Don't let your firearms skills atrophy

With training extremely limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical you maintain your firearms skills through ongoing practice


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, basically all police training has been suspended. It is unclear when training schedules will resume.

In the meantime, some of our hard skills, much like a muscle, will atrophy unless used. With all the family time everyone is “enjoying,” officers are getting plenty of practice in conflict resolution, but much of the hands-on use of force and firearms training is falling by the wayside. These essential skills are too often ignored until their proficiency is crucial. By then it may be too late.

Follow these tips to ensure you maintain your firearms skills.

Hard skills, much like a muscle, will atrophy unless used. (Photo/Crystal Fletcher)
Hard skills, much like a muscle, will atrophy unless used. (Photo/Crystal Fletcher)

Take responsibility for your training

I always preach that we should take responsibility for our own training. Submit training requests regularly. Seek outside instruction. Maintain your own training records. Never be the one who falls through the cracks. You owe it to your family to be as prepared as possible. Unfortunately, training and instruction have been extremely limited under these unusual circumstances; therefore, it is incumbent upon you to maintain and improve your own skills through practice.

Between long work hours and the closure of many ranges, doing live-fire drills may not be an option, yet firearms skills are among the first skills to atrophy. Many officers take their duty weapons for granted until the time comes when they are critical for their survival. Let’s use this social distancing time to reacquaint ourselves with our firearms and do some dry-fire practice.

It has been shown time and again that just a few minutes of dry-fire practice a couple of times a week vastly improves weapon handling, confidence and shot placement. Practice proper weapon handling at all times and ALWAYS adhere to the basic rules of firearms safety. Ensure the firearms are unloaded and any source of live ammunition is inaccessible during dry-fire practices. Even with verified dry weapons, avoid pointing them in an unsafe direction.

Presentation

A smooth and fluid presentation is the first step. For a handgun, practice acquiring a firm grip as high on the backstrap as possible while disengaging the retention. This should all be one smooth motion. The draw continues by lifting the handgun and tipping the muzzle up on target as it clears the front of the holster. Acquire the desired grip with the support hand and continue to extend as the sights meet the eye target line. Practice at a smooth, slow pace until it becomes automatic then gradually add speed. Remember, quick is sloppy, smooth is fast.

Patrol rifles and shotguns are easier to shoot, but weapon handling is where most officers will struggle.  A little dry-weapon handling will make a world of difference when it comes to both confidence and competence. Remember to always work the selector switch. That pesky on/off switch perplexes many shooters, so practice some turns and presentations while working the selector switch.

Reloads

It is likely you will never need to reload your duty weapon in a gunfight, but wouldn’t it be comforting to know you can do so quickly and competently? Plus, the hands-on time you get with your firearm while practicing the reloads will go a long way toward improving your shooting prowess.

I like to gear up and practice reloads standing in front of the sofa or bed. This allows me to increase the number of reps I get before I get tired of bending over to pick up my magazines from the ground.

Maximize efficiency by minimizing movement. Don’t bring the gun so far off target. The more you move off target, the longer it will take to reacquire your target after the reload. Only move the gun enough to make the controls accessible and the reload smooth and comfortable. Keep your head up. Become proficient enough to do reloads without staring at your weapon. Learn to know where it is, so you can keep a closer eye on the threat. Your weapon won’t move without you. The bad guy might.

Practice several different styles of reloads. For example, some officers with smaller hands may prefer a reload with retention over the traditional tactical reload. A tactical reload requires the shooter to hold and manage two magazines in one hand while the reload with retention allows the shooter to stash the used magazine before retrieving the fresh magazine.

Practice several different styles of reloads, as what works best for one shooter may not work at all for another. (Photo/Crystal Fletcher)
Practice several different styles of reloads, as what works best for one shooter may not work at all for another. (Photo/Crystal Fletcher)

Many hardcore old-school instructors argue against the reload with retention because the handgun is without a magazine a little longer. I argue for it because from beginning to end, this reload is faster. And if the shooter drops or fumbles with the two magazines due to wet, sticky, or overloaded hands, how is the tactical reload going to be better for them? What works best for one shooter may not work at all for another, and the more tricks you can have in your bag the better off you will be.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dry-fire practice. But it is much more than most officers routinely if ever, do. Just because official training may be on hiatus, doesn’t mean you should stop improving your vital skills. You need to keep your skills honed and ready for use, be that on the street, or eventually on the range. So, use this training downtime wisely and take responsibility for your own welfare. You owe it to your friends, family and coworkers to be as prepared as possible.

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