Friday, May 16, 2008

Range Day Report

Last week I promised a report on the Tennessee Handgun Carry Permit course I took and my experience at the range for qualification. I'm going to start with the last day first: Range Day.

I was not only qualifying for the Carry Permit, I was also qualifying for an Armed Security license. Unlike the Carry Permit that allows the bearer to carry whatever handgun one wishes, the security license is weapon specific: if you want to carry it you have to qualify with it. That being the case I ponied up the extra $20 range fee and qualified with a Smith and Wesson 686 revolver (.38 Spl and .357 Magnum) and a p944dc Ruger pistol (.40 SW).

The SW686 I had shot and trained with many times before. I stopped counting the rounds through it at 15,000. Purchased in February 1994, this revolver is hands down my favorite weapon in the world. I carried it on and off duty for over a decade and it bears the scars of holster and duty wear as badges of honor. This is the weapon I trusted with my life during trips into mortal danger along the Mexican border and El Paso's barrios. Since my wife and I were married, this is the weapon that resides on my wife's night stand when I am not carrying on duty. A joke my friends are tired of hearing is that soon after we were married, my wife stated that if I started calling it by a pet name she was calling the guys in the white jackets... The SW686 remains unnamed as I don't relish a trip to the looney bin.

The cumulative effect of thousands of rounds has rendered the trigger stroke, already smooth from the factory, a silky smooth experience. I installed pachmayr synthetic grips soon after purchase both for increased control and to mitigate the hardship of carry on the original rosewood grips. Other than that, the SW686 is stock from the factory.

If I am forced to pick one handgun to carry on duty, the SW686 is it. That being the case, I qualified with it first.

One thing a person going though J. Buford Tune's APPS instruction must have is endurance. The man can talk. And he loves to talk.

And talk some more.

And when you think he is done talking, just prepare to listen some more.

The class arrived at the meeting point in Smyrna, TN at 0800. The APPS instructors met us there and led us onto the National Guard weapons range at about 0830. From the time we assembled until about 1200 we listened to Buford lecture and instruct us on the workings of our handguns, the foibles inherent in each type of handgun (he dislikes striker fired weapons -- Glocks and their imitators -- intensely), proper footwork, proper stance/posture for close in handgun fighting, and why J. Buford Tune considers the Beretta 92f to be the finest fighting handgun ever made, if one wishes to carry a semi-auto pistol. It is his considered opinion from decades of experience that everyone should carry revolvers instead of "jam-o-matics" and that striker fired pistols are the bane of all good shooting principles.
I am in no way promoting this as the ultimate answer to how to fight with a handgun. Techniques differ from person to person and instructor to instructor. However, what was taught at this class works and enriched my personal knowledge base greatly. I don't know what else one can ask from a class or instructor.

For instance, Tune explains, "here is how to break down a pistol." He then disassembles a pistol, taking off the slide and removing the barrel and various components. After re-assembling the pistol, he then demonstrates "breaking down" a revolver by opening the cylinder. "See the difference?"

Point made, and to me, he was preaching to the choir.

After the class room time and a thirty minute lunch it was time for proper stance and draw stroke instruction. Here are the basics of a proper J. Buford Tune stance and drawstroke:
1) The initial position is facing the target/threat square on -- or "full frontal" if you want to call it that.
2) When the threat is recognized as requiring defense, pivot on the weak side foot and bring the strong side foot back (both feet should turn so that they point in the same direction), bring the weak hand in a fist to the upper pectoral area (as if blocking a punch), place the strong hang on the holstered weapon, and shout, "NO!" (See Lessons Learned below)
3) Draw the weapon and bring it up to the weak hand and hold the weapon against the upper pectoral in a two hand grip, weak hand fingers over strong hand fingers and weak hand thumb over strong hand thumb.

The weapon is ready to fire should the threat require. The technique utilizes the "point shooting" method for close in combat. During the second round of live fire one of the instructors working with our sub group demonstrated how close most street combat with guns occur by placing the palm of his hand about three inches from my nose.

That's close. Aiming is out of the question, and retention is vital. The technique APPS teaches emphasizes retention.

The retention techniques I had always used had the weapon held close against the upper waist, lower side area with only the strong hand, the weak hand being raised and used for blocking techniques.

The immediate thought I had was about how close to my face this weapon was going to fire...

We then continued with instruction on aimed fire from this stance should the threat not be contact close.
4) Using the weak arm/hand like "a robotic arm" to pivot with the elbow in contact and deriving support from the body, raise the weapon to eye level without moving the head.

Again, my thoughts went to how close the weapon would be firing to my face, especially with the pistol's slide coming back with each round, and right in front of my eyes! This and other factors were to play a part in my first few rounds on the firing line.

A point Tune made during this phase of instruction stuck in the back of my mind and would help me control my groupings during the aimed portion of firing: He likened the stance to that of the standing rifle marksmanship position, with the off hand elbow being supported by the body and the off hand supporting the forestock of the rifle. Decades ago I was on the rifle team at Eastern New Mexico University's ROTC program and had learned that stance during hours of dry fire at the behest of SGM Nick Gonzales. I had integrated that into my handgun technique in a stance very similar to the Modified Weaver over the years.

At about 1400 we made our way to the firing line. Here we received our final instructions:
1) On the line, the range master (Tune) would give a command; example, "On Command -- Fire One!" The instructors would then repeat the command, "On Command -- Fire One!" The shooters would then respond, "Fire One!" Then, the Range Master would give the command, "Fire!" At that time the shooters would draw and fire the requisite number of rounds.
2) We were told that the weapon must remain on target and ready to fire after having fire the requisite number of rounds until commanded to holster.
3) We were told that it was our responsibility to keep our weapons loaded at all times (Important!). During the time between having completed fire and when commanded to holster was when we were supposed to reload. The range master made sure to allow adequate reload time.

The first course of fire was from FIVE feet. When we moved to the five foot line I had visions of rounds bouncing back from the target. I checked and found, to my relief, that the backstop was loose soil. That left the target frames which were metal, but I was sure I would not hit those.

Then I remembered I was not alone on the line.

I started eyeballing the guys next to me trying to gage if THEY would hit the frames and create a ricochet...

Soon came the command to load and re-holster. I did so and started contemplating my paper target with malevolent thoughts.

"On COMMAND!" We fired about half the course in various rounds of between one and five shots. Again, I was using the SW686 (a revolver), but the guy to the left of me was using a Kimber of some sort (an expensive pistol). In addition to "fighting" the newly learned stance and dealing with the 686 going off just below my chin -- brass from the Kimber was hitting in the back of the head and neck!

There simply is no feeling like that of a just fired cartridge making its way down your collar and back.


Next time I'm wearing a t-shirt under my regular shirt and I'm probably wearing my Stetson.

In the pic you can see two "flyers" next to the white outline circle, in the black and garnering full points, but still outside of the groupings. I'm pretty sure those were from that one shell going down my shirt...

Several times the instructor on our end approached me between rounds of fire to admonish me for allowing the weapon to move away from my chest. The technique requires a tight grip on the weapon close against the off hand pectoral for retention. I found it also helps accuracy in the point-shoot method. The instructor also inquired as to the ammo I was using -- I had purchased it (.38 +p FMJ Remington, as I recall) from APPS at the range. The 686 is a loud weapon. He thought I was using .357 Magnums.

We then moved back to ten feet where we used the aimed fire stance for the second half of fire. After fighting this new stance mentally, with the 686 mere inches in front of my eyes, I started acclimating to the new firing position. Again, the instructor was there to correct me -- move the weapon to eye level and do not "hunch" over the weapon or move the head at all. It was at this point that all the dry fire sessions at the ENMU-ROTC range came back. I settled in and started punching out the center of the target.

Next came the second round of qualifying for those shooting two weapons.
During this round I used the Ruger p944dc pistol I had purchased back in 2001 -- but had never fired. I've fired other pistols, and other Ruger pistols, but never this one. However, I was by now used to the new techniques being taught by APPS and was able to keep each round in the center of the target.

This time I was at the end of a much smaller firing line. The guy to my immediate left was a retired New York City police officer who is starting a new security agency here in Nashville. At the beginning of the course of fire I was in a quandary about how to reload my holstered pistol. He reminded me about the "tactical reload" -- something I had read and heard about but had never tried and that did not occur to me. I'm a revolver guy, remember...

After the course of fire was over, an instructor said my marksmanship was fine, but that I should now concentrate on the upper chest area and the lower abdomen area. The reasons were to avoid body armor and to deliver immediate incapacitating shots; the goal being to STOP the threat as quickly and as effectively as possible. The upper area targets the thorax, upper spinal column and a vital part of the lower brain. The lower area avoids the bottom of most armor, targets the lower spinal column and the pelvis. Rare is the individual that can operate with a shattered pelvis...

Lessons Learned

1) You can learn as much (More?) by listening to instruction about firing a weapon as you can by actually firing the weapon. I learned new methods of reloading a revolver without taking eyes off the target, that spare rounds for a revolver should be kept in the strong hand side -- a pistol on the weak hand side, advice about the kaBoom factor, the Tactical Reload as mentioned above...

2) Quality training time is never wasted time. Training stays with you always. Those hours of dry fire sessions with SGM Gonzales in Portales, NM are still paying off over two decades later. Much of what I learned from him was in what Tune was teaching here. When you find an instructor like this, do your best to be a sponge and soak up everything you can. I know I'm going back as finances allow for more at APPS.

3) Your weapon is your friend. Respect it, but don't fear it, and it will assist you in defending against the threats that abound in life. I had a distinct fear of firing so close to my eyes and face, but that fear was unfounded and I overcame it. Now I have much better skills in the use of my self defense tools and a better chance to survive deadly encounters.

4) The grips on the SW686 are too large for my hands. Tune examined how I was holding the revolver and recommended smaller, non-synthetic grips.
If you are in the Nashville area and you are looking for quality firearms and security training, I HIGHLY recommend APPS. They can be contacted at:

Postal address:
Academy of Personal Protection and Security
336 Hill Ave.
Nashville, TN 37210

5) Sometimes one should just keep their mouth shut. At the end of the day, after several days of ten hour instruction and eight hour work nights, I was exhausted (that five hour energy stuff wears out after five hours, duh). Several of my fellow students congratulated me on my scores... My mind was in the mode of placing the credit to the instruction I had received from SGM Gonzales all those years ago as well as the instructors that day on the range. What came out was, "Yeah, I was on the rifle team once..." I wish I had just said thanks and had shut the hell up.

6) Simple is often better. Why yell, "NO! at the threat instead of "Stop!" or some other command? Tune stated that policed research had indicated that the simple command of "NO!" would cause almost EVERYONE to at least pause where other commands would not faze them. Why? It is thought that since "No" is one of the first words we learn, and is one of the few words to cause a conditioned response from our parents and others almost from birth, that most people are readily conditioned as a Pavlovian response to stop and examine what they are doing, or should not be doing. This response crosses just about every culture and language: No sounds the same in almost every language. The bottom line is that you want the threat to stop or at least give you time to ready your defense. Shouting "NO!" does that like no other command.

The most important lesson I garnered from the day on the range is about training: Train correctly, do it the same way every time, and do it often. I had a GREAT time and I'll be taking the Intermediate course at APPS as soon as possible.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Steve,
    Very good article! I just renewed my HCP for the 2nd time and found your article informative.

    I too think the revolver to be the best all around tool.I had one of the first runs of 686's in the 6 inch variety and found it to be a fine revolver (too bad I did not keep it!)

    Thanks again,

    Bud Gaut
    Sevierville, TN


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