Monday, September 13, 2021

Is Flite Always Controlled?

This is part III in a series of articles concerning a recent qualification where I noted some erratic behavior in the form of “flyers” from the Federal LE133 00 round with the FliteControl® wad system. (I define a flyer as one or more buckshot pellets that take a different trajectory than the one that the majority of the pellets in the load follow. From a home defense perspective, when these flyers fall outside of an acceptable target area at a given distance they pose a danger to innocent people who may be nearby.)

In that qualification I had one shot at 25 yards put all eight pellets in the center of the target and a second shot that put four of the eight pellets in the bottom of the target. I believe the other four pellets went into the target’s center. I suspect that the flyers I experienced are the result of FliteControl® wads that did not perform as advertised.

The difference between the FliteControl® wad system and the traditional wad is the way the wad releases the pellets as the buckshot exits the barrel. The traditional wad has forward facing petals that open when they exit the barrel. High speed videos show that often the petals on traditional wads open unevenly. This in turn causes the traditional wad to release the shot load unevenly and can disrupt the shot pattern.

Shot Separating from a Traditional Shotgun Wad

In contrast, the FliteControl® wad system has a set of petals six facing rearward and a set of three petals in the body of the wad facing forward. As the buckshot load in the FliteControl® wad leaves the barrel, the gas pressure from the powder forces the rearward facing petals to open. These petals then act as a sort of air-brake and begin to slow the wad. Simultaneously, the air pressure forces the forward facing petals to open to assist with the buckshot separating cleanly from the wad—ideally without producing flyers. 

Unfired versus Fired FliteControl® Shotgun Wad


Buckshot Separating from a FliteControl® Shotgun Wad

During the qualification I was able to recover the FliteControl® wads from fifteen Federal 8-pellet LE133 00 shells that I had fired through my Beretta 1301. Three of the wads had deformed when they struck the ground or target frame; however, twelve were fully intact.

I grouped the fired FliteControl® wads in roughly three different behaviors. Some wads evidenced little to no opening from either the rearward facing petals or the forward facing petals. Other wads showed the rearward facing petals opening partially and the forward facing petals opening very little. Some of the wads performed as designed with the rearward facing petals opening fully and the forward facing petals opening to varying degrees.

I fired all of these rounds in one sequence. I do not know if what I observed is a quality control issue or some other factor is causing the difference in wad performance; however, there clearly is a difference.

Patterning your particular gun with the ammunition you would like to use is a good idea. Patterning your load lets you know exactly where the gun shoots and at what range you may experience flyers or where the pattern is too large for acceptable home defense purposes. I now view the Federal 8-pellet LE133 #00 load as a 25 yard or closer load in my shotguns. That is not necessarily a problem, in an urban setting a justifiable shot beyond 15-20 yards is probably rare.

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Friday, September 3, 2021

Not Enough Oomph! Lightly Loaded Shotgun Shells

In a recent Sensible Self-defense shotgun match, one of the female competitors suddenly began having intermittent failures to eject with her Beretta 1301 Tactical shotgun. This caused her a great deal of frustration as your might imagine. As we were exploring the cause, I initially wondered if the shotgun might be dirty or if she was failing to exert enough resistance to the shotgun’s recoil.

She said her 1301 was essentially new and the she had only fired it during a recent Range Master shotgun class which typically is 200 rounds. She said she had not cleaned the shotgun since the class and that it had worked fine during the class so I didn’t think a dirty gun was the culprit.

I then looked at her stance and asked her to fire a few rounds. Some of the shells ejected, some did not. I asked what type of ammunition she was using and she stated she had switched to some Winchester AA target loads that she had just purchased at the range that morning. I initially didn’t think the AA loads were the problem because I have literally fired thousands of AA target loads through my Beretta 1301 without a hiccup.

As I continued to eliminate variables, I tested some of her AA target loads through my 1301 and immediately began experiencing intermittent failures to eject. I asked to see the ammunition box and learned something new—Winchester manufacturers a AA round they characterize as a “low recoil, low noise” target round. The specifications on the box stated that Winchester loads the round with 26 grams of shot and a “Min” dram equivalent. Given that I had no idea what the gram to ounce conversion was at the time and was equally clueless concerning what I presumed was the minimum dram load, I looked at the velocity. (See below for more information on the term dram equivalent).

The box indicated a velocity of 980 foot per second (fps) which was the lowest I had ever encountered in AA ammunition. We switched to a more common load of 1-1/8 ounce of shot and a 2-3/4 dram equivalent load at 1145 fps. She finished the match without any additional failures to eject.

Prior to that morning, a velocity of 1145 fps was the slowest Winchester AA round I had encountered and these functioned fine in my Beretta 1301. A little research demonstrated that 26 grams of shot was 0.917 ounces or almost 10% less that the typical “lightly” loaded 12 gauge target round with one ounce of shot—I’m guessing Winchester used a gram weight measure to hide this fact. I presume the min dram equivalent specification was the amount of powder needed to get .917 ounces of lead moving at 980 fps.

The Winchester low recoil, low noise AA loads would be pleasant to shoot in a pump or other manually operated shotgun without a doubt. However, very lightly loaded shotgun shells may not successfully function in gas operated or recoil operated semi-automatic shotguns. When you purchase shotgun ammunition for training, ensure that the shot weight is at least 1-1/8 ounce and the stated velocity is a minimum of 1100 fps if you plan to run them through a semi-automatic shotgun.

Trivia: The term “dram equivalent” is a holdover from the past when black power was the only powder available. At that time, black powder was measured in “drams” and 16 drams equaled one ounce of black powder. The dram equivalent is the amount of smokeless powder that would match the performance of a similar amount of black powder with a given load. A shotgunner in the black powder era would have known how a 3 dram load would have felt recoil-wise in their shotgun.

Manufacturers currently load modern shot shells with smokeless propellants and these powders weigh much less than black powder for a given volume; however we still use the dram equivalent measure. If my math is correct, a 2-3/4 dram equivalent would equal approximately 0.17 ounces of black powder while a 3-1/2 dram load would be almost 0.24 ounces. I have some Remington #000 buckshot loads that are 3-3/4 dram equivalents and you certainly notice the recoil when firing these loads.

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Buckshot Flyers?

This is part II of a series of articles concerning buckshot loads for home defense (you can find part one here). This series resulted from a shotgun qualification I fired using the Federal 8-pellet LE133 00 buckshot load. For reference, a 00 buckshot pellet is .330 inches in diameter--almost the same size as a 9 mm bullet. 

In this qualification I noticed some erratic behavior in the form of “flyers” from the Federal 8-pellet LE133 00 buckshot load and its sister product the Speer 8-pellet LE 00 buckshot load (Federal manufacturers both). I define a flyer as one or more buckshot pellets that take a different trajectory than the one that the other pellets in the load follow. From a home defense perspective, when these flyers fall outside of an acceptable target area at a given distance they pose a danger to innocent people who may be nearby.

The typical buckshot load for military and police uses the traditional wad system and is normally loaded with nine 00 buckshot pellets when loaded in a 2 ¾ inch standard 12 gauge shell. This number allows three layers of three pellets per layer. Nationally known instructor Tom Givens and many others have noted a phenomenon of the “9th pellet flyer” with the standard 9-pellet load. For a given distance from the muzzle, typically eight pellets will be in the same general area with one pellet following a different trajectory.

Givens and others have expressed theories concerning this 9th pellet behavior. If you examine the way the nine pellet load is stacked within the shell you will notice a lot of pellet to pellet contact. This contact increases the likelihood of one or more pellets deforming and developing one or more flat spots somewhere on its surface when the shot load is fired. As the pellets exit the shotgun’s barrel, differential air pressure on the pellet’s deformed surface may cause the pellet to fly off at an unpredictable trajectory.

I say may cause the pellets to change trajectory. As I was researching this article I disassembled several Federal and Speer reduced recoil buckshot loads and noticed a flat spot on the pellets that likely resulted from Federal’s manufacturing process. The degree of deformation and the pellet’s hardness (plated or not for example) may make a difference.

In any event, shotgun shell manufacturers have added buffering material to cushion the buckshot pellets in an attempt to mitigate the flyer phenomenon with mixed results. Many shotshell manufacturers now load 8 pellet 00 buckshot loads to reduce recoil and change the way the pellets stack in the shell. Fewer pellets also allows the manufacturer to add more buffering material which equates to more cushion between pellets. In the picture below you can see a standard 9-pellet 00 buckshot load and a Federal 8-pellet 00 buckshot load. The 8-pellet load has room for significantly more buffering material.

The defender is responsible for every round fired in self-defense—with a buckshot load, you are responsible for every pellet. Even one pellet can kill as occurred in the example of Police Officer Gordon Silva on 20 January 1989 in San Jose, California during an exchange of gunfire between police and a suspect. After the firing ceased, police found Officer Silva approximately 60 yards from the shooting incident lying in the street. The coroner later determined that Officer Silva had been struck by a single shotgun pellet another officer had fired during the shootout with the subject. 

If you are using the shotgun to hunt deer or other game, this is not normally a serious problem. However, if you are using the load for self-defense, this 9th pellet flyer’s unpredictability can be a serious concern. 

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A Family of Pistols

Have you considered training, competing, and carrying within a family of pistols? I define a “family of pistols” as pistols that have similar grip angles, controls, sighting systems, etc. For example, Glock pistols, SIG P320’s and P365, 1911’s, and the Springfield XD series would all fall within the same family of pistols.

In 2013, a friend of mine and I set a goal of shooting Master in every IDPA Division. By the end of 2016 we achieved that goal within the divisions available at that time (six as of 2016—IDPA # A32998). Facing this challenge, we were generally practicing 1-3 times a week and firing an average of 200-300 rounds per practice session. We competed in the IDPA division that we were striving to master (no pun intended). As we achieved Master in each division, we moved on to the next. Through the course of our training, we developed a feel for the differences between the pistol types we were using in the different divisions and realized that staying within the same platform or family of pistols was extremely important for consistency.

For me this fact slammed home when I decided to experiment with a Glock 19 equipped with a Trijicon RMR while simultaneously training and competing with a Springfield XD 4-inch model with a match trigger and fiber optic sights. IDPA had no carry optic division at that time. Attempting to train with two different platforms set me back considerably as my brain tried to adjust to the differences between grip angle, sighting systems, slide and magazine release, etc. for the two different pistol families. Rather than progressing, my shooting actually began to suffer. I stopped using the Glock and concentrated on training with the XD.

We both routinely carried concealed and realized that our carry pistol and holster needed to match the IDPA Division we were working on or we were very likely to foul the draw if we had to present the pistol in a self-defense situation. We started carrying revolvers when we were working on the Revolver Division, Back Up Guns when training for that division—you get the idea.

After completing the IDPA master challenge and competing in the 2016 IDPA Nationals, I focused exclusively on improving self-defense skills and maintaining skill with my carry pistol for the next couple of years. I set up two essentially identical SIG P320 carry pistols with the same sighting system, holster, and trigger pulls. I trained and competed with one pistol and carried the other, rotating the pistols and carry ammunition every six months. I used the old carry ammunition to reconfirm the new carry pistol’s zero. I used my training pistol and my every day carry (EDC) holster in all of my practice, training, and competition.

The same concept applies to holster tilt, angle, positioning, and other characteristics. Ideally, the holster should be in the same place and approximately the same height on the belt for competition and carry. My EDC concealed carry holster rides higher on the belt and is not as fast as the typical competition holsters which generally sit 1-2 inches lower. I once discovered that after a period of training for competition that I often missed my draw with my EDC holster when my hand automatically went to where the competition holster would have been on my belt. This poses a challenge to those who wish to use appendix carry since many competitions do not permit appendix carry for liability reasons. Consistent and routine dry practice with your appendix carry rig is very important if you compete with a strong side holster.

Another option is to compete with and carry a holster that meets IDPA standards. For a number of years my EDC holster was the same IDPA-legal holster I used in competition. I eventually found this to be problematic because it protruded far enough out from my belt that I routinely bumped the pistol/holster into things. I stopped using the IDPA holster in favor of one that pulled the pistol closer to my body and solved this problem.

Choosing a pistol family and then sticking within that family for competition and carry will go a long way toward improving our shooting skills. I routinely see students and competitors practicing, training, and competing with multiple pistol families and holster positions. They will bring a SIG P320 X5 to a class, use a 1911-based fully tricked out race gun with optic in competition, and then carry a Smith and Wesson Shield in an inside the waistband holster. Several years ago I had a student attend multiple classes and he brought a different pistol family to every class. Needless to say, he never mastered any pistol and his shooting ability did not appreciably improve.

Regardless of your shooting goals and which method of carry you chose, consistent and regular dry practice with your ECD pistol family and holster will endure that it is where you expect it to be if you must draw it in an emergency. 

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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Home Defense Shotgun Qualification

Since I use a shotgun as a home defense weapon, I periodically fire qualifications with my shotguns. It is a good idea to demonstrate and document your competence for record with any firearm you might use for self-defense.

Pursuing that goal, I fired the Department of Energy Shotgun Qualification Course twice (click here for the DOE Shotgun Qualification Course of fire). One time with my Remington 870 pump that has a cylinder bore using the Speer Law Enforcement 8-pellet FliteControl buckshot load and once with my Beretta 1301 which also has a cylinder bore using the Federal 8-pellet FliteControl using the standard DOE target.

The 870 qualification target contained 79 pellets which is 98% and a passing score. The Speer load threw a one pellet flyer off the target from one of the 25-yard shots (see left picture below). The Beretta 1301 target contained all 80 pellets for a 100% score; however, four 00 buckshot pellets landed low on the target from one of the 25 yard shots as you can see in the picture on the right.
I believe the other four pellets from that round likely struck the target’s center.

Remington 870 Pump                                      Beretta 1301

The shotgun’s power makes it a great choice for a home defense tool. When you employ it correctly and within its proper range envelope the shotgun is very effective. However, you must know your shotgun's range limitations with the load you are using. 

Multiple projectile loads require particular attention to what is behind your target. YOU are responsible for every pellet you fire. This is where target distance and the pattern of a particular load in your shotgun come into play. 

Ideally you should pattern your shotgun at 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, and perhaps beyond targeting an 8-inch circle. The distance where your gun with the particular load you are using throws pellets outside of the 8-inch circle is the maximum range for your shotgun with that load. 

My Remington 870 and my Beretta 1301 have both patterned acceptably out to 35 yards with the Federal FliteControl in the past. However, I have noticed some erratic behavior from the Federal 8-pellet FliteControl load at times and it causes me some concern.  I will post some additional thoughts after some research.

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Monday, July 5, 2021

Mystery of the Keyholing Springfield OSP

In several recent matches I noticed that my friend’s Springfield OSP pistol seemed to be occasionally keyholing the bullet. Since we were in the middle of a match each time, we could not investigate the issue.

However, in a subsequent practice session my friend noticed a bullet hole that appeared to be a keyhole. Ultimately, his Springfield OSP keyholed two out of approximately 300 rounds fired in the practice session. One occurred within the first five shots he fired that day and one occurred toward the middle of the practice session. In the first instance, my friend called all five shots in the center of a standard IDPA target; however the bullet struck the target in the head so it clearly was not flying true (see picture on the right).

The XD-M’s keyholing was inconsistent with one keyholing bullet spinning on the vertical axis and the other spinning on the horizontal axis. Each time the keyholing shot was clearly not a double hit because we accounted for every shot on the target (see pictures below).


So what is keyholing? If the rifling does not properly stabilize the bullet as it exits the barrel, the bullet will begin to wobble or it may begin to tumble end over end or sideways. When an unstable or keyholing bullet strikes the target it is often rotating/tumbling so fast that it will leave an oblong hole. We call this effect keyholing because the oblong holes sometimes resemble a keyhole.

In a firearm in good repair that is firing bullets designed for that firearm, the barrel’s rifling imparts a spin on the bullet as it travels down the bore. This spin stabilizes the bullet in flight and makes it travel with the nose pointed forward. The optimal amount of spin (also known as the twist of the rifling) is a function of the firearm’s bore diameter, the bullet’s length (a function of the bullet’s weight), and the bullet’s velocity (see the Greenhill Optimal Twist Rate Formula).

Keyholing can result from several causes. It typically happens because the barrel’s rifling twist isn't adequate for the weight, shape and profile of the bullet being used. If the bullet is not spun fast enough going down the barrel, it loses stability before reaching the target and begins to tumble.

Significant damage to the barrel’s muzzle can cause gas to escape past the bullet unevenly as it exits the barrel and result in instability. The barrel’s rifling may be worn out (shot out) and as a result it is not imparting enough spin to the bullet as it leaves the barrel. Leading in the barrel could cause the bullets to fail to properly engage the rifling.

My experience with keyholing firearms is limited to military M16’s with barrels that were clearly “shot out.” With these firearms almost every shot was rotating on the horizontal axis and the holes in the target were almost always oblong.

The pistol in question is a fairly new Springfield XD-M 4.5 inch OSP 9mm with approximately 10k rounds through it (yes, we tend to shoot a lot). The barrel shows no sign of any damage and the rifling is crisp so we do not believe it is shot out.* The Springfield XD-M barrels are 1:10 or one rotation every ten inches which is optimal for the typical weight range of 9mm bullets. There was no leading in the barrel—my friend is very thorough with his firearms maintenance.

The load he was shooting was an Xtreme 147gr plated hollowpoint 9mm bullet loaded with Winchester primers, 3.5 grains of Hodgdon Titegroup** assembled on a Dillon Super 1050. This is a load he has used for at least ten years and it has never presented any issues. He has not changed the load nor the loading process.

Xtreme swages its 147gr copper plated hollowpoint bullets so they are presumably very consistent in shape and weight. It is possible that Xtreme’s plating is uneven for some bullets; however there is no visual indication of this.

At this point, the actual cause of the keyholing behavior remains a mystery. The simplest explanation is that there were some bullets out of specifications. My friend purchased these bullets several years ago in a lot of 17k in a single container. Perhaps some of the “out of spec bullets” just happened to be in that portion of the container. Pure speculation on my part—we’ll see if the keyholing continues.

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* I have a Springfield 9mm XD with over 50K rounds through it. It is still acceptably accurate so we don't believe barrel wear is an issue.

** This is not loading data. Always check with the powder company or another vetted source for the proper loading data for a particular round.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Don't Get Shot: Intervening in an Active Killer Incident

Ronald Troyke Retrieving an AR15
On Monday 21 June 2021, Ronald Troyke decided he was going to kill police officers. Troyke left a note in his residence outlining his desire to “. . . kill as many Arvada officers as I possibly can.” Troyke apparently said something to his brother who called the Arvada Police Department (PD) and requested a welfare check. Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley and another officer went to Troyke’s residence; however, they were not able to contact him.

Twenty minutes later the Arvada PD received a call about a suspicious person in the Olde Town Square. The department dispatched Officer Gordon Beesley to that call and he arrived shortly thereafter. Officer Beesley got out of his patrol car and walked up an alley to the Olde Town Square.

Ronald Troyke arrived moments later and parked his pickup truck in a parking lot near the Square. Troyke got out of the pickup with a semi-automatic shotgun and ran toward Officer Beesley approaching him from behind. Troyke said something to Officer Beesley and when the officer turned, Troyke shot him twice, killing him.

Troyke then shot out Beesley’s patrol car windows and fired shots into the air. Troyke returned to his pickup truck and exchanged his shotgun for an AR15 rifle and ran back towards the Olde Town Square.

Private citizen Johnny Hurley who was shopping in a near-by Army surplus store heard Troyke’s shots and saw him pass by the store.  Eye witnesses said that Hurley exited the store and warned people at a near-by restaurant that Troyke was returning and to get inside. Hurley then ran to confront Troyke and shot him several times, killing him. Hurley then apparently retrieved Troyke’s AR15 and was holding it when a responding Arvada Police Officer encountered Hurley. When the officer saw Hurley holding the AR15 he shot and killed him.

Although the incident surrounding Hurley’s death is extremely unfortunate, I do not believe the responding officer involved in this incident did anything wrong. The Arvada officer responding to multiple 911 calls of “shots fired, man with a rifle, officer down” arrives at the scene to see a person on the ground with another standing nearby with a rifle in hand. The officer’s actions are perfectly understandable given the circumstances.

It is not unusual for Police through a case of mistaken identity to shoot private citizen “good guys” during a chaotic incident. Unfortunately, this tragic turn of events is often due to the citizen’s own actions. A private citizen taking down a depraved killer knows that they are the good guy and expect others to recognize them as such. Of course, the problem with this is exactly what does a good guy look like?

Johnny Hurley’s prompt action in stopping the murderer Ronald Troyke from killing more innocents is praiseworthy and I am in no way criticizing him. We will never know what led him to pick up Troyke’s rifle, perhaps he was trying to remove it out of Troyke’s reach. However, Hurley clearly didn’t understand how officer’s responding to the scene would view him.

So what should you do in similar circumstances? First, move to a good cover position ideally where you can see the bad guy as well as responding police. If no cover is immediately at hand, put some distance between you and the downed bad guy. If possible, you should chose a position from where you can see the police before they see you. You want to present a non-threatening appearance to responding officers; you absolutely SHOULD NOT have any type of firearm in your hand as the police arrive at the scene. Police often shoot the instant they say “drop the gun!”

If you have holstered your pistol but feel that you must have your hand on it due to the potential of a continuing threat of deadly force from the bad guy, slowly remove your hand the instant an officer arrives on the scene. If an officer you did not see confronts you and demands you show your hands, tell the officer: “I’m going to lift my hand without the pistol.” This is one reason I prefer carrying concealed is that as you see an approaching officer you can simply remove your hand from the pistol that is now concealed from view.

As soon as the first identifiable uniformed officer arrives he or she has command of the situation. Immediately obey the officer’s commands without argument or hesitation.

I have introduced police arriving on the scene (photo realistic targets) in some of my training scenarios and students often fail to immediately obey the officer’s commands and in more than one class actually shot the officer. When I asked afterward why they shot at the officer they either could not explain why, said they did not see the badge (some targets were in complete uniform), or said they did not hear the officers identifying themselves. All of which I’m sure was true. If you do not practice something, it is unreasonable to expect that you will suddenly perform it well under stress—even the artificial stress of a decision-based scenario.

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Friday, June 18, 2021

The SSD Short Range Match: An After Match Report

We held our monthly Sensible Self Defense Short Range Match on 13 June 2021 and the match went very well. We had 22 shooters with five shooting a second gun for a total of 27 scores. The match required a total of 81 rounds assuming no misses, so the shooters had to fire a minimum of 2187 rounds during the match. Total dropped points for all shooters for the match was 544 points.

We use IDPA classification standards to enable the shooters to make an apples-to-apples skill comparison.  IDPA-ranked shooter skill levels the this match were as follows:

   -- Novice: 6
   -- Marksman: 5
   -- Sharp Shooter: 7
   -- Expert: 2
   -- Master: 2 

We used 38 targets during the match and the targets had 153 shots outside the down zero resulting in a 7-10% miss rate (an exact figure is impossible given that some shooters missed the target entirely). Five shooters dropped fewer than five points total for the match and five shooters dropped more than forty points total for the match. One shooter had zero points down for the match.

Two years ago we adopted the Shoot Steel target for the Short Range Match as shown below (the picture on the head is a modification we occasionally make to the target). For scoring we count the B & C-zones (upper chest area) and head (above the shoulder/ neck line as down zero and the D zone is down three. We do not have a down one scoring area. A head shot requires the full diameter of the bullet to be inside the target or it is scored as a miss. If the target has the face modification, the entire diameter of the bullet must be within the ocular and nasal cavity scoring lines (and not touching the lines) or it costs the shooter points (+ 2 seconds).

We cover all threat targets (and occasionally non-threats) with T-shirts or other clothing so the shooter cannot see the scoring rings, the taped holes from previous shooters, nor their own hits. If the target does not have the face modification, we cover the head with a mask. This requires the shooters to call their shots because they cannot simply glance at the target to judge whether they should reengage.

T-Shirt Covering Target

As I was recycling the targets from our June 21 match, I selected the best target (fewest points down) and the worst target (most points down) for comparison.  On the worst target I noticed something that I routinely see in our matches. In general, most of the shots outside of the “down zero” scoring area were shot low on the target. The worst target shown below had fourteen hits outside the down zero and eleven of these were low on the target.  You can also see that many of the down zero hits were also low on the target. In my experience, this is typical of shooters aiming for the proverbial "center of mass."

When the target is covered with a T-shirt, shooters aiming for the T-shirt's center of mass will likely hit very low in the down zero area with very little margin for error. If the shooter judges the center of mass from the top of the head to the bottom of the t-shirt they will hit the down zero. Experienced Short Range Match competitors have learned that they must aim just below the shirt’s neckline to reliably hit the target’s upper chest and score a down zero for the shot.

The concept of “aim for center mass” is very nebulous as the center of the available mass very likely will not represent where you need to hit if you are trying to stop a threat. "Aim for where you do CPR" is a much better choice. Square ranges and two dimension targets cannot adequately replicate real world three dimension threats. However, the t-shirts and Shoot Steel targets we use in the Short Range Match represent our attempt to train shooters to aim for a target area that is more likely to result in a threat-stopping hit.
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Sunday, May 16, 2021


Inspector Ricky J. Parisian

Not long ago my wife asked me to go to the supermarket for some item. She noticed me take my S&W J-Frame .38 Special out of my pocket and begin putting on my SIG P320. She asked "Do you think you will need that at the store?”

I said of course not. If I actually thought I would need a firearm at the store I either wouldn’t go at all or I would take a rifle. A pistol is for an unexpected, lethal threat that you have to address right that moment. It is not the proper tool for a foreseeable fight. 

It does not matter how many firearms you have at home if you find yourself in a gunfight and didn't bring a gun--you may well die for the oversight. This is an example via Duane Thomas and Tom Givens:

From Jay Hohenhaus, 1994:  My neighbor Ricky J. Parisian was a NY State Trooper who worked with an organized crime task force in White Plains, NY. He was never unarmed on-duty.

However, he was unarmed when he was home in rural Oneonta, NY.  Rick made a habit of not carrying off-duty telling me that the New York State Police discouraged it.

One day Rick went to the grocery store to get chicken for a BBQ and a robber with a sawed-off, single-shot shotgun killed him.


He went to the grocery store on the Wrong Day, without his Smith & Wesson 9mm. A disgruntled ex-employee came in with a sawed-off, single-shot .410 shotgun to rob the store. This bothered Rick and he attacked the robber--UNARMED. The gun discharged during the struggle, killing Rick instantly.

Rick’s Tom Campbell-tuned S&W 469 was home in his sock drawer. He had never heard the mindset lecture and interpreted what came down from his leadership as discouraging off-duty carry. The New York State Police DID put on a nice funeral for him.


Note: I edited the story above for clarity.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Low Light: Using a Laser on Your Carry Pistol

A Low Light Competitor

During the Sensible Self Defense Low Light Match in April 2021, I experimented the SIG P320 Lima Laser module (with a green laser) that I have on my everyday carry (EDC) pistol. There was a full moon so there was sufficient light to identify all of the targets without a hand held light. For the experiment, I wanted to see if I could use the laser system in low light as effectively as I could the red dot sight during daylight.

The match format was four stages, run twice with a total round count of 82 rounds assuming no misses. We ran all of the stages once during daylight, then ran the stages once again after the sun set. Two stages were home defense scenarios based on actual events that required movement and shooting from cover and two were standards stages, one focusing on running the gun skills and one focusing on reloading.

The experiment showed that yes, the laser system in low light was as effective as the red dot sight during daylight. The total time difference between my pistol daylight runs using the red dot and my low light runs with the laser was 0.29 seconds for the entire match. For this match at least, I ran the pistol with the laser as well during low light as I did during daylight.

Although I used the SIG P320 Lima system, I believe any laser sighting system with a grip switch would have worked equally well (see picture below).

SIG P320 Compact with Lima Laser Module

In a recent class I attended, master instructor Tom Givens of Range Master somewhat downplayed the need to practice under low light conditions stating that you are rarely in total darkness. That may be true for those who live in crowded urban areas or apartment complexes and is certainly true for many commercial parking lots. However, even though I live in San Antonio, Texas, in my neighborhood you can easily find yourself effectively in the dark when outside if there is no full moon. As a result, I find value in practicing under low light conditions. 

The SIG Lima Laser module provides another tool to help you effectively use your pistol to defend yourself and other innocents. A P320 with the red dot, iron sights, and the Lima module provides you with three independent sighting systems. Add a hand-held flashlight and you have the tools to address any lighting conditions you may reasonably encounter in a defensive situation.

Depending upon which study you believe, somewhere between 60 and 85 percent of all police officer-involved shootings occur during the hours of darkness. Although no such data exists concerning private citizen-involved shootings with criminals, since a lot of criminal activity occurs in low light conditions we can assume that there is a likely correlation.

The Sensible Self Defense Low Light Match provides shooters the opportunity to test their low light skills in a variety of scenarios. We will continue these matches later in the fall of 2021 once daylight savings time ends. If you find yourself in San Antonio, we welcome all safe and responsible shooters and would enjoy having you participate.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

A Low Light Match With Home Defense Guns

Shotgun in a Home Invasion Scenario
The April 2021
Sensible Self Defense Low Light Match provided an opportunity for all participants to practice their low light skills. Although we had a modest turnout, everyone had a great time and learned a few things as well. This match’s theme was home defense and I encouraged shooters to use their everyday carry or home defense firearms.

This match permitted shotguns, pistols, and pistol caliber carbines (PCC). We had six shotgun shooters, eight shooting pistols, and two shooting PCCs. The match format was four stages, run two times with a total round count of 82 rounds assuming no misses. Two stages were home defense scenarios based on actual events that required movement and shooting from cover and two were standards stages, one focusing on running the gun skills and one focusing on reloading.

All shooters shot the match during daylight, then everyone shot the match once again in low light after the sun set with both scores added to produce the final score for each shooter. The fastest overall time went to the PCC with a score of 62.69, then the pistol with a score of 85.53, and then the shotgun with a score of 93.30. There was a bright, full moon so there was some ambient light for the match's low light portion.

Three of the six participants who were shooting shotguns had some sort of serious issue with their shotgun on at least one stage. All stated that they used their shotgun as their primary home defense firearm and those who had issues admitted that they rarely practiced with it. The match once again drove home the realization of just how powerful the shotgun is in trained hands and just how easy it is to fumble the manual of arms without consistent practice—particularly under low light conditions.

The shotgun’s primary weakness is the number of rounds the weapon holds. From a home defense perspective, although admittedly possible, it is unlikely that home invaders will stand and slug it out with a shotgun-armed home owner. Five or six buckshot rounds will probably solve a home invasion problem rendering a speed reload unlikely. If faced with multiple home invaders who do chose to slug it out, the competent defender should load via the “shoot one – load one” technique using proper cover and movement as necessary if there is a lull in the proceedings.

Of course, in competition we are on the timer. This adds pressure to use specialized competition shotguns, specialized ammunition carriers, or other devices that may not be present on the gun (nor practical) if you must use the shotgun to repel boarders entering your home. For me, the “not present” issue is of concern. I want to train and compete with the same equipment I will have in a fight. Therefore, in shotgun matches I keep the gun in the same configuration as I have it in my home. Although I cannot load as quickly as another competitor who is using specialized equipment, I am practicing with my go to gun.

Even so, I was satisfied with my match performance, placing second with the shotgun and winning one of the stages with the fastest time. The stage in question was a standards stage that required no movement nor reloading. It simply measured your ability to run the gun. 

Steve won the shotgun division with a time of 93.30. Steve was consistent with his daylight versus low light shotgun stage runs with a time difference of 1.98 seconds. The time difference between my shotgun daylight runs and my shotgun low light runs was 2.99 seconds. Click here for the video.

I find value in practicing under low light conditions. The Sensible Self Defense Low Light Match provides shooters the opportunity to test their low light skills in a variety of scenarios.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

A Senseless Death

On the evening of February 28, 2020, Alan Womack Jr. went to the King of Prussia LA Fitness for a game of pick-up basketball. During the game, Womack accused a player on the opposite team of a traveling violation. Womack was so upset that he threatened to shoot the man in the head according to witnesses. 

The opposing player decided to leave; however, Womack followed him into the LA Fitness parking lot where he confronted the opposing player, drew a Taurus pistol, and racked a round into the chamber. The other man drew his own legally carried pistol and shot Womack in the chest.

After weeks of investigating the incident, reviewing surveillance video, and interviewing people who witnessed the argument, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele declined to file criminal charges.

Pennsylvania is a “duty to retreat” state under certain circumstances. However, Pennsylvania law does not impose a duty to retreat, even in circumstances where this would normally be the case when:

The defender is not engaged in a criminal activity, is not in illegal possession of a firearm, and is attacked in any place where:

    -- the defender has a right to be when he was attacked;

    -- the defender believes it is immediately necessary to protect himself against death or serious bodily injury; and

    -- the person against whom the defender uses force displays or otherwise uses a firearm or replica of a firearm or any other weapon readily or apparently capable of lethal use.

It is certainly probable that the Montgomery County District Attorney applied this reasoning when he declined to press criminal charges.

You might wonder how something as trivial as a traveling violation during a pick-up basketball game resulted in the death of a 29-year-old young man. As Rory Miller explains, the Monkey brain is concerned with social survival and status. It literally cannot distinguish between humiliation and death.* 

The Monkey brain theory explains some of the outlandish behaviors we often seeparticularly in young males. When the Monkey brain is in control, reason and logic goes out the window. I suspect that one or more Monkey brains were at work in this incident. 

We all have a Monkey brain and it is important to recognize when it is trying to take control.  It is equally important to recognize when someone else's Monkey is stepping up.  Often we can de-escalate these types of situations if we recognize what's happening early enough.