Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dirty dozen: Avoid these 12 bad shooting habits

Bad habits are something we all try to guard against, but they often creep into our shooting. Some shooters learn bad habits because the people teaching them do not know any better. Even when taught correctly, others develop bad habits through failing to apply what they have been taught. Flinching, anticipating the shot, chasing the sights, jerking the trigger, etc., are all bad habits. In this article I examine some of the more interesting variations I typically see.

1. Going too fast for your skill level

This is an issue for shooters, instructors and match safety officers. From the shooter perspective, do not try to go faster than you can safely perform the task. I tell novice shooters they must master the fundamentals of safely drawing and presenting the pistol before they try to speed up. 

The picture at right shows a video frame capture of a of a novice shooter trying to draw faster than his skill level. In this draw sequence, he fired the round into the ground approximately 3 feet in front of where he was standing. Although he did not believe he was doing it, he was subconsciously placing his finger on the trigger early in the draw process before his pistol cleared the holster and was pointed toward the target. 

This is not just a novice issue. I recently asked several accomplished Expert and Master-level shooters if they had ever felt the pistol muzzle with their support hand when they were trying to draw quickly. In other words, had they ever let the support hand get ahead of the firing hand on a draw? All admitted that had happened at least once when they were learning to draw and shoot quickly. Speed comes with the mastery of the fundamentals. Don't go too fast for your skill level. 

2. Performing ritualistic movements during static range training

I see this all the time from novice shooters in classes and during pistol matches. One student would rotate the pistol to the left every time after he reloaded — even when doing the reload at speed. When I asked him why he did this, he sheepishly admitted he had seen someone else do it and thought it looked cool.

Unnecessary flourishes and motion might look cool to some, but this does nothing more than add time and inefficiency to the task. That extra half-second required to get your sights back on target adds up and could cost you your life in a self-defense encounter. Efficient pistol manipulation is critical to developing speed and eliminating unnecessary movement is the key.

3. Drawing slower as distance to the target increases:

I routinely see shooters who draw quickly when the target is close and who literally go into slow motion for distant targets. Your draw speed must be the same regardless of distance.

Indeed, the faster you draw for distant targets, the more time you will have to settle the sights and make an accurate shot. Keep your draw speed the same for every distance. 

4. Taking your finger off the trigger between shots:

The only time your finger should be on the trigger is when you are intentionally firing a shot. That said, new shooters often take their finger completely off the trigger between shots even when they intend to fire a follow-up shot. Instead, the shooter should release the trigger until it resets and no further.

Trigger reset is the distance the trigger moves back toward its "at rest" position before it re-engages the internal linkages (sear, etc.) at which point the pistol may be fired again. This distance varies among pistol designs.All motion equals time, so you want to eliminate unnecessary motion. Going past reset requires you to recover the distance the trigger has traveled (i.e. take up the slack), recognize the sear's resistance, stabilize your sight picture, and then begin the trigger press once again.

Learning trigger reset forms the foundation for fast, accurate shooting and begins with training yourself to hold the trigger to the rear after each shot (also known as follow-through). You then reacquire a good sight picture and begin to allow the trigger to move forward just to the point when you feel the sear reset (on many pistols there is an audible click and you will feel it was well).

Once the trigger resets, begin to press the trigger again with minimal disturbance of the sights. Start with dry practice with no ammunition. Once you have perfected this step, it is time to begin doing it with live ammunition. Press the trigger and hold it to the rear as the pistol fires, reacquire the sight picture, release to reset and press again. During this process, we are teaching ourselves the proper distance the trigger needs to travel to reset the pistol for the next shot.

For those who wish to advance further, the next step is to train yourself to begin resetting the trigger as soon as you feel the pistol start to recoil. Your goal is to have the trigger just far enough forward to reset the sear as soon as your gun returns to battery (slide fully closed). Then, as the pistol settles and the sights return to the target after recoil recovery, you are ready to press the trigger once again. 

With practice, most shooters should be able to easily achieve splits (the time between shots) of .25-.30 seconds. Many shooters will get in the .19 to .24 range and truly advanced shooters will get into the .14 to .18 range with some going beyond. Gordon Carrell, who has more than 50 national, regional and state titles including the 2011 Smith & Wesson Indoor National Championship, once told me his fastest recorded split was .11 seconds. A friend of mine who is an IDPA 6-gun Master did it in .10 measured on a video.

5. Failure to maintain a solid firing grip:

Anytime you have your pistol in your hand, have it in a solid firing grip with your finger along the slide or frame outside the trigger guard. This includes initially loading the pistol (have the magazine in a pocket you can reach) and holstering the pistol. Some shooters just sort of hold the pistol’s slide and grip when holstering--a sure recipe for eventually dropping the loaded pistol when they snag something as they attempt to holster.

6. Unnecessarily adjusting your grip:

Another common problem is the shooter who unnecessarily adjusts his grip or re-grasps his pistol before and during a firing string. This is a bad habit that always seems to be waiting in the wings. I typically see this during the draw and after reloading, but I've seen some novice and even experienced shooters do it after every shot.

More unnecessary motion. Learn to acquire a solid firing grip as you initially grasp the pistol while it is in the holster, then maintain that grip as your support hand comes into play and you begin to fire. 

7. Pointing the pistol at yourself when you holster: 

Some shooters tend to dig for the holster with the pistol's muzzle when they holster the pistol. This is often accompanied by the shooter pointing the pistol inward toward his hip or waist. 

This is common when the shooter is using an inside-the-waistband holster (IWB) or when using a holster design that allows the mouth of the holster to collapse when the pistol is withdrawn. Although not as much of a problem with outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters, I've seen shooters do it with this design as well. Don't point a loaded pistol at yourself.

8. Failure to train with the auto-lock trigger finger manipulation holster:

The auto-lock trigger finger manipulation holster has been commercially available since 2006 with at least four variations currently on the market. As a retention holster, this design protects and retains the pistol well and automatically "locks" the pistol in the holster when it is inserted without the need to manipulate anything.

The retention release mechanism is located on the outboard side, in the pistol's trigger/trigger guard area. To properly operate the release, the shooter establishes a strong-hand grip, extending and straightening the trigger finger exactly like a draw from any style of holster. The shooter then applies finger-pad pressure with the trigger finger to the "release button" that deactivates the retention and allows the shooter to draw the pistol.

However, unless the shooter deactivates the retention before beginning upward pressure as part of the draw, the retention continues to hold the pistol in the holster. Often, the inexperienced shooter then begins tugging on the pistol and tends to transition from finger-pad to finger-tip pressure causing the trigger finger to bend.

When the novice shooter finally manages to deactivate the retention and draws the pistol, this bend in the trigger finger positions the finger near or on the trigger, and the finger tends to stay in motion. As the trigger guard clears the holster, the finger enters the trigger guard and contacts the trigger — occasionally with unpleasant results. I have witnessed two people shoot themselves doing exactly this.

The holster is not the problem, it works exactly as designed. If you are going to use an auto-lock trigger finger manipulation holster, you absolutely must train with the holster until a safe draw is second nature — for that matter, you should do this with any holster you use.

For Safety Officers: You will see the belt rise if someone is doing this. Stop them immediately and explain what the are doing incorrectly.9. Failure to clear cloth in holster:

IDPA, USPSA, IPSC, CAS, etc are all active sports, and shooters often have their shirt tails or other garments drift out during the course of a stage. If the shooter fails to clear this cloth from the mouth of the holster when he re-holsters his pistol, this cloth can find its way into the trigger guard.

As the shooter presses the pistol into the holster, the cloth jams, which can lead to an unwelcome loud noise as the cloth tightens around and pulls the trigger. Always visually confirm that your holster is completely clear of any cloth or other obstruction when you holster a loaded pistol.

10. Placing empty or partially empty magazines in your mag pouch:

I cannot guess the number of times I've seen shooters put an empty or partially empty magazine into their mag pouch, then later discover it is not fully charged when they run out of ammunition. In a match, this is cause for laughter at the competitor's expense, but in a self-defense encounter it could be fatal.

Stow your empties in a pocket, not in the pouch.

11. Crowding Cover:

Novices frequently want to crowd (get extremely close to) cover. This limits their available work-space to manipulate the pistol and may lead them to point the pistol in an unsafe direction as they maneuver to the next firing position.

With IDPA fault lines a shooter considered behind cover no matter how of much his upper torso is exposed, as long as his feet are not touching the ground on the other side of the fault line. The fault line must extend at least three feet from the cover barrier. Not crowding the cover provides space to manipulate your pistol and maneuver.

On the competition stage design side, I occasionally see stages designed in such a manner that they force shooters to crowd cover. In a IDPA match where I served as safety officer, one stage required the shooter to maneuver in a tight V-shaped barricade space and fire through ports. The stage had a barrel obstacle in the center of the V which forced the shooter to maneuver close to cover and prevented the Safety Officers from staying with the shooter as they fired the stage — obviously a less-than-optimal design.

On a related note, many stages have ports through which the shooter must engage a target. Shooting through the port does not mean you must stick the entire pistol through the port. The time you lose poking your pistol through is doubled when you now must pull it back out before you can move on. More inefficient and unnecessary motion.

12. Hollywood Ready

At some point, film and television producers began directing the actors to hold the pistol vertically next to their face so both were visible in the scene. This generated a bad habit among novice shooters who believe pointing the barrel at the sky is an appropriate ready position.

There are several reasons not to do this, including the fact that if you fire a round with the pistol next to your face you will likely cause permanent hearing loss.
I often see novice competitors who are crowding cover use the "Hollywood ready" as they move away from a shooting position. Step away from the cover and use a low ready or compressed ready when you move.

These are some of the bad habits I've seen — I suspect there are others and welcome comments or input.

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