Instruction, Fundamentals, Equipment, Practice

Let’s assume you learned (or are learning) to shoot a pistol for purposes of self defense (that is the usual reason).  The problem for most people is that they are unlikely to ever have to prove themselves; statistically, the odds are against them (you) being a victim of a violent crime.  Therefore, they only try to gain a basic skill level.  After all, how much time would you devote to learn parachuting, if you never flew in a plane?  Unfortunately, due to fear, adrenaline, blood pressure, and other factors, most people in a crisis will lose half their gun-handling skills, and end up being a victim anyway.

The secret is to over-train, to the point that many of those skills become second nature.  Many casual gun owners only go to a range 2-6 times a year, and shoot 50-100 rounds each time.  Competitive shooters, on the other hand, shoot thousands of rounds per week.  How can we achieve a reasonable skill level without spending $1000/month?

Make no mistake about it, there is an investment of time required.  Most gun ranges sell memberships that, like gyms, assume you will not use it enough, so they can oversell their facilities.  If you buy a membership that allows you to shoot free, then go to the range twice a month, you will probably come out ahead.  If you’re not shooting at least twice a month for the first year, you’re not really serious.  Do you work out twice a month and expect to lose weight?

Now that you have a routine, let’s look at four areas that require your attention:

INSTRUCTION.  Being self-taught is not the short-cut, but having a guide is.  There are many options.  You can take private lessons from an instructor, you can buy very good DVD programs on various aspects of shooting and self-defense, and you can also find many free tutorials and videos online.  Sometimes you get what you pay for, but all of those resources can be helpful, except the ones that don’t apply to your situation.  You probably don’t need to know what trick shooters or snipers teach.  In most cases, if you pay for any type of instruction, you will probably get your moneys worth.

FUNDAMENTALS.  Safety rules, Stance, Grip, Aiming, Breathing, Working the trigger, Follow-through.  Those never change.  Research each one, and read everything you can find about them.  Allow for slight differences from people with different types of backgrounds.  You will begin to see a pattern, learn some tricks that help, and some that don’t.  Practice the fundamentals as if your life depended on them.  Read that again.

EQUIPMENT.  When I started collecting Cold War period weapons, I read some advice: “You will make mistakes. Accept it and move on.”  The same is true here.  The gun you own is likely not the one best suited to you, your hand, or your plans.  Borrow or rent other guns to try out.  When you find one you like better, buy it, and sell the old one (or not).  If your goal is concealed carry, you will likely find out that you can develop your skills better and faster with either a duty-size gun or a 1911 style.  Then transfer those skills to the smaller gun.  Longer barrels are better than shorter ones; heavier guns are frequently better than lighter ones.  If the sights are not optimal for you (age is a factor), replace them with fiber optic or other styles.

PRACTICE.  Optimize your practice sessions by having a goal each time.  It could be slow, pinpoint accuracy at 3 yards, hitting an 8-inch target at 15 yards, timed fire at a silhouette at 10 yards, one-handed shooting, timed rapid fire with a reload, etc.  There are thousands of excellent drills available online.  Pick some that are within your skill set, and some that are just beyond your skill set.  A stopwatch or timer will put pressure on you that will show up weaknesses.

Remember the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race.


Breaking in that new pistol

Few things are as disconcerting as discovering that your new semi-automatic has a jam, misfeed, or stove-pipe 2 out of every 10 shots.  AARRGGHH!!

However, don’t despair yet.  If it is a very inexpensive gun, well, you get what you pay for.  Bargain guns may have loose tolerances, short-cuts in the casting or milling processes, or other issues that cause this, but read on.  In many cases the rest of this article can resolve those problems.

While some manufacturers seem to not have this problem, others do, at any price point, and will usually warn you about the need to break in the gun.  Kahr is a well-respected gun maker, but the owner’s manual clearly states that the gun cannot be considered reliable until you have shot 400 rounds through it.  The issue is metal-against-metal friction, such as the rails and grooves on the slide and frame.  Even when the metal looks smooth and machined, at a microscopic level, it is not.  Those surfaces have to be worked down (polished) slightly, preferably by the matching piece of metal against which it runs.  That process is called lapping, and is common in many industrial applications.  Breaking in a pistol, then, is  simply running the reciprocating action (the slide) enough times to polish those mating surfaces.  Most people do that by firing the gun.  A cheaper way is to rack the slide 200-300 times.  That can be made easier by removing the recoil spring.  It will be more effective if you don’t lubricate the slide.

By the way, this is not a problem for revolvers, as they do not have any rapidly reciprocating mechanisms.

I have had several semi-autos, made by CZ, Smith & Wesson, Walther, and Dan Wesson, that worked flawlessly right out of the box, but some perfectly fine guns have needed that break-in period.  I bought a Ruger recently that would not fire 3 shots in a row without a malfunction, until I got to about 300 rounds.  After that, it worked fine.  It still will not consistently feed and extract Federal brand ammo, but 5 other brands work fine.  That is not a break-in issue, but ammo sensitivity.

The reasons are complicated, and not easily understood, but some guns will not consistently handle certain brands of ammo.  The design and angle of the feed ramp, the slope and contour of the bullet nose, and sometimes issues related to the width and shape of the cartridge rim can all contribute to this.  The short answer is, if your gun won’t work right with a certain brand of ammo, don’t buy that brand.

If no brand of ammo will work at least 99% of the time with a gun, contact the manufacturer.  Most of them will make every effort to make it right, often at no charge.

When I was a kid, automobile manufacturers used to tell buyers to keep their new car under 50 mph for 500 miles, to break in the engine.  Now, they are essentially broken in at the factory.  Some semi-autos will need a break-in period, but some will not.  If yours is acting up, clean it well and lubricate it, and put mileage on it.  That will usually solve the problem.