CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

The DOE SMG Qual — Guardin’ Nukes and Blastin’ Pukes

The Department Of Energy doesn’t sound super tactical, but believe it or not, they’ve had a tactical force since right after WW2. As such, they’ve developed a number of qualification procedures to ensure their protective services are up to snuff. Today we are looking at the DOE SMG qualification. To be fair, this qual also covers the assault rifle issued to troops on site, but I think it’s better suited for PCCs and braced subguns. 

What do you need for the DOE SMG qual?

Obviously, you need a gun. I used the CMMG FourSix. You’ll also need 84 rounds. Yep, it’s a fair amount of ammo for a qualification. Shooters will also need to bring two magazines, a spare magazine holder, a handgun and holster, and six rounds for your handgun. Oh, and you’ll need something you can use for cover. I used a PTSB Lite, but you can use practically anything to simulate cover. 

Here’s the gear needed to shoot the qual.

You’ll need a way to carry the extra magazine and a sling. Plus, one target. The DOE has its own target that is helpful for official scoring. However, you can practically use any man-sized target. I went with a Birchwood Casey 3D target. It needs to have a chest and head. For the longer-range portions of the qual, I used a 10-inch gong. 

Birchwood Casey 3D target
The DOE target makes scoring easier, but this works well enough.

A passing score for DOE SMG qual is 90%. When you use the DOE target, the top potential score would be 420 points, so a passing score would be 378. You’ll be shooting at a variety of ranges, from five yards to 100 yards, and you’ll need a range that allows movement. 

FN Handgun, holstered
You’ll switch to handgun once, so bring one of those.

A few of the stages call for a protective mask. I don’t have such a thing, but I imagine it’d make the qual more interesting. I didn’t fuss with it, but that’s an option for the 100% DOE experience. 

spare mags for DOE SMG qual
You’ll need a reload and away to carry it.

The DOE SMG Qual Course of Fire 

Every stage starts in the low ready with the weapon on safe with a loaded magazine. 

Stage 1 — Five Yard Line 

The DOE SMG qual calls for the use of controlled bursts of full-auto fire. I don’t have that, so I’m going with double taps. At the signal, engage with two 2-round bursts to the torso, then deliver a final two-round burst to the head. Do this in three seconds. 

DOE SMG Qual stage 1
Expect lots of double taps.

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 2 7 to 3-yard lines

At the signal, begin to move from the 7-yard line to the 3-yard line. Fire one shot to the head of the target. Accomplish this in three seconds, and the shot must be made on the move. 

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 3 7 to 3-yard lines

At the signal, begin moving from the 7 to the 3-yard line. Along the way, fire two 2-round bursts into the chest and a final 2-round burst to the head. Do this in four seconds. 

DOE SMG Qual stage 3
Moving is apart of the qual so be careful.

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 4 — 10 to 2-yard line

It’s time for the ol’ 10 to 2 with the DOE SMG qual. Make sure you have only two rounds loaded in your rifle/SMG magazine, and have your handgun ready. At the signal, begin moving to the yard line and fire a two-round burst to the torso. Once you realize the gun is empty, let it hang, draw your handgun and engage with two rounds to the chest and one round to the head. 

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 5 — 7 to 3-yard line (With Protective Mask) 

Shooting with a gas mask can be tough, but a good red dot certainly helps. If you want the authentic experience, toss a gas mask on and try it out. I can respect the DOE SMG qual for including it. 

At the signal, begin moving from the 7 to the 3-yard line while firing two 2-round bursts to the chest and then firing a final 2-round burst into the target’s face. Do this in four seconds. 

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 6 — 10 to 5-yard line (With Protective Mask) 

Keep that gas mask on boys and girls and move your butts to the ten-yard line. For this portion of the DOE SMG qual, we will move from 10 to 5, and as you close the distance, fire two 2-round bursts into the torso in four seconds. 

DOE SMG Qual stage 6
Shoot fast!

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 7 — 10 yard line (With Protective Mask) 

We got a fairly simple drill here. At the ten-yard line, you will engage the target center mass with two rounds in three seconds. 

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 8 — 15 yard line 

Let’s back it on up to the 15-yard line and get ready to move. At the signal, move from standing to kneeling and fire two rounds center mass in four seconds. Better get moving. The DOE SMG qual waits for no man. 

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 9 — 25 yard line 

Welcome to the intermediate distance drill of the DOE SMG qual. Make sure you have two rounds loaded into the magazine in your weapon and two rounds loaded into your spare magazine. 

DOE SMG qual stage 9 kneeling to reload
Kneeling and a reload keeps things fun.

At the signal, fire two rounds center mass, then speed reload, assume the kneeling position, and fire two more rounds center mass. 

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 10 — 50 yard line 

Nice for the big 50-yard line. Move back to the 50-yard line and bring your cover with you. At the signal, assume a kneeling position behind cover and lean to the right or left (use your dominant side), and fire two rounds center mass. Do all this in six seconds. 

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

DOE SMG Qual stage 10
I used my PTSB Lite as cover for the qual.

Now, we are staying at the 50-yard line and this time at the signal transition from the standing to the prone and fire two rounds center mass. You have eight seconds to boot, scoot, and boogie. 

Repeat the drill for a total of two runs. 

Stage 11 — 100 yard line 

Finally, we’ve made it to the end of the DOE SMG qual. It ends at the 100-yard line, and you’ll finish strong. I believe in you. You need two rounds in your loaded magazine and another two rounds in your spare magazine. 

DOE SMG qual stage 11 shooting from prone
The Qual has you moving and changing positions.

At the signal, move to a prone position, and fire two rounds center mass. Now reload, and fire two more rounds center mass. Do this in 20 seconds. 

Now breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve done it. 

What I Would Change in the DOE SMG Qual 

Not much. I think the DOE SMG qual is pretty dang great. Some of the times are a little generous. Others are fairly tight. For example, the six rounds in three seconds can feel tight. I like all the various positions and ranges, the use of cover, and the reloads. 

In fact, I would probably just add more use of cover. As you can see, most of the drills here repeat if you want to cut the ammo requirement, you can run each drill just once. However, all in all, this is one of the more challenging quals on the roster.

It’s a fair bit of fun, so I have to ask, what would you change? A lot? A little? Run it, and get back to us below. 

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

How to Use an AK | Lucky Gunner Ammo

For all intents and purposes, an AK is a pretty easy gun to learn to operate. Chris Baker, from Lucky Gunner, says as much on his Shooting 101 video about the AK. If you’re new to shooting, or recently purchased an AK, you might find yourself needing a little guidance or a refresher on the basics like safely loading, unloading, aiming, and firing an AK-type rifle.

Chris Baker, of, got a lot of requests for him to include the AK in his Shooting 101 series. Whether you’re new to AKs or need a refresher, he covers the basics to get you going in the right direction.

According to Chris, the AK is simple and straightforward to operate, but people might need some help to get started the right way. He stresses that there are different methods for what he does in the video and different people have different techniques, but he wants to show the basics of holding and operating the firearm safely.

Chris states that the word safe is a relative word. Anything with firearms is inherently dangerous and anytime we touch firearms we are dealing with life-or-death decisions. We can reduce the risk by following the four rules for safe gun handling:

  1. Treat all guns the same way you would treat a loaded gun.
  2. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
  3. Keep your finger away from the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Anytime you are not actively shooting the firearm, your finger needs to be straight and glued to the side of the receiver.
  4. Know what you are shooting at, what is behind it, and around it.

In handling an AK, or any gun really, the first thing you’re going to do is to unload and clear the weapon.

How to Clear an AK

Chris clearing AK
Chris talks you through the steps to safely and properly clear an AK by removing the magazine, opening the action to eject any rounds inside, and visually inspecting that the chamber is clear.
  • Pick it up with your dominant hand and tuck the stock up in your armpit for support.
  • Remove the magazine by pressing the release paddle and pulling the magazine forward and down.
  • Set the mag aside, take the gun off safe, and open the action (the action won’t open if the safety is on).
  • Pull the charging handle to the rear. If there is a round in the chamber it will eject.
  • Hold the action open (there is no hold-open feature on an AK) and visually inspect the chamber is clear.
  • Slowly ride the handle forward back into place.
  • Put the safety back on.

How to Load an AK

Lucky Gunner loading AK
Next Chris walks through the steps to properly load the AK by loading ammunition into the magazine and lining up the magazine so that the lip engages before rotating the mag up and into place.
  • Put the rifle down with the barrel facing in a safe direction.
  • Load the magazine by holding it in your non-dominant hand and insert the rounds one at a time into the magazine. A standard magazine will hold 30 rounds. You won’t be able to overload the magazine.
  • Insert the magazine into the AK, which can be tricky if you aren’t familiar with it. There is a lip in front of the mag that needs to be inserted first before it will go in.
  • Angle the magazine so that the bottom is facing the same way as the muzzle and rotate the mag back and up into place.
  • Give the magazine a little tug to make sure that it is locked into place.
  • While the gun is loaded, it won’t fire yet. Pick the gun back up with the stock into your armpit.
  • Move the safety to the fire position and pull the charging handle sharply to the rear and let it go, letting it ride its own way forward.

At this point, if you pulled the trigger, the AK would fire.  Chris is fast to point out that you don’t ever want to just rely on the safety function of the rifle. You need to follow the four rules he laid out earlier in the video. He reiterates that you need to keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction and your finger away from the trigger.

Proper Shooting stance
Chris describes the proper shooting stance, also known as the athletic stance. This stance gives you the support you need to fire the weapon and keep control of it as well.

How to Fire an AK

  • You need to get your body into the proper stance, also known as the athletic stance. You achieve this with your dominant foot slightly behind the support side with your shoulders squared to the target, bending forward at the waist, and slightly bending your dominant knee while keeping your dominant hand is high up on the grip as you can.
  • Place the stock of the weapon in the hollow of your shoulder, near the edge of the pectoral muscle, with your elbow pointed towards the ground with your non-dominant hand on the handguard and not the magazine.
  • Pivot the gun towards the ground in front of the target putting you in a low-ready position. This is the position you will default to when you aren’t ready to shoot.
  • When you are ready to shoot, you will rotate the gun up to your eye level and disengage the safety with your dominant hand. Some people may want to change out the safety paddle for a larger aftermarket option.
  • As you raise the gun, get your cheek as firmly against the buttstock as is comfortable. You can move your face towards the gun to get into the line-of-sight position. You do not want to lean your head to one side to get into sight position.
  • Line your fixed sights on the weapon with the target. The notch and the top of the front post should be even. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to hold truly still in a standing position.
  • With the weapon to your shoulder and the sights all lined up with the safety off, you can move your finger to the trigger and pull it to the rear with steady and even pressure.
  • After the shot is fired, the bolt will go to the rear of the weapon, the spent shell casing will eject from the port and a new round will be loaded into the chamber.
Lucky Gunner shooting AK
He finishes the video with a live-fire demonstration of all the steps he discussed in the video, including how to shoulder the rifle and fire it.

When you are finished shooting, or you are out of ammunition, you will:

  • Remove your finger from the trigger
  • Re-engage the safety
  • Go back to the low-ready body position.

Watch it for yourself!

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Tactical Rifleman: How to Use Red Dots at Night

Training is always ongoing, especially when it comes to firearms, as it is a perishable skill. I will be the first to admit that I do not get out enough to train as much as I want to. However, just because I am unable to attend live fire courses on the regular, doesn’t mean I can’t keep up by training with other methods. I do dry fire practice, read articles, or watch videos to increase my knowledge of gear, tactics, and methods. YouTube has a ton of great content on there with good information, depending on the source. Just remember, like anything else, consider the source and instructor to make sure they’re not blowing hot air.

I have been watching a lot of videos from the Tactical Rifleman [YouTube channel] over the years and I always learn something new there. Retired Sergeant Major Karl Erickson has over twenty-five years of experience in the US Army, eighteen of those with US Special Forces. In his videos, he goes over training points and explains it all very well in an easy-to-understand format. I just watched his video titled: How to shoot red dots at night.

I got into red dots on my pistols last year and have attended a few courses since then. There is definitely a learning curve to deal with but once you get some training in behind the red dot, the advantages over iron sights are quickly apparent. There are many things to consider running a red dot and in this Tactical Rifleman video, Karl goes over a lot of training points for using red dots in the dark or in night conditions.

Karl states that he believes within four-five years, all combat pistols will come standard with red dots installed. I have to agree with that, red dots are the future, kind of like how they were put on rifles.

Karl discusses night shooting considerations with red dots.

Weapon Lights

He highly recommends a weapon light so that you can identify the target and decide whether it is a deadly threat or not. With a weapon light in play, it may make it difficult to see the reticle. If your red dot has auto-brightness, Karl suggests setting it to manual if you’re using your red dot pistol in home defense, combat, or everyday carry.

Presentation of Weapon Lights and Red dots

Karl prefers using a passive aiming set up with a red dot and utilizing a weapon light over a visible laser. With that in mind, Karl stresses a weapon light will compromise your position and to use it when you need to.

Using Red Dots with Night Vision

binocular night vision
Karl going over binocular night vision and how to set them up for your red dot.

With Binocular or Quad tube night vision devices, Karl recommends that you set the tube over your dominant eye to be focused to see the dot clearly. Then set the other tube for distance so you can identify targets. If you’re running a PVS-7 with a single tube, he recommends setting it for distance. Even though the dot will be a bit blurry, you can see your target, which is more important.

For PVS-14’s, a single tube, Karl says it comes down to preference but he suggests running the tube over the non-dominate eye and setting it to infinity so you can see your target clearly while your dominant eye can see your red dot nice and clear. If you want to run it on your dominant eye, also set it for distance for the same reason, although your dot will be blurry. Karl states that you will still hit your target with a slightly blurry dot and that seeing your target is more important.

Karl with the PVS-14 and his preferences on setup with a red dot pistol.

Brightness Setting for Night Vision

When it comes to brightness settings on your red dot in conjunction with your night vision, Karl’s personal recommendation is to leave it bright enough for daytime in case you have the lights turned on. He says if that happens, just flip up your night vision tube and use white light and your dot because you won’t have time to adjust your dot’s brightness. I’d have to agree with him.

Karl in action with night vision using his red dot.
Tactical Rifleman in action with night vision using his red dot.

There are a lot of considerations covered in this video. And, as Karl points out, practice will make you more effective and this knowledge will be the best tool in a gunfight. I couldn’t agree more.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Double-Feed — How To Clear the Stoppage with One Hand

In the real world, we sometimes may need to manipulate our weapons with one hand due to an injury, or possibly our hand being occupied doing something else, such as opening a door, holding a child, or any number of activities. Sure, we like to think that Murphy’s Law won’t show up to take a giant dump on us, but that’s what Mr. Murphy does best. We also like to think that our favorite blaster would never experience a stoppage at the Moment of Truth, but guess what…yeah, Murphy. He’s a prick. Make no mistake, if we’re in a lethal force encounter, our weapon is having a stoppage, and we’re down to one arm, we are, most assuredly, having a bad day at the office. A while back, a friend (we used to go to different schools together) had it happen to him.

Here’s what a double-feed looks like. Two rounds are trying to get into a place that is only designed for one. 

But I digress. In the video below, Daniel Shaw walks us through some one-handed manipulation drills to clear a double-feed with one paw. A double-feed just means that there’s a round in your pistol’s chamber and it’s trying to feed another round in there, which we know is not a good thing.

Clearing a Double-Feed, One-Handed

The first priority is to get that magazine out of the pistol.

Hit the magazine release. If nothing happens (which is probable, because the top round in the magazine will likely be against the round in the chamber, putting pressure on it), you can hook the base of the magazine against the edge of your holster and strip out the mag that way.

press the magazine release
You press the magazine release, but alas! Nothing happens!
clear double-feed with one hand, use edge of holster to strip magazine
One option to get the magazine out is to use the edge of your holster to strip it out while pressing the magazine release.

Another possibility is to hit the mag release, raise the gun up, then bring it down quickly, letting inertia strip the magazine out of the mag well. The more rounds in your magazine, the better because it will weigh more and eject more easily. A variation of that one is to hit your forearm against your thigh while holding the pistol and pressing the magazine release, which will hopefully eject the magazine. Don’t hit your forearm against your knee cap because it can render your arm useless.

clearing a double-feed with one hand, forcefully bring pistol down on thigh so inertia can cause magazine to eject
Bringing the pistol down onto your thigh hard may generate enough inertia to…
one-handed mag release - clear double-feed
…pop that magazine out of the pistol.

Clear the chamber.

When you’ve ejected the magazine, rack the slide a few times on your holster’s edge (or anything solid that you can manage) to clear the chamber.

use the edge of your holster to cycle the action to clear out any rounds in the chamber.
Now use the edge of your holster to cycle the action to clear out any rounds in the chamber.

Now you need to reload the pistol.

But where to put it to reload with one hand? You could place it into your holster or set it on the ground next to your foot (you can insert the magazine while pushing it against your foot to hold it in place while the magazine goes in). Also putting the pistol into your armpit might be an option, as is pinching it behind your knee between the thigh and calf.

one-handed holster reload
Once cleared, we need a place to put the pistol so we can insert a fresh magazine. Your holster might work.

Now insert a magazine.

You do have at least one spare magazine, don’t you??? Let’s hope so.

one-handed pistol reload, secure handgun behind the knee
On option for inserting a new magazine can be on the ground by your foot. Your foot holds it in place while you insert the fresh mag. Another option is to secure the handgun behind the knee, pinched between your thigh and calf.

Rack the slide to chamber a round.

If the pistol is behind your knee, you can rack it there, or bring it out and rack it on the side of your leg. Other options are to catch the sights on your belt, holster, the sole of your shoe, or anything solid nearby. Note that Daniel does not advocate racking the slide on the sole of your shoe because that places it far away from where the threat is, pointing it in the opposite direction of where it needs to be pointed.

rack the pistol slide one handed
The slide can now be racked to chamber a round. The edge of your leg can serve the purpose, or you can use the edge of your holster to rack the slide.

These are excellent skills to possess, and I completely advocate developing them. Stuff happens, it pays to be prepared. 

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

What is violence and how does it work?

There aren’t many people in the United States who could answer the question, What is violence? Not from a criminal violence/self-defense perspective. That is because they don’t viscerally grasp how violence works. This is true among even the better trained elements of our armed, responsible citizenry. It’s also true, albeit to a lesser extent, within the ranks of those who practice the noble profession of arms. 

That is not a criticism. It is an acknowledgment of a potentially uncomfortable, perfectly understandable, fact, and one we would all do well to recognize. 

What is violence?

We can debate semantics and interpretations, but violence in our context is much more than a clinical, definition of the word. And it’s not something that can be explained in one short news post on a website — which is, of course, why I’m recommending this book. 

Nice people fall to the manipulator.
The manipulator crumbles under the assertive.
The assertive shrinks before the aggressive.
The aggressive have no plan for the assaultive.
The assaultive are unprepared for the homicidal. (Marc MacYoung)

Mental preparation and training will help to mitigate this self-defense shortcoming, albeit only if we  recognize that it is a shortcoming. You can begin all of that with some reading and research. 

The Author’s Voice

Apropos to that, the book Violence of Mind (by Mag Life contributor Varg Freeborn is now available on Audible.

How far are you willing to go — and how do you know that the other guy will not be willing to go farther? 

Varg Freeborn

Varg Freeborn’s Violence of Mind is one of the first books, if not the first book, a new gun owner should read. In fact, anyone serious about protecting themselves or their family should read it, gun-owner or not.

That’s nice, many of you are thinking. So what? Why should I care?

Here’s why. 

Because Varg’s book is an excellent option to assist in that recognition-and-training effort. In fact, I would argue that,

  1.  It is one of the first two books a new gun-owner should consume (the other being Werner’s Serious Mistakes Gun Owners Make), and
  2. It should be, along with de Beckers  Gift of Fear and Choose Adventure (or at least several chapters thereof) by Greg Ellifritz, one of the books that everyone should read.

Whether they go heeled or not. 

If you pepper spray someone (assaultive), how do you know they will not turn around and shoot you (homicidal)?

You  don’t. And if you are willing to offend you better be willing to assault. If you are willing to assault, you better be willing to kill. 

If you are willing to kill, you better be 100% justified.

What are you willing to kill for again?  

Wait, you won’t kill over a spot in line, but you will assault over it? Then the other guy decides that he is willing to kill to stop your assault, and now YOU must kill or be killed. This is how violence works. 

Author’s Incarceration

The author of Violence of Mind explains his precepts from a very unique position. He grew up in a criminal environment, ultimately going to prison after being forced to stab a man repeatedly in a fight. Freeborn spent five years in a penitentiary before he was released and his rights restored. By existential necessity he spent the next five years studying predatory behavior — from within one of the most predacious human environments on the planet. 

This isn’t a CQB tutorial written by a former SOF operator. Nor is it a treatise on shooting skills by a retired police officer. There are many outstanding examples of such books out there, but Violence of Mind is a substantially different sort of work. That I’m aware of, there simply isn’t anything else like it in publication and for that reason should be a part of any serious attempt to study self-defense.

“The most efficient violence I have ever witnessed was the highly developed predatory system of violence inside of prisons. A majority of the most effective and efficient killers are inside of those walls.

[T]he truly violent predator has mastered doing it  with very little equipment and very simple methods. Those tools and methods are based on adhering to fundamental principles. The only two places that real violence can repeatedly be found is in war, and in the criminal culture (especially prisons).

Both are an unbroken lineage, and both are very different. What works in war does not so much apply to what works in  prison, or in a parking lot by yourself on a dark night.”

Listen up

The Violence of Mind audiobook is just shy of nine hours long. It’s narrated by the author and is Whispersync for voice ready. Although there is some repetition and occasional tautology (which the author is cleaning up in the next edition), there is more than enough information to offset that distraction. 

Remember the rule: stop looking for things and start looking at things. 

Violence of Mind is absolutely worth the read. Or of course the listen

OODA Loop Observation

Here’s something else to be aware of. Freeborn is in the final stages of finishing his second book. This one will focus on the second in OODA: the OODA Orient (i.e. the one for Orientation). If you’re a student of John Boyd’s seminal work, you’ll want to take a look at it once it’s available. 

Chet Richards, one of John Boyd's "acolytes", on Varg Freeborn's book.
Chet Richards, one of John Boyd’s “acolytes”, commenting on Varg Freeborn’s forthcoming book.

Orientation is the basis for mindset. Your response to violence will be based upon your orientation to the violent situation. Your conditioning and confidence level, your attachments in life,  your cultural beliefs (particularly about violence), and ultimately your real experience level, all make up your orientation.

Through these experiences and beliefs, you will make a series of decisions which will determine how  you will assess and respond to a violent encounter.  


CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Navy SEAL Jason Pike: Eye Dominance Correction

Eye dominance is a common topic of discussion among gun owners. It can affect everything from grip to sight and optic use to accuracy. Then, when you add cross-dominance, it becomes a much larger issue (but not an insurmountable one). Navy SEAL Jason Pike made a video to discuss ways of dealing with eye-dominance and cross-dominance as a handgun shooter and how to find solutions to make you a better shooter.

What is Eye Dominance?

It definitely helps to understand what eye dominance is. Basically, it refers to which of your eyes provides a bit more information than the other. According to, it is the eye “that provides slightly more input to the visual cortex of your brain and relays information more accurately, such as the location of objects.”

The ability to see where things are is more than slightly important in life in general, but as a shooter, the precision involved matters a great deal. Not only do you need to process where your sights are but also how they relate to the location of your target. Then there’s point of aim versus point of impact and countless other factors.

It isn’t uncommon to be cross-dominant, and that’s really what Pike discusses in this video. That means you are, for example, left-handed but right eye dominant like Pike.

Cross-dominance means opposing dominance between the eyes and the hands. It can present a challenge, but Pike covers strategies to manage it.

There are two head positions Pike frequently sees in shooters who are cross-dominant The first one is with the head tilted down so that the dominant eye is lined up with the sights. 

Jason Pike demonstrates how some people who are cross-dominant tilt their heads in an attempt to see better.
Jason Pike demonstrates how some people who are cross-dominant tilt their heads in an attempt to see better. (Photo credit: Jason Pike)

He says, “It is definitely possible to train your eye to shoot in that manner, but it is not a position we normally operate from as humans. From the time we start walking, we walk upright with [our] eyes horizontal to the ground.

The second head position he sees in cross-dominant shooters is head vertical, eyes horizontal from each other, with the head twisted to the left or right. This is a problem because the for most people, the muscles behind the eyes are not strong. So, even though a person might begin to look at something with the eyes, the head will quickly follow so that the eyes are never in a strained position.

To understand why these head positions can be awkward and less than ideal as a shooter, Pike suggests you go outside and look at the horizon with your head upright and eyes level as you normally would. Then try tilting your head to one side. He says you will notice your eyes move as you do this, making it more difficult to focus steadily and precisely.

To find out what could happen if you turn your head while shooting, he suggests trying to move your eyes up, down, and to either side. You might notice a feeling your eyes are being forced to work harder which means doing that will also make it harder to shoot accurately, not to mention comfortably.

Find out what else Pike has to say about cross-dominance and his corrective training method using eye protection in the video:


How Do I Know if I Am Cross-Dominant?

In How to Determine Eye Dominance and Deal with Cross-Dominance, Savage Arms provides the following guide:

  1. With your palms facing out, make a small triangle window between your thumbs and forefingers (about 2-3 inches across) and hold your arms straight in front of you.
  2. Focus on a spot a short distance away like a light switch or doorknob through the window in your hands with both eyes open.
  3. Close your left eye. Did your target move out of view? Or can you still see it? If you can still see your target with your right eye open, you’re right eye dominant.
  4. Close your right eye. Did your target move out of view? Or can you still see it? If you can still see your target with your left eye open, you’re left eye dominant.

Being cross-dominant doesn’t mean you cannot still be a fantastic shot. All you need is to learn how to work with it and you’re good to go. Resources like this video provided by Jason Pike are a good way to find out what works for you so you can be the best shooter possible.

Navy SEAL Jason Pike talks about how the sights on handguns affect cross-dominance for better or for worse.
Navy SEAL Jason Pike talks about how the sights on handguns affect cross-dominance for better or for worse. (Photo credit: Jason Pike)

Are you cross-dominant? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Three Steps To Develop Your Ability to Shoot Consistently Well

The ability to shoot consistently well is one of the most elusive and coveted goals of any defensive or competitive shooter. It provides both the technical advantage and skill-building platform upon which to further expand your shooting abilities. What steps can you take to consistently shoot well?

A common adage you often hear in the professional firearms training community is “First time is luck, second time chance, and third time is skill.” Traditional shooting standards such as the Bill Drill, the Wilson Five-by-Five, and the like, require the shooter to perform five or more consecutive repetitions Why? Because it demonstrates consistency in repeat shooting performance.

Bill Wilson, creator of the 5×5 drill, as a young, competition shooter. Photo credit: Wilson Combat.

The first step toward this coveted goal is to straight-up admit to yourself that you’re not yet at the skill level that you want to be. If you were, then you would be able to demonstrate it. Although that’s a jagged little pill to swallow, it is essential to find the motivation, discipline, and commitment required to reach that next level.

Only after you can hold yourself personally accountable (self-motivation, discipline, and commitment) may you then embark on that journey up the proverbial stairway to performance. Adopting this mindset, unleashing your motivation, engaging your discipline, and standing firmly in your commitment affords you the opportunity to pursue the lofty and worthy terminal objective of earning consistency.

Consistency in shooting well can be defined as “your ability to repeatedly perform at a known skill level.” In meeting the expectations of this definition, there are three steps that you can take to help develop your abilities to shoot consistently well: familiarity, comfort, and confidence.

1. Familiarity

The first stride on the road to repeatedly perform at a known skill level is to become intimately familiar with exactly what that level is. To find this line of demarcation is to differentiate between what works and what doesn’t work. Applying a correct shooting process is what works.

When you follow a shooting process such as “bring stability to alignment and break the shot without disturbing that alignment”, you find that it works every time. Completing each of the subprocesses within that process (minutiae) is what makes good hits and in acceptable times.

Should you take a mental approach such as ‘try to go fast’ or ‘try to be more accurate’ then you are trying and not shooting, something which is not recommended as part of your regular training regimen along with anything else that may pull you away from following the shooting process.

Clear your mind of all but the mental focus needed to stay in the shooting process. Know what works and what doesn’t work. 

train to shoot consistently well
Understand the shooting process, test the process, trust the process, and the more times you apply that same process without error, the greater your familiarity in applying what works.

2. Comfort

Once you have built this familiarization and can instinctively discern “right” from “wrong” — that is, doing what it takes to make that shot versus not doing what it takes to make that shot — you have established the yellow and white lines on the long and winding road toward comfort.

Why is comfort is such a critical step in the process? Under duress, you will default to your lowest level of comfort to ‘guarantee’ the shot.

In a defensive situation or in the heat of competition, you can’t afford to be reckless and push past your headlights so far that the wheels fall off your shooting process, and you crash. The converse is also true — you can’t be too conservative at the expense of time. The sweet spot is somewhere in between the boundaries of a guaranteed hit and the edge of your comfort zone.

The goal, of course, is to always step outside your comfort zone by pushing that envelop into uncharted ground. Forcing the wheels to fall off and learning from each mistake affords you access to uncharted territory. Once you have walked all over that new real estate you have moved that boundary marker a bit further, and in doing so have expanded your comfort zone.

Any shooter willing and able to put the work in needed to shoot well, must at some point also be willing to depart their comfort zone. 

Daniel Shaw, firearms training instructor
You can only step outside your comfort zone once you have set and identified its boundary markers.

3. Confidence

After identifying your comfort zone, it is strongly recommended by the best in the industry to push past your comfort zone. As per multiple world championship competition shooter Rob Leatham: “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Upon attaining the confidence of identifying the markers of your skill level, the very next step is to assert the resulting confidence as a tool to push past those markers in reaching for that next level. You can only accomplish this task after you have built the familiarity and in doing so have attained confidence at your prior skill level. Without setting the bedrock of confidence you are not afforded the foundation upon which to build your next level of performance.

The top shooters use confidence as a power tool to push beyond their comfort zone to move into, and become familiar with, that uncharted territory. Building confidence is a necessary and incremental step in moving away from shooting at lower skill levels and toward shooting well.

Becoming intimately familiar with the shooting process and its minutiae is a required step in expanding your comfort zone. 

Using an AK 47 in non standard positions on the range.
Once you have established that zone and the ensuing confidence it produces, then challenge yourself to push past those boundaries and shoot consistently well.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Combat Resiliency – The Mag Life

One of the most important considerations in preparing for personal combat is resiliency. Pioneered by United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), combat resiliency training is officially known as Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF). The POTFF mission is to optimize operations, mission readiness, longevity, and performance through integrated and holistic human performance programs designed to strengthen the force and the family.

Combat resiliency is best described by a quote from USSOCOM Commander General Richard Clarke, “Humans are more important than hardware. By investing in our people, ensuring a trusted, capable, diverse and committed force that is ready to meet any challenge.”

USSOCOM Commander General Richard Clarke. (Image source: Free Press Journal)

What mission-essential core concept can be gleaned from USSOCOM POTFF and applied to your life that can further develop combat resilience? Taking a proactive and holistic approach to operational readiness via physical training, psychological perspective, and contingency planning.

Physical Training

The military is world-renowned for setting the standard for physical prowess. Going as far back as the ancient Spartans and the Roman legions all the way up to and including today’s Special Forces, operators are recognized for their superior discipline and commitment to combative competency.

What’s the one thing that separates the military and law enforcement from the average non-sworn civilian? Training. What’s the differentiator between the regular defense department and specialized units? Training. What separates the best defensive or competitive shooters, NASCAR drivers, and fighter pilots from their lesser-skilled counterparts? Training.

physical training - combat school
If you want to further develop your combat resilience, you cannot forgo training.

If you want to be proficient at any physical skill, training is an absolute necessity. It is the differentiator and is what separates you from everyone else in line at the grocery store. Whatever your chosen skillset, if you want to further develop your combat resilience, you cannot forgo training. All physical skills are perishable and like speaking a second language or playing a musical instrument it takes a long time to develop and a short time to attenuate. If you don’t use it you lose it. Once you’ve gained that specific physical skill, the onus is on you to sustain it.

Psychological Perspective

As humans, we share common worries in life. That anxiety and stressors can and do attenuate combat resilience. Such worries can include financial or job security, relationships, and health, to list a few of the most common.

Worries about job security can develop because of internal pressures such as difficulties with upper management, performance issues, and the like. External pressures such as the economy or the resurgence of an economically debilitating pandemic can cause those worries as well. Addressing these issues one at a time and to the best of your abilities — even if it’s just discussing them with family and friends — can alleviate some of that anxiety.

Strained relationships can also throw a monkey wrench into your combat resiliency as family plays a critical role in support and survival infrastructure. Identifying and alleviating the issues that place strain on a relationship are what allow you to place those otherwise-occupied units of attention toward operational readiness.

Health can cause a significant amount of psychological turmoil and must be set forth as a priority. In terms of surviving a violent physical altercation, it is the highest priority. We’ve  all heard the phrase “When you have your health you have everything.” Nothing rings truer as we grow longer in the tooth.

One of the most sobering quotes on the importance of prioritizing health is passed on to us by none other than His Holiness the Dali Lama:

“Man sacrifices his health to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Contingency Planning

As failure is not an option, we all want to plan for success, but even the highest trained warriors understand the importance of contingency planning.

A contingency plan is a backup plan to your primary plan. Otherwise known as “Plan B” a contingency plan is designed specifically for future unforeseen and undesirable events. It is a proactive measure to ensure things transition as wrinkle-free as possible. In the event of a real-world threat, a contingency plan can be utilized as an additional means to apply control to unpredictable conditions.

Steve Tarani
Contingency planning is essential to resilience as it helps you to prepare for unforeseen situations. (Image: Steve Tarani)

The strategic advantage of having a contingency plan is that when “Plan A” begins to unravel you’re not wasting valuable time trying to create an alternative game plan from scratch when your backup plan is already made and can be immediately deployed.

Your contingency plan significantly increases adaptability, affords additional opportunity, and provides a previously determined means of risk mitigation — all of which significantly contribute to your combat resiliency. Creating a contingency plan is not any more difficult than crafting your “Plan A.” You need to be prepared for a wide range of possible scenarios playing out and be ready to circumnavigate the proverbial hurdles that may be placed in your path.

Recommended practices to help you with your contingency planning include a thorough situational assessment. Relevant and accurate information allows you to make educated decisions. Set achievable objectives and then list the steps to reach those objectives. Ask the opinion of others with similar or even greater experience and background. Educate everyone in your group such as family, friends, and even neighbors if they may be involved in your planning. Review the details with all involved, specifically those who have designated roles and responsibilities, and ask them to repeat it back to you in their own words so that you know there is a clear understanding.

General Clarke’s quote is an accurate assessment – humans are more important than hardware. Taking a proactive and holistic approach to operational readiness via physical training, psychological perspective, and contingency planning further enhances your combat resilience and that of those nearest you whom you are committed to protecting.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

AR-15 Stovepipe Drill: You May be Doing it Wrong

Most of us have seen the stovepipe drill. You know, the one where you close the bolt on a piece of spent brass so it’s sticking out perpendicular to the gun. It’s supposed to simulate a failure to eject (FTE), which you can then clear to prepare you for when the real thing hits you.

Two views of the Failure to Eject (FTE) or Stovepipe malfunction.

Daniel Shaw from Gun Mag Warehouse demonstrates for us how many people get it wrong and then moves on to how to run the drill correctly. This is important because, if you’re doing it the wrong way as he shows, you will not be prepared to do it for real.

Daniel starts by showing the drill he was taught, of all places, in the Marine Corps. It consists of closing the bolt on the spent brass, as noted above, while there is a round in the chamber. To clear it, all you have to do is use the charging handle to cycle the action. The chambered round, being already engaged with the extractor, kicks out the spent casing with no problem and chambers another round. Good to go.

The problem is that this is physically impossible. An FTE is generally caused when the extractor doesn’t kick out a spent casing, thus preventing the bolt from chambering a new round as it moves forward. There is no reason whatsoever for a spent casing to be hung up in the bolt on top of a chambered round.

A Failure to Eject, or Stovepipe, can damage the casing of the following round.

A correct simulation of an FTE looks like this:

  • With the chamber empty and a mag inserted, lock the bolt to the rear.
  • Insert your spent casing at the front of the ejection port, perpendicular to the gun.
  • Close the bolt on the spent casing.
A view of a stovepipe looking up through the mag well.
A view of a stovepipe looking up through the mag well. Note how the extractor has not fully engaged the partially chambered round.

This is what an FTE, or stovepipe, really looks like. Now, the clearing drill:

  • Lock the bolt to the rear.
  • Drop the mag Rifle Magazines | GunMag Warehouse.
  • Some folks say to turn the gun on its side and “karate chop” the stovepiped casing to get it out of the chamber. Daniel prefers to “jiggle” it with his thumb and forefinger. You do you.
  • Cycle the action to clear the chamber. The brass on the round that was prevented from being chambered may be bent.
  • Insert the mag and drop the bolt if necessary.
  • Back in action.
Daniel Shaw demonstrating the stovepipe drill
After locking the bolt to the rear and dropping the mag, you can remove the spent casing.

Running this drill properly is critical to performing it when you get a for-real FTE. If you’ve been doing it wrong, don’t worry about it. Stuff like that happens and there is misinformation everywhere. The key here is understanding how the gun works and what is realistic and what is not. It kinda bothers me that at least some people in the Marine Corps teach, or have taught, this drill in a way that shows a lack of understanding of how the gun functions. Nothing I can do about that, but hopefully, they will get it fixed.

Anyhow, this drill should be part of your regular training. It happens to almost everyone, eventually. It’s not a big deal if you’ve practiced for it. As with many other drills, it can be done at home with snap caps and a spent casing. A few practice runs each week and you’re good to go with no precious ammo expended. If you want to see it demonstrated, click the video link. Either way, make sure you’re doing it right. It matters.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

The Dreaded “Click:” What Now? — Tap Rack Bang

We all need to train. Me, you, everyone. That includes what to do when you expect a “bang,” but get a “click” instead. I readily admit that I don’t work on this enough. Do you? Fortunately, it’s something we can easily train for with dry fire and snap caps. In this video, Daniel Shaw from Gun Mag Warehouse takes us through the simple progression:

Failure to fire (FTF, which can also mean Failure to Feed) can be caused by a number of things:

  • Bad ammo
  • Bad primer
  • Bad magazine follower
  • Accidentally hitting the mag release while firing
  • Perhaps your gun needs to be serviced

These can be addressed using a simple procedure that Daniel demonstrates for us:  the Tap Rack Bang drill.

  • Tap: Actually, it should be more like “smack the crap out of” to make sure your mag is properly seated in the magazine well.
“Tap” (more like smack the crap of) your mag to seat it properly.
  • Rack: Rack the slide to chamber a round and reset the striker or hammer.
rack the slide in the tap rack bang drill to clear stoppages
“Rack” the slide to load a round and reset your striker or hammer.
Bang! Clear a Failure to Feed with the Tap Rack Bang drill
“Bang.” Fire the gun.

Tap Rack Bang will solve most FTF situations.

At the very least, it will help you diagnose your problem. If you have bad ammo, racking the slide will eject the unfired round and chamber another. If it still won’t fire, maybe you have a bad batch with faulty primers or perhaps there is a problem with your gun. If the problem was with your magazine, smacking the bottom may reseat the mag, allowing you to strip off another round when racking the slide. If it still won’t chamber a round, you may have a bad magazine follower. “Bang,” obviously, is the final step and the signal that you’ve most likely solved your problem. This is a great procedure to clear what is often referred to as a “Level 1 Stoppage” or begin to diagnose what your problem is.

If you get the “click” and your gun does not fire, MAKE CERTAIN TO KEEP THE GUN POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION WHILE YOU CLEAR IT. I cannot emphasize that enough, which is why I put it in all caps. That should be the case anyway, but people tend to turn around and start fiddling with their guns. This is particularly prominent with new shooters who may be looking for help. I expect most of us have witnessed such things at the range. Don’t be that guy. Keep the gun pointed downrange while clearing the malfunction.

But check your gear, too.

Obviously, part of this can be avoided by purchasing quality ammo, but with things the way they’ve been the last couple of years, we often take what we can get. Just be aware of the potential for problems when shooting old or cheap ammo. Another step you can take to minimize these problems is to buy quality mags. Look, I get it. Mags are often expensive, especially if you buy them from the manufacturer. Life would be a lot simpler if everything took Glock mags, but they don’t.

When I first got into autoloading pistols and modern sporting rifles, I had to learn the hard way that you get what you pay for with mags, just as you do with guns and ammo. Spending a little more on quality mags and keeping your eyes open for good mags on sale will save you some trouble. It will also save you money in the long run since you won’t be spending your dough on crappy mags before having to buy the good ones.

Also, remember that mags are a commodity.

They wear out and have to be replaced. Checking your mags occasionally and rotating them often can extend their life. Nor does it hurt to clean them every once in a while. Personally, I have all my mags numbered and labeled by gun. That helps me keep up with the rotation and lets me easily identify one that may be ready for replacement. I just use a silver paint marker. That also helps me keep up with them if I’m working in a training class and have to go back and pick them up off the ground.

Dry Fire Training

The “Tap, Rack, Bang” drill is easily done with Snap Caps in dry fire exercises. Just watch the quick video above to see how it’s done. It doesn’t take long to get in a bunch of reps, and you may save yourself headaches on the range, and, just maybe, it might save your life in the real world.

Snap caps for dry fire drills.
Snap caps can be used to dry fire this drill.

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