One-Handed Survival Shooting Techniques – Necessary or Fluff?

Training with one hand is often referred to as “wounded shooter training”.  Is this always the case?  Read more to find out…  

Last week’s Facebook LIVE discussion covered one-handed survival manipulation; a subject I took a liking to long ago. When I was instructing with the Federal Air Marshal Firearms program, I was tasked with putting together the one-handed manipulation block. I scrounged all the books and ideas I had together and began a long road teaching how to manipulate a handgun (and later a rifle) with one hand.

Using the momentum strip to remove the magazine from he gun during training.

Question: What is the real reason why we should be training to use only one hand to manipulate and shoot the firearm?

Lots of people might say “because it is common to get shot in one of your extremities and you will lose the use of one.”  While I agree, and the statistics confirm this to an extent, during years of teaching I have witnessed some other factors that forced students to use one hand. Some of these factors might change the way we look at and select techniques for one hand only operation. 

Depending on the reason we are manipulating the handgun with one hand, we might realize very quickly that some techniques are good for certain situations and others are basically useless.  In the one-handed survival-shooting blocks I teach, I run through a variety of techniques that will allow someone to draw, reload, and clear malfunction.  The goal for this article is to inform you of the importance of this type of training, and give you some things to think about in relation to shooting and manipulating your gun with only one hand.

First, lets look at the two common situations that force us to fight with only one hand.  Note that there can be many different scenarios in each of these situations.

Hand/Arm woundedThis is the primary reason most people do one hand manipulation training. It is the reason we have read about or seen that causes the most fear.  Imagine having to fight your way through a situation after receiving a wound that eliminates the use of one arm – not fun.  The technique of choice should allow us the most flexibility in terms of movement and use of potential cover. Obviously, we will not want to stand still if we are in the fight and have been wounded in some manner.  It is critical in your training process that you think about the order of events that will most likely guarantee your success and practice what you would want to do in the fight. For example, suppose your slide locks to the rear during the fight forcing you to do an emergency reload and sometime during that fight you are wounded. Moving offline might be a better option than standing there and trying to facilitate a one arm reload. 

Additionally, if you have competently trained a technique you can use on the move, that might be a technique I would embrace rather than one that causes you to stand still in this particular situation.  Regardless of what technique you use, I have found that the best option to avoid getting shot (tested extensively with NLTA and paintball) is to get offline (some call this off the X) as aggressively as possible. Once you are in some other spot and preferably behind cover, then perform the reload.

Hand/Arm occupiedThis is the second reason that the arm might be unusable and is as common or more so than being wounded.  Some situations I have observed that will occupy the arm include: tied up holding an opponent (fighting, cuffing, etc.) or using it to carry something real important (holding a baby, or dragging or helping your partner or team mate in a combat situation).  When having to access or manipulate the gun because of this reason, you might find some techniques less effective than others. 

For example, if you are using one hand to hold onto a strong opponent, you might not be able to use a reloading method that requires you to squeeze your knees together to secure the firearm for the reload. This would be impractical simply because you are going to be pushed and pulled all over the place during the fight. Other examples of this are assisting a partner or controlling a principle. These are just some of the reasons why it is good to know and train with several techniques that might be used in different situations. 

Some other things that need to be considered and discussed are things like gun/gear access, gun/gear set up, and lastly, how to objectively select the right techniques that will give you the skills you need.  Lets break each down:

Gun Access:  When accessing your gun (draw process) with one hand occupied, your preference should be drawing with your strong hand. Get in the habit of having your strong (gun) hand available and using the other hand for non-pertinent tasks.  If you do this, the strong hand draw process should really not change much from your normal draw, except the second hand will not be placed on the gun.  If you violate this principle of keeping your strong hand free, you might find yourself set up for failure if you have to access your firearm. I can draw my firearm with both hands, but certainly prefer to draw with my strong hand given a choice! 

Can you access your firearm with either hand?

One hand access of your gun with either hand is a key consideration.  You will find out fairly early if your chosen (or issued) holster and gear will be accessible with either hand.  Some holsters and carry locations make it much more difficult to access your firearm. I always want my students to look at the weaknesses of their holster system as it pertains to access with either hand and find ways to work around them.  

Spare gear (magazine) location is also a serious consideration. If your magazine is stored on the same side of your body that you are using to secure a person while fighting, you might find it impossible to access that magazine. I have worked with a bunch of students who carry their spare magazine in their pocket (usually their support side pocket). When given the task of performing a one-handed reload it often takes them an immense amount of effort to get to the magazine, especially when they are physically fighting with someone.

A pancake holster like this will likely collapse after the gun is removed.

Checking your gear:  One of the first things I cover in my one-handed manipulation and shooting blocks of instruction is gun and gear set up. The type of holster and magazine pouch you wear will effect how you are going to operate your gun with one hand beyond the access considerations discussed above.  Certain techniques require you to use your holster, belt, or magazine pouches to work the slide or secure the gun during a reload. Some gear works well for one-handed manipulation and some just wont work.

An example might be a high quality leather pancake holster that collapses after the gun is drawn from it. Due to the fact the holster collapses, it will be very difficult to secure the firearm in that particular holster to perform a reload.  Holster selection and testing is critical, and you might not have the ability to pick a different holster (an example would be a Law Enforcement agent/officer that is required to wear a certain rig).  What you can do is test your equipment by trying different one-handed techniques. Discover their limitations, and then find ways to work around the problems.  This takes time and dedicated training and absolutely must be done to ensure you don’t end up having to figure this stuff out during an actual fight!

Gun set up is another important factor in operating the firearm with one hand.  Most of the techniques I teach for slide manipulation require a rear sight design that allows one to hook the rear sight on a pocket corner, belt, or holster. Some rear sights are simply not going to work when trying to rack the slide with one hand.  Guns that are designed with ambidextrous controls (slide lock/release, magazine release, etc.) are nice to have for one-handed manipulation, but not mandatory.  For example, one of the strong points of a gun like the Smith and Wesson M&P 9C is the fact that the slide lock/release lever is ambidextrous and can be operated with both hands if needed (Note: I generally do not recommend using a slide lock/release as a survival shooting technique).  Magazine release buttons should be inspected and tested for use with both hands. If you carry a gun with a magazine release on the bottom of the magazine well area, you will have to use a different technique to release the magazine with one hand only.

Selecting the right one hand technique: The best techniques are usually ones that are consistent and simple. However, you will need to learn several because certain ones simply will not work in all situations.  I always teach multiple techniques and discuss with students when each might be used during our one-handed survival shooting class.  For example, I teach a technique where you use your knees to pin the gun and hold it why performing the reload. As mentioned above, this technique will not work if you are in the middle of a scuffle.  For that case, you might be best served using the method of securing the gun in the holster for the reload.  Alternatively, a back up gun might be a good choice for this situation. If you choose the back up gun option, consider the placement of that gun somewhere so you can get to it with either hand. 

Try not to limit yourself to firearm techniques only. Think outside the box when it comes to surviving with one hand.  Often times, I stress the fact that sometimes a gun solution is not always the answer. It may be best for you to utilize some sort of physical technique to shift the fight to your favor before you would try to reload the gun or clear a malfunction with one hand. 

Training for one-handed manipulations:  I absolutely must stress the importance of getting training from a qualified instructor if you are unfamiliar with these techniques.  DO NOT go to the range and attempt any one handed technique until you have trained that technique with an unloaded firearm with dummy training ammunition first.  In classes I teach, I stress performing lots (hours) of dry practice first before advancing to a simple live fire drill that allows the user to test all of the techniques during live fire. I recommend that a portion of each training session be devoted to one-handed shooting and manipulation; even if just a small part.   A side benefit of shooting and manipulating a firearm with one hand only is increased skill with two hands when you go back to your normal operational techniques.  After training with just one hand, shooting with both is a breeze!

In closing, let me state this very important point: If you carry a firearm for self-defense, you NEED to know how to perform all critical manipulation skills with one hand only.  Full time law enforcement and military professionals: if your training personnel are not teaching you these skills, they are either too limited by their superiors or their knowledge. Either is wrong.  One of the worst scenarios in the world I can imagine is getting into a fight with someone that requires deadly force, AND the use of only one arm and not knowing how to operate the handgun.  Operating a handgun with one hand only is stressful enough, and you certainly do not want to have to figure it out in a real fight.  Get some training in this unique area!

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Until Then – Train Hard!

Mike S.

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