Weapons and Tactics

Range Safety and Real World Safety | Why the Cardinal Rules Are Wrong for Self-Defense Shooting.

I’m sure if you have read any two of my articles you have seen me refer to range mentality at least once though chances are good it was twice.  And I don’t think I have ever referred to it in a positive light. However, a recent conversation I had made it apparent that I have never directly addressed what range mentality is, and why I don’t like it. Since it’s a common topic for all gun owners with a self-defense mindset, I decided to lay out my feelings on the subject as directly as possible.   In the hope that it may educate, alter attitudes, viewpoints, or perhaps  introduce a new way to approach  your personal practice and training regiments.

cc sims

The Author demonstrating high angel close quarters shooting using non-lethal training munitions.

What is the Range Mentality?

The range is the setting for most of our training. It’s a sterile environment, mostly under someone else’s control, that only allows for limited degrees of realism based on its established safety rules, physical layout, any training dogma associated with the owner, lead instructor, range safety officers or administrator afraid of things that make loud noises (guns, usually). In law enforcement and the military, our ranges are held hostage by administrators and Kool  Aid salesmen of varied usefulness. The rules vary from mostly common-sense to outright ridiculous and are often enforced with a draconian approach that is much at odds with the intended purpose of the range. For the private ranges, classic indoor, stalled environments, rules for the sake of safety are often far more restrictive because people are literally walking in off the street and usually don’t have to meet any requirements beyond providing ID and signing a waiver to use the range. One look around any given indoor range can show you that there are a lot of people out there lacking muzzle discipline or they are just bad shots. Everything on the range is safety first because firearms are inherently dangerous and people swallow this idea because it’s almost always the first concept they are taught before ever touching a firearm. Safety is always important, there’s no argument about that but the very nature of a range and the safety demands it creates (and others added on because of  fear of litigation, or simple stupidity) turn the range environment into a breeding ground for bad training and bad practice.


The range is where the bulk of live fire training occurs, and because of this the safety rules of the range become the safety rules. They create a mentality in the shooter that is then taken home with them. Most of this mentality is useful in that it helps prevent negligence; however much of what the range won’t let you do is very applicable to real world self-defense situations. Trainers who subscribe to the rules of the range and don’t see the real world differently are guilty of adopting a range mentality. They are training students to defend themselves in their daily lives, but doing so according to rules that only apply to a specific setting; you can see the problem with this, no? Safety is paramount, but safety is also an individual commitment to common sense tactics.

light control close index

Live firing high angle close quarters shooting. Using 3D targets adds in that extra dimension that most firearms training is lacking even though we live in a 3D world

Safety First

The safety psyche is such a part of the shooters mentality that it is ever-present in our evaluation of things; allowing us to measure what we see based on real or imagined violations of the rules as we know them. Staged photographs are scrutinized for finger placement and videos evaluated for any sign of a range violation.  God help you if you introduce, or simply make public an existing technique that violates a safety rule born on the range. Sometimes we spend so much time focused on the safety performance (usually weighed against personally held range rules) that we miss the point of what we are observing or learning. Safety is first, but range safety and real-world safety are two diametrically opposed practices.

The range and the real world do share some similar rules: treat every weapon as if it were loaded (except those we know are not because they are in our positive control), be aware of your target (I prefer threat) and what’s beyond it,  and finger off the trigger until you are ready/willing to fire. That’s it! I’m sure some of you may be saying to yourselves but you missed one…That’s right, there are 4 cardinal safety rules and I only mentioned three. That’s because the fourth, never point your weapon at anything you are not willing to shoot simply isn’t possible in the real-world, or even at times on the range.   When the gun clears the holster, comes out of the rack, trunk or bag, the muzzle is out of a safe direction. The real world is a potential 360 degree direction of fire where safety is one sided and many, many things will be muzzled even though we don’t intend to shoot them. It would be impossible to work with a firearm and never muzzle something that isn’t deserving of bullets. This is semantics to a small degree, though think to yourself and remember it ever being explained in that way. I know that my professional firearms instruction began in the military and it would be almost a decade before the concept was actually taught to me in this way. A small concept that drives a wedge deep between the range and the real world, it introduces an exception to the rules based on necessity, not want.

in car ready

Gaining access to and drawing a firearm from a seated position in a vehicle offers many challenges that few instructors teach students to overcome.

Taking the Range to the Streets

The military is actually pretty good about disregarding this rule in the real world. Combat deployments see all manner of unknown nouns have an overwhelming number of muzzles pointed at them with ready intent to fire at the first justifiable reason to do so. I don’t remember it ever being addressed; it was just a natural transition. For law enforcement it’s more of an individual issue and the environment isn’t one of war and weapons are rarely carried unholstered/at ready without provocation. What about when they are?

I was involved with a situation earlier in the year, where a few different alphabets were present, and most of us had guns trained on a single vehicle. Its occupant had been positively identified as a wanted, violent felon who was known to be armed and enjoyed shooting at people (cops, mostly). The car in question was completely tinted except the windshield, and we were all positioned to the rear. At any point the felon could have been aiming at us through the rear window and the tint would have prevented us from seeing it. There were two officers present from a department I had never interacted with before and neither of them were aimed in on the car. They were crouched, using their academy instructed SUL position (ironically both were muzzling their feet in this position). When another local agency ended the excitement by staging on the car and extracting the felon, I talked to these officers about their choice not to join in the mutual sight picture.

“We couldn’t see him.”

“But you knew he was there.”

“Yeah, couldn’t see him though.”

We could have argued the point, just like we can now. The fact remains that just because they couldn’t see him didn’t mean he couldn’t see them. The fact that we knew him to be in the car was more motivation to be prepared and the fact that he was armed with what was described, and later confirmed as a “rifle” meant it should have been all guns on deck. I can’t speak to their motivations for not maintaining a sight picture on the vehicle but I believe it to be a direct result of vague safety-related training practices that hammer home range-only rules that don’t apply to the 3D world. If you bring the range to the street, you are doing nothing to better your protective ability.



Before anyone disagrees with the premise, think of how often you muzzle yourself. Appendix, even some hip holsters, place you in a situation where you muzzle parts of your body. During the acts of holstering/unholstering you are doing so with active control of the weapon. This is a clear violation of muzzle awareness as the rule stands is it not? Now consider how often you muzzle things you have no intention of shooting. If your approach to self-defense shooting has been shaped by only shooting in one direction, with guns always pointed down range or at the deck when not shooting, I say that you would be much better prepared by more realistic approaches to training.  It’s as simple as taking a look at your safety rules and adopting them to train in light of what we are training for.

The Four Cardinal Safety Rules are Range Rules, Not Real World Rules

It’s generally understood that the Cardinal Rules are designed to work together; I was once told that if you were doing any two of them at one time you couldn’t injure anyone who didn’t deserve it, and that’s generally true. However, it’s also apparent that some instructors, academies, and individuals hold these rules to a moral level of adherence without considering their actual application in everyday life. If you consider the thousands of possible variables that make each self-defense situation unique, you can find a perfectly justifiable reason for breaking or bending a few of these rules depending on how they are worded in your memory. The fact is, any time I’m not on a range and my weapon is out, it’s going to spend more time pointed at things I have no want or intention of shooting than things I do, unless I’m muzzling the bad guy. It’s also perfectly reasonable, depending on the situation to set the trigger in anticipation of firing before the actual need to do so exists. If I am feet away from a man with a knife, my finger is on the trigger and I’m pulling slack.  If he decides to retain the knife and disobey commands, he in all likelihood will be shot. His backdrop may be a pitch black alley, or blinding light, or a high hedge, and I may have no idea what is actually beyond him, I must go with what I know and not defend my life based on what I don’t know about his backdrop.  Doing otherwise is ridiculous. As far as treating the firearm as if it’s loaded, that’s one I can almost always comply with, except when I need to treat it like its unloaded. The firearm does not exist in a neat box that controls where it can be pointed and where it can’t; there are no limits or ceiling that regulates its arc of travel in any direction. It is aimed as we wish and this is something that more people should consider when training and practicing.

I hear it all the time and read it even more “Don’t break 180.” This 180 degree imaginary line that makes up the firing line; a line we are not supposed to move our muzzle past in either direction. This line doesn’t exist and on most ranges, its much less than 180 degrees. This rule has no place in the real world.

Real World, as Applied at the Range


There are many ready positions. The reason there are many is because they solve different problems. There is no single ready position that solves every problem .

Training on the range means there will be some artificialities; range design may prevent high-angle shooting such as a hip fire to the chest of a threat in close quarters, or  you may not be able to fire from the deck due to a back drop limitation. You may only be able to shoot in one direction and you may not be able to move. These are problems that can be overcome to a degree but some safety constrains will always exist when it comes to live fire. In the simplest terms, safety on the range is not shooting yourself, other shooters, objects not intended to be shot and it is also not muzzling things that do not deserve to be muzzled. It is doing anything, so long as it is safe and it makes sense. Pointing our weapon in the safest direction possible at all times is the only real cardinal rule. That direction may be straight up to maneuver in or exit a car, which is a huge range no-no that sounds nice, but doesn’t often conform to reality. That direction may be down to push through a crowd or make movement to cover, or just off sight picture of an unknown person to splash them with light from a weapon mounted light in order to make a positive ID. These are but a few examples of thousands of possible situations where what works on the range isn’t going to live up to the real world.

I am making no attempt to replace the Cardinal Rules, I am flatly stating that I have no intention of using them. They belong on a range that isn’t preparing shooters for the real world and I’m not part of that mindset. Safety is a primary concern of mine, make no mistake about that, but my approach must be as realistic as the situations I encounter. There is a lot of good in the Cardinal Rules, but I have my own. Similarities aside, the following make much more sense as far as I’m concerned.

All safe and logical actions are acceptable.

Know the condition of your weapon at all times.

Keep your finger off the trigger until you are confronting a known threat and willing to fire.

Be aware of your muzzle direction at all times and point it in the safest direction possible.

Be aware of your threat and angle of fire, minimize unsafe back drop as you are able.

My rules are five in number-just one more-but one more is important to me and rules shouldn’t be pared down for the sake of convenience, there should be as many as needed. I will again say that I am making no attempt to reinvent the wheel, my rules are what they are; when compared to the standard accepted rules, mine make far more sense both on and off the range. Those who have toiled under the Cardinal Rules for a few decades may find plenty of reason to not like my approach and for them I don’t have much to say that has not already been said. I train and teach on a range, but the fight doesn’t happen there. The range needs to mimic real life as much as possible, and nervous, overbearing safety constraints are detrimental to good training. If an instructor is speaking against a skill or technique, is it because it isn’t safe, or because it isn’t range safe? If you sincerely want to learn self-defense skills, you need not concern yourself with instructors presenting techniques for gunfights that have been conceptualized within the confines of the range.

Aaron Cowan

Lead Instructor – Sage Dynamics


Sage Dynamics Facebook




Instructor Zero and Daniel Shaw got the chance to take a first look and shoot the new Glock 43 single stack 9mm just prior to the 2015 NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits.


He wasn’t wearing his sunglasses.

I walked into the Glock 43 launch event and found myself being greeted by a familiar face. The kind Italian gentleman presented me with kisses to cheeks, a smile and a handshake. I complimented him on his shoes; he complimented me on my beard. After getting the formalities out of the way, we stepped to the door to a training room and were called in.

A representative from Glock moved to front and center and began to explain how the Glock 43 was born and then developed into the firearm that many have been asking for.


The Glock 43 is too slim for standard Glock 9mm sights, but it was pleasing to hear that it requires sights with the same specifications as the Glock 42. There is already a large variety of sight choices available for the Glock 43 at launch.


Glock 43 Data Sheet

The 42 sights fit, but the holsters, at least the form fitted ones, do not. How do I know? I was carrying my ATEI modified Glock 42 at the event and had to try it.

Once the brief was complete, Zero and I were led into the range and took positions in shooting stalls where 3 filled magazines and Glock 43’s were waiting.   I fired one mag (6 rounds) in a slow fire to gauge accuracy and came up with a 1 inch group (25.4mm). I then fired the next mag, still aiming at high center chest, but at a much more rapid rate to check my control of the handgun. With a slightly larger group, I found the gun very controllable for a gun in its class.

Relative to the Glock 17 I shoot most often, I would say the 43 is a bit snappy with substantial muzzle flip that makes it challenging to fire quickly with a high level of accuracy.   Obviously, that is a completely unfair comparison. Fair comparisons would be putting the Glock 43 against the Smith and Wesson M&P Shield or the Springfield Armory XDS 9mm. I have used them both on many occasions and have owned the former and used it in high round count classes.

To me, the trigger on the 43 beats both the XDS and the Shield with its positive reset and standard Glock trigger feel, but with a shorter trigger reach that my big hands liked and my wife’s little hands loved.

pic 3

Yes I was filling mags for Zero being a good gun caddy.

The recoil feels very similar to the XDS and Shield. Without having all three guns in the same place I can’t present a completely fair comparison, but at first glance, or in this case shoot, I would have to say that the recoil feels less punishing than the XDS, but there may be slightly more muzzle jump from the 43 than I have experienced with the Shield. That being said, I found it more comfortable to shoot than the Shield and my wife who has carried a shield for a while, found the same.

I realize that this post and my method for comparing the Glock 43 to the XDS and Shield are…less than scientific. Until my 43 arrives for testing, it’s the best I can do to get what i know to you.


[iframe id=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/kMEygoqe3e0″ align=”center” mode=”normal” autoplay=”no”]

The oft-maligned Beretta M9 is slated for retirement. On July 12th of 2014 Fox News reported that “The Army wants to retire its supply of 9mm handguns and replace it with a more accurate and user-friendly model that also will provide soldiers with more “knockdown” power.” The Army has stated it requires a hammer-driven pistol with a manual safety: our apologies to Glock and M&P fans.

The advances in ammunition in the past decade have created more and more options for defensive carry in the United States. Better propellants and better projectiles have led to better ballistics out of all rounds, but particularly the 9mm. There are two main issues why this does not factor into the Army’s new service pistol.

Firstly, the faster +P and +P+ loads increase wear on firearms. This leads to shorter service life, and when we are discussing 400,000 pistols, service life is a major concern. The 124grn+P 9mm NATO standard is what has worn out the current inventory of M9 and M11s.

Secondly, the Geneva Convention limits troops to Full Metal Jacketed (FMJ) rounds. All the high-tech hollow point ammunition is a no-go for the military, at least non-SF units.

Due to theses two above reasons we are left to choose a caliber other than 9mm. .40 Smith and Wesson should be ruled out immediately, as its higher pressures produce even more wear than 9mm+P ammunition, and firearms chambered in it are typically 9mm sizes, which further shortens the service life. .357 Sig is an option, but it is a high pressure, high speed round, and is not produced in nearly the numbers as the option I advocate – the venerable 230grn .45 ACP.

The chorus of “Bring back the 1911!” comments begins immediately as you attempt to engage in any discussion involving service pistols or the .45 ACP. There should not be any debate around bringing the M1911 back into service. John Browning devised that workhorse before manned flight. The storied M1911’s place in history is secure, but our service personnel deserve more than a 7-8 round magazine. They need the best chance to live, which means higher magazine capacity. Also, the M1911 was not a perfect design. There has been much progress in firearm design since the 1890’s.

The Army is seeking a pistol with improved ergonomics, higher capacity, and better “knockdown power.” The answer in .45 ACP is simple: FN’s FNX-45. With a 15-round capacity, fully ambidextrous controls, interchangeable backstraps for ergonomics, and excellent accuracy, the FNX-45 meets all of the Army’s requirements. Its polymer lower receiver is cheaper to replace than the all-metal lower of the Sig Sauer P227, which lacks the FNX’s fully ambidextrous controls (specifically the de-cocker) and is limited to a 10 round capacity. A 14 round magazine exists for the 227, but it is quite extended.

The FNX also bests the Beretta PX4 Storm, with it’s lower-capacity 9 and 10 round magazines. The Heckler and Koch HK45 is another option, but again, has a 10 round magazine. The Colt M45CQB is a wonderful pistol no doubt – the pinnacle of 104 years of development since the design’s adoption by the US Army – but a 7 round magazine is unacceptably low on the modern battlefield. We can and should offer our service members better.

As of 14 February 2015, on Gunbroker.com, the FNX-45 is selling around $650-700, the Sig 227 around $1000, the Beretta around $550-600, Heckler and Koch’s HK45 runs $1000+, and a sole Colt M45CQBP is listed at $2295.00

No doubt Government contracts will involve a different cost per unit, which brings me to the FNX’s strength; single source integration. FN America manufactures the M4, M16, M249, Mk.46, Mk.48, and M240 families of weapons, as well as the M2HB and GAU-21 systems for the US Military in their Charleston, South Carolina plant. There are numerous advantages to awarding the contract to FN, but the largest one is keeping production in the United States and assuring American jobs.

The only consideration the Army should be looking at with a new equipment purchase is soldier survivability. The FNX-45’s 15+1 round capacity gives a soldier a 5-7 round advantage over other pistols. That’s 5-7 more chances to neutralize the threat. If a soldier is down to their pistol, a reload is likely not happening. In that situation, I would want the best pistol I could have. That is the FNX-45. The unit cost, American manufacture and jobs, and single-source maintenance advantages all point to FN. Let us know what you think in the comments.


– Bison


One of the questions I often get, almost daily in fact, is; what firearm should I buy?  If you are a salesman working on commission, this is a great question to be asked.  Since I am not on commission, nor a salesman,  my main concern is getting customers a product that will perform for them and will be appropriate for their needs. This makes answering that question a slightly more complicated issue.

To address my friends making their first purchases, I offer the 5 following guidelines:  AS A PREFACE TO THESE FIVE CONSIDERATIONS, I ALWAYS FIRST ASK: (THIS WILL HELP SEASONED SHOOTERS MOST)

WHAT DO YOU PLAN ON DOING WITH IT? Since firearms are purpose-built, understanding what your interests and needs are will really help you narrow down you choices and do away with guns that will not be appropriate for your needs.

This is also important for the novice shooter but since the arena of firearms involvement is considerably large, knowing what type of shooting you would like to do may be a difficult question to answer.  If you know you want to one day compete in a certain type of shooting, finding firearms which are appropriate for that use may aid in your selection process.


With proper grip and technique, a small-handed individual like myself can learn to manage any size firearm, keeping of course within reason.  Regardless, there are pistols etc. that you will pick up that will feel much more natural and comfortable immediately once it is in your hands.  If you are new to shooting, you may want to ask the salesperson some questions about proper grip and technique to aid you in your selection.  Like all things, take what you are told with a grain of salt, but it is a great way to get some free shooting tips.

When it comes to pistols, it is much easier to determine if the firearm in your hand is comfortable or not.  Most pistols vary in their ergonomics, and you will find some fit into your hand much better than others.  With rifles etc. issues like length of pull, and the size and weight of the firearm will come into play. Remember, shooting involves many muscles that are not normally exercised in your daily life, so a gun may feel a bit cumbersome or bulky because it is unfamiliar. Again, this is a great opportunity to get some tips on shooting from your local gun store.

Go with what feels most natural.  It is my primary suggestion in which to help lead people towards making a smart purchase.


A Dan Wesson, or Ed Brown is an amazing pistol out of the starting gate, but if you do not have $3000 set aside for your first purchase, perhaps choose a more economical firearm.  Keep in mind that once you purchase your firearm, it is the ammunition costs that are going to stack up quickly.  If you are a first-time purchaser, most likely you are dealing with all of the other expenses necessary to get you into shooting sports; eyes and ears, storage, cases etc.  I always suggest buying well, and buying once, and if its a matter of a few hundred dollars more to get a much better firearm, I suggest biting the bullet, and spending a bit extra to get a great tool.  That being said, there are many mid-range firearms that will serve your purpose excellently, without breaking the bank.  In this category, it always pays to be an informed shopper, and the more research you do, the more prepared you will be to part with your hard earned dollars and cents.  Second hand firearms may be a way to offset cost, but unless you know what where to look for trouble, it may overcomplicate the already complicated issue of buying your first firearm.


Let’s be honest with each other; guns have that cool factor, and some certainly more than others. As a first purchase, find a gun that is aesthetically pleasing.  This is an area often over-looked by most people, but I find that if you are not ‘happy’ with your purchase, or you don’t find that first firearm ‘cool’, you may be less motivated to get out with it and actually practice.  A first firearm purchase is exciting, so find something that draws your eye.  Number 3 mainly applies to recreational shooters, so if you are mirroring what your agency uses, than you really do not need my help, and go with the platform that you will be relying on.   Keep in mind though “all that glitters is not gold” so put the proper amount of emphasis on the look of your gun.  Deciding between a blued or stainless finish may determine how well you have to take care of your firearm, and you may want to opt for the less-flashy firearm in order to reduce your headaches when caring for your weapon.


This is important, especially for a first time shooter. Many firearm manufacturers are working very hard to get your money, so they are including such things as holsters, mag pouches, loaders and extra magazines.  While these extra treats may be appealing, there is also something to be said about spending your money on a good gun, instead of being swooned by ‘freebies’.  Many higher-end firearms come with one mag, or in the case of AR’s, naked, to allow you to customize as you see fit, and to let you know exactly where your money is going.  While not critical to your purchase, it is something that may make it easier to decide between your numerous options.


Like all things, firearms will and do breakdown.  When they do, how difficult is it going to be to find replacement parts?  There are many fantastic guns out there that may be exactly what you want, but finding a replacement part will keep you off the range for months while you wait watching your mailbox.  For the seasoned shooter this may be less of an issue, but for a first purchase buying that rare firearm that no one at the range has may be a tempting choice, but one which may come around to bite you on the rear.  For a first pistol, I do recommend buying something more common so that if these issues arise, a quick trip to the local gun store should be able to provide a solution.

Many people shoot their guns stock, meaning they do not alter it from its original production, while many others live to customize a firearm and truly make it their own.  If you are of the latter category, finding a firearm that will be easy to find after-market parts for may be your best bet.  Otherwise, you can stray into the rarer side of things and deal with finding parts when the situation arises.

As for holsters and gear some firearms offer a great variety and selection, and some will sit you at your computer for hours trying to source what you need.  I love the Steyr M9A1, but in Canada, finding magazines or holsters for them is a near impossibility.  To me, this fact makes it a pistol I would shy away from.

Being an informed consumer, seeking good advice, and lastly, getting onto the range with the firearms you are interested in is really going to make your life easier.  Understand that most advice you will get is going to come from a place of personal preference rather than hard data, so be aware of this and do not fall victim to another person’s prejudices.

Finally, to avoid debate with everyone, I am going to state that I recommend beginning with a firearm that is chambered in a common round. For pistols, my usual advice is to go with a 9mm.  It is relatively cheap when compared to .40S&W and .45ACP and unlike .22lr, it will allow you to practice your recoil management. With rifles, again depending on your need, I would go with common calibres like 7.62×54 Nato/.308 Win, 5.56 Nato / .223 Rem, 7.62×39 etc etc.

I hope this serves some use to you, and I look forward to hearing how you make your purchases and what comparisons you use.

Train well, train often

If you think paracord bracelets were bad wait till you see this new product from leatherman!

Hope I can get my hands on one soon!



[liveleak id=”i=650_1422231747″]