I am a Ruger LCR fan. When Ruger first released these guns, I rented one at my favorite range, and was impressed by the gun’s easy handling, and very usable sights. It was very light for its size; a good deal lighter than the 442/642 Smiths I was accustomed to using.
That grip though. I get it…gun designers aren’t necessarily gun users, and what looks good in AUTOCAD doesn’t always work as awesomely in real life. For the applications I use a small revolver, I expect them to work well in the following roles:
Appendix carry IWB. As a deep cover primary, or as a, “gym carry,” gun when wearing shorts
Pocket carry. For the rare occasion when I need to wear a thick jacket, and carry in an external pocket
Ankle carry. Where my snubs spend most of their time. If I need my revolver when it’s on my ankle, I need it now. Whether it’s a transition from my primary, or a grab (accessibility issue) while I’m seated or driving my truck, I need the machine in my hand NOW. A more hooked grip helps with that motion.
To do what I need the revolver to do, the, “hook,” shape of the grip is a big plus. I have big hands, and getting my hand into a pocket, and wrap it around a gun, takes space. If the gun is hook shaped, that helps. The hook analogy works well for the ankle and AIWB roles, too. If you need to draw, you need that gun now, not later. Unfortunately, the LCR in stock configuration, has the grip profile of a semi colon…it’s nearly vertical. Which means that it is closer to the belt line when carried AIWB, and in the pocket, there isn’t much room for the stock, and the hand. The grab to the grip is hasty and unsure.
One of my mentors, Tom Givens, is a fan of the Eagle Secret Service grips on his Colt Cobra. I noticed the profile of the Colt stocks and the Ruger LCR stocks were similar in Eagle’s photos, so I figured it was worth the investment. The stocks look awesome and feel great…until you start shooting. That rosewood transmits the recoil impact to the base of the thumb like a tack hammer! No bueno. And yes, I know these guns are supposed to be, “Carried much and shot little,” but I like to shoot regularly, especially the guns I hang my family’s well being on, so I want something that I can actually use. So, as you can imagine, the search continues!
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Since there is such an expanse of preserved nature there, many other folks and I out that way enjoy hiking in the hills and mountains of Washington State. A few times a year, in the areas where I lived, people would spot a mountain cat of some type. These animals would wander into town, with a voracious appetite. Or, a pack of medium sized, but wily coyotes would terrorize an area, and devour house cats, or maul/kill dogs. At the time, I didn’t have the finances to purchase anything specifically well suited for killing large predators, so I generally used my duty gun, a Smith 681, in a shoulder holster, loaded with the heaviest .357 Magnum loads I could find. And, as was the custom in the area, I kept a Remington 870 loaded with slugs in the truck. I’d keep it handy at the campsite and when out on the trails, since the repellent effect of Brenneke rifled slugs on most anything that breathes, is well known.
Now, after living in Tennessee for 11 years, I’ve learned the South has it’s own brand of predatory critters. Namely black bears and feral hogs. Who’d have thought that a giant pig could be hazardous! So, when I decided that I would explore the woodlands of Tennessee, I figured that a non-long gun solution (since there are tourists out here that freak at the sight of a long gun) was needed. Thus, I procured a Ruger Redhawk in .44 Magnum, with a 5.5″ barrel. The heavy frame of the Redhawk makes the heavy .44 Magnum loads tolerable, at least for a few dozen rounds. The OEM grips are a slightly enlarged version of the Ruger Security Six series, and they are reminiscent of the stocks on an old single action revolver. They tend to, “eat,” at the middle finger of the firing hand, and that makes shooting get uncomfortable after a bit. Sure, you can wear a glove or put duct tape on your hand, but I generally don’t do that. I tried out a number of after-market grip solutions for the Redhawk, but I never found anything that I really liked that well. The Pachmayr product was ill fitting, the Hogue grip was HUGE, and I didn’t really fiddle with anything else after two disappointments in a row. So, I thought that there had to be a better, more ergonomic, and portable solution out there.
Enter the Smith & Wesson Model 69. Built on the venerable, “L frame,” and preceded in history by the Model 586/686 and 581/681 and their various variants, the L frame was a Police and Security favorite from the time it was introduced on the market in 1980. Throughout the years, various gunsmiths experimented with the L frame, producing hybrid guns in 9mm, and even reboring some guns to work with the .44 Magnum’s rare cousin, the .41 Magnum. Later, Smith & Wesson introduced a .44 Special version of the L-frame, that looked like a beefed up version of the Smith Bodyguard. So, in 2014, Smith decided it was time to dust off the old L frame, and make a highly portable, easy to shoot, 4.25″ barreled, 5 shot L frame, and call it the, “Combat Magnum.” I saw one at my local gun shop, and slapped down my debit card immediately. Yes, it sounded kind of tinny when I dry-pressed it, and yes, the barrel isn’t monolithic…it’s a tube screwed into a steel sleeve, and yes it had that ridiculous lock on it, but I didn’t care. I also bought two boxes of .44 Magnum (240 grain hollow points) and set out onto the range to make some noise.
The revolving pistol worked as advertised. It shot to the sights with the heavy .44 Magnums (and I found out later, also with 200 grain .44 Special Gold Dots). The recoil was about the same as any other .44 Magnum I had fired, and not uncomfortable. The factory OEM stocks were comfortable, but not perfect. They could be squeezed to the point that they would spread at the backstrap. Not a deal breaker, but not perfect. The stocks also didn’t have much cushion on the backstrap, so I could definitely feel the, “oomph,” of the recoil transmit to my hand. After 100 rounds, I was ready for a break and some dinner.
Although I don’t find myself anymore in the situation where I have to use, “one gun,” to do most anything, I run these thought experiments for the benefit of others, and for the simple reason that someday, I might become a total nomad dentist, and set out on adventure, a la Indiana Jones, in which case, I may have just one gun to rely on for protection from both man and beast, and also for food harvesting capability, on medium to large game, throughout North America. The Smith 69 could work for that. Just like it’s older cousin, the J frame, the Model 69 is limited by its meager five shot ammo capacity. However, unlike the J frame, the Model 69 can handle some of the heaviest, fastest, most effective game ammo made. Buffalo Bore produces .44 Magnum ammo in anti-personnel, and game hunting ammunition. Several of the hunting rounds have penetration depths that are measured in feet. Guaranteed to perforate and shoot through most unarmored human targets, but effective against the thick hide, muscle and bone of many dangerous animals. The excellent Speer 200 grain Gold Dot Hollowpoint is available in a mild .44 Special loading, and delivers penetration and tissue destruction on par with other large caliber Gold Dot loadings. The recoil is mild and very workable for self-defense purposes, where fast follow up shots are often required. So, by only changing the ammunition in the gun, the performance capabilities of the .44 Magnum can be fully appreciated and utilized for a variety of tasks.
As I’ve already written about in the past few posts, I recently attended the RANGEMASTER Polite Society Tactical Conference. One class I attended there was presented by Darryl Bolke of Hardwired Tactical Shooting, from Dallas TX. The lecture was entitled, “The Secrets of Highly Successful Gunfighters.”
Darryl talked about the legendary lawmen, of both the distant and recent past. Some of these men had been his mentors, and he made careful notes of the skills he observed these men to have in common. A common thread through all of these men was their capability to deliver extremely accurate fire, under the threat and pressure of tense situations AND/OR incoming gunfire! Having the ability to deliver, on demand, gunshots to either the fist-sized vital zone of the upper chest, or the fist-sized vital zone of the head, are the only predictable ways to cease violent or homicidal human behavior, with pistol projectiles, regardless of caliber.
Darryl also noticed that this unique group of men tended to spend their time in extensive dry-practice (which he uses instead of the term, “dry-fire,” for obvious reasons) live-fire practice on the range, AND in accuracy-intensive competition like NRA Bullseye or PPC matches. If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, it’s that this unique sample group definitely subscribed to the, “accuracy FIRST,” ideal, and it served them well.
Unfortunately, gents like the aforementioned group don’t (or cannot) exist in law enforcement these days due to our hyper-sensitive, politically correct world. Habitual gunfight survivors are cycled out of their duty positions, and modern law enforcement officers simply cannot accrue the body of experience and success that officers of past generations could, and did. Not to denigrate past or current generations of law enforcement officers, but, “They just CAN’T make them like they used to!” In the civilian/armed self-defense world, two gunfighters that stick out in my mind, are Lance Thomas of Santa Monica CA, who successfully defended his high-end watch shop from multiple armed robbers on several occasions, and Second Chance Body Armor inventor (and former pizza delivery driver) Richard Davis, who was also the victor in robbery attempts against multiple armed suspects. I’m sure that there are others, but most victims of serial robberies change their vocation, or at least their location, after having experienced multiple existential threats.
Unfortunately, I missed Darryl’s range block that covered shooting drills relative to his lecture, because my match shooting time ran over due to previous shooters having some kind of conundrum. But I took notes on what I could overhear coming off of the range!
Any of my eleven regular readers knows that I’m a big fan of Claude Werner, AKA The Tactical Professor. Claude (no coincidence) is also a believer in the 100% accuracy club. Below is a baseline performance drill Claude came up with, that has also been used by Super-Cop Greg Ellifritz from Active Response Training, as outlined here, on his blog.
THE TACTICAL PROFESSOR BASELINE PERFORMANCE DRILL (the goal, is 100% accuracy) Claude originally posted this drill here, which I have bold printed in a direct copy, for your enjoyment:
“The objective of this drill is to determine what distance you can make 100 percent hits on the vital area of a silhouette target. My feeling is that we need to work on achieving 100 percent accuracy because errant rounds in our homes or neighborhoods could be a major problem. Since I also think the first shot is the most important, I structured the session with a lot of first shots but also included multi-shot strings. A lot of people ‘walk their rounds’ into the target even with handguns. This is a huge problem and liability.
We don’t count hits on the head in this drill because they are actually misses if you are aiming at the body. The head is more than a foot away from the center of the body, if you hit the head when you’re aiming at the body, it’s just a lucky shot and doesn’t count in terms of performance measurement.”
Any silhouette target; B-27, B-21, Q, IDPA, IPSC, etc.
Masking tape (preferred) or magic marker to mark the target.
Pistol, 50 rounds of ammunition
Eye and ear protection
This drill consists of five (5) Sequences of 10 shots each. The Sequences are untimed.
Place target at three (3) yards
Start loaded with five (5) rounds only.
The starting position is Low Ready. This means the pistol is aimed at the floor below the target. For double action pistols, you will decock after each Step.
Sequence 1 (10 rounds)
1) Start with handgun held in both hands, aimed at the floor below the target. Spare magazine loaded with 5 rounds or speedloader with 5 rounds or 5 loose rounds on the bench.
2) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 1 shot at the center of target. Followthrough for one second, then return to low ready. Decock, if appropriate.
3) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 2 shots at the center of target. Followthrough for one second, then return to low ready. Decock.
4) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 3 shots at the center of target. After two shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Reload it and fire the third shot. Followthrough for one second, then return to low ready. Decock.
5) Bring the pistol up on target and fire 4 shots at the center of target. After the shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Hopefully, the slide has locked back if it’s an autoloader.
6) Place your pistol down on the bench.
7) Bring your target back and mark all the hits, preferably with tape but a marker will do.
8) Write on the target how many hitsyou made in the body scoring area. I prefer to not count the outer scoring area as I mentioned in Why I hate the -3 zone. Use this format, (3) X/10, X being the number of hits. For this drill, do not count any hits in the head, they are actually misses.
Sequence 2 (10 rounds)
1) Send the target out to 5 yards.
2) Repeat Sequence 1 but with the target at 5 yards instead of 3 yards.
3) When you write on the target how many hits you made in the scoring area, it will be (5) X/10. The number in parenthesis is the distance in yards.
Sequence 3 (10 rounds)
1) Send the target out to 7 yards.
2) Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 7 yards.
3) Write on the target how many hits you made at 7 yards. (7) X/10
Sequence 4 (10 rounds)
1) Send the target out to 10 yards.
2) Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 10 yards.
3) Write on the target how many hits you made at 10 yards. (10) X/10
Sequence 5 (10 rounds)
4) Send the target out to 15 yards.
5) Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 15 yards.
6) Write on the target how many hits you made at 15 yards. (15) X/10
“When you finish the drill, record your score for each yardage. Make this a part of your practice record. Shooting this exercise will give you a good idea of what your current proficiency level is. That’s an important starting point.”
Well, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, and since some of you like software, and some of you like hardware (and I love you all) I thought that I would run this baseline evaluation test with several guns and make sure that I’m using the guns I should be! I used a paper version of the IDPA target, and I counted anything outside of the (-0) AKA, “down zero,” which is an 8″ diameter circle in the mid/upper chestal region of the target. I added an additional record to the scoring, which is the total number of rounds that actually went onto the bad guy, in even the -1 or -3 areas. You’ll notice in the photo sequence:
In summary, precision fire from 3, 5, 7 and 10 yards isn’t particularly difficult. Where the rubber truly meets the road for ME, is at 15 and 25 yards. At those longer distances, I really have to slow down, lock into that front sight and get a smooth press to send the projectile into the desired terminus. Botch any one of those segments, and the shot goes wide. Seems simple enough! But alas, as anyone who has hammered on this stuff for hours/days/months/years, “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear, well, he eats you!” Luckily for folks like me, the lone, armed citizen, shots that long are rare (albeit not unheard of!). Try this drill, see how you fare, especially with your carry guns. And if you have a gun in your safe that you shoot BETTER than your carry gun, maybe look closer at WHY you made that choice. If you aren’t under any kind of work constraint or regulation to carry a specific sidearm, consider changing to something that you can produce 100% accuracy and thus 100% accountability with. And remember the ways of the past masters…as Larry Vickers says in his classes, “Speed is fine, but accuracy is FINAL!” Thanks for reading!
After running this Remington 870 Wingmaster through a block of Tom Givens’ Defensive Shotgun course, I made a few simple changes to the gun, to allow me to run it better. Tom mentioned these modifications in the course, and I did them over the past week. Total investment? $310.00 and that’s in US dollars. A workable, high quality solution doesn’t need to cost $2100.
THING ONE: I ditched the OEM magazine cap with the integrated sling loop, and the OEM magazine tube spring and cheap plastic follower. I replaced the cap, spring and follower with a unit from Wilson Combat/Scattergun Technologies. This magazine, “extension,” allows one more round to fit into the magazine, for a total of five rounds. I leave it loaded with four rounds, to allow the spring to have a bit more, “oomph,” instead of leaving it fully loaded. I keep it, “cruiser ready,” with a loaded magazine tube, hammer down (action unlocked), and the safety off. If I need it, I can pick it up, rack a round in and fire. WHY NOT A LONGER EXTENSION TUBE, YOU ASK? I’m not convinced that the longer tube is the way to go…they are basically unprotected, and hang out underneath the gun where they are susceptible to dents and dings. Dent one deep enough, and you can prevent the follower from traversing the tube, unimpeded, as it should. I’d hate to turn my repeating shotgun into a manually operated (albeit a fast one) single shot weapon. The basic bead works well for me. I do have other guns that have ghost ring, rifle sights, or express sights, but the longest shot in our home is 15 yards. The bead accomplishes that shot at that range, with a minimum of fidgeting, or alignment. If you have a good cheek weld, the bead is right on what will get clobbered when the trigger is pressed. So while advanced sights have their place, until I amass enough wealth to purchase Wayne Manor, the basic bead will work fine.
THING TWO: Five round nylon/elastic shell strip, attached with heavy duty Velcro to the right side of the stock. This configuration gives me 9 rounds in/on the gun, which should be MORE than enough ammo to statistically handle ANY civilian-context threat. This wood stock came from the factory, with a 14″ length of pull. Awhile back, I had Taylor Mock at the Texas Brigade Armory shorten the stock, and refit the recoil pad, to give a total length of pull of 12″. Don’t freak out tall folks…you can still use this length stock, easily. So can your smaller family members.
THING THREE: Federal Flite Control, “Personal Defense,” OO Buckshot. I bought a bunch of this ammunition. It is my new, “go-to,” round. It runs in whatever guns I’ve tried it in, and turns in patterns that I previously thought were only possible with a Vang Comp type modification. Pretty great. The flight control wad makes keeping 9 out of 9 pellets on the bad guy at 25 yards easy. Each of those 9 projectiles MUST be accounted for in a defensive shooting, and keeping them closer to each other, and on the target, makes that easier. You might win the battle, but lose the war, if you effectively down the bad guy, but have an errant pellet hit a family member or a neighbor.
THING FOUR: WHAT, NO LIGHT? In short, no. While I DO have a Surefire forend in my gear box for an 870, I don’t have it mounted on this home defense shotgun. Your experience and opinion may vary, but here’s mine. Surefire forends were designed for law enforcement use. Law enforcement officers find themselves in situations where they need to search for a bad guy inside a structure, or outdoors in low light. I keep my carry handgun, and flashlight available to address situations like a, “bump,” in the night. My family loves in a multi floor, loft type of dwelling, with 180 degrees of floor to ceiling windows. Even with the blinds down, there is still enough ambient light to be able to see well. A flashlight would absolutely confirm the identity of the noise/intruder. With my flashlight, I can illuminate said disturbance, then decide if a firearm solution is necessary. WITH THE SHOTGUN, I cannot illuminate the target and decide if a firearm solution is required…BECAUSE WITH THE INTEGRATED LIGHT, THAT’S ALREADY BEING DONE! With the flashlight/pistol combo, I still have the option to electively point the gun at the possible bad guy. With the shotgun/light system, I do not.
ALSO, my shotgun fits into my home defense system like this: the shotgun is placed in the safe room, where all the occupants of our home will retreat to, in the event of an emergency. If we are behind the door, shotgun at the ready, anyone that forcibly kicks down the door isn’t there to offer us foot massages…in that case, there would be enough light to see that the behemoth that just kicked the door down isn’t Aunt Edna looking for the last of the Girl Scout Thin Mints! Their intent/ability/opportunity to cause grave bodily injury or death to me and my family will be obvious. THE POLICE can brandish/point guns at people that they do not know, or who occupy areas where calls for service have been made to. That’s part of their job…if you’re a good guy in a building where a bad guy is known to be, and the police are searching for him, you WILL get guns pointed at you. Civilians, cannot do that. Sure, you could make the argument that The Castle Doctrine will protect you if someone is an unauthorized party in your own home, but how often are the circumstances, “THAT,” apparent? The chance of a negative outcome, SEEM to be much greater when guns are pointed at questionable/unidentifued threats. So for me, adequate ambient lighting is a good thing, and having a search light separate from the weapon is, too.
CONCLUSION: There is a strange cognitive error that occurs in the civilian defense industry lately. Regular folks look at military and law enforcement equipment and techniques, and then adopt them, prima facie, without considering that the mission of the police, the military and the civilian is EACH a completely unique proposition. There is little overlap between the three missions.
One area of pure overlap is in ammunition selection. I’ve heard Tom Givens, Massad Ayoob and other instructors say that using the same caliber, brand/weight ammunition as the local police force can be a wise move. Here, the purpose of the civilian and the LE antipersonnel ammunition is the same…accurately fire projectiles that will quickly stop a bad guy from causing any further harm, with as few rounds as possible. If you’re being attacked at a gas station by a man demanding your cash and keys with a switchblade held inches from your face, and you shoot him, and he drops the knife and runs away, you’ve accomplished your mission. IF YOU WERE THE POLICE, and the same scenario occurred (hey, nobody said crooks were smart) that would just be the start of your mission, as now the bad guy has to be apprehended. But, as Joe civilian, your part is done. Thus, the ammunition commonality analogy makes sense. The choice of carry pistol could also carry over from LE circles, if one is willing to carry a full-size/G19 or G23 size gun.
The analogy falls apart when the conclusion of, “The local Police carry M4’s loaded with Hornady TAP ammo for active killer threats in the trunk of their squad cars, therefore I, the friendly neighborhood dentist SHOULD ALSO keep an M4 in my trunk, to better prepare for active killer threats!” While a Police patrolman might very well interdict a bad guy trying to hack up patrons of a second-run movie theatre with his M4, the more likely scenario for the civilian user is that the M4 would be stolen from my unattended vehicle, and then end up in the bad guy’s hands. Since the majority of the guns that are taken FROM badguys ARE in fact stolen, it makes good sense for us, the citizen sentinels to keep them out of their hands, as well as we can. So, while the missions are different, the context of equipment utilization can overlap, but it doesn’t, automatically. Be wary, be wise, be safe.
I work in one of the most violent, ethnically diverse areas of Nashville, TN. Everyday, an assortment of crimes take place within earshot of my dental practice. If you lived in an area that rained everyday, you’d always have an umbrella handy, to keep as dry as possible. Conversely, since I work in an area that is physically hazardous, I pack appropriately.
I’ve been carrying a gun as a private citizen for 20 years now, and I spent several of those years carrying in an official capacity as an armored truck guard. I’m, “over,” the allure of whatever is the latest and greatest carry pieces; even with the occasional test gun/experimentation, I always end up coming back to the old standards (what you see in the picture). I have an EDC (Smith M&P 9mm FS), an EDC BUG (Smith 640), and a gym/lounge/check the mail/let the dog out gun (Smith 442). If I go to a place for work where my compatriots will all be using Glock 19’s (or 17’s), I’ll sub out my M&P for the 19. The commonalities between the two pistols overlap enough that the learning curve isn’t difficult to overcome with a short dry-practice/draw refresher. The revolvers work exactly alike, except one is a bit lighter, and works better when worn without a belt (like in gym shorts). I feel it’s better to invest money in practice ammunition and software (training and education) than to carry the latest gadget laden polymer pistol. Once you’ve invested into a carry system, switching to something else is a major investment! Magazines, spare parts, holsters, non-plastic sights (if it’s a Glock), ALL these things take money and time to find and purchase. There are other things to spend time on!
Unfortunately, carrying two guns, spare ammo, a flashlight, less lethal options, and a Spyderco folding knife is the, “new normal,” for many regular enlightened civilian folks like me. I’m under no illusions that calling 911 will get me any kind of help with a degree of urgency. As much as I love our wonderful Metro PD, I know that those ladies and gentlemen are simply tied up dealing with other people’s problems.
There is no, “normal,” life anymore. There is just, “life.” Each of us has to decide if we are going to be a slave to the criminal/terror threat, or if we are going to rise above it, and not compromise our quality of life. The equipment is only a small part of the equation. I’d rather be outfitted with a Speedo and a #2 Dixon Ticonderoga and be physically fit, than to be obese and bristling with weaponry. For me, I’m glad I have the experience and the training to be my own bodyguard. It makes living in our weird world, THAT much easier. I am glad that I am not one of the masses, who walk the Earth, completely unaware of the evil that lurks, just around the next corner.
This poster showing the anatomy of the Remington 870 shotgun hangs in one of the classrooms of the Memphis Police Department’s Firearms Training Unit. Look at that vent rib/Ghost Ring barrel!
I LOVE shooting shotguns. Whether it’s at birds, paper or steel, no other gun is more satisfying for me to shoot. The noise, the smoke, and the on-target effect is dramatic.
I spent two hours this weekend in a block of defensive shotgun instruction with Jedi Master Tom Givens, at the 2016 RANGEMASTER Polite Society Conference in Memphis TN. I have trained with Tom several times in the past, and I really appreciate the utility of his courses. Tom couples a rich curriculum with a thoughtful, entertaining delivery, that is completely, 100% bio available to the lone, armed citizen. If you are looking for some high speed military door kicking shotgun course, or some LE, “Patrol Shotgun,” course, look elsewhere. Tom’s class prepares regular folks for the eventuality of defending themselves from a life-threatening attack in their home or business, with the shotgun. Make no mistake…the curriculum isn’t, “easier,” or any less valuable than the aforementioned genres of classes. The mission of the armed citizen is simply different than the military or LEO user.
The target to Tom’s left has the pleural region obliterated by close range application of birdshot. However, you’ll note the pattern of buckshot at the belt-line of the bad guy…which Tom sent from 25 yards away using the Federal Flight Control 12 gauge buckshot. All nine rounds are still present on the bad guy. The next target over to Tom’s left, with the tight shot group on the bad guy’s pistol, was fired from 15 yards, and it is still fist sized! Amazing!
Tom’s approach to teaching the shotgun is very systematic and delineated. There is an order of operations that must be practiced. Tom said that unlike a handgun, which with careless use can cause an errant hole to appear in an unintended target, shotguns simply destroy things that are unintentionally shot. Prevention is key, and that prevention is actionable through careful, regimented gun handling. Safety was stressed throughout the class. And, like Tom’s other range classes, Tom tells you exactly what he wants you to do (electronic ear protection is invaluable for training classes. If you don’t have them, you need to get them) and then you do it. It’s a game of, “Tactical Simon Says!” If you keep up, and do things the way Tom tells you, you quickly see the majesty and superiority of the shotgun for close-in self defense scenarios. The students that fell behind, or had trouble following directions, were coached back into the right algorithm by Tom or his wonderful wife, Lynn.
Although we only used birdshot for this class, Tom’s full shotgun course uses birdshot, buckshot and rifled slugs. However, Tom demonstrated and explained the wonder of the Federal Flight Control OO Buckshot, at 5 yards, 15 yards, and 25 yards. Even at 25 yards, all nine of the .33 caliber pellets were clearly present on the silhouette targets we were using.
Tom also talked about the rationale behind the shotgun. Lately, in law enforcement (and in the civilian world, as a natural by-product of this) the trend for M4 or AR-15 type rifles use has become far more common than ever before in history. M4’s, are mildly recoiling, and less intimidating to small framed folks, than the 12 gauge. So many uninformed, uniformed folks feel, “better,” with an M4. Even though engagement distances for nearly any domestic law enforcement and certainly any civilian self defense scenario are well within the range performance envelope of the shotgun, many people still opt for the carbines. The, “non-standard response,” drill with the M4 dictates that 5-7 rounds are fired from the carbine into the bad guy to maximize the ballistic effect of the sometimes anemic and not always predictable 5.56x45mm or .223 Remington round. Thus, a standard 28 or 30 round carbine magazine contains what Tom calls, “4-5 servings,” of projectiles. From the shotgun, with Federal Flight Control ammunition (for example) a standard pattern 870 Express, Wingmaster, Police or Tactical has a tubular magazine that contains between 4 and 7 shells, each containing 9 projectiles. This meets or exceeds the projectile delivery capabilities of the carbine!
My go-to shotguns for home/office defense. The stocks are cut down to 12″ LOP. That way they can be used by anyone in my family. As long as I remember to keep my thumb straight, I won’t clobber myself in the face…despite that I am actually 6’4″ tall and could run a slightly longer LOP. The Magpul stock, with no spacers, gives a good, “usable by anyone,” LOP, and so does the Hogue short stock. The 870 on the left in the above photo has the, “DEA Barrel,” but currently (and what I ran in the class) wears an 18″ bead sighted barrel. I like sights that are low on the barrel. That’s my preference, and yours may vary. So I tend to gravitate towards the bead on the pedestal or the bead mounted to the barrel.
Tom covered the various ways that one can carry and transport ammunition for the shotgun and have it ready for immediate use. The two ways that we examined were the stock (butt cuff) carry, or receiver (sidesaddle) carry. Tom prefers butt cuff carry. He feels that having a sidesaddle changes the handling characteristics of the shotgun, making it thicker than he’d like around the middle. He also doesn’t like the mounting system for most sidesaddles which can pinch the receiver excessively, causing difficulties for the action bars to properly traverse the race ways inside the receiver. This can tie up the gun, and that is simply a non-starter. The butt cuff (or, the modern iteration, a nylon and elastic strip, attached with vehicular grade Velcro to the stock of the gun) offers a less obtrusive solution to the sidesaddle. Another feature of the butt cuff that I noticed was that the rounds tend to be less susceptible to the effects of recoil, and thus actually stay in the loops, instead of falling out after long strings of fire, since the shells are located further from the axis of rotation during firing, and hence less susceptible to inertia. My sidesaddles have notoriously dumped rounds (if they aren’t brass, “up,”) with astounding regularity. Nobody wants a garage sale of spare shells at their feet when they need their life-saving equipment close at hand.
There were several different shotguns present in the class, ranging from 28″ barreled 870’s that were meant for bird hunting, to a Winchester Model 1200 Defender. A few students brought guns that were either obsolete for the class purpose, or simply unsuited for the user. One student brought some iteration of the Taurus Judge, in .410, but in shotgun form. The same student also brought an Ithaca 37. Since neither of those guns can be easily combat loaded (that is, have a round dropped directly into the chamber, and run the action forward and be ready to shoot) Tom told the student to leave those guns in their cases and borrow one of his loaner Remington 870’s. Another student brought a shotgun that was nearly as long, as she was tall. She traded that out for another one of Tom’s loaner guns, a 12″ Magpul stocked 870, that was MUCH easier for her to use. Tom lectured specifically on the length of pull of a defensive shotgun…and why too many people use shotguns that have a woefully long LOP that they really cannot use. Tom recommended that any defensive shotgun have a LOP between 12″ and 13″. However, most shotguns come from the factory with a 14″ OR LONGER length of pull. While a stock that long might work great for bird hunting, when the shooter is bladed at a 90 degree angle from the target, in defensive shooting, when our stance is more squared to the target, a shorter stock makes wielding the weapon easier, and more ergonomic. Thus, Tom recommended that if people keep a shotgun in their home or office for defensive purposes, than they should keep the length of pull short enough to allow any family member to use it. Also, people that are very tall can STILL use a short LOP shotgun!
I am a lifelong student. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on private training tuition over the last 20 years. And I’ve spent over $500K on my graduate education. I know what good training looks like! And while I am always open-minded in classes, there are things that I hear, or learn that I simply choose, “not to incorporate,” into my mental utilization schema. I can honestly say, in the three live-fire classes and the seven classroom presentations I’ve taken from Tom, I’ve never heard him recommend a concept or introduce an idea that I didn’t agree with. Tom’s material works! He has had 62 students successfully navigate the muddy waters of self defense shootings, and he has continually evolved his curriculum to reflect the changing context of the urban environment, as well as adapt to new emerging threats. Tom has been at this for 35 plus years now, and the impact he has made on the self-defense industry is IMMENSE. I always learn something new when I am in Tom’s presence.
The Rangemaster Polite Society Conference is THE best training symposium around. You cannot find a deeper well of knowledge for such a low price, anywhere. The expertise of all of the instructors and the attendees is truly a sight to behold. I have so enjoyed the two Polite Society Conferences that I have attended, that I modeled the Paul-E-Palooza Memorial Training Conference after the Rangemaster conference, and even many of the same instructors teach at both events! As Tom said this past weekend, “I put on a conference to see all my friends!” And that is very true for me, too. Some of the greatest, most honorable people I know on this planet were in attendance, and a good weekend of learning and fellowship was had by all.
In my day to day practice, as a dentist, I’m always amused at the interesting phenomena of what I call, “The Blame Game.” I regularly have patients that haven’t been to the dentist in thirty plus years, or sometimes, they’ve NEVER been to the dentist. They will come see me, and I will take out one of their rotten teeth (and they never have just one rotten tooth). Invariably, they will come back within a week and claim, “My tooth (teeth) really hurt where you took out that rotten tooth. YOU must’ve done something wrong.” Hmm…I usually say very little, or nothing, and simply throw the before and after x-rays up on the monitor for the patient to see. When I show them what their tooth looked like before the extraction, how the extraction socket is now EMPTY, and how the extraction socket is bracketed by two OTHER rotten teeth, I let them put together the puzzle pieces themselves. If they don’t get it, I spell it out…”YOU simply haven’t taken responsibility for your portion of this equation. You STILL have rotten teeth, aside from the one that I took out already.” Oh, and gum disease. They’ll always have gum disease. But that’s for another day.
Oh don’t worry, that’ll buff right out. NOT. As you may have guessed, this isn’t caused by iatrogenic (physician caused) injury. And this isn’t meth mouth. This is just good old fashioned American apathy. Don’t take care of yourself, and “yourself” will stop taking care of you!
When I take a particular gun and ammo combination to the range, to purely test accuracy (practical accuracy, that is) I never fire off an awful salvo into a paper or cardboard target and think, “Well, this gun must just be bent.” I immediately think, “How am I contributing to this mess?” Most people always blame the machine! It’s easier. There is no ego on the line; you don’t have to face up to any kind of deeply buried truth (like, “HOLY SMOKES I MIGHT JUST REALLY SUCK AT THIS), and you can simply go on about your day, completely satisfied that you have, “ONCE AGAIN,” been failed by technology. How unlucky!
I have exactly one revolver that truly is, “broken.” It is a Charter Arms Pathfinder in .22LR, that I bought on a lark, thinking it would be a good practice piece to keep my DA revolver skills sharp while I was a poor college student (don’t laugh…I was a poor college student for ten years). I don’t know exactly what is wrong with it (other than maybe the barrel missed the, “rifling,” phase of manufacture), but it can make any .22LR tumble, and it makes holes in paper targets that look like staples. It’s weird. However, it makes these oblong keyholes consistently. If I do my part running the trigger and keeping it pointed at the same place, it’ll loose a cylinder full of .22 slugs in a workable group, albeit an odd looking one. I always think/remember that I should send it back to Charter Arms to be repaired, but since they’ve been in and out of business a few times since I bought it, I am never sure if it would ever actually arrive anywhere, and so it sits in the back of my gunsafe.
People often complain about the poor mechanical accuracy of the Smith M&P pistols. This is the third, full size version I have owned, and I can regularly squeeze these size groups out of them, at 10 yards. SOME samples had barrels that unlocked early, and/or had extremely loose rifling (like one twist in 18″) that poorly stabilized projectiles. So, as far as practical accuracy goes, I am happy with this. I got this drill idea from Greg Ellifritz, who I think got it from Ron Avery. Except I changed it just slightly. It’s a variation of the, “Clover Drill.” At 10 yards, I fire two rounds with both hands, two rounds with one hand, then two rounds with the other hand. For a total of six rounds on each paster. This is the, “PRO,” version of the M&P.
When I had a regular job teaching defensive firearms skills for a time, there would always be a student or two in every class, that would invariably, during the first 50 rounds of the class, raise their hand and signal to me that something was wrong with their gun, and that it wouldn’t shoot where they were aiming it, at a modest distance of 3 yards. I would safely have them transfer their pistol, fire one round into a target paster, and then give it back to them, and assure them that their particular pistol was working fine. Later, through the class, once they figure out the fundamentals and work the trigger smoothly and predictably, they regain their confidence in the blaster that they brought with them to the class, and press on to worry about other things.
I enjoy the fan mail I get from readers. A common one reads something like, “Hello. I enjoy your site. I have a 2″ barreled Smith 64 that won’t hit the broad side of a barn. I keep it for self defense of myself and my family though, because all physical confrontations take place at bad breath distance and I’ll just screw it into the bad guys’ navel and fire away. I sure wish it were more accurate though!” I think if I had a gun that I couldn’t hit anything with, past contact distance, I would rather have a spear or a big knife, that I could at least control. Of course, that’s just me; I’m a different breed of cat I suppose. Sad thing is, these folks’ revolvers are no doubt mechanically sound, and mechanically accurate. However, their PRACTICAL accuracy suffers because they aren’t running the trigger in a consistent and repeatable manner. Thus, they blame the machine.
When I was a lad, nearly every gun publication around had a section of gun test articles devoted to the, “RANSOM REST,” portion of the test, where the pistol being reviewed was bolted into a machine rest, that allowed the examiner to predictably see where a given projectile launcher was launching a given type/loading of projectile. Some of these tests were amazing! Like, five round groups just larger than the diameter of the projectiles themselves. They always amused me, and I thought that they were a great test to demonstrate mechanical accuracy. These days, I don’t see many folks use them, aside from Jeff Quinn at Gunblast and the Mythbusters crew.
I went to a local gun shop and range complex here, and heard a customer complaining to the staff about a pistol he bought there (Glock 21) that, “Wouldn’t shoot worth a damn,” with Federal Hydra-Shok rounds. “Groups the size of shotgun patterns.” The clerk went on to explain to him that the hollowpoints are ALWAYS less accurate than ball ammo, since they have a hole in the front of them, which, “Disturbs the air flow.” When I was younger, I would’ve bothered to explain to both of these people about the aerodynamics and physics involved, that really upends the hollowpoint inaccuracy, INACCURACY. But now, I don’t really care to argue much with anyone, these days. Let them believe that their machine is the weak link in their defensive chain. Changing the gun/ammo combination for that kind of thinker, isn’t going to fix any of their, “problems.”
As long as there is something other than one’s self to blame, it will get blamed. “The other guy.” “This darn phone.” “This stupid Glock.” “These expensive hollowpoints.” “This damn dentist.” The final fact checking comes down to the mouth at the other end of the gun…or the teeth in that mouth. So like I tell me 10 year old when he says his videogame system, “Just stopped working,”…”WHAT DID YOU DO TO IT?”
These Ruger GP100’s, in .357 Magnum, despite having only 3″ barrels, are quite capable of good accuracy if I press the trigger right. I used to say, “Align the sights and press the trigger right,” but as I’ve aged, and my vision has degraded, I’m more concerned about pressing the trigger well and keeping the sights (when I can see them clearly) pointed at the same portion of space, the entire time. If I don’t get groups like this, I know it is me and not the equipment. I think of this as the achievable baseline, for practical accuracy. If I don’t achieve it, then I have work to do…not the other way around.
Let me take you back to the mid-90’s. I was working full-time as an armored truck crewman while going to night school at the local community college. I was a volunteer fireman/EMT at night and on the weekends. I worked in Washington State, for an armored truck company that had three separate branches, each based in a major city, but we would drop off/pickup money and/or valuables from the same depositories. So, despite our different schedules, we would still see the crews from other branches, fairly regularly. If not face-to-face, then literally while pulling in or out of the roll-up doors on vaults.
One Spring day, my partner and I were working our route when we received word that one of the other branch’s trucks had been hit. As the details of the incident were reported to us, we became really worried. We were told that the 3 man crew (one driver, one messenger, one guard) were working an ATM fulfillment route (where the cassettes containing some/no cash are swapped out of ATM machines and replaced with full cassettes) that consisted of around forty stops per day. At some point in the day, the crew had left the truck, and the messenger was pushing a hand truck stacked high with the new ATM cassettes. As they approached the location where the machine was (it was located at a walk-up, rear entrance ATM kiosk in a busy tourist area) a black SUV pulled up in front of them, and immediately two men, wearing all black clothing with ski masks, and carrying pistols and a shotgun, dismounted the SUV, and immediately shot the guard in the legs and groin, with the shotgun. The guard immediately fell to the ground. The messenger, knowing that he didn’t have a chance to draw against multiple armed gunmen, simply threw up his hands and said, “Here…take it.” He surrendered the hand truck that had the ATM cassettes stacked on top of it. The two robbers worked in tandem to load the cassettes into the SUV; one lifting the cassettes into the vehicle while the shotgun toting robber kept his weapon trained on the two guards. After a few seconds, both robbers jumped back into the SUV, and drove away.
As we were told the story, over the radio, my partner and I looked at each other, and we were just shocked. We knew the crew that had been victimized. They were a tight group, one that was well known for their good tactics, and survival skills. The messenger himself was a black belt level martial artist, and was huge in stature. Not someone that I would consider an, “easy,” target. The guard that was shot was a fit, young guy, with a keen stare and also a good set of defensive skills, having recently won a company award for marksmanship and for exemplary performance during a recent FATS (Firearms Training Simulator) inter-company competition. It was the kind of news that made both my partner and I, immediately think, “If it could happen to them, it could happen to us!”
I was young at the time…I was the youngest guy at my branch, being only 21 years old when I was hired. I had also recently won the inter-company top honor of, “TOP GUN,” for having a perfect performance on the required qualification course (300/300) and for the set of FATS scenarios I was run through. My partner was twenty years my senior, and had recently retired from the US Army, as a combat engineer. He and I started working for the company at the same time, and we became friends right off. He too, was quite skilled with his Model 15 Smith revolver, and the Remington 870 shotgun, that our truck was equipped with (at least one shotgun, sometimes two). We talked about, “What we would do,” if we were in a similar situation. And then, after the conclusion of our shift that day, we went to the local watering hole to further discuss the details of the day, and talk about how we would change our SOP’s to better deal with what seemed to be an emerging threat of, “Getaway vehicles in places they shouldn’t be.” See, the reason this particular set of goons was effective was how they drove in an area where nothing larger than a maintenance golf cart was expected to be driving. Not even the armored truck itself drove where the bad actor’s vehicle was! Nobody was expecting that to happen.
Fast forward to the next day. I got up, and prepared for my work day as usual. It was a beautiful day! I stood on my deck and watched the sun come up over the North Cascade Mountain range, while I drank my tea. I looked forward to what the day held. I arrived at the branch office without incident, and my partner and I started our day as we normally did. As was our custom, my partner and I would, “trade,” duties half way through the day, where he would become the messenger and I would take over driving, or vice versa. On this particular day, my partner ran the first part of the day, and I drove. Around noon, we switched jobs, and I started running.
The FIRST stop we made on my half of the day, was a busy drive up ATM kiosk, located at a bank. The ATM kiosk was the outermost lane, with four drive up lanes on the inboard side of it. Concrete blocks and curbs encircled the ATM kiosk, and also the bank teller, “tubes,” that allowed customers to transact their business with the tellers that were behind the glass, directly in front of the lanes. To access the ATM machine, I had to exit the truck, stack the fresh ATM cassettes onto my hand truck, and then head into a locked door on the back of the machine. I would open the door, unlock the safe, removed the cassettes and replace them with the fresh cassettes, run a diagnostics program on the machine, then secure it all and leave. One part of the problem was that I had to turn my back to the incoming bank traffic, to face the backside of the ATM machine. The space I had to stand in was approximately the size of a telephone booth. I also could not take the hand truck into the kiosk…it had to sit outside on the pavement, no doubt looking like easy pickings to the informed. To attempt to eliminate some of my weakness in this position, I used to carry a 4″ diameter convex truck side mirror, with an industrial strength magnet glued to the back of it. I carried it in a pocket in my vest, OR I would simply let it stick to my trauma plate (which was steel) of my body armor, and it would stay exactly where I put it! I would put that mirror on the metal door of the ATM, or sometimes on the door of the safe, to give me a view of what was going on behind me, only by moving my eyes.
I had swapped out the cassettes in the machine, and closed the safe. I then ran the diagnostics program, and prepared to close the machine and get back to the truck. Just as I was finishing up, I heard the airhorn from my truck and the siren sound, and I heard a tire squeal. I sensed some kind of ruckus behind me…the first thing that popped into my head was AMBUSH! I drew my sidearm, a Smith and Wesson Model 681 (loaded with Federal 125 grain Semi-Jacketed Hollowpoints), and came out the door with the gun at what we now call a, “compressed ready,” (Being 6’4″ tall, at that point for several years, I just called it, “that position you use when you are really tall and in a telephone booth” and I was never trained to do it…but I had seen Steven Seagal do it in the movies) and came around the door frame as quickly as I could. I saw a black SUV, with the passenger door and rear passenger door immediately opening, and two men dressed in all black, both carrying pistols. I pushed my revolver out in front of me and aimed in on the guy closest to me. We were about 15 feet away from each other. I said nothing. I had a clear sight picture, with the top edge of my, “White Out,” enhanced front sight squarely imposed over the bad guy’s upper sternum. I planned to shoot him twice, and then shoot his partner twice, and then shoot the driver of the truck, if he was a threat to me, and if I had a good angle and backstop. The entire scene played out in front of the Lexan windows of the drive through lanes. All I heard was the continuous honking from the airhorn of the truck. And then without warning, the SUV started to drive forward, hitting the curb and parking blocks of the lane they were in, and the doors on the passenger side were wobbling uncontrollably as the two gunmen attempted to stay in their vehicle and pull the doors closed. They broke traction again, and sped out of the bank exit, immediately in front of them, and got onto the speedway! I looked at my partner, and gave the, “Circle the Wagons!” hand signal over my head twice. He nodded. I secured the ATM kiosk and stacked everything on the hand truck.
I ran back to the truck pushing the hand truck in front of me. I looked around and behind me as I ran. Nobody seemed to care what was going on! People were still waiting in line at the drive through tellers lanes, looking down at their deposit slips and checkbooks, apparently oblivious to the robbery that nearly took place. I got to the side door of the truck, my partner opened the door, and I threw the equipment into the back with great haste, and jumped inside. I finally felt safe. My partner was standing in the middle of the driver’s cab, with the armored bulkhead door closed behind him. He had the front gunport of the truck open, and he had the barrel of one of our 870’s sticking out the front of the truck. As soon as I was in the truck, he dropped the shotgun onto the floor of the cab, and he put the truck in motion, and we immediately drove away. He had already been in contact with our base via radio, and the base had relayed to 911. We weren’t going to sit around and wait for LE to show up, so we got onto the, “safest,” place we thought we could be, which was the freeway. As we drove, and I sat vigilantly perched in the bulkhead walkway between the cab and the cargo box of the truck, I started to feel lightheaded. Then I thought I was going to puke. I loosened one side of my vest, and turned on the AC. I was feeling HOT, like my skin was on fire, and I felt like needles were dancing all over my back, chest and arms. My partner handed me a lit cigarette, which I eagerly smoked. It seemed to calm me down a bit. We met up with local law enforcement, a short time later, in a more secure location. After all, we still had a truck filled with money, and we didn’t need to be sitting ducks in a parking lot somewhere.
The black SUV was apprehended shortly thereafter. The total crime tally of that particular crew was extensive, and they had been on their jobs for awhile. They had also robbed at least one bank successfully, during their run. The other crew’s messenger, eventually returned to work. The other guard that had been shot in the legs and groin, left the job completely. I do not know what the legal results or sentences of the badguys were, as by the time that was adjudicated, I was worried about other threats that were always developing in our area.
INCIDENT REVIEW. I think that there is great value in reviewing the experiences of others and putting your own brain to work on that particular problem. Some people call this, “Monday Morning Quarterbacking,” but I feel that if you do it with a level of understanding and compassion, without the bravado, it can be valuable. In a team situation, I think it is absolutely VITAL to your survival to have a, “game plan,” once everything comes down. You have to remember, back in the mid-90’s, there wasn’t a lot of private training going on. I always WANTED to go to Gunsite, but for a poor community college student, making $9.00 an hour on the streets protecting someone else’s money, all that seemed like a dream, or at the very least, obtainable by only the very rich. There was the Firearms Academy of Seattle, but I couldn’t afford them either. There were only a few books on the subject, by the, “Deans,” of the industry, some of whom are still around today. The internet was in its infancy, and I don’t even remember having an email address at the time. I learned everything that I knew from a few different sources: a. Listening to the, “Old Guys,” talk. I worked with guys that had fought in the desert, and some that fought in Vietnam. They knew things I didn’t. It was to my benefit to listen to them. b. I read everything I could get my hands on…every book by Massad Ayoob, Jeff Cooper, Bill Jordan and every gun magazine article by Dave Spaulding, and the books, “Street Survial,” and, “The Tactical Edge.” c. I had been a Police Cadet through the BSA Explorer program, and I had attended the Reserve Police Officer Academy, and been a, “bad guy,” for the Officer Survival and Patrol Tactics portions of other Reserve classes. I learned about placement, ground fighting, and gaining the advantage in many situations that weren’t exactly analogous to the armored truck industry, but there was enough overlap to have value. d. I visited the sites of a few armored truck robberies/murders in my area, talked to guys that were there/worked with the crews that were affected, and even saw some of the bullet holes that were left from the fray. That cemented in my mind, early on, that this wasn’t a game. Today, I really look forward to seeking out the incident reviews provided by Tom Givens, Claude Werner (The Tactical Professor), Massad Ayoob, Gail Pepin and the PROGRAMS PODCAST crew, and Greg Ellifritz. Reading the scenarios and thinking, “How could I solve this problem?” is a valuable thought exercise.
YES. I HAD A REVOLVER. Remember, this was the 90’s. I was a child of the, “Crime Bill of 1994.” I wasn’t a Doctor then…I didn’t have the money to buy, “Pre-ban,” magazines, at 100 plus dollars each. I bought my 681 for $225, used. I bought a Bianchi Judge holster (used) that was a turn in from the Mount Vernon WA PD, for $12. I had a set of used speedloader carriers, a set of loops, and I bought my Sam Browne Belt for $75 with the keepers. I also bought a Galco Ankle Glove, and a (new) Smith 649 Bodyguard (for $450) as an ankle gun. I bought Federal 125 grain SJHP, in a 500 round case, that I used for duty ammo. I would swap out ammo every Daylight savings time change, because the ends of the projectiles, being soft lead, would get, “hammered,” closed by being in the plastic cups of my speedloader carriers, while I was running around the streets of Washington State. I was also issued a Smith Model 15 by the company, with Pachmayr grips, that I used strictly for dry-fire practice, that I did for ten minutes a day, daily. I didn’t know what Snap Caps were at the time, but I used fired shells to keep the firing pin wear minimized. As far as multiple suspect engagements, I had a plan. I would shoot every bad guy twice…and I practiced that weekly, on the range. I was fortunate in that my boss would give me 250 rounds of commercial 38 reloads, that were hot loaded analogs of the 158 grain lead hollowpoints. I would shoot those, and return the empties, weekly, and get a new box to use. The great Tom Givens has said, “A 1911 is a one-badguy-gun.” I tend to agree…I was really trying to squeeze two more bad guys out of a one bad guy gun! At the time, I ran what I had, because that was the best that I could do. Years later, after the Crime Bill expired, I upgraded my sidearm to an HK USP .45 and then a Glock 22. I kept the Bodyguard on my ankle. I never worried about what I carried. I felt that I was adequately armed and prepared, but that superior tactics and preparedness would carry me through the day, regardless of what I encountered. Now, 20 years later, I feel a bit more apprehensive of a multiple suspect engagement when I’m only armed with a pair of revolvers, but I think that I could still do it if I needed to.
AS AN ADJUNCT TO REVIEWING the experiences of others, it is important to do what Dr. William Aprill calls, “Creating a parking spot in your mind,” to be able to mentally condition yourself to prepare a pre-planned, and practiced response to a set of circumstances. When I heard the air-horn and the siren sound on my truck, I knew it was time to move. That was really my first recollection of having that kind of, “programmed,” response to danger. About the most harrowing thing I had done before that was perform CPR on a neighbor! I would go on to perform CPR about 500 more times in my life, but I would only get into a scrape with robbers, one more time (knock on wood). In each occurrence, the response time/mental parking spot was already open, and ready to receive.
I’m not a determinist, of any kind, but I feel that doing everything you can to maximize your advantage, and minimize the badguys’ advantage, is a good thing. I think that YOUR fate is ultimately in YOUR hands. I think that if the bad guys had been driving a subcompact car that easily negotiated the drive through lanes, and had my partner not been aware (I watch the current batch of armored truck personnel I see…far too many are more worried about drinking their Starbucks coffee and fiddling with their smartphones) of something horribly amiss going on, I would have been WAY behind the 8-ball. As it happened, these guys ended up half-high centering their large SUV on the curb parking block, which immediately screwed up their ingress AND egress plans. That made the tire squeal, and that was what triggered my partner to sound the alarms.
Bad stuff can happen ANYWHERE. This bank is in a relatively affluent area. Next door to it is a large filling station complex, and a HUGE chain supermarket store, and numerous fast food restaurants. Like I said earlier, from the look of the other civilians in the area, NOBODY HAD EVEN NOTICED WHAT HAPPENED. When I have visited the sites of other armored truck heists, they are in similarly serene locations. There is nothing in the immediate environment that would make your, “Spidey senses tingle.” Everything seemed quite normal and safe. So just because the terrain reads right, and everything seems relatively quiet, it isn’t necessarily. Again, as Tom Givens has said, “Street crime is a misnomer…what we are really talking about is parking lot crime.” There was A BUNCH of parking lot there, that day.
Nobody ever recounts a defensive gun use as, “I knew that day would be horrible!” The sun was shining! I fully expected our day to be routine, and aside from the stress associated with navigating a 37,000 pound armored truck through I-5 traffic, I expected it to be completely boring. It was anything but. We came face to face with evil that day. And, fortunately, we were victorious. Had I not thought through the incident that happened to the other crew as much as I had, and mentally prepared my response, the bad guys had gotten the drop on me, and I probably would’ve been shot, since I decided long before that day, that I would never die with my gun in my holster. I may get killed in the process, but I’m not going to quit fighting while I still had air in my lungs. Drawing against opponents with guns at the ready can be a workable tactic, too. After all, the bad guys are expecting compliance…they want you to yield to their whim, and I refused to yield.
IN MEMORY OF MY PARTNER, MR. KEVIN C. LEE, BADGE NUMBER N107. See you further on down the trail, Kev.
Well, it’s a long story. Indulge me here for a few…there is a personal defense message near the terminus. As some of you know, I am a dentist by trade. I have worn other hats in a fairly exciting life. I had the distinct displeasure of contracting tuberculosis WAY back in 1999 whilst working as a fireman/EMT in Western Washington State. I had to take a handful of HUGE pills, everyday, for six months. The pills (Pyrazinamide and Rifampin) made me itch, feel nauseous, and made my food taste metallic and not good. I was exhausted, and spent most of that six months feeling like a sweaty, miserable, mess. After the six months had passed, I still didn’t feel great, and it took some time until I was able to, “feel,” right again.
Fast Forward to 2012…it was an ugly year. My dear friend, “Uncle,” Paul Gomez died suddenly, on a training trip to the Pacific Northwest, after leaving my house. Around the same time, my marriage ended. I had terminated my contract with one dental service corporation, and started up with another (which I obviously wouldn’t have done had I known that my immediate future would be, “uncertain”) that didn’t pay nearly what I had hoped it would. So my life went from stressful to nearly pegged. If you’ve never had to live that kind of life, I’m happy for you; I don’t recommend it. One of the worst side effects of having your life simultaneously turn into a nightmare, is that you sleep very little. I would get MAYBE one to two hours a night, and sometimes I wouldn’t sleep at all…for days. It was awful. My immune system wasn’t up to snuff. I contracted a flu virus from a Central American patient that had a very severe abscess from a neglected tooth, and that virus ran me down. I would go into coughing fits so severe, that I would have to double over at the knees to keep from blacking out and losing consciousness. But, like most viral infections do, it eventually passed. Until it came back…
In February of 2013…I awoke one morning to start my daily routine of personal maintenance, before preparing a lunch, and getting my child dressed for school. I had to ascend/descend a steep staircase about 15 times during the various trips to the kitchen, the garage and laundry room. After those 15 trips, I was having trouble staying on my feet. I sat on the staircase and I could feel my heart flopping around, hitting my sternum. I felt my jugular veins. They were not distended. I would perform a val salva maneuver on myself to see if my heart rate would drop, and it would not. I started to get really worried. The only time I had seen a patient with the signs and symptoms I had was when I treated a Malaria patient with myocarditis during my residency training. I decided to pack up the car, skip going to school, and head to the local cardiac specialty hospital. I had to have help getting out of the car and across the parking lot. When I reached the volunteer at the intake desk of the ER, I said, “My name is Dr. Sherman House, and I need you to code me. I am having chest pain.”
Almost immediately, I was whisked via wheelchair to the back of the ER, where I was descended upon by a team of what seemed to me to be about 26 capable hands. It felt surreal…how many times had I been one of those sets of hands, in the past? I couldn’t accurately recall, but probably in the thousands. And now, the tables had turned. In a short span of time, I had two IV’s, several EKG leads, a defibrillator pad set, heparin injections, and a myriad of other treatments. My final diagnosis that day was viral cardiomyopathy (secondary to the flu virus…aka the, “Spanish Flu,” aka H1N1, which was responsible for the epidemic of the first part of the 20th Century, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 40 million people of middle age and GOOD health), left ventricular dysfunction (my left ventricle ejection fraction was 12%…”normal,” is 55-70%, and, since my heart was effectively shutting down, it kicked into atrial fibrillation as a last resort to maintain itself. I wasn’t well. In fact, the cardiologist came into the room and told me to, “Get my affairs in order.” Ever called your attorney and told him to come to the hospital to, “make your arrangements”? Needless to say, that day didn’t end how I thought it would when it started.
But, something odd happened. I started to get better. My cardiologist would come into the hospital daily, and tell me that he was frankly baffled, and that only time would tell where I will end up. So, with a semi-optimistic attitude, I left the hospital Cardiac Care Unit after nearly a week, where I was sent home to recover. I had to go back to the hospital every other day for several months, to have my blood levels checked, and to monitor my Coumadin blood levels. I was still in a state of atrial fibrillation, which was later (albeit temporarily) fixed by a synchronized cardio-version procedure, two months later.
Being in atrial fibrillation is an ugly feeling. Imagine the feeling of having a living King Salmon, suspended inside of your chest, with its tail stapled to the back of your spine, and the fish isn’t happy to be there. It flops around incessantly, and it is nearly impossible to get used to. Remember that your left atrium is closely associated with your esophagus, so you feel a fullness in your throat that is really annoying, and interferes with the enjoyment of food. The ONLY time I felt comfortable was when I would get my heart rate up high enough that I didn’t notice it was grossly out of sync. I did this by running on the treadmill or on a track. It is exhausting, since the aberrant rhythm prevents normal cardiac function. So, if I could have, I would sleep well at night. But I didn’t.
I went back into atrial fibrillation two more times (for a total of four times) in July of 2014, and again in November of 2015. After thinking about it extensively, and discussing it with my girlfriend and TEAM of cardiologists (yes…I have a team) I opted to elect for a procedure called, “cryo-mapping,” and ablation, using RF (radio frequency) radiation. During a six hour procedure, a team of capable nurses and surgeons guided several instruments into my heart, through the large veins and arteries in my groin. Using cryotherapy and RF, they essentially created an, “electrical fence,” around my pulmonary veins, where they return from my lungs into the left side of my heart, through the atrium. The damage that the Spanish Flu virus had caused left extensive scar tissue inside of my heart, that impeded the proper electrical flow impulses that allow my heart to beat normally.
It’s been about 40 days since I had the procedure, and every day, I get a little better. There are still times when I am exhausted, and I just have a day where I lay low (and write articles, crank on guns, or read). So, the moral of the story is this (these):
Take care of yourself. You are YOUR first responsibility. You CANNOT take care of your family, your job, the public or anything else, if you are literally dying. If you get sick, take time, get rest, and feel better. Your body will thank you. If you work in a job where you are constantly around sick people, take care not to catch it. Even though I am SUPER meticulous about wearing my personal protective equipment, I still caught two, life threatening conditions. And as much as I hate to say it, read history books. “Westerners,” traveling to far off places and attempting to cure the sick and injured, has often resulted in dead Westerners. I used to be very adventurous about helping the sick, wherever they were, but now, I am a bit more cautious. I’m sure there will be those out there that think my xenophobic, but I don’t have to get bit by a snake three times to figure out that my life works best when I avoid snakes.
The BEST FIREARMS ACCESSORY you can buy is a gym membership…and then USE it. I have never been, “miserably,” out of shape, but carrying around extra weight isn’t smart when you constantly think, “Oh, I’ll get to that TOMORROW.” That day may never come. Or, when you get to the point where you NEED to get weight off, you can’t, because your heart can’t support it. I am continually amazed at the number of folks that stroll into the gun shop looking for a piece of equipment that will, “save them,” from the street hoodlum horde, when they literally can’t touch their own toes, or even pick up their empty magazines off the ground without getting lightheaded, face ablaze in red, and profusely sweating. I’m glad to help anyone out there I can better themselves, whether through marksmanship practice or by just getting out to the gym, or hitting the park for a 5 mile walk. I have a girlfriend that I love and absolutely want to grow old with, and a ten year old boy that I want to continue to see turn into a young man, who needs his Dad. I have to be HERE to do that. And that requires a lifestyle change.
Eat to LIVE, TRAIN to win. If you eat 21 times a week, make 19 of those meals worthwhile, from REAL food, that isn’t full of chemicals and awful ingredients. GO pursue some kind of physical exertion, everyday. It requires a lifestyle change/adaptation, but it makes everything else work better. If you needed to ascend 20 flights of stairs, because the elevator was out, could you? If you exercise, you should be able to! Shooting is SO MUCH easier and more enjoyable when you are in good physical condition.
“People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer, but yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.” -John Wick