noise doesn’t follow, there isn’t enough time for my brain to say “don’t worry about it” so I act to control the recoil, causing the muzzle of the gun to dip. Doing this correctly is an essential skill for running a gun fast. If you spend time watching youtube videos of top pros, you’ll see that in the rare cases when they have a malfunction, their muzzle does the exact same thing.

With new shooters, what you’ll see is the opposite. As they’re pressing the trigger, they preemptively drive the gun down in recoil which causes the aforementioned missed shots. The best way to train this out is to train in dry fire, to get used to pressing the trigger and keeping the gun flat. Then as you get used to shooting, it’s time to start working on speed. Hopefully this post has helped you understand the difference between flinching (bad!) and controlling recoil after the trigger pull (good).

Project: Red dot pistols

Here’s something we’ve worked on in the past, but never spent a significant amount of pixels on. However, with the addition of USPSA’s Production Optics division there’s finally a place where you can take your slide mounted red dot pistol and pressure test your skills. While I think the PO division rules are a little wonky, it’s still better than nothing.

m&p pro core

I’ve been beating the slide mounted red dot drum for a while, and spent a decent amount of time and effort campaigning for IDPA to have a Carry Optics division created. That unfortunately failed, as IDPA choice to add the Glock 19 division CCP division instead. Then in a curious development, USPSA went ahead and approved Production Optics. That was also odd, because what, 2 years ago IPSC killed Modified, which would have been a great place for these guns to play, but that’s a different post for a different time.

But if we want to do this red dot thing right, we need some test platforms. Here’s what we currently have in the stable:

  • M&P9L Pro CORE – 5 inch M&P equipped with a Leupold Deltapoint
  • M&P9 with thumb safety – currently the gun I’m carrying, equipped with an RMR02
  • Lone Wolf TimberWolf 9mm with ALG 6 Second Mount – This gun does not have a slide mounted optic, it’s set up for an Aimpoint Micro or similar optics, more on why we’re rolling this later.
  • Coming soon: Timberwolf Compact with RM06

Smith & Wesson M&P9 in PHLster Skeleton

Before Production Optics came around, the only place where you could really compete with these guns was in Open division, where you’d get trashed by race guns with fixed optics. The reciprocating dot isn’t competitive with a fixed dot, it just isn’t. But now, if you’re willing to stay within the limitations of the division, you can compete with your gun heads up. And lots of companies are now offering pre-cut guns for dots. Glock and Smith & Wesson both have factory guns set up for a slide mounted optic, and at NRAAM this year Kahr got into the game as well. There are also loads of shops doing slide cuts now as well. There’s never been a better time to play with red dot equipped carry guns, and it’s a subject I’m personally fascinated with.

What are the advantages of a red dot equipped pistol? While they are slower for me in rapid fire, it’s also easier to be accurate out of the gate with them, and it’s much easier for new shooters to learn to shoot with two eyes open with a dot equipped gun. There are drawbacks, of course. Batteries, and the potential for your optic to lose zero from getting battered around at 1 billion Gs when the slide flies around from regular shooting. However, because the trend of dot mounted pistols has been growing, manufacturers are taking that kind of abuse into account when they build their dots.

Of course the real reason I want to run red dot guns? I think they’re cool. Yes, there is a lot of good data we can get from this project, and I’m glad that I finally have the time and resources to do it right, but ultimately? I’m doing it because if I learned one thing from taking 8 months off, it’s that there’s no time for shooting projects that don’t interest me. Red dot equipped pistols are interesting.

Timberwolf with ALG 6 Second Mount

Mitigating Match Pressure

Today’s subject is a brief discussion about match pressure. If you shoot competition, you already know match pressure is real. So how can we control it?

Shelley Rae on the move

You dry fire frequently on a regular schedule. You exercise before live fire to get your heart rate up. You feel prepared to handle the match stress. However when you get to the starting box and the RO says “Shooter ready”, you get nervous, jittery and fall apart. Your heart rate quickens and your palms sweat. Unless you are a top shooter and/or have years (decades?) of experience under your belt, it will happen to you.  So what are we to do?

The reason is simple to diagnosis and hard to correct. You are over thinking and your conscious mind is tripping you up. Yes, the physical effects are caused by adrenaline and body alarm response but those are driven by your brain. You are your own worst enemy at the start of a stage. You work through different scenarios in your head; the “what ifs”, the good and bad from your last stage, how you are going to attack the stage and then you heard the magic words: “Load and make ready”.

“The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action” – Bruce Lee

It is my hope that most of you will find nothing new about this phenomenon. If you are a member of the Brian Enos Forum (and you should be), then you are likely aware of Mr. Enos’ competition beliefs but he is not alone.  USPSA Grand Master, Steve Anderson, has a wonderful podcast that is almost exclusively about the mental game. Let us not can’t forget Olympic Gold Medalist Lanny Bassham and his book, With Winning in Mind.

Of course reading their works, their “Zen” if you will, won’t do much on its own.  You need something to drive your focus when you are in the shooters box. Something you can take with you to both dry and live fire practice. What that “something” is will be up to the shooter. For instance, I focus on my breathing and try to listen to the surrounding noises and activity when awaiting the glorious sound of “Shooter ready – Standby”. If at an outdoor match, are there birds chirping? Are there leaves rustling? Try to focus on something that YOU can use to help calm the conscience mind.

I will admit that this is not as easy to do as it is to talk about. When I manage it effectively, my speed and accuracy are at their peak; but when I fail to manage it, my times suffer and I make mistakes. Those mistakes are not a negative as long as you recognize each failure and learn from it. That is the key! Anyone can recognize they made an error but those who can use that recognition to learn will get better and ultimately quicker. You must never see your errors as a failure but as declaration of a weakness. An identification of where you need to practice.   Ironically, this applies to life in general and not just shooting.

Another thing a person can do, which I have used with success during the stage, is to view each shot as the only shot.  “Issha Zetsumei” is a Japanese phrase that literally means “one shot and expire”.  It points to the fact that each shot should stand alone.  Do not worry about your score!  Focus on the front sight. Press the trigger. Watch the front sight rise. Repeat. Don’t shoot faster than you can see, but at the same time, only see what you need to see.

So there you have it.  If you want to control match pressure you have to learn to control yourself. Shoot your game and let everything else go. The score will take care of itself based on your level of skill.  Don’t shoot faster than your ability and don’t shoot slower than you need.  Shoot your game, shoot at your level and have fun.

And most important, remember to have fun. After all, it’s just a game.

At The Door

Let’s talk about home defense for a bit. Yes, I am shifting gears from competition for my next few posts. After delving deeper into my own situation and thinking about potential outcomes from what I experienced the other night, I have some thoughts that I felt were worth sharing. I offer them for what they are worth.

The Personal Defense Narrative

When a person buys a gun, they seldom plan on not using it. No matter the reason you purchased a firearm, you probably planned on shooting it, unless you are a high-end cork sniffing collector – but even some collectors like to shoot their guns! So many times people “know what they will do” when someone breaks in to their house.  They have created their own personal defense narrative and it normally involves shooting the intruder.

Unfortunately I feel this might lead to problems. When planning your own household defense  should you really imagine someone breaking into your house?  Might you better served imagining ALL probable “bump in the night” scenarios with a solid basis in reality.

Let me offer a scenario; a noise At The Door:

You awake to a noise outside your house. Might someone be there? Maybe, but the fact you heard someone or something doesn’t necessarily mean you are facing harm? Nevertheless, in your head you have played out this scenario countless times and at 3am, it can only be a bad guy, there is no other option. You’re sure of it!

You grab your gun and go investigate only to realize that someone (or something) is trying to beat down your door. Fearing for your life, (or that of your family,) you aim at the door with your firearm and yell STOP! You are greeted with a torrent of obscenities. Assured in the fact your personal narrative is correct you aim, you take a deep breath and pull the trigger.  You open the door to horror.

Congratulations! You fired your weapon at an unknown target and have either wounded someone or worse. Your narrative convinced you it was the only choice you had.

But let’s back up. What if it wasn’t a thug, but instead it was your neighbor? Perhaps he was drunk, disoriented and making a racket at your door because “their” key wasn’t working in “their” door. But, but, what about the swearing? Maybe it was directed at the lock, or maybe they thought you were pulling a bad joke on him. After all, he thought it was “his” house.

Before you comment that my scenario couldn’t happen, make sure you first tell that to the family of Carter Albrecht. This excerpt from the article linked in his name explains it all:

“He was shot to death as he tried to kick in a neighbor’s door in an apparent drunken rage after beating his girlfriend, police say. The neighbor reportedly thought Mr. Albrecht was a burglar and fired a pistol up high through the back door as a warning. The shot hit the 6-foot-4-inch Mr. Albrecht in the head instead.”

Was the late Mr. Albrecht a nice guy? I am not sure, I never met him. The article alleges he beat his girlfriend. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, I don’t know those facts. Did he deserve to die? I would say the odds are in favor of, NO. The take away is you should NEVER assume.

In both the scenario I offered, and in the actual event I linked, Jeff Cooper’s Rule #2 and #4 were disregarded with disastrous results. The end result was a needless death, and a shooter that will live with a horrible guilt the remainder of his life. Why?  Because the person holding the gun never took the time, on a peaceful day when there was time, to explore the possibilities and their options.

The takeaway is simple, you must know what is there; but you must gather information without exposing yourself. There are many different ways to accomplish that and I hope to review them in a later post; but before I do I have some thoughts on the noise inside of your house that I will review in my next post.

Before I sign off, let’s review Jeff Cooper’s 2nd Rule

NEVER LET THE MUZZLE COVER ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT PREPARED TO DESTROY – You may not wish to destroy it, but you must be clear in your mind that you are quite ready to if you let that muzzle cover the target.

And Jeff Cooper’s 4th Rule

BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET – You never shoot at anything until you have positively identified it. You never fire at a shadow, or a sound, or a suspected presence. You shoot only when you know absolutely what you are shooting at and what is beyond it.

Revised January 4, 2016 for typo – ed.

Magazines and reliability

Handguns are machines made up of a number of individual parts all working in harmony to achieve a particular goal. If we use these machines with any frequency, sooner or later some of those parts are going to wear or break to the point where they stop working in harmony with the rest of the parts and the gun ceases to function. The magazine of a semi-automatic firearm is also a machine and is the component of your semi-automatic firearm that is most likely to fail.

They can fail in many ways…some blatantly obvious, and some not quite so obvious. A magazine with a visible crack or severe dent is pretty easy to see. A magazine with feed lips that have been spread due to wear and tear or just shoddy materials and construction is not quite as easy to see…at least not until you actually try to use the firearm. Then suddenly you get this:

Worn, damaged, or just crappy magazines can really complicate your life.
Worn, damaged, or just crappy magazines can really complicate your life. Photo courtesy of J.P.

There are multiple problems at play in this picture. Firstly, the follower of the magazine has apparently become stuck in the magazine tube. This happens occasionally if the magazine gets dirty or the magazine tube itself is damaged or manufactured poorly. A weak magazine spring or broken/marred follower can also result in the follower sticking in the tube which removes spring tension on the rounds in the magazine and allows them to flop around.

If that circumstance is combined with a magazine with feed lips that have spread out over time due to wear or bad metallurgy, you end up with what you see in the picture above. The follower was no longer applying pressure to the rounds and the feed lips are so spread out that they don’t effectively hold the cartridges within the magazine. The end result is that the chamber of this pistol ends up looking like a particularly unsuccessful clown car impression.

While all magazines will eventually break or experience problems, some of them are more prone to doing so than others. One of the reasons the Springfield XD line has not been adopted by more law enforcement agencies is due to the fact that their magazines tend to tolerate abuse with much less grace than those for, say, a Glock 17 or a Beretta 92. In my experience, XD magazines tend to suffer breakages or damage more easily than factory-quality magazines from Glock, Sig, Beretta, and Smith & Wesson. Others with more experience than I bring to the table have noted this tendency as well.

Of course, XD magazines are not the only ones that can experience problems. All magazines will eventually stop if you cram enough crud in them. I’ve experienced a follower freeze-up with a factory Beretta 92 magazine, but that was during a training course where we experienced torrential rains just short of tropical storm level. That storm turned the range into a gravely mud pit which is not ideal conditions for working on speed reloads. There was actually standing water on the range deep enough to submerge the magazine. It was also stepped on several times, driving the magazine into the mud until it was full of enough mud and small gravel to stop the follower. I picked up the magazine from the muck and a round fell out. I noticed the others were loose in there, deduced what had happened, and then gave the magazine a sharp smack which freed the follower. (Hooray for good magazine springs) The magazine ran just fine for the rest of the day, but I didn’t use it again after that day until I had the chance to clean it.

Dropping magazines, especially partially loaded ones, on the ground is often very hard on the magazine. Apart from dirt, mud, and other detritus that gets inside the magazine, baseplates and feed lips will sometimes crack, and tubes will sometimes bend or dent. This fact is, believe it or not, where the so called “tactical reload” came from. I actually discussed this with Tom Givens in his Intensive Pistol Skills class a few weeks ago. In the early days of Gunsite the gun that 99.99% of people showed up with was a 1911. In those days there was no Wilson/Rogers 47D magazine and folks didn’t show up to classes with massive piles of magazines for training. Everyone was using GI or factory Colt magazines in their guns. Dropping these magazines on the crushed granite of the range ended up destroying them to the point of students almost put out of commission because they didn’t have any functional magazines left. If the magazines never hit the granite, then you never have that problem, right? VIOLA!! The “tactical reload” as we know it was born. Just think: All that arguing about reloads you see on the internet dates back to a practice adopted to get around the fact that 1911 magazines circa 1977 sucked out loud. Stew on that one for a bit without getting depressed. I dare ya.

I know of police departments who have had magazines that outlasted the career of the officers those magazines were issued to. I’ve encountered police officers carrying magazines that were originally issued a decade and a half before the officer currently carrying them was even in the academy…and all that time without a single spring change or cleaning. It was actually a violation of policy for the officer stuck with those magazines to do any preventative maintenance on them like changing the magazine springs or cleaning them. Now that he’s no longer at that agency I can happily report he violated those policies and maintained his magazines. He determined he would rather risk disciplinary action on the off chance that someone cared enough to notice he replaced magazine springs than to risk death when they caused a stoppage in a gunfight. To paraphrase Tam, magazines are not the frickin’ family silver. They need to be cleaned occasionally, maintained occasionally, and replaced hopefully long before they start puking bullets into the chamber three at a time…and yet many citizens and sadly even many law enforcement agencies neglect to maintain or replace magazines when necessary.

So here is my quick and dirty list of magazine tips and tricks:

1. Use factory quality (or better) magazines in your pistol

With some notable exceptions (like the 1911) the factory magazines are likely to be the most durable and reliable magazines available for your pistol. Use them. Yes, they will likely be more expensive than some aftermarket magazines but there is a reason: They will work more reliably and last longer. One of the big sources of complaint about the M9 pistol in the military was due to somebody in the bean-counting section of the Pentagon getting a visit from the good idea fairy and issuing a bunch of really crappy aftermarket magazines that choked whenever exposed to sand. (Because it’s not like our troops ever go to sandy places, right?) They saved a few bucks in the short run but in the process turned a bunch of M9 pistols into paperweights. Don’t repeat that mistake. It’s just not worth it.

2. Inspect magazines and replace magazine springs regularly

The magazine spring wears each time it is compressed and decompressed. If you load and unload a magazine frequently it will wear the spring pretty quickly…some springs more quickly than others. If the magazine spring is too weak it will not get the next round into feeding position at the proper time during the feeding cycle, and that can lead to a number of different types of stoppage. Some magazine springs are sufficiently anemic that even being compressed and left alone will cause them to “set” and hinder reliable function. Springs are relatively inexpensive and you can keep them on hand without too much trouble. On a carry gun you may want to consider replacing the springs in your carry magazines once a year as cheap insurance.

3. Have dedicated training magazines and dedicated carry magazines

As I mentioned earlier, typical training tasks are hard on magazines. It would be wise to have some magazines you can beat the daylights out of without consequence while reserving a few magazines solely for regular carry. I want to treat my carry magazines with care and caution so that there’s less of a chance of a magazine related failure should I need to use the weapon in self defense. Labels, colored tape, and spraypaint are pretty cheap, so it’s easy to make a magazine visible as a training-only magazine.

4. Clean your magazines 

Most pistol magazines can be disassembled for parts replacement and cleaning. Every now and then it doesn’t hurt to take your magazines apart and inspect the inside of the tube for dirt, debris, or damage. You would be amazed at what sort of stuff you find stuck inside your magazine tube. I’ve found dirt, dust, bits of paper wrappers, lint, and even the remains of a couple of insects…all things that guns don’t like to eat. Dust and other light crud can be easily removed by a clean cloth. Mud and caked on dirt may require more aggressive action like a bottle brush. Here again I would make particular effort to clean my dedicated carry magazines on a more frequent schedule than my training magazines. Even when carried on your body in a proper magazine holder you’d be surprised at how much crud works its way into your carry magazines.

5. Be willing to throw magazines away

Magazines are wear items. They will eventually suffer a breakage or damage that is irreparable. When that happens you have to be willing to toss them in the garbage (or recycling bin) and move on with your life. They are a tool, they’ve served their purpose, and now they no longer perform their required function. Ditch ’em.

 

Sevigny Performance Sights for the GLOCK 43

Looking for more on the GLOCK 43? Check out my original review of the pistol in GunUp the Magazine.

Red clay? Must be in the South.
Red clay? Must be in the South.

I strongly dislike the stock sights that come on GLOCK pistols. Fortunately, there are tons of options out there and, well, this is my option of choice: Sevigny Performance. Designed by this guy you may have heard of: Dave Sevigny. I like to think he knows what he’s doing with this whole gun/sights thing.

They’ve released their sights for the GLOCK 43, and it’s a fun opportunity for me to diagnose what I like so much about them. The first thing to realize is that Sevigny Peformance has a line of sights, so there are different options for competition, carry, etc. For the GLOCK 42 and 43, they’ve created a set of tritium night sights. It’s a two-dot system and it’s glowy.

FullSizeRender FullSizeRender_1How accurate are they? Well, check out these three shots I pulled and the four I didn’t (“That was at 7 yards? Don’t you have Bianchi Cup next week?” Yes, yes, you’ll find me in a ball under that little table by the Practical at the practice range crying.):

I need to shoot more.
I need to shoot more.

So… You can see the sights at night, I love the two-dot system for carry because it’s fast, they’re accurate, and designed by someone who knows what he’s doing. Big fan. They can stay.

Side note: I also have Sevigny Peformance sights on my competition FNS and one of my M&Ps.

Why bullseye is the most popular pistol shooting sport

If I asked you, dear reader, what you thought the most popular pistol-based shooting sport in America was based on participation, what would you say? IDPA? USPSA? GSSF? Well, if you picked any of those, you’d be dead wrong, because the answer is bullseye.

Colt National Match Cold Cup Series 70
Colt National Match Cold Cup Series 70

Yep, good old fashioned boring bullseye. Why is that? Is just because of tradition? Or is there something more to the fact that the Camp Perry Nationals had over 600 shooters last year?

Continue reading “Why bullseye is the most popular pistol shooting sport”

The surprise break vs the command break

Over on pistol-forum, there is a thread discussing the concept of the “command shot/break” with regard to pistol shooting. This is based around the idea that there are times when you want to make the gun go off RIGHT NOW as opposed to the more classic “surprise break.” An example of this would be shooting a swinger in USPSA, there will be a point where the target has an optimal presentation, and you need to shoot it when it’s there.

2014 IDPA Nationals 852

The surprise break is one of the fundamental concepts of marksmanship – it’s how we teach new shooters to shoot without a flinch, for example. It works best with SFA or SAO pistols, but can be able to TDA and DAO guns as well. The idea is that you pull the trigger with constant, steady pressure until the gun goes off. There shouldn’t be a conscious decision to shoot RIGHT NOW with a surprise break, as with most new shooters this is the sort of the thing that will induce flinch and trigger jerk.

But what about more advanced shooters? The idea of a command break, where you do want to shoot the gun right freakin’ now is actually valuable, and it’s an important skill to develop. It builds on the fundamentals of the surprise break, in that you’ve ideally gotten to the point where you can pull a trigger smoothly without disturbing the sights. The big difference between a surprise break and a command break is that you’re making a choice to fire the pistol immediately at an available target, and must pull the trigger as quickly as possible to the rear, without disturbing the sights.

This is a skill that can be practiced extensively in dry fire, and is especially important if you’re shooting a DA revolver, for example. The drill to practice this is simple: aim the unloaded gun at a target of fixed size. Pull the trigger as fast as you can without disturbing the sights off the target zone. Do that same speed for five reps. Now do it faster for five more reps. Repeat until awesomeness achieved. It’s also fairly easy to work on at the range. I don’t normally advocate shooting on a cadence, but for this drill it helps to count in your head: “1…2…3…shoot…1…2…3…shoot” based on whatever pace you’re looking for.

Mastering command fire is an important skill for competition shooters and self-defense shooters alike. I’ve had many situations in matches where I’ve needed to hit a target before it went away; as I’ve gotten better at this drill my ability to make those shots has increased. Give a try at the range and in dry fire when you can.

Eye focus shifting point of impact?

I’ve never had this happen before, so I wanted to share it with my shooter buddies and see if anyone had any insight. Shooting my GP100 Match Champion, if I close one eye bullseye style and shoot with a hard front sight focus, the gun’s point of impact is ~4 inches to the right at 25 yards, with the front sight centered. No problem, I could just drift the front sight over. However, here’s the weird thing. If I open both eyes and don’t use as hard a front sight focus, but just kind of center the fiber in the rear notch, the point of impact shifts back to dead center, with about 0.50-1.00 inch increase in group size.

I’ve never had this happen before, and I’m kind of wondering what caused it. My current theory is that because I’m not as hard focused on the front sight, there’s a slight amount of blur on the fiber that’s “filling” in the gaps. So a centered green blob puts hits on paper but opens up my groups a bit.

Thoughts?