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Failures of gear or training can kill you. Pure and simple. Finding those failures and exposing them to the light of day is the reason TTAG writers work so hard, and burns through so many rounds, and spends so many hours on the range.

The gear side is pretty easy. If it breaks or fails, don’t use it. But if the operator is the issue, that can be a little harder to root out. Watch the video above and read on for my discussion of my own failings.

We get questions occasionally asking why we abuse guns when we review them. Truth be told, I’m a pretty cleanly gun owner. My personal firearms sit in the safe, carbon- and copper-free, coated in a light film of oil.

But the guns that we receive for review get used and abused like a fully insured rental car. I run them as they come out of the box, with no regard for their health or well being because some gun owners treat guns like that in the real world. We try to simulate the worst case scenario a gun is likely to experience.

Similarly, it’s important to expose the flaws in the operator. And the only way to do that is the same way, through abuse.

I got my first exposure to stress-induced failures early on in my pistol shooting career at a session with KR Training. As soon as the gun command sounded, I immediately forgot all the lessons I’d just learned, tea-cupped the gun, and started dropping rounds low and left.

Then my gun ran out of ammo, and I fumbled a mag change. In reality, there wasn’t any actual stress, but it sure felt that way. Watching my mag slip free of my hands didn’t help my stress level one bit, either.

Several years later, I found myself at the Bushnell Brawl shooting a moving target with a XD(M) 4.5 that Springfield Armory had sent for testing and evaluation. I had already shot several hundred rounds through the gun in the months prior and found it to be endlessly lovable, accurate, and dependable.

It was so dependable that I was carrying it daily. But within three shots in a mildly stressful environment, the slide locked back on a loaded mag. I quickly diagnosed the failure, racked the slide, and got back on target. And continued to have issues.

I lost count, but I think the slide locked back some four or five times over the course of that stage. Each time, I quizzically looked at the failure, racked the slide, and dropped a louder F-bomb than the time before.

Like a similar failure I had with an FNS-9 at Run n Gun, I took it to the local indoor range, and sat idly by as round after round hit paper accurately with no failures. Perplexed, I took it to my ranch where I’m allowed to draw, move, and shoot, and…wouldn’t you know…I got the slide to reliably lock back mid string.

The cause of the failure? 100% operator error.

I’m not able to the hit the range as much as I’d like, so I spend a lot of time creeping around my house, moving, drawing, and dry firing. It seems that in the preceding months, I had developed a very nasty habit of gripping the gun high with my support hand, smashing the meat of my thumb into the slide lock, pushing it upwards.

Naturally, the slide tends to lock back when you do that. And over the course of many thousands of simulated rounds, I had burned that movement into my muscle memory.

You can see in the video above at around the :40 second mark where I change my grip…and the problem disappeared. Thoroughly frustrated with myself, I tried the same drill with my RDS-equipped M&P9 and saw no such failures. Which meant that my M&P9 got promoted to EDC gun. Yes, my red dot might die, but I’ll take a backup iron sights over a malfunction-prone gun/operator combination any day.

So where do we go from here? The high support hand grip doesn’t seem to improve my accuracy, and it has been scientifically proven to diminish reliability, so it has to go. Which means many more thousands of simulated rounds with a keen eye towards proper presentation. And, of course, lots more simulated stress to see if I still fall back on bad habits.

I remember talking to Smokey, the coordinator of Run ‘n Gun, who told me that if your gear can work 100% reliably at Run n Gun, it would do just fine in the real world. I don’t think running seven mile biathlons is completely necessary to give you and your gear a rough shakedown, but I do think you should step outside your comfort zone often.

Local competitions are great for this sort of thing, but if you don’t have them nearby or have another aversion, do anything you can to push yourself. Buy a shot timer (or download a free app).

Sometimes the loud beep is enough to push you. Don’t own a smartphone or lack a desire to own a shot timer? Take a friend to the range and have them give you a “gun” command with a loud shout.

Better yet, have that friend load a random snap cap in your EDC pistol without letting you know. Exposing your weaknesses is uncomfortable, but doing so is the only way to make yourself a better competitor. And who knows…one day it might save your life.

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  1. I would much rather learn from a secret snap loaded than when my gun has a catastrophic explosive failure. (smile)

  2. Simple solution – shoot one handed.

    Especially if you can do it while jumping through the air going “aaaargh!”

  3. the point of this ‘article’ is what exactly….?
    drunk? high? stream of consciousness..?
    get paid by the submission…?

    seriously.. wtf?

    • “seriously.. wtf?”

      I seriously doubt you’re the real Foghorn.

      He at least makes an effort to capitalize where required…

  4. Good reminder. Recently sold an FN509 Because I had to adjust grip to drop the magazine. My daughter won’t use a .243 Mossberg single shot for hunting because the safety engages after every break of the action and she has difficulty manipulating the safety to the off position and that was not acceptable for her if she needed or wanted to take a follow up shot.

    • You’re supposed to have to adjust your grip slightly to drop the magazine on a self defense pistol. If you don’t have to there is an elevated likelihood of dropping it inadvertently. If you liked the pistol otherwise that’s not a practical or productive reason to ditch it.

  5. Training with and in front of others, especially if they are strangers and you’re paying for the training, is a stress inducer. So are matches. Just make sure the matches are realistic. Sometimes stress is a good thing.

    • I’m curious. What do you mean by “realistic”? No sarcasm intended, but I shoot matches almost every weekend, 3gun, LESA, Practical Pistol, IDPA, 2gun rim fire, speed steel, and I have never once seen anything that was even remotely “realistic” unless your training to get dropped into a hot LZ all by your self or perhaps shoot up a school.

  6. Yeah I load Dummy rounds randomly in guns to intentionally cause malfunctions so I can Learn to clear them when training. it makes you more cognizant and you learn to take cover and be more aware of your surroundings while dealing with the issue. You can also use +/- Coils on springs to affect feeding issues too.

  7. I actually cut the big slide stop ‘lever’ off my XD 45 compact, so that only the slide stop nub remained to lock the slide back on an empty mag. With my 1911, thumbs-up shooting grip, I was constantly riding the slide stop lever with my support thumb, inadvertently holding it down and preventing it from locking the slide back.

  8. So it’s all caused by a stress reaction? By panic? By a total wuss-out situation in a scenario of zero personal danger?

    Check, got it.

    • No, it’s called an unintended physical/mental response to adrenaline and cortisone dumping into the bloodstream.

      Overcoming said hormonal barriers is the reason many of us train for muscle memory.

      But you do you…

  9. You can tell this is a good article because the keyboard commandos have all got their undies in a bunch over it.

    It’s good to see Tyler Kee back on TTAG. Keep ’em coming, Tyler. You’ve been missed around here.

    • “It’s good to see Tyler Kee back on TTAG. Keep ’em coming, Tyler. You’ve been missed around here.”

      Preach it.

      Don’t be a stranger, you or your handsome pony…

  10. “. . .so I spend a lot of time creeping around my house, moving, drawing, and dry firing. . .”

    I take it you are without a significant other in your house?

    • One or two encounters with Jock ClueSo in the middle of the night would be more than enough to convince an S.O. to start moving the furniture around… “to simulate reality”. One fall down the stairs because of that spilled silicon spray might have you rethinking the whole deal… Yup!

  11. Most firearm “failures or malfunctions” are attributable to the hand or hands holding the arm. Note, this is not ALWAYS the case, but it is most of the time.

  12. I found this to be informative. I’ve had most of the semi autos that I shootus a lot eventually malfunction due to me , the ammo and occasionally the gunm itself. Except the tt33 over 6000 rounds and has not failed as of yet. To bad the grips so lame and half cock safety is the only one. Revolingers don’t have a bunch of semi auto probs however under stress I’m not worth a sht recharging the cylinder.

      • I noted same. This is not ‘possum-ible.

        L. Ron Hubbard (of Scientology fame) directed his Odditors to ask, “Have you ever destroyed a planet?” It’s a serious question, asked of people that pay $1000/hr to be asked questions like this.

        OK, Possum, come clean. Have you destroyed a planet?

  13. Ball and Dummy (friend loading random snap caps) is a wonderfully useful drill.
    For solo practice, the Mantis X is an awesome diagnostic tool if you have a smart phone and $125ish. It even works for dry fire when creeping around the house. The downside is that it attaches to an 1913 rail or magazine baseplate, so you might not be able to do holster work or reload practice. For a rifle, you can probably find 1″ of rail you’re not using.

  14. “TTAG writers work so hard, and burns(sic) through so many rounds, and spends(sic) so many hours on the range.”

    It’s a Dirty Job, but someone has to do it.

    For us Retired Olde-Fart (re)Loaders (ROFLs), it’s a way of life.

  15. I’m confused.. Why would anyone send a firearm to YOU for evaluation when there are so many good experienced masters who test guns? You obviously have no tangible experience with them. This is part of the duming down of America; very sad.

  16. If you shoot/train long enough, you will experience a failure at the least best possible moment. Hopefully it will be during practice and not during a match or in a DGU. But it will happen.


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