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There is a story out there, somewhere, of a police officer found dead with empty shell casings in his pocket. According to legend, he’d trained himself at the range to pick up his spent cartridges after his strings and did so in combat. Even if it’s true, who knows if doing the brass in pocket thing was the deciding factor? Nonetheless, point taken. You WILL fight as you’ve trained yourself to fight. And here’s the problem: you have no idea what kind of conflict lies ahead. In that sense, habit can be both your friend and your enemy. For example . . .

If you’re used to emptying your gun every time you shoot, you stand a good chance of doing so when push comes to shove. If you train yourself NOT to empty your gun when you shoot, you may fail to do so when a hail of lead is the order of the day. You need to train yourself for both possibilities.

In the same sense, many self-defense shooters routinely practice their course of fire at “combat distance.” They operate according to the theory—and it is just a theory—that most gunfights occur at three yards. “Three seconds, three shots, three yards.”

This stat (for which my Google Fu fails) is an average. If we take it literally, for every gunfight at four yards there’s one at two yards. One at five, one at one. There’s a BIG difference between hitting center mass at seven yards and drilling it at one. The further out the target, the more time you need to hit it.

The common fallacy: if I can hit a target that’s far away I can hit it at close range. Yes, but—if it’s close-in you can shoot more rounds more quickly with an excellent chance of all your shots finding their mark. If it’s further out, you need to take [fractionally] more time and aim more carefully. And, perhaps, shoot fewer bullets.

In terms of self-defense training, it’s best to practice shooting at all distances. So how many times do you see people at a gun range shooting at a target positioned at point-blank range? Or twenty yards? Or one then the other.

Try this (maintaining gun safety at all times): close your eyes, have your training partner position the target, open your eyes and shoot. Two hands, strong hand, off-hand. Standing, kneeling, winter clothes, summer clothes. Carry gun, home defense gun, automatic, revolver.

All of which should be predicated on hitting center mass on ye olde pie plate rather than attempting to shoot half-inch groups on a bullseye target. A goal that gets a great deal of lip service but tends to disappear when shooters gather to practice.

While we’re at it, a like-minded partner is critical to effective armed self-defense training. If you think you can change it up yourself, varying targets and techniques sufficiently to maintain an element of surprise and personal challenge, you’re kidding yourself.

Your mind naturally seeks a comfort zone. Your innate tendency: perform drills that give you the pleasure of success. As Christian is wont to say, you want to train yourself to fail. A partner is better suited to helping you identify your weaknesses and work to correct them.

Current gun ranges are not ideal for real world training. Finding a good training partner/instructor is about as easy as scoring a supermodel. But practice is a whole lot better than not. As long as it’s the right kind of practice.

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  1. I got into the bad habit of always doing things the same way with my 1911’s, and everything seemed fine until I attended one of Christians tactical classes at AFS. He had us change things up several times and I quickly learned that I sucked under stress. Everything was fine as long as I followed my simple routine, but when he started yelling out commands and messing up my rhythm things went straight down the tubes. I messed up my pain in the ass manual safety so many times that I wanted to rip it off the frame. I finally switched to the Glock side and things have greatly improved. I used to make fun of Glocks because they’re pretty ugly, but now I love my 30SF and my new 36 should be in soon. Now I just point and shoot.

    • I wonder what it would be like to use a 1911 built like what Browning originally intended, with a grip safety but no manual safety. It would basically be like a hammer fired XD, I guess.

    • @ Joe. The solution I found to an ugly glock is a sexy M&P9. They are pretty equal in reliability. In defense before being attacked for that comment, the extra difference in reliability that a glock may reportedly have is negligible to me. Unless you are putting ten thousand rounds down range without any maintenance or cleaning (extremely unlikely), then any measurable difference will never materialize. I also find the ergonomics to be in the M&P’s favor.

  2. I can’t fathom anyone becoming so habitual in their shooting so as to not know the state of their weapon, roughly how many rounds fired, etc, even when it hits the fan. There’s adrenaline and nerves, sure, but one’s brain shouldn’t entirely turn off.

    Picking up empties while being shot at? That just doesn’t compute on any level that resembles sanity.

    • Instead of picking up brass, the version I’ve heard has the patrol officer dumping the spent brass out of his service revolver into his hand, then pocket, as he reloads under fire.

      The story seems probably apocryphal either way.

      • Add’l comment in lieu of edit: Commenter “George Costanza” below suggests it may have been a real-life incident.

    • In a deadly force encounter (I have experienced more than one) you will execute exactly what you have trained. The adrenaline release causes an instant response and your “thinking” mind will be shoved aside by your primal survival brain. If you don’t count rounds at the range, you won’t count them in a firefight. If you don’t practice drawing from the holster at the range, you will not execute in a crisis. If you do not practice smooth reloads at the range, you will shut down under stress, especially in your first and second life and death encounter. In a gun fight there is very little thinking, it is ALL TRAINING. Whatever you are doing (or not doing) in training is EXACTLY what you will do when the it get very real and you could die. Even then, do not expect more than 60%-70% of your best training performance in a real shootout. It will mean the difference between life and death. If you don’t believe me, go shoot at a timed tactical event like IDPA or USPSA. The simple addition of a timer and a few simple directions will degrade your range skills and leave you dumbfounded at how difficult a realist shooting situation really is. Get the training, make it realistic and you can defeat your attackers in a real street fight.

  3. Best way to get a like minded training partner is to build one.

    Introduce your friends to shooting and at least some will be interested in defensive training if that’s how you introduced them to shooting. Keep nursing that interest and pretty soon you’ll have a fantastic training partner for this kind of training.

  4. See? It’s like we always say: if someone is going to kill someone, they’ll find a way, even if we take away their gun.

  5. I use Opera for my Browser and I am having trouble with this site lately. Especially vids. And now.

  6. I know far too many people who just go shoot paper at the range at the same distance and even when asked why, they get upset.

    I agree, your standard range does not cut it. But, unless you have your own range, everyone is limited.

    I don’t know if I am right, but I try to switch things around all the time. I hunt, shoot clays, attend a monthly IDPA leagues, I play paintball, I shoot plates and shoot different distances with both hands and have even tried cowboy action shooting — for good or for bad — its my way to change things up.

    Few have the time and resources to do force-on-force training and other more disciplined training. I also don’t believe going to one training session every 5 years will cut it. I believe the key is to try to be as proficient as you possibly can with different positions and situations as you can with the time and resources you have and should that day come, hope for the best because nobody really knows until it happens what they will do or how they will react — we all think we know.

    When I was younger I did all kinds of amature and SCCA racing and for all the training, you don’t know what you are going to do until you are actually in that car wreck. All the car control classes I had taken did not prepare me for the violent crash when I rolled my car — however — I did everything possible to prevent it from being worse than what it turned out. In a gun fight, I am hoping I can do the same.

    As we get older, it also gets harder and keeping physically fit become even more important. As get into our 40s, reaction times slow down, our eyes are not the same so you have to adapt.

  7. You’re probably thinking about CHP and the Newhall incident where four officers were killed in two separate shootings by two low lives. One of the officers was found with shell casings from his .357 Magnum in his pocket. One civvie actually fired on the two low lives using one of the CHP guns but wasn’t able to connect with a kill shot.

  8. The “empty shell casings in his pocket” story is from the Newhall Incident/Massacre in which 4 California Highway Patrol officers were killed in a shootout with two lowlifes. As I recall, the empty casings story was ultimately debunked but there were a number of CHP firearm training issues raised as a result of the incident.

    • As I recall this is a validated story from that incident due to the training of personnel at that time. CHP also had a policy in force at that time that all shotguns were “sealed” in their mounts within the vehicle. A broken seal meant extra paperwork and justifications to just about everyone on the planet about why the seal was broken. Needless to say that there were political motivations for this policy.

      I well believe that spent rounds could have been found in a dead officer’s pocket. Training induces automatic responses. Kinda like expecting a public school educated young *adult* not to vote for Obama and not to embrace Marx They’ve been trained to do it, all payed for with tax dollars.

      • I wasn’t educated in the public schools, I enjoy firearms, I dislike taxes and large government, but I also enjoy a functioning government.

        The current crop of Republicans have not demonstrated any interest in nor ability to form a functioning government.
        The insanity over the debt ceiling was one of the defining moments of the modern republican party.

        I don’t like Democratic economic policies, but the current state of the Republican party forces me to vote for Obama and the Democrats because they at least will keep the lights on (and they’ve been doing it despite the Republican party’s continued attempts to cut the power lines, to continue the analogy).

  9. Cute vid, good comments. Three seconds for three rounds at three yards? I don’t understand–at that range you don’t even need to aim. P.S. I sent an e; the site says my comment is being posted and that it has been posted–but then no post ever shows.

    • “at that range you don’t even need to aim”

      Well, you need to aim at least a little. There’s no minimum distance below which you can’t shoot yourself.

  10. Averages don’t work that way. You tacitly assumed a standard deviation of 1 meter, and that is has a normal distribution. I highly doubt that the graph of number of gunfights at distance X is anything like a normal distribution. An average of 3 meters could literally mean 20 incidents at 3, or one at 150 and 49 at point blank…you get the idea.

    • This engineer thanks you for pointing that out. What if its a geometric distribution? lol

      • I suspect most civilian gun fights take place in a house. A long distance gun fight in a house is probably 21 feet, or, 7 yards.

        More than likely, the house gun fight is where the distance statistic is drawn from.

        Of course, there are always going to be outliers, but if I’m correct, then one doesn’t have to really worry that the average distance is figured from a bunch of incidents with extreme variations.

    • “They operate according to the theory—and it is just a theory—that most gunfights occur at three yards. “Three seconds, three shots, three yards.”
      This stat (for which my Google Fu fails) is an average. ”

      Actually this is what’s know as the mode.

  11. Okay, I’m a professional statistician. I don’t know the exact distribution of distances at which gunfights occur (does anyone?), but I’m confident that the distribution has a long right tail and a very short left tail, especially if the mean is something like 3 feet. It’s important to be prepared to engage a target at any distance within range of your firearm.

    There’s an old story (almost certainly apocryphal) about an African hunter who was out to shoot a lion. He encountered a lion just a few feet away. He fired and missed. The lion leaped over his head and ran away. He decided he needed to practice shooting at short distances. As he went out to find a suitable spot, he heard a noise in the bush. He looked, and it was the lion practicing short leaps. Lesson: whether you’re the hunter or the lion, be prepared for all distances.

  12. I heard, in my academy 20 odd years ago, that it was FBI range protocol to catch brass from their old .38’s. The stupidity of the practice was shown when they had the Miami shoot out in the ’80’s. Dead guys with handsfull of brass.

    Soon thereafter, they went to autos in either .40 S&W or 10mm.

    Good advice in the rest of the article. I want to try the nine hole drills at odd distances.

    • I had a long talk over some beers with FBI agent Gordon McNeil about two years after the 1986 Miami shootout. McNeil was one of the eight agents involved in the fight, and was one of the five agents wounded. He went into extraordinary detail about the events of that night. He never mentioned any agents being found with brass in hand. McNeil was shot in the hand and the neck by bad guy Michael Platt’s Mini 14 .223, but was unable to reload his Model 19 .357 revolver because of blood and bone fragments, as well as his crippled hand. He didn’t mention trying to catch his empty brass, or FBI agents being trained to do that. In fact, the two agents killed, Jerry Dove and Ben Grogan, were both armed with S&W Model 459 9mm semi autos.

      Dan, I think whoever told you that story in the academy was just repeating an untrue urban legend, which often happens after such firefights.

  13. I had a long talk with FBI Agent Gordon McNeil over a few beers at a national homicide conference about two years after the 1986 Miami shootout. McNeil was one of the eight agents involved in that fight, and was wounded in the hand and neck by Michael Platt’s Ruger Mini-14 .223. He went into a lot of detail that night as we talked. McNeil was armed with an S&W model 19 .357 magnum revolver. Three agents were armed with S&W model 459 9mm. All the other agents were also armed with revolvers.

    McNeil was temporarily paralyzed by his wound to the neck, and related to me that as he lay helpless in the street, he saw Platt “looked like a garden hose sprinkler” as he walked around firing at the agents with the Mini 14. Platt had been shot numerous times but refused to go down. (No drugs no alcohol in his system)

    NeNeil never mentioned agents being trained to catch empty cases from their revolvers, nor any agents being found with empty cases in hand. In fact, the only two agents killed, Jerry Dove and Ben Grogan, were both armed with the semi-auto pistols.

    Obviously, whoever told you that in the academy was repeating an untrue urban legend. Gordan McNeil died of natural causes in 2004.

  14. About two years after the 1986 Miami shootout, I had a long talk over some beers with FBI Agent Gordon McNeil. We were attending a national homicide conference in Galveston. He was one of the eight agents involved in the fight, and was one of the five wounded. He went into extraodinary detail about the events of that day.

    He never mentioned anything about the FBI training their people to catch the emptys from their revolvers or any agent found with emptys in hand. In fact, the two agents who were killed, Jerry Dove and Ben Grogan, were armed with S&W Model 459 9mm semi auto pistols. as was one other agent. The rest had revolvers including McNeil. He didn’t try to catch any empty brass. Unfortunately Dan, I’m afraid whoever told you that in the academy was repeating some untrue urban legend. That happens. Gordon McNeil died of natural causes in 2004.

  15. Sorry about the multiple posts, it only took almost an hour for one to post, at which time they all did.

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