Class Warfare

16-Oct-14 – 20:16 by ToddG


If I may, I’d like to riff off something written by my friend Baxter at Gun Nuts not too long ago.

There are classes that are termed “tactical,” there are classes that are termed “competition,” and so on. To an extent, these classes usually do have differences. You’d expect certain rules to be taught or discussed at a USPSA-oriented class, for example. You’d reasonably expect a “tactical” class to discuss where hits on a threat have a serious effect (thoracic triangle & ocular window) and where they don’t (everywhere else).

But a problem comes in when someone wants to be better at one type of shooting yet only takes classes focused on other pieces of the puzzle. For example, you’ll often see guys who’ve only taken those “tactical” classes get their butts handed to them in competition- or technical-oriented classes. They may be able to do a 360 scan with their eyes closed (?) but if they can’t hit the target fast and accurately they’re never going to get to that step in the real world. Along the same lines, a guy who carries a gun every day but has only trained for gun games isn’t simply going to learn osmotically things about tactical movement, use of cover, and yes even that 360 degree scan.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your favorite type of class is the only type of class you need. Unless, of course, it is. If you only ever pick up a pistol for bullseye competition then obviously you don’t need a combat warrior class or a USPSA class. But at the same time, if you’re that guy, don’t bust on the guys who want a more rounded shooting skillset. That’s one of the big problems I see these days: tactical guys who make fun of competition classes (“those gamers!“) and vice versa (“those tactical Teds/Timmies!”). This can be especially true of certain instructors who really only have expertise or exposure to one small part of the shooting world and need all their potential customers to desire that little slice more than all the others. They’ll commonly make fun of other types of classes (or other instructors) because they don’t want students to look anywhere else for training.

Any instructor who thinks he’s the only person with important or useful information should be avoided at all costs, in my opinion.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

Starting From Scratch … Again

3-Oct-14 – 17:55 by ToddG

As many of you know, eight weeks ago I had my right elbow completely replaced. The titanium elbow is a fairly new and uncommon procedure, with the mechanism itself costing about $20,000 (thank you, insurance company!). The surgery required a lot of moving and stretching of the nerves in my arm and I literally had to relearn how to move my elbow, wrist, and fingers.

2014-09-18 16.09.01

In terms of shooting, I’m basically starting from scratch. Drawing, pressing a trigger, even things as simple as getting a grip on the pistol feel completely unfamiliar right now. It’s like being a new shooter all over again.

So far I’ve simply been working with a Ring’s blue gun. I cannot get a good right hand grip yet nor can I fully extend my right arm… the latter probably a permanent deficit. At this point I’m not doing much more than practicing draws and such. Soon I’ll be getting into some dry fire. I’ve also got a P229 .22 kit on its way thanks to a good friend. My plan is to begin working with the .22 kit with the normal limitations before the month is over in what I like to call ballistic dry fire. Then hopefully I’ll move to regular 9mm for at least some of my live practice by the end of November.

Re-learning everything I’ve been doing for the past twenty years is definitely a challenge but it should be an interesting one if nothing else…

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

Carry Gun, Training Gun

20-Mar-14 – 08:48 by ToddG


Probably the worst habit I’ve adopted since beginning the annual endurance tests back in 2008 was a policy of using the endurance test gun as my carry gun. There was a certain rationale behind it: if I didn’t trust the endurance test gun enough to carry it then the test was over. When approaching gun companies about the test, there was a certain panache about the idea of carrying one of their guns that had over 50,000 rounds through it.

But during the tests held so far, all five guns suffered significant enough problems that, had I needed that high round count gun for self-defense,  I’d have been in trouble.

  • The M&P9 suffered a broken trigger return spring at around 37,000 that rendered the gun severely less shootable (trigger had to be pushed forward manually to reset each time) and also had a sear spring issue that wasn’t even identified as such until thousands of rounds after it caused a couple of nearly back-to-back stoppages.
  • Without doubt the worst example of this behavior was how long I kept carrying the P30 even 5,000 rounds after a chunk of the frame had blown off. Within the course of just a few rounds (from 91,300 to 91,322 to be fair) and without any other warning it went from being perfectly dependable to being completely unreliable. Over the course of those 91,000 rounds I also broke two trigger return springs, a sear spring, and had the Heinie rear sight begin drifting around loose in the dovetail.
  • At just over 38,000 rounds the HK45 had a light primer hit on the first round I tried to fire that day. Just a few thousand rounds prior to that I had a freak trigger return spring breakage on a spring that had less than 4,000 rounds on it.
  • During the Glock 17 test, I had multiple breakages of the slide stop which resulted in premature lockback, broke an aftermarket connector that essentially deadlined the gun completely until a toolkit could be found, and luckily discovered a chipped extractor during a (rare) gun cleaning.
  • For the Springfield Custom Shop 9mm 1911‘s tenure, the ejector broke twice, but more troublesome I had two instances where my carry magazines failed right out of the gate at the beginning of a practice session.

All in all, those first five tests recorded almost 340,000 rounds of shooting, 51 stoppages of some kind, and 17 parts breakages. I probably averaged 5,000 rounds between gun cleanings, further adding to the abuse of the guns I was carrying every day. In particular, multiple times the stoppages or breakages affected the gun within the first few rounds of a session… meaning the problem would have occurred if I’d needed to fire even just a few rounds in a fight.

To appreciate the situation fully, you also need to remember that I had an identical spare/backup gun with me all the time. The whole reason I insisted upon having that spare gun, in fact, was to have something in case my test/carry gun failed!

So beginning with this year’s SIG P229-1 test I’m adopting a new, smarter policy. The endurance test gun will be my training gun, and the “backup” will be my daily carry gun.

ishotgurkha-holsterThe great folks at I-SHOT have even sent me one of their revised Gurkha range backpacks to help. There is a lot of modularity built into the Gurkha and one option is a “holster kit” that can be placed in any of three locations in the bag. This allows me a quick access, dedicated location where the test gun can be quickly and safely swapped with my carry gun at the range and then switched again when I’m ready to leave. Because the trigger guard is covered and the gun is secured in place, it’s perfectly safe to leave my carry gun loaded 100% of the time.

The carry gun will of course will go through my normal reliability testing routine (500rd of practice ammo followed by 200 rounds of carry ammo) at the outset. And it will get shot occasionally after that just for the sake of function checking as well as the combined mechanical & mental check of being sure the endurance test gun and the carry gun are working identically. But I doubt the carry gun will see much more than two or three thousand rounds, total, through it during the entire SIG endurance test.

Perhaps it’s not as cool as having a carry gun with 50,000+ rounds through it, but it’s a heck of a lot smarter and a policy I should have stuck with from the beginning.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

Beretta Gets a New Spin

19-Mar-14 – 16:15 by ToddG

What happens when legendary gunsmith Bill Wilson (not to mention the resources and expertise of all the other incredible  gunsmiths at Wilson Combat) take champion Beretta shooter & tuner Ernest Langdon and decide that it’s time to start a Beretta custom shop at Wilson Combat?


You get a lot more than a cool photo. You get Wilson Combat’s Custom Beretta 92/96 Work & Accessories.

I sense a 2015 endurance test gun in there somewhere…

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

Teaching to Your Audience

19-Mar-14 – 05:57 by ToddG

If you teach basic CCW, do you teach those first time students about sight alignment and trigger control and breathing and the other fundamentals of marksmanship?

If you answered yes, are you properly addressing your audience? Odds are, probably not.

This might come as a shock to anyone who’s been reading this website for a while and certainly for anyone who has attended one of my classes like Aim Fast, Hit Fast or Aim Fast, Hit Small because I am all about sighted fire and visual control of the handgun. Students hear me talk all the time about how it’s eyes focused on sights, not grip or stance or cadence, that determines how fast you can shoot and how accurately you can shoot fast. I don’t teach, advocate, or like “point shooting” or “target focused shooting” or whatever folks are calling it this year.

Unless I’m teaching to the 99% instead of the 1%. Which I don’t do often, thankfully. But a few times a year I get asked to do a private class for a friend-of-a-friend who turns out to be some VIP (Congressman, business exec, etc.). The first thing I ask these folks is whether they intend to practice regularly or even come back to the range once a year. The ones who are honest say no. They’re not going to become shooters. They’re gun owners. And there is a huge difference between the two.

Look at the photo below. That’s what people see when they’re first learning to use their sights: doubled targets and visual confusion. Who is going to excel under those circumstances? And let’s face it, until sighted fire becomes so ingrained that it’s habitual — which takes a lot of practice — people simply aren’t going to do it to anyway. So again, if we know that the typical CCW guy isn’t going to use his sights when he needs them, why do we spend so much time teaching him sighted fire and marksmanship fundamentals?


The answer is that we don’t adjust to our audience. Serious shooters like us use their sights so we train people to be like us. But most of those CCW students aren’t like us. And teaching them about front sight, trigger press! is like teaching a McDonald’s cashier about global economic theory or the agronomy of potatoes before she can ask, “Would you like fries with that?”

When one of these non-shooters, whether he’s a MLB star or Joe Sixpack, comes to class and clearly demonstrates no desire to train regularly I don’t bother talking about sights or how to press a trigger. We talk about safety… a lot. Then we hit the range for some simple drills to get used to the gun making loud unpleasant noises. I want the student to get comfortable with a gun going off in the hand, and then build his confidence in an ability to point the gun toward a humanoid target and hit it in the chest (or thereabouts) with some degree of rapidity.

Then, if there’s a little extra time and a little extra ammo, maybe we’ll talk briefly about sighted fire for greater accuracy. Because maybe, just maybe, the student will catch the shooting bug and want to get better. But most basic CCW students are always going to be gun owners, not shooters. And as instructors we owe it to them to teach them things they can actually use instead of things we want them to learn.

The next time you teach a class, ask yourself a simple question: are you teaching to the audience you want, or the audience you really have?

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

“Looking Back” Series

18-Mar-14 – 04:58 by ToddG

I recently reposted these on my Facebook page. They’re the five greatest influences on me as a shooter and instructor over the years:

  1. Chuck Davis
  2. Ken Hackathorn
  3. Ernest Langdon
  4. Rich Verdi
  5. SLG

If you weren’t reading back in 2011, I hope you’ll find them interesting. And if you’ve been with me since back then, perhaps reading these again will inspire you to talk about some of the major influences you’ve had on your own shooting.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

Drawstrings, Again

11-Mar-14 – 03:23 by ToddG

As I mentioned in 2012, drawstrings on concealment garments can be dangerous. Here’s a TV news segment about a police officer who sadly managed to shoot himself thanks to one:

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Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

The Julie Method Flashlight Technique

9-Mar-14 – 15:33 by ToddG

At the 2006 (could have been 2005) S&W IDPA Match, my friend Julie Golob showed me a flashlight/pistol technique that she’d come up with… possibly years earlier, I honestly just don’t recall. For some reason I didn’t really give it the attention I should have  but talking with her husband recently I was reminded of it.

It is, without doubt, the easiest way I’ve seen to manipulate a flashlight and maintain what is darn close to my exact normal two-handed pistol grip technique. My support hand index finger curls the trigger guard a bit but otherwise it feels like I’m just gripping the gun normally.

Here is possibly the worst YouTube video ever made showing what is possibly the best tactical flashlight pistol grip method ever devised … all from a competitive shooter trying to figure out how to shoot low-light stages at a match as fast as she could.

I give you: The Julie Method!

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(looking through YouTube, I note there’s another instructor who came upon the same idea eventually… see one of his student’s videos talking about it here … if you’ve seen it elsewhere, comment below, I think it’s very interesting when you see diverse folks making parallel developments in technique)

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

Bill Drill 2

8-Mar-14 – 10:41 by ToddG

What do you do when Bill Wilson tells you he’s updated his legendary Bill Drill?

Tell everyone else, obviously: The Bill Drill 2.

(But Bill, it’s 2014… you really should call it Bill Drill 2.0 8-) )

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

More on “Every Shot Counts”

7-Mar-14 – 11:21 by ToddG

It’s always interesting to see how people with different focuses and backgrounds look at things in similar fashion. Here’s a recent Facebook post by USPSA Production Grandmaster Donovan Montross (reprinted here with permission) that sounds quite similar to the Fire for Effect PTC post a couple weeks back.

I do think that there are some differences (for example, from a defensive standpoint things like Bill Drills are good to practice because we’re not normally thinking about a short, set 2-round engagement per target like most USPSA stages). But the main message is the same and, in my mind, extremely well articulated. So, read on:

What is the time scale of your learning? Do you track your learning over the course of a season, the course of a match, the course of a practice session?

None of these are adequate when taken by themselves or in combination. They are still important, but we also need to learn on a moment by moment basis, and extract as much usable information as possible out of every repetition we perform, dry or live fire. Every step, every shot, every draw, every reload needs to be performed with our eyes open and our mind aware. I’m not saying it needs to be perfect. I’m saying we need the ability to immediately and objectively evaluate our performance inside of the greater context of our long and short term goals.

There is only a finite amount of practice available – ammo and range time for live fire, and physical endurance in dry fire. We need to treat this like money, and invest it wisely in areas that offer the best potential for return. The more we waste, the further behind we get. The smarter we are with our investments, the wealthier in skill we become. We can do this by constantly reevaluating our priorities in the context of what our personal strengths/weaknesses are vs. what is important for the game, and adjusting our training to match. Constantly – moment by moment, staying ahead of the curve instead of falling behind it.

Stop burning ammo doing Bill drills in live fire and shoot a 15 yard plate rack. When’s the last time you practiced strong and weak hand shooting, unloaded starts from the belt or a table? When’s the last time you shot while off balance, squatting, kneeling, or prone to see how the gun reacts differently? There’s a huge chunk of the game that can be learned in dry fire that we only need to verify and supplement with live fire, for instance don’t extensively live fire draws, reloads, unloaded starts and other gun handling stuff as 95% of the work can get done dry to save ammo for other areas. Similarly, a lot of the work for trigger control can get done dry as well, we just need to go to the range to do it with explosions going off in front of our face. 

The most important thing to work on in live fire is how to grip the gun to get the best sight tracking. The predictability of your sights returning to target directly impacts not only your split time, but your transitions between targets, not only the speed but the refinement needed to shoot good points while doing so.

Track what is best learned dry or live, and adjust your training program to suit. You will progress faster than what you thought possible. Good luck!

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG