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Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn

Everyone from individuals to unit commanders want to establish ‘standards’ of skill. When we apply the ‘standards’ test to combat marksmanship, we generally like to use courses of fire or skill drills to measure performance levels.

In my travels over the past few decades, when starting out with a new group, agency, or unit I often ask the leader or CO where the skill levels are with his people. The answer is almost always, “my guys are good”. Remember, good is a relative term. In some organizations, that can mean that they actually hit their targets occasionally, or that in some rare instances, they are really good solid shooters. A great many trainers of my era have developed skill drills to measure levels of proficiency. Many times, I have used those that were developed by others. The famous ‘El Presidente’ pistol drill is a great example. In most cases, after a couple of days of disciplined training and range practice, most students leave the class with enhanced levels of skill.

In short, if I have done my job they have left the range better than they arrived. The real secret to reaching acceptable standards is practice. What a really good trainer does is give you the tools to utilize in practice. If you don’t practice, you will very likely never really be ‘good’. By the way, this applies to most things in life.

If the standards are established to be challenging enough to produce true skill levels that are of benefit, our goals are fine. Sadly, what we see so often is very low standards that nearly everyone can pass. Law enforcement is a classic example of this, and most military combat marksmanship ‘standards’ are not far behind. Just look at the CCW skill requirements that one has to pass in most states (if they have them). So, we all understand that ‘standards’ must be established and realistic, then practiced until the individual can meet these requirements.

I just recently had a gentleman inform me that he passed my ‘wizard drill’ with flying colors, and in his mind it was not challenging in the least bit. After a short conversation concerning his fantastic shooting skills, he admitted in the conversation that it took him a few tries to pass… WTF! I then informed him that the first try (shot COLD) is the only thing that counts; warm ups just don’t matter. You don’t get a chance to practice your draw, getting a slight picture, press checking your weapon, or any of the other stupid sh-t that people do on the range. If you can’t deliver on the first try, you better practice more.

As important as standards are, and nearly all top shooters can quote the score or placement in a given shooting event where standards are measured, there is another factor that even the most lowly second lieutenant can quote is, after standards come the importance of ‘conditions’. This is an area that is widely ignored in the training world. Nobody likes to go to the range in terrible weather. I learned a long time ago that training classes in the Winter months just don’t go. Folks want a nice pleasant warm day with sunshine/dry conditions. Ask them to show up when it is cold, wet, or really muggy weather is a problem. Try to function with just a couple of hours of sleep over two days, and then see how well you perform on your ‘standards’.

I live in a part of the world where Winter is not for the faint of heart, or those folks that like to go around all year in flip flops. When you are dressed for cold weather, wearing gloves, and it is close to zero, any combat marksmanship standard you have is going to suffer terribly. In most cases, skill levels will drop at least twenty five percent. If you normally are just fair in nice weather, you will really suck when the cold conditions take their toll. Most folks answer is to not practice or go to the range until Spring or Summer arrives. If you live in a part of the world where weather is a factor, or you must function in low light, the only ‘standards’ that really matter are the ones that reflect the ‘conditions’ you will really have to function in.

If all you do is play games with guns, then brag all you want about how good your ‘standards’ are. If you must work or function in an environment that produces ‘conditions’ that you would not normally like for best results, maybe testing you standards in less than ideal ‘conditions’ from time to time is in order.

Stay Safe; Stay Alert.

– Ken Hackathorn

Old Guy With A Blaster

Ken Hackathorn has served as a US Army Special Forces Small Arms Instructor, Gunsite Instructor, and NRA Police Firearms Instructor. He is currently an FBI Certified Firearms Instructor, Certified Deputy Sheriff with Washington County SO, Ohio, and a SRT member and Special Response Team trainer. Ken has trained US Military Special Operations forces, Marine FAST and SOTG units and is a contract small arms trainer to FBI SWAT and HRT.

Ken has provided training to Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and been active in small arms training for the past 25 years. He has written firearms related material for Guns & Ammo, Combat Handguns, Soldier Of Fortune, and currently American Handgunner and contributed to at least six other gun/shooting journals. Ken was also a founding member of IPSC and IDPA.

Gunfighter Moment is a weekly feature brought to you by Bravo Company USA. Bravo Company is home of the Gunfighters, and each week they bring us a different trainer to offer some words of wisdom.

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16 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn”

  1. Steve says:

    More ramblings , I read these articles every Saturday morning with my coffee. Started noticing a downward trend with his articles, they are becoming more polarizing. Waiting for the cliche 45 vs 9 debate or the glock v. 1911 argument.

  2. Dellis says:

    I don’t see this as rambling or an angry vent. I believe Ken has a great deal of pearls of wisdom to drop down but he just does so with a unique flair where he tries to get to the heart of the subject with as few words as possible.

    Do something long enough and you’re bound to get irritated with the same types of people asking the same types of questions or making ignorant claims. So you just develop a low threshold for that.

  3. Dave says:

    One man’s ramblings, another man’s pearls. For me, I just got a whole handful of pearls.

  4. Back spin says:

    I thought the Wizard Drill wasn’t too hard to pass…until I injured my dominant hand and had to carry as a lefty for 2 months…talk about humbling.

    The article above is spot on, especially about ‘conditions’.

  5. Kit Badger says:

    The saltiness definitely comes through, haha… Good information though. I actually posted a video on the “Lessons from Weather” the other day.

    It is incredibly telling to shoot in less than ideal conditions, to include seeing how your gear and equipment functions and pitfalls that may arise.

  6. Timmy says:

    Always good insight from Ken. Not to say anything against the authors of other “Gunfighter Moments” articles, I oftentimes find that Ken’s are the most in-depth and enlightening.

  7. Juha says:

    As a non native English, I could not see any “rambling” here. It’s now about -4C
    outside and shooting in these conditions is totally different than in +20C.
    I’m not a good shooter, yet, but despite that I fully agree what Ken say, if you
    don’t practice in all conditions, you’re in trouble if you have to. This can be
    a match so you only do poorly, but in a real situation you might be in real trouble.

  8. Steve says:

    Holy Shit! Is this to say that driving in a snowstorm in North Dakota is more difficult than the same task in Arizona in July? Wow, I never realized. Thanks, Ken!

  9. Sonny says:

    Previously, the comments at SSD were professional and well-thought out.

    Now it seems the wannabe special forces video-watching crowd has migrated from youtube to this site. SMH.

  10. PTMcCain says:

    I particularly appreciated this remark: “What a really good trainer does is give you the tools to utilize in practice.”

    To me, this is what makes the difference between taking a class that merely entertains you and lets you blow through a lot of ammo and feel tacticool and one that challenges you and equips you with tools for your toolbox.

    Practice makes perfect, or … get you closer to it.

  11. WorkingDog says:

    “In most cases, skill levels will drop at least twenty five percent. If you normally are just fair in nice weather, you will really suck when the cold conditions take their toll.”

    I had a similar realization some years back, after wondering why so many people could do much worse on the PFT than their training would predict.

    Part of the answer, probably, is that we tend to pay much more attention to our top level — our best lift, day at the range, PFT, or whatever — than we do our bottom level — what’s our absolute worst, and how often that happens. We definitely remember that 1.05 second mag change from slide lock; not so much the number of fumbles. We make it up the mountain on our 10th attempt, then discount the 9 failures (“bad weather,” “the wrong training,” “bad luck,” “I’m better now,” etc.).

    In other words, training our A game is smart. Measuring ourselves by and remember our C game — what we do when we’re sore, tired, wet, and unlucky — or, at the very least, by our median performance, and thinking how we can close that gap is smarter.

  12. JoshZ says:

    I didn’t feel any saltiness. Although i would understand it if there was. I mean how many times do you have to people something you know to be true. When they don’t want to listen. Now think of Ken’s age. He has had decades dealing with stupid shit. Takes a toll after a while.