It is always useful to me to hear how my students perform in real-world scenarios. Here is an email from a recent student.
“I am thankful for the little bit of first aid/trauma training I have. It might not have helped that fella much, but it sure helped me and my peace of mind today, and it was there for him if he had needed it. A close friend, Scott Ferguson, admonished me multiple times about my lack of training, and how I needed to remedy it. I agreed, and he got me in touch with The Complete Combatant (Brian, and Shelley Luehder Hill). They were offering a trauma class by Dr Sherman House. This was one of the best 8 hour blocks of time I’ve ever spent on myself and my family. I can’t possibly recommend this highly enough! Dr House is unreal! I learned enough in the first hour to make the whole trip worthwhile, and I still had 7 more hours of training to go, that flew by. Today, my family and I were eating out of town when a lady came in yelling about a man who fell and was in bad shape. I went and helped her. Long story short…70+ year old male approximately 250#, is bleeding worse than anything I’ve ever seen that didn’t have holes in it, and I’ve been present for motorcycle accidents at highways speeds with no gear. This guy was really banged up, but lucid. The car next to him looked like it had hit an animal, just from him using it to try and get up. The lady had been a nurse, and we worked together. We got him settled and sitting, checked him over for major issues, called 911 and his family, and then kept him stable until EMS arrived. This gentleman was so calm and so nice, and he was in such pain. He had huge hematomas (from mid triceps to mid forearm) and lacerations on his elbows and knees and both hands (entire backs of his hands were blood filled balloons), an obviously busted knee, and a pretty substantial hematoma on his head..at least 8″ in diameter. Now that the action has passed, I feel terrible for him. He has quite a few painful days ahead of him. EMS arrived and took care of him. I paid my bill and left.Looking back, I have a few observations that I would like to pass along to my friends….many of whom realize they should take a class and just haven’t yet made it a priority: 1) NOBODY moves in an emergency. People wait for other people to move. They look around to see who will be the helper. Meanwhile, a problem is occurring and nobody is helping. I hate to sound like a plug for something, but the Image Based Decision Drills can help you start programming a reaction to those stimuli. Whether it’s just a surprise, an attack, or an emergency, mental mapping by using visualization, and forcing yourself through the reaction, will prepare you better for a problem, with or without an established program like the one I mentioned above. 2) I am so happy and so thankful that I have had at least a little training, and that I brought it home to my family. The instant I hit the door, I saw the gentleman and the very first thing that went through my head was the 5B’s protocol from Dr. House. I didn’t have to think or decision tree anything…it was laid out for me because of his class.I mentally checked off the B’s and I knew where to start and how to move forward. My son, Logan, was next to me. My IFAk was 50′ away (more on that in a sec). I could stay busy and send Logan for the IFAK if needed ……”Get the red medic bag from under the back seat, and hand me gloves and a TQ,” and he could have done every bit of it. We have practiced at home. 3) An IFAK is awesome, but if it’s 50′ away because it has just a couple things that make it too big to keep in a pocket…..it isn’t there when you need it. So I’m adding a pocket kit with just two gloves, an approved TQ, and compressed gauze. At the end of the day, maybe a little about that situation was better for the gentleman because I was there or maybe it wasn’t, but at least I was in a much better place to help, or to at least not hurt than everyone else who sat still. I didn’t drive home, beating myself up because I didn’t know what to do,or because all I could do was stand around wanting to help. I learned a couple of tweaks to my plans in the event of an emergency. I learned some tweaks for gear. I sure hope Mr. Jack is okay tonight.I am online looking for my next trauma class right now. I hope all of you will do the same, it might be one of your family that needs help.”
UPCOMING TRAINING OPPORTUNITY! James Yeager and Tactical Response will be hosting me for a virtual training opportunity this coming Saturday, April 18th. This day-long webinar program will consist of three modules, covering the assessment and treatment algorithm of trauma, management of dental emergencies, and wound care and closure. Please, like, share and enroll!
I WRITE THIS ON THE EVE OF MY 45TH BIRTHDAY…approximately 7 years ago, I experienced a life-changing event. I had caught a wicked strain of the flu. I felt awful…I was weak. I figured like most flu cases, it would just pass with time, hydration and rest. I left work early that day after extracting several teeth and performing a root canal therapy procedure. I ate lunch, then went to bed. I slept for 12 hours. I went with my Son and his school (along with my medical kit) to the Schermerhorn Symphony in Nashville for a field trip. I walked up five flights of stairs, effortlessly. After the field trip, I took my Son shopping and went home.
I awoke the next day to find that my flu symptoms had worsened. I felt like I couldn’t get in gear. I was sweaty and felt chills. When I sat down and leaned forward, I could feel the apex of my heart impacting the backside of my sternum. I sat there on the steps of our home, and thought through ALL of my medical training, from EMT through my Doctorate, and I couldn’t surmise what was happening to me. My heart rate was fast and irregular. I didn’t feel right. I concluded that the best thing to do was to get to the closest ER to me.
I drove to the hospital. By the time I got there, I needed help from my Son to walk across the ER parking lot. I walked and told the Triage Nurse, “HI. I’m Dr. Sherman A. House, and I need you to code me please.” She could tell that I was serious, and she promptly scooped me up with a wheelchair, and rushed me to the back. Years of experience of working in the ER as a member of the team doesn’t prepare you for the role reversal of becoming an emergency patient. I was instantly annoyed. Not scared though…just disappointed. The ER physician told me that I was in atrial fibrillation with an atrial rate in the high 300’s and that they would need to sedate me to perform what I know to be a SYNCHRONIZED CARDIOVERSION would take place. The team would use a defibrillator to deliver a 200 joule shock to my heart to, “reset,” the misfiring fibres and cells that were causing this arrhythmia. Moments later, I was given drugs that limited my perception and ability to do anything. I awoke a few minutes later to find both my cardiologist and an ultrasound technologist in my darkened room. James Yeager had also arrived to help me tie up loose ends. The cardiologist told me that in addition to being in atrial fibrillation, I also had a blood clot about the size of a sugar cube that was spinning around inside of my left atria, and that my left ventricle wasn’t working. Also, I had severely diminished lung function from the backup of fluid that had filled all lobes of my lungs, and my kidneys were not working as effectively from the overwork. He told me that if my condition didn’t improve, I wouldn’t be expected to survive without a miracle. I looked at James Yeager and said, “WELL SHIT…”
Later that afternoon, they moved me from the ER to the cardiac ICU. One of the nurses came in with a Foley catheter kit (a tube which is placed through the penis into the bladder to allow urine to effortlessly escape without having to got to a bathroom to void) and I told her GET AWAY FROM ME WITH THAT. She told me that she’d seen them all before and there was nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of. I told her that the last thing I wanted/needed was ANOTHER infection in my body (catheters in hospitals cause infections all the time…google, “nosocomial infection,” for more info) and that I would walk to the restroom when I needed to, thank you very much! She then told me that the Doctor had ordered diuretics for me to get in large doses, to help eliminate the excess fluid that had collected in my lungs. I told her that was quite fine, and as long as I could walk, I wasn’t going to die. She reluctantly agreed and let me be…and as the days rolled on, and my walks around the room and the ICU increased in frequency and duration, I eventually recovered enough to go home.
The next three years consisted of innumerable trips to a team of cardiologists, daily regimens of six, twice daily medications, and several emergency room visits and hospital stays when my heart would get out of rhythm. In November of 2015, after another emergency cardioversion visit (I had five cardioversion therapies in total) my electrophysiologist told me that he would continue to do this as needed, but there would probably be a time when it would no longer be effective, and the arrhythmia would no longer respond to the electrical shock. He recommended a procedure called ABLATION, where he would use both cryotherapy and rF radiation to burn the aberrant Purkinje Fibres that were responsible for my lingering issues (at that point, the cardiomyopathy had resolved and was still being followed). I didn’t want to end up in the hospital every six months, so I did it.
I stepped up my fitness and diet game. I followed my doctor’s order to the letter. Every six month follow up resulted in my medication dosages being reduced. I walked everywhere I could. I walked in the mall and around my office on my lunch breaks. I did everything possible to walk as far as possible (much to my wife’s chagrin) as she doesn’t like to park in the far outreaches of the supermarket parking lot, and I would train at various HIIT gyms around our home. Each follow up appointment showed continued improvement…up until today. Today, was my six month follow up and my cardiologist agreed that I was in fine shape, and that although he was scared to try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he supported my participation in it, and that he was excited to see what I could do WITHOUT the effects of my last remaining drug (a beta blocker).
If you’ve never taken a beta blocker before, imagine this…when you workout, you can’t get your heart rate over about 130. When you do, you feel your heart beat very deeply, and after a few deep breaths, it slows back down. At a movie like, “THE CONJURING 2,” when there is a jump-scare, you don’t jump nor do you get scared! You feel nothing…like your sympathetic nervous system (the portion of our autonomic nervous system responsible for our, “FIGHT OR FLIGHT,” capability, along with numerous other functions that run silently, “in the background,” of our amazing physiology) has been disengaged from your body. While this is helpful for public speaking, golfing and competitive shooting, it isn’t great for everyday life. It doesn’t help with rugby, or Jiu-Jitsu. You don’t enjoy the benefits of, “explosive athletic power,” because your capability to utilize adrenaline as it was intended is shut off. You do not recover from injuries normally (it is delayed) and you do not lose certain areas of fat, as those areas are responsive only to adrenaline-mediated pathways for utilization and breakdown. So you enjoy a life that is deprived of many great things, and you must make adaptions to get a semblance of normalcy.
You can achieve what you want, to beat, “your,” diagnosis, and get to a point in your health that is where you want it to be. I told James Yeager when this happened that, “If I survive the next ten years, medical science will have accelerated to the point where it will help me recover fully.” Medical science, in the Western world, unfortunately doesn’t usually work to CURE illness…it simply treats symptoms. That’s one of the things I love about my chosen niche of the medical profession; I definitively treat diseases of the teeth, often by removing the source of the problem, THE TOOTH ITSELF! With heart issues, the treatment isn’t so literal and simple. I can’t just rip my heart out or replace it, without acquiring a whole new set of issues and maladies. If you lead a reasonably healthy life, you can heal your damaged tissues. This was my only avenue to get back to a, “normal,” DRUG FREE lifestyle. I hate being tied to a bag of pills. I hate the feeling of being the youngest guy in the heart failure clinic. I hate being the young guy with tattoos that everyone looks at and thinks, “HE MUST HAVE WRECKED HIS LIFE WITH METH!” No Ma’am…I got here from doing my job; rendering aid to the sick and injured.
So be smart! Wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your mouth, and don’t touch anyone else’s with your bare hands. Steer clear of people with the flu, and keep your body healthy. For those of you that work in dentistry and/or the medical field, reschedule patients that are experiencing life-threatening conditions. It sounds silly to say, “treat your body like a temple,” but your skin suit will only get you as far as you allow it to. Treat it like a beat-up used car and that is the kind of performance it will deliver to you. Treat it like a, “vintage” high mileage but very cared for vehicle, and it will CONTINUE to provide years of trouble-free service.
Massad Ayoob has been a mentor of mine for over 30 years now (hopefully he doesn’t kick me in the pants when he reads that…none of us are getting any younger!). I’ve read his books and articles from the time I was a police cadet in the early 1990’s. I’ve shot along side him in competition and he IS every bit as fast and accurate as you can imagine! Mas is one of the best lecturers in the business and you shouldn’t miss this course!
I offer both 4 hour and 8 hour medical classes to church groups, preparedness groups, martial arts gyms, public safety organizations and other venues. Email me to talk about hosting a class in your area!
When you first see Gabe White shoot, you’ll notice that there is an audible, “SMACK!” when he draws his Glock 17 from his Keepers Concealment appendix holster. In the days of yore, pistoleros who were quick on the draw were called, “leather slappers.”
I first read about Gabe on PISTOLFORUM and then met him and saw him shoot at the RANGEMASTER TACTICAL CONFERENCE in March of 2018. I was lucky enough to make it into the, “Top 16,” shooters of the competition, of which Gabe was the FIRST PLACE winner. The competition at the conference is always a good test of skill and wits, and it is a friendly competition without a tremendous amount of ego involved. I am always humbled to end up in the competition at all, but mostly, I enjoy seeing my peers do well. Gabe is one of the most humble competitors you will meet, and he will gladly dissect his own performance and describe to you in the smallest of details, where he felt his performance was less than perfect. Of course, to the casual observer, it looks like a masterful performance by any measure!
Gabe’s flagship course is called, “Pistol Shooting Solutions,” and I was honored to host him at the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Office range facility in Waverly, TN. From the time I contacted Gabe about hosting, I was impressed by how precise and technical he was in his requirements for the range and hosting. Gabe designed his course from the ground up to be useful to the consumer.He has taken a number of classes himself, and understands what a good course of instruction should do for his clients.Gabe limits the number of students in the class to fourteen, so that he can closely monitor each student while still running relays that don’t cause too much down time for anyone.
THE ENEMY OF GETTING BETTER IS GOOD ENOUGH
One of the issues with taking classes on a regular basis is that you get good at shooting…and while that is, in the BIG PICTURE, a good thing, for the dedicated student it often results in a plateau of skill development.If you are safe, efficient and consistent in most tactical oriented classes, you won’t get a tremendous amount of direction or coaching on how to improve.Gabe’s class was quite different in this regard.Immediately, I learned a number of actionable improvements from Gabe that I was able to incorporate into my shooting that resulted in immediate improvements, of which I will expound on in detail below.
We had students in the class of all levels, from newer shooters to professional gun users (law enforcement) who EACH received individualized feedback, independent of their experience level.In addition to the qualitative feedback, Gabe also provides a mechanism for systematized testing in a series of four graded standards, that not only reward a good skill set, but also let the student establish benchmarks for the future that they can compare their own performance to.Gabe gives three awards, in ascending order of achievement, the DARK PIN, LIGHT PIN and TURBO PIN.This class was the first in history to have two TURBO PIN recipients, Randy Harris and John Hearne.I’ve trained with both of them in the past, and both are PHENOMENAL shooters!
THE RIGHT HAND OF DOOM
I’ve been training now for 28 years, and in that time, I have gone through a number of life changes, including changes in work (and work gear), playing rugby, lifting weights, gaining weight/losing weight, conditioning exercise and various other activities and injuries that have left my body in its current state.Because of my almost daily repetitive work involving the forceful removal of human teeth from people, my wrists, elbows and shoulders take a literal BEATING that has transferred, somewhat unconsciously, into my shooting habits, and how I handle the gun.One of the things that has suffered has been my draw speed.Even when I think I am moving quickly to the gun, I am NOT.Gabe noticed this and told me that if I could speed up my draw, and get to the gun quicker, I would knock a good chunk of time off of my presentation.The exercise he showed me to get up to speed was to start from the ready position of my choice, and then swat my hand to the gun, quickly, like a karate chop (remember the audible SLAP when Gabe gets his hand to the gun?) and then acquire the firing grip.He had my try this several times, without drawing, and just quickly slapping my hand to the holstered pistol.After about the fifth time, he said, “NOW GET TO THE GUN THAT FAST.”I did, and HOLY SMOKES, it worked!I immediately saw an appreciable increase in my presentation/time to first shot.Once, later in the day, John Hearne noticed that my time to the gun was slipping again and I was lagging, which I’m sure was just force of habit returning and also fatigue, so I reverted back to the slapping exercise to restore my draw’s vigor. In my past training, I’d never had anyone say anything like, “GET TO THE GUN QUICKER,” and then show me an exercise that is literally so simple to do, to illustrate how to make that happen.That was extremely helpful.
THE 1000 YARD WINK
During the lunch break on the first training day, Gabe gave an optional lecture on vision.Through a series of demonstrations, he showed us all how our eyes can focus on only one point at a time.In shooting, this is significant, since we normally look at the target, then draw our gun, find the front sight, then begin shooting once we have a hard front sight focus.This contraction of the ciliary muscle and bending of the lense in the eye takes time…and if you’re a bit older, it takes even more time!An over abundance of time is one thing you DO NOT have when either the stakes are high in a shooting match, or when the stakes can’t be any higher than in a fight to save your life!Gabe described a technique to the class that allows the capable student to be able to immediately change their focus to the, “intermediate focal plane,” or that empty cube of space that exists at about arm’s length distance in front of the shooter’s face, where their pistol’s slide and front sight will eventually end up at the final point of their presentation.By starting with their focus at this point, upon presentation of the pistol, the eye is already calibrated to see the front sight crisply and clearly, and the additional step of changing focus from the target to the front sight is eliminated.Gabe said that about one person in fourteen will be able to use this ability, and other people simply wouldn’t.Much to my surprise, I found that I COULD actually see in the intermediate focal plane, with relative ease.I attribute this to my years of using microscopes in the applied sciences and in surgery.After lunch, the benefits of seeing the sights more accurately and quickly was readily apparent!I wish that I had known about the ability before lunch, as it would have made the shot-calling drills easier, as well as determining what was an acceptable sight picture for a shot. Next time!
People have been saying, “See what you need to see,” in the firearms training industry since at least the time of Jeff Cooper, and probably before!But much like, “PRESS THE TRIGGER,” it is something that is often said, but rarely understood.In the event that a novice instructor tells a student that phrase and it actually solves their problem, it’s probably more likely due to luck then to the acumen of the instructor!But with the ability to see in the intermediate focal plane, SEEING WHAT YOU NEED TO SEE becomes a genuine reality!I’ve never before experienced a feeling in shooting quite as acute as that.The closest analogy of precision I can liken it to is using an EOTECH reticle on an M4 type rifle.The large, aviation-grade reticle is so easy to see, superimposed over the target, that you know EXACTLY where the gun is pointed when you press the shot.With a hard front sight focus on presentation, you can see instantly where the gun is pointed and how you need to course correct to achieve the desired directional adjustment.Using a brightly painted front sight (I used Warren Sevigny sights with the front sight painted red orange with Birchwood Casey sight paint) I was acutely aware of not only the immediate location of my front sight, but also the detail of the sight, down to the horizontal serrations and the areas where the edges of the paint had rubbed off, or picked up the faux-suede lining of my Safariland duty holster.In years past, I never noticed such details.
Take this course. Regardless of where you feel you are in your study of shooting, if you are safe, and capable of good accuracy on demand, Gabe will make you better. In the graded standards we shot, I was able to score in the LIGHT PIN range, which I hope to continue to improve on, and return to retake this course again, and earn the vaunted TURBO PIN. Prior to this course, I think I was a strong DARK PIN shooter, but honing my skills with just a few additional input changes from Gabe made all of the difference. It seems silly that only a few minor tweaks could have such a profound effect, but really, when you consider what technical and combat shooting is, it is really a simple series of motor skills and eye-hand coordination events that culminate in the symphony of light, sound and downrange effect that we see and take for granted. Shaving fractions of a second off of the draw and presentation by increasing efficiency (it doesn’t take many shaves before your NEW time surpasses your BEST old times) is only to the betterment of the shooter…nothing is lost in the pursuit. And when you consider that to excel at Gabe’s drills you still have to strive for 100% accuracy, or else suffer the time penalty consequences, then it makes the pursuit all that more attractive.
This was just a cursory discussion of the course. Much of what I learned I’ll keep to myself, as I think it does both you (the reader) and I a disservice; there’s too much to tell! Get to Gabe’s class and see what you can pull out of it! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Don’t wait to register! Only a few more spots available! This class is unique in that I’ve partnered with Chief Lee Weems of FIRST PERSON SAFETY, to bring you a unique training opportunity currently unprecedented in the training world!
Chief Weems will start off the day with, “Standing Your Ground.” From his website:
“Stand your ground” isn’t a magic phrase that transforms a use of force into a lawful use of force. This class explores the dynamics of deadly force encounters to include the reasonable man doctrine, the lawful use of force, interacting with responding officers, and more.
Lee Weems combines two decades of law enforcement experience along with his education from places such as the Force Science Institute, the Law of Self Defense Instructor Program, the Massad Ayoob Group Deadly Force Instructor certification course, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Use of Force Instructor Training Program, and many others to create the content for this presentation.
But wait there’s more!!
At the conclusion of the presentation a panel of defense attorneys and former prosecutors will be part of a panel question and answer session to field questions from class participants.
You can register for the Chief’s portion of the class here:
BELIEVE IT OR NOT, fair reader, but there was a time in the recent past when the majority of holsters for serious purposes (personal defense, law enforcement, security) were made of LEATHER! They were not vegan-friendly like the kydex, Boltaron, and various other polymer type synthetics that are the off-shoots of the Bill Rogers (Rogers Holster and later SAFARILAND) “plastic,” holsters of the 1970’s. Leather holsters have a lot going for them, and are still quite serviceable and workable for the modern CIVILIAN DEFENDER. Chief among the positive qualities of leather holsters are their increased level of comfort. They tend to conform to the body over a period of time, and this makes user compliance higher. My old buddy Paul Gomez preferred leather holsters over synthetics, because while synthetics allowed a quicker draw (and they most certainly do) they give up quite a bit in terms of weapon’s retention. Leather holsters rely on surface area contact with the weapon to keep the holster and gun together. “Boning,” or forcibly bending the leather with a tool (made of bone in traditional leather-working) to fit the gun it was designed for, and other features like trigger guard detents, can allow the pistol to, “snap,” into the holster. I have yet to purchase a quality leather holster that doesn’t require some accelerated break-in before I use it in my regular carry. Thus, additional break-in steps have to be taken to get the holster to a point of snug retention, but not so much that it takes two hands, an elephant, and a length of chain to remove the gun from the holster. It isn’t hard to spot the rookie in a concealed carry class who hasn’t broken in their holster adequately, as the wedgie and belt pulled up to their neck is a dead give-away.
When I was a young police cadet, a wise Sergeant told me to use rubbing alcohol to stretch the leather on my duty belt accessories, since the alcohol would evaporate quickly, and thus prevent the leather from losing it’s shape. While that is true, because alcohol evaporates so quickly, it dehydrates the leather, which can cause a wet-molded holster to lose its shape. Most holster manufacturers recommend using the thick, plastic bag (or a freezer bag if you don’t have the factory container) to stretch the holster…this isn’t rocket surgery, but it can certainly cut down on your frustration if you haven’t encountered something like this before.
You’re going to need a bag. If the holster is very tight, you may need MANY bags. I keep a stack of these in my storage closet, at the ready for breaking in holsters. This is a Galco Summer Comfort that I won at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference. It is Galco’s version of Bruce Nelson’s Summer Special II. And it comes out of the box TIGHT. It won’t allow the wearer to draw the holster without help. And I assure you I’m not lacking in physical strength! You can use a Blue Gun like I’ve done here, or you can use your (unloaded and cleared) live pistol as well.
I HAD THE RECENT pleasure to attend Dave Spaulding’s highly-regarded, “Combative Pistol,” at the great Dover TN, “Hilltop Firearms Training Center.” I’ve known of, and read Dave’s writing since I was a young police cadet, back in the 1990’s. Prior to the internet, Harris Media and magazines like, “Guns and Weapons for Law Enforcement,” and, “Combat Handguns,” were where folks went to get information on what was good in the personal defense, law enforcement and training industries. Dave has been a literary figure of the industry for decades, and is a full-time firearms trainer, now that he has retired from law enforcement.
If I break out my old (paper) copy of the dictionary and look up the word, “epistemology,” the definition reads:
the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.
Bear with me! It’s a $5 word for sure, but don’t let it run you off. “COMBATIVE PISTOL,” is Dave’s flagship course. Although I wouldn’t consider it, “basic,” or, “beginner,” at all. There were no fluff drills, nor drills strictly designed as, “feel good,” exercises. Every round was sent downrange with intention and accuracy behind it. At this point in my life, I’ve taken thousands of hours of training classes, and probably tens of thousands of hours of classroom instruction in the pursuit of my degrees in law enforcement, biology, philosophy, and medical education. I’m really at the point in my life where my, “polymath maintenance,” is dependent on being able to find, consume and assimilate boli of high-yield information. Don’t give me the fluff or the long, James Fenimore Cooper-esque version! Just boil down the facts into easily consumed packets of information I can digest, and then put to use, “On Monday Morning.” This is one reason why I like Tom Givens’ classes so much, and now why I enjoyed Dave Spaulding’s class in the same way.
So, in my usual, “free association power hour,” fashion, I will present to you the raw notes and my exposition thereof of that material, along with other points of importance you may find interesting.
THE GOAL: “To prevail, (kill) combatants with a handgun, while under the duress of combat, given real world conditions with prevailing speed and accuracy.”
In Dave’s view, the goal towards mastery of, “The Combative Pistol,” should allow the user to be ready and willing (to engage with an adversary), use tactics, techniques and procedures that function as an individual but can be adapted to a team environment, and be used in close-range confrontations (10-12 yards) against a person/persons with unknown intent (process or resource predators). Working a B8 target at distance is a good measure of skill, but is it applicable to what we do? “If you can’t hit it, don’t shoot at it!” The majority of our shooting should be 10-12 yards and in (two car lengths distance).
PISTOL ATTRIBUTES (what a pistol/user should be capable of)
deliberate, individual shots
limited ammo supply (but remember that all errant rounds will hit something)
user should be able to recognize and engage threats within 25 yards (can you even SEE 25 yards? I CANNOT always) and the pistol should be able to accurately deliver rounds at that distance
speed and accuracy is important
fast follow up shots are essential
pistol skills should be reactive/responsive
you can’t ignore the importance of speed (and you must take an expedient response into account)
reasonably short barrel
easy to use but tough (rugged)
high visibility but rugged sights
reliable under a wide variety of conditions
good trigger and ergonomics
reasonable capacity for task (10 rounds or greater is ideal)
reload quickly (not like revolvers with their 6-20 second reload)
not excessively bulky and lightweight
reasonably powerful (although in general, handguns suck for power…but why carry a .380 when similarly sized 9mm [which IS ballistically superior] pistols exist?)
You need awareness and willingness to prevail (in a violent confrontation)
AWARENESS = DISTANCE
EFFICIENCY IS THE least amount of time and effort that can be expended to achieve a goal
DRAWSTROKE is when the gun arrives where you need to use it
RECOIL CONTROL is the gun returning where it started from before the shot was fired
PROPER GRIP “Don’t be a grip dick by accepting a shit grip.”
TRIGGER CONTROL is the independent depressing of the trigger straight to the rear, without the interruption of the target/bore alignment. This is the most critical aspect of shooting
The next section deals with what Dave calls the, “Three S’s,” and this section I found particularly relevant. As both a perpetual student and trainer myself, I often find myself asking, “why” am I being taught a specific thing? What will it do/not do for me? If I can’t explain the, “why,” behind it, then WHY THE HELL would I consider it for regular use, or teach it to another? This doesn’t apply to just defensive pistolcraft…it applies to life in general. Dave has put together a simple codification behind the reduction of, “why,” for our use that looks like this:
SIMPLE-if you can’t do it easily, you won’t do it under stress. These techniques will be easier to teach, easier to understand and easier to refine on the range
SENSE-does it make sense to you? Does the WHY of it make sense to you? Don’t buy the, “This is how I do it so just do it that way.”
STREET-does it work time and again, in real-world encounters?
If you apply the, “3 S'” and something doesn’t fit, don’t use it!
In the course, I used a Spencer Keepers, “Keeper,” AIWB holster, as well as my EDC, the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm. This is a late-model of the Keeper, and it works very well, while still being extremely comfortable to wear in the heat, AND allow the gun to be readily accessible. I do carry my pistol on my hip on certain occasions though, so I found Dave’s section on the anatomical and physiological breakdown of the drawstroke interesting and useful.
HOLSTERS AND DRAWSTROKE
the holster is there to make the gun available to you
STRONG SIDE carry is the physiologically preferred position for carrying a firearm since your strong side is closest to your shooting hand
YOUR ELBOW LEADS YOUR DRAW ALONG A PREDICTABLE ARC OF MOTION
3 O’clock and AIWB carry…the arc of movement isn’t any different because the elbow leads the arc
ATTACK the juncture of the trigger guard and the grip, so you can wrap your hand around the grip and draw
ATTACKING THE GRIP when carrying appendix makes the draw easier (since the front strap of the gun is often close, or in contact with the waistline/belt)
the, “shortest distance draw,” works great for competition but not so well for combat, thus we adopt the, “upside down L,” drawstroke
the gun should arrive where you are looking at the terminus of the drawstroke
THE ARC OF READY
We used a number of ready positions in this class, and none of them were, “Sul”! Dave was quick to point out that Sul isn’t a ready position to shoot from as much as it is a movement position to allow people to move about in a shoot house with a catwalk, without muzzling observers overhead or their own teammates (many instructors overlook this and give you the, “just do it my way, kid” line). Dave demonstrated and had us try out a number of ready positions along what he calls the, “arc of ready.” This series of movements allow the individual user to pick a position relative to the circumstances that they find themselves in. Some positions are faster on target (because the front sight stays visible in the peripheral vision) or offer better weapon retention capability, since the gun is closer to the body (or #2 position, as it is commonly known). The interesting tie-in between Dave’s presentation on strong-side carry and draw stroke, is that the, “arc of ready,” also coincides and dovetails nicely with this. While the arc of movement for the drawstroke guides the presentation of the gun from the holster to the target, the arc of ready guides the pistol from a position OTHER THAN THE HOLSTER, to the target, along a path that is common and still, GUIDED BY THE ELBOW. It may sound weird to the reader, but in practical application, it really makes good sense. As Tom Givens says, “There are three places your gun can be…IN YOUR HOLSTER, AT THE READY, OR ON THE TARGET!” When you consider the applicability of the, “Arc of Ready,” to that heuristic, the possibility of movements extraneous to that path of movement, become irrelevant. This idea works, because it makes our study SIMPLER (remember the, “3 S’s!”). Additionally, due to physical limitations the, “Arc of Ready,” doesn’t exclude any particular kind of student, since if one of the positions in the arc is outside of their range of motion, chances are, another position earlier or later in that arc, will work for that individual.
Another section I got a particularly great amount of reflection, scrutiny and guidance from Dave on, was my reload. I can pull off a predictable, fast reload. But, unbeknownst to me, I was making it very difficult on myself. After watching my reload a few times, Dave stopped me and said, “You’re doing too much work trying to thread that needle there. Isolate your movements and line the magazine up with the side of the magwell, and you’ll have fewer issues.” HOLY SMOKES! Nobody had ever said that to me, and it immediately made me think, “What the hell have I been doing?” In classes, if you’re faster than the group and execute a skill with precision, care and safety, you’re not likely to draw the eye of the instructor, and thus, a less-than-ideal execution goes from rehearsal to hard-wired, relatively quickly.
why reloads fall apart?
the gun is moving
the magazine is moving
both are moving
use the side of the magazine well or the interior of the backstrap of the magwell to guide the magazine into the proper seating direction
THE, “POWER STROKE,”
proponents will say that the, “POWER STROKE,” gives the slide an additional 1/4″ of travel
you grab the pistol slide with the weakest part of the hand, which defies motor learning and performance
NOBODY grabs anything else in the world like that!
keep the gun in the basketball sized workspace known as the, “sphere of coordination,” which some folks call the, “workspace”
in real-life, they’re hot and sharp, which is difficult to simulate on the range
to clear them:
turn the gun upside down
run the slide
stovepiped round will fall free of the gun
‘IF YOU FORGET EVERYTHING ELSE, REMEMBER THE GOAL IS TO: *GET THE GUN OUT BETWEEN YOU AND THE THREAT AND WORK THE TRIGGER CALMLY AND CONTROLLED*’
As the essay title states, this class really conveys to the student Dave Spaulding’s EPISTEMOLOGY. Meaning, everything in it provides for the justification of Dave’s ideas, as gleaned from his experiences as a student of combat pistolcraft, an educator, and as a peace officer. Underpinning his philosophy is a sound basis in WHY. Because without the WHY, you only have partial command of anything. The market is flooded today with trainers who expect their students to accept their methodology as gospel without any logical grounding other than, “Because this is what I say!” Unfortunately, if that person came from an institutional training system, that might very well be because they were taught that TTP (tactic, technique or procedure) by a person who didn’t know the WHY either, and they simply passed on information, because that is the information they had received. And with that methodology, un-owned, baseless knowledge continues to live on in perpetuity. That’s no way to live or learn, folks!
It kills me to write this, everytime, but guys like Dave aren’t going to be around forever. When they go, we will have their teaching and their writings to go off of. And more good people will die learning and re-learning mistakes and errors that men like Dave Spaulding, Tom Givens, John Farnam, Massad Ayoob and their peers have delineated through their careers, that they’ve learned the hard way. Don’t wait to train with these folks. Months turn into years, and before you know it, you will have missed the opportunity.
THE GOSPEL OF THE GAUGE, AS PREACHED BY THE VERY REVEREND, TOM GIVENS
This has been a very shotgun year for me, with Chief Lee Weems’, “Social Shotgun,” last month, and Tom’s shotgun class this month. I have more shotgun training coming up later this month, and even more in the Summer. So, my 870 is getting some mileage! My exposure to shotgun training began some 27 years ago as a police cadet, continued through my work in the armored truck service, and is still rolling along today. I really appreciate the virtues of the shotgun for defensive purposes, and like all of Tom Givens’ other training, this class puts a very fine point on the student instructor’s skills and knowledge, when it comes to the ‘ole scattergun.
My last essay on Tom’s Pistol Instructor Course was LONG. Although I took pages and pages of notes in this class, I’m not going to disclose as much information. You’ll have to take the class yourself. While pistol training is everywhere, shotgun training (that is to say, quality shotgun training) is fewer and far between. There are shotgun classes out there that are either adapted versions of carbine classes, with a shotgun substituted for said carbine, or shotgun classes using techniques adapted from wingshooting or sporting events. Neither of those classes are particularly well adapted to defensive use of the shotgun. Thus, to fully understand the WHY (Tom, like all quality, learned individuals, places a strong emphasis on the value of WHY a particular tool, tactic, technique or procedure is valuable or not. IF you don’t know the WHY, you can’t claim that you really know much about the aforementioned TTTP’s!)
The shotgun list of, “WHY’S,” was really interesting to me, and much of it was first-pass information; the first time I’d heard it (and I’ve taken shotgun training with Tom before…although not at the instructor level). I’ve included a few of them here, because the reasons that people choose to rationalize their defensive mindset, tactics, skill and gear algorithms are often poorly hatched, and ill-conceived. Many people mimic things they see other instructors (or internet personalities) do, without the least inkling of WHY that choice was made. This is a bad practice to undertake, and can also be expensive! Many folks THINK that they need this widget, or that training, when what they really NEED is something far less sophisticated.
So, in no particular order, I give you Tom’s SALIENT SHOTGUN SCHOLARSHIP AND SERMON FOR CIVILIANS:
“THE MAIN ADVANTAGE of the shotgun as a defensive weapon is its unmatched destructive capability at close range. On drunk, drugged or crazed assailants, few tools exist with the wounding power of the shotgun, when loaded with buckshot or slugs. This is a two way street though, as there isn’t such a thing as a, “minor wound,” with a shotgun. Thus, safe handling and lifestyle practice with the shotgun is paramount!”
In Tom’s extensive investigation and research experience, he has not found a shotgun shooting that involved more than two hits…
Shotguns aren’t dropsafe…the, “safety,” in a shotgun merely locks the trigger in place (to keep it from moving). If you have a round in the chamber, with the gun in battery and you drop it, it could go off. So be wary.
Treat the shotgun safety like a switch…when you pick up the gun, ascertain it’s condition of readiness (“clear the gun”) or prepare to fight with it (if it is loaded). Turn the safety switch off when you pick it up, reapply it when you put it down. Vang Comp (the big round ball) 870 safety buttons can inadvertently deactivate when a large-handed user picks up the gun in a firing grip. If you have big mitts, you need to know that!
The safety on the shotgun is a safety for the other guy (the bad guy). If it’s on, and you need to shoot, you’re going to wish it was OFF! It is a hazard to the user because it is a pain in the butt to disengage and can be left on inadvertently. Therefore and again, when you pick the gun up, disengage the safety, keep your finger in register, and you’ll be fine! Do you worry about inadvertently touching off a round with your striker fired pistol when your finger is in register? The shotgun is no different.
SLUGS are used when the situation requires either deeper penetration (dangerous animals or vehicles in a police context) or when accuracy is required at ranges outside the usable envelope of buckshot.
“In a civilian self-defense scenario, whether in the home or business, the shotgun is the weapon of choice for repelling home invasions or gang hold-ups. The range will always be short (within two car lengths) so buckshot (either 0, 00 or OOO size) is our preferred primary load. There is no need for extended range or penetration, so slugs are largely superfluous in this role. You don’t need a sling, as it can hang up on door knobs and other things (if you use it on the badguys, you’ll either hand it over to the police when they get there, or put it back in the closet/rack/safe from whence it came. No need to sling up since it is outside the purview of the civilian to handcuff, hurdle fences, etc. A light is optional and situationally dependent for civilian use. You need a short, light, fast-handling weapon for close-in work.”
The first inception of the shotgun was utilized by horsemen (aristocracy) against groundlings (pikemen) as a multi-projectile weapon was more effective since it had increased hit probability at close range (greater than or equal to eight feet away)
Anyone using a shotgun for defensive purposes will benefit from having a length of pull less than 13″ (unless they are exceptionally tall…I’m 6’4″ and I prefer a 12″ LOP, although I can use longer). Even small statured individuals and women can use short LOP shotguns (in 12 gauge) comfortably.
Pistol grip only shotguns provide no index of deflection, and are very limited in use (I fully admit I have a PGO 870 TAC-14…which I’m waiting on a tax stamp for to turn into a SBS!)
The Wilson Combat/Scattergun Technologies, “PLUS ONE,” magazine extension provides one extra round with a minimum amount of bulk.
BOLT ON ammo carriers (based on the original, “Adventurer’s Outpost Sidesaddle,” require the action pins to be replaced with threaded screws. Under recoil, these screws can untighten, and the sidesaddle will fall off. On some guns, this will tie up the action, rendering your combat capable shotgun into a very unergonomic boat oar. Velcro attached sidesaddle cards are preferrable since they don’t interfere with the action, nor will they loosen with firing. ALSO, sidesaddles can (if overtightened) can tie up the gun completely, by compressing the receiver. Again, congrats on the unergonomic hammer!
28 gauge shotguns were invented for sporting shotgunners that could clean skeet matches with the 12 and 20 gauges. So the 28 gauge was invented to make a hard game harder.
Double barrel coach guns are useful for one purpose…they are shorter than pump guns because the action isn’t as long. In every other way, they are technologically inferior to pump or semi-automatic defensive shotguns.
PATTERNING YOUR SHOTGUN
Many folks fail to grasp the importance of patterning their shotgun. As Tom says, “Each shotgun barrel is a special snowflake!” The NIJ Standard for 12 gauge shotgun barrels is .725″ to .745″. That is a HUGE disparity which doesn’t lend itself to scientific analysis, uniform accuracy or even trueness of bore (when analyzed in context to the long axis of the barrel). In addition, the bore can be off center, or not concentric, which will throw odd patterns with some (and sometimes all) popular defensive loads. Bearing these eccentricities in mind, testing every shotgun intended for defensive or duty use is crucial! Would you field a hunting or sniping rifle with an unzeroed scope? Patterning your shotgun should be considered just as critical! Also, if you are unlucky enough to find yourself saddled with a poorly patterning shotgun, get rid of it all together, or get a new barrel.
I found that my barrel patterned adequately with the Federal Flite Control 8 pellet OO loading, but patterned SUPERBLY with the Hornady version of the Flite Control 8 pellet loading. Thus, for this particular 870, I will put a laminated card onto the buttstock with the gun’s preference, and that’s what I will feed it!
MY SHORTCOMINGS AND LESSONS LEARNED
I’ve used a shotgun in an official capacity for two decades PLUS now. And while I can shoot one and run it well, there were still, “scars,” and personal idiosyncrasies that I had to overcome to be successful in this course. In my years of armored truck service, I got lazy with my unslung shotgun, and I would simply rest the toe of the buttstock, muzzle up, on the front of my pistol ammo carrier on my gun belt. I found myself defaulting to this position a few times in class, unconsciously, and Tom would tell me, “That isn’t a ready position.” I admit that my ready position wasn’t ready for much of anything! Although my strong hand was on the pistol grip, it wasn’t really in a position to do much at all immediately. That required conscious thought and effort to repair that weakness, and use a proper ready position.
I also found that shooting a high pedestal bead, ghost ring, or Express type sight, as I had become accustomed to, made shooting a gun with a barrel mounted bead very difficult. I felt like I couldn’t get my face low enough on the stock to get a good cheekweld. I eventually found that, “sweet spot,” but I can say with absolute certainty that barrel-mounted-beads are not my favorite!
I also (prior to the course) felt that the wide patterns that a typical police shotgun would make with EXPRESS OO buckshot at 20-25 yards was an asset, as the wide (round) pattern would most definitely hit, at least partially, the threat I was aiming at. I never gave much thought to the stray pellets that fly off into the great unknown, only to strike an unsuspecting innocent. Tight patterns with high-tech wads keep their patterns constrained to the threat, with no stray pellets (as long as you are within the effective range of your target). Judging that distance, by eye-balling, is necessary so you can tell in an instant if you’re within your effective range. If you are too far out, either keep moving away from the threat, switch to a slug, or wait until the threat moves closer to you if no avenue of escape exists.
If the game show, “Jeopardy,” had a, “SELF DEFENSE SHOTGUN,” category, this course would prepare you for sweeping it! In addition to busting myths, correcting police and media folklore, and helping Instructor-candidates truly UNDERSTAND the intricacies of the shotgun, Tom’s class is both fun and challenging.
One of my favorite quotes from the course, and what really sums up shotgun effectiveness in general is: “You know what birdshot is for? Shooting BIRDS! Hell, half the time birds don’t even die from the shot, they die from falling out of the sky, and sometimes that doesn’t even kill them! So if a 4 ounce bird won’t die from getting hit with a load of birdshot, what do you think an angry man is going to do when you hit him with it? Exactly whatever he was doing before you shot him! Some other experts out there will recommend birdshot for home and business defense because they say it lacks the penetration capability to over-penetrate interior and exterior walls. My answer is that buckshot, when aimed properly, will neutralize a threat with no more than two good hits. And the bad guy’s body will contain the buckshot and keep it from hitting any of your walls, as long as you aim it. As Paul Howe says YOU CANNOT SEW UP HAMBURGER!”
Get to this class. It’s not commonly offered, but for two to three times per year. And the more folks we have instructing sound curriculum that truly utilizes the shotgun’s many strengths, the longer this friable knowledge will remain in the gun culture’s collective intelligence!