Making An Effortless Transition


Making An Effortless Transition

Transitioning and malfunctions. And no, it’s not that transitioning I’m referring to. The transitioning I’m talking about is switching from your long gun to your pistol during a gunfight.

I recently shot in a two-gun match, rifle and pistol, at the range I hold most of my classes at, the SkipJ Range in Anderson, South Carolina. The way this match is shot differs from other two and three-gun matches in that instead of retaining your weapon, you clear whichever weapon you started the stage with and put it in a dump barrel before continuing with your next weapon. The stages are run this way to ensure the safety of all the participants.

Now, apparently if you have an AR it’s de rigeur to load it up with a bunch of options, and I’m guessing it’s some kind of law that you have to mess with the trigger. (You know, instead of buying a quality rifle to start with and spending all that extra money on ammo to learn how to shoot it.) Anyway, due to all the jackleg gunsmithing that takes place to “improve” these rifles, I saw a ton of malfunctions. Now, in the real world of gunfights, when your primary gun doesn’t go bang, you do a quick tap-rack-bang drill, and if that doesn’t work you immediately transition to your secondary. But not a whole lot of people have carried a rifle and pistol on a regular basis, so there were a lot of delays.

The following discussion is admittedly geared towards law enforcement and military personnel, or anyone else who regularly carries two guns, be the combination pistol and rifle or pistol and shotgun. In the real world, you’re not going to abandon a gun because it has run empty or malfunctioned. You’re going to retain it until it’s safe to clear or reload it, but you’re going to transition to your operable firearm. Like any shooting sport that draws from real-world firearm usage, matches sacrifice a certain amount of realism for safety’s sake, and rightfully so. But in a real gunfight, you’re going to do things differently.

So if you regularly carry a sidearm and a long gun, or feel you may someday be doing so you’ll want to pay attention to the first half of this post pretty closely. During my time in the Army National Guard, in an infantry line company, you carried either a rifle or a SAW, unless you were a “gunner” and then you carried a machine gun and a pistol. That changed with the Global War on Terror when it became common for everyone to be issued an M9 pistol.

In between deployments, I worked full time with a cadre of instructors teaching combat troops how to employ the M4A1 carbine and the M9 pistol prior to them being sent downrange. During those years we ran hundreds of Soldiers through the qualification ranges. We were able to conduct what was essentially a combat skills laboratory, at least as far as small arms were concerned. The Soldiers ranged from fresh out of basic training to combat veterans and those who had been in the service for ten years or longer. We trained both officers and enlisted personnel, who had jobs ranging from admin clerks to helicopter crews.

One thing we were never able to teach was how to transition from one weapon to the other. Due to time constraints and the edict from on high, all we were allowed to do was run the Soldiers through the qualification table for the weapon system du jour. I always thought this was doing the Soldiers a grave disservice as being able to switch quickly and effectively between long gun and pistol could be lifesaving in a combat situation.

During mobilization training for my deployments, I always made it a point to go over weapons handling with my Soldiers over and above what the training syllabus called for, even though we were restricted to dry fire practice. I wanted them to have a healthy mix of transition and malfunction drills under their belt before going downrange. Very far from ideal, but a Hell of a lot better than what the average troop was getting. At least they had the mechanics down.

So when should you transition from your long gun to your pistol? You should always be using your rifle or shotgun as your primary weapon. In a gunfight, when your long gun stops going bang, for whatever reason, that’s the time to IMMEDIATELY transition to your pistol.

Why is your rifle no longer going bang? It may be empty, or you have some form of stoppage. Failure to eject, failure to feed, or a bad magazine are some stoppages you may encounter. You may be able to clear a stoppage doing the tap – rack – bang thing, or you may not. If you’re in a gunfight, you want to maintain the steady flow of freedom seeds into those who are trying spiritedly to kill you. It’s a lot faster to transition to your pistol than it is to try and clear your rifle.

Granted, you may be able to quickly clear a stoppage. A malfunction is a different type of critter altogether. You are now dealing with a mechanical failure in the parts that make the gun go bang. This is some serious caca, like a broken bolt, firing pin, extractor, ejector, or bad or fouled magazines. If any of these are what’s causing you your woes, you ain’t going to resuscitate the gun without tools or parts.

Why you should transition to your pistol isn’t dependent on why the long gun quit going bang. Remember, you wanted to use your rifle or shotgun to unalive the people trying to kill you. In a gunfight, the bad guys aren’t going to wait for you to get your long gun back in the fight. You have to keep pumping lead in the direction of them until you unalive them or they decide to quit trying to kill you. Transition to your handgun and stay in the fight. Sure, you may be able to make it to cover where you can safely get your long gun back in action, unless of course the bad guys maneuver on you and spray your brains all over the ground.

The actual mechanics of transitioning are incredibly simple. If you’re able to carry a long gun effectively and can draw a pistol from a holster you already have the basics mastered. Gear-wise, your long gun must be equipped with a sling, either single or two-point. I like to sling my long gun over my right shoulder, (I’m right-handed) with my left arm through the sling.

To transition, use your non-dominant hand to guide the rifle or shotgun to your body. (Guys especially, don’t just let the long gun fall loose unless you’re wearing a cup, or you want to temporarily be able to sing the high notes while listening to your favorite song.) As your non-dominant hand is guiding the long gun down, your strong hand is drawing your pistol. When your pistol is drawn, your non-dominant hand comes in to meet your strong hand forming the proper grip. Push out and you’re back in the fight. It takes far longer to explain it than it does to perform it.

Once the fight is over, put a full magazine in your pistol (you do carry extra pistol mags, right?) and holster it. Now is the time to determine why your long gun quit making that lovely bang sound and fixing it, if possible, to get it back in the fight.

Like any skill, the key to being able to do this quickly is through practice. You or your range partner can randomly load dummy rounds in your rifle magazine or shotgun tube, and when your gun goes click instead of bang you transition. For pump shotguns, I recommend loading two or three consecutive dummy rounds in the tube as it’s just too quick to work the slide and get the gun working again with just one dummy.

Any quality firearm, well maintained, is going to have relatively few malfunctions. That said I see malfunctions often enough in gunfight videos and reports to know that they do happen and when they do they can make the difference between winning and losing.

I wanted to distill 3 important lessons about these failures and clearing malfunctions for each of us.

Number one: Having a loose, crappy grip.

The odds of a bad grip, one-handed shooting, and a high stress level are all much higher in actual life-threatening encounters and all of those things can lead to malfunctions. Soldiers shooting the M9 experienced regular failure to feed issues because they were holding the gun too loosely. The M9 is a big, heavy gun for a nine millimeter, and if you didn’t give it a solid grip to work against enough slide inertia would be lost to prevent the gun from working properly.

Now, don’t practice having a bad grip for malfunction training, as you don’t want to inadvertently glue that into muscle memory. I am suggesting that despite your normal experience with your carry gun and ammo you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a malfunction in your future gunfight due to the increased likelihood of a bad grip. Be prepared to establish a proper grip quickly.

Number two: Clearing malfunctions is a seldom practiced skill.

The majority of us have reliable guns, so we don’t experience a lot of malfunctions in our range sessions. When we do have one, we take the time to figure out what went wrong, usually accompanied by a torrent of less than Christian language.

Some ranges and instructors discourage or outright outlaw you clearing your own malfunctions. I’ve had Soldiers fresh out of basic training on a qualification range raise their hand when their gun stopped functioning because that’s what they were taught. This is no way to build strong malfunction clearance skills. If malfunction clearing isn’t a part of your regular practice routine it should be.

Number three: You can train malfunction clearance in dry fire.

If you’re not spending far more time practicing weapon handling in dry fire than shooting at the range you’re doing it wrong. Malfunction clearance is all about weapon handling, so you need to incorporate it into your dry-fire practice sessions on a regular basis.

Obviously, you can set up and practice some malfunction clearing in dry fire with dummy rounds but these training tools really shine in live fire. We’ve already covered how to incorporate them into live fire drills, but you can also use them in your dry fire sessions.

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to set up malfunctions to practice clearing. If you want to spend the money, there are a couple of devices out there you may want to consider. I’ll put links to them in the show notes.

The BarrelBlok

The barrel block is a plastic dummy round with an elongated rod coming forward from the bullet. The rod is long enough so that if you have a six-inch barrel semiautomatic pistol it will stick out of the muzzle far enough to show the gun is clear. You do not have to disassemble your gun to use the device, simply lock your slide to the rear and insert it into the barrel from the breech end. The device also comes with a couple of what look like half cartridges which you load into your magazines. This allows you to manually cycle the slide without the slide stop activating.

You can dry fire your gun with the BarrelBlok installed without worrying about damaging your firing pin or striker as they will impact the rear of the plastic bullet. With the inclusion of dummy ammo, you can set the pistol up to practice emergency reload drills, clearing out of battery, failure to fire, stovepipe, and double feed malfunctions. This device is pretty inexpensive at nineteen oh nine shipped for the nine-millimeter version.

Get a BarrelBlok here.

The Type3Malfunction Round.

This is an oddly shaped nylon bullet that simulates a type three malfunction, hence the name. A type 3 failure is caused when the extractor fails to extract the empty shell casing from the previously fired shot. When the next round is fed into the chamber, it runs into the back of the unextracted shell casing, leaving you with a very short, ineffective club in a gunfight.

These rounds, while you can use them in a dry fire session, are really great in live fire. Just drop one randomly into your magazine and work the drill when it tries to chamber. These are also pretty inexpensive as you get five of them in nine millimeter for twenty-five twenty shipped. They’re supposed to last for five hundred uses before you need to replace them.

Get a Type3Malfunction Round here.

Until next time, shoot safe.


The Tactical Pirate

View posts by The Tactical Pirate
President and lead instructor. Follow me on Twitter, and check out our blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top