Monthly Archives: March 2017

TTPs: Shooting on the Move

A few of my previous TTP columns have talked about how to use shooting on the move to your advantage in a defensive situation. From these, you might conclude that I’m a fan of shooting on the move. And I am, except when I am not. Which is probably frustratingly zen, so let’s dive in.

First, a brief disclaimer. These are talking about defensive-ish gun uses for the CCW holder or off-duty cop with a gun. We are NOT talking about the following areas:
1. Competition. Depending on the rules and stage layout, shooting on the move may or may not be a good idea in a match stage. I will leave the discussion of stage planning to another time.
2. The SWAT Team/Special Operations Entry Stack. Because there are men behind you in the stack, it is vitally important that you not stop moving, so as not to jam everyone up and cause problems. You had better shoot on the move here.

Okay, that out of the way, let me talk you through a brief experiment that you can do do think about shooting on the move, and help reason when it is and isn’t a good idea. You will need the following items:
1. Some gallon milk jugs full of water.
2. A buddy.
3. A pulley and stake.
4. Some rope.
5. Your pistol of choice, with ammo (duh) and a holster.
6. A steel pistol target.
7. A permissive range bay to yourselves. Private shooting land will also work well.

Item 6 might be the hardest for you to acquire. Fear not. After I detail the setup, I’ll walk you through the results that I got when I did this. Also note that a shot timer is optional but extremely helpful.

The setup is as follows. First, we’re going to look at, of course, shooting on the move. Set up your steel at the end of the range, and then mark out a line for you to move across the bay at a spall-safe distance from your steel (7-10 yards). Warm up by shooting that steel at your marked distance. Now, do a few runs across the bay, gun holstered. Get an idea of how quickly you can move across your bay. Try to put a couple in as if your life depended on it. You can probably do this pretty fast if you’re not all that fit.

Now, shooting on the move. Draw your gun and move along the line as best you can, shooting the steel. Move as quickly as you can and still get some hits, and shoot when you think you can guarantee a hit. Don’t hose. You have a buddy there to mock you to keep you honest. He should also do his best to keep you on that path. You’re probably going to move off of it.

Even with proper, bent-knee, ‘rolling-heel-toe’ gait, you’ll find you moved across the range a lot slower. And you’re probably shooting a lot slower than you did in the warm up. That’s expected. Or at least, that’s what I got. I had decent technique but not a lot of practice. If I had more practice, I could probably do better. But I’d need a lot more.

Okay, now for some more fun. Place a gallon milk jug at one side of the range, and the pulley at the other. Mark off a firing position in the middle of the range, at about the same distance you were from the steel. Tie the rope to the handle of the jug, run it through the pulley, and then down the side of the range to your buddy. For safety, your buddy will stand behind you, holding the rope. When he wants, he’ll run away from you, pulling the rope. When you see the jug move, draw and shoot it before it gets to the other end of the range. Have your buddy vary the speed of the jugs on different attempts.

Shooting a moving target is difficult. Some will find it more difficult than others. I didn’t find it too bad. What I did find, as did most other people who tried this with me, was that we could hit the jug when it was moving faster than we moved while shooting. So moving and shooting didn’t help us avoid incoming fire all that much. A dead run to cover was a lot harder to hit, but then we wouldn’t be shooting back either.

It’s something to think about. Does this mean you should never shoot on the move? Certainly not. Hopefully it has also convinced you that there are times when shooting on the move might not be the best plan ever. There are no easy answers. There are no simple answers. Shooting on the move is fun to practice, and can be useful, but there are a lot of other techniques out there that you should practice too.

On the .40 S&W

.40 S&W is an interesting cartridge. It started as a shortened version of the reduced-power load of the 10mm Auto round, and it’s often been branded as “short and weak”. On the other hand, it’s been a bridge in the caliber debates between .45 “size/weight guys” and 9mm “capacity/velocity guys”. It’s now fallen out of vogue somewhat. Let’s take a look.

The .40 S&W has been a super popular law enforcement caliber for the past twenty years or so. The FBI led the adoption. In the .40, for a round a trifle bigger than 9 mm, cops got a more powerful round that was a lot more effective. But the overall length was similar to that of 9 mm, so you didn’t need a big frame like 10 mm auto did. This meant that smaller hands had a chance of controlling guns firing the .40 round with good technique. And it could happily pass all of the FBI’s ballistics tests where 9 mm generally couldn’t.

But technology advances. By now, 9 mm hollow point rounds have caught up with .40, and can also meet the FBI’s ballistics test standards. This makes the advantages of the 9 mm round readily apparent:

  1. More rounds1
  2. Lower cost
  3. Lower recoil

That said, the .40 still holds some advantages over the 9 mm round. Clearly, if you are a LEO, your agency might issue something in .40. In which case, it behooves you to carry and practice with .40. And if you just like the round, by all means. Carry it. I’m not going to stop you.

  1. Makes Major power factor easily
  2. Does very well against intermediate barriers.

Let’s pull these apart. For USPSA and similar competitions, shots landing outside the A-zone of the target are penalized less if your power factor is high enough to “make major.” Power factor equals bullet weight in grains times velocity in feet per second divided by 1,000. Presently, it must be over 165 to make major. It is possible to do this with a 9 mm round carefully loaded, but this is somewhat dangerous, as you’re exceeding the pressure specs for the cartridge, with all the hazards that entails. Most commercial .40 loads will easily make Major, and it’s also a lot easier to handload .40 rounds that make major. As a result, .40 S&W is a popular caliber for competitors.

Intermediate barriers are pesky things you need to get to in order to reach your target, like auto bodies. For a CCW holder, this probably won’t be an issue that often. But it might be for law enforcement agencies, and it’s a reasonable consideration for issue weapons.

So, while 9 mm might make more sense, .40 is still an effective choice. If you like it, rock on. If you don’t, there are other choices that work well too. And it’s a great way to make major.

For the curious, I own an M&P 40, and might make another for open division gun games. I usually carry and train with 9 mm.

  1. Two more rounds in Glocks and M&Ps, more in some other designs. I don’t think two rounds difference is all that much better. It is better though. And other designs have a bigger spread, which might become significant. 

On Iron Sights

While I’m slaying sacred cows, let’s talk about iron sights on rifles. Pistols are a topic for another time.

Should you “master” iron sights on rifles before moving to optics?

Hell no. Next question.

Iron sights are outmoded. Obsolescent. There are better choices right now, namely optics. For any given purpose, there is an optical sight that will perform better than iron sights on long guns.

Close range shooting? Red dot or low-power variable. Boom. Faster than irons.

Long range shooting? Get you some magnification. Make the targets bigger. Done. Better than irons.

Now, optics don’t magically make you a better shooter. They do take out one component of shooting: sight focus. Iron sights give you three focal planes at three different distances from your eye: the rear sight, the front sight, and the target. Your eye is physically capable of focusing on one plane at a time. So you acquire the target, then focus on your front sight. It’s not intuitive. It’s not easy, especially when your target isn’t easy to see. Then you have to align the front sight with the rear sight and the target. And then you have all of the other trigger control issues, steadying the rifle, dealing with recoil, etc.

With optics, the sights are in the same plane as the target. So you look at your target. That’s intuitive: you want to shoot that. Then you align the sights with the target. Which is a lot easier, because they’re in focus too. Same plane and all. You can see your sight (where the bullet is going, more or less) at the same time as you can see the thing you want to shoot. Then, trigger control time. Recoil management.

I’m always in favor of making my life easier. As is just about every other serious user. Choose a special forces unit, they use optics on their rifles. Most militaries of repute and with some ambition issue optics for all of their rifles. If rules allow optics, competitive shooters put optics on their rifles.

And they’re one I like to pick on, because they’ll do anything (at least, anything not prohibited by the rules) for an edge.

Optics are better. There basically isn’t a downside. Hell, most new rifles don’t even come with iron sights these days, whether they’re flat-top ARs or slick new hunting rifles. And do you know how hard it is to actually kill good optics?

Okay, now that I’ve said all that, let me preempt a few comments.

I’m not saying iron sights won’t work. They’ll do the job if you can and do. Optics will make your life easier.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t know how to use iron sights at all. They are on most pistols, after all. Plus they’re on all manner of old rifles, like an M1 Garand or the Lee-Enfield. And shooting old rifles is plenty of fun. But you’re probably not going to use those as your primary longarm. So focus on your primary. Which has an optic.

What about using iron sights as a way to “get better at shooting”? Well, if you can use iron sights, you can certainly use optics. True. And irons are way harder. Also true. My turn for a question: what is the goal?

If your goal is to get better with iron-sights, perhaps for an iron-sight competition like the National Matches, rock on. Mission is driving the gear train.

If your goal is to get better with your optic-equipped hunting/defensive/competition rifle, you should probably be training with that. You know, the gun you’re actually going to use. Familiarize yourself with the quirks of your optic. Familiarity brings comfort. Remember, all of the other things you do when shooting are there. You still have to work on those. Optics are one of the few ways to reduce the complexity of the shooting problem.

Iron sights aren’t a thing you can work in isolation. You make the sight alignment problem more complicated, but you still have all of the other issues. For most of us, misses occur because of a combination of factors. We didn’t do just one thing wrong, we did a bunch of things wrong. Put them together, you get the (bad) result. If you’re very good, you can figure out all of the problems. More likely, you can figure out some of them, but not all of them.

You can get great at shooting with optics. You can probably even do it faster than with irons, because you have fewer difficulties.

What about durability?

Modern optics are extremely durable. And most shooters don’t abuse their weapons. The vast majority of optics will happily survive moving from gun safe to bag to car to range to car to safe with no issues at all. And if you abuse your optics, buy accordingly. My Aimpoint Comp M4, for example, is stupidly durable. Go google some “test videos” where people do dumb things like hit it with a hammer or set of explosives nearby. You can probably find a way to kill it, but your gun (and you) will be similarly out of action. So don’t worry about it.

Fishbreath Plays: MHRD Review

If you like puzzle games, it’s a good time to be alive. You’ve got your programming puzzle games, like Shenzhen I/O, SpaceChem, and really, the entire Zachtronics catalog; you’ve got your process optimization puzzle games, like Big Pharma and Production Line; you’ve got puzzle games of every shape, size, color, and description.

You even have, it turns out, logic puzzlers. That’s where MHRD comes in. You’re a hardware engineer for the waggishly-named Microhard, a company building the Next Big Thing in CPU design in the 1980s. You start with a single logic element: a NAND gate (for the uninitiated, that means not-and). You end up with a simple but entirely functional 16-bit CPU1, designing all the logic circuits you need along the way. Start with NAND, build the rest of the logic gates, figure out your multiplexers, demultiplexers, adders, and memory elements, put it all together into your higher-level CPU components.

It’s packaged in a fun, oldtimey DOS-style terminal editor, and unlike a lot of retro UIs, it doesn’t wear out its welcome. All your circuit design happens in a hardware description language, in an in-game editor. The editor has some foibles: it doesn’t scroll, and it only does line wrapping when adding text. On the other hand, it has a decent auto-completion engine. The hardware description language makes sense: you refer to pins and buses by name, connecting them to other pins and buses with an arrow operator. For instance, opCode->alu.opCode would connect the circuit’s opCode input to the ALU’s opCode input. Generally, the syntax is straightforward and easy to remember. Sound effects are basic; you get a background fan whir befitting an old PC, and an IBM keyboard sound effect which wears out its welcome after a while.

That’s all there is to it, which brings me to my next point. Is it good as a game? That’s a harder question to answer. It is sited in a difficult middle ground. It can’t be too freeform—given an instruction set and a CPU specification, very few people who don’t already know how could build all the necessary subcomponents. At the same time, it shouldn’t be too static, or else it feels a little too much like rote construction to the truth table for the component at issue. MHRD errs a bit too far in the latter direction. There is no real sandbox. All you’re doing is building the gates and circuits the game tells you to, in exactly that order. There’s no discovery to be had, and not a lot of freedom to design solutions in different ways. Unlike, say, Shenzhen I/O, the problems are small enough that it’s never all that unclear how to solve them.

That isn’t to say that there’s no fun to be had. If you aren’t a hardware engineer, or a software engineer with a deep interest in hardware2, you will find it fascinating how few steps it takes to get from a NAND gate to a functioning processor3. There are leaderboards, too, based on NAND counts for each element. Given that logic design is a fairly well-understood field, the NAND counts are uniformly the smallest possible number of gates required for each task, which gives you a nice target to aim for. The developer is active on his Steam forum, and seems to have more planned for the game. Given that it’s an atmospheric logic puzzle that I, an experienced software engineer, found enjoyable and educational, I think it’s worth a buy. (You may want to wait for a a sale.)

At the same time, there’s a better way. (If you’ve been reading the footnotes, you should have seen this coming.) There’s a free course out there, a Computer Science 101 sort of thing, called Nand2Tetris. As the name suggests, it’s similar to MHRD in that you’re building a CPU from a NAND gate alone. Nand2Tetris differs in two ways. First, it isn’t a game. As such, there isn’t a plot (MHRD’s is skeletal, but present), or any pretension that it’s about anything besides learning. Second, it goes a lot further. MHRD stops at the aforementioned functional CPU. The last puzzle combines the instruction decoder, the ALU, and some registers, and that’s it. It verifies your solution by running a few instructions through the CPU, and you’re done.

Nand2Tetris, as the name suggests, keeps going. After you finish the CPU, you write a compiler to generate your microcode. After you write your compiler, you write an operating system. After that, you can run Tetris. Furthermore, although you have assignments, you also have a proper sandbox. You get a hardware design language and a hardware simulator, and you can build anything you like. That, I feel, is the promise of a logic design puzzle game, and MHRD doesn’t quite deliver.

In the final reckoning, though, I say MHRD is worth the price of entry. I don’t really have the inclination to write my own compiler, and I have plenty of other software projects besides. If you’re only interested in the logic design portion, you ought to get MHRD too. If, on the other hand, you want to really understand how computers work—how the processor you built becomes the computer you use every day—try Nand2Tetris instead.

  1. It’s very similar in architecture, I understand, to the CPU designed in the Nand2Tetris course. We’ll come back to that. 
  2. Or a very good memory for that hardware class you took back in college. 
  3. Not counting the memory elements, the CPU task takes fewer than 800 NAND gates in the minimal solution. My current best is 3500. 

Mindset And Equipment; Equipment and Mindset

A shooter’s performance in competition or combat can be broken down into two big categories: internal things (mindset, training, skill, and confidence), and external things (what gun, caliber, etc.). There are a lot of stupid arguments on the internet about which is more important.

And they’re stupid precisely because they’re very difficult to tease apart.

Clearly, internal factors are super important. If Jerry Miculek and I were in a shooting match together, and for some bizarre reason Jerry had a box-stock Hi-Point, Jerry would still outshoot me. Wouldn’t matter which gun or how many mods I put in it. Jerry is that much better than me.

That said, while Jerry could beat me with Hi-Point, he doesn’t shoot one at matches. For one thing, they don’t sponsor him. Smith and Wesson does. So he’s shooting out a super tricked out Smith and Wesson. Set up just the way he likes. See, he’s competing with a lot of other hardcore guys like Max Michel, K.C. Eusebio, and Rob Leatham, who are also very skilled and have tricked out guns. They’ve got guns set up the way they like to maximize their skillset. Lighter triggers are easier to shoot well for example. So the hardcore guys have hardcore equipment.

Let’s look at another case. The infamous 1986 Miami shootout, between two criminals and a number of FBI agents. The guy who had the most combat experience and the most will to win, Platt,1 also came with the most gun. He had a Ruger Mini-14 chambered in .223, plus two revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum. Once again, skill and equipment go hand in hand.

The dangers of equipment is the thinking that you can buy skill. You can’t. Good equipment will mean you can use your skill to the best of your abilities. Focusing on one kind of equipment will let you have some constants to make developing skills easier. Always chasing the next best thing isn’t the best plan. There’s quite a bit of maturity in knowing when to stick and when to jump. For example, in most applications, the difference between a revolver and a semiauto is very significant. The difference between semiautos is much less so.

So some basic “good enough” satisficing will help you in the short term. You can save the optimization for later once you know what you like in a gun. Or once you have a big company like Smith & Wesson paying for your stuff.

  1. One of the criminals. He was a Ranger in Vietnam. Note that better equipment and mindset weren’t enough to prevail. C’est la vie. In this case, it’s a good thing. 

Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu Released!

Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu

The year is 1929. In the aftermath of the Great War, the world rebuilds, and the mighty zeppelin is its instrument. Carrying trade between every nation, airship merchantmen attract an old menace for a new age: the sky pirate. One man stands out above the rest. Ace pilot, intrepid explorer, and gentleman buccaneer Nathaniel Cannon and his gang, the Long Nines, prowl the skies in hot pursuit of wealth and adventure.

Cannon receives word from a sometime friend in Paris about a job in the Dutch East Indies. The contact tells a tale of a mysterious lost city, bursting with treasure, not seen by human eyes for a thousand years. Will his tip pay off? Or will it lead the Long Nines straight to a fight for their lives, lost in the unfriendly depths of the Indonesian jungle?

Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu, the first of the Nathaniel Cannon adventures by Soapbox contributor Jay Slater, is now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords for $1.99. E-books include two never-before-seen short stories featuring the Long Nines. Get your copy today.

Abrams Additions

Earlier, I talked about the US Army’s latest improvements to their Abramses, the M1A2 SEP v3 program. Which is great, because as they start to take deliveries, I’ve heard no concrete orders for further Leopard 2 upgrades, or anything about the vague, pie-in-the-sky new MBT to be developed by France and Germany. Given that it’s multinational, it will probably be overbudget, late, and contain a bunch of stupid compromises. So good on you, US Army!

This program, combined with the M829E4 APFSDS round development, plays to the traditional strengths of the Abrams: well designed armor piercing rounds, heavy frontal armor, and excellent fire control.

Unsurprisingly, I am not satisfied. There are a few more things I’d like to see in the short term. No, these aren’t dream weapons like a rail gun. These are doable things. They are in order of urgency (and also affordability, amusingly enough).

  1. An Active Protection System. Since this term gets kicked around a lot, I mean a proper hard-kill one. CIWS for a tank. There are a lot of good options. The US Army is currently “investigating”. Yawn. They should have a competition and pick the winner. Or just take Trophy, because it works pretty well at stopping incoming RPGs and ATGMS. No, it won’t stop APFSDS rounds. Oh well. Yes, it can be dangerous to nearby infantry. It’s not perfect. I don’t care. It works, and unlike a lot of other systems, it’s been combat tested, and a bunch of bugs have been beaten out of it. So what I’d really like is to just add Trophy. Plus the cost is reasonable. That whole “in production now” thing really helps with that.
  2. Extra roof protection. This isn’t too terribly difficult to add, but you’d need to do quite a bit of reworking, and probably add a power-assist to the hatches. Weight is also a concern. To be clear, we’re looking for a specific, limited protection upgrade. We want roof protection from DPICM-type submunitions, and maybe EFP submunitions if practicable. It is not feasible to protect against top-attack ATGMs with armor, so we won’t try. On the one hand, all those optics are toast in a submunition storm. On the other, we can at least keep the crew alive, and they’re more important. Tanks are reasonably easy to salvage. Crews, not so much.
  3. New engines. I’m not going to spill a lot of ink here, over type. You could give the existing, worn AGT-1500s a rebuild. You could (at least in theory) use the LV100-5 from the canceled Crusader program. You could switch to diesel. Given a diesel engine, you’d have to rework the rear suspension to remove the last set of torsion bars. You’d have two off-the-shelf engine choices:1 L3’s AVDS-1790 1,500 hp variant and General Dynamics’ GD883.2
  4. Situational Awareness improvements. The Germans have prototyped day/thermal camera arrays around the turret to improve situational awareness while the crew is buttoned up. Given the new 1080p displays added in SEPv3, these would be welcome and helpful, especially in urban settings. A radar or other missile approach warning system would be nice too, but that would come with the active protection system.

So there you have it. A few more ways to put more improvements into your M1A2 SEP v3 Abrams tank. I know Big Army is working on number one as I write this.

  1. Using the reasonable constraint of “1,500 hp diesel engines that are made in America” 
  2. A license built MTU MT833. Made in America so the Israelis can buy them with US Aid credits and use them in Merkava IVs. 

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 17 – Grab Bags

In this episode, we can’t decide on one item for each topic, so instead we bring you a grab bag of grab bags. Jay talks about backwards aircraft carriers and the origin of the minimap, John tells you about news which was fresh when we recorded and old when we publish, and new audio setup reduces Jay’s obnoxious breathing noises by up to 80%.

Further reading
John breaks the Wilson Combat EDC X9 story several hours before any major source
John decides the EDC X9 is stupid
Continue reading

TTPs: On Tueller and His Drill

Back in 1983, Sgt. Dennis Tueller of the Salt Lake Police Department posited a fun problem. Suppose you are a police officer with a gun in a duty rig1. Suppose that in front of you, there’s an evildoer with a knife. He will take his knife and charge you.2 As he does, you will draw and shoot him. Clearly, when he is far away, you will shoot him before he gets to you. And clearly if he is very close, he will stab you before you get your gun out. What’s the distance at which you will tie? I.e. you shoot him and he stabs you.

Sgt. Tueller worked this distance out to be about 21 feet.

Which isn’t a lot. Let’s look further. Clearly, Tueller couldn’t actually run the test as written. Officers aren’t likely to want to get stabbed or shot. So he had officers draw to a man-sized target at a given distance (say seven yards) away, and another officer that same distance behind the shooter. On a buzzer, the first officer would try to draw and shoot, and the second officer would try to tap the first one on the shoulder. Ties happened when that distance was seven yards, or 21 feet.

Sgt. Tueller also worked this out theoretically. He and his cop buddies worked on their gunfighting skills, including their draw. They averaged a time to draw and get a hit on a man sized target of 1.5 seconds. And in 1.5 seconds, a reasonably athletic adult (e.g. one of them) could run an average of 21 feet (also their distance to target).

Of course, it’s all a thought experiment. There are many other avenues of attack available to the foe with a melee weapon. But let’s tug at this further.

You might have noticed a bit of an assumption above. The man size target is fixed at the starting distance, when we are thinking or testing. But our hypothetical attacker will be charging. So the target will get larger. By the time we get our gun out and up, he might be only a couple yards from us, and that’s a significantly easier shooting problem.

Since he will be so close, we might also consider shooting without full extension. We might call this a retention position. Specifically, we have the gun in a full, two-handed grip, pointed at the target, only a few inches from our chest. The same position we’re in partway through a draw. Note that the gun should be close to your chest, but not so close that the slide will thwack you. Also, it bears repeating, two hands in a full, firm grip, pointed at the target. If you’re in position Sul, you’re doing it wrong.

Why are we using this position? Well, the target will be close enough that we can get away without using our sights all that much. Plus, it’ll give us time to get a few more shots on the target. We have a pistol. Pistols are not good at making people stop. We can make them a little better at this by shooting often. If he’s worth shooting once, he’s worth shooting a lot.

Okay. So we’ve attacked two assumptions already. There’s another big one here. Have you spotted it yet?

We’re not moving. In the above problem, our shooter is stationary. Probably not very realistic.

If someone is charging you with a knife, it’s not likely that you’ll stand still. You might turn and run. And you could shoot over your shoulder; the knife wielder will be close. But he’s charging. And frankly, I don’t like my odds. I suspect I’ll probably end up getting run down if I tried this.

We might try moving sideways. Now we’re getting somewhere. We’re forcing him to change direction. This will make him slow down a bit, and keep the attacker in front of us, making our shots easier. But we’re not forcing a radical change of direction, and we can’t move sideways all that fast while shooting. Better.

Our sideways move is good because it forces a direction change, which forces the attacker to slow down. Time is our friend. Let’s try to force more direction changes.

Suppose we moved at an oblique angle towards the attacker. So if he’s coming at us on a bearing of zero degrees, move on the 60-75ish degree line. We’ll have to move that way and turn to keep our sights on the target, but that’s fine. We’re going to force the attacker to turn aggressively, since we’re going out wide. And we can repeat the process every time he orients himself on us. Which will look goofy and spiral-like from above, but it will maximize our time to riddle our foe with bullets before he can get all stabby.

This isn’t exactly intuitive, but that’s ok. We train so that we develop correct thinking and proper technique. That is the point of training.

  1. I.e. a holster with retention. Interestingly, for those who practice, draw times from a retention rig are usually about equivalent to draw times from concealment. So the findings still hold for the concealed carrier. 
  2. I’m quite aware that this isn’t the only way this could go down. It’s probably not even a very likely way this might go down. I don’t have those statistics handy, and I don’t care. It’s a thought experiment.

On Training Guns

There’s a notion floating about the internet that to “Get Good” at shooting, one ought to shoot a gun that is difficult to shoot well. E.g. to learn follow through, you ought to shoot a flintlock rifle, as these have long lock times. In fact, you should shoot it offhand (read: standing), so that you don’t have good support to assist you.


What should you train with? The gun you use most, which is probably a gun you like. If you haven’t a gun, buy something modern and use that. If you buy a hunting rifle, for example, put the sort of glass you’d use in the field on it. If you buy a carbine, mount the red dot or variable power optic you’d want to use on it.

The notion in the opening assumes that you’re a very self-disciplined shooter, that you’re a good enough shooter to correctly understand how to apply the fundamentals in question (in the above example, follow through, but this could be whatever aspect of shooting you please), that you know how to self-diagnose your own errors, and that your other fundamentals are reasonably sound.

So yes, you need good follow through to shoot a flintlock rifle well. You also need good eyesight to use the small irons on a flintlock rifle, and good upper body strength and offhand shooting technique to properly hold the rifle steady. If you lack those other things, your shots will not hit the mark, and you won’t have any idea why.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but if I am honest with myself, or ask my subconcious, whom I cannot lie to, I’ll tell you that the above doesn’t describe me on my best days. If I fired a flintlock rifle as a training aid I would get incredibly frustrated at just about everything. And I’d have a bunch of convenient excuses for my poor shooting, presuming the frustration didn’t make me hurl the thing over the berm and take up golf.

No gun that has ever been called “hard to shoot well” is ever called that for one single thing. It is a collection of many factors. So you’re not isolating a single thing to work on. This isn’t the gym where you get to isolate muscle groups. You’ve got the whole thing. So did you miss with that Kentucky Rifle because it’s heavy and the gun wobbled a lot? Or was it because you couldn’t see the sights? Or because the trigger is heavy and gritty? Or because you didn’t follow through? Or maybe you flinched? See, it could be any one of those things. Or a combination of all of the above.

Self diagnosis is hard. It’s one of the reasons why training classes are so good. Because it’s a lot easier to see errors in others. And to be honest with what you see in others. It’s hard to be honest with yourself. There’s a gun that’s hard to shoot right there! And we like to lie to ourselves. A trained professional instructor will spot things we’re doing badly, and things we think we are doing well but aren’t.

Or you could set yourself up with a pretty good gun and not have excuses. You don’t need to spend a fortune. Just get something modern and solid. Example: I carry Glocks. I compete with Glocks. So guess what gun comes with me to class and to the range for practice? Yep: A Glock. Now, I don’t put a crazy race trigger in most of my Glocks, but I do like the factory “minus” or the TTI “minus” connectors. And I certainly don’t make myself miserable by putting in an NY2 trigger spring for a 12 lb trigger pull. My Glock 34, for example, has a few optimized controls that I like. And a factory minus connector. The pull was pretty good out of the box. I did my best to zero the sights from a bench. And then, at class, or when I’m practicing on my own, I know that errors are on me. Maybe my follow through needs work. Ok. No problem. I can work on that with the Glock, or any other gun. And as I do so, I’m going to be having fun.

I like shooting my Glocks. They’re fun to shoot. They fit me well. And I’m also quite used to the characteristics of them. All that practice means that they’re very familiar. And, given all the training, I know what I can do with them. Which means there’s nothing more comforting on my hip than the Glock 34 that I took to class. And with that on my hip in class, and sights zeroed beforehand, I knew that any screwups are on me. Could I make it easier to shoot? Sure. But I could also make life suck for myself. And I didn’t. I could have been dumb and taken a brace of flintlock pistols to a class, but I didn’t.

If you like shooting weird and exotic things, knock yourself out. But don’t feel that you have to. Or that its optimal. Truth be told, focusing on one quality platform is almost certainly the optimal route if you want to minimize the time taken. But “minimize” is a relative term. It’s gonna take a lot of shooting to make USPSA Grandmaster Class. So do it on a platform you love.

Also, if you want to occasionally pick up something else, and enjoy shooting it for it’s own sake, feel free. Feel free to enjoy it for its own sake, and don’t feel like it has to be your training tool.

We often remark that it’s the shooter, not the tool, to discourage newer shooters from chasing every gadget under the sun in a vain effort to make up for skill. Well, just like a new Blastomatic 2000 won’t magically make you a better shooter overnight, it won’t make your practice better overnight either. You still have to put in the work, and focus.

Want to make it faster? The right answer is training with a good instructor. Bad equipment will just make you take up golf.