By Pat B
In any armed confrontation good gear can take you only so far. You can have the finest gun with the deadliest ammo, but if you can’t use these tools effectively under extreme stress and pressure you might as well be throwing rocks while wearing a blindfold.
Training is certainly a large part of overcoming this, and the more tactics you learn the better off you will be, but when it gets right down to it, folk wisdom has it right — “Practice Makes Perfect!” All the classes in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t practice your skills and practice until they become second nature.
Through practice, going through the repetitive motion of common tasks, you build muscle memory. Muscle memory is exactly what it sounds like. The neural pathways that direct these motions are burned into your body to the point where they become automatic and you don’t waste time thinking about them or in fumbling about blindly. In a gunfight, having certain actions committed to muscle memory can be the deciding factor in who goes home on their feet and who goes home in a bag.
Three such critical skills are: 1) the draw, 2) dealing with a malfunction, and, 3) reloading. These are all skills that can be honed through repetitive drills. In armed confrontations success is not determined in seconds but in fractions of a second, and being able to perform these tasks without taking your eyes off the threat will improve your odds greatly.
Muscle memory is one of the big reasons I recommend having a limited number of carry positions. If you can settle in on one or two that cover most of your needs, you will be able to focus your practice efforts on these and avoid confusion when a high stress situation develops. The last thing you want when the time comes is to forget where your gun is, to have to feel around for it or, worst of all, to look away from a threat to locate it. A proper grip, draw and presentation of your weapon should be very close to instinctive; a gun that doesn’t make it out of the holster might as well be at home in the safe.
To this end, I highly recommend that you wear your gun, in the same position that you will carry in public, as much as you can at home — and practice drawing at random intervals as you go about your home life. You should do this 50 times a day at first, and your initial goal should not be speed but fluidity of motion, conservation of motion, and efficiency of motion. Speed will come with practice, so the more you do it the better you will be.
In addition to random draws, you should dedicate some time to repetitively drawing and holstering your weapon. Remember Al Pacino in Taxi Driver? Standing in front of that mirror, “You talking to me?” and pulling his gun? Dude was definitely whacked, but he had the right idea as far as building muscle memory was concerned. You might want to do this without the monologue if you don’t want to creep out your family!
At the range, carry your weapon in your every day carry holster if permitted, and start each magazine you fire with a draw. For safety purposes some ranges don’t permit this, but if you have the opportunity, don’t waste it. At the range or at home, safety is the first concern, and at home this should mean practicing your draw with an empty chamber.
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There is nothing worse than pulling the trigger in the heat of a conflict and having nothing happen. The only thing that can make this more dangerous is allowing it to immobilize you. There is a simple three step plan for this that can and should be practiced so that the muscle memory can kick in when needed. This plan is called Tap, Rack, Bang. Tap the magazine with the butt of your palm to make sure it is properly seated. Rack the slide to clear any jam or misfire and chamber a new round. Bang, resume firing.
To practice at home, use a magazine filled with snap caps. Go through the three steps, focusing on smooth efficient motions initially and working your way toward speed. With enough practice, you should quickly be able to perform the three steps of this procedure without taking your eyes off your threat, and it should happen automatically, without a second wasted on thought as soon as you hear “click” instead of “bang.”
At my range, while conducting classes, any malfunction sets off a cease fire on the whole line until the problem is resolved. This is an important safety rule when dealing with new or inexperienced shooters. If your range does permit, give this a try — have a buddy load your magazines for you and slip a snap cap into the stack at an unknown/random spot. When you get to this round you will get a click, which should trigger your Tap, Rack, Bang reflexes. This skill, too, should be practiced as often as possible to solidify neural pathways.
Being able to reload your weapon quickly, safely and efficiently is another muscle memory task that can save your life, and so it should be practiced often. There may be restrictions at your range as to how quickly you are permitted to change mags and resume fire, but if there aren’t you need to run through the reload and resume fire drills. Spare magazines should be carried for this drill in the same manner and location they are on the street to build the best muscle memory. When a magazine runs out, hit the release and let it fall out while drawing a fresh one with the weak hand. Insert, release slide, resume firing. Off the range, practice these steps with empty magazines.
All of these drills can be practiced while watching TV. Building these muscle memories could one day become a critical factor in saving your life, so don’t neglect these areas.
Do you practice muscle memory drills? What tips do you have? Tell us in the comments section below.