Regardless of the weapon you need to know how to manipulate it safely and efficiently. This includes loading and unloading - Administrative manipulations - and reloading or clearing stoppages - Functional manipulations.
The foundation of a gunman – or woman – is marksmanship. Every shot fired should be as accurate as you can make it. While developing marksmanship skills you should also be learning to manipulate the firearm. Learning to operate your firearm safely requires a through understanding of manipulations. In a fight, when lives are at stake, knowing how to manipulate your weapon efficiently could be “The” difference.
Regardless of the tool safety is your primary concern. Using a hammer safely keeps you from smashing a thumb. Mistakes with firearms can be tragic. Regardless of what you’re doing with a firearm – for our application more appropriately “weapon” – it must be done safely. This includes manipulations, the ability to operate the weapon, and applies to all firearms regardless of the how that platform functions. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a bolt action .22 rifle or a fully auto carbine, safety is number one.
“Manipulations” also includes how to operate the safety devices on your weapon. Safeties and/or decocking devices come in a variety of forms; each one requires a different manual of arms. You learn how a particular design functions, and then use the appropriate techniques every time, any time, no matter why or where you’re handling the weapon.
Hand/arm injuries are common in fights, so it's a good idea to know how to manipulate your weapon with one hand of the other.
You’re also striving for efficiency. In most defensive encounters time is a precious commodity. If you have to reload or clear a stoppage it must be accomplished efficiently, accomplishing the task in as little time as possible. The keys to efficiency are simplicity and repetition.
The techniques I teach for manipulating the weapon are all based on the skills used to load and unload, what I call “administrative” manipulations. These skills, the fundamentals, are then applied to reloading and clearing malfunctions. One set of skills does everything needed to operate the weapon, as opposed to having a variety of different techniques to achieve the same tasks. These skills are easy to learn and apply; it streamlines both the mental and physical actions necessary to do the job.
Once the process is streamlined it takes repetition to learn them, developing the ability to apply them on demand. This is where most shooters fall down. They attend training, an introduction to the techniques, but then fail to practice, which is when the real learning occurs. Through repetition, performing these actions again and again, you get to the point they can occur at a subconscious level. The conscious mind says, “Reload.” The subconscious takes over to perform that action. This frees up the conscious mind, which can only think about one thing at a time, to be evaluating and making decisions on how to solve the big problem – the threat. Getting to the point where manipulations can occur almost instinctively takes lots of practice.
Smaller pistols may require you use modified techniques when compared to a larger pistol. It takes repetition - practice - to learn, getting to the point these actions are reflexive.
Knowing how to manipulate your firearm is a fundamental skill. The goal is safety and efficiency. It takes thousands of repetitions to learn these skills. The best way to get these repetitions is dry practice, using dummy ammunition to become proficient. This ensures you’ll be ready. Get started today.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911 and has regular columns in Gun Digest and American Handgunner.