L3 – 12.4 Proper Handling

Proper Handling

I     Fundamentals of Shooting

As with any motor skill, learning to shoot well and ultimately to shoot well under the stress of combat requires mastery of the essential components and fundamental skills.

a.   Determining Eye Dominance

Eye dominance, also known as ocular dominance, is the inclination to prefer visual input from one eye over the other. In most cases the dominant eye corresponds with the dominant hand, however, the side of the dominant eye and the dominant hand do not always match.

Determining the shooter’s dominant eye is important for the process of aiming the firearm. Described below are two ways to determine eye dominance.

Method 1

With both eyes open, have the shooter focus on a distant object using his/her index finger to “aim” at the object. The shooter then alternates closing the eyes. The dominant eye will be the eye that remains aligned with the distant object. The object will not be aligned with the other eye unless the shooter moves his/her hand to realign.

Method 2

Have the shooter extend both arms and bring both hands together to create a small opening. With both eyes open, have the shooter focus on an object at a moderate distance (10′ or more) through the opening created in the hands. Have the shooter slowly draw the hands back toward the face while maintaining focus on the object. The small opening in the hands will generally encircle the dominant eye and exclude view of the object by the non-dominant eye.

b.    Cross Dominance

Cross dominance is a condition in which the dominant eye is opposite of the dominant hand, such as a right eye dominant but left-handed shooter. Cross dominance is not a big issue for handgun

shooting but requires accommodation for long gun shooting. When shooting a long gun, the shooter must either mount the gun to the shoulder that corresponds to the dominant eye or mount the weapon to the side of the dominant hand and use the non-dominant eye for sighting.

c.     Grip

A proper shooting grip is one of the most crucial elements in establishing a safe and solid shooting platform. Everything from speed of sight acquisition to the management of recoil after a shot is managed by the hand’s “interface” with the weapon’s grip or stocks. A proper one-handed shooting grip should be attainable while the weapon is contained in the holster. The shooter should be able to draw the weapon from the holster without readjusting the grip prior to firing. A holster that does not allow a shooter to assume a one-handed shooting grip while the gun is in the holster should be discarded for security duty.

One-Handed Grip

In order to achieve a proper one-handed shooting grip (Figures 12.1 and 12.2) the shooter should:

  • Place the “V” of the hand formed between the thumb and index finger as high on the back of the weapon grip, or backstrap, as possible.
  • The forearm and wrist should be aligned with the bore of the weapon.
  • The gun should be gripped with the base of the thumb and lower three fingers of the hand.
  • Grip pressure should be applied directly to the rear into the hand. The thumb should remain along the side of the frame and not interfere with the rearward movement of the slide.
  • The trigger finger should remain straight along the side of the frame (outside the holster until the weapon is clear of the holster).
  • The weapon should be gripped securely but not so tightly that the hand trembles. Grip pressure similar to that used on a hammer when driving a nail is sufficient to provide a stable operating platform for the weapon.
  • The pistol must be gripped in the same place and manner each time it is drawn so that the shooter can consistently draw, aim, and fire with speed and accuracy.

Figure 12.1: Right hand one-handed grip

Figure 12.2: Left hand one-handed grip

Two-Handed Grip

In order to achieve a proper two-handed shooting grip, the shooter should:

  • Acquire a proper one-handed grip as described above. A good one-handed shooting grip provides the basis of any two-handed shooting grip.
  • The palm heel of the support hand should be placed on the weapon grip to cover the grip surface not covered by the dominant hand.
  • The four fingers of the support hand should be closed around the front of the dominant hand. Avoid splitting the support hand fingers by placing the support hand index finger on the trigger guard.
  • The thumb of the support hand should be placed in one of two places. The thumb may be placed over the dominant thumb, locking the dominant thumb into place, or the support thumb may be placed forward along the frame of the weapon (Figure 12.3).

Note: Placing the support thumb forward along the frame of the weapon is advantageous when using a weapon mounted light.

  • Shooters must be cautioned that crossing the support thumb over the top of the dominant hand and around the back of the weapon (Figure 12.4) can cause a semi-automatic handgun to malfunction if the slide hits the support thumb. It can also cause injury to the shooter’s thumb if the slide strikes the thumb.

Figure 12.3: Two-handed grip with thumbs forward

Figure 12.4: Dangerous two-handed grip

d.   Stance

There are three primary stances that are commonly used for shooting a handgun. These stances are the Isosceles, the Weaver, and the Modified position.

The Isosceles Position

The shooter squares the feet, hips, shoulders and face to the target. The shooter assumes a slight bend in the waist and the knees. Both arms are thrust forward to lock at the elbows. The upper body is generally locked to create a rigid platform. Recoil is absorbed using the large muscles in the chest, back and legs. The isosceles stance is one of the easiest to learn as this stance is made up of simple, symmetrical elements. It is also a more solid stance for shooters who have low levels of grip or upper body strength (Figure 12.5).

Figure 12.5: The isosceles stance position

The Weaver Position

The shooter blades his/her body away from the target at an angle of about 45° with the dominant side foot to the rear. The dominant arm is locked out straight. The support arm is bent with the elbow pointed toward the ground. Control of recoil is assisted by the isometric tension established by pushing forward with the weapon arm and pulling to the rear with the support arm. The Weaver stance is generally a better choice when the shooter is trying to utilize cover to reduce the likelihood of being shot. Shooters with poor grip strength tend to see an increase in weapon malfunctions due to “limp wristing” when using the Weaver stance (Figure 12.6).

Figure 12.6: The Weaver stance position

The One Hand Point

The lower body may or may not be bladed at an angle to the target, with the dominant side foot to the rear. The upper body turns, squaring the shoulders to the target with the gun arm thrust forward as used for the isosceles stance. The support hand is brought to the center to help stabilize the upper body.

Like many firearms tactics, stance selection is the basis for much controversy. It is recommended that officers be able to shoot from different stances, as environment and the dynamics of combat will dictate the officer’s position when he/she must shoot (Figure 12.7).

Figure 12.7: The one hand point stance position

e.  Sight Alignment and Sight Picture

Sight alignment is the relationship between the front and rear sight. Sight alignment for common dovetail handgun sights can be described as aligning the front sight so that it is centered and level in the rear sight notch (Figure 12.8).

Figure 12.8: Proper sight alignment

Proper sight alignment is critical for accurate shooting. Any misalignment between the front and rear sight introduces an angular sighting error. The angular sighting error induced by misalignment is multiplied as the distance from the shooter to the target increases.

Shooters will quickly notice that they cannot keep the front and rear sight in crisp focus at the same time. The human eye can only focus on one plane at a time. Concentration should be focused on the front sight. When properly focused the shooter’s front sight will be clear while the rear sight and target will both be slightly blurred.

Sight picture is the relationship between the shooter’s eye, the front and rear sights (sight alignment), and the desired point of impact on the target. A correct sight picture is acquired by aligning the sights, then putting the aligned sights into the proper relationship with the target. (Figure 12.9).

Figure 12.9: Proper sight picture

a.   Trigger Control

Trigger control has been described by many names. Trigger squeeze, trigger press, trigger stroke and trigger manipulation are common terms. Trigger press will be used to describe the action of manipulating the trigger to fire the weapon.

The key to accuracy is pressing the trigger straight to the rear in a smooth manner without interrupting sight alignment. Once the trigger press is initiated, the movement should be constant and even. For precision accuracy, trigger press and sight alignment must be done simultaneously while managing the arc of movement.

When firing a weapon, the contact between the trigger finger and the trigger should be constant. The trigger is smoothly pressed to the rear and then only allowed to move forward to the point where the sear (the portion of the trigger mechanism that engages the firing mechanism) engages

and the trigger resets. The shooter should not press the trigger and then take the finger off the trigger only to reacquire the trigger for a subsequent shot. This concept is called a trigger reset.

b.    Breath Control

Every time a human breathes the body cavity expands and contracts, moving the shooting platform and affecting sight alignment and sight picture. Breath control is important for precision marksmanship but arguably not as crucial in close quarter combat. There are two common methods of breath control used by shooters for precision shooting.

The first kind of breath control is the mid-breath technique. When using the mid-breath technique, the shooter inhales fully and then exhales approximately one-half of the air in her/his lungs. The shooter pauses, stabilizes the shooting position, and fires the weapon before exhaling the rest of the air. Some shooters like the mid-breath technique, believing that they can hold the pause for a longer period of time while aligning sights and pressing the trigger. A drawback to the mid-breath technique is the fact that it is difficult to assume a consistent position within the breath to pause.

The second common breath control technique is the end-breath technique. The end-breath technique is applied by inhaling and then exhaling fully, pausing, and firing. The end-breath technique is based on the natural pause that most people take between breaths. Most shooters can settle into the same consistent shooting position effectively using this technique. The pause should not be held too long as the diminishing level of oxygen will ultimately lead to tremors and eye strain.

The key to breath control is taking advantage of natural pauses, not holding one’s breath in order to shoot. In terms of security officer training, breath control is one of the least important of the shooting fundamentals. Most security officer shootings occur at close range under very short time constraints. Significant research exists that argues officers under survival stress will tend to experience an uncontrollable increase in respiration rates.

c.    Follow-Through

Traditionally, follow-through means the shooter concentrates on continuing to apply all the fundamentals through the firing sequence so that unnecessary movement is reduced prior to the bullet leaving the barrel. A second, and arguably more important, view on the concept of follow-

through is completing the shot, managing the weapon’s recoil, and reacquiring the sight picture for a follow-up shot if one is warranted.

d.    Drawing the Handgun

Drawing the handgun from the holster is one of the most important skills an officer will ever learn. The ability to quickly draw, sight, fire, and effectively hit a target with accuracy at close range can mean the difference between life and death.

Four-Step Method

This course teaches a simple four-step method of drawing and presenting the firearm from the holstered position. The shooter starts from the interview stance, with the shooter’s hands above the waist (Figure 12.10).

Figure 12.10: Interview stance before drawing the handgun

Position 1

The shooter grips the weapon and releases retention devices obtaining a proper shooting grip as described previously. The trigger finger remains off the trigger and outside the trigger guard. A good holster will not allow the shooter to contact the trigger while the weapon is in the holster. The support hand is brought into contact with the stomach/belt buckle area (Figure 12.11) in preparation for acquiring a two-handed grip. Bringing the support hand to the body is important to reduce the likelihood of covering the support hand with the muzzle of the weapon as the hands come together.

Figure 12.11: Position 1 of drawing the handgun

Position 2

The weapon is drawn upward out of the holster transitioning the muzzle toward the target immediately as it clears the top of the holster. The wrist is locked into the shooting position with the handgun positioned just above belt-level and slightly forward of the holster (Figure 12.12). This position is often referred to as the “Combat Tuck” position and with practice can be an effective shooting position for extreme close quarter shooting. The trigger finger remains off the trigger and outside the trigger guard.

Figure 12.12: Position 2 of drawing the handgun

Position 3

The weapon is pushed forward and brought toward the centerline. Once the weapon starts moving forward toward the target the support hand moves to complete the two-handed shooting grip (Figure 12.13). The muzzle of the weapon should be pointed at the target. This position is one form of “low ready” commonly used by many shooters. During the transition from Step 3 to Step 4 the shooter will disengage any external safety. Even if the shooter routinely carries the weapon with the “hammer down and safety off” on a double action semi-automatic, he/she should be taught to sweep the safety to make certain that it is disengaged. The trigger finger remains off the trigger and outside the trigger guard.

Figure 12.13: Position 3 of drawing the handgun

Position 4

The shooter locks into the shooting position and begins to acquire a sight picture. The trigger finger is outside of the trigger guard held straight along the frame until the shooter is sighted and ready to shoot (Figure 12.14).

Figure 12.14: Position 4 of drawing the handgun

Speed in drawing comes from practicing a correct draw stroke slowly, building a smooth, fluid technique. Speed is acquired through practice, smoothness, and economy of motion. Once learned, there is only one speed to draw regardless of why the shooter is drawing. The weapon should be drawn as fast as safely possible.

a.   Common Errors in Drawing

Lack of Muzzle Discipline

The muzzle of the weapon should not cover any portion of the shooter’s body during the drawing or holstering process. One of the most common self-inflicted gunshot wounds suffered by security officers occurs when a security officer is recovering the weapon to the holster with the finger on the trigger.

Wagon-Wheeling or Bowling

This occurs when the shooter drops the weapon below the level of the holster and then comes up onto the target. During the draw stroke it is wasted motion, however, reversing the process to holster the weapon often leads the shooter to muzzle the back of his/her leg by coming up from behind the holster to insert the weapon.

Anti-Aircraft Draw

The shooter draws the gun out and forces the muzzle of the weapon upward beyond the line of sight then back down onto the target with an exaggerated motion. This is a common technique learned from television and movies where many exaggerated motions are used to facilitate the drama of weapon use.

b.   Holstering the Weapon

Recovering the weapon to the holster is an important process but, unlike drawing, speed is rarely a necessity. In most instances the security officer should be hesitant to holster their weapon because she/he had a good reason to draw it initially. Security officers must be certain that the threat or threats no longer require the use of deadly force before holstering.

It is recommended that holstering the weapon involves a three-step process:

  1. Down and scan
  2. Assess and plan
  3. Recover to the holster

Down and Scan

When the immediate threat is over, the shooter should lower the weapon to the “low ready” position. While assuming the low ready position, the shooter will take the finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard. The safety should be engaged or the weapon de-cocked (if the weapon system is so equipped).

The shooter should scan their environment (360°) for other threats. The shooter should be actively trying to identify other threats and breaking the “tunnel vision” common to survival stress incidents. Moving the head will break the focus on the first threat and open the visual field to more information. The scan should involve the head only, not the entire weapon platform (upper body). The head moves faster than the torso to complete a 360° scan.

Assess and Plan

Assess your weapon’s condition before holstering. Does the handgun need to be reloaded? Have you experienced a malfunction that must be cleared? Is the weapon de-cocked and/or the safety engaged?

Look at the handgun to assess for malfunction. Make sure the slide is in the battery (slide forward and not locked back). Place the gun in the proper condition to holster it. De-cock the weapon if it is appropriate. Engage the external safety if the weapon has one.

Recover to the Holster

Recovering to the holster is simply reversing the process of the Four-Step Draw described earlier. The handgun is brought from the ready position back to Position 3 (two-handed grip just forward of the abdomen). As the two hands separate, the support hand returns to lay on the stomach and the shooting hand moves to Position 2 (Combat Tuck). Once the gun is in Position 2 the shooter should be able to push the muzzle down into the holster and secure the holster’s weapon retention devices.

The trigger finger must always be out of the trigger guard and the muzzle should never cross a part of the shooter’s body when holstering the weapon. The shooter should be able to holster and secure the weapon using only one hand and without looking at the holster.