Notes from private lessons (Feb 2018)

I taught a lot of weekday private lessons in February.  Here are some thoughts and observations from those lessons and from recent group classes.

Holsters and Carry Methods

One of the biggest challenges many gun carriers face is finding a holster or a carry method that works for them.  Almost every week, in group classes, private lessons, or email, I end up giving the same speech, which basically goes like this:

There are no decent holsters or other products suitable for practical daily carry available at any retail store, including the big box sporting goods stores.

Problem #1 is that there are dozens of gun models, and it’s not economically viable for any retailer to keep 3-5 different holsters in stock for every possible gun someone might want a holster for.  Problem #1A is that buyers for those stores really aren’t gun people and they are looking at profit margins and inventory systems and not thinking about the products as life safety gear.  To them holsters are the same as shoes and insulated drink cups.

Problem #2 is that you can’t really evaluate a holster until you wear it while doing your normal activities, *and* you use it for the task it’s being purchased for…which is drawing from concealment.  You can’t do either of those while shopping for holsters in a retail store.  Most ranges don’t allow drawing. Most shooters don’t dry fire, and most don’t own shooting timers, so they have limited capability to properly assess the holster.  A common mistake people make is wearing an empty holster around, thinking that they can assess the comfort aspect of the holster that way.  Unfortunately that doesn’t work.  Some rigid kydex holsters become *more* comfortable when worn with a gun in them, and some soft, floppy leather or nylon holsters only reveal their true awfulness when you put a gun in the holster, and it flops and sags and moves around because the holster is too loose or thin to support it.

Problem #3 is that the holster that puts the gun at a position and location that minimizes printing usually puts the gun in a position and location where your draw time can be measured with a calendar, rather than a stopwatch.  That leads of use of deep carry methods that are essentially useless, if tested in a force on force scenario where a live opponent is attacking at a realistic speed.

One student had multiple different carry systems: a coat purchased from the NRA store that had an integral “gun pocket” that sort of functioned like a shoulder holster, except the velcro holster that came with the coat was the absolute cheapest velcro holster insert I’ve ever seen.  We cannibalized a Dillon Precision Plan B day timer to use the velcro holster from it in the NRA jacket.  Anything heavier than a Kahr 9mm caused the jacket to sag badly, and after some time spent fighting with that option, we gave up on it and went back to working from a belt holster.

Another student had an Urban Carry crotch holster, which sort of worked, but was completely impractical for doing multiple presentations and reholstering, which was the goal of the lesson.  I ended up loaning that student a Keepers Concealment appendix carry holster, and teaching him proper technique for drawing and reholstering carrying in that position.  Using that loaner holster he was able to pass the NRA Defensive Pistol course, which included a 34 round test with multiple concealment draws.

Targets past 15 yards

I had students at a wide variety of skill levels, including two students who were USPSA A class/Master class level shooters, both very fast at drawing, reloading and hitting targets 10 yards and closer.  I ran them through the Central Texas Standards, which is a 125 round course of fire handed down to me from other Texas IPSC shooters in the late 1980s.  It includes strings at 25 and 50 yards, and quite a bit of shooting at 15 yards, which used to be more common in IPSC matches in the 80’s and 90’s.  Both of the high speed shooters struggled with the longer shots, mainly because neither practiced that skill very often.  Statistically, that skill may never be needed in a defensive situation, but for those aspiring to the highest level of handgun competition, accurate shooting past 15 yards matters.

Handgun Zero

Another seemingly forgotten or often ignored issue is really understanding how the gun is zeroed. Most shooters are able to ignore this by never shooting targets past 10 yards, or simply having low standards and being happy with any hit on paper.
More on how to zero your handgun can be found here.

During the low light shooting class I taught on March 3, I had students shooting my Bianchi plate rack (six 6″ round plates) at 12 yards, with gun in dominant hand and flashlight in non-dominant hand.  In a few cases students struggled to hit the plates, and it appeared that their trigger control was acceptable.  I would ask where their gun normally hits, relative to the sights, at 15 yards, and none of them knew, including those that had put aftermarket sights on their guns.  Several of them had guns that were shooting high, where a 6 o clock hold was required to consistently hit the plates.  One had a gun with Big Dot sights on it, and ended up switching guns to a non-Big Dot model, because he found it much easier to hit the plates with traditional notch and post sights vs the “lollipop on a stick” design of the Big Dot, which completely covered the plate at that distance.

Red Dots and Optics

One student was a highly skilled USPSA competitor currently shooting in the Carry Optics division, running a slide mounted red dot with no backup irons.  Due to a lot of hard work, most of the time his presentation was quick and he was able to find the dot quickly.  But a few times, he would stop after his draw and want to start the drill over, because the dot was just not there when the gun came up.  I remain convinced that backup irons are essential equipment for anyone running a slide mounted red dot, whether it’s a carry or competition gun.

Another student brought several ARs to the lesson, one with a 3x traditional scope mounted above the bore, and two red dot sights, each mounted at an angle, for left- and right-shoulder close range shooting.  We spent about an hour checking the zeros on all 3 optics, and ended up removing the one hanging off the left side of the gun completely.  The second gun had a Leopold HAMR optic, with a Deltapoint mounted on top of the HAMR sight.  The HAMR is apparently a very expensive  optic.  Both the student and I found it difficult to use due to eye relief, with the Deltapoint sitting so high above the bore that we could not get it zeroed at 15 yards before running out of adjustment.

If I was building a rifle for 3-gun competition, perhaps having separate magnified and red dot optics mounted in every possible way makes sense.  My ARs are set up more simply, either with an Aimpoint red dot or a Primary Arms 1-6x variable – one optic with the option to use backup irons.


Equipment matters.  It can make shooting (and carrying) easier, or harder depending on your choices.   In our Basic Pistol 2 and Defensive Pistol 1 classes, we assess student equipment during the pre-class check in, so we can identify any problem areas and offer loaner gear.  Over the past 27 years I’ve invested in dozens of loaner holsters, mag pouches, belts and other gear because so much of the retail-store-grade gear students bring to class ends up being a problem on the firing line.  Using correct gear is safer, and it makes learning the skills taught in class easier.

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