Category Archives: Ranging Shots

Time Speed And Targets!

How To Hit Quickly, And With Accuracy.

Having been in the training business for a while now, there are a few things which might prove helpful to the average or new shooter in regards to practice techniques.

The goal in training, of course, is to approximate as closely as possible the realities of conflict without actually killing off the client base during training. Without starting WWIII for the editor, the “shooting past people’s heads” and “run and gun flaming death” stuff is of course exciting, but then again arguably it can often be dangerous—especially if not done correctly by trained people.

“Trained” here is subject to interpretation like, “I was in the Army for 10 years.” It’s cool, but it doesn’t mean they can teach anymore than it means if you’ve got a car you can drive. Not to be ugly, but lots of folks have been killed in “fake” ammo drills that were not, and think back to all the people you have heard of killed by unloaded guns that weren’t.

A tremendous issue in shooting, like in self-defense is speed. Speed defined in shooting is hard to clarify because it means so many different things to different people or applications. Speed is probably most often thought of purely in a timed, “I am faster than you” gig. Rightly so, in competition we reward the person who shoots fast but historically, and, correctly so, speed needs to be balanced with accuracy. In layman’s terms, if you shot first or a lot and don’t hit zip, who cares? If all you needed was noise, you can chunk firecrackers at a threat. If you wanna scare them, get a big dog.

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Up Down?

Dangle Angle? Arguing With Reality?

In our January 2012 issue, there was a massive work of computations and charts and the accompanying widgets to in theory compile the data required to send a bullet down range at angles. Or, in layman’s terms, it was a buncha’ figures so you can shoot up and down and hit stuff.

I truly believe some people do the techie gig in the interest of seeing how hard they can make shooting or—better put—how to generate something so complicated it covers the fact once in awhile you simply miss the target. And if you never miss, it is because you never shoot.

Point number one, if you’re doing all the charts and cosine stuff you’re on the right track to make shooting complicated and you might just drive yourself a little nuts.

Second point, if this is about add-on parts for the rifle to improve personal field or life-saving skills A.K.A. as in combat, the time to apply these skills—if you actually learned them—is simply often not there. I have seen many people who had high-zoot equipment without the knowledge and personal skills to match. I would like to have $5 for each time I have seen a scope marked with an arrow to raise the bullet impact (when it was required) but the shooter turned the adjustment knob the wrong direction adding to the problem instead of solving it.

The great thing is none of the stuff in or on the charts, dials and widgets are any better than a simplified hold up or down if you haven’t practiced it in the field. All most of us need to decide is which system of skills we will have time to apply and will practice (like the old adage “this one is for shootin’ and this one is for fun”).

Most of the gadget and widget stuff’s practicality is arguable out to 700 yards—and even to that distance practice is required. Beyond 700 yards the light saber stuff may start to earn a seat at the table, but again not without lots of practice up down short or far.

Yeah and I know “the world’s record shot was…” Blah, blah, and it was good shooting, but it wasn’t a first-round hit.
Story By: Clint Smith Photos By: Heidi Smith

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Clicks And Booms

Both can be very loud.

Although it is construed by many to be boring, I am somewhat intrigued with the general aspects of the safe handling of guns, and since I do it every day it is important to me. The versions of particular interest to me are what I call the click-and-boom version of gun handling. Generally speaking, two things in life are very loud in the overall audio spectrum: a gun going click when it supposed to go boom, and a gun going boom when it is supposed to go click.

So I thought I would tell you a few stories about click and booms as I approach the age sometimes referred to as the “golden years.”

The Girl And The Finger!

I have this girl I’ve hung out with for at least the last 14 years—my wife Heidi. She is a bright chick and quite an accomplished shooter in her own right. Even more importantly, she can teach a firearms class very well across a broad spectrum of guns. A while ago she and I were teaching an Urban rifle class. Rifles, like other weapons in training, often require movement—you know, to do all the really cool operator stuff. This one “operator” in the class, unfortunately, was a bunch of pounds overweight and couldn’t go to prone or kneeling, “’cause my knee’s bad.” Yeah, the knee is bad because of the buncha pounds “we” are overweight.

Anyway, Heidi and I do a drill where students do a back-and-forth sort of movement to make or break contact. As a school/training institution, we have done it well and correctly without incident for 28 years. Heidi told this dude for a day and a half to get his finger off his trigger while he is not on the target (I think that’s a basic rule?). So you guessed it. While moving back and forth out of breath, overweight and finger on the trigger, he took the safety off and torches one into the ground. By the grace of a higher being, no one is hurt and it was basically a “wet spot in our shorts” drill. Coolly, the girl goes forward and reprimands him firmly—he had it coming.

So a suggestion for anyone who wants to go to a shooting school, shoot in a 3-gun match, be a cool tactical operator and other such folks: Lose some weight, go for a walk, tie your own shoe strings, don’t eat stuff bigger than a human head at one sitting—and keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target. And before everyone launches on the editor, eat what you want and be what you want, but try to be what you are, not what you imagine you are. I can climb every hill around where I live, but some I climb slower than others. And I can always remember what I was in the “good ol’ days.” In reality, what I am today is something other than what I remember being when I was younger.

My Mom had a saying as we grew up as kids, “Act your age.” Solid advice from an 84-year-old sage.
Story By: Clint Smith Photos By: Heidi Smith

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So You Want A Shotgun?

The SRM 1216 12-gauge, 16-shot semi-auto might be for you.

Enough has been written about shotguns to fill several books, yet there are still plenty of people who misunderstand what the shotgun does and why. These are constant issues since there are new gun people coming into the self-defense fold and bluntly, even a lot of old gun people do not understand the shotgun completely. So let us address some of the more subtle issues (this is not to say I have all the answers, but then again I do know some of the questions).

The shotgun is legal just about everywhere in the United States, and if you live where you can’t own a shotgun, you need to move—seriously. The barrel has to be 18″ long with an overall length of 26″. In some states the shotgun cannot have a detachable magazine, box-type or drum. In some jurisdictions and hunting applications there is a shell capacity issue.

The shotgun is a bit longer than a handgun. In short-barreled versions, often called riot guns, the 18″ barrel even at full overall length is not much longer than a handgun held and shot properly. The big thing with a shotgun is to practice the manipulation of the gun in the environment you plan on applying it in, whether it’s your home or vehicle or elsewhere. Whether a shotgun is better than a handgun is a moot point. If the door opened now and a guy stepped in the room coming at you with a knife, would you rather shoot him once with a pistol or once with a shotgun? Question answered. The shotgun will, in a proper place and time, physically remove bone and meat, which makes for quite a fight changer if not a fight stopper.

Thinking back, I remember as a cop personally seeing four different people shot at close range with a shotgun. One had a missing leg, one had a missing lower jaw and the other two had missing heads… the gun at close range seems, in my limited experience with it, to be modestly effective.

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The Long-Range Rifle

Who Says It Isn’t Affordable?

Equipment has evolved quite a bit since I used my first scoped rifle—a Remington 700 ADL in .308—in my official capacity as a SWAT rifleman / sniper / countersniper / precision rifleman / designated rifleman in 1975. And yeah, all of those nomenclatures were correct based on what era of political correctness we were in or what was required by the agency.

From a precision rifle school perspective in the ’70s, except for some in the military, there weren’t many rifles available in the civilian market, as Vietnam was winding down and everyone was in the peace and love mode… sort of.

Cop Stuff

The best rifle shooters were the benchrest guys of the era who shot custom rifles. Thinking I needed one, I had my first custom rifle for LE applications built by Fred Sinclair of New Haven, Ind., in 1975 on a Remington 700 in .308. I took a lot of heat over that rifle as it only had a 20″ barrel and I was often asked, “Where’s the rest of your rifle?” Then again, it turns out now my thoughts for a shorter compact rifle for police applications might have been a correct one. Most of the Sinclair work was in the stock and the truing of the action and barrel. I mounted a Leupold fixed 4X scope, and it was a solid rifle for the world I was in, where I needed to positively identify targets and justifiably engage them.
I taught Countersniper (or sniper) skills starting in 1983 for private students before it was the rage it is today. The rifles of that era were mostly Remington 700s or Winchester Model 70s either of the Varmint Special or Match versions. Some military match ammunition was available but a lot of people just shot ammunition that they loaded. The scopes were OK, but there was nothing to get too excited about and absolutely nothing like the high-zoot optics we have today.

Moving forward to 1993, Thunder Ranch, Texas, had three levels of precision rifle applications. They were pretty solid schools and often served as a foundation for other schools to set up programs. After 9/11, as everybody knows, everyone opened a sniper school as it was now cool again. Many people compensated for basic rifle skills by adding a scope to the top of everything from the 5.56mm M4 to the .50 BMG semi-automatics. So the money wars began in military, civilian and other circles to see who could sling the most money at solving the problem of aligning the sights and pressing a trigger correctly—give or take some wind drift.

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Jan 2012

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Concepts To Reality

The Mossberg TR M500 And Noveske TR AR-15

Over the years, I have had several opportunities to see some things I thought were good ideas come to reality. I thought affordable training by competent instructors might be a good thing. Like it or not, Thunder Ranch helped change the firearms training industry. TR importantly made for a place where people could get training from teachers and instructors based on concepts anchored in reality instead of pie-in-the-sky gimmicks and outright fraud (at least I thought so).

Also, I liked being part and parcel of the reintroduction of the big Smith & Wesson N-frame Model 21 and 22 Thunder Ranch revolvers as nurtured by Mr. Roy Cuny and Mr. Antonio Miele. These first retro guns led to the now popular and growing Classic Series line of handguns made by the iconic “King of the Revolving Handgun.”

Les Baer’s TR 1911 was (and still is) another good idea; Les, Karen, Brenda and the “shop” have made nearly 5,000 1911 pistols based on a simple concept I wanted. Les turned it into a reality by building the Thunder Ranch Special the way a 1911 should really be built for use as a defensive handgun. A new formula comes to mind: Dependability
+ Durability = Economy.

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Old Stuff

Is Fun Stuff. Know When To Retire It From Active Duty.

Old stuff is cool, old rifles, old handguns, old cartridges, old magazines, old holsters—all that used dusty, rusty, bent, scratch-and-dent-sale worn history is often pretty nifty gear. And a lot of it can get you killed!—If you let it.

No one likes old stuff any better than me. If it’s the right item, I’ll choose old stuff over the new almost every time. Bluntly, although it drives some people nuts, I like old Smith & Wesson handguns, the 1960s and ’70s are favorites and it drives my poor friend Antonio Miele from S&W nuts, and drives him to say, “Whatcha’ want dat old crap for?”

But, as Tony is Smith & Wesson’s premier actual gun guy working at the Springfield plant, he is interested in selling the product of today—as it should be. The new Smith & Wesson’s are as good as they have ever been, but I like the old Smith’s just as I like old cars (even though those old cars often are a pain in the overheating-leaking-oil-gas-guzzling backside).


No one, and I mean no one, is harder on gear than Heidi, the bride of my life. Not from abuse but because she actually uses her stuff. When it comes to holsters she usually wears them out two at a time and she wears guns like most folks wear shoes. The holsters worn daily, as she says, are comfortable, but after everyday wear day after day, month after month, they wear out.

I always have two new holsters at the ready but the transition period for her is the worst. I’ll suggest she change over to the new holster, but, of course, who would want to change after months of break-in to the perfect fit? So the final sales pitch goes something like, “Hey, are your retention straps going to fail and drop the guns at an inappropriate moment?” So, with pause, she switches. The change over takes about a week to wear in. Once Heidi breaks the new holsters in, she is happy, and I am happy as my partner always has and carries two guns (isn’t it great?).

I recently saw a photo of an old holster worn to the point of frazzle. During the holstered-while-sitting-in-the-car mode, an edge of the holster engaged the trigger and the gun fired while the guy was trying to get in or out of the car. Bad holster? Bad gun? I think not. I think a proper and good condition holster will protect the trigger of any type of pistol. Blame the holster or blame the gun, but replace the holster.

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You Might Be A Brain Surgeon


Since I shoot on a daily basis, I see and hear some strange things. Some people, wishing to do well, get performance anxiety. Some people know it all, and some know nothing. As part of this learning process, I qualify each lecture I give with a couple of things. First, I don’t know everything. Second, while at school their brain and a parachute have something in common—they will both work best if they are open.

Actually, I did have a brain surgeon in a class. Besides being a nice guy, he was a little naïve about some aspects of shooting. He felt he could align the sights on the target, yank the trigger and the bullet would be clear of the barrel before his push affected the bullet strike. We bantered this about some, and then I showed him a few things he wasn’t aware of.

Correctly, this is a pre-ignition push. So, with our doctor weighing in at 180 pounds and the pistol at a about 2 pounds, who do you think wins the pushing contest?

When we push in anticipation of the pistol being fired, we move the sights off the point of aim before the bullet leaves. This is the reason so many right-handed students have hits in the lower left of the target. When the pistol is recoiling and the push is happening at the same time, there is often no sense of pushing the pistol. I know this because I’ve done it.

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California Dreamin’

No 30-Shot AR? You Have Other Good Rifle Choices.

I get quite a few students from California, and they very well understand how jacked up the state is in regards to the liberal-leaning, goofy laws—especially when it comes to guns. Many have homes, jobs and, most importantly, families they need to stand by, so they hang on. Bluntly, if you are a gun owner and you try to do the right thing, living a decent life there is harder than woodpecker lips.

They have something so stupid, I am not quite sure I have figured it out yet. It has to do with AR-style rifles; they have a list of two or three things the gun has to have and not have—like no bayonet lug. What, no bayonet lugs?! I digress. So the really stupid begins, as they must have a key-like or bullet-nose-like latch/button to load or open the action to load… OK, my non-college-educated-dumb-only-finished-high-school mind gets lost.

All right, so I can have all this dumb, legal stuff on what basically amounts to a non-functioning AR, or I can buy a Mini-14 as long as I have only 10-round magazines. Just so I get this right, I can have a semi-auto rifle based on a made-for-war weapon like the Garand or M1 Carbine as long as capacity doesn’t exceed 10-rounds.

If you live in California, I got news for you. Buy a Mini-14 and a box of 10-round magazines. Ruger will be happy and you can defend yourself and family more than “pretty well”; however you’ll need to practice loading a bit. Then again, unless 12 turds attack you, you should be fine.  Remember, you’ll have 11 rounds in your Ruger: one chambered and 10 in your legal magazine. It’ll be OK if you’re in a fight for your life. And if you practice loading a bit, you can reload and pick up the 12th apparently very brave guy, who kept coming while 11 of his buddies went under the bow of the boat during frontal assault on your Ruger rifle. So, a Ruger is good.

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Good Gear

These Are Very Solid Items

I have been fortunate to have jobs I liked all of my adult life. This writing—using the term loosely on my part—is fun and, although I am not great at it, I think most of the time I can contribute something to the folks who might read my columns. Part of the fun aspect is getting to use really good gear.

Starting his business in 1983, Craig Spegel is quickly approaching three decades of stock making for handguns. His work and designs are copied by many and stolen by some, but in neither case are they ever equaled, in my opinion. Craig has made over 20,000 pairs of stocks over the years and the revolver stocks made by him are unmatched in fit, function and quality of wood. Spegel’s absolute forte is the revolver stock, and I hardly own a revolver that doesn’t have a pair of stocks either of the boot-grip or full-grip design. The boot-grip design is a personal favorite, even on N-frame Smith & Wessons and they provide a degree of concealment while providing a positive, solid, grip area.

Spegel’s stocks come in smooth or checkered formats; the smooth are prettier, but the checkered are more functional as the smooth versions are finished so well that they can be a bit slippery sometimes. Grips are offered for J, K, L and N frames for round or square butt. There is also a conversion setup that allows for round-butt guns to be fitted to wear a square-butt set of stocks.

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July 2011

June 2011