Armed defense at Front Sight: Mastering basic handgun skills

February 15, 11:19 AM

Under duress, you will never rise to the occasion. You will default to the lowest level of your training.

As the second in a series on Front Sight Training Institute’s Four-Day Defensive Handgun course, this segment will cover the school’s approach to teaching the manual of arms and basics of shooting, especially for typical modern semi-automatic handguns.

Bear in mind that the following is an overview, and is not intended to substitute for obtaining training from a good school. As noted in the first segment, How competent are you? even accomplished shooters are generally ill-prepared for legal, ethical and tactical demands of deadly force. Do not presume for a moment that being able to shoot tight groups on the range means you are able to defend yourself or your family.


Before even entering the classroom, students were subjected to an equipment inspection and, with a holstered, empty weapon, referred to the classroom. Our session started with an extensive safety briefing, including:

Four basic rules of gun safety:

Range Master Wes La Huillier then had us sign an agreement for Dry Practice (practicing presentation from the holster, sight picture, trigger control, malfunction clearance, etc. without ammunition in the gun), stressing that only by strict adherence to the rules below can one avoid a negligent discharge. (Note: Very few unintentional discharges are accidental. The vast majority result from negligence.) So thorough was the school’s coverage of safety that we were told not to Dry Practice if the hotel room or other environment didn’t permit it, and each day instructors held Dry Practice sessions on the range 30 minutes before class.

Dry Practice rules:


With safety beaten soundly and properly into our skulls, it was on to the range. Here, range commands and additional safety items were stressed (e.g. no un-holstering of firearms before commanded, no bending over to pick up magazines until permitted, and particular emphasis on keeping muzzles pointed downrange at all times).

Beyond learning the range commands we would be expect to respect, the major emphasis was this: On target, on trigger. Off target, off trigger. When you present the sights to target, your finger should move into the trigger guard and take up slack. When you lower to the ready, your finger MUST leave the trigger guard and flatten itself against the right side of the frame.

Manipulating the firearm

Next came manual of arms. When manipulating magazines: Spares should be placed in pouches on the support side, business end forward. Grasp them by placing the magazine base in the palm of the hand while indexing the tip of the support side index finger to the front of the magazine’s feed lips. Grasped such, you seat the magazine into the well of the gun in one motion. The idea, as Range Master Darren Hinze expressed it, is that body parts naturally find each other.

Before each Dry Practice session, Front Sight demands a chamber check and magazine check, which is performed again before putting the unloaded weapon back in its holster. Here they wanted students to grasp the slide from beneath just aft of the muzzle to draw the slide back (being careful to ensure the muzzle does not flash your hand) and see whether a cartridge was in the chamber, then to press the magazine release and insert a finger to confirm an empty magazine well, only then drawing the support hand to the chest to keep it clear while slowly and deliberately re-holstering.

There are a variety of ways to perform such drills. About the only objection I had was in removing empty rounds from the chamber by racking the slide with the support hand while canting the gun and capturing the round by cupping the support hand around the ejection port. While common among competitive shooters, the technique makes it easy to accidentally cant the muzzle toward the midsection of the body. Others have noted the possibility of exposing the support hand to (admittedly unlikely) detonation of the chambered round as the slide is drawn back.

Weaver or Isosceles?

And finally came the meat of the class: Sight picture, trigger press (described as surprise trigger break), stance, presentation from the ready, and breaking a shot. I will admit a difference with FS concerning stance. While I started in the early 90s by using a Weaver stance, in the ensuing years, both competition and training from a variety of entities — including a federal law enforcement agency — have stressed the advantages of the Isosceles position. Police use it to ensure body armor is fully forward to meet the threat. Other schools teach it on evidence that given a threat, even people trained in Weaver will revert naturally to the Isosceles.

Hinze noted Front Sight teaches the Weaver stance partially to provide a common shooting platform for pistol, carbine and shotgun courses. Suffice to say opinions vary widely on the relative merits of the two positions.

Three ‘secrets’ to good hits

As the instructors readily admitted, there are no secrets to hitting the target, merely basics that must be practiced until free of flaws. They are:

Good trigger control:

With the basics in hand, our instructors ran through a series of exercises from dry fire and trigger resets only on command, to trigger diagnostic drills in which students controlled sights while instructors controlled triggers, and finally to live fire in single rounds and in controlled pairs.

After lunch and an excellent lecture on the implications of using deadly force, we returned to the range. We were paired up into safety teams, with non-shooting squad members policing shooters for safety and technique. This time, exercises focused on controlled pairs from the low ready position at distances ranging up to ten yards. In terms of balancing speed and accuracy, instructors emphasized shooting as fast as you can while keeping shots in a hand-sized group.

Presentation from holster

Day one of the class also emphasized drawing the weapon safely and smoothly from the holster, beginning with dry practice exercises in which instructors called each step individually.

After action drills

Our instructors paid particular attention to ensuring students didn’t develop a habit of re-holstering quickly. As depict in After Action Drill, a thorough check for additional adversaries, as well as a final check to ensure the original threat is neutralized should be performed and then, if possible, a tactical reload should be performed before slowly re-holstering.


Capping a long and challenging day was another excellent lecture, this time on the Color Code of Mental Awareness, Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop, and developing a Combat Mindset, the latter stressing:

Perhaps the most valuable advice imparted by instructor Scott Hoenier was this:

Under duress, you will never rise to the occasion. You will default to the lowest level of your training.

The level of that training, of course, is up to you.

* As with much of modern defensive pistolcraft, the concepts of Combat Mindset and Color Codes were originally developed by John Dean Jeff Cooper.