Competitive Shooting

Immediate-Action Drills

Shooter racking slide of 1911 .45 pistol

When I was first approached to write an article about immediate action drills, I will admit that the first thing that came to mind was small-squad tactics regarding enemy contact. My mind raced back to another place and time. After the slingshot effect returned me to the present day, I realized the intended meaning—clearing a malfunction.

The most sickening sound in a gunfight, or even on the shooting line during a competition, is click! If you ever find yourself in that situation, and your mind races before quickly coming up with the solution, I am sorry to tell you, but it is too late. You are likely either dead or, at a minimum, the first loser in the competition. Quite simply, you should not have to think about what to do—not even for a fraction of a second.

Shooter slamming magazine into a 1911 to seat magazine
Smack the bottom of the magazine with the palm of your hand to properly seat the magazine.

Immediate-action drills reinforce the Tap-Rack-Bang! action necessary to get you back into the fight. Tap-Rack-Bang!—Let us examine that. The action is certainly simple enough.

Tap—Smack the bottom of the magazine with your palm to ensure it is fully seated. While that is most likely to happen after the first shot, an improperly seated round in the magazine also can cause the condition. Often, shooters insert a fresh magazine, chamber a round, drop the magazine and top it off before reinserting. I often do this just to get that one extra round, but offer this caution: tap that mag and re-seat the rounds before inserting it into the mag well. Then, tap it home when you reinsert it into the mag well.

Shooter racking slide of 1911 .45 pistol
Point the firearm at the target, holding it between the upper chest and lower jaw.

Rack—Rack is the action of cycling the slide. For example, reaching over the gun with your weak hand, gripping the slide and pulling it back to eject hammered, faulty or unseated rounds and re-chamber a fresh round. This should return your weapon to condition 1.

Bang!Quite simply, this refers to a return to the fight or competition in full operational condition—both mechanically and mentally.

Shooter with Sig Sauer 1911 C3
Once you clear a failure and the weapon is serviceable, you will be ready to re-engage the target.

You must execute the procedure subconsciously. Therefore, you must spend copious amounts of time running drills to commit the action to your subconscious.

Snap Caps: Benefit or Detriment?

The biggest failure generally noted in training (for this drill) is a failure to tap. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, the shooter panics. The brain goes to a bad round, or perhaps the shooter sees a stove-piped round blocking the chamber and immediately racks the slide to clear the malfunction. Occasionally, that may clear the problem. It also may lead to a situation in which the shooter enters a continuous cycle of pulling the trigger and racking the slide in a futile effort to clear the malfunction, particularly if the problem is a poorly seated magazine.

The second cause is using snap caps. Snap caps are great little tools I often use in training. However, when used in a Tap-Rack-Bang! drill, you can clear the dummy round without tapping the magazine. That reinforces bad habits and could mean disaster at the worst possible time.

Taking into account the potential downsides, I still use snap caps in my training. They are best used with a second person loading the magazines and randomly inserting the caps. It shows when a shooter is flinching and anticipating the recoil, throws off round counts and creates a malfunction, which forces the shooter to clear. However, it does not force the shooter to tap the magazine.

Unseating the Magazine

In training, you can chamber a round and then depress the magazine release. You will have to hold the magazine with your pinky, but it will cause a failure to feed on the second round that requires a tap-rack to be ready to fire again. Yes, you will know it is about to happen, but you will reinforce the critical tap and develop muscle memory. Later, you can add the snap caps to your training and practice the Tap-Rack-Bang! with less knowledge of when the failure is going to happen.

Red dummy bullet
Snap Caps are ideal for determining when a shooter is anticipating recoil or to create a failure to fire during training.

Another tactic that works with many guns is to wrap a couple pieces of tape around the bottom of the magazine. That prevents it from fully seating, but with a solid tap, you will seat the magazine. Play with it a couple times and determine the proper amount of tape to cause a failure but still allow you to seat the magazine with a solid tap.

The Tap-Rack-Bang! should be performed in an area generally stretching from about the jaw to the center of the upper chest. The muzzle should remain pointed at the target. That will allow you to get back on target quicker after successfully clearing a bad round and chambering a fresh one. It also reinforces gun safety in case of a slam fire when the gun accidentally fires as it chambers a round.

Do not get in a rush when performing a Tap-Rack-Bang! Muscle memory and committing the action to subconscious memory are the goals. Always remember, slow is smooth. Smooth is accurate. Accurate is fast. Speed will come in time—never try to force it.

Parting Shot

Another way to practice Tap-Rack-Bang! is during a magazine change. When you drop a magazine, seat the next one with a tap and rack the slide—do not use the magazine stop. That reinforces the drill. If you already have a round in the chamber, you will eject that round, but it is still worthwhile to reinforce the drill and ensure you always have a live round in the gun. That harkens back, reminding me of time at the sherriff’s academy. The firearms instructors constantly recited the mantra, “A loaded gun is happy gun.” If you are going to carry and always assume and treat a gun as if it is loaded, you should learn to carry it loaded. As soon as we stepped on the range at the academy, we had to load our weapons with rounds in the chambers. Our sidearms had to then stay loaded. That is a personal philosophy and not suitable for everyone or every occasion, but let us just say, to this day, I have a lot of “happy” guns.

Have you practiced the a Tap-Rack-Bang!  drill? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section.


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Comments (15)

  1. The fastest reaction of any species on earth, the common house fly is 1/1000th of a second. The fastest reaction time of, an alert human is 1/10th of a second. No matter how well trained you are, if something comes at you cold, your reaction time is going to be about 3-seconds.

    So I really don’t know what point of an Immediate-Action Drill is. Other than Showing-Off.

  2. Jarhead,

    I agree. Proficiency at arms is practiced by those of us that simply wish to be the best at what we do. I also practice defensive driving, exercise regularly, and find challenging places to visit. (Unfortunately sometimes in countries where I cannot pack iron. That is reasonably dont really want foreign nationals packing here) I even try to train my dogs and children well! It is all about being the best you can be and the competitive mind set. Being half armed with a minor caliber handgun isnt my idea of responsibility.

  3. Jarhead,

    When you load the Glock load from the magazine. Do not load a single round into the chamber. Load from the magazine, then top off the magazine. Loading a round into the magazine over stresses the extractor. They are designed to pick up a round from the magazine.
    Bob Campbell

    1. Bob;
      Thank you for the info. I will give that method a try. I’ll let you know if this cures the problem.
      Thank you, J

  4. Oh lord, why is this article necessary? Do you people wander around the streets of your town looking to get into a gunfight so you can show of your “tactical skills” and shoot a minority to “stand your ground?” The actions of you ultra rightwing nutjobs just makes us sane gun owners look as crazy as you. I don’t like people lumping me into the same category as you wannabe mercenaries who buy and carry around assault rifles to make you feel like a man. Get a life, and leave the gunfights to the police and military.

    1. Jim, people such as yourself that don’t train nor think about the potential issues are dangerous. Perhaps you should sell your guns since you sound irresponsible.

    2. Sir; (I assume) are you in favor of private citizens being held to prey of sick individuals that plan to do them harm that you posted this comment, or are you also from the great state of Arizona and just upset that your desire to attack some one older and weaker than yourself has been weaken because of your fear of getting a .40 cent cure for your trouble. If it is the latter than I only hope that more citizens decide that they do not want to be a victim in these times that we live in..

  5. When on the practice range because I carry my G36 with one in the pipe I always insert a round in the chamber before inserting the magazine. About once in a 100 rounds the slide will not fully close and it needs a tap on the rear to do so. I am not sure if it is me or the gun. Has anyone had this problem? I give the gun a Marine boot camp cleaning after all firings, a visual inspection reveals nothing and I lube as to Glock’s spec’s, ammo has been FMJ with five or six different mfg.”s.

  6. The most stupid person in a gun fight, is not the person who runs out of
    ammunition first. But the person, who thinks the other person ran out of ammunition first. Just ask all dead German, Japanese, Chinese and
    North Koreans, who fought American Soldiers carrying the M1 Garand rifle.

  7. TAP,RACK, ACCESS, and if required, BANG. Going straight to BANG could cost you large amounts of cash and / or your freedom. I even added the word MOVE to my mantra because a moving target is harder to hit. I train / practice like I intend to fight. I compete to win and, if ever there is a need, I will fight to win. Fight DIRTY, move shoot and move some more; be ready to shoot again if necessary. Shoot again ONLY IF REQUIRED!

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