Hey everyone! I got to shoot an IDPA match this weekend, which was a lot of fun. I also recorded one of my stages with a head-mounted camera and had a buddy record me with my regular camera. I thought it might be interesting for you guys to see a stage from the shooter’s perspective as well as from an outside perspective. Here goes:

Okay, this is the video my friend took (obviously) of me running the stage. I feel pretty good about some of it, but some is bugging me. here’s what i think I did well. My draw looks smooth and quick to me. My first shots are pretty fast, though I remember that i was trying to do something new with them that doesn’t make much sense, on reflection. I saw that the targets were lined up, on above and behind the other, and figured i could just run a string up from the bottom to the top, without specifically aiming to put two rounds into the center of each target. Makes sense, right? Well I ended up slowing myself down to do that, because it’s not what I normally do, so I think it backfired. Not in a big way, but my hits just weren’t good and I think I could’ve gotten better hits in the same timeframe if I’d just aimed for center mass on the targets.

Also, you can see that I moved forward far too quickly, and got out from behind cover in relation to the targets to my right. What I should have done is to move forward slowly while firing, and then leaned out to check around any blind corners, rather than rushing forward. Really, though, given the situation (no area to retreat, no cover between me and target, on a bridge so i can’t move laterally), outside of IDPA, I’d have gone to a knee, I think. Sometimes changing levels in a fight is a good thing, and can slow your opponent down just enough to give you an edge. And really, there’s no good option, here. You can’t move any direction but straight forward, and you can’t move forward fast enough to hope that your advance might have an effect, because you’re exposing yourself almost immediately. Really, your best bet would be to stay put, maybe change levels, clear the visible space and then proceed. Unfortunately, IDPA rules require movement whenever you’re exposed, so you have to move in this situation, even if it’s a tiny shuffle step, or an exaggerated slow-motion move. One example of where the rules make good sense in general, but how they can be silly in a particular situation. Anyway, there’s that. I got a procedural error on that, which I saw coming when it happened, so I wasn’t surprised or upset that they dinged me with it.

So there’s that whole discussion. You might also notice that right before I turn to shoot the targets to my right, it looks like I’m reaching for my gun with my support hand. I don’t know why. I don’t actually do anything to it, so I don’t think it malfunctioned. It definitely looks like I’m reaching up with the intention of racking the slide, but the gun operates just fine without me doing it. I also don’t remember what was going through my head at the moment, so I’m no help at all. In any case, I can see myself looking down at my gun, so I’m trying to diagnose a problem, I’m assuming. That’s not what I want to be doing, so I’m going to spend some time at the range working on that. My gun isn’t trying to kill me, so I don’t need to be looking at it. All the important things I need to do to it are things I can do just fine without looking, even under stress. The biggest thing for me to practice is fixing them on the fly, in real time, while I’m at the range. That’s a takeaway lesson from this weekend, for sure. Some of the response has become automated, but I’m often still looking at what I’m doing, rather than keeping my eyes on the threats.

After dealing with the threats on the right, I move forward to handle the ones on the left. I shoot, but run empty. My slide doesn’t stay back, though, which we’ve discussed in the past. So now I’ve got a gun that isn’t working, and i tap and rack. That rack ends with the slide remaining locked to the rear, which I can feel, so I know I need a reload. I look down at this one, too, even though I don’t need to. Again, I just need to practice running these things without looking while I’m at the range. You can also see that my reload isn’t especially smooth or fast. That’s largely because I don’t practice reloads. I need to start doing that, too. It’s not super slow, but it could definitely be smoother and faster.

Other than that, I feel like my movement isn’t as fast as it could be. We’re simulating a fight, and in a fight you want to be decisive and aggressive, based on my training experiences and everything I’ve read. Slow and cautious might be okay for some situations, but it sounds like people generally do better when they take the fight to their enemy. That’s something else I want to work on. Not reckless, but decisive. Unfortunately it won’t be too easy to work with live fire, but maybe running around my house with a blue gun? I’ll figure something out.

Okay, that’s about all i can get out of this video. Let’s look at the perspective shot and see if anything else becomes apparent.

Okay, back to the beginning. My hat is in the way and the camera is on the side of my head so it looks like I’m leaning out farther than I really am for some shots, but it’s still cool and definitely helpful. Maybe it gives people a better idea of what to expect at an IDPA match, too?

From the perspective shot, you can see just how far out from cover I got on my first move forward. it was pretty far. Again, according to IDPA rules, I should have retreated behind cover and then leaned out to shoot again. I think there’s some merit to that, because shooting from cover is always preferable. However, give the situation, with how narrow my walkway was, and how close to the end I had to get in order to be behind cover, I really think that turning and firing at the threats while retreating to cover might have been a decent option. Some might disagree, but it’s not like I was going to retreat to cover and then they’d have no idea where I was going to pop out from there. Once I was exposed, it made sense to put rounds on the threats while moving to cover. What do you guys think? Am I crazy? Would I be better served, given my environment, by retreating to cover and then leaning out to engage, rather than shooting while moving to cover?

In any case, the perspective shot really shows better how exposed I was and what my movement gained me, cover-wise. Okay, now to the next targets and the reload. Seeing it, it actually looks now like I fumbled it a bit. Went to the slide first, for some reason, then went to tap the mag, then racked. It was far from the clean “Tap-Rack-Reload” I would’ve liked to see, and I don’t think I could have seen what I actually did nearly as well from the other video. So score one for the head-cam! My reloads aren’t as clean as I’d thought, and I didn’t think all that much of them. Definitely going to be working on this.

After that, I think the rest is much the same as the other video. The long-distance target could’ve been faster, for sure. I need to work on my distance splits a bit, maybe work on fast triples? There’s a lot to be said for taking another quarter second to potentially gain a half second or two back, score-wise. it may not seem like much, but it can add up. There’s also a lot to be said for confidence. If you can’t see your hits (and you often can’t) then it’s best to get your hits, know they’re good, and move on. I could keep squinting at the target 10 yards away to see if I got holes in it and where they are, or I can just put three rounds into center mass and trust my shooting enough to know that I won’t have completely whiffed. It’s hard, but over all 4 stages, it’s one of the things I noticed slowing me down. Not just taking unnecessary shots, but taking the time to deliberate about extra shots. Either taking them or not taking them would be faster, but the deliberating is what soaks up seconds without any benefit.

So there you go, that’s what I got out of my last IDPA match, specifically from the video I got of it. I’ve gotten video before, but never perspective shots, and I think the combination of the two was incredibly helpful. I’ll definitely be doing it again. I might even bring the camera to the range and do some turning target drills with it, so I can see my hands in action, maybe from the left side this time so I can see what my support hand is up to? Anyway, if I do it, you’ll see them. Thanks for reading, and we’ll catch you next time.


My friend Isaac sent me the link to this video, and it got me thinking. First off, it got me thinking about how nice it is to have some reasonable people out there making gun-related videos on the internet. Internet gun culture can have a tendency towards…rabid insanity, I guess you’d call it. After that though, it got me thinking about how many people have different opinions on proper carrying (or storage, for a home defense gun) conditions. I figured I’d run through them, and the justifications as best I understand them, and then give my view.

Okay, let’s define our terms, so we’re all on the same page. Some of the conditions I’ll discuss won’t actually fit into any of these, but they do fit into them philosophically. It’ll make sense when we get there, I swear. These are the terms as described by Col. Jeff Cooper, and they are generally used regarding the Colt 1911. I think they can translate to other systems though, and it’s basically the only easy nomenclature I’ve ever seen on the topic. It will at least give us a starting point.

  • Condition 0 – Round chambered, magazine inserted, hammer cocked, safety off
  • Condition 1 – Round chambered, magazine inserted, hammer cocked, safety on
  • Condition 2 – Round chambered, magazine inserted, hammer down
  • Condition 3 – Chamber empty, magazine inserted, hammer down
  • Condition 4 – Chamber empty, no magazine, hammer down

Okay, that pretty much runs the gamut, right? All the way from paperweight to ready to fire. Because firearms technology changes, not all guns are equipped with a hammer or a safety, and I’ll discuss those as well. Most of these terms will also work for a semi-automatic rifle or shotgun, and with a little tweaking can be made to represent most any modern long gun, but I’ll be using handguns as my primary examples. Fair? We’ll start from the bottom up.

Condition 4 is a gun that cannot fire until something pretty significant is done to it. You would have to insert a magazine, cycle the slide and then pull the trigger to fire it. This gun is about as safe as any 2-lb hunk of metal can ever be. It’s also almost completely useless in any capacity for which a firearm is designed. I don’t think people often carry pistols this way, but I know that a lot of people will store guns in this condition for home defense.

Condition 3 is popular for people new to carrying. In the video linked above, this is the condition being discussed. People like this idea, because it makes them feel safer. Initially, I think people like to carry like this because they worry that something is going to snag on the trigger and make the gun go off unintentionally. This is especially common for people carrying guns not equipped with an external lever safety. You’ll also hear people suggesting that they carry that way in case the gun is taken from them. The baddie who grabs it will pull the trigger, get a click, and will stare dumbfounded at the weapon while the owner is free to beat him about the head and shoulders.

Condition 2 works with the single action 1911, requiring the hammer to be cocked manually before the gun will fire. It also works with a double-action (DAO or DA/SA) firearm, though not quite the same way. In a single action pistol like the 1911, having the hammer down means the gun no worky. You can pull and pull, and nothing happens. With a double action gun, having the hammer down just means that your trigger will likely be heavy and will have a long travel. So pulling the trigger will indeed cause the gun to fire, you just have to press the trigger like you mean it. This longer, heavier pull acts as a sort of safety. If you need to exert 8-12 lbs of pressure on that trigger to fire the gun, chances are good incidental contact isn’t going to do it.

Condition 1 carry is what most proponents of the 1911 practice, including Col. Cooper. “Cocked, locked and ready to rock” is the phrase you hear. The gun is almost ready to fire, all that needs to be done is for the safety lever to be switched off, and for the trigger to be pressed. This can also work for most DA/SA guns with an external safety, as long as the safety isn’t also a decocker. As long as your DA/SA gun can have the hammer back and the safety on, this is an option for you.

Condition 0 carry sounds a little unsafe to a lot of people, until you realize that the vast majority of folks carrying polymer-framed guns, including law enforcement, are carrying in this condition. I’m carrying in this condition right now. My gun has no external lever safeties, no hammer to cock, there’s a round in the chamber and a magazine inserted. If I were to draw and press the trigger, it would fire without any more prodding on my part. Glocks, XDs, M&Ps (unless they have the special-order external lever safety option) and a number of others are all in this camp. This is an extremely common type of gun for concealed carry and for duty use. Is it unsafe? I don’t think so, or I wouldn’t be doing it, obviously.

Okay, what about carrying conditions that don’t fit into any of these? Well, these designations pretty clearly don’t take revolvers into account. Revolvers, generally, speaking, don’t have external lever safeties on them. The vast majority of modern revolvers are also double-action. With a modern revolver, I don’t know of anyone who advocates leaving an empty chamber under the hammer (something you would definitely want to do with an old style revolver without a transfer bar), so you’re pretty much left with a gun that’s being carried in Condition 0, almost by default. Yes, they’re likely to have a long, heavy trigger pull, but there are no slides to operate, no levers to flip, just pull the trigger and you get a bang. This is weird for a lot of people. They think of revolvers as being old-timey and therefore somehow inherently safer. Wacky, right?

Finally, I’m going to lump another one in here. People who load dummy rounds, snap caps, or light loads as their first one or two rounds are going to be categorized as Condition 3 in my book. Why? Because your gun isn’t loaded with your “real” rounds. If they’re dummies or snap caps, you have to operate the action to get your real rounds loaded. If they’re light loads (normally I hear about this with shotguns, having the first one or two rounds being birdshot followed by buckshot) you either have to rack them out or shoot them out. So yes, you may have a round in the chamber, but if it’s a round you put in the chamber specifically because it is going to be less effective at stopping a threat, then I’m not counting it.

Okay, so those are your options. There are probably more, but I haven’t heard of them. So which is best? Personally, I think condition 1 or 0 is really the only one that makes sense. Let me ‘splain. Condition 4 requires pretty significant manipulation of the weapon before it’s going to do you any good. You need to get the gun in one hand, get the magazine in your other hand, insert the magazine, and drop or rack or slide. This can be done very quickly by a lot of people…on a well-lit range with a holster and mag pouch. If both are in your nightstand drawer, it’s dark, and you hear glass break downstairs, how long do you think it’ll take? Longer, I’d say. Maybe too long. Might you be just fine with this setup? Certainly, you might. You might also be just fine with one of these instead of a gun, depending on your attacker. You need to be fast enough, skilled enough, and using enough force to stop the threat before it can seriously harm you or your loved ones. The actual value of each of those qualities depends on your situation and your attacker. I think it makes sense to give yourself the best chance possible. That means you should do whatever you can to make sure that you’ll have enough speed, enough skill and enough gun for the widest variety of situations.

I see the argument here, I really do. There has to be a balance between security and accessibility. Your gun can be sitting loaded and unashamed on your nightstand or in a safe inside another safe, or anywhere between. You have to decide where your balance is, based on your needs and your situation. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m suggesting they not store their firearms securely, but I think there’s a big difference between secure storage and keeping an unloaded gun in the open. Make sense? If you’re worried about unauthorized people getting to your gun and hurting people with it, then keeping the chamber unloaded and the gun unlocked isn’t a responsible solution. If the gun is in a quality safe, then you really have no reason to keep the chamber empty, because anyone getting in there will be authorized to use it. And if they’re planning to use it for home defense, they’ll likely be thankful for the extra few seconds they’re afforded by finding it loaded and ready to shoot.

If you’re keeping your chamber empty to keep your kids from shooting themselves, you’re relying on your kids to be too weak or too ignorant to rack the slide of a semi-auto. In the days when people on TV seem to want to rack their slide for every shot they fire, I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that your child won’t know to do it. And I wouldn’t bet my son’s safety on his inability to operate a slide. If he’s old enough to be moving around the house, he’s old enough for me to be keeping my guns locked up where he can’t get to them. Savvy? An empty chamber, or a snap cap loaded in the chamber, isn’t an effective means of preventing an accidental discharge by your family members. It simply isn’t.

What about the other reason for carrying in Condition 3? That a criminal might gain access to your gun, either from your hip or from your safe, and then try to shoot you with it, only to be foiled by the empty chamber, giving you time to counterattack. The people who propose this seem to have in mind a very specific kind of criminal: bumbling. The guy who doesn’t know anything at all about the tools of his own trade, and who will be so taken aback at the *click* that he’ll just stare, agape, at the pistol in his hand while you are free to perform some sort of fancy kung-fu disarm and then beat him down while his girlfriend watches and admires your big muscles. I really, really hope that’s the sort of baddie I encounter if I ever have to defend my life. I’m just not going to bank on it. I’m going to work to be ready to deal with a dedicated, skilled, and trained attacker. If I have to face that one, then I’ll be as prepared as I can be, and if I face a bumbling one, then it should be a cakewalk. Again, if you’re worried about someone getting to your guns and using them for purposes you don’t approve of, you should be keeping them in a safe or on your body. If the criminal has time to break into your safe, he has time to rack the slide, and probably enjoy a beer from your fridge. Your empty chamber isn’t stopping him. If you’re worried about someone grabbing the gun off your hip, you should be concealing your weapon better, using some kind of retention holster, or both. The criminal can’t grab your gun out of your holster if he doesn’t know it’s there, which is the method I prefer. If you’re still worried, get yourself a Safariland with level IV retention. It’s bulky as hell, but it would take two men and a boy to get the gun out of there for anyone but the person carrying it and skilled in its use.

Largely why I don’t like the empty-chamber (or worse yet, empty gun) methods is that they all rely on two hands, or on you being skilled enough and in a position to be able to operate the slide one-handed. I can rack a slide on my belt or on my holster, and I’ve seen people do it semi-effectively under stress, while wrestling with an attacker in a training scenario. It’s possible, but it’s rarely pretty and it’s not the sort of thing you want to include in your initial response to a real-world attack. You should know how, in case you need to rack the slide to get your gun operational again, but that doesn’t mean you want to plan on doing it before you can even get your gun functional. You’re really putting yourself at a disadvantage, and you may not realize how much of one unless you’ve been through some training that attempts to emulate an actual criminal attack.

I’ve taken Shivworks ECQC, and I’ve gotten as close to a real-world, fight for your life type scenario as I ever care to. It’s scary, it’s fast, and it’s nothing at all like you’re imagining it to be unless you’ve been in a real fight or have taken a similar class. There’s something about really trying these things against a dedicated opponent that brushes away a lot of nonsense. Prepare for whatever event you think is going to be most likely, but try your best to be informed about what a real criminal attack looks like. Take a Shivworks course, if at all possible, or something similar from another reputable training organization. Something real-time, full speed, and fighting against a skilled, dedicated opponent. If you complete that course and still think you’re going to have the time and freedom of movement to draw your gun and rack the slide before you fire, then more power to you.

Okay, there’s my piece. You can do what you want, but hopefully some of this made sense or helped you come to a decision. Thanks for reading, and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Hey guys! Long time without writing, I know. I’ve been super busy with the baby and work and all. I’ve been shooting a lot, surprisingly enough, but haven’t been reading or writing as much as I’d like. Something came up that I really wanted to share with you, though, so here I am.

Haley Strategic (Travis Haley, previously of Magpul Dynamics) recently posted a free set of targets on his website, and linked to videos demonstrating the drills associated with each target. It’s really good stuff, and makes for great training. If you ever feel like you’re just converting money into noise at the range, rather than really working on something, then these drills will be great for you.

Here are the targets: Haley Strategic Target Pack

The drills are all on Youtube, with Travis demonstrating how to do them and what they teach. Many of the targets also include a blurb at the bottom explaining how they’re to be used, but the videos do a much better job of it, obviously.

Trigger Stripe Drill – Part I

Trigger Stripe Drill – Part II

Lucky Charms Drill

Twister Drill

Shift Gears Drill

Combat Effectiveness Drill

Hope you enjoy these! i know I’ll be printing out a couple of these and taking them on my next range trip. Thanks for reading!

There are a few arguments in the firearms world that just never seem to die. “AK vs AR” is probably the most famous, and we might try to tackle that at some point when I feel like beating my head against a brick wall for 5000 words. Anyway, second only to that is “9mm vs .45ACP”, and that’s the one we’re going to look at today. The argument more generally is about “light and fast” vs “slow and heavy” as it pertains to handgun bullets. So we’re going to examine this whole concept, look at some of the ideas people have had about it, link to a couple of articles I’ve found on the topic, and then finish up with my own thoughts.

A caveat: This article is all about defensive shooting. If you have no interest in using firearms for defense, this info won’t really mean much to you. It might even hurt your feelings or make you uncomfortable. Fair warning.

Let’s start by defining a few terms. “Stopping Power”, as I use it, is not the same as “Knockdown Power”, a concept you might have heard of before. “Knockdown Power”, or the ability of a bullet to physically knock an attacker to the ground, is a silly idea when it comes to handguns. Here’s some relevant physics: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. What this means for us is that the energy pushing the bullet forward is matched by energy pushing backwards against the gun. As my friend Isaac reminded me yesterday, “Force” is equal to mass times acceleration, and acceleration is change in velocity over change in time. I don’t want to get too off topic here, but what that means is that you feel less force when you slowly accelerate your car to 60 MPH than when it comes to a sudden stop against a tree. The mass of the car stays the same, so the difference comes in how fast you go from 0-60 vs how fast you go from 60-0. Same thing applies to bullets, but the mass of the bullet isn’t equal to the mass of the gun plus your arms, shoulders, chest, etc. so the same energy pushing the bullet will push that bullet faster or farther than it will push you. Make sense? So, if you think your bullet is going to knock down a bad guy, you’d better be shooting a gun that packs a heck of a whollop. That means big rifles, maybe big shotguns. Maybe. Even then, it really depends on how quickly the bullet changes velocity in the target. Even a big round that goes straight through someone without slowing down much isn’t exerting a lot of force (not a significant change in velocity of the bullet over time). A big round, moving very fast, that hits an armored plate in a vest might knock someone down because the bullet goes from real fast to a complete stop very quickly against that plate. All clear? Okay, so if we’re talking handguns (except maybe some giant-ass hand cannon like the S&W 500 magnum), and we’re not talking about people wearing armored plates, we’re not even close to anything that is going to exert enough force on a body to knock it down. The rounds, once they penetrate the body, will begin slowing down, but they don’t stop immediately so the change in velocity is happening over a longer period of time than when the bullet hits an armored plate. The size and shape of the round and what it encounters along its path will determine how much it slows down inside the body. This is why expanding rounds are more effective than ball ammo. When a hollowpoint expands, it increases surface area, which means it will slow down more quickly, exerting more force.

If someone starts talking like a regular .45 ACP hardball round shot into an unarmored attacker is going to have “Knockdown Power”, they’ve just confirmed that they are not your best source for firearms info. “Stopping Power”, however, is the ability of a bullet to cause someone to cease aggressive action. Maybe that means they run away, maybe it means they just stop moving towards you but remain upright, or maybe they actually do fall to the ground? That’s fine, but we need to be clear that the bullet is not knocking these people down. That’s a meaningful distinction. It’s important because Hollywood likes to show dudes getting shot and flying backwards through plate glass windows. Real bullets don’t do that. If you’re in a defensive shooting and you expect that your rounds will cause a violent, visible response in your target, you will likely be disappointed. Many, many people who shoot someone in self defense don’t even think they hit the person, because there’s so little immediate physical reaction. No flying backwards with limbs flailing, no explosion of blood from the entry wound. That’s what you need to be prepared for, rather than thinking your gun has “knockdown power” and one round is going to put your attacker on the pavement whether he likes it or not. Now let’s talk about what actually needs to happen in order to get someone to stop attacking you.

There are three (maybe four) ways to get someone to cease aggressive action. One is what we call a “psychological stop.” This means that the attacker still has the physical ability to attack, but has stopped because they are choosing, consciously or unconsciously, to stop. This could be because they’ve got extra holes in them now and have decided that they don’t want any more of them. It could just be that they are in pain, and choose to stop to avoid any further pain. These stops are very common, but unreliable. Even a slap to the face could be enough to stop some attackers, if they’re not particularly invested in the attack. Does that mean that a slap to the face is your best defense? Obviously not. The next two ways are really one way, but we’ll split them out for clarity. The first is massive bleeding leading to unconsciousness. If the body loses a sufficient volume of blood, there will no longer be sufficient pressure to get the blood into the brain to keep the whole thing moving. Since the brain is still the big kahuna in this scenario, the “massive bleeding” stop is still essentially a central nervous system (CNS) stop. Anyway, this is why people are generally advised to shoot for the “high center chest” area of an attacker. There are a lot of bleedy bits in there. More importantly, there are bleedy bits that are big enough and important enough that if they are damaged, unconsciousness should follow relatively quickly. Unconsciousness due to blood loss would be a physiological stop. Once a person loses enough blood, they’re going to stop attacking no matter how dedicated they are. How much blood a given person has to lose to fall unconscious is an unknown, unfortunately. And as you’ve probably heard, there’s generally enough oxygen in the brain to continue voluntary function for 10-15 seconds, even if the heart were to suddenly disappear entirely. The third way to get a stop is with direct damage to the CNS, meaning the brain or spinal cord, generally. This can provide the most effective stop, as it is possible to get a “puppet with the strings cut” response. Police snipers, I’m told, train to hit the brain stem so that there isn’t even the possibility for a reflexive trigger pull as the body is falling. Direct damage to the CNS means that signals from the brain no longer reach the muscles. Voluntary physical action within the affected systems is no longer possible, and the effect is immediate. So that’s a good thing, but it’s almost as if your body knows how important these parts are and surrounds them with tough bone. Yeah, it’s a bummer. So while CNS shots are super effective, they’re also harder to make. The maybe fourth stop is a skeletal stop, I guess you’d call it. The idea is that bones and muscles work together to allow movement. A bullet fired into bone could cause that bone to cease providing a stable platform for the muscles to work against, thereby disallowing voluntary movement with the affected body part(s). An example of this is the “pelvic girdle” shot, advocated by some people in the defense world. Essentially, a gunshot to the pelvis is supposed to shatter the pelvic bone, which will render the attacker unable to use his leg(s). Here’s why this is a maybe. First off, I’ve heard from several knowledgeable sources that handgun rounds do not shatter the pelvis. They merely poke holes in it. Also, if your attacker has a ranged weapon, having him on the ground at distance from you isn’t actually rendering him incapable of causing you further harm. It might just be making him a smaller target and giving him a more stable shooting platform! So that’s why it’s a maybe. It’s possible that a shot to a certain skeletal structure could do sufficient damage to disallow movement of the limb, but it’s nothing close to a guarantee.

Okay, so those are your three (maybe four) means to get an attacker to stop attacking. When I talk about stopping power here, I’m talking about the ability for a given round to achieve the goal of stopping an attack by means of one or more of those mechanisms. Now to be clear, every single firearm that I’m aware of has the physical ability to achieve all of these stops (except the maybe fourth one, which is another reason why it’s a maybe). Even the lowly .22LR has sufficient power to penetrate into the chest cavity and damage the aorta, or to damage the carotid artery in the neck, and it could certainly damage the CNS if fired into the right spot. As for psychological stops, we’ve already explained that almost any physical stimulus can achieve one if the attacker is really not all that into the attack. So clearly, any firearm will do that job if the attacker cooperates.

I’ve now spent over 1000 words just getting to the big point here: It really doesn’t much matter what handgun caliber you use. All of them are functionally identical, especially as compared to rifles and shotguns. Handguns are inherently underpowered tools, and the differences between them are very small when compared to the difference between handguns generally and rifles or shotguns generally. There is one caveat to this, though. I think that it’s important to use a handgun round with significant penetrating power. While a .22, .25 or .32 can potentially cause enough damage to vital organs to produce a stop, they’re also much more likely to be stymied by heavy clothing, distance, intervening materials (wallboard, windows, etc.). So my personal opinion, and take this for what it is, is that your primary carry gun should be something in .38 SPL or better (Maybe .380? That’s borderline in my opinion). If you want to carry a tiny pocket gun for backup that’s chambered in .22, .25, or .32 then I think that’s okay. Chances are very good that 2-3 good hits from even a “mouse gun” would be enough to stop any but the most dedicated attackers. However, as defensive shooters we’re not too keen on putting our faith into “chances are”, as a rule. This is also where we need to quickly explain the difference between a gunshot wound being lethal and stopping the threat. As defensive shooters we are not shooting anyone to kill them. We are shooting to stop them from killing us or our families. If the attacker won’t stop until lethal damage is caused, then lethal damage, unfortunately, is required. Keep in mind, however, that just because something is lethal doesn’t mean it will necessarily stop an attack. A .22LR round the the heart might kill the attacker in a few days, but it might not be doing enough damage, quickly enough, to cause the attacker to stop in the timeframe necessary to save your life. That timeframe is generally “Right Now” in case you were wondering. Attacks happen quickly, and defensive stops need to happen very quickly to prevent harm to yourself or your loved ones. So, while you might get a psychological stop out of the small calibers, and they might even be plenty lethal, they may not be enough to force a stop in a dedicated opponent. But what about the other calibers? Certainly a 38SPL and a .44Mag are vastly different when it comes to fight-stopping effectiveness, right? Not really.

But don’t take my word for it, read this article by Greg Ellifritz: An Alternate Look At Handgun Stopping Power

Look at the data. It’s pretty clear, I think. We’re talking about minor differences between these rounds, overall. These are differences in degree, not in kind. Even comparing the .22 to the .44 magnum we don’t see astounding differences. Basically, everything is within about 20% of each other at the very most. We’re not seeing a steady, consistent rise in effectiveness as we go from smaller, weaker rounds to larger, more powerful rounds. What that says to me is that people don’t like being shot. Maybe they like being shot with big bullets a little less than with little bullets? It’s a bit moot, though, since the one thing we can never know is how a given attacker would have responded to another caliber. Proponents of the .45ACP will point to times when the 9mm has failed to stop an attack, and cite it as an example of how the 9mm isn’t an effective defensive round. Unfortunately for them, this isn’t good science. We don’t know that the same person, in the same situation, if shot in the same places with a .45ACP would have stopped his attack. We can’t know that, and that’s the only thing that could definitively say whether one was “more effective” than another for a given situation. Incidentally, we also don’t know if a person who was effectively stopped with a .45ACP would have been similarly stopped with 9mm rounds. It’s entirely possible that he would. There are too many variables, and too little reliable data for anyone to ever truly unravel all of it. That’s just reality, so we’re doomed to compare apples to oranges forever.

Here’s what we can take from that data, though. Most attackers required 2-4 shots to cease aggressive actions. The caliber matters less than getting multiple good hits. Which rounds will allow you to get multiple good hits? Generally those that produce less recoil. So you need enough energy to provide for sufficient penetration to damage vital organs (in case the psychological stop isn’t happening) but not so much that you can’t get quick, accurate hits. As with so many things in life, we’re seeking a balance. For me, the 9mm Luger provides the best balance of capacity, penetration capability and rapid-fire accuracy. Even with a compact 9mm, I can still carry 14 rounds, and I can get good hits on target quickly. For me, that’s the right balance. I also carry with 124-gr +P rounds, so I’m adding more weight (standard is 115-gr) and more velocity to the standard 9mm loading.

Now, just to complicate matters, I want to bring your attention to a another article. This is a direct response to the article linked above, written by Grant Cunningham. I’ve linked to him many times before, because I love his writing and his thinking. Here’s the article: A Different Take on Handgun Stopping Power

He has some concerns with the statistical rigor of Ellifritz’s piece, but still prefers it to some other famous discussions of the topic. Cunningham’s conclusions are pretty similar to Ellifritz’s when all is said and done, too. Most handgun rounds will do the job with 2-4 good hits, and the bigger, beefier rounds are not necessarily the only way to get an effective stop. Here’s Mr. Cunningham’s conclusion: “Bottom line: pick your gun based on your ability to use it efficiently, practice frequently and realistically with it, and you’ll be far more prepared than the average gunshow denizen who loudly proclaims that all good self defense calibers must begin with ‘.4′.” Here’s Mr. Ellifritz’ conclusion: “No matter which gun you choose, pick one that is reliable and train with it until you can get fast accurate hits. Nothing beyond that really matters!”

Seems pretty consistent. Train hard with whatever you intend to use for defense, because fast, accurate hits are what matter.

If you’re really interested in a much more in-depth examination of everything that goes into stopping power, you should definitely read Grant’s Stopping Power Series. He covers all of the things I’ve covered here and more, and has a much greater depth and breadth of knowledge. So if you’ve got the time and the inclination, I highly recommend reading through the whole series

A couple things you might have heard that I hope we’ve debunked:

  • “All good defensive calibers start with a 4.” – grant even mentions this one in his conclusion, quoted above. It’s incredibly common in the firearms world. The people saying this are claiming that .40 S&W is the smallest caliber that will be an effective defensive round. Do the data support this? Clearly not. This is, to be blunt, bullshit posturing. It’s the sort of thing that people say when they haven’t done any research on the topic, but when they want to sound very manly. Apparently reading isn’t manly?
  • “Carry the biggest caliber you can handle.” – This one is squirrely. If by “handle” you mean delivering fast, accurate shots under stress consistently, then this is at least sort of okay. The problem is that you don’t have to carry the biggest round you can handle to be effective. I can shoot a 10mm quite well (I even got some darned good hits with a .500 S&W magnum the other day), but I carry a 9mm because I shoot it faster and more accurately at speed. I bet I’m not the only one who experiences an improvement in shooting performance by stepping down from my maximum caliber, either. This is where that balance comes in. Personally, I want to end any defensive encounter as quickly as possible. If I can get 2-3 good hits with quality 9mm defensive ammunition in under 3 seconds (and I can), that’s better to me than getting those same hits in 4 seconds with a .45ACP (I also can). In this case, the biggest caliber I can handle isn’t the best fit for my goals as a defensive shooter.

I’ll leave you with my conclusion, which will echo those of the other gentlemen: Your success in a defensive encounter is much more about training, mindset, speed, shot placement and ammunition quality than it is about caliber. Pick a gun you can control, practice with it a lot (under stress when possible), and carry it loaded with quality ammunition.

Hey guys! I just picked up my compact XDm 9mm last night, and I’m planning to take it to the range this weekend. So far, I’m completely impressed with the design. They managed to include the interchangeable backstraps, which I haven’t seen on some other subcompact-size guns. I’ll take pictures and do a proper review after I get a chance to shoot it a little. I’m excited!

Also, my friend Isaac sent me this link, as it pertains to a discussion we were having yesterday: The retired marine and the robbers It’s an article written by Mas Ayoob, who is seriously one of the very best sources for information on defensive handgun shooting in the world. I’ve read a number of his books, listened to him on the ProArms podcast, and I never get enough of his eminently practical advice.

Anyway, my friend and I were talking about how many times, people who work at gun shops and ranges are kind of dickish. We’d both experienced it to varying degrees, and were discussing why it might be. I then brought up the issue I had with range officers giving shooters misguided advice based on internet forum expert opinion or whatever. Anyway, the issue was about stances. You get some argument one way or the other still, between Weaver and Isoceles. I talk about them both and give my thoughts in my post on the fundamentals of marksmanship, if you want a refresher. Anyway, one of my recent trips to the range involved a wait for a lane, and while waiting with my father-in-law, I heard an RSO (Range Safety Officer) giving a truly asinine justification for the Weaver stance. Here’s a summary: You want to angle your weapon side away from the target, preferably as much as possible, to present a smaller target to your enemy. An added bonus is that your support arm then provides a barrier between your opponent and your chest.

Okay, here’s why that’s asinine. For one, if you think about it a little deeper, showing your side to your enemy (which is what the RSO was advocating) just means that if you do get shot, the bullet has a much better chance of hitting both lungs and your heart, or two out of three. Not ideal. Also, your arm is not protecting your chest. Your arm, unless you’re much cooler than I am, is made of flesh and bone. What are most bullets designed to penetrate? Flesh and bone. So while technically it is possible that the bullet might hit and glance off your humerus, it’s far more likely that it will just shatter the humerus and continue on into your chest cavity unabated. So now you’ve got  bullet wound to the chest and an arm that doesn’t work so good. See what I mean about thinking these things through? Something can sound pretty reasonable on first glance, but you have to think about it a little deeper sometimes. Unfortunately, the inexperienced shooters he was talking to were just eating up all that nonsense. The orange vest or red shirt or yellow cap or whatever that designates an RSO can often grant the wearer an aura of authority, even if they don’t know their muzzle from a hole in the ground. So take their advice with a grain of salt. Hell, take my advice the same way. There’s no expert whose advice I will accept as gospel without at least trying to think through it critically first. Mas Ayoob and Rob Pincus are pretty close, but even then I don’t necessarily buy into everything they say just because they say it. And I certainly don’t buy into the crap spewed by the average gun store or range employee. As I mentioned a few posts ago, you do occasionally come across a real gem who can help you a great deal, but that’s pretty rare.

Here’s the thing about stances, if you want my unsolicited opinion: For one, they’re kind of a moot point unless you’re standing on the firing line of your local range, where the ground is flat and level, the lights are on, and you’re pretty sure nobody in there is trying to shoot you. If you’re doing some kind of defensive-style competition (IDPA, USPSA, 3-Gun, etc) you’re going to be using cover, moving and shooting, etc. The stances may influence your movements and how your shoulders relate to the target in a general way, but you’re not just standing and shooting very much at all. If you’re actually fighting for your life in the blood and piss and broken glass of a street encounter, you’re going to be even less concerned about your stance. So if you want to think about them, think about them in terms of general schools of thought, not in the way that you believe you will actually be able to attain and maintain such a stance during a fight. Also realize that the goal of your stance when shooting should be to help you get your rounds on target as fast as possible. If Weaver does that better for you, then by all means go with it. But don’t use some kind of wacky “silhouette minimization” justification for it.

So how does the article tie into all this? Essentially, it’s a real-life example of a guy who had to pull his gun to save his life. He specifically says in there that he felt his accuracy suffered because he wasn’t able to get into his normal firing stance (which for him is a modified Weaver). He was still effective, even in a different stance, because of his skill, and because of the very short ranges at which defensive shootings usually take place. So even though he wasn’t able to get into his stance, he still used the gun effectively to save his life. If you have a range which would allow some non-standard shooting positions, I’d recommend giving them a go. Try shooting from a crouch, or leaning over, or on one knee, or leaning way forward or to one side. When you watch dashcam video of police officers involved in shootings, or security footage of armed citizens defending themselves, that’s overwhelmingly what you see, rather than people in perfect, firing range stances. The stance depends on their use of cover, where they are in relation to their attacker, etc. They also tend to do most of their shooting one-handed, which is a great reason to train one-handed more often than most of us do.

Okay, that was just a little rant. The same friend also shared this excellent link with me, which I will simply share here without commentary: Bolt Manipulation in Offhand Position

Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

Hey all! Well, as you know, my son was born about two weeks ago. Things have been busy, obviously. I did get to hit the range for an hour this past weekend, though. My wife is a wonderful, tolerant person. Anyway, I had a good time overall, and got to work with a buddy of mine a bit. I’ve taken him shooting before, several times, and even got him to come to a couple IDPA matches with me. He enjoys shooting, but I don’t think I’d really run him through the grip/stance stuff very well before. So this time, I tried to help get him to a solid baseline on that stuff, and he did very well with it. I also wanted to get back to working on my slow fire precision again, especially pushing out past five yards. I tend to do most of my shooting at five yards just out of habit, I guess. Sometimes I’ll go out to seven or ten, but not terribly often. This time, though, we did a little .22 shooting at longer distances. I was still able to keep fist-sized groups with the .22 at 35 feet, which I was pleased with.

This is a business card I shot at 7 yards with 5 rounds from the XDm. I’d like a smaller group, obviously, but I still felt pretty decent about this. I’m going to try to push out to 10 yards and keep all my rounds on the card next time. That seems like a good gauge, and a nicely measurable goal.

I’m also still working on resetting during recoil, even when doing slow fire. It’s a good habit to get into, for sure. Another thing I want to improve is my malfunction drill. I think I might have mentioned this before, but I noticed that what I’m doing is to automatically tap and rack while looking at the gun. That’s not really ideal, for a couple of reasons. For one, if I’m already tapping and racking, there’s no real reason to look at the gun. Looking at the gun is what you’d do to see whether you should tap and rack to solve the problem. Second,  What would be best is to automatically tap and rack and then get back on target. From there, I make the conscious decision to press the trigger again. If I have another failure, then I do a reload. That would be the best, for sure, and I need to start practicing it to get it ingrained in my brain.

What else? Well my friend mentioned that he thought the grip of my XDm was a little too wide for him, so I wanted him to check out the Walther P99. It’s a neat design, feature-rich, and has a very slim, ergonomic grip to it. Unfortunately, the shop had sold it recently, so they didn’t have one available. That didn’t stop us from poking around a little more, though. We handled some Glocks, an FN Five-seveN, a Sig P226 and an H&K USP both in 9mm. Here’s what I concluded: I don’t care for the Sig or the H&K. I already knew that they weren’t going to be my favorites, because I’m not a fan of DA/SA guns anymore. If you’re not familiar with the terminology, check out my post So You Wanna Buy A Handgun. So I knew these weren’t going to be my favorite guns ever, but I’d heard so many people i respected talk them up so much. I’d always figured that eventually, someday, I’d probably pick up a Sig. I don’t know why, it just seemed like a thing that I would probably do.

Anyway, I actually spent a little time with the Sig and I didn’t care for it. For one, the grip is significantly wider at the top than at the bottom and it feels weird to me. Second, the trigger weirded me out. Let’s take my XDm as an example so I can explain what I mean. I have a pretty long, pretty mushy trigger pull. What the means is that there’s resistance for a while during the press. A “crisp” trigger has slack, where there’s no resistance, but then there’s suddenly a point where you hit resistance. Once you press past that though, the trigger breaks, and it’s a quick thing. Does that make sense? Anyway, my XDm isn’t great in this regard. Okay, after the press, then you reset. My XDm, again, leaves something to be desired here. There’s a longer reset than I’d like, but when you reach the reset point, you’re right back at the beginning of the resistance. With the Sig, there was some slack, then a fairly crisp break, but the reset was really long, and after you reset you had to press through a bunch of slack again. It was weird, and for a $700-800 gun, I really would have expected more. The Sig also had the issue where the slide release was directly under my thumb, which I can’t complain about too much, but was worth noting. The H&K had a similar issue with the trigger reset, though not as pronounced. There was a lever safety/decocker that seemed pretty nice overall, and the slide release was much farther forward, closer to where the release is on a 1911 design, which meant it was well out of the way of my thumb. That was cool, at least. But really, overall, these two “luxury” brands weren’t really blowing my skirt up. At $800-900, the H&K isn’t cheap. I really expected more from them and from Sig, trigger-wise. The funny thing is that the cheapest gun we handled, the Glock, had the best trigger by far. The trigger is reasonably crisp, with a short reset that leaves you right at the breaking point. Why can’t these guns costing twice as much manage that?

Anyway, now I’m just rambling. I’m hoping to get a little more range time within the next few weeks and I’ll let you know how that goes. Thanks for reading!

I’m a dad!

Posted: May 14, 2012 in Administrative

Hey guys! Just wanted to pop in real quick and let you know that my son was born last week, so that’s why I’ve been so quiet. I’m hoping to get back to regular posting before too long, though. Thanks very much for your patience.