The Accidental Southpaw
You don’t need to be in a gunfight to injure
your dominant hand or arm. It’s a contingency
best prepared for ahead of time.
A thread on one of my favorite Internet shooting forums brought back memories. Fella lost the ability to use his dominant hand for a while, and brought both logic and a sense of humor to his adaptation. Not long after, one of my editors found himself in the same situation. Both men were glad their time in cowboy action shooting had made them familiar with shooting “weak hand only.”
My own flashback was almost 3-1/2 decades old. I had been en route to a long-awaited Advanced Pistol Course under the great Ray Chapman at Chapman Academy when a freak accident left me with a crushing comminuted fracture of my trigger finger. I wound up shooting the whole thing non-dominant hand only. It taught me a lot about “wounded officer return fire” problems and solutions, and raised my consciousness as a shooter and firearms instructor overall.
Even if you prefer one-sided 1911 safety (above, left), as on this Ruger SR1911,
you’ll be glad you had an ambi (above, right), as on this Springfield Armory TGO .45,
if your right hand is taken out of action. Ambi-safety on 1911 (below, left) is much
easier to use than standard configuration (below, right) when you become a southpaw
on sudden notice.
Don’t wait until you need it to get ready for that day! When you just got out of the emergency room with your dominant limb in a sling (or in a cast, like mine) is a lousy time to start the adaptation. Have an opposite side holster, or at least an ambidextrous one, broken in and ready to go. Your natural southpaw friends can tell you how thin on the ground their holster options are at local gun shops, and how long you have to wait for a new one you just ordered to come in. Already have a gun you can run non-dominant-hand-only. That same left-handed friend can tell you how long it takes to get an ambidextrous thumb safety installed on, let’s say, your pet 1911. Mine didn’t have one at the time, and my pet Colt .45 Auto stayed in its case while I shot Chapman Advanced with a borrowed gun. It was drawn from “Mexican carry,” stuffed into my waistband on the port side, because there wasn’t a left-handed holster to be had on short notice. (Holsterless handguns get hot in the waistband when you’re doing a lot of rapid-fire shooting!)
Above all, have a substantial positive balance already deposited in your long-term muscle memory bank for “mirror image” shooting. I had long practiced weak-hand-only shooting from an officer survival standpoint by the time I sustained that injury, but none of it had been drawing from my left hip like a natural southpaw. That gave me a much steeper learning hill to climb than the other shooters I was trying to keep up with in the advanced class.
Mas keeps his (left) hand in by packing a backup on that side, in
this case a S&W M&P340 .357 in Safariland pocket holster.
These days, there’s always an ambi or mirror-image holster in the suitcase when I travel, and I make sure I have at least one ambidextrous handgun along for the trip. I do what I can to keep the muscle memory bank balance up, too. I wear a backup gun on the left, and qualify with it that way. Now and then I’ll shoot a match or teach a class mirror image—that is, all southpaw even though I’m right-handed—for the same reasons. And for one more reason.
I got something out of my intensive left-hand-only week at Chapman Academy I hadn’t seen coming. My dad started me with pistols and revolvers when I was still a little boy. Having literally grown up shooting, the handgun had become the proverbial extension of my hand. I had found myself losing patience as a firearms instructor when a student “didn’t get it.”
The gun hand in the cast was a consciousness-raiser. It taught me what it was like for the new student who feels, not that familiar extension of the hand but an alien, awkward, “How the heck do I work this?” type of thing. It made me a better and more patient instructor.
Above all, have plenty of practice shooting non-dominant hand only before your
dominant hand gets taken out of action. The pistol here is a 9mm Glock 19.
Something else about it made me a better instructor. How does a right-handed person teach a left-handed person to do something, if he hasn’t learned to do it that way himself? In the larger picture, shooting “with the wrong side of your body” makes you re-think, and more deeply analyze, how you’re doing things.
And finally, if we can’t teach the non-dominant side of your body to do something, how on earth are we going to teach a whole separate human being to do it?
As my dominant limb healed, it came back slowly, as yours will, and it was able to perform support functions long before it was ready to be my primary hand again. For six months, I carried and competed as a southpaw. Interesting thing: I won a higher proportion of the matches I shot during that period than I did before or since. I think it was because when all was well, I had a tendency to trust unconscious competence and go autopilot. I was thinking stuff like “This time I’ll beat Tom Campbell!” But when it was the less experienced hand running the gun, I was forced back to “conscious competence.” I had to think, “Front sight…smooth trigger roll.” And that turned out to be more of a winning thought process.
There’s more to learn from “mirror image” shooting than is generally seen on the surface.