The BEST Pistol Shooting Technique

Ox here…This article is going to blend an important life lesson with shooting in general and pistol shooting in particular and I’m sure it’ll ruffle some feathers. I guarantee it’ll be entertaining and educational.

There’s a school of thought in pistol training that you want to pick and use techniques that will work on several different platforms, regardless of which pistol you primarily shoot. You may not know which gun you’re going to have with you when disaster strikes and you may find yourself in a situation where you have to use a buddy’s gun or even your attacker’s gun.

It’s along the same lines of the saying that people should be a “Jack of all trades, but master of none.”

But did you know that the quote is almost ALWAYS stated wrong?

Others may have said it that way, but Benjamin Franklin said, “Jack of all trades, master of ONE” and I tend to agree with a lot of what old Ben said.  More than that, there’s a big (sometimes life changing) difference, as we’ll soon see.

The “Jack of all trades” argument is one of the major arguments that people make for not using the slide stop to release the slide forward on reloads…it’s not in the same place on all pistols and if you have to pick up another gun and fight with it, you might push in the wrong spot when you’re trying to reload.

Here’s how one Marine Special Operations Command Chief Instructor put it to me: “The point of teaching a reload technique that works on all pistols, every time, without fail, is to provide the shooter with a technique that is fool proof.”

I respect the guy a ton and I get what he’s saying. He loves his guys and wants them to live through every encounter they face.  And he’s using a very popular line of thinking that a lot of instructors who I have tremendous respect for agree with, but it happens to be a line of thinking that sounds good on the surface but doesn’t mesh with reality.

There’s 2 big reasons why. I’ll tell you what they are quick, and then explain them…

  1. Different guns are…wait for it…different. Grip angles, grip widths, safety/no safety, mag release position, mag release action, and slide stop placement are different from pistol to pistol. There is no effective reload technique that works on all pistols, every time, without fail.
  2. If you do go with the least-common-denominator approach and use techniques that work on most pistols, most of the time, you will never truly master the pistol you spend the most time shooting.

Let me show you a couple of pictures to illustrate what I’m talking about. What I’ve got below (from top to bottom) are an H&K USPc, a Sig P220, and a Glock 17. In the first picture, I highlight grip angles.

hk sig glock grip angle (Small)

As you can see, the grip angles are all slightly different. You can also see from this picture that the H&K has an external safety that you may or may not need to disengage.

glock vs hk mag release

As shown above, the mag release is in a different position and takes a completely different movement on the H&K than on the Sig or the Glock.

glock vs sig mag release

Even though the mag release is in relatively the same position on the Sig and Glock, the grip is enough different that I, personally, can depress the mag release with my thumb on the Glock without moving the gun in my hand but have to rotate the Sig to hit the mag release.

hk uspc sig p220 glock 17 slide stop

Want to use the slide stop method on a gun you pick up? Well, if you practice with the Glock, your muscle memory will carry over to the H&K, but, as shown above, you’ll just be hitting the decocker on the Sig.

So what’s the answer?

Fortunately, we have a well proven model to follow. It follows Ben Franklin’s sage advice and it happens to be the model that every law enforcement agency, military branch, and military unit that I know of uses for carbines:

  1. Master YOUR gun.
  2. Be familiar with as many other guns as possible.
  3. Master other guns.

For you Marines, “Full Metal Jacket” fans, and military history buffs, you’re probably reminded of the poem from Major General William H. Rupertus (USMC, Retired) written following the Pearl Harbor attacks. I’ll paraphrase…

“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

…I must master it as I master my life.

…Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel.”

When a military or law enforcement school is teaching students to shoot a rifle, they master one platform before moving on. When they’re learning how to manipulate the M4/AR15, they focus on the controls on that particular platform. They don’t teach universal techniques that also work on the AK47, Tavor, FN-FAL, etc.  They master the platform that they’re going into battle with, get familiar with other weapons that they’re likely to encounter, and master those weapons as time permits.

It’s a proven model for carbines and it works for pistols as well.

So, what’s that mean?

I want to suggest a couple of things to you that you can take or leave.

First, until you have achieved the level of mastery that you want with a single pistol, try to focus all of your practice time on that one single pistol. There are slight differences, but I’d consider sub-compact, compact, and full size versions of the same pistol (Glock 17, 19, & 26) as “one pistol” and I’d also consider different calibers of the same pistol (Glock 26 & 27) as “one pistol”.

When you jump around from gun to gun before you get the chance to master one, it keeps you from ever being as good with any gun as you could be. Focus on one and then…

Once you’ve mastered one pistol, branch out as much as you want. As the pictures demonstrate, I’m all for shooting a variety of guns when the time is right :) I must admit that I did this wrong for many years. I was a good shooter, but didn’t start making huge leaps in my shooting ability until I focused on a single gun.

Second, consider learning and practicing the technique that is most effective for the gun that you’re most likely to use rather than a general technique that will work “ok” on most guns. Don’t throw out a technique that works great on your gun—the gun that you’ve got a 99+% chance of having in your hand in a high stress situation–just to have a technique that may work better 1% of the time.

With the reload in particular, I use the slide stop to release the slide any time I’m running a Glock. Any time I’m running another pistol, I rack the slide.

How’s this apply to the rest of your life?

I want to encourage you to pick out a skill that you want to master. It could be something around firearms, fire-craft, billiards, chess, singing, playing an instrument, poetry, negotiating, parenting, defusing arguments, being a great spouse, memorization, etc. Pick something that you can be passionate about and dive into with reckless abandon. Master it and keep going, but then pick something else to learn.


For one, it will make you more happy. When you focus on doing things that you love and do them often enough that you switch from having to think about them consciously to having them be an unconscious skill, your brain releases more dopamine and endorphins when you do them. Once you’re able to unconsciously perform a skill, your brain opens up, creativity flourishes, and then you start being able to do truly amazing things.

Something else that you’ll find is that you’ll master the 2nd thing that you want to master much faster than it took you to master the first.  Again, this causes you to release more dopamine and endorphins and be generally more happy.

Here’s a tactical example.

One of the true pioneers and innovators in SWAT tactics told me a story about one of his guys who’d done hundreds of tactical entries in the US and overseas. They were serving a warrant on a violent offender who was known to be paranoid and armed. He entered the house and the guy was 6-8 feet from him with a 1911 in his hand, pointed at the floor. The bad guy raised the pistol and appeared to flip off the safety, but the officer didn’t fire. Instead, he crossed the room, front kicked the bad guy in the chest, took him out of the fight, cuffed him, and took him in without a shot being fired.

But how and why did he do that?

The “why” is fascinating. As the officer entered the room, he saw and processed not only the brand and model of the 1911, but also that the hammer was down and that it wasn’t able to fire, so he crossed the room, DIDN’T shoot the bad guy, and planted a foot in his chest in the time that it took the bad guy to raise the gun, flip his thumb down, and press the “dead” trigger.

How did he do it? He was so comfortable from being in past high stress situations and doing dynamic entries until he mastered them that he was completely in “the zone” and his subconscious was driving the action. The subconscious sees 10x more frames per second and is able to process 10,000-1 million times faster than the conscious mind.

And the way you get to this same point where you can experience these bursts of creative genius is by picking something you want to master and sticking with it until you do.

It doesn’t mean you can’t still be a Jack of all trades…just pick one to master.

It’ll make you happier and it might even help you earn more.

Questions?  Comments?  How are the controls on your gun(s) different?  Any crazy/unbelievable experiences that you’ve had like the officer’s?  Sound off by commenting below…

Ox out.

Ox is the co-creator of:

Tactical Firearms Training Secrets
Dry Fire Training Cards
Force Recon 30-10 Pistol
Navy SEAL Concealed Carry Masters Course


Top 10 Reasons You Should Shoot Competitively

Ox here…Summer is almost here, and along with it, there will be thousands of opportunities across the country to compete in local, regional, and national shooting sports events that can make you a better defensive shooter.

Specifically, IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) matches, USPSA (US Practical Shooting Association) matches, and/or 3-gun/multi-gun matches are all great opportunities to hone your skills and rapidly improve your skills with a life saving tool.

If you’re currently shooting competitive matches, this article will give you ammo when you’re trying to convince friends and relatives to join you.  If you’re new to competitive shooting, it should give you such an irresistible desire to start competing that you find a local match and write it on your calendar in the next 10 minutes :)

Are competitive shooting matches perfect training tools for self-defense? Nope, it’s a compromise. But I maintain that ALL training is compromise. Unless you happen to be doing training with live ammo against determined attackers (which isn’t a very sustainable practice) you’re going to make compromises to one degree or another.

But shooting competitive matches will help you in many ways as a shooter, including:

  1. Handling stress/stress inoculation: There is virtually no threat of being harmed in competition like there is in a real self-defense situation, but people still get worked up, dump adrenaline, and get the shakes at the thought of performing in front of other people, being on the clock, and knowing that their scores will be posted at the end.Shooting competitively won’t get you ready for combat or self-defense on it’s own, but it is a great way to dip your toes into the process of inoculating your mind to stress and training it to perform under stress.  It won’t take long before you figure out how to get control mentally, conserve your adrenaline, and dump the jitters and nerves.  This is a great step to having more control in real life shooting situations.
  2. Refining your technique: Failure at a match is AWESOME! Any time you get to find a part of your technique that fails in competition, it gives you a chance to fix it so that it doesn’t happen in a self-defense situation when it counts.Shooting competitively will help you quickly figure out what works and what doesn’t for holsters, concealment, reload techniques, support hand shooting, 1 handed shooting, moving while shooting, and more.
  3. Encourages practice: Competition encourages practice. Almost everyone wants to perform well in front of others and nobody wants to keep making the same mistakes in front of others. This feedback loop creates internal pressure to make positive change, i.e. practice.Husbands…keep in mind that your wife may practice to shoot better at the next match even when she won’t practice to be able to save her own life.  Why?  There’s no set date and time for when she’ll be attacked, but there IS a date and time for the next match.Practice, and lots of it, is what it takes to move a skill from being head knowledge that you consciously know from a class, book, video, or course to being a conditioned response that you can execute unconsciously under stress and anything that gets you to practice more is a good thing.
  4. Accountability: If you’re going to be shooting a competitive match with people you know every month, every 2 weeks, or every week, you know that if you don’t pick up your gun, airsoft, or SIRT between matches and practice, you won’t do as well as the people who do practice. Just like with self-defense…excuses don’t matter and only results count.This accountability will give you positive, constructive pressure to keep improving as a shooter.  You may not practice to prepare to save your life, but looking good in front of others might be enough of an incentive.
  5. Non-standard shooting positions and situations: Most ranges won’t let you do anything close to “realistic shooting.” You can’t draw, can’t draw from concealment, can’t turn, change elevations, move laterally, advance or retreat, find cover, use cover, lay down, roll around, sit up, shout, engage multiple targets, engage moving targets, or shoot more than 1 round per second. Many of these are standard fare in sport shooting.  We address this issue with Dry Fire Training Cards, but doing it with live fire is another step in the right direction. Don’t get me wrong…square, static shooting ranges are incredibly valuable and serve a vital role in getting people to the point where they can successfully defend themselves in a life or death situation with a gun, but you don’t want to be learning, practicing, or brushing up on these other dynamic skills in a life or death situation.
  6. Increases confidence: One of the most exciting things for me to see is new (and long time) shooters maturing as shooters over the course of a few short matches. It’s amazingly common for first time competitive shooters to be nervous, scared, and have a lot of self-doubt.I see this especially with female shooters. (which is the most important segment of firearms owners & shooters–I’ll get to this in a second) Every match I’ve ever been to has had more men than women, and most women come with their husband or boyfriend. So, besides the pressure that men feel when starting out in the shooting sports, women feel that they need to represent other women, don’t want to embarrass their husband, and want to impress their husband. Most don’t have the history, familiarity, and training that their male counterparts do, and they’re usually a little more nervous, shaky, and unsure…at first.But once they get into a groove, their technique and comfort with the gun RAPIDLY gets smoother, they get more disciplined in their execution, they start trusting the sights and shooting faster and more accurately, and start having FUN! In the process, they get a lot more capable of using a firearm to level the field and stop violent threats from bigger, faster, and stronger attackers.

    Oh…one other thing…a lot of times they end up out-shooting their husbands within a few matches, and it makes the husbands smile from ear to ear.

  7. Increases safety knowledge: Go to almost any range in the US, almost any day of the week, and you’ll see people with more guns than brain cells when it comes to safety. They point their gun(s) at themselves and others without ever realizing how dangerous they’re being. Usually, they think it’s fine with an “unloaded” gun or they say, “I’ve been shooting for 30, 40, 50 years and never had an accident…don’t tell ME how to be safe!” or “My uncle’s 2nd wife’s brother’s best friend did stuff in Vietnam and trained me. I don’t need the stupid rules on the sign.”In short, a lot of shooters have unrealistic thoughts in their heads about what is and is not safe with a gun. It’s reflected in their bad habits or lack of good habits. Many times they develop their gun handling habits hunting or shooting in rural, isolated locations and these habits don’t work at a range with people around.Competitive shooting helps people learn gun safety knowledge, and safer gun handling habits. Every shooter is held to the standard of, “handle your gun safely or be sent home.” At matches, you get to watch disciplined safe gun handling behavior that you can model and practice. And, if you screw up, you get immediate feedback and correction so that you don’t make the same safety mistake again.
  8. Makes shooting fun: Technically speaking, there are a lot of dopamine and endorphins released during competitive shooting events. (and most people don’t get enough of either) This creates a positive feedback loop that gains momentum the more you compete. Competing in a match leads to wanting to dry fire more. Doing more dry fire practice helps you do better the next match. And the more times you complete the cycle, the better your skills will be if you ever need to use your firearm to defend yourself.For people who have guns primarily for concealed carry, self-defense, and home defense, guns can be looked at with a sense of dread…especially if they always train seriously and envision dark situations where someone trying to kill them every time they practice. There’s a place for that, but shooting sports help shooters develop a positive mental relationship with the gun that increases the effectiveness of training and carries over to self-defense situations.
  9. Good for all ages: My 5 year old runs stages at home with a laser gun and with a Nerf gun (no running and gunning for real yet). I’ve seen 10 year olds compete at adult matches with .22s. I regularly shoot with people in their 60s and older. It’s the only martial art/sport that I know of where you can have kids, parents and grandparents compete against each other and all have fun.
  10. Healthy competitive outlet: For any of you who played and enjoyed competitive sports, the desire to compete never goes away. It hides under the surface…suppressed and controlled…but it always wants to come out. Many people don’t have a way to tap into the feelings you get when you compete. The excitement of anticipation, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the re-release of happy brain chemicals when you relive the experiences during the following days and even weeks.Shooting sports gives this to you without the chance of injury that comes with many other sports, including martial arts and most ball sports.And, 2 bonus reasons…
  11. Gets women passionate about shooting: I value firearms ownership and the ability of guns to level the playing field between good moral people and evil people who selfishly use violence to impose their will on others.As a result, I’m always trying to help women start shooting and shoot more. Why? Two big reasons…First, guns empower women. Evil cultures and evil people have suppressed women since the beginning of time. Cute sayings, positive mental attitude, power thoughts, pants suits, posturing, and verbal skills don’t do crap against evil. As US Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle said, “Despite what your mama told you, violence DOES solve problems.” There are few, if any, times in life for most people where violence is appropriate, but when it is appropriate, it’s the ONLY path to a positive solution. If you’ve been following me for long, you know that this is why I’m such a strong proponent of the Target Focus Training unarmed combatives program, and it’s also why I feel so strongly about getting women comfortable with the use of firearms.

    Comfort with a gun takes women from a victim mentality or even a “refuse to be a victim” mentality to a state of mind where they are comfortable, confident, and in control…even in sketchy situations.

    Second, women are the future of firearms. In most families women control how time and money are allocated…either directly or indirectly. If we get moms involved in the shooting sports, the next generation will get involved too. In addition, the kids’ real-life experiences with guns will supersede the negative messaging that they get bombarded with from ignorant, uneducated, and negatively biased TV, movies, school, books, and friends.

Can you pick up bad habits competing? Yes. There are no bullets or bad guys coming at you and there’s no pain feedback for being too aggressive, going around a corner too quickly, missing a threat, or making other bad decisions. That being said, for most people, most of the time, it’s a great training tool. And if you’re far enough along in your gun training to see that you’re developing bad tactical skills to pick up a few seconds in competition, you’re far enough along in your gun training to train for both.

Want to know what a stage looks like? Here’s me shooting Stage 2 of the IDPA Indoor National Championships earlier this year (please hit the “thumb’s up” button in the upper right corner if you like it):

This stage was fun to shoot, but you can see that I shot it “competitively” and not “tactically.”

If you currently are a competitive shooter, I want to encourage you to invite others into our sport as often as you can and make newcomers welcome when they are checking out the shooting sports.

With that in mind, are you currently competing or do you plan on doing competitive shooting this summer? If so, what kind? IDPA, USPSA, multi-gun, all of the above? What would you recommend to a newcomer & why? Sound off by commenting below:

And, if you’re looking for 50 of the most effective dry fire drills that you can do at home that will help you with both self defense and competition, check out Dry Fire Training Cards.  While you’re there, check out the daily SIRT laser training pistol giveaway that we’re doing for the next few days.

Visual Perception Delay and In-The-Back Shootings

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FLIR PS24 Thermal, PVS 14 NVG, ATN THOR Thermal

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Chris Kyle/Larry Yatch American Sniper Benefit

If you haven't seen American Sniper yet, it's an awesome movie and I strongly encourage you to see it. Here's a quick TV interview that my friend, Retired Navy SEAL, Larry Yatch recently did about his tour on Team 3 with Chris and about the movie: I got to spend some time with Larry in Vegas at SHOT this week and we had a chance to swap stories about Chris.  To be clear, we had very different relationships with Chris.  Larry went to war with Chris and they were close friends/brothers.  … Continue reading...