Safety and Training

Modern Techniques for Drilling with Your Firearm

Officer firing a 1911 pistol

With few exceptions, trainers have been profoundly influenced by Colonel Jeff Cooper’s scientific method. We attempt to work in the spirit of his words to solve particular problems. In firearms, we take advantage of the newest materials and processes for reliability and accuracy. By the same token, we have to ask ourselves from time to time if our training and techniques are the best for our particular situation.

Bob Campbell controlling the pistol through recoil
Recoil control is important and so is follow-through.

Prior training may not have been ideal for our own situation. Many of us fall back on training we received decades ago. While we had little choice at the time, today we may address the shortcomings of what we were taught and adopt more beneficial tactics and movements. We are all a product of our experience. Sometimes reasoning trumps experience and we find a better way. After all, while quality gear isn’t expensive, skill at arms is purchased with a different coin.

I was taught to extend the arm fully and reload with the handgun at the point of this extension. The goal was to keep the sights on the threat. Sometimes this is uncomfortable, and it isn’t the best choice for execution when firing from behind cover. I now bring the handgun in closer to reload, with less stress and extension on the arms. It works for me.

Another consideration is how to release the slide after a reload. It is often touted that instead of releasing the slide lock, we will grasp the rear of the slide to release it and allow it run forward, loading the handgun. This is good for some situations and isn’t as difficult for some of us to execute. But is it really best? For many, it depends on hand size. If the hand is large and the thumb long, the slide lock may be hit and the slide dropped more quickly.

Shooting a pistol from a kneeling position
Kneeling and firing may be beneficial practice, but it would be a rare event in which it is actually used.

If only one hand is available, there isn’t another option. Sometimes the handgun must be canted slightly to one side in order to hit the slide lock with the thumb, especially if, like myself, you have a short thumb. There are different ways to release the slide, and one will be best for you most of the time. Be familiar with each. Hand size will rule the choice. Be certain the slide returns sharply.

When reloading, taking the muzzle away from the target or downrange isn’t a good choice. So, we bring the pistol in close but try to keep on target. After all, we are reloading to address the target again. One of the advantages of the semi-automatic pistol is that the piece is easily reloaded and the muzzle may stay practically on target as we reload. The pistol may be reloaded quickly, and moving the muzzle back toward the target should be rapid. Don’t attempt awkward movements that limit dexterity, but work on smoothness and a rapid reload.

A questionable tactic that was once part of police qualification was firing from kneeling. This involves going to one knee and bracing the handgun against the weak-side knee with the support arm. While it is fairly solid in a range environment, I am unaware of this technique being used in a critical incident. An advantage is a solid firing position and a smaller target.

Tactical reload of a pistol
The concept of tactical loads should be well thought out.

At gunfight ranges, you will not have time to assume the kneeling position. It takes time to get into this position. I don’t see competitors using this position but rather addressing targets from a strong two-hand firing position. Once you get into the kneeling position, it is difficult to get out of it, the more so if you have not practiced. Finding cover is more important than firing from a kneeling position. Does kneeling actually reduce the target size? Hardly.

We are not taught to fire for the legs, and the legs are a pretty thin target. We fire for center mass, and more than likely so will the bad guys. Kneeling simply lowers the torso, the primarily aiming point, and folds the legs up. This position is more difficult as you grow older. The time to learn if it is useful for you is on the range, not in a critical incident.

I have often scratched my head at the propagation of the tactical reload. This is simply reloading the piece before it runs dry. You have fired a number of rounds and the threat may still be active, so you remove the magazine and retain it, in case you need those rounds, while inserting a fully loaded magazine. I just don’t see it. When most shooters are carrying high-capacity magazine handguns, this isn’t viable.

Bob Campbell shooting on a combat pistol course practicing shooting techniques
We fire with both hands at full extension. It makes sense to keep this stance when reloading, but is it really the best?

Most gunfights are over within a few rounds fired. If you have fired half a magazine, I would recommend bearing down and hitting the target with the remaining rounds, not reloading and continuing to miss. While the tactical reload may have a place in competition, I seldom practice it with handguns.

Base the techniques you use on actual practice in manipulation. Orderliness and coherence are practiced on the range, and you will become smoother with practice. This is the stone to your foundation and the basis of your formidable position in personal defense if you train consistently. It is all about matter in motion. We should practice variations on proven drills and also practice new techniques that may be better than the ones previously adopted.

What shooting techniques do find vital to commit to memory? What have you changed in your shooting techniques over time? Share your answers in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (6)

  1. Kneeling and firing is not a rare event for police. Recent video of a police encounter showed an officer behind the front of a squad car in the kneeling position, Glock in hand. Tactical reloads?
    It has saved more that one officers life. These kind of articles might be good as a food for thought exercise but Cooper was a student of history with a deep understanding of what he taught. A civilian should prepare for what could happen not what is likely to happen.

  2. For once Mr. Campbell, I am practically in total agreement with your article. Using the slide release to send the slide forward after a reload, especially in a “tactical” situation, allows the support hand to stay on the pistol leading to being quicker back into the “fight”. Having the support hand grasp the slide to chamber a round takes the support hand away from it’s job, causing the need to completely reaquire the shooting grip. As an old guy, if I get into a kneeling position, to make myself a smaller target, unless behing cover, I have made myself a stationary target and one unable to quickly move. I also see no real need for a “tactical reload”, unless there is atemporary cessation of “action”. In my humble opinion, a “tactical reload” should only be done from behind good cover prior to moving while the fight may still be in progress.

  3. The kneeling position may offer an upward angle of fire that would provide a clearer field of fire and may lessen the impact of an arrant or over penetrating shot.

  4. Great article. I shoot 3gun and one technique I developed when reloading a fresh magazine is to leave your right thumb on the slide release, no pressure but fairly rigid. When I slam in a fresh mag, the upward force of the magazine will cause you rigid thumb to push the slide release down enough to let the slide go forward. Some striker fired guns like Glocks and others have small slide release protrusions and are difficult to release with thumb pressure alone. This method allows you to release the slide without greatly altering your right hand grip on the gun and keeps you from having to move your left hand from the support position that it took up as soon as the magazine caught in the grip.
    Keep the articles coming!

  5. I have trained police and military for many years. While i agree with the concept of always searching for better ways to fight, i am questioning the quality of this author’s original training. Your article misleads readers as to the reason behind some of these skills. For instance: the kneeling positions should be used with appropriate cover choices. Having the tools to utilize many different types of cover is essential. Also, the tactical reload should only be used when there is a break in the action or the threat is down. Why would a reasonable person go into another fight with a weapon that is half full? That is why a tactical reload is called for before we leave cover to go searching for other threats.

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