Safety and Training

Throwback Thursday: Thinking (and Practicing) Outside Of The Box—Defensive Handgun Deployment

Man drawing a pistol after sweeping away a cover garment

This should get your attention: Train wrong and you will do wrong. Period. If you are unlucky enough to find yourself in a gunfight, deploying your handgun quickly and effectively are both keys to your survival and winning the fight—while minimizing your chances of injury.

Guest post by Mike Seeklander, owner of Shooting-Performance LLC.

The problem is, most of us (yes, me too, at times in the past) are practicing techniques that might not meet the “stimulus/response” test.

The great benefit of practice is that it makes you better at what you practice. The downside of practice is that it makes you better at what you practice. Read those last two sentences again. The point is, you will perform like you practice because of a process called myelination (Google it and read up on what actually builds habits).

We write programs in our brains by doing something repetitively. But programs we write might not be the ones we want to run in certain circumstances.

One thing about building a skill program is that it is technically not possible to delete the program if it was incorrect. The key here is that we want to make sure to write the correct program, and stimulus/response is part of this equation.

So how does this relate to defensive handgun deployment? Well, consider this. The last time you went to the range, did you practice drawing the handgun and shooting? If so, how did you practice that skill?

If I had to guess, based on years of watching how people train, I bet you set up a target two to five yards away and simply practiced drawing and shooting.

Because you are training for self-defense, this makes sense. Most fights are at very close range, so that is the range you practiced at, right? So is there anything wrong with what you are doing? The answer is not a simple yes or no, but, rather, “It depends.” Hear me out on this.

There have literally been hundreds, if not thousands of gunfights, videoed and analyzed. How those fights occur teach us a thing or two.

First, we learn very quickly that most people do not stand still when involved in a fight for their lives. They run, duck, jump, turn, sprint, and make many other movements related to the situation. They also shoot from non-standard positions while leaning around an obstacle or something that might be used as cover.

Additionally, we find that many gunfights start as standing wrestling matches, with the adversaries grabbing at weapons that their opponent has or is going for. If you doubt this, look at how often police officers have had their own guns used against them. There is an entire holster industry devoted to retention holsters, simply because bad guys don’t stand still and let police officers draw their handguns and shoot them.

Here are some takeaways from what we know about fights:

  • Movement is a big part of a fight, and your ability to survive probably goes up if you use it to your advantage.
  • At close ranges, simply drawing the gun and expecting the bad guy to let us accomplish this might fail. Training to respond with a different solution, rather than just grabbing your gun, is a smart move.
  • If your practice does not ingrain the best responses, no matter how good the technique you perform is, then you might be missing a big part of the training equation.

Good news: You can address these situations by setting up simple drills with a few key stimuli so you can practice responding with the appropriate tool at the right time. The three tools to use to increase survivability are movement, combatives, and proper weapon deployment timing.

A few more keys:

  • All drills should be practiced as dry-fire (unloaded) first, and then with live fire.
  • Observe all safety and muzzle-direction rules during these drills, regardless of movement pattern.
  • Vary the number or rounds (1-4) you shoot in the drills, so you do not build the habit of shooting once or twice. Make yourself get good hits.
  • Practice each drill at 50% to 75% speed (movement and weapon deployment) to ingrain the correct skill. Speed up as your skill allows.
  • Practice one or two drills during each practice session. Master the skills you are working on rather than attempting to swallow too much at one time.

Next week, I am going to give you three drills to work on, each done from a different distance and designed to work a different set of stimulus/responses. You will shoot from standard two-handed shooting positions from each drill.

If you need more background on the draw process, I recommend you check out my book, Your Defensive Handgun Training Program.

Mike Seeklander is owner of Shooting-Performance LLC, a full-service training company, and the co-host of “The Best Defense,” the Outdoor Channel’s leading self-defense and firearms instruction show. Previously, Seeklander was Chief Operating Officer, Director of Training, and a Senior Instructor at the U.S. Shooting Academy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he was directly responsible for the development of more than 50 firearm-training programs. Prior to that, as an employee of the federal government, Seeklander served as the Branch Chief and Lead Instructor for the Firearms division with the Federal Air Marshal Service as well as a Senior Instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training. He’s currently a nationally ranked competitor on the practical-handgun competition circuit, and the author and producer of several instructional books, DVDs, and lesson plans specifically related to both basic and advanced firearms training. Seeklander is the current I.D.P.A. BUG (Back up Gun) national champion and winner of the 2011 Steel Challenge World Speed Shooting Championships production division title. The United States Practical Shooting Association currently ranks Mike as a Grandmaster.

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Comments (21)

  1. You are a lucky guy to have 12 acres with gullies. Any number of walk and shoot or Hogan’s alleys can be made with the gully walls as backs tops.

    I have been lucky to have attended several expensive shooting programs at taxpayer expense, but now retired, I cannot shoot new ammo all day long. I worked in 4 different law enforcement agencies and 2 branches of the military and have been a CCW instructor since retirement in 1996. Here is the suggestion I keep making to folks. Take your carry weapon and go hunt coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, crows, prairie dogs, jack rabbits or whatever is legal where you are. It can be an humbling experience. Just a simple rabbit hopping though the brush 25-30 feet away, can be difficult to hit. This is training that will cause you to work on balance, shooting quickly and accurately. Pulling the trigger on a mammal was shown to be a true indicator of success in combat in Viet Nam, guys who had been hunters (anything from squirrels to deer) were much more effective in combat than any other group. Try it, and of course, eat what you shoot, well maybe not coyotes.

  2. I guess I’m lucky. I’ve got a 12 acre plot in southern Ohio, with some gully/wash areas perfect for cutting loose with all manner of weapon and training methods. I’ve preached “real world” scenario training forever. It is only part of the equation though. Situational awareness, knowing when not to engage a target, being able to make that decision under stress, with adrenaline pumping. There is no “class” to take to develop those skills. That comes with actual exposure to them. All of us want to think that we’d be able to respond appropriately to a defensive situation. But until it actually happens, and all the variables come into play, by-standers, location, lighting, size and number of attackers. Do they have weapons? Are they drawn?
    So much….so fast. You just can’t “practice” for that. Its that information overload that makes people freeze up in certain situations. Its not so much fear….as confusion.
    I just endeavor to be as prepared as I can.

    As always
    Carry on

  3. .
    Until my last friend didn’t pull through, we used to gun wrestle all the time.
    He helped me get really good at it.
    I’m gonna miss him.

  4. I agree that proper training is always good, but 3 gun and shooting competition, are, well games. I have been lucky enough to attend 3 law enforcement academies and shooting instruction by very talented people. I have also worked in military, local, state and federal law enforcement and served in both the Army and Ari Force. Yep, I am old and feeble. I have also been a certified CCW, NRA and state for 32 years, so I am not new to hearing the new guys methods of how to do it correctly and how all the methods from the creation of gun powder until today are wrong.

    My take is this. Shooting games are helpful in teaching you to shoot the gun. But I do NOT agree that having a timer running is creating the same adrenaline rush that is the same as when some fool suddenly dives behind his car or pulls a gun or knife. The weakness I see is shooting games and ranges do not allow you to dive and duck and shoot on the move. In 3 gun, you must follow the tape lines on the ground and must fire this or that gun from a very specific prop every time. My suggestion is that shooters would be better served if they could by a 5 acres tract somewhere in the boonies with a big gulley on it. Then they could run and dodge and alternate handgun or rifle our mouse gun at will at targets placed along the way and full speed. If you want to train for car jacking, then you need to shoot from a car—many are surprised when that first 9mm +P+ goes off with only the drivers window down. Many are also surprised when that 10mm recoils and tears the headliner. And I can personally tell you that when exiting a vehicle at full speed with a shotgun that 00 buck will tear a large hole in the floor of the car used as a prop. If you do not have a round in the chamber the exact second you exit the car, then you are second place in that gun fight, so do not ask why a round was chambered.

    And the Hogan’s alley you build on your new land will be a mess when you shoot through those glass windows—but how to you know what it is like to have a window shattered until you see it from 4 feet away? Shooting through glass is cool and necessary for any basic CCB training. Just saying that while these training games helps you shoot guns, it is not close to the same as full speed drills with ammo going in all directions and ricochets creating gravel and shrapnel. Not to bad mouth these new programs, but they are not close to the real thing. Now, I know they have great programs at the Whittington Center and Gunsite, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with firing 500 rounds of ammo through your chosen tool in a couple days. But my suggestion is this. If you cannot buy your own land or have the big bucks for these trendy schools, then buy that 500 rounds of ammo and go to public land and blast away at ground squirrels, rabbits, jack rabbits, crows or whatever is legal in your area. I am amazed at how many cops and wanna be “operators” who cannot bring home a single rabbit or squirrel. If you cannot even connect with a tiny mammal, how can you expect to do well when facing people?. This is not an original thought, we learned in the Vietnam era that soldiers who grew up hunting anything, squirrels, deer or ducks, were far more effective in combat than those who had never hunted. The reason was very, very simple, the mindset of putting a bullet into a living animal was much more important that shooting skill. Sorry to ramble, but as stated, I am old and just believe you need to spend a lot of time alone with your gun and practicing your own diving and dodging .

    And I will share one story. One friend of mine went to Texas to visit another friend for the weekend. Buddy #1 invited #2 to go to a bowling ball shoot. #2 only had a plane jane Colt 1911 series 70 with those tiny little original sights, it was his carry gun, 100% stock. They go to the competition, where dozens of experienced shooters took their turn with their race guns and custom hardware. #2 finally took his turn and cleared the table in record time, defeating every one there. #2 had NEVER entered a handgun contest of any time yet defeated every shooter there. When asked how he because so fast and accurate, his comment was, “hell, you are just shooting these huge bowling pins off a table, not really any skill needed”. Point is, nothing was moving but the shooter, same as 3 gun. FWIW.

  5. I’d like to see articles about WHEN to draw. Not about HOW to draw. I can trian how to draw and fire all day long. But, if I don’t recognize a scenario developing, and when to draw, I end up not being able to draw because the criminal has the drop on me. All the training is out the window at that point. Maybe seeing and reccognizing something develop allows me to take one step back, out of view, where I can pull and defend, or get the hell out of there before SHTF.

  6. This is a tremendously complex realm, full of beguiling pitfalls that lead away from the primary focus – what should be done to prepare best, to optimize the chance for survival for yourself and companions, in the (rare) event of an apparently lethal attack? Playing devil’s advocate, suppose training endlessly for rapid draw and fire leads to the inevitable killing of unarmed/nonthreatening persons by LEO, because they’ve trained to bypass the mental decision steps of the 4 cardinal rules? Should training focus first and always to be 100% certain of your intent to shoot the target rather than training to reflexively shortcut those crucial moments of decision and deliberation? Training seems too narrowly focused on the myth of having to outdraw the perp, when it is mostly going to be either seconds of time, or zero – i.e. gun already aimed ready to shoot you. In the first, you may be able to draw from concealment, into a low profile ready position, from which raising to target and firing may only take another 0.2sec. My thoughts are, be liberal on initial drawing to ready, then slow down/conservative to the point of firing, instead of training the process as one. If you do not take time to make mental note of your target, before firing, you may have a lifetime to regret it. And no, your life is not worth more than that of an innocent stranger or family or friend.

  7. Practice and training is key. The more it simulates real conditions, the better. I look forward to Seeklander’s followup blog post with his recommendations for specific drills.

  8. Where are the South Florida public ranges that allow rapid fire, draw and fire, use of man size silloute targets, etc ? Such activity is banned at the 2 public ranges in South Florida, and there are no affordable private outdoor ranges as they require membership fees of hundreds of dollars. At one time there were dozens of abandoned rock pits where we could shoot all day for free,unsupervised. Now every bit of public open land is posted and firearms use is prohibited,with arrest as the result. I have the right to bear arms, but face costly and prohibitive places to train with them.

    1. Have exact same problem here in West Texas. Guess I’ll have to resign myself to practicing with a laser gun and laser-activated targets (might
      even get some of those pop-up cans too).
      I envy all those pros who offer advice while pictured at those very
      nice-looking ranges, but such is not always the case. I appreciate their expertise, and I can always learn something from them.
      Stay calm and reload……… God bless America……while we still have one.

    2. We have the same problem here in my part of Virginia. When I lived in Utah it was easy to take the Jeep up the canyon and find lots of places to shoot, but not here in the East.

      So, I built a BB pistol range in our basement and bought a couple of good CO2 pistols built like our handguns and that even load with magazines. They don’t replicate the weight or recoil, obviously, but you can draw and shoot a silhouette target, and even practice magazine changes after a fashion.

      I also bought some Airsoft guns so my wife and I can run drills against each other. We supplement that with trips to the range. The laser guns are a good idea too. Hardly ideal, but better than nothing.

    3. That above paragraph should have said “but in no way could be mistaken for”
      Sorry for the typo.

  9. I watch Mike Seeklander frequently on TV, and greatly enjoy his insights. There is one very large problem with what he and most TV hosts recommend, and that is for most people it is nearly impossible to do live fire drills. Every public range I have ever been on has a ban on holstered pistols for everyone except law enforcement. Public land to shoot on is non-existent for urban dwellers. Yes, you can do blue gun or dry fire practice, but unless you want to drive great distances or pay a professional trainer wads of cash, you can’t do live fire drills.

    1. Find a local IDPA match and you will be able to do live fire, drawing from holsters, moving, and having the pressure of the clock. AND have fun!

    2. At least in my area, on the day of the 3-gun match they allow non-members to come into the private portion of the range. Members pay $15 for the match and non-members pay $25 (SoCal pricing), but otherwise you get all of things you are looking for: holster draw, movement between targets, a variety of targets including moving targets. As a non-member you need to hook up with a member to practice between matches, which is easy to do if you are friendly and willing to strike up a conversation with your fellow shooters.

  10. Mike,
    I have a special request…
    All the articles that I seen, read and try to mimic ( including yours ) are designed for the person who is physically fit. But what about the individual who is physically handicapped? Example, I was involved in a massive auto accident 8 years ago that crushed my pelvic. After 2 year + in & out of hospitals 5 surgeries coupled with therapy I can now do something the doctors said I would never do again, and that is to be able to walk. Even though I need the assistance two canes for balance I’m free to move about.
    Now, going back to my original statement, of ALL the articles I’ve seen and read they are all designed for the person who is 100% physically fit.
    But what about the person who cannot run, jump or kneel, and can only walk ( stiff legged ) or turn the entire body?
    What type of defensive move or moves would you recommend to a person who carries a .40 cal. CZ in condition 2 and uses a retention level 2 pancake holster with belt loops. As a handicapped person I’m more susceptible to someone who wants to cause me or mine grave bodily harm for personal gain.
    And please, don’t say, ‘Try and make the best of the situation or don’t go into bad areas’. as that’s common sense and already understood.
    I Thank You In Advance,

    1. Wayne,
      2 IDPA clubs I shoot with every month, C0713 & C0395 welcome you. We would love to help you accomplish your goals. If N Central Fl is not good for you, use the club locator on & find a club to shoot with.

  11. Mike, great writing. The key IS to train, train, train. Program your mind and your muscles. Under stress, being face by an aggressive person or being shot at, usually brings on stress, your ‘fine’ motor skills go out the window. You are left with your ‘ primitive’ motor skills. Your ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicks in, and about gallon of adrenaline is dumped into your system. You fall back on instinct that is trained into your brain and your muscles. If you have done it right, you go home,hopefully, the bad guy goes to the morgue. If you have done it wrong, the bad guy wins, you die. It’ that simple. I know, I have ‘unfortunately’ been in a number of face downs. I’m still a live, while a number of bad guys aren’t.

  12. The bottom line not mentioned here is a person’s commitment to do the job with a loaded gun. Doesn’t matter how much you practice or how you practice if you can’t make the decision to actually use your firearm. Just Google the term “Vietnam veterans shoots police officer” and you will see a perfect example of a trained professional who freezes and gets killed because he panicked and could not do what he was trained to do.

  13. Three-gun competition is a great way to gain these skills and it has two added benefits: you are under pressure and some of the other competitors will have 30+ years experience training and evaluating self-defense shooters.

    The pressure is from the clock and from wanting to do better than your buddy, not fighting for your life, but it is amazing how many brain cells you lose when the buzzer goes off. There are always others watching for you to get close to the 180, how you draw, where your finger is while you are moving and/or reloading, negligent discharges, etc.

    Three-gun is great fun and great firearms training but mostly it is about safely moving around and shooting a variety of firearms at a variety of targets in a high stress situation.

    1. Agreed.

      USPSA are also great ways to train. Timed from a variety of starting position, shooting around corners, through windows, etc.

      I went to matches every weekend before deploying to Iraq and it was so much better than simple range time. i did that too, but the PSA shoots were much more valuable.

      Another good technique is force-on-force, or one-on-one Airsoft shoots. They teach you to move and shoot,. Get off the X.

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