Gunfighter Moment – Mike Pannone

On use of the M4 selector:

The principle to be adhered to is that you initiate the dismounting of the rifle by initiating movement of the thumb to the selector. By doing so you are beginning the largest least critical movement with the smallest and most critical movement so it does not get forgotten or more commonly, overlooked because something has drawn your attention and broken the mental continuity. From an instructional perspective, if I see a rifle brought out of the mount with a time gap of 1 second or more and then put on safe, I can nearly guarantee you that individual will forget to safe the rifle under pressure of time or threat. It must be a learned pattern of response (motor memory, procedural memory, automated neural control…whatever you want to call it except for muscle memory, please.)

I safe my rifle on reloads because if I am so close that I need to immediately reengage and have a sidearm I will transition (the only time I don’t care if it is placed on safe or not), If I don’t have a sidearm I would be seeking cover not reloading in the open and then reemerging in a different spot. If I have distance, then I would be dropping behind cover and finding another position to reemerge from as well, so other than a transition I can put the rifle on safe without any real effect on my re-engagement speed. I use “the jumpmaster theory” of learning what “right” feels like. I put my rifle on safe every time it leaves the mount and I don’t even realize it but if I miss the selector it will jump out at me because it is wrong. Just like when I was a jumpmaster I didn’t even notice if I walked by a jumper with a properly rigged parachute but I could spot a misrouted static-line or twisted strap in my peripheral vision because the picture was wrong. I could also trace a strap and never see it but immediately know it is misrouted or twisted by feel.

Again, I had patterned in the right feeling along with the right picture and it would immediately jump out at me if incorrect but be invisible when correct. I had patterned in the correct picture and feeling so when it was present it was seamless and when it was absent it was obvious. Even if I don’t take the time to place it on safe or miss the selector when I attempt to, I realize it is in the fire position and can act accordingly at the next opportunity. Learning is patterning behavior and I want to pattern my behavior in the proper manner every chance I get. In my opinion you are either learning a task in the best possible way or one of all the other ways; it’s up to you to figure out which is which.

– Mike Pannone


Mike Pannone retired from the Army’s premier assault force (1st SFOD-D) after an explosive breaching injury. A year after his retirement America was attacked on 9/11 and he returned to help serve his country as the head marksmanship instructor at the Federal Air Marshals training course and then moved to help stand up the FAMS Seattle field office. In 2003 he left the FAMS to serve as a PSD detail member and then a detail leader for the State Department during 2003 and 2004 in Baghdad and Tikrit.

In 2005 he served as a ground combat advisor of the Joint Counter IED Task Force and participated on combat operations with various units in Al Anbar province. Upon returning he gave IED awareness briefings to departing units and helped stand up a pre-Iraq surge rifle course with the Asymmetric Warfare Group as a lead instructor. With that experience as well as a career of special operations service in Marine Reconnaissance, Army Special Forces and JSOC to draw from he moved to the private sector teaching planning, leadership, marksmanship and tactics as well as authoring and co-authoring several books such as The M4 Handbook, AK Handbook and Tactical Pistol shooting. Mike also consults for several major rifle and accessory manufacturers to help them field the best possible equipment to the warfighter, law enforcement officer and upstanding civilian end user. He is considered a subject matter expert on the AR based Stoner platform in all its derivatives.

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Gunfighter Moment is a weekly feature brought to you by Alias Training & Security Services. Each week Alias brings us a different Trainer and in turn they offer some words of wisdom.

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28 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Mike Pannone

  1. SLG says:

    That is the best explanation I have heard/read yet. Of course it is slower to safe the gun when reloading, vs. leaving it on fire. The issue is the context, and whether that slight time difference matters. Well written.

  2. Mandaloin says:

    I haven’t heard a convincing argument as to why some advocate making safe a gun that simply cannot fire. I’ve been told you should safe your rifle whenever you disconnect from the sights, and I agree with that. But in this scenario the only reason why you’re disconnecting from your sights is because no matter what you do the gun just won’t shoot, regardless what the selector is set to.

    • Vince says:

      Not true. Re think the mechanics of the gun. If it’s in bolt hold, you can’t even put in on safe. If the bolt is forward and there is a round in the chamber, it can fire. Regardless, milliseconds don’t matter in combat so don’t sweat the small stuff and play it as it lays. Put your weapon on safe when you can.

  3. Seamus says:


    The Entire article boils down to:
    1) Put you rifle on safe when you reload= building good habits.
    2) Do it every time UNLESS the bad guy is really close then just shoot him with your pistol because it is quicker.
    3) Use cover when reloading or fixing your gun so bad guys can’t shoot you.

    Also someone please explain how to “mount” and “dismount” a rifle. I have “mounted” and “dismounted” plenty of vehicles and horses in my life but never a rifle?

    P.S. Yes I know he was a Delta guy, but this is still ridiculous.

    • Geoff says:

      Getting the buttstock into proper positioning before firing. Going from carrying to shooting mode. And vice versa. That’s mounting and dismounting a rifle.

    • SSD says:

      If you don’t know how to mount and dismount a rifle, well, let’s just say that the author’s not the ridiculous one.

      • Seamus says:

        Why not simply say “shoulder” the rifle, instead of making up silly terms to sound smart. Overcomplicating the simple, is not insightful… its stupid. I get that this guy has whole truck loads more shooting experience than me, but this it is still silly.

        This is how internet group think is born. Hell I wouldn’t be surprised if there are youtube videos by a bunch of kool-aid drinking tactical internet wizards debating the finer points to “mounting/dismount” their rifles/shotguns/mil-sim/Stifler’s Mom, but that doesn’t make it right. Can we all just quit with the buzz words already.

        “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”-Albert Einstein

    • Chris K. says:

      It’s called language, don’t over complicate it, bro.

    • Bob says:

      You’re a moron

    • straps says:

      No. it’s not about reloading, it’s about minimizing the potential for catastrophe (fratricide, compromise or embarassing YouTube outtakes) by building the habit to START a process that’s the same for reloading, clearing a malfunction or simply approaching a threat with the smallest, most easily-forgotten, most consequential step. EVERY technical or industrial process systematically taught to humans seeks to do this exact thing. And where it’s not practical or possible to do that, complexity is added down the line. It’s why the M9 has that stupid disconnector (whether it’s carried by a highly-trained E-7 MP or an E-2 42A with a Corps HQ), and why aircraft checklists have crew members go back over each other’s work (which they only do for missteps of catastrophic consequence).

      I’ve negligently manipulated a “live” weapon enough times to buy what he’s selling.

      Mastery is the evolution from unconscious incompetency (pimply-faced kid getting off a bus at Reception) to unconscious competency (“Delta guy”). Both get exposure to the same fundamentals, “Delta guy” takes command of them further. “Delta guy” gets flat range time, shoot house time, operational experience. He makes mistakes. Which he learns from. And shares with others. And I thank him for that.

    • Noner says:

      You are talking tactics and I am talking techniques and training methodologies. The point of the piece was to show the methodology of how you teach people. You completely missed the intent of the emphasis and conflated it with your own opinions on tactics.

  4. PLiner says:

    Mike (and others) are spot on about this approach. To those who have commented that it’s slower, over complicates things or haven’t heard a good explanation as to “why”, here are links from other guys who’s names and resumes should be familiar to you, saying the same thing, right here on SSD. So in closing, the max effective range of what ever excuse/rationalization you have for not doing this is ZERO meters.

    Response from Pat McNamara:

    Response from Frank Proctor:

    • Mandaloin says:

      I’ve read those responses before and I’m still confused as to why Pannone, Proctor and McNamara find a gun that cannot fire being off safe for a second and a half unsafe. I also find it odd that safety manipulation of the AR is harped on so heavily yet I often see them running safetyless Glocks and M&Ps, and 1911s where safety manipulation on slide lock is impossible. Hackathorn also brought up the point of trying to do that kind of safety manipulation on an AK or other platforms where these kinds of actions are impossible. People reload those guns under stress with no accidents due to the safety being off during the reload.

      I recognize and respect the experience of those who advocate safety reloads is far beyond myself and most of us here. I think they’re brilliant instructors and I’ve learned a ton from them. But I can’t reconcile safety reloads with simple reasoning.

      • SSD says:

        This is the heart of the “everybody has a Negligent Discharge” discussion that’s being held here on SSD as well as other places on the web. You see, everyone doesn’t have an ND. There are places in our military where having an ND will get you a one-way ticket out of a selectively manned unit. It’s because they are dangerous. You can wound or kill a fellow unit member. Consequently, they take safety seriously.

        • Arrow 4 says:

          Mike and SSD are spot on. It takes zero time to actuate the selector if it is done out of habit and without thought. A gun off safety can and WILL fire at some point, hence SSD’s comment on ND’s.
          I recently took a week long carbine course where I was continually “corrected” when I instinctively engaged the safety when coming off target and off the shoulder, I never understood the instructors insistence that I leave the safety off.

          • SSD says:

            I used to think it was okay if I was pointed in the direction of the target to leave it off safe but then I started talking to guys like Mike Pannone who served at the pointless tip of the spear. I understand their position and have adopted it myself.

      • Noner fan says:

        Let’s say you don’t manipulate the safety prior to a reload since in your words the gun is unable to fire. What happens after you complete your reload and the firearm is now ready to fire? Do you then manipulate the safety prior to acquiring your target? If you’re reloading behind cover, do you move to a new spot with the weapon off safe prior to reappearing?

        There are multiple scenarios where the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. I think you’re too focused on the reload aspect of it. Lots of things can and do happen during a reload. The idea of making the weapon safe every time you “dismount” it is that you now have it in the safest possible condition to deal with those situations.

      • Ben says:

        Glocks and M&Ps aren’t safety-less, they have passive safeties (firing pin block* and trigger safety) which mean that they are drop-safe.

        An AR-15 only has an active safety so isn’t drop safe.

        As such, Glocks/M&Ps don’t have the same handling requirements an AR-15 has.

        *Series 80 1911s also have a firing pin safety.

  5. PTMCCAIN says:

    Curious…I’ve been putting off putting an ambi safety on my main AR because I do not want to develop a “training scar” but with my monster sized hands I’ve always found it easier to flip the selector on safe with my shooting hand/trigger finger using an ambi safety. Anyone else? Thoughts on this?

    • Geoff says:

      I do the same. Off with the thumb. On with the trigger finger. Just seems natural to me.

      • Hubb says:

        “Off with the thumb. On with the trigger finger.”

        I do the exact same thing. I try to put ambi safeties on all my weapons. Also, when I’m just holding my rifle, the thumb rest on top of the left side safety lever and my forefinger rests underneath the right side safety lever straight on the lower receiver; this way gives me constant feedback on the position of my safety.

    • Dave S says:

      I have a Beretta ARX with ambi safety. Forefinger manipulation is much easier (for me) and the tactile feedback is a big plus when at rest. Probably will install the ambi on my M4 soon.

  6. Bradkaf308 says:

    My issues are 1 the shape @ position of the selector. It’s not as comfortable as some. My first rifle C1A1, the selector was not a problem for me to rest my thumb on and know what was what. 2 it didn’t matter the state of the rifle you could manipulate it. No training scare, or trying to over think the trigger. That to me is one of the poorest design points of AR’s.