Course Review: Bob Vogel World Class Pistol Skills – Part 3

In the last couple of installments of our look at the World Class Pistol Skills class taught by champion competitive shooter Bob Vogel, we’ve looked fairly in depth at a couple of the areas (grip and trigger control) of instruction I found particularly beneficial. Hopefully you found them beneficial as well.

Several more topics were covered pretty thoroughly, but instead of trying to do each of them justice I want to wrap up our look at this class by explaining what I think the value of it is, and talking about the key to Mr. Vogel’s success as a competitive shooter.

So if you’re reading along and you’ve been wondering what you really get from a seat in this class, I’ll sum it up succinctly: It’s essentially an all-access pass into Mr. Vogel’s approach to shooting. You’ll get an in-depth look at what he does and why he does it, and in my experience in the class Mr. Vogel proved willing to answer any question posed about technique, practice, preferred equipment, and even a question or two about a Canadian with fangs who is occasionally spotted at international matches.

In the first writeup I talked a bit about great guitarists and it’s useful to revisit the theme now. Eddie Van Halen used to turn his back to the audience while playing at times to keep the many aspiring guitar virtuosos in the audience from being able to see his technique. In contrast, Mr. Vogel doesn’t seem to hold anything back. Every question I asked or heard someone else ask of him was answered clearly, without prevarication or any reluctance to divulge “secrets” of his success.

The barricade claimed a fellow student's front sight..
The barricade claimed a fellow student’s front sight..

This “all access pass” is nice to have…but it’s not magic. To get the best value out of the course as I saw it presented, the student needed to show up with a solid grasp of the fundamentals, the ability to ask intelligent questions, and the ability to do some self diagnosis when working on drills. Mr. Vogel gave every student individual attention, but since he’s one man he can’t watch just you on every run through every drill.

If you have those prerequisites down, then you’ll get a great deal out of the course. I mentioned last week how using Mr. Vogel’s dryfire with a dead trigger trick showed me that I tended to throw Glock shots left, but it wasn’t the only realization I had during the course. At one point performing an El Presidente drill I realized a critical error I’d been making with my reloads. After listening to Mr. Vogel’s lecture on how he does his reload I managed to spare a clock cycle or two of brain power to think about the little kinesthetic trick Mr. Vogel uses (touching the recess in the bottom of the frame of a Glock 34 with his left index finger) and as I was looking at my own hands during the reload I instantly saw what I have been doing wrong with reloads for years. My reloads (done from concealment, of course) have always been slow enough to time with a sun dial and I never understood why until that little moment of clarity during a run of the El Pres. Comparing what you’re doing in real time to what one of the best in the world does has its benefits, folks.

I wouldn’t recommend this course to the absolute beginner because I don’t believe they have the resources to really take advantage of the opportunity the course offers. You need a solid grasp of the basics to understand what is being taught. A complete beginner showing up in the course would be a bit like trying to learn algebra without understanding addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The subject of vetting oneself for a course is a rant for another day, so I’ll leave it saying that it’s unreasonable to show up to a course like this with no idea of what you’re doing and to expect the instructor and the rest of the class to cater to your pace. People show up to a course with a shooter of Mr. Vogel’s caliber because they want to learn how he wins championships…not to see him dumb down the class to try and teach one or two unqualified students remedial fundamentals.

When you’re on your all access tour of Mr. Vogel’s methods, the big keys to his success leaps right out at you: Focus, and intensity.

Everything he does on the range is the result of careful attention and analysis. I’ve included some snippets of the instruction given out so you can see for yourself how much thought someone at Mr. Vogel’s level puts into even the way that he moves around an obstacle. Whether it’s training with Captains of Crush grip trainers or doing dryfire work on transitions between targets using his kitchen table and a printout of small targets, it’s all done with laser-beam focus and intensity. If you want to know the real foundation of his success, that’s it. Eyes firmly on the prize, looking for every efficiency that he can find, and treating everything he does to prepare with the seriousness and attention one would normally reserve for, say, performing cardiac surgery.

A significant chunk of the course’s value is being able to see his process for yourself. It inspires you to take a harder look at what you’re doing for practice. Perhaps it even encourages you to buy a SIRT gun you keep in the office so you can work on reloads and target transitions on your lunch break instead of going to some fast food joint. If you really want to get better as a shooter, you have to do the homework.

For those who have a good grasp of the fundamentals who want to improve their skill, Mr. Vogel’s World Class Pistol Skills course is a good start on that road. You won’t leave the course a grand master just because you trained with Bob…but you’ll have a good idea of the work you need to do to hit that next level.

 

Course Review: Bob Vogel World Class Pistol Skills – Part 2

Handguns are the most difficult firearms to shoot accurately. They have a relatively short sight radius, a relatively light weight, and the user is stuck trying to control the weapon with relatively small muscle groups. This is why trigger control is such a key factor in shooting a handgun well.

Bob Vogel lectures about his dryfire routine.
Bob Vogel lectures about his dryfire routine.

By “trigger control” I mean the ability to press the trigger to the rear without disrupting the sight picture of the firearm that you’re shooting. It sounds simple enough, but on a handgun we run into a physics problem right off the bat. The typical handgun weighs around 2.5 pounds fully loaded. The typical trigger pull on a handgun is well over 2.5 pounds. Glock triggers are often discussed in terms of their connector rating (standard for many years was 5.5 pounds) but in reality once you add in resistance from the springs the weight of the resulting trigger pull is usually around 1.5 pounds heavier than the rating on the connector. So to pull the trigger to the rear on a Glock you’re exerting force on the trigger that is more than double the weight of the pistol itself…which means the pistol is prone to move around in your hand (disrupting the sights) as you attempt to fire it. A solid grip, of course, helps stabilize the pistol against the torque you are applying to the trigger but the faster you try to shoot typically the more torque you are applying to the trigger.

Then, of course, there is the phenomenon of anticipation. When a handgun is fired the physics involved drives the muzzle up and back once the bullet has left the barrel. Most shooters will also note that there is movement away from the dominant hand…so a right handed shooter will likely see that the weapon moves back and to the left. We naturally want to fight that by trying to pull the gun back down on target. Anticipation is when we start to fight the recoil before the bullet has left the barrel, pulling the pistol down and away from the strong side. This results in low, left shots from right handed shooters.

To have any hope of hitting anything, it’s crucial for a shooter to learn how to properly press the trigger to the rear and not get ahead of the actual gunshot with their attempt to control the recoil of the pistol. How do they learn this? Dryfire.

Mr. Vogel spent quite a bit of time talking about his dryfire routine both as part of his usual lecture and in response to questions from the students in the class. People often think that top level shooters fire hundreds of thousands of rounds in a year but that’s not always the case. Mr. Vogel told the class that while he does train with live fire more than the average shooter, the majority of his skill was built with dryfire exercises at home. His approach to dryfire is unique, as he’s the first person I’ve encountered who doesn’t teach resetting the firing mechanism of the pistol for each trigger pull when dryfiring. As you can see in the video he’s doing a significant percentage of his dryfire training on a dead trigger.

 When I saw this it was so foreign to what I was used to that my prejudices kicked in and I thought there was no way on earth pretending to pull a dead trigger could possibly be useful. Then the rational part of my brain reminded the rest of it that Mr. Vogel has a lot more titles to his name than I do so perhaps paying attention would be wise. As the old saying goes, if it seems silly but it works, then it isn’t silly.

Mr. Vogel stressed intensity in dryfire training, meaning doing every bit of it as if you were on the range firing live ammunition. This means training to acquire his grip just as he does when the gun is loaded and even when working with a dead trigger “pulling” it with the same intensity and focus he would have during the real thing. It takes mental discipline to “work” a dead trigger like it’s the real thing, but believe it or not after a little bit you get the hang of it.

 The dead trigger pull also turns out to be a useful diagnostic tool. While I’ve shot Glocks quite a bit over the years, I haven’t really used one in a class where I was pushing as hard on speed and accuracy as I was in Mr. Vogel’s class. Shortly into the first day it was clear that the majority of my shots with my Glock 34 were grouping to the left. I had zeroed my pistol with the Warren sights well before coming to the class but I thought perhaps they had been bumped or loosened up some with the live fire and needed to be adjusted. I was just about to break out the sight tool when Mr. Vogel had us aim in on the targets and try dryfire on a dead trigger the exact same way we would be pulling the trigger at speed if we were doing a Bill drill. Still struggling with the concept in my mind, I did manage to do it right once…and when I did, I saw the front sight jump to the left.

 Part of the reason for this push to the left was that I was actually tensing up my shooting hand right at the last little moment of trigger pull, something I didn’t even realize was happening during live fire or even with my typical dryfire practice. It was invisible until I tried working with intensity against a dead trigger. (If it seems silly, but it works, then it isn’t silly.) Some folks also find that the nature of the Glock’s trigger, particularly the overtravel, tends to manifest this push to the off-side. I figure it’s probably a combination of that Glock factor and my own mistakes magnifying it to the point that my shots grouped to the left extreme of the A zone and into the C zone.

I’ve since tried the same drill with my other pistols (H&K P30, S&W M&P, 1911, revolvers) and it’s only with the Glock that I have this tendency to torque the gun to the left as I’m trying to pull the trigger. Lots of other shooters experience the same phenomenon, enough so that some sight manufacturers actually offset their sight notches slightly to compensate for right handed shooters pushing shots to the left with the Glock. It’s clearly something that I need to work on even if I never fire another shot from a Glock pistol.

 

Course Review: Bob Vogel World Class Pistol Skills – Part 1

If you’re looking to improve your skills in anything, one of the best things you can do is pay close attention to one of the best at it. Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page spent countless hours dissecting licks from old blues greats to try and unlock the secrets of their technique…and untold millions of aspiring guitar virtuosos have dissected Clapton and Page’s music since then trying to reproduce the awesome and make it their own. In the shooting sports, thankfully direct access to the greats is a little easier to come by than one-on-one time with Clapton or Page. The fact that being rock royalty pays a bit better than being a great shooter might have something to do with that…

Champion action pistol shooter Robert Vogel has recently hung out his shingle and started on the teaching circuit, offering anyone who wants to improve their skill with a pistol a great opportunity to look at the techniques and methodologies he’s used over the years to bring him an impressive accumulation of titles and championships. It doesn’t matter if you want to actually beat Mr. Vogel at the next world shoot or improve your ability to fire an accurate shot in self defense, there’s something here for you.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll try to break down the highlights of what was presented at the course and what I took away from it. We’ll start at the beginning…

The Fundamentals – Grip

Day one of training began with a safety brief covering the major rules of firearms safety. Mr. Vogel then transitioned into an explanation of the techniques he uses to get the results we see on the range. The lecture focused heavily on the grip he uses on the gun as a proper grip is the foundation of control when it comes to shooting a pistol. In my various experiences on the range I’ve found that most people don’t really understand the importance of their grip on the handgun, not only for control but also for proper function of the weapon. They often mimic the look of a grip used by top level shooters without really understanding what the shooters are actually doing with their hands when they are on the gun.

Robert Vogel instructing on the range
Robert Vogel instructing on the range

This problem is compounded by a number of well-meaning but incorrect axioms about gripping the gun. Just the other day in a discussion about handgun accuracy on a forum I saw someone quote one of the worst offenders, the old 60/40 rule. You know the one, 60% of your grip pressure should come from the left hand, 40% from the right? Sound familiar? It‘s bunk. I’m sure the goal originally was to try and give a mental concept to new students unsure of how hard they should be gripping the gun and it made sense in that context…but it has since become divorced from that limited application and turned into a law people parrot without understanding. The bottom line on the pressure you should use in your grip is this: You want to grip the gun as hard as you can, but not too hard. This is something of an amorphous concept for a new student and so various rhetorical tricks have been used to try and communicate the kinesthetic concept to the uninitiated mind.

If you grip the gun as hard as you can, with every bit of strength you possess, you will see the gun shake violently. Obviously this is no good. Grip the gun as hard as you can and slowly back the pressure you’re using off until the gun is no longer shaking violently. That’s the amount of force you want to exert on the gun. The reason instructors often use percentages when describing grip pressure is to try and get students to grip firmly, but not so firmly that they’re shaking the gun. What students often don’t understand is that when an instructor says “I’m only using 60/70/80% of my grip strength”, in reality they’re doing exactly what I described: gripping as hard as they can without the violent shake. Often someone who is teaching firearms has developed significantly higher levels of grip strength than your typical student and so while the instructor may be using “80%” of his grip strength on the gun, if we measured it objectively with instruments we might well find that he’s applying more than double the amount of force to the pistol as the student receiving the instruction. The students often misread this as a limit on how much force one should be applying to the grip…not so. The harder you can grip (without shaking) the better.

Physical strength plays a huge role in the effectiveness of your grip. The more force you can exert on the gun, the better you can control it and the easier it is to apply torque to the trigger (pulling it) without disrupting the sights. The weight lifting world has introduced multiple methods of assessing grip strength, with one of the most popular being the Captains of Crush grip trainers. Mr. Vogel trains with these little gadgets regularly. He can close a #3 grip trainer…which is rated at 280 pounds of resistance. In this video, Mr. Vogel is shooting a Bill Drill. Watch his forearms as he presents the pistol from the holster:

Note how little the pistol moves as it cycles. That’s not trixy recoil spring setups or a compensator…it’s a combination of the Glock 34’s inherent characteristics and applying extraordinary levels of force to the grip of that pistol.

Also notice the position of Mr. Vogel’s elbows, how they’re turned slightly up. He’s actually sort of driving his elbows up to cause a pinching force between his hands. To conceptualize it, put your hands together in front of you and lock your wrists. Now raise both elbows and note how the tops of your hands are “pinched” together. If you’ve ever used the rope attachment for a tricep pulldown at the gym it’s sort of the same concept. You’re almost trying to force your hands down and apart, but because the gun is in the way all that force gets applied to the grip. One of the big obstacles for new shooters trying to learn the grip is keeping their hands together during recoil…this pinching action, properly applied, cures that nicely. This was one of my big light-bulb moments of the course. It’s one of those things that once you see it you wonder how you didn’t think of it before, but when properly applied it makes a big difference your shooting.

The location of the weak-hand grip was also covered in depth. Mr. Vogel’s general rule was to get as high up and far forward on the gun as possible. He stated that his affinity for the Glock is primarily due to the more aggressive grip he can get on the gun as opposed to other pistols he has tried. In my hands I find that I’m also able to grip higher on the Glock than on most other pistols…which is one reason why I get bitten by the slide without the Grip Force Adapter installed on the gun. Where many instructors teach to not have any airspace between the right and left hands on the gun, Mr. Vogel’s approach is different. He doesn’t care about space between the hands as long as he can get his support hand out farther on the gun. vogelgrip

Note that his support hand is clamping down around the farthest point forward on the trigger guard of the pistol. Mr. Vogel mentioned that in the process of acquiring this grip he occasionally neuters the function of the slide lock, but he considers that possibility a worthwhile tradeoff for the higher level of control he gets from the hand position. The extended slide lock that comes from the factory on Glock 34 and 35 pistols makes a failure to lock on empty even more likely with his grip, so he replaces them with standard slide locks from Glock.

I’d also encourage you to watch the video again and pay specific attention to how he acquires his strong hand grip as he’s drawing the pistol. Most people will typically come from behind the gun or straight down on top of the gun when they’re trying to draw. Mr. Vogel comes in almost from the front of the gun, the result being the web of Mr. Vogel’s hand ends up on the lower 1/3 of the slide as he acquires his grip. From that point he tightens his strong hand down around the grip and that act pulls the web of the hand down just low enough so that the slide misses it…most of the time, anyway. As you can see from the screen capture, this is also being done with considerable force. I really noticed this when he was setting up for drills and mocks up grabbing his grip. I saw that he was almost grabbing on the back of the slide and then sort of letting the act of tightening his grip and locking his wrist drag his hand into the final position on the grip. Whether this is a conscious adaptation on his part or not I couldn’t tell you…but I found it interesting.