Unlike riding a bike, firearm handling is a perishable skill, which was new to me. I hadn’t factored that into the learning curve of owning and competently handling a firearm.
As a result of this, these are some of the home drills I perform to help improve muscle memory and good habits. I have a designated area and table space to practice alone and undistracted i.e. no cell phones, TV etc.
I started out with 1000 reps 2 x times a week to work on competence handling skills using training (dummy) rounds;
- Finger and grip strength i.e. loading rounds
- Slide lock and release
- Magazine insert and removal
- Safe dry-fire, trigger practice
These all require some strength to perform. It’s like squeezing the tension in jumper cables to jump-start a car. Like me, if you are just starting out, your finger joints and palms will ache and the fingertips will feel raw and tender. However, once your muscle memory improves and your finger dexterity and strength grows, the firearm becomes easier to handle.
Monthly Range visits for better Muscle Memory
If you want to maintain muscle memory to be competent, safe and confident with your handling skills, you’ll need to factor in and schedule practice time on the range.
For us, it’s once a month shooting about 200-400 rounds each. Eventually, once we become more proficient we want to do fun combat training courses and move away from paper targets.
I also keep a journal of the type of drills I want to learn or practice while on the range. At the moment, it’s grouping shots at 7 meters. I’m also trying to reduce firing anticipation (see the lower shots on the targets). To help build self-awareness (much like keeping a fitness diary) I record any mistakes, fatigue, loss of focus, what went well, what didn’t go well, to prevent bad habits from forming.
Like fitness, I keep notes on how I felt during and after firing practice. For example, if I shoot for longer than 1 hour I seem to get diminishing returns and experience physical things like; feeling shellshocked, drained, increased sensitivity to sound, shakey, tired etc. I come right but it’s noticeable in that I need a lot of quiet space after a long duration of shooting.
Grip adjustment with Long Fingernails
When shopping for a firearm, it’s best that you get fitted properly and not just buy any old thing. I wanted a concealed carry option, something that is small and compact but packs a punch. The longer the barrel, the less likely it can be concealed.
The firearm should feel like an extension of your arm. It took me about 5 hours in a gun store to find the right fit for my hand size. However, a compact short barrel means more recoil and more impact in the hand vs. longer barrels.
This means my hands take more of a pounding. You won’t know this until you get on the range or you can test fire before buying. In most cases, this will be unlikely.
I also had to alter my firing grip after a few months. Since I wear my natural fingernails long, practice sessions were becoming torturous to my left palm.
Plus, located on the side of the Springfield XD is its slide stop lever. It has the reputation of being a thumb skin shredder, particularly if you use the straight double thumb combat grip (the grip I was trained with). After each firing session, my thumbs would be raw, so I wore gloves. The gloves worked only as a band-aid measure during practice. But it was not an ideal solution, and it would be highly unlikely in a home self-protection situation that I would be wearing gloves, let alone have the cool, calm, collected time to put on gloves, while a baddie patiently waits for me. Its not going to happen and I don’t want any physical hindrances.
Instead, I made the hard decision to change my firing grip from “Straight double thumb” to “Thumb-over-thumb”.
You have to figure out what’s going to work best for you, even if it means undoing all the muscle memory training you have built up with a grip style over many months. The grip style you adopt should become a permanent unconscious competence habit (second nature to you) like putting on a glove.
If you have to think about it your grip, you don’t have enough muscle memory built up. Since firearm handling is a perishable skill, it’s important for good muscle memory development that you use the same grip each time you pick up your firearm to ensure safety, effective firing, and competent handling.
These are things you don’t or won’t know before you buy your firearm. It might be easier to test out firearms in other States in the USA, but here in California, it’s a little more challenging. Where I live in San Francisco, gun stores and ranges are only located in the burbs and there aren’t many. At the time of writing, our closest firing range (20 years in operation) closed down.
If you have by-law inner city restrictions (like we do) travel time to and from a range is another thing to factor into your lifestyle.
You, gotta, hold it like you mean it. Or it will own you
You’ve got to hold the firearm like you are the boss of it. It’s not the boss of you. If you don’t take charge, it will snap back your wrists, beat up your palms, and donkey kick around like a jackhammer in your hands. Remember, it’s a controlled explosion going off in your hands.
You cannot be delicate with it. If you are it will cause firing malfunctions. A loose, floppy hand grip is dangerous. As discussed, you need to build up your grip strength and also straight arm strength to handle the recoil.
Shooting will hurt at first until you get used to it:
- The central nervous system will be stressed and your heart rate will increase
- You will get tired fast
- Due to the stress, you will hold more tension in the body – this can create further strain on the muscles
- The jaw, neck, shoulders, traps, upper back, forearms, wrists, hands, palms, and fingers will hurt until you get used to it
- You’ll need to learn unusual finger dexterity movements that require strength i.e. loading a magazine after 10-20 rounds when you aren’t used to it – it hurts. Especially around the finger joints and the fingertips.
Mentally, it’s going to be uncomfortable (things I’ve learned)
- You have to “lean-in” to the violence of the firearm. Its human instinct (and normal) to move away from violence. You can not do this with a firearm. You must lean-in otherwise you’ll become unsafe i.e. poor form, loose grip, loss of control etc
- Learn to embrace the violent sound, where you no longer flinch at live fire
- Embrace the violent impact of the explosion in your hand – it’s like someone with huge knuckles punching your palm hard
- Get used to the explosive vibrations that move up the bones of the arms and into the teeth
- Controlled, proactive aggression is a must. Each time the recoil pushes you, you must push back and lean-in just like you would when you open arm hug
It’s not like the movies – the cool slide, lock, and load
While gun handling looks effortless in movies, like re-capping a tube of lipstick. It’s not. Being light-handed in the way you handle your firearm i.e weak grip, not racking the slide forcefully, or not inserting your magazine with gusto will cause malfunctions. Rounds can “stovepipe” in the chamber, magazine feed jams can happen, bullets can be duds so you’ll need to know how to clear them safely.
I’ve experienced all of these malfunctions during live-fire. It’s disconcerting, but that is where proper training from a qualified instructor is essential. I’ve had to learn how to safely clear my firearm and not have it throw me off my game.
Being able to problem solve and stay calm when things malfunction is another skill you’ll need to learn in order to be self-reliant, safe and effective.
Just like Make-up Brushes, you have to clean them
For operational self-reliance, you need to know how to field strip your firearm and clean it after each use which is another thing you’ll need to make time for. We shoot about 300 – 500 rounds (in an hour), and they get dirty super fast. You have to take care of your firearm to keep them safe, free from malfunctions and operational.
I discovered Geauga firearms, a thoughtful, thorough husband and wife team who are a great resource for firearm training. I learned how to quickly field strip and properly clean my firearm (without all bells and whistles products) as well as troubleshoot my grip issues and other key firearm handling techniques.
They are a good resource of info for newbies through to advanced. Check out their channel if you need a little guidance with your own training or skill level. They also do a women’s video series. I highly recommend them.
This is my cleaning set-up – which I modeled off Geauga firearms’ simple cleaning recommendations.
Going for your Firearms License in the State of California is a strict process
California State has some of the toughest firearm regulations compared to other States in the USA.
As of writing, in the state of California, there is a mandatory 10 day “cool down” period after passing your compulsory Firearm Safety Test and you must get a 75% and above pass rate.
Before you obtain a firearm, you must pass a full background check, and supply multiple forms of photo ID and proof of your living residence. This process takes place well before you can get access to your firearm. It can take about 3 weeks for processing.
Once the cooldown period has passed, you then have to collect the firearm instore and in person. There it’ll be registered in your name and you’ll be thumb printed before its finally released to you (see my vlog at the end of this post).
Side note: In my native country New Zealand, handguns and automatic firearms are not permitted nor accessible to the public. Our New Zealand police officers still operate unarmed. It’s a strict licensing process, to obtain a New Zealand firearms license. A full criminal and psych background check is performed and a formal interview is conducted. An examiner comes to your home, interviews you and your spouse separately. Your spouse can not have a criminal record. You have to answer questions like, “has your partner ever been violent towards you, others, things?” “Depressed, extremely angry or sad, heavy drinking etc?” You also have to join and maintain a Rifle Association Gun club membership.
Accessories – would you like an extra Mag with that?
California State law only allows for 10-round magazine capacity. If you go out of State to buy bigger capacity magazines you won’t be able to. Which means on the range you can blow through 10 rounds in just a few seconds. This requires a lot of downtime to reload, plus it’s a major time suck and interferes with shooting flow.
To get around this, we purchased extra magazines and keep them loaded. Then the hubby and I tag team it. When he’s in the lane I am reloading his magazines and vice versa. It makes for better time management and productivity at the firing range.
How about some Splatter targets?
These are not essential, but I think they are worth it. They are so much more fun than shooting plain old paper targets. Splatterbursts, help you get instant visual feedback, so you know exactly where you hit the target (unlike paper). They are great for grouping drills and can help you to course correct if you are aiming too low or too high etc.
With Ammunition, we buy in bulk because it’s cheaper than the firing range or gun stores prices. Outdoor and recreational megastores often have mid-year sales for ammo, but we did notice that our bulk ammo was super dirty. Our fingertips were covered in some kind of brassy/ gold looking residue. Just something to be mindful of. Also, we only experienced a couple of dud bullets in that particular bulk buy.
You may need to get Modifications made
Although not essential, (but I highly recommend you get them) we had Truglow TFO handgun sights put on to help increase visibility for a better aim. I noticed a big improvement with my aim. The glowing green-red-green when the sites line up makes it easier on the eyes to focus. They’re also a big help in low light levels (our firing range is not brightly lit). The neon fibers also glow in dark.
Note: if you make custom or major modifications it may void your warranty, something to keep in mind.
A note on Concealed carry in San Francisco
Concealed carry is the practice of legally carrying a concealed firearm on one’s person in public. The Springfield XD 3″ SUB-COMPACT 9MM is ideal for concealed carry.
However, the San Francisco city laws are very strict on concealed carry. A concealed carry permit is granted only in a “very special” circumstance i.e. you’re being stalked or your life has been threatened.
Studying for your Firearms License
You can easily download a self-testing FSC manual and study up. Although some of the questions seem blatantly obvious, you have to take them seriously and not skimp over them – they have been crafted into the exam for a reason.
Remember, just because you pass this test – doesn’t make you competent. Here, factoring in firearm lessons from a skilled instructor will be invaluable.
Choose the Right Instructor
Look for an instructor who has good empathic skills, and knows how to respectfully instruct around women. I’ve found ex-military instructors brilliant in this instance. They seem to be able to get a good read on you, in that they really watch your eyes, perhaps looking out for those fear markers. Mine have been respectful with physical contact i.e. asking permission first (even my husbands) before approaching or making adjustments.
The video below is a good example of this. Here I’m being trained on a LWRC M6AZ Short Barrel Full Auto Machine Gun at a gun range in Phoenix AZ.
Catch the below daily lifestyle vlog of our pick-up.
Let me know if you have questions or if you want me to post more updates on this topic.
Keep living the strong life. Cheering you and your personal power.