When most people hear the word practice, their thoughts immediately revert to repetitive evolutions they’ve done numerous or even countless times. And let’s face it, that’s what practice is: repeating what you already know. That’s why Chris, Tom, and I like to use the word training because we immediately think of things we can do to make it better than the last time, what new skill can we learn, what new tactic can we implement to make this training session a crystallizing event. An event that an operator, police officer, or civilian who enjoys shooting can look back on and use in an actual operation, traffic stop, or on the street self-defense situation. I always laugh when I hear the quote, “those who can’t; teach”. The people that say this don’t understand the importance of training, and more importantly the importance of the men and woman who literally devote themselves, their experiences, their knowledge, and their time to make you or your team that much better, that much more ready, that much more precise, that much more reliable, that much more unique, that much more skilled, and that much more highly trained.
Left-handedness is a Genetic Defect
Okay, okay, I’m stepping off the ammo box and getting down to the topic of this article. In my last article I wrote about the importance of non-conventional weapons transitions (pistol to back-up pistol, and non-lethal weapon to pistol) and training at the range in the various weapons transitions situations you can reasonably find yourself in. Now for another shooting situation that many people neglect, yet can find themselves in during an exchange of gunfire…shooting with your support-hand, unsupported. Meaning if you’re right-handed, having the ability or skill set to shoot with your left hand with no support from your right hand (vice-versa if you’re predominantly left-handed). I know many people use the term “weak-hand”, but the mind is a powerful thing and I don’t want to start off with the assumption that any part of my shooting platform is “weak.” That’s why we like to either talk about our support-hand (it supports what we’re doing) or our reaction-hand (it reacts to things so our other hand can remain on fire control). If you do have a “weak-hand”, keep reading and I’ll give you some ideas on how to make your weak hand strong! Also, as not to focus on right or left-handed shooters and be bias, I’ll use the terms strong and support-hand to keep it simple. But I remember reading somewhere that left-handed people live on average like seven years shorter than right-handed…..so if you’re a southpaw I’m sorry to break the news! Of course I’m kidding, this is far from fact….I think, I’m glad I’m a righty though!
Many of us never shoot with our support-hand unless we’re at the range shooting for our quarterly or semi-annual weapons qualification. Even then most military and LE agencies standard practical pistol course only has you shoot four to six rounds support-hand unsupported at a distance no greater than seven yards. I would like to see it moved a bit further back, at least 10 yards. But if for some reason you find yourself in a self-defense situation where your strong hand has become incapacitated, depending on the situation retreat could be your best option for situations beyond 10 yards. I say this because you’re likely in a bad state with an incapacitated strong arm and retreating and taking cover could (the situation and your level of training of course will dictate it) be the best choice until back up arrives.
Do I Need to Do This?
Okay some of you may be asking why should you train and develop a strong skill set with support-hand shooting; I say why not. Doing anything with your non-dominate hand actually makes you smarter (this fact I didn’t make up). In a deadly situation the human mind will focus on the threat, meaning that when your mind focuses on the threat your eyes focus directly on the threat. During training when you’re using “cartoon” targets (paper targets that look like real people holding a gun or knife) and you’re immediately presented with a shoot or no-shoot situation, people shoot at the weapon. They do this without even knowing it. Though you’re trained at the range to shoot “center mass” it’s usually a silhouette target with no weapon. But during training with live fire or Airsoft, operators doing close quarters combat (CQC) training using cartoon targets shoot the weapon all the time. When we do shoot/no-shoot drills with live role players the operator shoots the weapon too. Every time I’m the “bad guy” I always make sure to wear shooting gloves with carbon fiber or reinforced knuckles, because nothing sucks more than taking round after round to the hand holding the weapon. Anyways, when an exchange in gunfire occurs, both shooters are going to revert to shooting at the threat. So you could find yourself taking rounds to the strong arm. So you may be left with only your support arm/hand working.
The best way to train your support-hand is to get to the range and shoot support-handed. Use the same seven shooting habits you do when shooting with your strong hand. For those of you who many not know or need a refresher on the seven habits of marksmanship (body position/stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, breathing, trigger control, and follow through) I recommend you read Chris’ eight separate articles (one on the concepts as a whole and the seven others that each focus on the individual habits). They are very in depth, enlightening, and well written. When you shoot with your support-hand you actually focus more on the habits, probably to the level you should be thinking about habits during strong hand shooting. If you’re not used to shooting with your support-hand, at first it feels very foreign, like throwing a football with your other arm for the first time (usually it’s not very pretty but after some time with practice you become more proficient). Shooting is the exact same, with some time and practice (developing the seven habits) you’ll become a proficient and reliable support-hand shooter.
I Have a Weak Hand…HELP!
There are some things you can do other than just range time. The first, without a doubt is firearms dry fire training with your support-hand only. This is the most important building block and it lays the foundation for your shooting development. Now, if you’re one of those guys with a “weak-hand”, you need to do strength-building exercises with your forearms, hands, and fingers. If you’re limp-wristed or yellow-backed, there is nothing I can do for you…seriously though, this training is for anyone who wants to improve their shooting. There are several exercises you can do with weights to develop these muscle groups including the use of rubber bands and stress style squeeze balls. Oh, I know some of you are thinking of some “interesting” solo ways to “work” your forearms! We’ll keep it somewhat clean though (plus you should get someone else to do your dirty work). My favorite is actually using a Dynaflex Powerball. This device uses gyro force (gyroscopic training) that is powered by the motion of your own hand/wrist. This motion produces torque that increases the faster you go. It develops forearm, hand, and finger strength all at the same time. It’s a very popular training device among the rock climbing community and widely used by many NFL wide receivers and running backs to take their game to the next level. I know many exceptional shooters who use it and actually Chris is the one who turned me on to it. One day in the training building I saw him sitting there working his Powerball while he was talking on the phone. He showed me how to use it and I could instantly tell it worked the muscles, especially those stabilizer muscles key in shooting. I went online right then and there and bought one. Within a week all the training guys had various ones on their desk. Dynaflex has several different levels/models available ranging from easy to very tough. But they are relatively inexpensive ($20 to $120 each) compared to the benefits you get from it. It’s something that I use for just 10 to 15 minutes a day while I’m sitting around or watching TV. You can check them out at www.dynaflexpro.com. If you get one, I recommend also buying the docking station/starter. It’s a battery-operated starter that gets the inner ball rotating. Otherwise if you just buy the ball you’ll have to get it rotating with the included string. Not a deal breaker, but the docking station is worth the extra cost. They sell them with just the ball or in a combo set that include the ball and docking station.
So like any other shooting tactic or technique, it’s about building a skill set and continuing to advance that skill set with continuous training, turning it into a habit. Never forget that any shooting skill is a perishable one. Add support-hand shooting to your dry and live fire training regiment, along with the addition of strength building exercises. The ability to improve your support-hand shooting and become proficient will no doubt take your shooting skill set to the next level, and possibly be the skill that saves your life, your partner’s, or your family’s.