One of my favorite tactical adages is the old “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” What does this proverbial old chestnut have to do with close-range interpersonal violence? Simple, really: In any multi-step process or procedure, we often take the individual segments out of sequence because of the natural tendency to focus on the enjoyable or perhaps more difficult tasks rather than just doing things in the proper order.
The example I’m thinking about today is pistol presentation, i.e., “drawing the gun.” When teaching novices how to fight with a handgun, we always start with the proper presentation. Almost without exception, students give that block of instruction a courtesy nod while obviously thinking, “Yeah, I know it’s important, but when do we get to shoot?”
I cannot disagree that during a gunfight, it’s pretty important to fire quickly and accurately. But you’ll have a difficult time connecting bullet and target if you’re wrestling with a recalcitrant holster or clothing.
Therein lies the lesson for today: before you start thinking about pulling the trigger (cart), make sure you can get your gun onto the target quickly and smoothly (horse).
One common benchmark for self-defense is putting two shots on a close-range target from the holster in 1.5 seconds. After a bit of instruction, most students can meet this criterion without much trouble. Of course they are ready for the fire command, hand hovering near the holster on their belt, gun grip uncovered and unfettered by shirts, jackets, or other distractions.
But let’s look at a real-world situation. You’re sitting at a stoplight when, because of a momentary lapse in your normally impeccable situational awareness, an armed carjacker suddenly approaches from the passenger side and makes it known that he covets your almost-paid-for clunker.
In a split second, after processing all the factors, you make the prudent decision that it’s time to defend yourself with that expensive MasterBlaster 5000XL pistol on your hip.
The problem is that, by the time you pull the gun, you’re way behind the power curve of the encounter because your understandably shaky hand lost a second or two finding the gun in the first place, then you couldn’t get your shirt tail out of the way, and finally the seat belt prevented you from getting a good firing grip prior to pulling the piece.
In the meantime, the dirtbag walked up, yawned, had a good stretch, then fired two shots into your face. It’s “game over” for you due to poor presentation skills rather than mediocre shooting ability.
That is why proper, realistic practice of the presentation is so critical. Whenever you’re on the training range, you must devote a considerable number of repetitions to producing the pistol while wearing your normal everyday clothing and rig.
Right now everyone is nodding their heads and saying, “Ah yes, of course.” However, I’ll give you 50:1 odds that at the next range session, you will wear a holster and clothing combination that makes it really easy to obtain your firearm rather than the shirts, skirts, coats, and other folderol that impede your presentation on an average day.
This is understandable because during your always-too-short time on the shooting range, you want to be cranking the trigger rather than fussing with proper coat-flinging techniques. But that doesn’t make it less important.
Your desire to get into the “meat” of the firing sequence cannot be allowed to override the necessity of practicing the little-regarded skill that is unglamorous yet crucial to saving your life in an emergency.
Fortunately, you can do some things to reinforce good habits without “wasting” any range time.
First, dry fire practice including proper presentation is one of the best ways to smooth out your shooting skills. It can be done nearly anywhere with proper safety precautions and doesn’t cost a dime.
Without the noise, recoil, and pressure from onlookers that occur on a real-world range, you can take time to ingrain good habits and fix those little mistakes and bad habits that always creep into our toolbox.
Second, every day when you put your gun into the holster, make it a habit to safely and properly practice the presentation at least two or three times. This reinforces the movements to make them almost instinctual—a key element to smooth and fast performance under stress.
Third, just go ahead and “waste” that time when you are on the range. Make it a personal and unbreakable rule that at least 25% of your shooting practice takes place using the set-up you normally carry. If that means kneeling 50 or 100 times to reach your ankle holster, so be it.
Likewise, time spent pulling up your shirt, reaching inside your pocket, feeling for the hidden compartment in your purse, or whatever else decreases the likelihood of your getting shot while fruitlessly grabbing your right thigh after forgetting you’re not wearing that racy drop-leg holster you always take to the range is time well spent.
Presentation: it isn’t sexy and you won’t win any come-hither looks from the hot chick in the peanut gallery, but it’s such a foundational part of the shooting process that you’re short-changing yourself if it isn’t a major focus of your training and practice.
If you ignore this advice, we can only hope your undertaker doesn’t get his hearse before the horse. After all, that would be pretty silly.