David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

shooting at a disadvantage: experiments

I tried an interesting shooting experiment on Wednesday. I'd recently read gun writer Massad Ayoob's collection of columns, which reminded me of some noteworthy features of the 1986 FBI/Platt-Matix Miami Shootout. Briefly, the FBI was out to apprehend Michael Platt and William Matix, two seriously bad dudes with military experience -- Matix had been three years in the Marines; Platt was *Airborne.* The FBI stakeout/search was successful, but the bad guys realized they were being followed. The FBI had eight guys on hand, so decided to make a stop. Platt and Matix (mostly Platt) came out shooting.

The next two and a half minutes were taken up by the bloodiest pure gunfight in the FBI's history. When it was over, Platt and Matix were both dead. So were two FBI agents, Jerry Dove and Ben Grogan. Five other agents were wounded, some grievously. The gunfight was the subject of major analysis, as you'd expect, and was more or less responsible for the creation of the .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge. (The FBI went up to 10 mm pistols after the Platt-Matix incident, but had problems with those -- some FBI agents had trouble firing it, and the first FBI 10mm guns had durability problems to boot, so the .40 Smith & Wesson, which is basically a shortened 10mm, came along.)

Two aspects of the fight struck me in my rereading about it. One is the effect of injury on shooting. Special Agent Ed Mireles, the Big Damn Hero who fired the shots that killed Platt and Matix, suffered a gruesome injury to his arm and had to operate and fire his pump-action shotgun one-handed. That got me thinking about one-handed and off-hand shooting. I'd never done pistol shooting with my left hand. I honestly didn't know what it'd be like.

The second thing to consider was vision. Special Agent Ben Grogan, who died in the gunfight, was reportedly the FBI's best shot in Miami. Grogan wore glasses; when the car he was in braked hard during the stop, his glasses fell off and he couldn't find them. He was the best shot in that FBI office, and he spent the whole gunfight unable to see a damn thing.

So I tried two experiments: shooting one-handed with my left, and shooting without my prescription glasses, and just using regular safety glasses for eye protection. I used the range steel targets and fired at them from 20-25 yards, from a standing position and on the move between 25 and 15 yards, using my Dan Wesson Commander Classic Bobtail 1911, in .45 ACP.

Results: shooting left-handed is not much fun. I will have to practice it a lot. The recoil feels different; the gun still recoils in the same direction, so being on the opposite arm means I use different muscle groups to compensate and recover. Also, since the gun ejects back and to the right, occasionally a casing would eject and hit me smack in the face. I caught myself developing a pretty ugly flinch, and a new sympathy for left-handed shooters. But while I needed more time to recover and aim, I was able to put shots into a silhouette target at 20-25 yards.

Shooting without my glasses, OTOH, was a really strange experience. The idea of pistol shooting is to keep the front sight in focus when you aim; not only was I physically incapable of doing that, but I had a hell of a lot of trouble even seeing the front sight. I wound up using a combination of muscle memory and Jim Cirillo's weapon silhouette shooting method (mentioned near the bottom of the linked page). It worked out okay. With my glasses, it's not hard to hit silhouette and round "pie plate" steel targets at 20-25 yards. Without my glasses, I can still be pretty confident of hitting the silhouettes, but not of regularly hitting the pie plates. At 15 yards, I hit the pie plates irregularly, at 20 yards, occasionally, and at 25, once in a blue moon. Next time, I'll have to bring some spray paint and touch up the silhouettes between trials -- be interesting to see how my groups without glasses compare to my groups with them.

It was an interesting exercise, and it made me realize that the major issue with shooting with uncorrected vision isn't hitting targets -- it's identifying them. I can see targets and silhouettes at twenty yards, and even hit them regularly; what I can't do at that distance is identify faces. I don't know what Ben Grogan's vision was like, or how it would compare to mine, but I can only imagine how disorienting suddenly being deprived of his glasses in that situation must have been. It took me a little while to figure out how to compensate for that relatively minor disability, and I was on a quiet range on a nice day with nobody shooting at me. I also didn't have to worry about differentiating targets from their cover, or from the guys on my own team. Special Agent Grogan did his damnedest for the FBI, anyway.

As God and John Moses Browning intended.
Tags: guns

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