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Dividing your Practice

Caleb shoots the weak hand only string of fire on The Practical Event

Most of us are never going to get in a gunfight. The few of us that do have to draw our firearms in defense of our lives as civilians will probably not have to fire a shot. Those that do have to fire will probably only have to fire less than seven rounds. Now, we all agree that practice and training are important, because if you have accepted that the aforementioned scenario could happen, you want to make sure that you fire only the rounds you need to fire and that they all hit their intended target. So we’re going to assume that “training” is something that you want to do.

With that in mind, how do you divide your training? Obviously, it’s important to practice things that you’re not good at, such as weak hand only shooting, or long range shots, or reloads. Whatever your weakness may be, don’t give in to the natural human temptation to neglect it and just practice the stuff you’re good at. That being said, it’s also important to practice the “high probability” stuff. For example, if you need to use your gun in a defensive situation, there is almost a 100% probability that you’ll have to draw it from a holster. That would mean that practicing the drawstroke is something very, very important to practice and master. On the flip side, there is a fairly low chance of you being wounded in your strong side arm and needing to reload your pistol one-handed, weak hand only. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know how to perform that skill, but mostly that it should be lower on your priority list than “drawing”.

I will usually spend 5 to 10 percent of my practice sessions on strong hand and weak hand shooting. I should probably spend more time on it, but at the same I see a better value in practicing my reloads from concealment. In any IDPA match, there will usually be a stage where I’ll have to shoot strong or weak hand only. One stage, maybe 6 rounds out of a 100 round match. The guy that’s an absolute ninja at shooting SHO will do well on that stage. However, if you’re shooting CDP (which I am) you’ll need to reload from concealment 1-2 times on every stage. That adds up to a huge amount of time if you’re good at reloading and a big advantage.

Practice is important, whether it’s for IDPA or self-defense. Practice your weaknesses…but not at the expense of high percentage gains.

Shooting in Foul Weather


Gathering rain clouds don’t have to postpone your springtime trip to the range.

As the winter weather ebbs away and warmer breezes encourage us to get outside and enjoy the return of spring, many of us begin to gather our rifles, pistols, and shotguns and head out to the range to get some practice after a long winter spent indoors. With the return of warmer temperatures comes spring rains and weather that is, while somewhat warmer, a wet and soggy mess. It’s not just the rains that can turn your outdoor range into a mud hole, melting snow after months of accumulation can turn normally solid ground into a boot sucking swamp.

Most people are deterred from heading outdoors when dark clouds gather and rain pelts the roof of the house. Even when the sun is shining, a soggy trail suitable for only a 4-wheel drive vehicle can keep many shooters from reaching their outdoor shooting range. But others, like myself, are undeterred. Come rain, shine, snow, or hail… ok, maybe not hail. That stuff hurts. But barring hail, lightning, or a howling tornado, you can likely find me braving the elements.

Foolish? Some might say so, but I disagree. There is an old axiom that you should “Train like you fight.” Now, I’m not in the military, and I’m not a law enforcement officer. I’m not out there practicing dynamic entries or running a “tactical” pistol and rifle transition course, though I might practice transitions for an upcoming 3-gun match. Even though, in all likelihood, my life will never depend on my skills with a rifle or pistol, I feel that it is valuable to shoot under varying environmental conditions.

The Cradle of Pistol shooting

Smith & Wesson M&P with Crimson Trace Lightguard and Lasergrips

Next week, I’ll be at Gunsite Firearms Academy with Crimson TraceS&W, and Galco.  We’re going to be playing with the new Crimson Trace Lightguard for the M&P pistol, pictured at left from SHOT 2011. Galco has a new holster that’s designed to fit the M&P with the Lightguard attached, which we’ll also be trying out.

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. Today, we’re talking about Gunsite Firearms Academy, the cradle of pistol instruction.  I’m not old enough to actually have taken classes at Gunsite when Jeff Cooper was teaching, nor do I “remember” in the strictest sense the great rift when Col. Cooper sold Gunsite, then eventually reacquired it. What I do remember is sitting in the Coast Guard Academy pistol team’s ready room reading Cooper’s Corner in the back of Guns and Ammo and actually thinking about pistol shooting as more than just a sport. You see, without Jeff Cooper and Gunsite, we wouldn’t have our modern shooting culture. 99% if all not of the modern training schools owe their origins to Gunsite in one way or another; trainers came from there, added their own techniques and knowledge to the Modern Technique, and pistol shooting grew as a martial art across the nation until we have what you see today.

The same is true for competition shooting as well – without Jeff Cooper, there would be no IPSC, and without IPSC we wouldn’t have IDPA, Steel Challenge, USPSA, and 3-gun. Just like in those early days, competition shooting still continues to drive innovation in the combat shooting arena. When Rob Leatham and Brian Enos started shooting modern Iso instead of a Weaver-ish stance, it was a huge breakthrough. Now modern Iso is the industry standard, with only a few schools still teaching Weaver.

Dry Fire Practice – Is It Safe For Your Firearm?

Many of us who grew up around firearms have been warned for years never to dry fire any firearm. But can you really damage your firearm by pulling the trigger on an empty chamber? The answer is, as you might have guessed, “it depends.” Most modern firearms are safe to dry fire, but there are some notable exceptions.

Down Zero TV: Friends like these

As we get nearer to the official launch date of Down Zero TV, here’s a little clip of some of the “fun” action we get while attending the classes and matches that make up the body of the show. I’m shooting the Sig 1911 Tactical Operations at the Pistol-Training.Com class, and I get a little good natured ribbing from Todd. Todd’s a friend, and this is all in good fun.

However, there’s a valuable point as well – focus. If I said to you right now “don’t think about pink elephants”, now you’re thinking about pink elephants. If before a drill you’re thinking “don’t throw the first shot, don’t screw this up” you’re going to screw yourself up. The mind is an incredible thing, and negative thoughts right before a drill or a stage are a great way to cause yourself issue. I did, missing on of the mandatory head shots on the FAST Drill.

Enjoy the video, have a laugh. But remember that your mental game is extremely important, and when you’re at matches or classes to remain focused…but focus on the positive things.

USPSA Classifier breakdown: CM99-42 Fast’n Furious

Unlike IDPA, which uses a fixed 90 round course of fire as the classifier, USPSA uses a rotating array of classifier stages.  Usually one classifier stage will be inserted in every club match, and a shooter needs to shoot a minimum of four classifiers in one division to achieve a USPSA classification.  From time to time, clubs will hold special “classifier matches” where the bulk of the stages will be classifiers, which allows shooters who are unclassified to quickly get classified.

Classifier stages themselves are broken down into “skill tests”, and while shooting a classifier well doesn’t mean that you can shoot a 32 round field course well, it does mean that your shooting fundamentals (such as sight picture, trigger control, etc) are generally solid.  Most classifiers will also test your ability to reload, which is imperative for pretty much every division except Open and Limited.  To help with that, we’re going to break down CM99-42 Fast’n Furious.

Equipment

Fast’n Furious is a very simple classifier stage that can cause a lot of problems for shooters.  Right off the bat, the shooter is faced with a choice – start on the weak hand side of the barricade, or the strong hand side?  I personally choose to start on the weak hand side of the barricade.  While this slows down my draw slightly, it speeds up the reload as it’s much faster for me to reload as I move back to my strong side.  So for decision number 1, I recommend starting on the weak-hand side.

Decision number 2 is “Steel or paper first?”  Once you’ve picked which side to start and finish on, you have to decide whether or not you’re going to shoot the poppers or the paper targets first.  For Revolver and Single Stack shooters, the choice is clear cut: steel first.  If you’re running a revolver, you cannot afford a miss here, but in the off chance that you do it’s better to engage the steel first so that you’ve got enough rounds to get them down.  In a perfect world though, you don’t miss the steel and shoot exactly six rounds on each side.  Production/L10 shooters (and of course Limited and Open) could shoot either first – if I was running L10 I’d draw and shoot the paper first, because I can get a faster presentation on a paper target than I can on the steel popper.  So decision number 2: which targets first is steel for SS/Revo, and paper first for everyone else.

Once you make your decisions on how to shoot it, all that’s left is execution.  The critical parts of this classifier are 1) not missing the steel, 2) sticking your reload, and 3) getting good first shots on your draw and after your reload.  If you can do all that, you’ll post a great score!

Accurately Using A Double Action Trigger

The gun industry has continued to meet consumer demand by producing an immense number of small pocket sized handguns. As concealed carry has grown in legality (and popularity) the demand for these little heaters has also increased dramatically. Smith & Wesson’s Bodyguard line, Ruger’s LCP and LCR, and Kel-Tec’s popular P3AT line all have small pocket sized pistols, and all of these little numbers have triggers that are double action only.

This long heavy trigger is compact, simple and reliable, but it can be difficult for many people to operate accurately. The long pull and heavy trigger weight, relative to a single action trigger, makes negligent discharges less likely by users unfamiliar with the stress of a combat scenario and decreases the chance of an accidental discharge from a foreign object hanging on the trigger when the pistol is carried in a pocket or purse. But these same traits that make the action safe and reliable can make actually firing the handgun more difficult unless the user has practiced with the firearm extensively. The additional force required to pull the trigger can drop the nose of the pistol or otherwise cause the shooter to lose a proper sight picture.

To quickly and accurately use a double action trigger, you first need a proper grip on the handgun and the correct interaction between your finger and the trigger. Without getting into the specifics of a proper handgun grip, your trigger finger should rest on the trigger with only the pad of your fingertip touching the trigger.

Most people who have had at least a minimal amount of training in handgun use are familiar with the phrase “front sight, press.” This of course refers to the action of acquiring a proper sight picture and then smoothly pressing (not pulling) the trigger to the rear. Rather than pulling the trigger with your first joint as one might do when gesturing “come here” with a single finger, with only the pad of your finger contacting the trigger press it straight back. As you press the trigger, focus on keeping a consistent force and speed throughout the press.

Some people say that the first joint of the finger should be used instead of the pad of the finger tip on a heavy double action trigger, but this can cause problems with accuracy. Because of the long arc of a double action trigger, your finger will slide down the trigger face as it is pulled. When using the finger pad, this is not a problem, but if you are using the first joint of the finger tip to press the trigger the motion needed to keep your finger joint in constant contact with the trigger face can cause the pistol to twist. This does not mean that it is wrong to use the first joint of the finger on a double action trigger- don’t misunderstand. In general using the pad is much more accurate, faster and smoother. But heavy triggers and double action triggers with a long arc can be easier to operate using the finger joint. Using the first joint gives you additional leverage that helps operate heavy triggers without dropping the front sight. If you choose to use the first finger joint as opposed to the pad of your finger tip, take care not to “milk” the trigger. Milking or grasping the trigger occurs when using the joint of the finger causes the finger to contact the frame of the gun or allows the entire hand to curl with the trigger finger as part of the motion. For this reason, it is better to learn to use the pad of your finger and, if the trigger pull is too heavy, lighten the trigger or use a different pistol with better ergonomics or a lighter trigger pull.

Pistol manufacturer MasterPiece Arms recently redesigned the trigger of their Protector line of pocket pistols to make it easier to pull and reduce friction as the shooter’s finger slides down the trigger face. This new “Rev B” trigger provides a much smoother and more comfortable controlled trigger pull.

Just as important as the trigger press is the trigger return and reset. Again, maintaining a smooth and consistent speed and pressure on the trigger is important. Think of the trigger return as your follow through. A good trigger return allows you to setup your next shot quickly and accurately.

Coin balanced on the front sightProperly done, a double action trigger pull will not move the front sights at all. The best method I’ve found to practice using a double action trigger involves balancing a coin on the front sight while pulling the trigger. The goal is to be able to pull the trigger through the full range of motion until the hammer drops (or the pin fires) without dropping the coin. The larger the coin, the more difficult it is to balance it properly. With most front sights it’s fairly easy to balance a dime or penny on the top. Nickels and quarters are more difficult, but as you get better with your double action trigger control you can move to a larger coin.

It doesn’t take much practice to get smooth and consistent when using a double action trigger. If you are unable to work the trigger using the pad of your finger tip, you can use the first joint for better leverage, but be aware that this can have a detrimental effect on accuracy and can build bad habits.

J-Frame gear Part 2: Ammo

On Tuesday, we looked at the first essential part of carry gear for your J-frame or other compact revolver – holsters.  Today we’re going to look at the 2nd most important part of the equation, and that’s ammo.  It doesn’t do you a whole lot of good to remember to carry your J-frame if you’ve got it packed with ineffective ammo.  While any ammo is certainly better than no ammo, there are some loads that are optimized for the short barreled revolvers.

One of my personal favorite defensive loads for short barreled revolvers is the Hornady Critical Defense round.  In .357 Magnum, this load has reduced recoil compared to other .357 loads and offers guaranteed expansion by using a polymer tipped bullet.  This is one of very few .357 Magnum cartridges that I’ll carry and shoot in my compact revolvers.  My usual recommendation for carry ammo, even in guns that can handle .357 is to use .38 Special +P loads.  For short barreled revolvers, there are some great options in the .38 Special chambering.

The gold standard for .38 Special carry ammo is probably the 125 grain +P Remington Golden Saber load.  This round has been around for years, and it’s still going to be one of the best choices for personal defense in your compact revolver.  However, in recent years there have been some challenges to the Golden Saber.  The Cor-Bon DPX Solid Copper +P load offers controlled and reliable expansion as well as a high muzzle velocity out of a .38 Special revolver.  There are quite a few options out there for your defensive ammo in a .38 Special, so make sure you try a few out to find one that you’re comfortable shooting and can get reliable hits with.

One of the things that I try to do is make sure that my carry ammo is same grain as my practice ammo.  If I practice with 130 grain ammo, I’ll try to be as close to that weight as possible, which means my carry rounds are usually 125 grains.  If I practice with 158 grain ammo, then I’ll try to select a carry round in that weight.  The reason is that this keeps my point of impact consistent between guns.  Whether I’m shooting practice ammo at the range, +P ammo at a match, or using my gun to defend myself, I’ll have the same point of impact for all of my rounds.

On Thursday, we’ll take a look at the final two pieces of the compact revolver puzzle – sights and reloads.  While ammo selection is important, it’s just as important after you’ve picked your defensive rounds to be able to get those rounds in the gun when you need them and make sure they go where you want them to go.  That’ll be this Thursday, so make sure to check back in.

J-Frame carry gear Part 1

Last Tuesday, we talked about some of the accessories you’ll need if you choose to carry a pocket sized .380 ACP pistol. But what if you’re one of the old school guys that carries one of the jillions of S&W J-Frames out there? I still carry a Model 60 when I need to conceal my firearm, and have never felt under armed with 5 shots of .38 Special +P in the chambers. There is plenty of gear that you are going to need though if you do make the decision to tie on a wheelgun as your defensive firearm. The first decision of course being “what kind of holster should I get?” On the blog yesterday we had a great look at inside the waistband holsters, which are probably the best option for concealed carry for a compact revolver. Another option of course are pocket holsters; however these will only work if you have large pockets and choose to carry one of the superlight aluminum framed guns or the polymer framed Ruger LCR.

The J-Frame and Ruger LCR are best carried in an inside the waistband holster like this Bianchi Holster pictured.  The small size and weight of the gun can be concealed even on the hottest of summer days under an untucked t-shirt, and unlike the equivalently sized .380 ACP pistols, the DA revolver offers the option of .38 Special rounds or hot .357 Magnum rounds for personal defense.  Admittedly, a small revolver isn’t the best choice for everyone, as the DA trigger is difficult to master.  They require practice and training to be used to their full potential, but once you do reach that level you’ll find that your little J-frame is an incredibly accurate and powerful defensive firearm.

Next Tuesday, we’ll continuing looking at essential J-Frame gear, with the focus being on methods for getting your little gun back in the fight after you’ve depleted your five rounds.  This is one of the most critical skills to work on if you carry a roundgun, so make sure you check back next week for more!

Picking a pocket .380

Is your .380 enough gun? Lately, the market has been flooded by compact .380 ACP pistols, from the brand new Diamondback .380 to the Sig P238 there are a ton of options out there for shooters looking for a compact pocket gun. In fact, Cheaper Than Dirt! recently went over some of the more inexpensive pocket .380 pistols available. Having carried a .25 ACP in a pocket for quite some time, it’s safe to say that I’m a firm believer that the .380 you carry is a step above the 9mm or .45 ACP that you leave at home because it’s too heavy.

The current generation of pocket guns have some serious strengths and weakness as well.  Starting with the Ruger LCP and Kel-Tec guns, the sights are essentially non-existent.  Both the Ruger and the Kel-Tec sport what is commonly called a “gutter sight” which means that instead of the traditional 3-post set up we’re all used to, there is a trough down the middle of the slide.  All of these pocket pistols benefit greatly from the addition of Crimson Trace Lasers, but this goes more so for the LCP and the Kel-Tec.  By adding the Crimson Trace Laserguard for the LCP to your gun you then greatly improve your ability to hit close targets faster and to hit distant targets period.  Using a Crimson Trace equipped Sig P238 (pictured above) I was able to make consistent hits on an IPSC A/C zone target at 25 yards.  The Sig P238 doesn’t even need the Crimson Trace as much as the LCP as it has excellent factory night sights; and yet even on this gun it just makes sense to add it.

The next issue that you’ll encounter on these pocket guns is the trigger.  I like the Ruger LCP – I think it’s a great defensive firearm.  I don’t like the trigger very much.  The same can be said for the Kel-Tec, Diamondback, Bersa, and pretty much all the pocket .380s with the exception of the Sig P238 (again) which has an excellent single action trigger.  But that’s not without problems of its own, as the Sig P238 must be carried cocked-and-locked with the safety on…in a pocket.  That might be an area of concern to some gun owners, in which case a double action gun such as the LCP might be a better bet.

Of course, the most critical issue with the .380 is ammo selection.  The debate will continue to rage whether the .380 is “enough” gun, and whether or not you should use ball ammo to get more penetration or use JHP ammo to get more expansion.  The BVAC ammo at the right is a 90 grain JHP at approximately 1000 FPS using a Speer hollow point bullet.  I tend to prefer hollow points for .380 ammo not because I think they improve my stopping power but rather because a hollow point bullet is less likely to glance off the hard bones in the rib-cage if used in a dynamic critical incident.  FMJ rounds are great for practice and training, but for defensive carry I definitely want the heaviest, fastest hollow points I can get for my .380.

The final thing to consider for your defensive .380 is reliability and learning curve.  Your gun must run the ammo that you choose for it reliably.  If you carry the BVAC ammo above, it needs to work in your gun.  You also need to practice with you gun, and not just standing on the range.  A .380 that’s carried as a last ditch defensive weapon needs to be something that you can draw and get quick, accurate hits with.  Would you take a defensive shooting class with a Ruger LCP?  I honestly don’t know if I would, but it’s something to think about.

When selecting a defensive pocket gun, remember that the first rule of a gunfight is “have a gun”.  The .380 you have beats a .44 at home, but if you have the wrong ammo or can’t hit with your .380, it’s not much better than a magic talisman.  Carry your guns…but make sure your gear is the best you can get.  After all, your life may depend on it.

Red dummy bullet

Dry-Fire Training at Home

I recently shot a local IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) match. I did OK but noticed a couple of problems that slowed me down significantly—namely, quickly and smoothly drawing from the holster and pressing forward to the target.