20 August 2012

Moving Beyond the Three (or Four) Rules

Safety is the mantra on every range, for every kind of shooting event. Whether you subscribe to the three NRA rules or the four Cooper rules, these rules are the foundation of everything we do behind a gun. Simply being able to recite them isn't enough, though. We need to be able to understand, internalize and integrate the rules into our instinctive handling of firearms. Part of the grace and beauty of an experienced shooter is that safety is a natural part of every movement they make around a gun.

It's the bone-deep understanding of where the muzzle is pointed at all times, no matter how the body is positioned or where it's moving. It's always knowing where your trigger finger is and what it's doing so that you never fire except with intention. It's the comfort to keep that muzzle in a safe direction even if it means shifting to a one-handed pistol grip around a tight corner or subconsciously shifting a slung rifle a few inches when someone else joins a conversation between relays. It's training your body to default to indexing a gun, any gun (even a hot glue gun) unless you are ready to shoot. It's the unbreakable habit of controlling the muzzle even when taking a tumble or having hot brass leave blistering burns.

And it all starts very simply - with knowing the rules as something more than a chant to be parroted before a range session or match. Spend some time thinking about what it is the rules boil down to, then practice them not only on the range but off. Pick up that hair dryer with your finger indexed. Air gun while you dance down the hallway of your home, keeping your air muzzle pointed in your designated safe direction. Spend some of your safe dry fire time making a point of always picking up your gun with your trigger finger indexed and experimenting with how you can move while keeping your gun pointed safely. As safe handling becomes more and more natural to you, you'll find that you too will start to look like that experienced shooter you've been admiring at the range.


  1. "... bone-deep understanding of where the muzzle is pointed at all times, no matter...."

    Dead on Annette. It HAS to be integrated almost to the DNA level. This came home to me very vividly a couple of weeks ago.

    Down here in Texas, we don't have a lot of ranges with a wood chip base. I was shooting at a club in northern NY with such a range. Some folks have said I might be just a "touch" competitive. ;-) As I went to leave a position of cover, my afterburners kicked in... but with no real traction on the wood chips. Kinda funny how time slows down at that point. I could feel myself about to do a face plant.

    The interesting part of all of this was what went through my mind.

    Not - "You are gonna have splinters all over your forehead."

    Not - "Put your hands out and break your fall."

    Not - "Gawd how can I fall on my face like this in front of my main sponsor."

    No, the ONLY thought going through my mind was "KEEP THE MUZZLE POINTED DOWN RANGE!"

    It was so ingrained into my thinking it was all I could focus on.

    After bouncing a couple of times, THEN I could think about getting back into the fight. Range safety and the safety of everyone around me was my only focus.

    This would have never happened if I hadn't worked so hard at ALWAYS being aware of the direction of my muzzle. It's something that ALL shooters must make a part of their every training session.

    Turns out the only thing injured was my ego. And it will recover. That makes it a good day regardless of the score.

    Ok.. there might have been a flash of a thought from Keanu Reeves from "The Replacements"... "Chicks dig scars...." :-D

    Terry "Bubba" Burba
    IDPA Tiger Teams

    1. I'm glad you're ok after that fall! I had a similar moment in a blind run through the "Jungle Trail" at a pistol class I took a few years back. I tried to run uphill on the trail and ended up flat on my face after catching a toe on a tree root, but my muzzle stayed in a safe direction...I even managed to keep it out of the dirt. I was embarrassed I fell, but my "win" for the day was realizing I was able to fall while staying safe and keeping my gun usable. The rest was just bonus.

  2. Very well put Annette. Safety is goal #1 at all times. During the 2010 postal match I watched in horror as a new shooter took her first shots on her first stage. She made an error on the sequence of the targets, and her responce was to throw both hands in the air and yell "Oh crap". Meanwhile everyone behind her had hit the deck and the SO had immediatly removed the gun from her hand, and kindly asked her to refrain from shooting the rest of the match. She did pack up and go home, and was never seen again. I know that not everyone does not have time to attend a class, but that is why I teach my Intro to IDPA for free. Just to get the new shooter familiar with the rules, and with SAFETY!

    1. Wow. That's a terrifying story and a great example of 'what not to do'! I'm sad she didn't come back, though, and hope she understands that if she was able to learn from that experience and not keep making similar mistakes, nobody would have held that first stage against her forever.