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“Train Like You Fight” is a firearms training motto we all know by heart, even though few civilians can devoutly follow it.  The idea is a good one, however: if you’re practicing to defend yourself, you shouldn’t just stand at a firing line and slowly shoot the bullseyes out of paper targets.  Gunfights involve moving targets, moving shooters (which ought to include you) and other messy variables which drive Range Safety Officers crazy.

But it’s important, because the more realistic our defensive firearms training, the better we’ll execute the necessary skills and techniques under the real-life duress of an armed confrontation.

One of these necessary skills is how to clear a weapon jam or misfire during combat, and the simple mnemonic answer  for a semi-automatic firearm is “Tap, Rack, Ready.”  First  Tap the magazine to ensure that it’s fully seated, then Rack the slide or charging handle to reload the chamber with a fresh round and reset the firing mechanism, and now you’re Ready to get back in the fight.

In theory, this immediate action drill should be so ingrained in your muscle memory that it becomes automatic, like a Top Fuel drag-racer anticipating the exact millisecond when the Christmas Tree will go green.  If you’re going to do it every time in combat, the theory goes, you’ve got to do it every time in training.

Except when you shouldn’t.  ‘Reflexive’ and ‘instinctive’ are two words which don’t usually mix well with firearms, except when applied to safety practices like keeping your booger-hook out of the trigger guard and not lasering anything you don’t want to destroy.

And so I have to confess: I don’t automatically run a Tap, Rack, Ready drill every time my gun goes click instead of bang.  Just like Doctor Who I tend to stop, think first, and shoot questions later. This habit of occasional hesitation has prevented two pistols from being destroyed, and probably saved me from serious injury.

This photo (not mine) shows the perils of ‘reflexive’ immediate action drills.  This anonymous shooter was blazing merrily away until his 1911 failed to eject.  He didn’t know that a squib had left his barrel plugged, and so he followed his training.  He dutifully Tapped and Racked, got back on target, and blew up his gun. He’s reasonably lucky that he didn’t suffer anything worse than a slightly toasted trigger finger, but he’ll be incredibly lucky if his gunsmith can salvage anything more than the frame from his 1911.

This same thing almost happened to me twice, and actually happened to my shooting buddy.  He grenaded his Glock during an action shooting match several years ago when he cleared what he thought was a routine FTE and fired another bullet into an obstructed barrel.

And so my point is this: always Tap & Rack, except when you shouldn’t.  Don’t let your malfunction drill become ‘instinctive’ or ‘reflexive,’ because instincts and reflexes aren’t adaptive enough to keep an ear out for the muffled report of a squib load lodging a bullet in your barrel.

Nobody is ever safe in combat, but we can be safe in our training.  After a few very close calls with defective ammo I may prefer a slightly wider margin of safety, but that’s the way I call it.


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  1. I was trained to use SPORTS as immediate action for the M16 – Slap, Pull, Observe, Return, Tap, Squeeze.

    Slap the Magazine
    Pull the Charging Handle
    Observe the Chamber
    Return the Charging Handle
    Tap the Forward Assist
    Squeeze the Trigger.

    I have seen training videos that abbreviate this process. Tap Rack Squeeze eliminates the “Observe” part of SPORTS, and clearly there is no forward assist on a standard semi-auto.

    Could you reliably observe a blocked barrel?

  2. Is there any type of high-tech invention or device that connects a real gun to an interactive video TV/computer screen software game so that a gun owner can practice aiming and firing their own gun in a simulated combat practice game?

  3. In principle you should check the barrel after any FTE event. However, in a live situation you don’t have time. If you get a squib you are just going to be SOL and the bad guy wins.

  4. Bolt-over-base malfunctions should never be tapped and racked. Since the base of the cartridge hasn’t been captured by the extractor, racking it will not remove the round. It will feed the next round. Now you have not one but two cartridges jammed into the feeding area. And in an AR-15, with its small, enclosed receiver, they can get really wedged in there.

    It would be nice if there was one solution to every possible problem, but there’s really no replacement for learning to properly diagnose and respond to a variety of issues.

    The correct response to a bolt-over-base malfunction is Lock/Rip/Rack/Reload.

    • This.

      In my limited experience shooting, I have NEVER seen a situation where tap-rack would do any good whatsoever. On the other hand, I have had numerous failures requiring lock-strip-clear-reload.

      As for checking a barrel for obstruction, the easiest tool is a flashlight–shine it in through the muzzle and observe the chamber.

  5. I practice putting spent shells in my Glock mags to practice. Sometimes tap/rack works. Other times, it jams the shell and I have to drop the mag, rack a few times, slap a new mag in and get back into the fight. I once had to quickly field strip the Glock to release the shell, but I am glad I practice these drills because they are not intuitive.

  6. When I go to the range, I carry a little $5 goose-neck bore light just in case I need to check for an obstruction. It’s part of my kit, just like ear and eye protection. And no, I don’t look down the barrel when I check. 🙂

    In an SD situation, tdiinva is right: anyone who has a squib is totally f^cked. Only on CSI can someone shoot a quib out of the barrel.

  7. You forgot the second half.

    Train like you will fight, because you will fight like you trained.

    Immediate action drills have to be part of muscle memory to be useful. But in training, if something feels wrong, stop and evaluate.

    The companion to fight-train is: Train to standard, not to time. Do it correctly, even if slow. Speed comes with repetition, unfortunately lots of it. Nothing like a HE projo lobbed 10Km when it was supposed to go 11Km, but it was done to time.

  8. If you make sure your magazine is propperley seated and you slingshot and dont ride the bolt/slide, you should just about never have to tap rack ready. I have observed very few FTF/FTE that were not caused by the shooter.

    I have had squibs before. Maybe it was just during my experences, but I knew right away something was wrong. They sound and feel very weird.

    Any sort of instinctive reaction can get you into trouble. You need to be able to recognize a malfunction and propperley clear it, or better yet, transition to a different firearm. Tap rack ready is antiquated, IMHO.

  9. I think the only time when Tap, Rack, Bang should be done is when it is the very first round in the magazine.
    I have owned, and have fired several weapons that were very easy to, if you were not extremely vigorous in inserting the magazine, not fully seat the magazine.
    When that happened, it would not strip the first round. The solution was to tug on the bottom of the magazine (or use the pink to push down on it), then slap it home securely, tugging to make sure it was fully seated. It has become a habit for me to tug on any magazine to be sure that it is properly seated before dropping the slide.


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