Learning a New Handgun

So you decided it’s time to change competition guns? Maybe you saw your favorite shooter laying down impressive rates of fire and want “their” gun. Maybe you were shooting your carry gun and wanted a competition oriented gun. It could be that you carry a Glock but really love the 1911 and want to shoot Single Stack. Perhaps you are like me; you wanted your USPSA Production gun to be steel, ensuring a venture into DA/SA territory.

The reasons we might change competition guns are as myriad as there are actual guns suitable for competition. In 2015 I changed from a 9mm XD Tactical to a 9mm CZ P-09 and then to a 9mm Tanfoglio Limited Pro; all in the span of 6 months. In doing so I learned three glaring pieces of knowledge.

  1. You will waste lots of money on ammo, holsters, mags, and accouterments; all while you never grow beyond your baseline skill set.
  1. Unless you are just changing to a larger version of your current gun (Glock 19 to Glock 34), you will always be working to gain your skills back to where they were prior to the swap.
  1. The top shooters in the world can go from a 1911 too a striker fired gun, then too a revolver with little training fanfare.  Odds are very good that you are not one of the top shooters in the world!  It will take more time for you to “relearn” each time you change.

I firmly believe the best shooters in the world got there by sticking to one gun or platform during the formative years of their competitive shooting. Once you have a good baseline skill set and can develop a solid stage plan, then the effects of a gear change are less obvious to the observer. Still, changing competition guns are an inevitability for many. Some are just chasing the newest fashion; others do so for more legitimate reason. I offer this to help you learn your new friend as quick as possible.


The first thing you will notice after changing guns is the difference in the draw. The gun may weigh the same but other factors come into play. The grip angle, the slide length, hell, even the actual holster design can befuddle us. To offset this I like to start over and go slow.

When learning a new competition gun I will put the timer away for a couple of weeks. I will take 3 or 4 dry fire sessions, approximately 15 minutes each, and  only work on the draw stroke. I am not one to believe “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” but in this case we are trying to achieve slow AND smooth excellence. I like too do a controlled draw AND a controlled re-holster. This is a good time to “tune up” your fundamentals and identify any bad habits you may have had. There is no reason to transfer the bad habits over to your new gun!

Does your support hand meet the gun at the appropriate place? Are you sure?

Clap your hands. Feels natural doesn’t it? That is where I like for my hands to meet. Some people like to race the support hand to the holster. I have tried that and noticed no measurable difference on the timer; so, I went with what felt more natural and relaxed. Of course, your mileage may vary.

After doing slow draws for a few days I speed up. I take my last known dry fire draw time, add 0.2 seconds and start working it out. Within a session or two you should be really close.

Magazine Changes

No, I don’t mean putting new reading material in the bathroom. Although that is important!

I mean mag changes in the gun. To be honest, this may or may not be an issue. When I went from the XD to the P-09 my times actually improved as a result of the P-09’s generous mag opening. Going from the P-09 to the Tanfo was an absolute train wreck. I have heard countless people say loading a metal gun is more difficult and they are correct! It is not the mag opening that causes problems though; no, it is friction on the sides of the mags when you aren’t precise with your insertion.  How do we get better at mag changes?

Two words: Burkett Reload!

The Burkett Reload was designed by Matt Burkett and it works. You can read more about the drill here. But when starting after changing guns, I like to do Burkett Reloads slow and smooth. I will generally do 5 minutes of slow Burkett Reloads followed by 5 minutes of slow, full-on reloads and return to sight picture. I will do this for 5 days. The improvements are astonishing!


Similar too mag changes, you may find your transitions are not affected. Then again you may find them to be slower. This is especially true if you changed to a heavier gun. To quickly learn (relearn?) transitions I steal the advice of Steve Anderson. Use a metronome. If you don’t play musical instruments you probably don’t have a metronome lying around. Don’t fret! Apps abound and they are often free.


I like to set the metronome at a slow and comfortable pace and then set a regular countdown timer for 3 minutes. Start on a target and then transition to another in rhythm with the metronome. I promise 3 minutes will be enough for one session as your arms and shoulders will now hate you!

Doing this for a week should be good enough. Each session try to go a little faster.  I don’t use a metronome regularly, but I find it helps build muscle and help you brain learn the transition influences of your new competition gun.

There you have it. Three methods I have used with great success when changing competition guns. You will notice the absence of trigger training. That is by design. Learning the new trigger will be dependent on the type, the quality of the trigger and what you were used too.  Once I finish these drills I resume regular dry and live fire and really get to know my new gun.

Changing gear often drives us to practice more. Hopefully these tips will help you make your practice productive, quicker.

The right approach to concealed carry

Last year I attended the excellent Rangemaster Tactical Conference held in the Memphis Police Department’s academy and range facility. As I wandered around the facility looking for the men’s room, I encountered the poster pictured above.

While aimed at guiding police officers in how they should approach their behavior off-duty, I think it has just as much application to the average citizen carrying a firearm for personal defense. The Washington Times published a story in July of last year reporting the results of a study that has tracked the incredible increase in concealed carry permits across the nation.

Since 2007, the number of concealed handgun permits has soared from 4.6 million to over 12.8 million, and murder rates have fallen from 5.6 killings per 100,000 people to just 4.2, about a 25 percent drop, according to the report from the Crime Prevention Research Center…And the number of permits issued is increasing faster every year. Over 1.7 million new permits were issued last year — a 15.4 percent increase over 2013, the largest such single-year jump ever

I see this trend in my own personal experience. I’ve written multiple times in this space about people who have come out of the woodwork asking me about buying a firearm and getting a permit. In the last couple of weeks in totally non gun related conversations in a professional settings three people have volunteered to me that they’ve recently obtained a permit…people I would never have expected to have one or to be remotely interested in guns. In truth they aren’t really interested in guns as much as they are self defense and there’s no better implement of personal defense than a firearm.

As concealed carry becomes more common the challenge we face is ensuring that those who want to use a firearm for personal protection have reasonable guidance and access to solid information that will hopefully keep them from having to use the weapon they are carrying, or at the very least keep them from becoming a cautionary tale if they are forced to use it. Bad acts by people with permits create bad optics for the rest of us.

Greg Ellifritz penned a very thoughtful article that I think everyone should read and digest covering a relatively new NYPD officer who accidentally killed a man and was convicted of manslaughter. Greg makes the point that one of the largest police agencies in the world certified the convicted officer as being good-to-go with a firearm and issued him one to carry every day, but clearly did not train him adequately for that responsibility. (Most police training, as Greg and countless others will readily tell you, is woefully inadequate) The fact that the state gave him the stamp of approval to carry a gun didn’t matter worth a hill of beans when he screwed up and put a bullet into the wrong person. In other words, the fact that the government says you can carry a gun doesn’t mean that the government won’t go after you with gusto if you make a mistake with that gun. If you have the gun in your hand, you have the responsibility that goes along with it whether you’ve been adequately prepared for that responsibility or not. You are well and truly on your own.

You will find that your chances of a bad outcome diminish greatly with proper training and a sensible approach to the whole problem. The MPD’s off-duty credo provides excellent guidance to that effect.

I will not seek a fight, and if at all possible I will avoid one…

Having a permit doesn’t make everything your problem. Two dudes get into a shoving match in a Burger King? Not your problem. A couple of people cursing each other out in Wal-Mart? Not your problem. A couple in a screaming match in the parking lot of the Macaroni Grill? Not your problem. Minding one’s own business and not participating in other people’s drama significantly lowers your exposure to potential violence. If for some reason you are targeted by some idiot who indicates some willingness to do you harm, finding a way to leave the situation altogether is much less risky than any form of fighting.

…but if one is forced upon me, I will do whatever it takes to survive.

I’m the world’s biggest fan of de-escalation and avoidance strategies. I’ve employed them many times and plan to use them whenever possible in the future because I would really like to go through the rest of my life without having to do any level of harm to anybody. But the other guy gets a voteThe Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” because ultimately we have control over only half of the equation in a conflict. I can control my reactions and behavior, but I have little say in what the other guy(s) chooses to do. They could be eminently reasonable, or they could decide that they will attack me until one of us is dead. If somebody insists on playing for keeps, if they are determined to make it him or me…well…he’s gotta go. You don’t have to be seeking a fight to have one forced upon you.  If someone does force one upon you, odds are it’s one you cannot afford to lose.

My sidearm is neither a status symbol nor an emotional crutch. I will not reach for it unless out of dire necessity…

I’m not reaching for my gun because I want to put the other guy in his place. I’m not reaching for my gun because I feel a sensation of fear, unease, or intimidation about a situation. If I’m reaching for my gun it is to prevent or stop a serious act of criminal violence against me or an innocent third party. That’s it.

…but if I must use deadly force to preserve my life or that of an innocent person, I will use it skillfully and without hesitation.

Skillfully, and without hesitation. Do you know how that happens? Training. Investing the time and effort to bring your skill set and the judgement you operate on up to the level of the responsibility you adopt when you decide to carry the gun. When you have taken the time and effort to prepare yourself, it infuses your bearing and demeanor. You can make good decisions at speed even when looking down the barrel of a gun. You’ve worked against a timer and other shooters to develop the ability to deliver accuracy at life-or-death speed. You’ve taken the time to seriously visualize multiple bad scenarios and how you can potentially handle them. You’ve done enough homework to recognize a lethal assault in its early stages and can react immediately instead of standing there wondering what is going on.

If the other guy insists on a fight, insists on playing for keeps…he’s made the worst mistake of his life.  You have spent a great deal of time preparing for the day when this joker insists on ruining your life. He, on the other hand, expects a victim. Not a trained opponent intent on doing whatever it takes to win. You have prepared to meet him, but he has never in his worst nightmares foreseen anything like you.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that you use your firearm responsibly. If you take that responsibility seriously and through training and discipline seek to bring your skill up to the level of that responsibility it has the lovely added benefit of making you much harder to injure or kill.

I’m all for the increase in concealed carry permits, and I hope that the number of people who make the choice to protect themselves continues to break records. It is on us who have been at this a while, though, to encourage a high standard of personal conduct and development of relevant skill sets to those who are making the choice…for their sake and for our own.

UPDATE – I have since learned that the credo pictured above was generated by Tom Givens. Apparently firearms instructors from Memphis PD went to Rangemaster for some training, saw posters Tom had in the place with this credo on it and liked it so much that they decided to put it up at their academy.

Setting (and Tracking) Realistic, Attainable Goals

As a shooter you might have watched some videos of other shooters and thought, “man that was fast, I could never do that.” I am here to say you can!  With this post I want to discuss goals, but from a different perspective than you might be used too. Whether you are only concerned with CCW, only competition, or both CCW and competition, we should all have realistic goals that each person reading this can work toward and attain. Goals allow you to judge yourself and your improvement against yourself and not just other shooters; this is a good thing.

Anyone that has listened to Dave Ramsey discuss his baby steps to get out of debt understands the concept. Realistic attainable goals keeps us motivated and excited. If we look at all of our debt at once it can be overwhelming, but if we start small and build momentum we stay focused and the task is less daunting. The same thing applies to weapons training. Someone that just learned to shoot last week should not have the immediate (or only) goal of competing on the same level as Max Michel or responding to a threat like Frank Proctor or Mike Pannone. Those might be your ultimate goals, but temper your enthusiasm with realism; depending on your skill, disposable income, and spare time you might gear there quickly, but it will still take steps and a plan.

We should judge ourselves, with in our own skill level, with different baselines that match our goals.  For instance, using distance to target as one example, we might have close range skills, medium range skills and long-range precision skills. I will elaborate on my range/skill parameters in a bit, but being fast and accurate at 3 yards does not automatically mean you will be fast an accurate at 25 yards.  You might be accurate at 25 yards doing sloooow fire, but that doesn’t equate to being fast at that distance.  Remember, everyone can be fast and miss at any distance.

In a nutshell, this is how I identify skill set weakness and set goals for practice, and in the future I will post some drills I use at each distance.  I try to choose drills, which reinforce skills, that are transferable between my CCW and my USPSA Production gear. The biggest difference between the two is the quickness of the draw from concealment and the need for a more refined sight picture with the shorter CCW weapon. But for this post, the actual drills aren’t important, the methodology is.  The concept of tracking and measuring improvement against yourself is the what I hope you take away from this post – the need for realistic goals.

I want to clarify something before moving on; I am not implying you need only work one skill set to perfection before moving on, but I do feel it is best to decide what your range practice session will entail and stick to one skill or goal set.  We can all agree that at times a trip to the range is for fun and noise, no practice or excuse needed; but when you set out to actually get better, make sure you are clear on what your range trip is for.

I mentioned different distances previously, so let’s break those down now while considering our pistol skills.

I believe the close range skill set is for distances of 7 yards or less. Some readers may find this appalling and they may consider that medium or even long-range. I understand! Once upon a time I considered 7 yards medium range, then I got training and shot my first match. Equally, if you say 7 yards is far away, it tells me two things; one, you need to practice more and two, you have never shot a competition – any competition. If you can’t keep slow fire 10 rounds into a 2 inch circle at 7 yards you need to work on fundamentals. That 10 inch group you just shot at 7 yards is pathetic! Quit getting positive reinforcement by comparing your group to other shooters that fling similar sized groups onto the target.


Medium range skills, in my world, would be anything between 7 and 25 yards. For those bad at math, 15 yards is forty-five feet; and while that may sound like a long distance, what is the furthest shot you might have to take inside your house? Not just across a bedroom, but maybe out of one bedroom and down the hall into another room. 25-30 feet is possible, isn’t it? Now imagine that shot, in low light, while drowsy, and under stress? Suddenly the 15 yard shot, in broad daylight, while wide awake, and possibly wearing corrective lenses, seems easy. Competition shooting aside, if you can’t slow fire a full magazine’s worth of ammo and keep them on a humanoid silhouette target at 15 yards you are NOT a good shot. The truth hurts, sorry.

What about long-range? I view that as anything over 25 yards. The likelihood of needing to make that shot in self-defense is extremely low; but it still exist. With no time limit, can you draw your weapon and put one shot into a 8 inch pie plate at 25 yards? If you have the fundamentals down, your answer should be a resounding yes. If you shoot USPSA you are already familiar with the requirements you must meet to successfully make the 25 yard shot. What about 40 yards? 60 yards? I am not saying you will need to make a 60 yard shot to defend yourself – although you might.  I am saying people who can make the 60 yard shot with no time limit have a much greater chance of making that 7 yard shot under stress.

Time limits are the one thing I haven’t discussed. I am a big fan of a shot timer (no secret there) and I believe you should use it in all of your training outside of static slow fire sessions. You can use a timer to get some baseline numbers for common drills, and while you could compare the times with your peers or even your hero’s on the internet and YouTube, the real value is when you can go back and compare with yourself on previous runs.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t do a certain drill at the same speed as your training hero; it only matters that your times are dropping!

Tracking my skill development is why I keep a log book. With the proliferation of smart phones there is literally no reason you can’t open a notes app and write down your times for review later. If you shot some Bill drills, write down the best time and the average time. Alternately, you can use a written log book like I do. There are several available for purchase, but I made up my own in Microsoft Word and put together a binder.  The one unspoken benefit of the timer is for when you don’t train for extended periods of time.  You can go back and see how much skill you have lost and identify the low hanging fruit.

Like Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, setting realistic goals and then achieving them will help you track your improvements, and the realization of improvement is what keeps things interesting.

End of Watch: TSgt Joseph Lemm and SSgt Louis Bonacasa

fallen security forces badge

TSgt Joseph Lemm and SSgt Louis Bonacasa were killed in action by a Taliban suicide bomber in Afghanistan on 21 December 2015. They were members of the 105th Security Forces Squadron at Steward Air National Guard base, Newburgh, NY. Two other SF Defenders were seriously injured in the attack.

I didn’t know TSgt Lemm or SSgt Bonacasa, but they wore the same badge and beret that I do, and that’s all that matters. My thoughts and prayers are with their families during this time.

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.