Should you carry with a round in the chamber? Addendum

In continuing with the discussion about if you should carry with a round in the chamber (or not), I’d like to offer some recently published hard data from Claude Werner.

Claude wrote an article on Gunhandling. In this article he discussed two recent experiences: one was shooting the Swiss concealed weapons qualification test, the other was regarding the handling of malfunctions at an IDPA match. While the malfunctions experience is worthy of discussion unto itself, it’s the Swiss test that I’m focusing on today.

I assert that one should carry with a round in the chamber. One key reason? Time matters. To have to rack a round into the chamber is going to cost you time. How much time? Claude writes:

To get an initial feel for the difference between chamber empty and loaded chamber start, I did five one shot unconcealed draws using each technique. Overall, chamber empty was slower to the tune of .48 seconds average. I was shooting my Beretta 92G Centurion from a Safariland 567 open top holster.

So drawing and having to rack one into the chamber cost him about half a second.

Note: this is Claude Werner. He’s a Master-class IDPA shooter, and was chief instructor at the elite Rogers Shooting School for a number of years. He’s also a guy that runs exercises such as “1000 days of dry fire” (yes, 1000 consecutive days, dry firing every day… you miss one day, you lose and have to start over — and he completes it). The point is, Claude’s level of skill and gun manipulation is far above average, and likely far above your skill level.

So if it takes a highly skilled person half a second, how long is it going to take you?

Let’s go back to the typical gunfight of “3 shots in 3 seconds within 3 yards”. So if you have 3 seconds, now you only have 2.5 seconds – if you’re Claude. If we’re talking 3 shots, again assuming a high level of skill and 0.20 seconds between shots (splits), that’s about 0.40 seconds to shoot 3 shots. So again, high level of skill, you’ve now got about 2 seconds to react to the stimulus, draw, and start shooting. A 1.5 second concealment draw is considered good. So, if you’ve got the skills, you might be able to pull all this off. But do you have such a high-level of skill? And if you are anything less than honest in your assessment, you’re doing yourself and your life a disservice.

In addition to time (speed), there is another consideration: accuracy. Claude writes:

Having established a baseline difference, I proceeded to shoot the Swiss qual course twice, once with the chamber empty and once with a loaded chamber. I used the same gear but also my favorite concealment vest, a construction worker’s fluorescent vest. What I found was that chamber empty was not only slower (0.48-0.67 seconds) but somewhat less accurate than having a round in the chamber. I had to work really hard to get the front sight on target after loading the chamber. Unlike a smooth loaded chamber drawstroke, there’s a lot of rotational movement of the pistol going during the period of driving the gun to the target. I didn’t have any trouble making the times, but it’s not exactly a cakewalk, either. Not long into the course, the safety ears were beginning to hurt my fingers, which may have had some effect on the results, too.

Years ago, I took a pistol course from Kelly McCann. He said that the Israelis just accept that they are going to throw away the first shot when using the chamber empty technique. After doing this exercise, I can see why. With all the gun movement, and if using the strict Israeli technique, 90 degrees of rotating of the gun, it’s hard to get even the muzzle indexed on target, much less get the front sight on it. Notice also the inclined to the low left classic group, indicating the trigger jerking that was going on. I expect this is because of the amount of complex (gross simultaneous with fine) motor skills that are involved.

Again, we’re talking Claude Werner level of shooting skill. While he was able to make the times, it was difficult. There’s so much going on, so much extraneous movement, and now there’s an increased level of difficulty in getting acceptable hits. Take a look at Claude’s targets.

BTW, I wouldn’t recommend the Israeli philosophy of throwing away the first shot. The first shot is too important (click through, read why)! While it’s not a wise thing to do, understand the reasoning – because all this fumbling around is likely going to equate to your first shot being unacceptable, and that… is unacceptable.

Compounding matters, if you take the issues of time, speed, accuracy, gunhandling, all of these things into account, and now throw in Paul Ford’s statistic that in a gunfight you’ll perform at 70% of your worst day on the range, can you see how not having a round in the chamber is going to magnify your troubles? How it’s going to really work against you?

If you still wish to carry without a round in the chamber, that’s your decision. Consider the above. Consider how much further it puts you behind the curve. Consider how it increases complexity.  Then consider, if it’s really the wisest decision to make.

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