I've been busy working on my doctoral dissertation lately, which is why I haven't posted anything on the forum in months. DC just sucks up too much of my time, so I decided to go cold turkey. It's also made me rather laggard about posting write-ups for our last few Utah Polite Society events. After some encouragement from Harold Green and others (read: a swift kick in the butt) I've decided to go ahead and summarize the October, November, January, and February events. Unfortunately, I missed the events in September (backpacking) and December (snowed in), so I can't say much about those.

October
For our October event, we decided to try something a little different. Inspired by the book "Terror at Beslan" by John Giduck, and some discussions on DefensiveCarry.com about which guns everyone should be familiar with, I put together a scenario involving a school takeover by terrorists. While unlikely, this is certainly one of the most challenging self-defense scenarios imaginable. The most realistic objective probably isn't getting out alive (at Beslan, the two armed policemen who were among the intended hostages died in minutes) but doing as much as possible to disrupt the terrorist's plans before dying. In a situation like this, even those of us who carry multiple magazines are likely to run out of ammo before running out of targets (assuming we survive long enough to run out of either, of course). It may be necessary to pick up any available weapon and make use of it. This month's exercises was intended to familiarize the participants with two of the most common military style rifles weapons in the world and give them a chance to use them in a tactical scenario.

Black Rifle Familiarization
The AK-47 and AR-15 are the progenitors of the vast majority of military rifles used in the world today. In addition to military use around the globe, both rifles are widely used for domestic law enforcement and home defense. Familiarity with these two weapons represents a basic sort of "firearms literacy" that I think every shooter should possess. Before starting the drill we demonstrated the basic operating procedures for each (inserting and removing magazines, chambering a round, taking off the safety, and clearing the weapon). Each shooter had a chance to put ten rounds through each rifle. In addition to the AR and AK, we also had a SKS and a Hi-Point carbine available, to provide a bit of variety.

After the demonstration, most folks were able to operate the AK and AR quite easily. The stripper clips used to load the SKS were difficult for a lot of folks. It seems like it would be much easier to reload a rifle with a detachable box magazine, especially under pressure. The Hi-Point carbine seemed to jam up for every other shooter. I would certainly not recommend it as a weapon for home defense.

Beslan Redux

The rifle pickup scenario was based on a terrorist takeover of a school. To encourage people to pick up and use the rifle, participants were limited to one pistol magazine which was downloaded to less than its full capacity. You started out behind cover, had to cross an open area between two barricades, pick up the rifle, (either an AK or an AR) and engage 4-6 targets downrange. Before the scenario, the rifle was placed in an unknown condition: it might or might not have a round in the chamber and the safety might or might not be on. You had to assess the condition of the rifle and get it into a shootable state. In addition, the magazine in the rifle only had a few rounds in it with a full mag lying nearby, to force the shooter to exchange magazines during the fight. Your task was to engage targets beyond the barricades and advance down an imaginary hallway extending downrange (presumably towards a son or daughter in some classroom).

The most common problem in this scenario was running out of ammo. With a downloaded pistol mag and a rifle with only a few rounds it in, it shouldn't really be a surprise that a lot of people ran one or both guns dry. Nevertheless, the empty gun often seemed to come as a surprise and, in keeping with Murphy's Law, often happened at the most inopportune moment.

Getting the rifle running took some time for some folks, but everyone was able to get the safety off and a round in the chamber. Accuracy with the rifle was generally quite good. Even people without any rifle shooting experience were able to make accurate shots at the 3-7 yard ranges involved. Once the time came for people to reload the rifle, however, the fumbling really began. Getting the empty mag out wasn't too hard. The first problem cropped up when people tried to remember which pocket they'd stuck the extra mag in. Once they had the new magazine in hand, fitting it into the rifle was often a challenge. Of course, the fact that a cold drizzle had started up by this point didn't help much.

As usual, since I was running the stage, I had a chance to watch a lot of people shoot it before I did. Since you start out behind cover, the first thing I did was drop the mag on my pistol to see how many rounds I had available. It was completely empty. The only ammo I had was the round in the chamber. Rather than expending that I went straight for the rifle, (in my case, an AR-15) got it running and shot the first mag. Figuring I'd be just as fumble-fingered reloading as the rest, I did my reloading from behind cover and advanced to take out the other targets and ran the other magazine dry as well! A one shot pistol is better than nothing so I transitioned to my handgun. Thankfully I'd spent my last rifle rounds engaging the final target, so I completed the scenario without firing my pistol at all.

Rifles are definitely much easier to shoot accurately at these ranges than pistols. Shots that would have been quite challenging with a handgun were downright easy with the rifle. That doesn't mean you don't need to practice with a rifle though. As our fumble-fingered reloads and other manipulation made clear, rifles require just as much training and practice in gunhandling techniques as a pistol. Everyone who shot the scenario was seriously lacking in this area. If you're planning to use a rifle for self defense, you need to train with it.

Drawstroke Two-Step
and Bad Breath Distance
In addition to the rifle drill and scenario, I also included a pistol drill and scenario focusing on shooting from retention. The drill was a fairly simple one we've done before: Stand at arm's length from the target, draw, and fire from retention. Take a step back, draw, and fire from half extension. Take another step back and fire from three-quarters extension. Take another step back and fire from full extension. The scenario built on this by starting you out at "bad breath distance", less than arms length from the target. You then had to draw and neutralize the point blank target and one or two others. Since I was running the rifle stages, I didn't get a chance to shoot these or see anyone else shoot them. Everyone who did shoot them seemed to enjoy them though.

November

One of the things we emphasize at Polite Society shoots is the need to look behind you. Shooting on square or 180 degree range encourages the bad habit of assuming that everything you need to see in a fight is right there in front of you. In real life, while you're shooting an assailant, his buddy might be sneaking up behind you to whack you over the head with a tire iron. If you don't turn around and look, your first indication of this may be a sharp pain in the back of your skull. One of the questions in our after action review is, "Did you scan for additional threats?" Not only do we require people to look behind them, we also want to make sure they see what's going on behind them, rather than just taking a perfunctory glance over their shoulder. When a shooter checks behind them, they may see a spectator or RO holding a knife or redgun in their hand. The shooter is expected to call this out, as well as get everyone to get their hands out of their pockets so they're visible. As the saying goes, "In God we trust. Everyone else keep your hands where I can see them."

The preferred way to check behind you is using position sul: with the gun held at chest height, grip parallel with the chest, pointed about a foot in front of your toes. This allows you to turn your body a full 360 degrees without muzzle sweeping any of the spectators standing behind you. A sul scan generally allows a much longer and more complete scan than trying to crane your neck around 180 degrees while keeping the gun pointed downrange. While we tend to do a lot of sul scans at Polite Society events, we seldom practice fighting from this position. This month's scenarios were designed to correct this deficiency.

Defending Sul
At longer ranges, shooting from sul is a matter of extending the gun and rotating both hands until you reach the normal full extension firing position. This takes only a little longer than bringing the gun up from low ready, though it is a bit more involved. At close range the pistol is held close to the body and fired from something more like a retention position. This can even be done when someone is going hand to hand with you and trying to block or grab the gun.

Our first drill gave everyone the chance to practice shooting from sul. The basic drill is adapted from one in Gabe Suarez's classes. For the first string, you started in sul, several yards from the target, extended the gun, and fired. The next five strings were all shot at close range, from within a foot of the target. One string facing the target, one string with the target to the right, one with the target to the left, and two with the target behind (one turning to shoot the target, the other remaining facing away and bringing the gun around behind to shoot).

Sul Surprise
This month's scenario was a little different from our usual fare. Rather than starting off with the gun in the holster and a full magazine, you begin in position sul with your magazine downloaded by an unknown number of rounds. This is intended to simulate them just having apparently finished a gunfight and about to begin your sul scan. When the scenario begins, you turn around to find one target close behind you with a few others further out. You have to decide which, if any, of these targets are threats and deal with them accordingly.

Most folks did fairly well with this one. When shooting the target immediately behind them some shooters extended the gun quite a ways, putting themselves at risk of a disarm. Many shooters also ran out of ammo unexpectedly, on account of the downloaded magazine. Most dealt with it fairly well, but there is a tendency, particularly among novice shooters, for other elements like cover and movement to fall by the wayside when reloading. This is even more evident when the empty gun arises unexpectedly.

Sul Surprise Force-On-Force
Ever since taking the force-on-force class with Gabe Suarez last summer, I've wanted to run a scenario both with live weapons, then with airsoft, to get a feel for the differences that arise with a live, resisting opponent. We did a little of this last June, but I spent most of that event helping out with the new shooter class so I didn't get a chance to do the airsoft part of the scenario.

I thought the sul scenario would be a good candidate for airsoft. I also knew this month would probably be our last chance to shoot airsoft for a while, since the guns tend to get finicky and unreliable in cold weather. So we all packed up our real guns, broke out the plastic pellet shooters and searched each other for weapons.

The airsoft scenario was set up exactly like the live fire one, with the shooter and four live "targets". Generally 2-3 of the targets were armed assailants, while the other 1-2 represented innocent bystanders. The biggest difference between the live fire scenario and the airsoft was speed. Most shooters took 15-20 seconds to complete the live fire scenario; the airsoft was generally over in about five seconds. When you're faced with targets that are moving and shooting back, things aren't nearly as leisurely as they are with cardboard. I think it was an eye-opening experience, particularly for folks who hadn't done any airsoft force-on-force training before.

On the downside, having three opponents, particularly when you start out in such a disadvantageous position, could be on the overwhelming side. Now, facing overwhelming odds in a self-defense situation is certainly a possibility, and one we should train for. However, I think some of the subtler lessons that this drill could have offered may have gotten lost in the 3 on 1 fight. If we do this in the future, I'd probably use fewer assailants, perhaps even just one to start with.

December

As I mentioned earlier, I missed the December shoot because I was snowed in. This was a real bummer, since I wanted to see how the drills and scenarios I had planned would work out. This month's theme was "hearts and minds", or making the transition between torso shots and head shots. We used balloons in the target's torso and head to provide a reactive element. One of the balloons was connected to a piece of cardboard by a string and the target wasn't neutralized until the cardboard dropped. If popping the torso balloon didn't do it, the shooter had to transition to head shots. Since I didn't get to see it, I can't really give a report on it, but those who were there said it went really well.

January
One of the reasons to carry a firearm is to help avoid being injured in a confrontation with a violent criminal. Unfortunately, bad things sometimes happen and some injuries are unavoidable. However, an injury, even a serious one, is not the end world, or even the end of the confrontation. Continuing to resist an assailant even after being injured may mean the difference between life and death. This month's exercises concentrated on shooting and gunhandling without using the support hand or arm.

For all of these drills we simulated an injured hand or arm using a sling and an oven mitt. However, even with the sling and mitt, people still tried to use their support hand when shooting and to manipulate the pistol. I think this was completely unintentional. The two handed shooting and gunhandling procedures were just so deeply ingrained that they did them without thinking. After trying several permutations, what we found worked best was to put the sling on backwards, so that the sewn up end, which would usually hold the elbow, covered the hand. This restricts the use of the hand enough that most people got the message and stopped trying to use it to shoot.

Dominant Hand Reload
The first drill involved reloading a pistol using only the primary hand. The basic procedure is pretty simple, though there are many possible permutations: Eject the magazine. Stick the gun someplace, either back in the holster, between the knees, clamp it under a knee, etc. Shove a new magazine in. If the slide is locked back, release it.

Dominant Hand Malfunction
Clearing a malfunction is a bit more difficult, since it requires manipulating the slide one-handed. This is much easier if the front edge of your rear sight has a sharp angle, rather than the smoothly sloping ramp seen on some sights. Simply hook the rear sight on a hard edge, like a kydex holster, stiff gun belt, boot, or any other handy object, and shove the pistol forward. Be careful not to muzzle sweep yourself when doing this! If your gun has a smooth, sloping rear ramp, operating the slide one-handed is more difficult. If you're left handed, you can sometimes operate it by catching the ejection port instead of the rear sight. Otherwise, you can try clamping the slide in the crook of your knee, or simply rubbing the top of the slide along your leg to get enough friction to operate it (sticking some skateboard tape atop the slide can help with this).

Once you've figured out how to operate the slide, clearing a Type 1 or 2 malfunction (tap, rack bang) is easy. Tap by thumping the base of the magazine against your leg and rack using one of the techniques described above.

Mostly Armless

The first scenario simulated a robbery at an ATM. You are standing at the ATM waiting for their money when an assailant initiates a robbery by stabbing you in the arm. You have to turn around and deal with the robber and three additional targets (who may be accomplices or innocent bystanders).

This scenario went smoothly for most folks until they had to reload. When they did, things immediately slowed to a crawl as they tried to stash the gun and get to their magazines. Obviously, this gave an advantage to folks with high capacity magazines who could deal with three or four assailants before their gun ran dry and thus were able to reload without worrying too much about unneutralized targets. Some folks with lower capacity guns tried to compensate by husbanding their rounds and shooting fewer at each target, but this often resulted in failing to neutralize some of the targets.

I shot pretty well with one hand on this exercise. A little too well , in fact. I just finished off the last armed target with a beautiful headshot when I saw the cardboard sheriff's star hanging on its chest. We include police targets in our scenarios to remind folks that not every armed person is necessarily a threat. Unfortunately, it can be hard to make the distinction when your heart is racing and the smell of gunpowder is in the air. If you shoot with us long enough, sooner or later everyone ends up shooting the sheriff.

One Armed vs. Bandit
For the second scenario, rather than leading off with a disabling injury, it was assumed that you had injured your arm on some earlier occasion. Since you knew in advance they would have to be fighting one-handed you were allowed to transfer magazines to the strong side and make any other adaptations for one-handed fighting.

This scenario simulated a robbery at a convenience store. A target representing the clerk stands behind a table with a line of customers and/or robbers ahead of you. Unfortunately, this scenario didn't work out quite as well as I would like. There was a tendency for things to get caught up in decision whether to intervene, rather than practicing one-handed shooting. It's a valid question whether or not you're willing to risk life, limb, imprisonment, and/or financial ruin for the clerk at the Stop N' Rob and definitely something people need to think about in advance, rather than in the middle of a robbery. However, it wasn't really what I'd intended when I wrote this particular scenario. In addition, it's a question that can turn on the actions and behavior of the robber, which is difficult to simulate with paper targets (it would probably work much better in force-on-force). Other than that, the scenario went relatively well. Being prepared ahead of time made reloading a bit easier.

February
This month's event was really a continuation of last month's. Instead of shooting with only the primary hand, we shot only with the support hand. This introduces two additional complications: people generally don't practice shooting with their support hand nearly as much, and drawing the gun and getting it into action gets really difficult. Just like last month, we used a backwards sling to take one arm out of action.

The weather was cold and clear this month, without any precipitation. However, there was more snow on the ground than I've seen up at the range before. It was well over knee high, except for the sidewalks, which had been shoveled. This restricted our mobility quite a bit.



Support Hand Draw

Before starting the event, we gave everyone a REALLY strong safety warning. Pretty much every way of drawing with the support hand involves a substantial risk of muzzle sweeping either yourself or someone else. Furthermore, they usually involve handing the gun in something other than the usual master grip, increasing the chance that a stray finger will find its way into the trigger, so muzzle control is critical. Everyone was advised to GO SLOW, in both the drills and the scenarios. If you want to practice doing a support hand draw quickly, get a red gun or do it during dry fire, not with a loaded weapon. Finally, if anyone dropped a gun while trying one of these draws, they were not to try to grab the gun on the way down. You don't know which direction the muzzle will end up pointing when your hand catches up with it and it would be easy for a finger to find its way into the trigger guard. Even if it's a high end 1911 with an absolutely beautiful finish, let it hit the ground. This was probably the most extensive safety warning we've ever given before a Polite Society event (even more than the night shoot last summer).

With the extensive safety warnings out of the way, we demonstrated several techniques for drawing the pistol with the support hand. There are a variety of ways to do this depending on how flexible and how big around the middle you are. Essentially you can either go behind the back or reach across your body in front. If you're flexible enough, behind the back is easiest since it puts your hand in the proper position relative to the gun. Simply reach behind the back and grab the grip of the gun, pull it out of the holster and bring it around to the left side (being careful not to sweep yourself or those behind you). It usually isn't possible to get a master grip on the gun initially, so after getting it over to the left side you have to fool around a bit to get your hand into position. When I was doing this during the first drill, I almost proved the point of my safety lecture in a somewhat spectacular fashion. While trying to get a master grip, my middle finger got into the trigger guard and actually came into contact with the trigger. I didn't end up having an ND, but I came very close. However, I was following my own advice and the gun was pointed in a safe direction at the time, so an ND would have been embarrassing rather than catastrophic. Since I'm willing to sacrifice a bit of my pride for safety I immediately pointed out what I'd almost done, in hopes of further impressing the need for care and muzzle control on everyone.

The other family of support hand draws involves reaching across the body in front. Once you've got your hand on the gun, you'll need to get the gun oriented correctly (it will initially be upside down). One method of doing this is to turn the gun around 180 degrees in the holster, turning it into sort of a jackass cross-draw. As with all cross draw holsters, you need to take care not to sweep those behind you when drawing. Another technique is to pull the pistol out and clamp it between the knees while you get the proper grip on it. Finally, if you're kneeling down behind cover or have a convenient surface handy, just set the pistol down and pick it up in a proper master grip.

Of course, none of these methods is exactly what anyone would call fast. The quickest way to get a gun into action with the support hand is to have one on your support side. Anyone who carries a back-up gun should consider carrying it where it will be accessible to their off hand. Even if you don't carry a second firearm, consider carrying a knife on the support side. Against a close range attacker it may buy you the time and distance you need to make the awkward support hand draw and get the gun into action. Finally, while not quite as easy to get to as a dedicated support side weapon, a firearm in the appendix position can be accessed much more easily with the support hand than one on the far hip.

In the first drill everyone had a chance to try the different methods of drawing the gun in both dry and live fire. I found that going around the back worked best for me and used it in the subsequent scenarios. It would have been even easier if we were shooting this event in June rather than February. Shoving a heavy winter coat out of the way to get to the gun added to the difficulty.

Support Hand Reload/Malfunction
After getting some practice drawing, the next drill involved clearing a malfunction and reloading. This works pretty much the same way with the support hand as it does with the primary, so I'm not going to go through it again. The only major difference is that the holster generally isn't easily accessible as a place to put the pistol when you're shoving a magazine into it, so you have to get a bit more creative in finding someplace to stash it while manipulating the mag.

Adding Insult to Injury

Given my disappointment with the convenience store scenario last month, I decided to try something different. I also wanted to simulate a situation where the shooter knew in advance their arm would be out of action due to a preexisting injury. In real life, if my right arm were in a cast or otherwise out of action for any period of time, the first thing I'd do would be to get a left handed holster for my pistol. Having everyone bring opposite-side carry gear for a scenario is a bit much, so I wanted something where they wouldn't have to draw the gun.

In this scenario, you're sitting at home watching TV (in a chair facing uprange) with your pistol on the side table next to you. An earlier injury has put your primary arm in a sling. A group of home invaders kicks in the door and you have to retrieve your pistol with the support hand and deal with the situation. A pair of barricades about fifteen feet downrange of the chair represent the front door. Five targets were placed inside or outside the house. Those with threat indicators are the home invaders while those without represent family members. The RO yells "bang, boom, crash" to indicate the door being broken in to start the scenario.

Since they didn't have to draw the gun, this scenario went much more smoothly for folks than the other stages. This stage didn't offer much good cover and the knee deep snow restricted movement except on the shoveled walkway, so most shooters didn't do much of either, leaving them fairly exposed for most of the scenario. Slow reloads and the disadvantages of limited ammo capacity reared their heads again, as they did last month. Shooting, however, was generally quite accurate. Indeed, at least one person remarked that they were shooting more accurately left handed than they usually did with their right. While it seems counterintuitive, it actually happens to a lot of people, probably because they take things slower and pay more attention to the fundamentals when shooting with the support hand.

One other interesting thing cropped up when Robin Hood was shooting the exercise. He got within about ten feet of a target placed "outside" the two barricades representing the front door and didn't see it. It might seem odd that he didn't notice a six foot tall target armed with a cardboard shotgun for a threat indicator, but that's what happened. John Farnam has observed that we tend to see doors and windows as barriers and look at them rather than viewing them as portals and looking through them. They will admit bullets, however, so we need to pay attention to what's on the other side.

Robin did have his revenge, though. The first time he ran me through the scenario he yelled "bang boom crash" and I whirled around to see five targets. Two sported guns and sheriff's badges, the others only cellphones. I managed to avoid shooting any law enforcement officers this time, though reaching for my gun the way I did probably would have gotten me shot anyway (I certainly hope I'm never on the receiving end of a no-knock warrant).

As usual when we give someone a no-shoot scenario, we give them another chance to run the stage with actual threats so they still get some trigger time. Robin went all out this time and gave me five threat targets. I blew through almost two full mags for my Glock. During one of the reloads, I set my gun on the ground upside down while I shoved the new mag in and when I brought it up the top of the slide was caked with snow. The sights weren't visible at all and the next shot was definitely point-shooting. That shot blew off most of the snow, but according to the folks who were watching (I was too busy to notice) my gun was steaming as I shot it for the rest of the scenario.

Mostly Armless (Again)

The second scenario was exactly the same as last month's. You're getting money from an ATM when a mugger decides to start things of by stabbing you. This month he stabs the other arm, of course.

After all the safety warnings, everyone managed to draw safely, but nobody's draw was what you would describe as "quick" or "graceful". If they were really facing an aggressive knife wielding assailant, they would have been thoroughly ginsued before they got their gun into action.

Normally when I'm running a stage, I wait until everyone else has gone or there's a break in the action before I shoot it myself (the cook eats last). This time, however, I decided to insert myself into the rotation after seeing the first few shooters. I carry a fairly big folding knife in my left side pocket and I was able to get it out and in action much more quickly than going for my gun. I didn't quite slice the cardboard target in half, but I sure ruined the t-shirt we had on it. After slicing up the closest knife-wielding assailant, I backed up and went for my pistol and used it to engage the other attackers. Along this same vein, Robin Hood drew his pistol from his left-side coat pocket for this scenario (he normally carries a revolver in that pocket in the winter).

Aside from the draw, the biggest problem I noticed in this scenario was people tended to overextend the gun when dealing with the close range knife-wielding assailant. Had it been a real attacker, rather than a cardboard target, they would have run a real risk of being disarmed or getting their gun hand sliced up. While this pops up occasionally in other events with a close range target (including last month's Mostly Armless scenario) it tends to happen to inexperienced shooters. This month almost half the people practically handed the nearest target their gun, including some fairly experienced folks. I think part of the reason for this may be the draw. The drawstroke that we teach new shooters and encourage more experienced shooters to use puts the gun in the retention position and then extends it forward. If an assailant is at close range, it's natural to stop this extension and shoot him from the retention position. In contrast, the support hand draws people were using for this event don't naturally put the gun in the retention position, you have to purposely retract it if you want to shoot from retention. I think this led to a lot of people overextending toward that first target.

In the end, despite (or perhaps because) of the dire safety warnings, everyone ended up going home with the same number of holes in them the had when they came. Beyond that, I think it was a challenging and successful shoot.

Gunhandling
If there is a common theme in these events (or at least three of the four) I'd have to say that it's gunhandling. I've always believed that gunhandling is as important as shooting in a self defense situation. The most accurate shooting in the world won't save you if you take too long getting your gun into action, or getting it back into action after a malfunction or reload.

Folks who shoot with us regularly generally have good gunhandling skills, and most new shooters develop them after a few months. However, as some of these drills and scenarios demonstrated, giving a good gunhandler an unfamiliar weapon or taking away one of his hands is all it takes to reduce him to a bumbling amateur. I say this as someone who did my share of bumbling during these scenarios.

If you intend to defend yourself with a pistol, developing good gunhandling skills could save your life. If you plan to defend yourself with a rifle or shotgun, it's important to master the gunhandling skills associated with that weapon. Pistol skills don't transfer! Finally, practice one-handed gunhandling as well as one-handed shooting.