The AAR is a Lying Crapweasel: A MAG-20 AAR

If you’ve taken a class from me or come to one of my A Girl and A Gun events, you’ve heard me say, “Remember to brain dump at the end of class.” Well, that’s a stupid thing to do.

So, I’ve been lying to my students for a long time now, but only realized it this weekend. If you’ve taken a class from me or come to one of my A Girl and A Gun events, you’ve heard me say, “Remember to brain dump at the end of class.” Well, that’s a stupid thing to do, and here’s why: by the end of a good class, you’ve forgotten 70 percent of what your instructor has taught you. (On a related note: 90 percent of all statistics are made up.) Thanks to Rachel Malone of Texas Firearms Freedom, I now have a better grasp of how all After-Action Reports should take shape for the ultimate student retention. It’s time to admit the error of my ways, and vow to do better. No time like the present.

MAG-20 and the “Ah-ha!” moment

May 20 and 21 I took the Massad Ayoob Group’s MAG-20 Live Fire course from Rachel, David Maglio, and Tracy Thronburg. Lonestar Range and Academy in Florence proved to be a simple and very adequate location for the class, albeit muddy due to some storms that mercifully didn’t stop us from getting in our range time. Tony, the range owner, was very accommodating and even provided coffee (bo.nus.). The weather turned out overcast and cool: just perfect for the 14 of us on the line to learn some excellent techniques that made us focus on why we do things the way we do them. Rachel suggested at the beginning of class that we take notes every time we reloaded mags, and, trying to be a good student, I did just that.

Game changer.

Rachel wasn’t kidding when she said that MAG-20 is like “drinking from a fire hose.” The students in this class weren’t new shooters, but we represented a wide variety of skill sets and experience. I have no doubt that, had I not taken copious notes at EVERY opportunity, I would have forgotten half of what our three highly experienced instructors shared by the time I got home to do my traditional “brain dump.” Mea culpa. I’m betting my fellow students had a similar realization, as I saw some pretty feverish note-taking behind the firing line.

Personal performance goals

The qualifier to pass the course comprises 60 rounds shot at the A-Zone of an IPSC target from various timed drills at 4, 7, 10, and 15 yards. I realized during the two days of training that I was internalizing all of the techniques, but execution was lacking due to a weak support-side arm. Hello, push-ups and grip trainer: here I come.

I didn’t shoot a 300 during the qualifier, but Rachel and top-shot student Jennifer Langsdale—of J&C Firearms Training, and A Girl and A Gun’s Killeen chapter facilitator—showed us all what getting that perfect score looked like. Now, my goals are:

  1. A 300 on the qual (to beat my 290) with my full-size Sig P320 in 30 days, and then,
  2. A 300 with my 9mm S&W Shield EDC within 90 days.

I really hope to blow those goals out of the water, but they seem realistic enough—with daily dry-fire thrown in the mix—that I won’t get too head-trashy and overthink them.

Major take-aways

Being a student is always a fantastic opportunity to see things from both sides. This was my first MAG class, but it certainly won’t be my last. Every class I take, no matter what skill level it’s meant to address, reinforces my belief that every instructor needs to be a perpetual student. The instructors in this class model that with their own training, and all of my mentors subscribe to the Dunning-Kruger school of thought. That’s why I giggle a bit whenever anyone tells me, “Oh, I don’t really need to take a class. I already know how to shoot.” I’m more and more sure with every class I attend that I don’t “know” how to shoot, and that I won’t teach my students any one incontrovertible way of doing things. I may know some shooting techniques and how to apply them, but the real challenge—as illustrated by this course and my sweaty, muddy notes scribbled hastily while loading mags—is articulating WHY I shoot the way I do (CYA?). And, since I’m always tweaking and changing things, the only thing I “know” about shooting at this point is that this is the way I do it right now, at this minute. As I learn better, I do better, and I am ALWAYS learning better, different, and not-for-me ways of doing things.

What’s your “why?” If you don’t know, it’s time to train. Call or e-mail me, come to A Girl and A Gun Girls’ Night Out (if you’re a girl, obvi), or go train with one of the unbelievably gifted nearby folks at KR Training, Texas Firearms Freedom, or someone else they recommend. If you operate daily on the assumption that you already “know” everything you actually NEED to know about shooting, to quote Sam Jackson from The Long Kiss Goodnight, “You make an ass out of you, and umption.” Time to train, folks. See you on the range.

Calendar of Events: A Girl and A Gun Temple

Follow our Google calendar and join our Facebook group to keep up-to-date on local women’s shooting events.

The Temple Chapter of A Girl and A Gun Women’s Shooting League has Girls’ Night Out on the 1st Tuesday of the month at Temple Gun Club in Temple, TX, at 6 p.m.. We also host a members-only 3rd Saturday event. We develop weekend events and special training sessions that are members-only events.

You do not have to be a member of AG&AG to participate in our GNO event, but we highly encourage signing up. You get great discounts with local firearms trainers, on AGAG events and merchandise, and with more than 100 national-level vendors. A Girl and A Gun members are invited to attend a yearly Training Conference and other members-only events and training opportunities at local, regional, and national levels.

Follow our Google Calendar and join our Facebook chapter page to see what we’re all about, and join our chapter to have access to weekly training e-mails, the exclusive Shooting Journal, and monthly training challenges led by Becky Dolgener, facilitator and instructor with Texas Personal Defense Training.

The 4 Rules of Gun Safety (VIDEO)

Know the 4 Rules and live them. Every. Single. Moment.

There’s no such thing as “too safe” with firearms, because a single mistake could be deadly. Here are a shooter’s Four Commandments:

  1. Treat every gun as if it is loaded. Always. Every time. Even when the slide is locked back and it’s been checked and double-checked open and clear. Remember that our repeated actions are committed to muscle memory, so our natural handling of any firearm should include pointing it in a safe direction, and:
  2. Never let the muzzle cover (gun point at or sweep) anything you are not willing to destroy. This includes parts of your own body and anyone or anything who may be in the path of your drawstroke from concealment.
  3. Keep your finger out of the trigger guard until your have sights on your target and you are ready to shoot. This eliminates 90 percent of all unintentional discharges, since the gun can’t pull its own trigger. Practice keeping your finger high up on the frame until you’re ready to fire.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is behind it. Not sure if there’s a house or a car on the road on the other side of that berm? Don’t fire in that direction. Planning your home defense approach? Drywall and siding will not stop an errant round, so who is in that next room? And, you know what? Let’s add a fifth rule just because we absolutely should:
  5. Keep all firearms out of the hands of unauthorized persons. Little hands, criminal hands, any hands that aren’t yours. Because, ultimately, you’re responsible for every single round that leaves your firearm, no matter who fires it.

If this all seems too basic and a little overzealous, review it anyway. Post it where you shoot. Better to be paranoid about safety than to let your ego cost a life. Even Hickock45 thinks safety is important enough to produce an entire video about it.

3 Cardinal Virtues of Good Firearms Instructors

Good firearms instructors aren’t all that hard to find if you know how to spot a good one.

Taking on the role of firearms student might be intimidating, but rest assured: it’s intimidating no matter what your level. That’s why it’s so important that Every. Single. Instructor. Continue to be a student on another instructor’s firing line. Here’s how you spot an instructor you want to train with.

Good instructors never stop training

Kathy Jackson of The Cornered Cat knows a thing or two about mindset. While investigating the perspective of a firearms student, she reveals that people often don’t know what they don’t know until they push themselves to learn more. And, there’s always more to learn. Sometimes, students become more advanced learners or even instructors and, at some point, they decide there is no more they can be taught. Those people are dangerous.

Shooting skills are corruptible and perishable. A slight wobble in a solid grip could, with enough “practice,” morph into a really ineffectual grip without a skilled eye applying his or her own best practices to correct it. An instructor’s sloppy re-holster when demonstrating on the line sends the wrong message to his students about re-holstering safely. Every instructor needs to continue to be a student under a variety of good teachers. Anyone who says otherwise has just decided to stop learning and growing as a shooter.

Good instructors understand that practice only reinforces training

Last weekend, I was a student in Karl Rehn’s “Beyond the Basics” class at KR Training. I am always humbled by the opportunity to learn from truly skilled instructors, and to gain a new perspective on training and new techniques that will benefit my students. This class provided ample opportunity for both (as well as helping me figure out that I had developed a bad grip habit that could have really derailed me if Karl hadn’t pointed it out). Karl compares skill development to digging a “hole” in the brain, a sort of a well where you put all the training and practice. These are the skills you’ll revert to when under stress, such as in a defensive situation. The more you practice, the deeper the hole becomes and the more ingrained your shooting skills. For better or worse, when you practice, you’re reinforcing whatever habits you already have. That doesn’t mean you’re improving as a shooter, and it’s disingenuous for an instructor to tell you to practice without telling you what to practice.

Hundreds of round downrange, plus range fees, can get pretty expensive. Spending that money on a couple of hours with a good instructor, however, can help you pinpoint exactly what you need to work on and how to practice most effectively. Sometimes, the exact right practice to reinforce good habits and skills doesn’t even involve range time.

Good instructors are safe instructors

If you don’t have the Four Rules of Gun Safety memorized, post them somewhere in your home so you see them enough that you do. But, that’s not enough. A good instructor spends a good deal of time ensuring that everyone follows the rules, all the time, and then they do the same ad nauseum. If you see an instructor not practicing really annoyingly exaggerated safety habits (H/T April Strong of Holding Strong in Cheyenne, WY), it’s time to find a different instructor. If the teacher doesn’t show respect for the deadly weapons in his or her charge, that’s a failure on the most basic level and points to an overall lack of respect for firearms.

If you’re ever uncomfortable or feel unsafe in a firearms class or on a firing line, don’t be afraid to address it right away, or just leave the area. Your safety trumps any social constraints about rudeness. Be sure you let the instructor or safety officer know why you left or what made you feel unsafe; it’s the only way they’ll have a chance to improve their safety practices for later classes. A good instructor will thank you for bringing it to their attention.

SMART Steps to Getting More Out of Training

What’s your reason for training with firearms?

Here’s how you can apply SMART goal-setting to your pistol training and actually become a better shooter.

What’s your reason for training with firearms?

Maybe you’re a target shooter who wants to improve accuracy or speed. Maybe you’re a competitor looking win competitions. Maybe you’re someone who carries a gun for self-defense, and you’ve realized that hefty responsibility requires training. Maybe you’re an instructor who realizes that training is never finished, and you actively seek to learn more in all disciplines.

Whatever your reason for wanting to improve as a shooter, you had better have one. Not many successful people have gotten there by accident; successful people have a plan of action, and they work to make it happen. Stop waiting for your skills to magically materialize, and instead do the work to improve. Here’s how you can apply SMART goal-setting to your pistol training and actually become a better shooter.

Specific

“Become a better shot” is not a specific training goal. Let’s say you’ve decided that you’re focused on pistol shooting for self-defense purposes. Your goal might be, “shoot 90 percent or better on the Texas LTC qualification test.” Once you’ve determined what your focus is, and you know what it takes to get there, you can more easily set specific, step-wise goals.

Measurable

Obviously, calculating a percentage of your total rounds which hit their mark is a measurable goal. But, what if you “just want to get faster” at drawing from concealment and accurately hitting your mark? That requires a shot timer, and it wouldn’t hurt to take video so you can critique technique and make sure you’re not sacrificing technique and safety as you work to increase speed.

Attainable

It’s unlikely that a new shooter will qualify for an Olympic rifle team in their first year, but placing in the top 20 in a local Steel Challenge match might be realistic with adequate training and practice. For the defense-minded, if you’ve already earned your LTC (License to Carry) in Texas, you should have been required to shoot with 70 percent accuracy in the qualification portion of the class. Improving that score to 90 percent could be realistic with a specific plan of action.

Relevant

Set a goal that’s important to you. Why is improving a qualification score by 20 percent important? Why do you want to increase your target presentation speed from concealment? Both speed and accuracy will benefit anyone interested in carrying a firearm for self-defense. You may (hopefully) never have to employ those skills in real life, but you’ll be more confident and better trained having developed them.

Time-Limited

“Someday” isn’t on any calendar I’ve ever seen. Give yourself a hard deadline for meeting your training goals, and stick with it. Write it on the calendar, and then figure out what halfway to your goal looks like. Write that on the calendar halfway to your deadline. We know through research that practicing skills the right way more frequently works better than infrequent marathon practice sessions, so schedule daily or three-times-weekly practice sessions once you’ve trained and learned those skills.

Set a goal today, and if you need training, set it up now. There are ample opportunities to train with firearms in Central Texas, and we’re working every day to bring you more. Whatever your goal, train SMART, and train for real life.

Prevent Muscle Fatigue and Injury While Training (VIDEO)

Holding your arms out in front of you while shooting a pistol requires lots of muscles working in synchronization, and you need a basic level of fitness to prevent fatigue and injury. We’ve built a workout for that.

Holding your arm out in front of you requires lots of muscles working in synchronization. Add the weight of a pistol and try to hold it steady while you shoot and fight recoil, and you need a basic level of fitness to prevent fatigue and injury. Check out the video below from Destinee of Guns Gear & Fitness to learn more about all the muscles that have to work together when you shoot a pistol. I’ll wait right here.

Shooting strong-hand-only puts particular strain on the muscles of your strong arm, but do an experiment next time you dry-fire or go to the range: get into a good, two-handed shooting stance and take note of what doesn’t feel comfortable. Your weak-hand wrist should be locked out–does that give you a forearm twinge if you hold it for more than a couple of magazines? If you shoot a revolver, there’s actually a thing called “revolver finger,” and even the pros get it. At some point in your shooting, those tiny muscles in your trigger finger that are expected to do all the hard work just…quit…working. Annnd, you’re done shooting for the day.

Gear Check

Start by selecting the firearms that fit your hand, your hand strength and your upper-body strength. Gradually strengthen your body to prevent concussive and repetitive-motion injuries using some basic moves that focus on the muscles you use while shooting. Adjust it to your own needs and fitness level by adding or subtracting reps and weight, and be mindful of existing injuries or limitations. Add cardio, core, and lower body work for a complete fitness regimen. Get help from a certified trainer if you’re unsure how to proceed, and always consult with your doctor before you start a new workout routine. That’s especially important if you’re nursing an injury.

Warm-Up: 25 Arm Circles, 25 Arm Crosses, 25 Wrist Circles (Repeat 2X) Dynamic stretching is the way to warm up cold muscles without risking injury. Make big movements that involve your chest, back, and core, feet directly under your hips. Complete arm circles to warm up the shoulders, then swing the arms wide and “give yourself a hug” to complete arm crosses. Wrist circles warm the forearms and get them ready to work. Speed up the movements as you get warmer, and you’ll get a little cardio warm-up, as well. Do this every time you’re going out to shoot.

Chest, Back: (with dumbbells or canned goods) 25 Chest Flys (on the floor, elbows slightly bent, straight arms going up and back down), 25 Bent-Over Upright Rows. Repeat two times or until your muscles won’t work anymore and are shaky; that’s called muscle failure, and it means you’re pushing your limits and getting stronger.

Stretch It Out: (Goal is to ultimately hold each stretch—no bouncing—for 30 seconds) Extend arms straight back, thumbs up to stretch the pectoral muscles; bend at the waist and round the back to stretch back muscles, slowly rolling up one vertebrae at a time until standing. Roll the shoulders back to complete the stretch, and don’t forget deep breaths to oxygenate and help stretch the back and chest.

Shoulders, Biceps: (with dumbbells, arms as straight as possible) 15 Front Raises, 15 Side Raises, 15 Overhead Presses. Repeat two times or until failure.

Stretch It Out: Put one arm straight out in front of you, then grab it with your other hand above the elbow. Pull it across your chest and hold the stretch. Repeat on the other side. Turn your head to look over each shoulder to increase the stretch.

Forearms: (with dumbbells) Seated, place your forearms on top of your thighs with weights in-hand. Bend your wrists only as you roll the weights up and down for one movement. For greater grip strength, relax your fingers slowly and allow the dumbbell to roll just to the fingertips, keeping them curled to keep from dropping it. Bring the weight back up into your palm by curling your fingers, then lifting your hands to work the wrists and forearms. Complete 10 reps, then stretch by pushing each hand as far back as possible toward the elbow and as far down as possible, without pain. This exercise will help prevent repetitive-motion injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Repeat two times, and increase reps as it gets easier.

Triceps: (with dumbbells) 15 triceps kickbacks (one or both arms), 15 overhead triceps extensions. Repeat two times.

Stretch It Out: Bend each arm at the elbow and try to touch your upper back while keeping gentle traction on your triceps with the opposite hand. Stretch both arms.

Kick It Up a Notch: Complete this workout, adding weight and reps as you get stronger, every other day. Keep your core engaged and tight. On off days, gentle cardio such as walking is your best bet for improving endurance.

Alternative: Walk while carrying weights, pumping arms the whole time.

Always: Drink an ounce of water each day, per pound of body weight.

Source: Beth Moses, personal trainer.

The 3 Cardinal Rules of Dry-Fire Practice

Here are three things you must do every time you dry-fire your unloaded pistol to improve your marksmanship during live fire.

Dry-fire practice is done with an unloaded gun. Check it for open and clear, check and double check that the magazine is empty, and manually clear the chamber before you start. Make sure there’s no live ammo in the same room. Then, treat the weapon like it’s loaded and don’t point it at anyone (even yourself) or anything you’re not willing to destroy. Do not cut corners with safety during dry fire.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Industry experts are all over the place when it comes to dry fire. Some say do it all the time, others say keep your practice real with live fire, and then there are those who argue that you should buy snap caps to prevent damage to the firing pin. We’re not getting into that part of it today. Instead, if you’re into dry-fire practice, here are three things you must do every time you dry-fire your unloaded pistol to improve your marksmanship during live fire.

1. Take It Into Slow-Mo

Slowing down your movements requires that you think about what you’re doing, and any time you’re facing accuracy issues, going into slow-mo can help you pay attention to every little detail so you can correct deficiencies. Start with your foundation (stance), your balance (weight slightly forward), and finally, your draw (from concealment or holster). Going into slow motion with your drawstroke should help you identify any deficiencies, such as sweeping your non-dominant hand or, in the case of drawing from concealment, sweeping to your rear or sides. Stay mindful of every single aspect of your stance, balance, and drawstroke, and don’t practice the draw until you’ve corrected safety and technique issues repetitively. It’s true that practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. Commit each and every little movement to muscle memory.

2. Focus on Sight Picture

Once you’ve established eye dominance and determined what your next-step shooting goals are (speed or accuracy), it’s time to perfect your sight picture. The act of drawing your firearm should always end when you come to an acceptable sight picture. Well, let’s call it an “accurate” sight picture (ASP). When you’re drawing for practice, if you don’t end your draw with an ASP, you’re wasting your time. It doesn’t matter how fast you get if you can’t accurately hit a target after you draw. Get that front sight in focus, target and rear sights blurred, with every draw. Commit that to muscle memory with lots of repetition, paying close attention to proper stance and grip. If you find any of your fundamentals suffering, slow it way down and start over. There’s no need to speed up until you’re drawing flawlessly in slow-mo.

3. “Trouble-Shoot” Trigger Control

Once you’ve come to an ASP without safety or technical errors and you’re happy with your speed, add in a slow-motion dry fire. You can employ snap caps or spent cartridges if you’re worried about wear and tear on your firing pin. You can also balance a spent casing or a penny on your front sight as you maintain your sight picture and complete the trigger pull. If the casing falls, check your grip and finger placement and practice slowly until you can keep the muzzle stable enough to keep the casing from falling. Practice that trigger pull perfectly until you’re ready to add in drawing to ASP, and start the entire movement over again in slow motion. Speed will come with muscle memory, but that takes daily practice.

Perfect practice.

Texas Personal Firearms Training instructors use dry-fire for their own training and practice regimens. Contact us today to customize your training program so you can improve your accuracy and speed in just 15 minutes a day.