Another range day with my son, and once again he asks questions. He has applied for his carry permit, and is asking the relative merits of one type of concealed weapon over another. Revolver or auto… the same question our grandfathers asked eighty years ago. He knows I own examples of both, and have been known to carry either one. He’s shot them himself, but is always looking for more knowledge.
I asked him “Did you see what I was just doing with this Ruger wondernine?”
“Not really….” he responded.
“I was doing a malfunction drill, and it’s something everyone who carries a pistol should practice”.
I then went on to explain that mechanical tools fail, with almost frightening regularity. In a defensive situation, a malfunction of your weapon can be life threatening. Little choice is left to a conscientious gun owner but to practice bringing the inoperative weapon back into service as quickly as possible.
With a revolver, the malfunction drill runs something like this:
Step (2), pull the trigger again till it fires.
Not much goes wrong with revolvers that can’t be solved by just pulling the trigger again. There is no feed cycle to fail, and there are no ejection issues until it’s reloaded. Revolvers do tend to go empty very quickly, but that’s not a malfunction... I suppose.
Automatics (or more accurately semi-automatics) have lots of mechanical things going on once the trigger is pulled; Firing, extraction, ejection, cocking, feeding, chambering, and putting the slide back into battery. A failure of any one of these items means the weapon is out of action. Therefore, it’s in a shooters interest to know how to clear these malfunctions rapidly, and almost instinctively. That means practice with a capital ‘P’ and that rhymes with ‘D’ and that stands for DRILL.
Malfunction drill that is, and in this post it means a ‘Tap and Rack’ drill.
A majority of the things which can go wrong in the functioning of an automatic revolve around the magazine and the ammunition. More often than folks like to admit, a magazine is not fully seated correctly. The magazine release can be inadvertently hit while handling the firearm, letting it drop enough to interrupt proper feeding. Ammunition has its own ills, and failures to feed or fire can often be blamed on the cartridge.
In both cases, a ‘Tap and Rack’ action will often solve the problem and put the weapon back into service. The ‘Tap’ part means smacking the magazine home with the off hand, and the ‘Rack’ part means pulling the slide smartly back and releasing it to chamber a fresh round. Done as a practiced motion both can be accomplished in less than a second, often without even taking the weapon off target.
The drill can be run as part of any normal range practice, simply by inserting plastic action testing dummy cartridges into the mix. These bright orange or red plastic imitations of a cartridge will function in a pistol well enough to feed, chamber, and eject, but naturally they won’t fire. Inserted into the magazine with live cartridges they perfectly simulate a dud round. All the shooter gets is a resounding ‘click’ when trying to fire the dummy, and this is exactly what happens when a bad primer is encountered, or a light hammer/striker fall.
It’s helpful to have a range partner load the magazine and pistol for the shooter, doing so out of the shooters sight. The pistol may have one, two, or no dummies loaded and the shooter hasn’t a clue till they are encountered while firing. The idea is to get past the recognition phase, and past the surprise of a malfunction, moving to clear the problem as a matter of practiced motion. A shooter alone at the range can simply load multiple magazines before hand, some with dummies and some without, and draw them from his shooting bag after mixing them up. Either way, the ‘click’ comes as a surprise.
Here are two videos of a ‘Tap and Rack’ taking place. The first is a drill, with two dummy cartridges placed in the magazine with the live ammunition. The second, a real malfunction due to a magazine latch being released by mistake. In both instances the correction is simple. Smack the magazine home and rack the slide. A ‘Tap and Rack’.
The shooting should still be done on target, with attention paid to hitting the point of aim. Just like any other shooting, the intent is to hit the target. Avoiding a loss of concentration is part of this drill. Two targets fired side by side, one with a Malfunction drill involved and one without, should have comparable groups.
For more information on targets, and good shooting techniques, visit this post by a fellow gun-blogger and fair expert shooter in her own right.