ASAA   Europe

1C

SELF-LOADER OPERATIONAL TIPS

These days it seems that there is no end to the variety of self-loading handguns available commercially. In fact, a quick perusal of the display counters at your local gunshop will disclose that, historically, there are more self-loading pistols being manufactured today than every before. Though they are all without question "self-loaders" or, colloquially, "auto-pistols" (a title that connotes 'automatic reloading and recocking' after each shot, rather than automatic fire, as many erroneously believe), and thus share basic operational concepts, they do differ in design.

Some self-loaders must be carried is what is known as "Condition One," or "cocked & locked, " as it is often called. This means that the weapon is loaded and cocked manually, then carried or stored with the hammer in a fully-cocked position. Technologically, a pistol that utilizes this method is known as a "single-action," or, "SA," for short. Pistols that utilize this concept include perhaps the two most famous handguns of the 20th century -- the legendary Colt M1911 .45 ACP and Browning P35 9mm, both of which have seen unequaled proliferation and continue in widespread service even today.

Yet, to the less-informed or less-experienced observer, the sight of their hammers being cocked brings fear, for they believe such a ready-carry configuration to be unsafe. In truth, the notion is unfounded. However, the visual impact remains and often causes a negative reaction.

The second auto-pistol design is, of course, "double-action," or, "DA," connoting that it can be fired in two ways. With this design, the gun is loading manually and the hammer lowered from full-cock via a mechanical drop mechanism actuated by a lever. A viable solution to the negative visual reaction to a cocked and locked SA auto, the DA first surfaced around 1929 in the form of the now-famous Walther PP/PPK series and has since become pretty much the norm in today's military and police professions.

To fire the DA self-loader, one can either simply press the trigger much like a regular DA revolver for the first shot, or thumb-cock the hammer, placing the weapon in the SA mode. Normally, since the weapon is generally carried with a round in the chamber, a loaded magazine in place and the hammer down (known as Condition Two), the first shot is fired by simply pressing the trigger rearward, thus cocking and subsequently firing the gun. From that point on, it operates in the SA mode, self-cocking, self-ejecting and self-reloading. So, if the piece isn't fired until it is empty, lowering the hammer back to Condition Two is generally required.

In the last few years, we have also seen what is called "double-action-only" -- "DAO," for short. This means simply that although the gun is loaded the same way as a conventional DA auto, it operates only via the trigger-cocking method, exactly like the old DA revolver. Why did DAO come to exist? Well, pretty much to simplify the operation of the weapon. Instead of the gun reverting from DA to SA after the first shot, a process often necessitating a substantial shift in trigger finger position (a difficult thing to accomplish in the fast time-frames of deadly encounters), it operates solely in the DA mode.

There are certainly many different ways to manipulate the self-loader. The trick is to determine which is the simplest and most efficient, not only in terms of energy and time expenditure, but in a real-world, stress-filled environment. Many schools and individual instructors espouse techniques that appear to work quite well on a pistol range, but fall short when the chips are down and the bullets fly...for real. This is because the techniques were created on a pistol range, where conditions are controlled -- they were never tested in the real-world, where motor-dexterity deteriorates alarmingly as stress levels skyrocket.

Here at the American Small Arms Academy, we have always taken in consideration the impact of stress on humans in such situations and created techniques intended from the outset to work efficiently for them when they're charged with adrenaline. Moreover, we didn't simply try them on a firing range in daylight. Instead, we tested them in the dark, too. We tested them when it was hot and cold, in the wind, snow and rain. And, where "glitches" appeared, they were corrected, resulting in a manual of arms for the auto-pistol far superior to anything else in the business.

A big claim? I suppose so, but their actual use -- successful use -- in the real-world has proven its validity. Why do they work so well? Easy...because they're as simple as possible without compromising mission-efficiency. In those instances where existing techniques proved effective, a review was conducted to determine if they could be improved -- the Speed Reload, for example. Where a need existed that wasn't being fulfilled, a method was created to fulfill it -- the Tactical Reload, for example. And, once every method had successfully completed a long-term testing program, they were then taken "into the street," for final analysis. There, elements appear that cannot possibly be predicted...elements that can and have quite literally made the difference between life and death. It was the effect of such influences that we sought.

I do not claim to have invented all of them, although I did create or perfect a number of them. The ASAA staff is unparalleled in real-world experience as well as shooting, tactical and instructional ability. Thus, their input and assistance in the creation and testing of the techniques requires not only mention but accolades as well. It took years of hard work on their part to complete the process, something that many do not realize. To me, that the final product proved superior came as no surprise.

A visual perusal of the accompanying photography will show that all ASAA techniques are based on two things. One, "Keep It Simple, Stupid" and, Two, "Remember Murphy's Law." In other words, it's the fundamentals that make the difference. When stress levels cause massive adrenaline to flow and motor-skills deteriorate to "lowest common denominator" levels (something that anyone who has ever been in a real gunfight knows all too well), these techniques will not only work, but work well.

Notice too that elemental functions like chamber-checking, loading and unloading are included. This is not cooincidental, because more negligent discharges occur during these processes than any other time. Even changing magazines while on the training range can be a potentially dangerous procedure if not properly executed, so it, too, is included.

As well, correct trigger finger placement is examined, because it greatly influences high-speed shooting efficiency -- and high-speed hits are what gunfights are all about. As such, it isn't so simple a matter after all.

A quick word about the difference between a Speed Reload and a Tactical Reload. The Speed Reload is an extreme emergency procedure utilized when, for whatever reason, you've fired your pistol until empty. This is signaled by the slide being well out of battery, but so is a Type Three (Feedway) stoppage, so the shooter must include a quick "crack of the firing wrist" and look into the ejection port to determine what he is dealing with before corrective action can be instituted.

In truth, there can only be two reasons why a Speed Reload would be needed. One, the situation has continued to escalate beyond your best efforts to control it. This isn't the norm, but it isn't impossible, either, which is why the Speed Reload needs to be a part of your self-defense repertoire of skills. However, the second reason a Speed Reload would be required is by an overwhelming margin more typical -- for whatever reason, the firer has been missing his target(s). This being the case, the Speed Reload should not be given excessive emphasis, which it nearly always does with instructors with primarily competitive backgrounds.

To lend perspective to this, let me put it in another way. Aside from my own experiences, I've examined in detail more than four thousand shooting case studies and talked to hundreds of gunfight participants and found universally that missing targets is without question the most common reason for a Speed Reload. This fact, in conjunction with the first reason -- situation escalation -- being possible, even if on a low-probability basis, means that you should make the Speed Reload part of your training regimen. Just don't emphasize it disproportionately.

The Tactical Reload is performed any time the weapon is discharged in a combative environment, usually during the first available lull in the action. In this instance, the weapon should be at the Ready and remain so while the procedure is performed. Avoid allowing the gun to "float" upward (usually caused by bending the firing elbow) in front of the chest. To do so takes the gun out of the natural arcs of motion for the non-firing arm (which manipulates the spare magazine) and negatively alters magazine insertion angle, thus increasing the potential for errors.

Though most schools and instructors teach a version of the Tactical Reload, they almost all utilize a method that entails multiple magazines in the non-firing hand and moving the weapon upward to a point in front of the chest. This destroys the original Cooper "Holster-Ready-Point-Handles-All-Things" (e.g. KISS) concept of weapon handling, takes the gun out of position for fast, efficient manipulation under stress and demands much more work by the firer -- all of which are pure poison in a combative environment.

Last, consider carefully which of the two most effective combat stances -- Isosceles or Weaver -- you wish to adopt. Each is highly popular, with its own group of proponents but, in my twenty-plus years as a professional weapons and tactics instructor, I've found that unless the firer has extraordinary upper body strength and superior motor-response capability (reaction/response times), the Isosceles isn't as efficient as the Weaver.

Moreover, I've also found that, because of its superior "motor memory," the Weaver better handles lowlight situations both with and without a flashlight and, if correctly executed, reduces muzzle flip (this decreasing shot-to-shot recovery times) from forty to as much as sixty percent. This is an important factor with full-power service ammo, fired from a standard service weapon. In addition, it greatly enhances performance against multiple targets, too.

Nonetheless, the old saying that, "Any two-hand stance beats any one-hand stance" without question holds true, so one of the two stances is definitely worth using. In theory, at least, the Isosceles is simpler to understand, but in every instance in which I have personally seen the Weaver criticized as being inferior, an incorrect Weaver was being utilized.

Interestingly enough this usually takes the form of turning too far into the firing side, sometimes as much as a full ninety degrees. A correct Weaver involves the firer never being turned more than thirty-five degrees, a body attitude required only to allow the non-firing shoulder to be held slightly forward, thus allowing the supporting elbow to easily bend and drop downward into position.

From a presentation from either Ready or Holster, the Isosceles is fully as fast as the Weaver. However, once the first shot is discharged, the Weaver will provide better overall results. This is because it uses the entire upper torso, rather than just the arms, and geometry, rather than pure muscle power, to control the weapon. Given the quick loss of energy that comes from high-stress operation, this factor, too, assumes significant proportions.

When questioned about this, Jeff Cooper used to put it this way -- "Although one can perform some interesting renditions of 'Chopsticks' on the piano, Beethoven is far better. The relationship between Weaver and Isosceles assumes these same proportions. On which would you rather bet your life...Chopsticks or Beethoven?" Aptly put, to say the least, but whether you agree or not (and I do), it is a statement worth serious cogitation.

Handgun confrontations are fast, ugly and personal and demand techniques based upon not only a cognizance, but full understanding of the effects of stress on human beings. There isn't time to become involved with lengthy mental or physical processes and procedures. You've got to "get with the program" and respond...all within a few seconds. Only techniques based on KISS and real-world experience can provide these capabilities. And, they're not excessively difficult to learn or maintain, once mastered. Indeed, even a modest amount of regular dry practice of each procedure will yield excellent results.

Last, get the best training you can find. "Shoot, shoot and shoot some more" instructional programs leave virtually no time for finding and correcting errors. In fact, they reinforce them. A properly designed curriculum will emphasize fundamentals, step-by-step instructional methods and utilize a "building block" learning process. To illustrate, here at ASAA we first explain each technique, giving its history and purpose. Then we demonstrate it. Third, the students dry-practice it "by the numbers." Fourth, they then perform it "dry," thinking for themselves with the instructor starting each "rep." Fifth, they perform it live-fire (if appropriate). Sixth and last, they perform it "live" under time-pressure.

This one-thing-at-a-time method has for nearly two decades produced superior student performance, not only in the qualification test that concludes each class, but where it really counts -- in actual gunfights. As well, I think you'll find such an approach an excellent way to gauge the true efficacy of and motivation behind any prospective school's or instructor's instructional program. In the meantime, good luck and good shooting!

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Additional information about ASAA is available. Please email me directly at:
chuck@chucktayloramericansmallarmsacademy.com

American Small Arms Academy
PO Box 12111
Prescott, AZ 86304

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