Suarez International Snub Nose Seminar/Pistol Tune Up
Last Friday I attended a one-day snub nose seminar and pistol tune up class taught by Randy Harris. This was my first Suarez International class taught by someone other than Gabe Suarez. I had a chance to meet Randy back in June when he hosted a class Tom Sotis, but I hadn't previously taken a class from him. However, I'd heard good things from others who had.
As the dual title implies, this class had two, somewhat distinct purposes. One was to focus on using snubby revolvers for self-defense, the other was to serve as a one-day introduction/refresher for the Suarez Close Range Gunfighting curriculum for folks who wanted to take the Extreme Close Range Gunfighting class the following day. I had CRG in Salt Lake two years ago, and practice my skills regularly, so I was primarily interested in the snub nose portion of the class.
The class was fairly small, with a total of four people, including me (there were some fairly last minute cancellations). All of the attendees had some previous defensive shooting experience, though two had not previously taken Close Range Gunfighting.
The class was held on the back 40 of a farm just outside Florala, Alabama. We used some large, cylindrical hay bales as a backstop and shot to the accompaniment of mooing cows in the next field.
I used my Smith and Wesson 642 for the class. This gun is stock, save for a set of Crimson Trace laser grips. I did a little bit of work out of a Fist kydex pocket holster that I usually use to carry this as a backup gun, but I spent most of the time using a plastic Fobus belt holster, largely because it was most convenient (and got a little "Barney Miller" ribbing for doing that). Most of the other revolvers in the class were Smith and Wesson j-frames of one description or another, though there was one Ruger. One student shot the class using his Sig and Makarov autoloaders, using a borrowed j-frame only for a few revolver specific stuff reloading drills.
After the standard safety lecture, Randy started by talking about the history of pocket revolvers, from efforts to cut down cap and ball Colts to the Ruger LCR. One thing he noted was the tendency of some people to carry j-frames as a pacifier, seemingly hoping that it's mere presence would bring them peace (or at least peace of mind). In reality, being able to effectively win a fight using a j-frame probably takes more training and practice than using an autoloader.
He also spent a bit of time passing around various revolvers, noting different features, including hammerless or shrouded hammer models, ejector rod length, and differing frame materials (with the stainless steel Ruger weighing in at twice what an Airweight j-frame did). Several of the guns had XSSights front dots on them, one standard dot (a S&W M&P model) and one big dot.
We also discussed ammunition choices. Randy is not a big fan of the .357 out of a snub nose. In his opinion, the extra kick and muzzle flash are not worth it when weighted against the relatively modest increase in velocity the magnum round gives out of such a short barrel. His carry load (and mine) is the +P Cor-Bon DPX round.
The range portion of the class started out with some drawstroke work. Randy emphasized a fairly simple drawstroke based on bringing the gun up to the pectoral muscle and punching it straight out towards the target. We started out doing the punching motion with our fist, then moved on to some dry practice. Once everyone had the basic drawstroke down, Randy had us start incorporation movement. He gave a brief explanation on the virtues of getting off the X for the benefit to the folks who were new to the SI method, then we did some dry fire drills.
Moving on to live fire, we started out with some slow fire accuracy work from about four yards. Small revolvers are difficult to shoot well, and given their limited ammo supply, it is particularly important to put each round where it will be effective. Given how little I've actually shot my j-frame I thought I did pretty well here. Aside from one shot that I jerked, I had a fairly tight group, eating one ragged hole in the cardboard.
After a few strings of fire, we started working with different reloading methods. Randy had us compare speedloaders to speed strips, and doing a full reload from a speed strip to loading two rounds only. We also traded guns around, to give each shooter a chance to try drawing a second gun rather than reloading. This was one of the few times during the day I actually worked out of my pocket holster on the left side. Even from a pocket holster, drawing a second gun is definitely quickest, about on a par with reloading a semi-automatic. If possible, the New York reload is definitely the way to go.
Randy also introduced after action drills. Most of it was the usual SI stuff (assess the target, look for other bad guys down range, sul scan, reload, check for injury). One interesting variation he described was using the #2 position in the drawstroke (with the gun held in the primary hand only, up against the pectoral muscle, pointed about 45 degrees downward) instead of sul. This allows you to keep the off hand free to block with in case you turn around to find a fist or knife coming at you. This does seem to have it's merits, but between previous SI classes and shooting with the Utah Polite Society, sul is pretty ingrained for me so that's what I used for most of the class.
We broke for a late lunch and everyone drove over to a local eatery for some food.
After lunch, we got to the meat of a CRG type course, getting off the X, live fire, in every direction. We started out working the forward diagonals, to the 2 o'clock and 10 o'clock directions. I've done this before, so I didn't have much trouble with the moving and shooting. However, Randy wanted us to follow each burst of 2-4 rounds to the body with a round or two to the head. I really struggled with the headshots, particularly when going to the left and shooting one handed. I hadn't been using my laser for most of the day, but I turned it back on now. It helped a little bit (the day was cloudy enough to make it visible) but most of my trouble seemed to be trigger pull related. I definitely need some more practice with this gun.
Once everyone was comfortable with moving to 2 and 10, we worked the other directions, starting with 3 and 9 o'clock, then the rear diagonals, 5 and 7 o'clock. The 3 and 9 weren't too difficult, but I found moving to the 5 and 7 while firing the snubby considerably harder than doing the same thing with a Glock. The combination of a smaller gun and heavier trigger pull makes it much more challenging. To finish up the GOTX portion of the class, we did a bit of movement directly away from the target, to the 6 o'clock.
We also did some work with multiple attackers. Moving off to the right, we practiced transitioning from the closer attacker to another. This is where the j-frame's limited ammo capacity becomes an obvious shortcoming. Given how badly pistol bullets suck, five rounds to distribute among two attackers just isn't that confidence inspiring. We didn't even try to do anything with three targets.
Next Randy demonstrated how to reload a revolver one-handed. This is quite an exercise, starting with squirming your hand around to simultaneously slide the cylinder release forward and push the cylinder out (the fellow shooting the Ruger noted that this is an area where the pushbutton cylinder release is an advantage). If the chambers are fairly clean (which they weren't by this part of the class) the empty cases can be ejected by raising the muzzle, jerking the gun back, and bringing it to a sudden stop. If this doesn't work, it's time for some more finger squirming to get your hand far enough forward to hit the ejector and pound the butt of the gun into your leg. This will generally free all but the most recalcitrant case. Shove the barrel inside your waistband (a bit of a trick with the short barrel of the snub nose) retrieve a speedloader and load the gun, then close the cylinder against your body. This tortuous process generally seemed to take at least thirty seconds, not something you want to be doing in the middle of a gunfight. Of course, then Randy had us do this only using the left hand.
After we managed to get our guns back into action with only one hand, Randy brought out Ted, a falling steel target with plates representing the vitals in the chest and head underneath a person-shaped plastic shell. We got off the X at about five yards and tried to knock Ted down. This proved a bit challenging, because once you got far enough off the X the angle became oblique enough that even a solid hit would not necessarily knock the target down. Either a hit very early, or multiple hits in rapid succession were required. Some folks got off to one side or the other and shot more than ten rounds at it, including several hits, without knocking it down.
We moved back to about fifteen yards and did some long range shooting (fifteen yards definitely qualifies as "long range" with tiny, double action revolvers). At this distance, Ted was pretty difficult to knock down. I managed to get only one or two hits on the steel from each cylinder of ammo, but I'm pretty sure even my non-steel hits were probably hitting the plastic body of the target.
I probably fired more rounds through my j-frame in this class than I have since I bought it. I feel quite a bit more comfortable with it now, though some additional practice will definitely be required. In particular, I need to work on sooting it one-handed. Two handed, I could be relatively accurate, but with one hand my accuracy went completely to hell.
In hindsight, I kind of regret using the belt holster so much. Since I only carry this gun as a BUG in my left pocket, I really should have gone hardcore and shot the whole class left handed from the pocket holster.
From what work I did from the pocket, and watching others draw from there, it seemed like you could draw fairly quickly and effectively, even when getting off the X, if you started out with the hand on the gun. If you had to reach into the pocket and acquire a firing grip, it about doubled the time required and make it difficult to get off the X at the same time. Being able to have your hand on the gun without alerting others is an advantage to pocket carry, but it's also practically a necessity to deploy the gun quickly from the pocket.
Reloads are challenging with speedloaders, painfully slow with speed strips, and downright tortuous one-handed. On the other hand, the New York reload rocks! I am happy carrying my Glock, but if I were to go with just a j-frame, two of them are definitely the way to go.
This was a good class overall, I definitely got a lot out of it. If it had a shortcoming, it was probably the effort to serve both as a snubby class, and as an intro to the Suarez Close Range Gunfighting curriculum at the same time. The trigger time, even on the most basic CRG type drills was welcome, but some of the explanations of why to do these things were a bit redundant for me. I don't really need to be convinced of the virtues of getting off the X. Looking at it from the other side, those who hadn't had CRG before, I have to wonder if these explanations kind of got short shrift amid all the snubnose specific stuff. I think they probably got a solid intro to the basic CRG skills, but they probably could have used some more repetitions and more explanation of the whys and wherefores of getting off the X and after action drills in lieu of the snubby specific stuff. That being said, I can see why these two elements were combined. This was a very small class as it was, cutting out either element would have made the class even smaller (I probably wouldn't have come without the snubby stuff, for instance).
I think a snub nose specific class is a great idea for anyone who regularly carries a small revolver, whether as a primary gun, backup, or both. A snubby's characteristics are different enough from a medium to large autoloader that some gun-specific instruction is very useful. Randy Harris did an good job presenting the material and coaching students. I left this class wanting to train with him again, which was good because I was registered for the Extreme Close Range Gunfighting class starting the next day!