Monday, April 04, 2005

Mixed Drill

Well I'm done with my CCW course, and I actually enjoyed myself, which is surprising considering I've already done it once before (I let mine expire without renewing it)

So, given I was just in training, I wanted to talk about it, and about some basic tactical concept in general.

The first day we started out with some basics about handguns, maintenance, proper procedures etc... All of the shooters in my class (all five of us) had semi-autos with us (3 1911's and 2 beretta 92's actually); but we went over revolvers quite a bit as well. We had three experienced shooters (including myself) in the class, but the other two students were gun novices; so the gun basics were pretty useful to them at least, and honestly, I never get tired of talking about guns, or sharing my experiences, and netierh were the other two 1911 guys.

In the middle of the day, we moved into ammunition selection. First we talked a bit about ammo, then we watched an hour long video with (now retired Col.) Dr. Martin Fackler; almost certainly the worlds foremost expert on wound ballistics. The video was more than a bit out of date; being made in '87 the physics and biology haven't changed, but the construction of a lot of bullets has. In the last 18 years, the quality and construction of factory ammunition, especially expanding ammunition such as hollowpoints; has improved GREATLY. Other than that though, their basic recommendations were sound.

Here's a combination of the videos, and my own recommendations on ammo selection

  • Shot placement is far more important than ammunition selection
  • Permanent wound cavity size is the most important factor in causing neutralizing wounds
  • Penetration is the most important single factor in creating a large permanent wound cavity
  • Bullet weight is the most important single factor in penetration (presuming sufficient velocity)
  • Bullet diameter is the second biggest factor in creating a large permanent wound cavity
  • Use the biggest bullet you can, because it will create the largest permanent wound cavity
  • Expanding bullets can be good because they will create a larger permanent wound cavity if they expand; but don't depend on expansion, because frequently expanding bullets don't
  • Even if an expanding bullet doesnt expand, so long as it doesn't disintegrate and maintains penetration, it will perform no worse than a non-expanding bullet; so assuming your weapon is reliable with expanding ammo, it's generally a better choice.
  • Velocity is relatively unimportant, except as it aids in penetration (or expansion). The large temporary cavity caused by high velocity rounds isn't irrelevant, but it isn't a reliable mechanism for causing neutralizing wounds from pistols (major caliber rifles are a different story), because the shock created is within the limit of most tissues ability to absorb it; you are far better off depending on penetration, and diameter to create a large permanent wound cavity.
The afternoon of day 1 was spent going over the laws that apply to firearms in this state. Most importantly we went through the doctrines and laws surrounding justification of the use of force.

This is a pretty critical discussion, not just for people who will carry concealed, but really everyone (even people who don't own guns), because you never know when you will need to defend yourself. In Arizona the fundamental principle of the law is pretty simple:

You are justified in using lethal force, or the threat of lethal force, to defend yourself or others; against a present, immediate, and credible threat to life, as you percieve it. There is no direct statutary duty to retreat, and the castle doctrine applies; however the reasonable man doctrine also applies so you'd better be damned sure you are justified in shooting; which brings up the next bit.

While the principle is clear, it gets more complicated in practice; and we spent a lot of time talking about when you might be justified, and when you would not be; as well as discussing the crimes you are legally allowed to prevent with lethal force (or the threat of lethal force), and when you should or should not do so (even if you are legally justified). There is a list of 10 crimes that you are technically legally justified in using lethal force to prevent, however if a reasonable man believes that your decision to use lethal force was not a last and only resort (as far as you knew), then your actions can be held as unjustified, and you may be charged.

We also discussed general firearms laws, and the laws relating to concealed carry specifically (ars13-3112);about other laws that could effect our permits, and our rights to own and carry firearms (like the unconstitutional domestic violence provisions); and exactly what a firearm, a deadly weapon, and a dangerous instrument are. Finally we talked about reciprocity, the laws of other states, and the laws concerning travel and transportation.

Day two, we spent the morning shooting the practice course for about 4 hours; and the afternoon going over shoot-don't-shoot excercises, and mental conditioning.

The basic practice course involved 80 rounds, mixed 1- 6 shot strings, at 3, 5, 7, and 10 yards; with tactical or stress reloads for any string longer than 3 shots. Each drill started and ended in the holster, some with or without pause at ready position after 2 or 3 shots.

At 5, 7, and 10 yards we did a tactical or stress reload; and at each range we did a stovepipe drill, an FTF (failure to fire) drill, and an FTE (failure to extract/eject) drill.

For these drills we used an IPSC standard silouhette target:

In the entire 80 shots, I only placed 4 out of the A zone; but my hits were ALL OVER the place in the A zone (and I do mean all over the place, the entire area was peppered).

For the last few years I've pretty much stopped doing accuracy drills. You can't miss fast enough to win, but so long as you KNOW you are going to hit in the vital zone within 15 yards, I believe that speed is the most important factor in defensive shooting.

I belive that a handgun is an inherently innaccurate, and short range weapon; that should only be used to effect a safe retreat either out of danger, or to a more effective firearm (a rifle or shotgun). Given this precept, I figure once I've reached (and can maintain) a basic standard of accuracy, the best thing I can do (tactically) is get faster.

When I say I KNOW I can hit what I'm aiming at, this is what I mean:

Top Right: .357 sig, SIG p229, 25 yards, 5 shot slow fire, 1.5", 4 in just under 3/4"
Bottom Right: .40 S&W, SIG p229, 25 yards, 12 shot rapid fire, 8 "x", 3 "10", 1 "9"
Bottom Left: .45 acp Champion, 25 yards, 5 shot rapid fire, 1-3/4"
Top Left: .45 acp Champion, 7 yards, 5 shot rapid fire, 1.25" 4 in 3/4"

A slight disclaimer, the top right was the best 25 yard off hand group of my LIFE. Oh and both the groups with the Champion were from the box stock gun before I had Yost work it over.

On a good day, from ready position I can empty my 1911 in about 2 seconds, and have all nine hits in the golden triangle (a triangle from the bridge of the nose to the nipples, or to the kidneys depending on who's doing the teaching), at any range up to 15 yards. I can do this with all of my handguns, except the Kahr; with which I can manage it from 3 to 7 yards (the only ranges I practice at with it). I can generally do the same with 5 rounds in less than 1 second. I can pull 2 mozambiques in less than 3 seconds, sometimes managing three in as little as 2 seconds.

It's funny, but I actually shoot better (relatively speaking) rapid fire than I do slow fire (as anyone who shoots with me can verify, because I bitch about it constantly). I guess I overthink my slowfire a bit or something.

So, I was fast: I had two IPSC Open class competitors shooting next to me, (with their standard class guns not their open guns; a beautiful STI, and an even better looking Wilson), and I was out, fired, and back in the holster by the time they had finished firing.

Yeah, I really am that fast, and that accurate (at least on my good days).

I was accurate enough; as I said, I only had four rounds out of the A zone the entire time; but I wasn't happy with my accuracy, and what it comes down to is this: man do I need to do more holster drills, and I suck when I miss a few weeks of practice. It's been a few weeks since I've been able to shoot, and a few months since I've been able to do any holster work, and it shows.

My first shot from the holster was generally low and/or to the left, and my second was usually in the center, or to the upper right, where I actually wanted them to be. Basically my ready position reflexes were fighting my holster reflexes, because I haven't been practicing enough from the holster. I was anticipating my sight alignment a bit too much, and didn't have my grip fixed properly on the first shot; but by my second shot I was in position, and the correct reaction to the initial shots recoil was part of my trained reflex, so my sights were properly aligned on reset, and the shot was placed where I wanted it.

Worse than my poor performance from the holster; I had 3 actual malfunctions during the drills. The Remington green box hollowpoints are a bit long for my gun, and they don't like to eject. It seemed like the nose of the round below was impacting the rim of the extracting case, pulling it clear of the extractor, and causing a doublefeed. So I had to clear three doublefeeds, and continue the drills to completion. The first shot after each doublefeed was poorly placed; in fact two of the C shots, and the one D shot I had of the 4 non-A shots were after malfunction clearances. It was good practice actually, but not what you want to be doing. Obviously I won't be buying the greenbox for this gun again, I just thought I'd cheap out this time; so I pretty much deserved what I got.

After the practice drills we had our proficiency shoot. The state mandates a minimum of 10 shots, 70% of which must be within the scoring area using NRA TQ-15 targets:

The proficiency course we shot consisted of 7 strings, each string beginning and ending in the holster:
  • 2x1 shot strings to the head from 3 yards
  • 3x2 shot strings to center mass from 5 yards
  • 2x6 shot strings to center mass from 10 yards with a tactical or stress reload in each string
This is a little tougher than the state reqires (5 shots at 5 yards, and 5 shots at 10 yards), but I think it's a pretty reasonable minimum qualification. I scored both head shots in the center of the head, touching; and all 18 of the center shots in the inner scoring area, though I had an FTE again in the middle of the first 10 yard string. For that one I just did a strip, rack, rack, reload drill, and made the final three shots.

In the afternoon we talked about the mindset required for the use of lethal force, and shoot-don't-shoot situations.

A few years ago I ran through the basic defensive pistol class at Gunsite (the 250 course). During the course we got the "mental conditioning" seminar, and the Jeff Cooper "color code" was an important part of the tactical concepts we practiced in the course (although the Col. was on hiatus when I took the course, I did meet him when I fixed his internet access. Interesting guy).

Our mental preparation discussions started off with a tape of Col. Cooper giving the talk, in what looked like the early 80's (from the haircuts). Cooper did the talk better than my original instructor (Mark somethingorother), and no-one has really said it better: You must be able to identify, assess, and respond to threats (or potential threats) appropriately, and instantly, anywhere, at any time.

Its something I learned from martial arts a long time before I was at Gunsite, but the cooper color code system is the first exposure most people will ever have to threat response methodology, or even to the attitudes that make threat response possible.

There are four basic mental conditions, because three isn't enough, and five is too much (Keep It Simple Stupid):

White: Relaxed, un-aware, minimal alertness.

When you are in condition white, you are unprepared for threats. It will be difficult, and more importantly SLOW, for you to respond to a potential danger. If you are attacked in condition white, you will most likely be killed. The only way you WON'T be killed, is if the threat is incompetent (or as Col. Copper put it, "if the goblin is an idiot", followed by Robbie Barrkmans Rhodesian beer party story, which is hilarious)

This is the state that most people are in, most of the time. In fact, most dont even know that other states exist, until it's too late.

Yellow: Relaxed, aware, alert to potential threats.

When you are in condition yellow, you are in a state of relaxed alertness. You watch, you listen, and you assess everything that you see or hear as to it's threat potential.

This isn't to say you are paranoid, it's really jsut a matter of paying attention, and being mentally prepared to respond should it become necessary.

This state can be maintained basically for your entire life, and it should be. That said, t is difficult to maintain this state when you are in comfortable, or trusted surroundings. In your home, and in your job, you should feel safe after all; and it's easy to let your guard down, but those may be the situations you need this mental preparation most most.

Orange: Specific alert, actively responsive to potential threats.

In condition orange, you have identified a specific threat or potential threat, you have asessed it, and you have mentally prepared yourself to respond. You have not decided to act, but you have mentally prepared yourself to act if it necessary.

The van up ahead with the blacked out windows, that guy you see hanging out in the shadows, the dark corner you need to go around; you have a mental plan of action for what to do when and if your potential threat materializes.

This state can be maintained almost indefinitely, for hours or even days if necessary, but not permanently. The level of alertness associated with condition orange is fatiguing, and it also makes it more difficult to respond appropriately to non-threat interaction.

Red: Threat response, if-then

In condition red, a specific threat has been identified and assessed, and a course of action has been decided upon. If the threat does this (move, aim, draw etc...), you will do this (shoot, run, yell etc..), INSTANTLY. Condition red is your final stop point, beyond this is only direct action, and it WILL happen on reflex. He moves, you WILL shoot him; he raises his gun, you WILL run etc...

That's the system, and it will save your life. Threat response isn't something you can just DO when someone attacks you; by then it's far too late. Threat response must be something you do by reflex, and it must be consistent. You do this the same way, each time, every time, until it's unconscious and automatic.

Let me say this again; you repeat your threat asessment consciously and continuously, until it becomes an unconsious reflex. It's something you do all the time, and the only time you notice, is when a threat becomes real.. or when the alertness helps you in some other way...

Yup, that system is very useful in other areas of your life. It's great when you're driving, it's great for sports, it's great for poker.

The craziest bit, the color code will even help you pick up those of your chosen sex (no, I'm not kidding). In the case of straight males, women like it when you notice things about them; Their hair, nails, shoes, outfit, whatever; more importantly, their body language and conversational clues, that most men are clueless about and don't even notice.


We finished up the day with a review of shoot-don't shoot scenarios, and went into the reasoning behind them; then we had our test (which is ridiculously easy), inked our ten cards, and that was it.

16 hours, 100 rounds fired, and a complete change in most peoples thoughts about guns, and responses to threats.

Even if you dont intend to carry concealed on the street, I HIGHLY recommend you take a CCW course. The permit is a useful thing to have in general, and the issues covered in the course are things every gun owner should recieve training in.

Now I just have to wait the 7-75 days for the permit to come back to me (it usually takes a week to two weeks).