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Developing a Practice Program, Part Three

March 4, 2016

Up to this point in this series, we’ve discussed the overall scheme of developing an annual training program, and we’ve covered some basic fundamental marksmanship drills for practice. In this installment, we will be covering basic Core Skills, and the drills we use to practice them. Core skills can be defined as those tasks that are fundamental to effective gun-handling and shooting that—along with marksmanship—are CORE to prosecuting a fight with the firearm. For the purposes of this installment, we will briefly cover reloading and other malfunction clearances. These are the skills that—programmed properly, as part of your training and practice—will allow you to fire each shot as a deliberate, conscious action, fast enough to solve whatever shooting—or non-shooting—problem that you find yourself confronted with.

General

A malfunction can be defined as any situation where the gun does something unexpected, or does not do what is expected. Generally speaking, the malfunctions we are concerned with are those that occur—for whatever reason—when we attempt to fire a round, and the weapon fails to do so, for whatever reason.

With contemporary fighting firearms, in my experience, the single most common reason for “click instead of bang,” is a simple one…the gun is not loaded. Whether that is a result of not having loaded it properly at the outset, or because you have run the gun dry, is irrelevant.

The second most common reason for malfunctions seems to be simple operator error (which is not to say that failure to fully seat a magazine or chamber a round is not operator error). In this regard, I am specifically considering things like an inexperienced shooter—or an experienced shooter who is an inexperienced fighter and suddenly finds themselves in an actual fight—fucking things up. The reality is, shooting and gun-handling are relatively complicated tasks, when executed properly, and require higher order intelligence to manage. When you’re scared shitless though, and your “reptilian” brain amygdala is screaming at you, it’s entirely possible to fuck up even simple tasks like walking or chewing bubble gum.

Fortunately, over the last century-plus of semi-automatic weapons design and use, there has been enough experience accumulated in the practical shooting community (I’m using the term here to specify people who shoot for practical applications, like smoking bad guys, not for the shooting sport, although considering most of the skills advanced practical shooters use originated there, or vice versa, the two may as well be synonymous in this context), to have ready solutions to both of these issues.

Loading and Reloading

Administrative loading of a rifle or pistol of the semi-automatic variety SHOULD be reasonably straight forward. For our purposes, I’m going to limit myself to describing the methods I use to load my Glocks, my AR-variant rifles, and my Kalashnikovs. If you develop a set ritual for loading your weapons, then you KNOW, every single time, that you’ve done it the exact same way, every single time…

Glock

Loading the Glock pistol is the height of simplicity.

  1. Ensure there is no magazine seated in the weapon. Lock the slide to the rear, and visually inspect the chamber and bore for obstructions.

  2. Seat a full magazine in the magazine well, and slap it home firmly, with the heel of your hand. You should feel it click into place, but whether you do or not, grasp the baseplate of the magazine and tug it firmly to ensure that it is fully seated, and locked into the magazine well.

  3. Reach up with your support-hand thumb and release the slide lock lever, allowing the gun to go into battery under the recoil spring tension. DO NOT “SLING SHOT” THE SLIDE!!! (Invariably, when I see people do this, they “ride the slide” forward with their hand. This may induce a failure, if it prevents the round from seating fully).

  4. The weapon is now loaded and hot. PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THE FUCK YOU ARE DOING. DON’T BE A DUMBASS. FOLLOW THE SAFE FIREARMS HANDLING RULES!!!!!!

  5. There are a couple of options to ensure that a round actually seated. The first is to use the loaded chamber indicator, sticking out of the ejection port side of the slide. That is, after all, what it is designed for. Theoretically, it is possible for this to get gummed up and not function properly. I’ve NEVER seen that happen, but… The second is to perform a “press check.” To perform the press check, simply pull the slide back, far enough to visually inspect the chamber and see the brass of the seated case. Allow the gun to go back into battery—under it’s own power—once you’ve done so. If you’re worried about the round not seating…with an AR-variant rifle, a) lube your gun better, and b) use the forward assist. That’s what it is fucking there for. With an AK, slap the dog-piss out of the back of the charging handle. With a Glock, I make it part of my pattern to tap the back of the slide with the heel of my support hand, to ensure that it is fully seated, after doing my press check.

  6. Voila! Your gun is fucking loaded, and you KNOW it is loaded. Now, safely—looking the gun into the holster, go ahead and holster your gun. If you work with an instructor that tells you, “Never look at the holster when you’re holstering your gun,” I want you to do two things: a) dick punch him for being an idiot, and b) when he’s done crying, ask him “why not?”

    Generally, the reason given for this is “There might be other threats that you need to address.” If that is the case…WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU PUTTING THE GUN AWAY?” Another reason I’ve heard is, “Well, I need both hands to secure the detainee!” You should not be putting the gun away until you have physical control of the detainee anyway (something I cover in detail in classes and in The Reluctant Partisan) anyway, and if you have that control, you can take a second to look at the holster. Not looking is a really good way to shoot yourself with your own gun, when a piece of your cover garment gets caught between the trigger and holster.

AR-Variant Rifles

Loading the AR is also simple.

  1. Lock the bolt-carrier group (BCG) to the rear. Insert the magazine firmly, feeling for the “click” as it seats.

  2. Grasp the seated magazine and pull firmly, ensuring that it is seated. Failing to do this critical step is the single most common cause of malfunctions I see in students, period, bar-none.

  3. Press the “ping-pong paddle” bolt release and allow the gun to go into battery.

  4. Using the charging handle, pull the BCG back far enough to visually inspect that there is a round in the chamber. Tap the forward assist to ensure the gun goes back into battery.

  5. Close the fucking dust cover (Honestly, probably not the end of the world, but it drives me bat-shit crazy).

  6. Your rifle is now loaded.

Kalashnikovs

Despite the simplicity of the weapon, loading an AK is actually slightly more error-prone, in my experience.

  1. You can’t—on most variants—lock the bolt to the rear.

  2. Insert the magazine, being sure to insert the front portion of the magazine first, and then rock the magazine up and in, seating it firmly. I watch this get fucked up ALL THE TIME. People that hate the AR15, because “it’s too finicky,” end up not seating the front of the magazine properly, or they end up not rocking the magazine all the way in and seating it. In either case, they almost invariably end up spending way too much time fucking around with getting it seated properly.

  3. Once the magazine has locked into the seated position, try and tug it in the reverse direction, ensuring that it is, in fact, locked in.

  4. Use the charging handle to pull the bolt ALL THE WAY TO THE REAR, and let it go. Allow the gun to go into battery under the tension of the spring. Then, grasp the charging handle and perform a press check.

  5. Congratulations, you loaded an AK.

Reloads

There are two basic categories of reloads in “combat shooting:” the “speed” or “emergency” reload, and the “tactical” reload, or the “reload with retention.” Speed reloads should be utilized any time your gun runs dry in a fight. This is—again, in my experience—the single most common “malfunction” you will face, using most modern weapons, manufactured by reputable companies.

Tactical reloads, and reloads with retention, are done “when there is a lull in the fight.” Often, you may have to induce that lull yourself. If your partner is providing suppressive fire, and you are getting ready to move, or have just moved, take the time to perform a reload, if you feel you need to.

You are NOT going to know the exact number of rounds you’ve fired. Anyone who tells you that you will is either, a) a fucking savant, or b) full of shit. I’ll let you wager your life on which one is more likely.

What you CAN know is a rough estimate of “I’ve fired more than half my magazine,” or “I’ve fired less than half my magazine.” If you think you’ve fired more than half? Take the opportunity to top off, if you’ve got it. If not? Hope you finish the fight before the mag runs out, or that you’ve mastered the speed reload.

For most of us, the chances of needing to speed reload are pretty slim, as a result of “I shot my gun dry.” This is especially true with “normal” CCW pistol work. Nevertheless, there are two considerations here:

  1. We’re not just talking about “everyday” CCW encounters here. You get ambushed by a crowd of bad guys, or are dealing with a herd of cannibalistic San Franciscans, post-SHTF, it is entirely plausible that the 18 rounds in your Glock 17, or even the 30 rounds in your AR or AK are not going to be adequate.

  2. Shit happens. Whether you miss a lot, or the dude you shoot just takes a lot of killing, or your magazine shits the bed after a round or two, there are reasons to practice and master your speed reloads.

Malfunction Clearances

I don’t know how many times I’ve had students in a class—even a more advanced class, ranging from CQB and patrolling classes to vehicle classes—that had a malfunction and suddenly realize they are not qualified for the class they are in because they don’t know how to clear the malfunction. Sometimes, they’re legitimately under-qualified. We back them off, and have them run some of the more remedial aspects. Other times though, they know HOW to do the corrective action, they just don’t KNOW how to do the corrective action—under stress. Their brain just shits the bed, and everything falls apart.

Whether you use SPORTS, TAP-RACK-BANG, or transition to your sidearm (which is fine, if you’re close enough for your sidearm to be more efficient than corrective action), this is something that has to be practiced until you don’t even think about it. The only way I know to do that is to set up malfunctions and drill them, over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over. Sorry, but “Oh, I did 10 reps of Tap-Rack-Bang last year, in a class,” is not going to cut it. You will shit the bed when you have to do it under pressure.

Practice

During Q2 of my annual training plan, I limit the amount of repetitions I do of my snap-firing and drawstroke drills. I just hit 10-15 dry-fire drills and then move immediately on to working my reload drills dry-fire. When I do live-fire range work, I intentionally download my magazines, randomly loading 5-10 magazines with anywhere from 3-10 rounds. Then, I randomly grab the magazines and stick them in my mag pouches and gun, so I cannot be certain what load is in the gun at any given time. This incurs a “surprise” factor when the reload comes up.

Dry-Fire Speed Reload

Ben Stoeger has written that he likes to see speed reloads in less than 1.1 second. I’ve witnessed guys hit speed reloads—during drills—in less than one second. I generally aim for the actual reload to run just under 1.5 seconds. For most people, for most purposes, anything less than 2.5 seconds is probably adequately impressive. It’s not like you should be standing still, not moving in the middle of a fight, to conduct the reload. You should be moving to a position of cover—if you’re not already there—and then executing the reload. Ideally, of course, your reload should be protected by your partner providing cover, so in either case, 2.5 seconds is more than adequate—as long as it’s legit, and you can hit that time, under stress, without fail.

To set this up, I’ll set a par time on my shot timer that is my current training par time. I will then execute speed reloads, dry fire, consistently hitting 10-15 repetitions under the par time. Then, I’ll drop a hundredth of a second, until I can beat that. When I hit a time that I can’t beat for 10 repetitions in a row, that becomes my new par time for the dry-fire training week.

Dry-Fire Tactical Reloads

First off, I don’t advocate or really even teach—let alone practice—the old fumbling two mags in one hand method of tactical reloads. What I teach and preach and practice is what has become known as the “reload with retention,” that I learned as a cherry private in the Ranger Regiment, with an M16A2. I will drop the partially-expended magazine into my support hand, and stow it away. Then, I will grasp a fresh magazine and insert it into the weapon. It’s demonstrably faster and less error-prone, whether with rifle or pistol.

I don’t really “practice” tactical reloads much anymore. That’s probably not something I should admit to, but it’s true. I’ve got hundreds of thousands of repetitions of performing them, and anytime I change a magazine in a weapon, outside of speed reloads, I get practice in anyway, so I’m not too worried about it. I’ve yet to have it cause a failure.

For novices learning though, setting the tactical reload up, sans ammunition, is pretty simple. Empty magazine goes in the gun, bolt forward on an empty chamber. On “GO!” drop the mag into the support hand, and stow it. Grab the fresh empty mag from your pouch and seat it. Bring the gun up. Done.

Dry-Fire Malfunction Clearances

I legitimately don’t know a way to practice malfunction clearances dry-fire. Nor do I have any reasonable suggestions for time hacks to aim for. I can hit tap-rack-bang in less than two seconds. I only know that because I’ve seen the split occur when it has happened during shooting more complex drills.

What I typically teach guys to do for dry-fire of tap-rack-bang, is to seat a magazine, with dummy rounds, and simply do snap-drills, through the whole magazine of dummy rounds. You WILL master the instinct to tap-rack-bang when you feel the click. That only works for failure to seat and fail-to-fire malfunctions though, of course.

For more complex malfunctions, I like to set up the Three Little Kittens drill that SGM Kyle Lamb teaches (there’s a YouTube video of it, I believe, or you could avoid being a cheap fucker, and order his videos…). This is three different rifles down range (good excuse to get to shoot your buddy’s pimped out rifle…), each with a different malfunction set up. On “Go!” you move to the rifles, clear the malfunctions, and fire one round (To be honest, I haven’t watched the video in a while. That’s how I set it up).

Conclusions

Successfully hitting your target with your weapon’s fired projectile is the single most crucial skill in combat shooting—or shooting, period. Unfortunately, achieving that is not the total sum of all combat shooting skill. You need to be able to keep your gun in the fight, throughout the duration of the fight. That requires learning and practicing gun-handling core skills as well.

Go forth and do good things. Who does more is worth more.

Addendums

  1. The new book, “FORGING THE HERO: Who Does More Is Worth More, A Tribal Strategy for Building Resilient Communities and Surviving the Decline of the Empire” has gone to the printer. I waited an extra week, because the cover art got hung up. It still hasn’t come through, because the artist had scheduling conflicts and didn’t get a chance to get it done. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make it a poster in support of the book, or something. The design is AWESOME!
  2. Sam Culper and Forward Observer also have the artwork for a t-shirt that will be produced for MG, in support of the book’s message. So, all of you who have been bitching about getting your hands on some MG swag…it’s en route.
  3. Finally, Gadsden Dynamics has the MG Underground Chest Rig in stock and available. I designed this because I couldn’t find a single rifle mag pouch set up that could be worn “concealed.” This is not going to work for “non-permissive environments” under a t-shirt. It was designed for “underground” urban work though. Think, “I’ve got to roll through a really shitty ghetto, and I’d really like more than one magazine for my rifle, on my person.” This, thrown on under a light jacket or button-down, untucked shirt, conceals really well, from as close as five feet away. It’s pretty slick, and they did a good job refining my design, and producing it.(In the interest of intellectual integrity, I get no percentage from sales of the product. I just wanted a piece of kit that would be useful to people, and I couldn’t find one that fit the bill. The guys were willing to design it and manufacture it. Go thee forth and procure one!) https://gadsdendynamics.com/product/mg-underground-partisan-chest-rig/

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10 Comments
  1. tfA-t permalink

    WTF?

    We want MG swag of all types – shirts, hats, jackets, hoodies, sweats, stickers, baby bibs….

    Figure it out. Let me know how much you need to start-up.

  2. DAN III permalink

    tffA-t,

    Fancy meeting you here.

    Take care.

  3. Swamp Fox permalink

    Good article JM

    Some support from the SBF position.

    This was taught to me by a good friend and a well know shooting instructor.

    When all else fails and your mind is locked up with stress: the guiding light at the end of the tunnel for Immediate Action with 99.9% of all weapons, is that you are making sure the weapon is correctly loaded. Tap, Rack, Bang for a pistol or for a Stinger; the Grip Stock Assembly is seated and the BCU is screwed all the way in. For Remedial Action you are going to Unload the weapon and Correctly Load the weapon. If at anytime you think the ammunition supply that was in the weapon is suspect, get a new supply of ammunition, a bad magazine or a bad Stinger missile means use a different magazine or a different Stinger missile .There is an implied task of clearing out any obstructions or malfunctions before loading the weapon again.

    Go practice

    • That’s actually a brilliantly simple way of expressing it. Thanks, and consider it stolen.

      • Swamp Fox permalink

        No problem just doing the SF thing of Community Organizing.

        Please steal it and pass it on.

        Nice chest rig, now look at a lo viz plate carrier and look at moving your classes to a more lo viz attire. Include a PCI where your students stand by their vehicles so you can make not only equipment correction but Personal OPSEC correction on their III Percent stickers. No DA 201/DD214 advertising, you know the club rules.

      • I actually teach all of my classes in jeans and sweatshirts, with my reload mag for rifle shoved in my back pocket. I wear my PC, because Gadsden hasn’t started producing the Underground Plate Carrier yet (the design of which was discussed at the same time as the chest rig….). The rest? The POIs are changing, as I mentioned a couple months ago, for a reason.

  4. Kevin permalink

    Where can we get parts 1 and 2 of the series???

  5. Kevin permalink

    Duh, Disregard my comment….found them! Great Stuff!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mosby: Developing a Practice Program, Part Three | Western Rifle Shooters Association
  2. Gear: Gadsden Dynamics | Western Rifle Shooters Association

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