It’s important to practice with any firearm that you may carry for lifesaving work. Most guns work well right out of the box, but do you want to bet your life on a gun you’ve never fired? For a duty gun, I like to shoot 250 rounds (if it’s a smaller backup/off-duty gun) to 500 rounds (if it’s a duty/primary gun) to break in the firearm and test for reliability. To further check reliability, it would be advisable to shoot your duty gun from different positions and at different speeds. In a critical incident, you may need to shoot from different positions, so running the gun through several positions in training will give you a good idea of how the firearm will operate and will also enable you to train the way you may have to fight.

We all know we need to shoot our guns before we carry them, but what are some basic drills we can do to check our carry gun’s reliability?

1. Ammo Check

First, verify that your duty ammo works in your gun. Doing reliability drills using the ammo you plan to carry will help you determine whether you can trust that ammo to work in your gun. Guns can be finicky, and some may prefer a particular brand of ammunition over another. Shooting 50 to 100 rounds of duty ammo will give you a good idea of whether that gun-and-ammo combination will work when you need it. If your gun malfunctions and you find the cause is related to the ammo, either switch the ammo or try another gun. Another option would be to send the weapon to a competent gunsmith to tune the ammo to the gun. Ultimately, the gun has to be 100 percent reliable with the ammunition you feed it.

2. Find Your Zero

Since accuracy is an important part of reliability, start by zeroing your firearm using the ammunition you plan to carry. Sight in the rifle or handgun for a specific range. At Gunsite, we like to sight in 5.56mm carbines for a 200-yard zero, pocket guns at 10 yards and duty handguns at 25 yards.

3. The Dot Drill

Once the AR or handgun is zeroed, use the dot drill to check the point of aim and point of impact at close range. Take a Sharpie and draw a black, dime-sized dot in the center of the target.

Carbine: At 5 yards shoot a five-shot group, aiming at the center of the black dot. During the dot drill, make sure you press the trigger to the rear slowly and smoothly without disturbing the sight picture. It’s important to keep the pressure on the trigger after the gun goes bang, making sure you hold the trigger to the rear. Now obtain a second sight picture. Then release the trigger slowly, just enough until you hear or feel the disconnector work. Start the trigger pressure to the rear again, and complete this cycle until you’ve shot five rounds. We call this “press and hold, ease to reset.” Do not let your finger come completely off the trigger.

Check to see where those five rounds impacted, and look at the size of your five-shot group. Take your time, and try to have all five rounds as close to touching as possible. Move from 5 yards to 25 yards in 5-yard increments, shooting five-shot groups at each increment. The purpose of this drill is to see where the rounds impact compared with where your sights were aligned on the target. This drill will show you where the sight height or bore offset is and how that affects point of aim and point of impact at different yardages.

Handgun: After the handgun is zeroed at a specific range, shoot five-shot groups, aiming at the center of the dot from 5 yards. See where your group is located compared with the center of the dot where you were aiming. Shoot another five-shot group, using any Kentucky windage you might need to shoot out the black dot. Move back to 10 yards, and repeat the drill.

4. Dedicated Pairs

After you know where the gun is shooting, fire two rounds, obtaining a sight picture for each shot. Start at 5 yards and shoot six dedicated pairs. Move to 10 yards and shoot another six. The last set of six dedicated pairs will be shot from 25 yards. Don’t forget the sight or bore offset when doing this drill with an AR. Make sure you see the sight picture each time before you press the trigger. Speed up the “press and hold, ease to reset” until you are shooting two rounds in about one second. For the handgun, shoot from 5, 7 and 10 yards.

5. Faster Hammers

You now need to speed up, firing two shots with one sight picture, or what is known as “hammers.” (It’s rumored that the reason the double-tap has different names is that a couple of SWAT officers didn’t think the brass would like them using the term “double-tap” or “hammer,” so they came up with the more politically correct term “accelerated pairs.”) Once you get the double-tap down, you can actually watch the front sight moving all the way through the recoil cycle. With a carbine do this at 5, 10 and 15 yards, shooting six double-taps at each distance. With a handgun use 3, 5 and 7 yards. Try for quarter-second or better splits from the first to the second shot.

6. Modified Bill Drill

From 5 yards from the ready position, fire six rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger, watching the front sight dance as it moves through the recoil cycle of the six rounds. Repeat the drill from 10 and 15 yards with the carbine, and from 7 yards with the handgun. Try to keep all rounds inside a 6-inch circle.

7. Carbine Supine

Shoot five-shot groups while lying on your back in the supine position. Supine is sitting on the ground and then lying down flat on your back, with the AR ejection port pointing up and your feet parallel to the firing line. Shoot a five-shot group from 50 yards to check point of aim, point of impact and reliability.

Gangster-Style Pistol: We can do the same drill with the handgun. Stand up and turn the handgun 90 degrees so the ejection port is pointing up. Shoot a five-shot group from 7 yards to check for reliability.

8. Carbine Urban Prone

Shoot five-shot groups while lying on the ground in the urban prone position. Urban prone is lying on your gun side with the ejection port pointing down toward the ground. Your gun arm is trapped under you, and your support hand elevates the carbine’s forearm to align the sights onto the target. Be sure to keep your hand away from the ejection port and the gas system of piston guns. Shoot a five-shot group from 50 yards to check your AR’s point of aim, point of impact and reliability.

Armed & Confident

Remember to run different magazines through your carbine or handgun when doing these reliability drills, to make certain the magazines work with your duty ammo in your firearm. Also draw from a holster, practice reloads and do other training to verify that all of your equipment works together well.

Shooting your firearm at different positions and speeds while running these eight reliability drills will make you confident that your firearm will perform in a critical situation. Note any malfunctions and their determined causes. Your goal is 100 percent reliability because, in life-and-death situations, anything less is just not good enough.

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