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The Easiest Way to Shoot Yourself at the Range – Let’s Not, Huh?

Posted by Rob Longenecker on July 19th, 2006

The other day I got an email from a customer asking me about how often folks accidentially shoot themselves.

People have accidentally shot themselves practicing from a holster using live ammo at the range. It is a stupid and costly mistake usually resulting from bad habits and poor training. 

You can imagine how embarassing it would be to explain to emergency room personnel, friends who visit you in the hospital or, worst case, St. Peter, just how you shot yourself.

I remember in the 1980’s while shooting IPSC matches, the same guy shot himself in the calf twice in six months.  Examples are not that infrequent today, but I’m going to show you how to easily avoid such mishaps.

It happens most often with cocked 1911’s or Browning Hi-Powers. And it usually happens the same way: by re-holstering your pistol without removing your finger from within the trigger guard and not having the safety on. 

It’s a bad habit that was formed early on of having the trigger finger in the trigger guard when not on target. 

In learning the presentation of a firearm from the holster, there’s a way of practicing that builds in the proper, safe sequence of events.  I learned it directly from Col. Jeff Cooper, the father of modern pistolcraft in 1980, and it’s a great way to learn a fast, smooth draw with minimum wasted motion and it forms a strong foundation for the future.

It begins with an unloaded firearm and is specific to the 1911-style pistol in this instance.

Make certain that your gun is unloaded.  Assume a low ready position with the gun cocked and locked (safety engaged).  You face your target. Both hands are on the gun, which points at the ground 4-5 feet ahead of you, and your trigger finger is out of the trigger guard and pointing along the bore axis, laying along the frame. 

Your strong thumb is riding atop the thumb safety, ready to disengage it.  Your stance is balanced and athletic, weight slightly toward the balls of your feet.  There are other distinctions regarding stance that I won’t cover here.

You’re going to raise the pistol to the target, get a sight picture and then press the trigger while maintaining a good sight picture and follow through. You will bring the sights up to your eyes, not bring your head down to view the sights.

After dry firing, a good follow through is to re-acquire your perfect sight picture after the hammer falls.  You’ll do this when live firing as well.  As you raise the pistol you will release the thumb safety by pushing it downward and keep your thumb on top of the safety. 

Your finger will then enter the trigger guard as you approach your target and it will gently take up the slack in the trigger.  At the proper moment, press the trigger.

Here comes the part in which you ingrain your safety habits:  While still on target, remove your trigger finger from the trigger guard and lay it alongside the frame once again.

Then cock the hammer with your weak thumb and flick the safety up into the safe position, keeping upward pressure on the safety with your thumb. 

At this point bring the gun back down to the ready position.  The safety is on and your trigger finger is clear. 

Do this exercise slowly and deliberately.  The objective is to build “muscle memory” because automatic muscle memory is the key firearm competency without having to think it through first. 

Now, go slow up to the target, slow back down.  Build the sequence of safety off, finger on the trigger, press, finger out, safety on and resume the ready.  Slow motion works best.

After a while you can speed it up with the intent of keeping everything flowing in proper sequence.  Especially work on removing your trigger finger from the trigger guard first on the way back to the ready position. 

Obviously, when using live ammo, your practice of this sequence will not involve thumb-cocking the hammer as the slide will cycle and do that for you.  Emphasis here is on thumb safety and trigger finger.

Next, again with an unloaded gun, practice the presentation from a holstered position.  The gun is cocked and locked, hands at your side, eyes on the target. 

Now, divide the presentation into a series of steps:

  1. Strong hand takes a full firing grip on the pistol such that no further shift of grip will be necessary during the draw.  Position your support hand simultaneously at waist height with your wrist about 3 inches in front of your belt buckle and your open hand pointing down range so as not to be in the way of the muzzle as you draw.  Your wrist is bent at 90 degrees and your arm is across the front of your body.  This positions your weak hand in a ready position to join your strong hand shortly.
  2. While using only your arm and hand, with no “body english” or other motion, simple bring the gun straight up to clear leather.
  3. Begin to bring the gun up and forward toward the target, bringing the support hand into play and beginning to form the two-handed grip.  Practice this slowly and deliberately at first.
  4. Continuing up toward the target, flick down the safety and place your trigger finger in the trigger guard as you come on to the target. 
  5. Extend your arms toward the target a little further, maintaining balance and bringing the sight picture to eye-level. Press the trigger and place your imaginary shot on target.  Follow through by re-acquiring your sight picture.  (Later, you will do the same with live ammo and fire a shot on target.)
  6. Take your finger out of the trigger guard, flick the safety up and slowly holster your gun.
  7. Emphasis remains on proper sequence of events regarding the safety and your trigger finger.

Once the sequence is second nature, safely practice with a loaded gun.  (This does not constitute proper instruction in and of itself.  You should retain competent instruction from a trained instructor at your range.)

The point of this is to give you a way to learn to be safe when re-holstering your gun and to avoid ruining your whole day at the range. And oh yes, avoiding public humiliation. Always a Good Thing.

2 Responses to “The Easiest Way to Shoot Yourself at the Range – Let’s Not, Huh?”

  1. Grace Says:

    Great, thank for sharing your post, I learned alot from it.

  2. Rob Longenecker Says:

    Thanks for letting me know. I appreciate it.

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