It Isn’t Just Shooting

If it were, we’d train like those old range photos, standing straight up, shooting with the gun hand extended toward the target, weak hand on your hip, no speed reloads, a brass bucket at our feet.  But surviving AND WINNING a gunfight is more that just target practice, and more than just pulling the trigger.

The Importance of Weapons Manipulation

By Travis Pike

Weapon’s manipulation is one of the most critical skills one can have if they are serious about self-defense, survival and prepping. Weapon’s manipulation encompasses every single aspect of your weapon. In the military there are plenty of Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors who are focused on support position, for them skill with a weapon is a secondary, or even tertiary concern.  If you hold a combat arms MOS, like infantry, combat engineers, artillery scout, and the various Special operations guys then the importance of learning your weapon is critical.

This isn’t just being able to use a rifle or a handgun. In the military, a mortarman has to know his mortar inside and out an assaultman has to know his SMAW inside and out. I couldn’t possibly write an article detailing the proper weapon manipulation for one person. The wide variety of rifles, handguns, and shotguns make it impossible for me to detail exactly how you should handle your personal weapons. Instead, we will focus on the concept of proper weapon manipulation as it applies to all weapons.

Why Weapon’s Manipulation is Important
I was lucky enough to serve with an excellent NCO and squad leader. He drilled into us a high level of expertise when it came to infantry skills. He stressed having a brilliance in the basics in everything, including firearms manipulation. An infantry squad is composed of a variety of different weapons, including rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, handguns, and even rockets and mortars when necessary. Being skilled with your weapon isn’t just for your well-being, but for the well-being of the squad.

These drills came into play in combat on a regular basis. When something can go wrong, it will go wrong. As a machine gunner, I had to learn how to manipulate my weapon to keep enemies suppressed. Without machine gun fire my squad could not maneuver and pursue with speed and aggression.

I dealt with malfunctions that dealt with both the weapon and ammunition. For example, I ran into a runaway gun, a malfunction where the gun failures to stop firing when I release the trigger. It sounds fun, but it wastes your ammo rapidly. The training I received taught to recognize the malfunction and how to correct it, even when fueled with adrenaline, excitement, fear, and anger. It turns out that training hard, long, and with great repetition will conquer all emotions.

The same training applied to reloading the weapon, a task that has to be both methodical and done quickly. The same could be said for my ability to set the weapon up on the bipod, and how to get in the proper position to control the weapon and engage my targets. I also needed to be capable of using night optics on my weapon, the PEQ 16 laser aiming device, and how to properly use my sling in both a firefight and during patrols. It is a common mistake to assume that weapon’s manipulation only involves shooting. These are skills I used and relied on day in and day out in combat.

These skills were all learned, honed and refined through meticulous training, day after day and hour after hour. We learned these skills through repetition, sometimes dry, sometimes live. Both are critical when it comes to proper training.

Even in a firefight, the basics of marksmanship are still important. We were taught that the strength of shooting coming from the fundamentals. Think of the basics of marksmanship on the bottom, the support columns, that allow you to implement the complicated. I trained to shoot from a wide variety of shooting positions. I learned to accurately shoot my weapon behind cover and in a multitude of positions.

The vast majority of people I know aren’t using a machine gun, but most the skills are important for using any firearm. For example, being able to swiftly and properly reload a weapon is quite critical. We were trained to practice reloading dry, with snap caps to deactivate any bolt hold open devices. We trained to reload both tactically and for speed reloads. I was taught to reload in a variety of positions, this includes standing, kneeling, in the prone position, as well as behind cover, and even on the move. We quickly learned that gunfights are rarely predictable and essential skills should be trained in a variety of scenarios. Keeping your gun running is critical to any gunfight.

The same can be said for malfunctions training. It is another essential skill when you speak weapon’s manipulation. Using snap caps we learned to solve stovepipes, failure to feeds, and magazine failures with rifles, and runaway guns, jams, and immediate action with machine guns. These same skills are unique to different weapons, but should be trained in a variety of different scenarios just like reloads. A gunfight doesn’t stop to allow you to reload, so be prepared to do it on the move, and when you’re eating dirt, and you better do it fast.

One thing our squad leader harped on was gross motor skills. Gross motor skills kept them simple and nonspecific. If your skill relies on a certain position or a sole condition, it’s hardly worth learning. The chances of that one situation arising are rare. Gross motor skills are simplistic and easy to learn; they are also adaptable. For example, let’s look at a handgun. When the slide is locked to the rear we trained to grip the rear of the slide and pull it back to return the slide to battery. This is a gross motor skill. We did not use the slide release. The slide release is smaller and more difficult to use. It’s also near impossible to do when shooting left handed.

We also trained on how to utilize the accessories on our weapons. Once we mounted and zeroed our PEQ 16s they stayed put. The PEQ 16 was equipped with a laser aiming module and a flashlight. We trained to activate the unit with a single hand, while the weapon and our minds were on target. This was critical when observing potential threats and night and identifying them for our squad silently.

Weapon’s manipulation as a skill is invaluable when you know you’re going to war, and when you might have a war come to you. Learn how to handle your weapon, your accessories, and your magazines inside and out.

Hat tip to

3 comments on “It Isn’t Just Shooting

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