John Tate on Integrity

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by John Tate

The Unacceptable Price of Mediocrity

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As you read this essay, please keep in mind this thought, contributed by a police officer, Todd Jayne. “[Shooting] is probably the most important skill [a soldier or peace officer] may never need. When it comes time to shoot, you are doing so for your life, or the life of someone else. There is literally no other facet of our job where that is 100% true.”

Many in the intended audience of the Firearms User Network are warriors; for us, firearms’ ultimate purpose is as a weapon, one where skill may be measured in lives. Is this an activity where any warrior can be satisfied with mediocrity?

Robert McNamara was famous for bringing his Ford Motor Company ‘bean counters’ to the Pentagon and applying his business and management strategies to the business of war. But, as Mr. Jayne suggests above, war and its preparation are not endeavors that lend themselves to the typical concepts of efficiency. In truth, the opposite is nearer to reality. Consider that if an entity is known to be able to overcome immediately any opposition, that opposition is likely never to be launched. Whoa, doesn’t that mean all the entity’s preparations for war will never be used … and are thus a waste? This is the Vegetius Renatus paradox of deterrence: si vis pacem, para bellum.

Even without attempting commercial efficiency, the reality of limited resources demands careful allocation of those limited resources. A popular adage is, “People are our most valuable resource.” OK, but let me color that with Mark Twain’s metaphor: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Anyone who has observed Israel’s wars against her neighbors knows this is true. My point here is, if we must have a relatively small armed force, let’s have each member’s goal be perfection in fundamental pursuits. Gen. A.M. Gray, USMC said, “Every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman.” I believe the same attitude applies to all warriors: you are first and foremost a marksman, because, for you, no other skill is more fundamental.

A saying goes: Perfect practice makes perfect. Vince Lombardi observed, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” That pursuit of perfection is something we should never deny to those of our members who want that chase.

I know a soldier who was never given access to or a chance to practice any Army obstacle course. The soldier was sent to an Army school where passing the “O” course was required, and only two chances were allowed. The soldier failed and was sent home. Later, at a subsequent school, with practice and preparation, the same soldier excelled on the “O” course and finished as a distinguished graduate. So the question is, why was the soldier not allowed to try and try and try in the first iteration? Stated differently, why would we deny success when success is within reach?

I know a soldier who is a better than fair shot, but had never shot the “pop-up” targets on the Army qual course. The soldier shot a poor but passing score (29/40) and was pulled off the line so other soldiers could shoot. Passing is 23 hits on 40 exposures; that’s a 42% miss rate … with no pressure, no one shooting back. This is passing for the most fundamental skill of a soldier? Our soldier was genuinely embarrassed to leave the line with such a poor score, and not a little angry at not being given an opportunity to shoot again in a subsequent relay. But, here, the management decision was made and “better was the enemy of good enough,” and good enough was allowed to win.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” If the Army has a soldier who is willing to dedicate 10,000 hours to maxing the “O” course or perfecting his sight alignment and trigger squeeze, why would we deny him the opportunity? If we are smart, we won’t, for two reasons. If we do:

we deny that soldier the pursuit of perfection that may result in excellence, and
we lead that soldier to be satisfied with mediocrity.

If we’re going to be a force of limited numbers, those few we have must be allowed to be their best.

The world of the warrior is not the world of the feather merchants. In a fight, you cannot hit your opponent too hard, you can only end the fight more quickly. I do not disparage the store clerk for his expertise in sweeping a floor, and he may be rightfully proud of a job well done; but dust isn’t life. For the warrior who deals in life, excellence must be a routine mindset in all military endeavors, especially shooting, because “when it comes time to shoot, you are doing so for your life, or the life of someone else.”

Stay safe all,
John Tate

Moving Targets for Tactical Training

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From John Tate

Previously, I wrote about putting a standard qual target on my little, red “Radio Wagon” and pulling it towards the student; likewise, across (L to R or R to L) in front of him.

Construction of the “charging” target is simple. The puller stands beside and a bit behind the shooter and pulls a rope attached to the wagon. The speed of the charge is determined by the speed of the puller’s yank, walk, or run. The “crossing” target is equally simple; the difference being a pulley is attached at the opposite end of the backstop from the wagon, and the rope run from the wagon, through the pulley, and back to the puller, who as before, can be standing safely beside/behind the shooter. The puller pulls, walks, or runs and the wagon races across in front of the backstop.

As part of a four hour firearms class with handguns, I had the chance to exercise that concept thoroughly, as part of the other exercises where the target(s) is/are stationary, but the shooter moves forward/back/side-to-side. It’s a splendid mix. Various lessons learned and re-learned:

  • Our static targets and static qual settings are training our officers NOT to move to cover. When cover is used, significant body parts are often left exposed.
  • “Groucho” steps definitely aid in smoother-shoot-on-the-move shots.
  • The “21-foot rule” is absolute garbage and the charging wagon drill makes absolutely clear any armed threat within 30 feet justifies a drawn firearm held at low ready. Two ancillary comments to this:
    • First, in the exercise setting, the shooter knows his threat is going to charge … so the normal time to observe-evaluate-react is removed from the overall time to defend.
    • Second, once reaction has started, it is the draw that takes time; all the more time with a level-3 rig.
  • We teach the “Tactical-J” when using pepper on a charging subject; we need to do the same with any charging subject.
  • Backing away from a target over uneven ground is tricky and adds nice dynamics of divided attention and how to manage secure footing.
  • Because so much of our quals and practice are with stationary targets, engaging moving targets is a skill quite lacking in most shooters. BUT it’s easy to remedy with a little experience.
    The experience of trying to hit a closing but zig-zaging target or a crossing target makes VERY clear the advantage of such tactics if YOU are the target of someone else. And, just as in torpedo defense, randomness of speed and duration amplifies the value of zig-zags. The uneven ground causing the wagon to bounce also added a bit of distraction.
  • Another lesson expressed earlier was shown true: If changing attention from one target to another, scan with the eyes, not with the barrel; do NOT move eyes with barrel; move the eyes to the target, then move the barrel to the eyes. (This speeds scan accomplishment & prevents/reduces over-swing.)
  • Safety is always a factor. Since a running wagon-puller must necessarily turn his back to the shooter, a safety observer ought to be included in any formal conduct of these drills.

The proof of concept is 3/4 finished. The last 1/4 is a target mounted on a remote control (RC) vehicle. The implementation is a small RC truck with a whip antenna and a head-sized balloon mounted at the antenna’s top. I did bring out the RC truck and had the shooter try to keep up with it in dry fire. He thought hits would be easy. We’ll see …..


The ‘little red wagon’ idea was proposed to me by Richard Barbaras. The RC truck idea was proposed with a truck to experiment with by Randy Erwin.

[On a non-related note…]

The Stigmatized Olympians

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USA Shooting, which used to be run by the NRA, remains shrouded in controversy—despite winning numerous gold medals at the Games

Following December’s deadly shooting rampage in nearby San Bernardino, the media sought out comment from Rhode, who expressed sorrow for the victims and support for gun rights. Why should that crime have placed her in the spotlight? she asks: “You don’t hear them asking Nascar drivers to comment on crimes involving cars.”

– Three-time gold medalist Kim Rhode

Notes from John Tate

You may find this article interesting. I do; but also tragic as symbolic of national flawed thinking. But as you read it, I offer this thought, the product of some 70 years of observation: attitudes shift. Sometimes with the speed of the wind; sometimes with the speed of glaciers; but always shifting. When I came back from WestPac in 1969, the public hated us; we were all baby killers. Today, a half century later, the public loves us. We are the same, only the public has changed.

On a different note, I want to thank you, Keith Sanderson, and the USAR shooting program for the training aids you publish.

When I began shooting competitively, I was really bad; I could barely make NRA expert. But that was no fault of the Marine and Army shooters, any and all of whom would give me tips to remedy this or that aspect of my failings. Then and now I worship(ed) those men and women & John, you among them! Several characteristics stood/stand out:

Confident gentility. All were/are so poised, so polite. The activity was shooting; but the carriage was one of “I’m cool. I know it; that’s what matters. I don’t need to strut.” (I also find this to be a trait in most of the Marines I worked with.)

Magnanimous patriotism. All were always ready to help us rookies. (Compared to you guys, I still consider myself a rookie.) I always figured one reason, an accurate reason, was that you folks were so far ahead of the rest of us, there was no threat in helping us. It has only come with time that I realize, while that is likely true, the more important reasons are two: (1) you never learn like you do when you teach, so there was/is a self-serving aspect; (2) there was/is a military mindset of TEAM. Not just service personnel, but all shooters are part of a band of brothers (and sisters) who are preserving and advancing an activity that is central to the nation’s survival.

Great info. Thanks!

Not surprisingly, we’re in agreement. I’d add that, sometimes, our fellow gun owners are also opposed and/or ignorant of our great shooting events and competitors. One need look no further than the “competition causes bad habits” and the general lack of awareness of gun owners.

Promotion is a hard, long row to hoe for every activity and organization.

Tate on Use of Cover

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Something is going to stop incoming rounds. Let it not be you. Why not give cover a chance?

Those of you who know me know my favorite criticism of many firearms qualification courses of fire (likely the only firearms training an officer will get in a given year), involves standing in front of a simulated threat, shooting at it for a while, and then standing there admiring a few holes, apparently oblivious to the fact that the simulated threat is still standing there … as much of a threat as before.


Now, as you look at the attached IACP fact sheet on ambushes of police, look in particular at the data on page 10. Look at the change in survivability of moving to cover. 68% vice 39%.*

Why might that be?
Moving targets are harder to hit.
Cover neutralizes incoming rounds.
What’s the lesson?

Train (1) going to cover, (2) engaging from cover, (3) reloading while behind cover.


* Yes, that adds to 107% You’ll have to ask IACP about their math anxiety.

Bolt Action Rapid Fire

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From John Tate.

I found these videos when looking for reloading techniques for the Krag. Below are two videos of a practical rifle competitive shooting event in Norway called Stangskyting (Stang shooting, named after Colonel Georg Stang) with a relevant article. Things to notice:

  • This is clearly a spectator sport!
  • In the first video (and later, in the others, notice the technique of using the middle finger as trigger finger, and index for bolt operation. The was also used by the British and their Lee-Enfield rifle when shooting the “Mad Minute” drill.
  • Gas guns compete against bolt (as is the case in the US)
  • Some competitors (in particular in the first video) are using 1892 ~ 1898 vintage Krag Jorgensen rifles, and doing well.
  • Shooters are given a “time’s about out” notice just before the cease fire.
  • In the second video, at about the 9 minute mark, look at the technique of shooter #4, John Olav Agontnes (black jacket). Notice that, not only does his right elbow not move when cycling the bolt, it doesn’t move when he changes magazines. Also, notice that he won that relay. See article below.

Also of interest:

Only Police and Military are Qualified to Carry Guns

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This one from John Tate.

Polícia Militar are a type of preventive state police in every state of Brazil. The Military Police units, which have their own formations, rules and uniforms depending on the state, are responsible for maintaining public order across the country including the Federal District and its capital, Brasília. Deployed solely to act as a deterrent against the commission of crime, units do not conduct criminal investigations. Detective work, forensics and prosecutions are undertaken by a state’s Civil Police.

In Brazil, all firearms are required to be registered with the minimum age for gun ownership being 25. It is illegal to carry a gun outside a residence, and a special permit is granted to certain groups, such as law enforcement officers. To legally own a gun, an owner must hold a gun license, which costs BRL R$1000, and the owner must pay a fee every three years to register the gun, currently at BRL R$85.

– Wikipedia

Here’s a video segment of Polícia Militar, one of those special-permit groups, on the range. You’ll need to be signed in to a Facebook account to see this.

Good thing this officer never attended competition shooting events. Wouldn’t want to develop any bad habits or training scars!

Lessons Learned from a Difficult Training Evolution

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Training lessons from John Tate

I’d share a recent experience from which some new and old ideas were tried, and some lessons learned. They are noteworthy if only because, looking back on my 39 years of various levels of firearms instruction, this event ranks in the top 2 for challenges.

Two Navy experiences are worthwhile for context:

In 1977 I was training a sailor in the basics of Colt 1911 shooting. His name was Brian L***. On being told to load a magazine, Brian started putting the bullets in backwards. After a bit of correction, he shortly become one of our best shots: I think he was to stupid to flinch. The lesson: don’t be too quick to judge.

In 1994 I was training a junior officer in bullseye shooting, again with the 1911. He had a terrible flinch, anticipation … call it what you will. Days and days of dry firing, ball-and-dummy, “shooting a pencil,” frustration, etc. resulted in no change. Finally, an old gunnersmate said, “Let him shoot until he’s numb.” The Navy at that time had plenty of .45 ACP ball ammo. So we put this fellow on the range and had him shoot, nothing but shoot all day long, for several days … until he was numb. He quit flinching and became an acceptable shooter. The lesson: don’t ignore counter-intuitive options or very expensive remedies.

So, what of my recent experience. It was remotely similar the the 1994 sessions: wild, off the paper misses. Only one pattern: severe jerk/anticipation resulting in shots to the left. But some were 6″ to 12″ high.

Now this fellow is a 17-year veteran who last year qualified with me and shot in the 90s. But somehow, in the last year, he’d developed a hard-and-fast flinch. Ball-and-dummy-type experiments made clear to us both what was most of his problem. But he could not stop.

In preparation for this session, I had given him links to two training videos by Keith Sanderson detailing dry fire exercises in trigger control and follow-through. My student said he’d watched them. I’m not sure – but they clearly had failed to register or their methods to be practiced.

So I loaned the man a S&W 686, instructed him in McGivern trigger exercises,* and sent him home with instructions to dry fire “until you are too weak to pull the trigger.” The next day he returned and said he’d practiced trigger drills for a minimum of five hours. The next day: essentially the same flinch remained.

He shoots a Glock 21 (.45 ACP) with a standard weight trigger. I let him shoot my dressed-up Colt. At 15 yards, his first three shots were a nice group at the top edge of a 4″ bull. BUT, then he figured out the trigger and resumed jerking his shots 6″ to 12″+ off to the left.

There’s a complicating factor, a physical difficulty beyond the scope of this document, that made effective communications very difficult! The result: it took me a long time to figure out that what I was dealing with was more than mere inattention. However, I honestly think this form of distracted inattention was the root problem, and dealing with it was very instructive. For example, even with the profound and undeniable physical manifestations of his jerk (as evidenced by extensive ball-and-dummy work), there was no change. That is: time and time again, if he knew the gun was empty, there was no flinch; if he thought the gun was loaded, there was a horrible flinch … that is the muzzle would dip some two inches! Yet, instead of focusing on the flinch, he seemed consumed with: “But I’ve never had this problem before.”

What finally made significant, though far from fully remedial progress? (Here, for context, think divided attention FSFTs!) Aside from all the normal tricks of the trade (e.g., “concentrate on sight picture and a continuous trigger press”), I tried two additions:

1. Take your four fingers of your shooting hand and extend them straight out from your hand. Now bend your trigger finger as if to pull a trigger. Note that (a) the finger mainly pivots at the middle joint, and (b) the tip of your finger moves in an arc. For a right-handed shooter, such side pressure has the potential (however slight) to push the muzzle to the left. Now, in addition, what if the shooter has his finger (first section down from knuckle) resting on the side of the firearm frame/stock? This too could introduce slight (sympathetic) pressure to the left. So, in reverse order, (a) we tell shooters when placing their finger on the trigger, to keep a slight gap between their finger and the side of the firearm; and (b) more for awareness than effect, consider telling the shooter to pull the pivot joint of his trigger finger slightly to the right such that as a result the tip of his trigger finger moves directly, linearly to the rear, and not in an arc.

2. My 1911 has a serrated trigger. On touching the trigger without gloves, it is unavoidable to notice these serrations. I told our shooter to focus on these serrations – how do they feel? – study that feeling. AND, notice the slight side pressure experienced when trying to pull his pivot joint out to the right as discussed at 1.b. above, feel that slight sideward tug on the skin of the finger.

In summing 1 and 2, when combined with coincident mental focus on sight alignment and sight picture, what are we doing to the shooter’s mind? (Think divided attention.) Answer: Displacing some measure of awareness on the impending report & recoil of the shot’s discharge, and displacing that awareness with focus on other things. (And, as you may expect, as the shooter was dry firing or live firing, I was yelling mantras like: “Front Sight,” “Squeeze,” “Pull that joint out,” “Squeeze,” and so on.)

The main lessons from this session: When a shooter has a bad trait to overcome: (1) like any athlete in a slump, first return to basics, which includes being very flexible in finding “what works today.” (2) Don’t depend on one remedial technique. There are many available; have as many in your training repertoire as you can get. Each person’s mind is a different lock, and each may need a different key to unlock and free his hang-up. (3) As long as your student is trying, don’t you give up! The life you save may be a brother.

But, of course, there is more.

A well ingrained flinch/anticipation may be somewhat unconscious. We must reach into that subconscious and overwrite nature. Remember, it’s an unnatural act to have an explosion take place in your hand. Our goal is a palimpsest, as in ignored awareness. For the combat shooter, our goal is to have ALL the basics of good marksmanship instilled into one’s conscious and subconscious such that good shooting technique is as immediate and thoughtless as pressing the brake pedal when a child runs in front of our moving vehicle.

Someone recently said – “This must become second nature.” I challenge that. For the combat shooter, it must become first nature; a collection of reactions that are strong enough that, when faced with the supreme emotional distress of being in a fight for your life, and when the thoughtful decision to fire has been made, these motor actions will occur thoughtlessly, analogous to stepping on the brake pedal.

According to Keith Sanderson, the way to develop and maintain this nearly instinctive level of basic marksmanship skills is extreme repetition, primarily through dry fire exercises.

A concluding lesson learned from the training evolution that prompts this e-mail: before expecting to have any advanced, tactical firearms training, verify that the student(s) are in full possession of the basics! In most of the 1/2 dozen or so of the last few “advanced” firearms training sessions I’d planned, the majority of our time was spent (re)establishing basic competencies.

I often refer novice shooters and expert instructors to these short but superb videos:

Advice from Tate

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Summary write up of shooting advice organized by John Tate.

New Mexico Firearms Qualification Standards and Scoring

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From: John Tate
To: Mr. Mark Shea, NM DPS LEA Advanced Training Bureau Chief
Subj: New Mexico Firearms Qualification Standards and Scoring

First, I commend the LEA for the changes to the handgun courses of fire, especially: the mandatory speed reloads; mandatory use of flashlight; change of 2 seconds to 3 seconds on the “quick draw” stages; and the steps back at the retention stage.

The purpose of this e-mail is to recommend another conceptual change for the next iteration of updates: scoring zones that penalize the shooter for errant but “in the zone” hits. For support of this suggestion, please read the text below and the article at the link under it.

Low level shooters, and even a number of instructors, have been quoted complaining about being penalized several points during a standards course of fire for missing target center. They say they should have received full value because errant shots landed in the silhouette target’s head or throat area and that would have been effective on a real person.

This is a wrong way to approach this. Paper targets aren’t real adversaries, as the “games’ll getcha killed” crowd likes to point out when bad mouthing practical competition shooting. The desired point of impact (center chest in this case) was known in advance and an errant shot, even if dumb luck put it in the throat, is a MISS by a good 12 inches or more. In a training/practice environment against static targets that aren’t real, this is not good. In the real world you take what you can get. On the range that is NOT a “throat”, it’s a different target or scoring area. Intending to shoot one target (silhouette center), missing it and accidentally hitting a different target (silhouette head) is still a miss.

Try this: Run a tape measure from the center of the target area you intended to hit up to the errant shot in the throat/head. Now, rotate the tape 90 degrees left or right. That same shot error, if pushed left or right instead of straight up, likely missed the entire silhouette. Rewarding such error, even if dumb luck put it on a different target (head/throat scoring area) is rewarding a miss.

This is why I like targets with concentric rings for marksmanship exercises. Too much shot error in ANY direction is the same, lowered result. Silhouettes are good for some types of training, but not for fundamental marksmanship because novices confuse sloppy shooting with “good” hits. For training purposes, we don’t care that a shooter’s flinch or other error pushed the shot towards the head. What matters is the shot missed the intended point of impact. This should be noted so the error can be corrected. Noting this with point totals provides an objective measure, as opposed to some feel-good assessment, and is an easy way to stay organized to help track if improvements are being made. The same course can be revisited and a higher score indicates the shooter is improving the skills tested by that course.

My emphasis is on the content of the second paragraph: a shot intended to hit the “center of mass” that luck places in (for example) the neck-kill-zone of the target ought to be scored a miss, just as a required head shot that misses the “credit card” but hits the medulla-oblongata is a miss.

John Tate

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