Here in America, guns are very much a part of our culture. The Second Amendment guarantees us the right to "keep and bear arms;" and while progressive liberals are working overtime to try and find ways to deny us that right, they have been losing the battle in most parts of the country.
That's not to say that they've lost every battle. The ideological gap between blue (Democrat) states and red (Republican) states is growing wider every election, allowing the liberal Democrats to make some headway in pushing their gun control agenda in the states where they have firm control; mostly California, New York and a few more states along both coasts.
But the biggest outcome of the millions of dollars and countless hours they've spent in trying to take away or at least limit our Second Amendment rights has been to encourage people to buy more guns. In fact, of the more than 300 million guns in the hands of U.S. citizens, it looks like somewhere north of 80 million were bought in the 8 years of Obama's presidency. That's an increase of about 25%.
According to the latest statistics out of Gallup, 46% of men and 23% of women in American own guns. Granted, they say there is a fair margin of error in those numbers, as many people who own guns aren't all that quick to admit it.
For most preppers and survivalists, owning guns is as natural as stockpiling food. We think of them as both a means of protecting our families and necessary tools for hunting in the case of an emergency. Many of us have multiple guns in our homes, as no one gun can meet every need. Just trying to cover the basics of defense and hunting requires at least one rifle, one shotgun and one pistol; but two rifles is actually better, as the needs for hunting and defense aren't the same.
But I'm not here to have a discussion about how many guns you need. I want to talk about getting the most out of the guns you have. I am a firm believer in making sure my guns will do what I need them to, and that I can do what I need to, with those guns.
Start with the Shooter
A lot of people try to start out with the gun, but the gun itself isn't anywhere near as important as the shooter. A skilled shooter can do well with just about any gun; but the best gun in the world won't make a poor shooter into a good one.
All too often, we blame our guns for our own failings. I've done it too, and I wouldn't be surprised if you did too. We buy a gun, take it to the range and expect to be able to sign our name on the wall with it. Well, I'm here to tell you that if you want to do wonders with that gun, it's going to take a lot of practice.
The fundamentals of shooting are just that... fundamentals. Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, started out the team's training camp by saying, "Gentlemen, this is a football." He know fundamentals and he knew the importance of them. He didn't say this to novices, he said it to professionals. In fact, professionals who had come within a whisker of winning the previous season's Superbowl.
Get that Trigger Under Control
While all the fundamentals are important, the single most important thing is trigger control. Now, I know I'm probably going to catch a lot of flack about that, because many people think that sight picture is the most important issue, but in fact, more people have trouble with trigger control, than they do with the sight picture. While both can throw your shot off, problems in controlling the trigger can throw it much farther off than a less than ideal sight picture.
The diagram below shows the effect of various types of trigger control problems. Of these, jerking the trigger and anticipating the shot are the most common.
When most shooters have these problems, they tend to blame the gun. Their first thought is to change the sights. But guns fresh from the factory are already sighted in. So they shouldn't be too quick to change them. Instead, they should make sure that they aren't causing their own problems, before moving on to try changing the gun.
I've experience this myself, as I have a tendency to jerk the trigger. After not shooting for a number of years, I found that when I started shooting again, all my shots were low and to the left. But they were consistently that way, so I didn't think I had a trigger control problem. It wasn't until I tried shooting with laser sights on the gun, that I found that I was jerking the trigger. Seeing that red dot move across the target every time I fired a shot was a pretty convincing argument.
The best solution for trigger control problems is lots and lots of dry fire. Dry fire doesn't cost you anything, and you can do it right there in your own home. That saves you the time it would normally take to go to the range. Besides, you don't want to waste a lot of money on ammo, if your shots aren't going to be hitting the center of the target.
Speaking of Dry Fire
Dry fire should be a part of every shooter's practice routine. Besides improving your trigger control, there are a number of things you can practice with dry fire, which most shooting ranges won't want you to practice around other shooters. Things like:
- Drawing and presenting the gun quickly
- Turning and shooting
- Moving and shooting
- Tactical reloading
- Building clearing
- Shooting from unusual positions (laying on your back, kneeling, etc.)
Dry fire allows you to do all of this, and saves you money on ammunition at the same time. Practice of this type does something else for you as well; it prepares you for a real-life shooting event, which is quite different from shooting at a non-moving dot on a piece of paper.
As I mentioned above, using a laser sight during dry fire is useful when you're trying to uncover trigger control problems. Many people are opposed to laser sights, because becoming dependent on them could leave you at risk if the battery goes dead or you have to use a gun which doesn't have a laser sight on it.
While I'm talking about laser sights, let me mention two things. I have laser sights on my pistols, and while I do most of my practice with the iron sights, there are two things that laser sights are very good for. The first is people with poor vision. Unless I am wearing my computer glasses, I can't focus on the front sight of a pistol. So in those cases, I'm actually better off with the laser sight, as my glasses focus at long range just fine.
The other thing they are useful for times when you need to keep your eyes downrange. Sometimes, you need to see what is happening. Focusing on your front sight can make that difficult. With a laser sight, your eyes are on your target and everything that's going on around them.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you want to get good with your guns, then you're going to have to shoot them a lot; there's no two ways about it. This is especially true of pistol shooting, although it also applies to shooting rifles and shotguns as well.
Few hunters do much practicing with their guns. Yet they go out every year, expecting to get their deer, duck, pheasant or whatever. But because they haven't practiced, their shots don't always go where they want. Their nervousness and the adrenalin flowing through their system cause them to be off just enough that their "sure shot" misses.
That becomes much more real when it's an armed bad guy you're facing, rather than a prize-winning deer. The average person loses about 80% of their shooting ability in an active shooter situation; which means that you have to be really good to stand a chance of actually hitting that bad guy. On the average, trained police officers only hit their target with about one out of three shots they fire. What makes you think you'll do better?
One of the key things you're looking for is to be able to hold a small group, while firing rapidly. The picture on the right is one of my recent targets. That's 30 rounds of 9mm ammo at a range of 7 yards, shooting timed rapid fire (one second per shot). I was able to hold it to a 2-1/2" group that time. While I've shot smaller groups than that, those were slow fire. This is the best I've done in rapid fire.
In an active shooting situation, that 2-1/2" group would probably be five times as big; 12-1/2". But what if I was shooting a 6" group? Then that would turn into a 30" group in that same active shooting situation. Training to the point where you can get a small group is valuable; it means that when things go south, your group will hopefully still be fairly small, improving your chances of hitting the bad guys.
When we're talking practice, we can't limit ourselves to just target practice. Shooting at targets is important, because that's how you increase your speed and accuracy. But that's really only a starting point. Once you become proficient in shooting at those targets, you need to do some tactical shooting too.
Many shooting ranges offer tactical shoots. These are run as a competition, where you are shooting against the clock. A scenario is established, with multiple targets, set up to look like a real-life active shooting situation. Shooters are graded on both speed and accuracy, with accuracy being more important than speed.
Some of the elements you might find in one of these tactical shoots include:
- Multiple targets
- Targets at different heights or angles
- Low light shooting
- Shooting at moving targets
- Shooting while moving
- Using cover and concealment
- Shooting at targets which are using cover and concealment
- Hostages - don't shoot them!
- Shooting with poor footing or from unaccustomed positions
- Shooting with your off hand
Let me warn you right now, the first time you go to one of these events, you'll feel like a fool. Rather than showing everyone how good a shot you are, you'll end up showing them that you can't hit the broad side of a barn, even when someone points the barn out to you. It's a lot harder than you might think; but it provides you with some excellent training.
Stick with it. It took me a year of going to tactical shooting events every week, to get to the point where I had risen from the bottom of the pack, to the middle. I still haven't gotten to the point I'd like, but I have much more confidence that I will be able to perform as needed, if the need ever arises.
Where's Your Gun?
If you are using your guns for self-defense, then one of the most important elements, after training, is where your gun is. The vast majority of gun owners keep their guns in a nightstand, their closet or if they have enough guns to warrant it, in a gun safe.
Okay, so how much good will those guns do you, when someone kicks open your door? You'll have about a second and a half to react in that situation. If your guns are in your bedroom and you're sitting in your favorite recliner, watching the game, those guns are nothing more than expensive paper weights. They won't do you the least bit of good at all.
While it might sound a bit extreme, the only place a gun really does you any good is on your body; at least where self-defense is concerned. If you have to get it out of a dresser drawer, the console of your car or a secret stash behind an oil painting, you may not be able to get to it in time.
The best solution, of course, is to get a concealed carry license and keep a gun on you all the time. While not everyone can do that, it does offer you the best protection you can get. But even if you can't get a license to carry concealed, you might want to consider carrying at home. Many states allow that, even without a license.
While you might feel a little funny about carrying a gun at home, home invasions are on the rise. Even worse, the type of criminals who are committing those home invasions can best be described as amateurs. That means that they are much more likely to kick a door open, when the family is at home, than a professional thief, raising the danger level considerably. That makes the need to carry a gun at home all that much more real, even if it does make you uncomfortable at first.
Of course, once you get used to carrying a gun, whether because you've gotten a concealed carry permit or because you've decided to carry at home, you'll feel like you're half naked when you don't have it. Carrying that gun becomes a part of you and a part of the persona you project to those around you.
Before going on, let me add one final statement about carrying a gun. While I am a big advocate of our Second Amendment rights, I also believe that there are some people who should not carry a gun. These people fall into several different categories, such as:
- Those who couldn't pull the trigger, if a family member is being attacked
- Those who don't practice
- Those who have anger problems (anger and guns don't mix well)
- Those who are mentally or emotionally unstable
Only you can decide if you are capable of carrying a gun, without putting yourself and others at risk. This is a serious responsibility and it shouldn't be taken lightly. A concealed carry license only gives you the right to carry, nothing else. You can't use the gun to stop arguments or to deal with someone's road rage. You can only use it to protect life, limb and in some cases, property.
Get Your Guns Ready
Most people keep their guns as they are, right out of the box. While any firearm manufactured by a reliable manufacturer will work well right out of the box, that doesn't mean that the factory has done everything they can to make it the best it can be. Some modifications are costly, so are avoided. Others aren't needed by every shooter. Still others reflect the designers' ideas about gun safety.
Personally, I modify all my guns, making them truly mine. In doing so, I seek to make the gun the best that it can be, taking into consideration how I will use the gun, the size of my body, and my personal shooting style. Rifle and shotgun stocks for example, use a standard size stock, which has been designed for the "average" sized shooter. That means that it isn't quite rite for somewhere around 99% of the population.
The starting point for any gun modifications has to be your intended purpose for that particular firearm. Modifications which might be ideal for hunting, could cause problems if you use it for home defense. Some "military" modifications you might make to a gun you plan on using for home defense might make it illegal to use it for hunting.
One of the most important modifications you can make to any firearm is to adjust the trigger. Guns come from the factory with a preset amount of trigger pull. For pistols, this is usually 5 to 6 pounds. That's a fairly descent preset, giving balance between safety and control, but it isn't idea.
It's a known fact that a lighter trigger pull makes it easier to shoot accurately, because that light trigger pull will help the shooter avoid the aforementioned trigger control problems. That's why competition firearms pretty much always have very light trigger pulls, unless they are used in a competition which has a required minimum trigger pull.
The flip side of that coin is that a lighter trigger pull means that it is easier to fire the gun accidentally. For this reason, most manufacturers raise the power required to pull the trigger. But if you're interested in accuracy, you might want to consider modifying your gun to improve the trigger pull. This involves:
- Modifying the spring (bending it), for pistols like the 1911
- Changing parts, as in the Glock family of pistols, for which there is an aftermarket trigger bar, which drops the trigger pull down from 5 pounds to 3.5 pounds
- Changing springs, as in the Springfield XD and XDS pistols. An aftermarket spring kit drops the trigger pull from 6 pounds to 4.5 pounds.
In addition to lightening the trigger pull, it is always a good idea to give any firearm a "trigger job." This entails taking the firing mechanism apart and polishing all mating metal surfaces, so that the trigger pulls more smoothly. Even without changing the trigger pull, this goes a long way towards making the gun easier to fire accurately.
Pretty much all guns come with standard iron sights, which are sighted in at the factory. While those are usable, there are several reasons to replace them or add to them, in order to make the firearm easier to use, especially in adverse situations.
For hunting big game, the addition of a telescopic sight is just about mandatory. In most cases, the game that you would be shooting isn't close enough to shoot accurately with iron sights. However, for rifles used for home defense, a scope is not only useless, but makes the rifle harder to use. At close range, scopes make it hard to see anything.
In that situation, the rifle is best equipped with a red dot sight. This is a single point aiming device, which projects a dot (hence the name red dot) onto a clear screen that the shooter is looking through. This makes it faster to shoot accurately, since there are only two things to align (the sight and the target), than shooting with iron sights, which require the alignment of three things (the front sight, rear sight and target).
Red dot sights are also available for shotguns and pistols, giving the same advantages for either of those categories of firearms. While primarily intended for military or home defense situations, those sights also make it easier to shoot birds on the wing, when hunting.
For pistols intended for personal or home defense, I always replace the existing sights with tritium sights. Tritium is a radioactive material, which glows in the dark; so tritium sights are ideal for shooting in low-light situations, where it would otherwise be all but impossible to see the sights of the pistol.
Sometimes, the gun's factor controls can be a little difficult to work with. Some might be too small to reach comfortably or not provide a good grip. Many of the most popular gung on the market, especially pistols and the AR-15, have after-market controls available, which improve the shooting experience. These include such things as:
- Extended magazine releases
- Extended slide releases
- Replacement triggers and associated linkage
- Different hammers
Selecting these options is very much a personal choice. I put an extended slide release and an extended magazine release on my Glock 17, because the addition of a Crimson Trace laser sight made the pistol's handle larger. With it, I couldn't reach those controls easily enough for tactical shooting. Changing them made it possible for me to manipulate the controls, without having to move my hand on the grip.
As I mentioned earlier, the stocks of long guns are made for an "average" sized person. But chances are, you and I aren't that average size. Cutting the stock off to fit your shoulder better will not only make the gun more comfortable to shoot, but actually improve your accuracy. For the opposite problem, if you need a longer stock, simply add a thicker shoulder pad.
You might want to get some expert advice about what size stock you need on your guns, before doing this. Cutting off a stock is a rather permanent change, requiring the replacement of the stock to rectify, if you cut off too much.
The size of the grips on a pistol is an issue as well. Some pistols, like the Gen 4 Glocks, have replaceable backstraps, which allow the grip's size to be adjusted. Other pistols, like the 1911, allow for the replacement of the side pieces with others, which can be either thicker or thinner, as needed to adjust the gun's size to your hand. If nothing else, you can use a wrap-around, to thicken the grip to fit your hand.
Alternate magazines are becoming more and more popular, with many manufacturers providing more than one magazine capacity for their products, especially for pistols. Concealable pistols typically have a very small capacity, around five rounds, due to their small size. An alternative magazine, with a seven round capacity might be available.
For other pistols and rifles, you can find large capacity magazines, some which hold 32 rounds and others holding up to 100 rounds. In an extreme home defense situation, that large magazine would be useful, as it would save you reloading time. However, you've got to take into consideration the weight of the rounds, which is considerable for that large a magazine.
More importantly, you need to have extra magazines. The whole idea of a firearm magazine is to save you time reloading. If you don't have spare loaded magazines on hand, then you may as well be shooting a revolver. Buy as many as you think you'll need in a worst case scenario and then buy a couple more.
Police SWAT teams use tactical lights on their firearms. These allow them to go into a darkened building and light it up, while still having both hands free for their guns. However, those lights also make excellent aiming points for the bad guys, so they aren't perfect. There is a risk involved in using one.
The right way to use a tactical light is to use it momentarily, to provide you with an image of what's in the room you are entering. Immediately afterwards, the light should be turned off and you should move a few feet to one side. That way, if anyone shoots at the light, they'll be shooting where you were, not where you are.
Since using a tactical light entails some risk, some people choose to go without. But if you decide to use a tactical light, it's best to have it mounted to your gun. That way, both hands can be on the gun, increasing your accuracy. If you have to be holding the light with one hand, that leaves only one to hold the gun, with the associated lowering of your stability and accuracy.