Magazine is now empty, slide has locked back, and author has recognized that slide has locked to the rear through stimulus.

Magazine is now empty, slide has locked back, and author has recognized that slide has locked to the rear through stimulus.

In addition to what the title suggests, this article will also cover the reasons you shouldn’t look at your gun while working on it, period. This includes loading, unloading, and clearing malfunctions. Though this is a highly debated and emotional topic on social media and the internet, most progressive trainers agree that if you are training for personal defense, looking at the gun to complete complex motor functions is not a good idea.


To view this topic with reason and logic, first we must cover the contexts we are training for in regard to personal defense. Not all law-abiding citizens have the same context. But, even over the probable or likely scenarios we could find ourselves immersed in, the importance of not relying on visual data to complete complex motor functions is still significant.

Author responds to stimulus of slide locking to the rear and has simultaneously brought gun back into high compressed work area, ejected magazine, and is reaching for a full magazine carried horizontally on his belt.

Author responds to stimulus of slide locking to the rear and has simultaneously brought gun back into high compressed work area, ejected magazine, and is reaching for a full magazine carried horizontally on his belt.

The context of a match or course of fire that is being scored (including but not limited to qualification shoots), is to win, be safe, shoot straight, get quality hits with the least amount of deviation, and do this as fast as you can. As a past competition shooter and member of USPSA, GSSF, and IDPA, I understand the allure of matches. You get to hang out with friends and likeminded folks and shoot firearms. What’s not to like? Just because it “works in competition or qualifications” does not mean those techniques are the best for real life-or-death scenarios, which are often ambushes, in the public space.

Life-or-death scenarios involve natural reactions that are rarely realized by the person perceiving the threat, and in many cases are not even observed by onlookers, at least the external natural reactions. This is why the skills that will place you at the top of competition matches and qualifications are, most of the time, not the same that will help you stop a threat in real life. If you are worried about shaving .10 or .25 second off your reload time to help better your score, that’s great, it’s just not the goal (or shouldn’t be your goal) if you are training as a law-abiding citizen to stop a threat efficiently.


Your goal should be to learn skills that are efficient in the context you are training for. Efficiency is probably the most poorly defined term when it comes to personal defense, largely because of the competition industry, which heavily affects the way people train and think about training. Law enforcement and military/security contractor-type training, which also focuses on different contexts than your average law-abiding citizen, has affected the private-sector training industry immensely. I define efficiency as “in as little time and with as little effort and energy needed to complete the task in the correct context.” “Context” is probably the most forgotten and vital piece of information when it comes to firearm training, specifically, personal defense training.

Author continues to look in direction from which threat was initiated. He does not rely on visual data to complete complex motor functions.

Author continues to look in direction from which threat was initiated. He does not rely on visual data to complete complex motor functions.

There are exceptions to these contexts that you should train for. Instructors should avoid absolutes: you could help your students form the wrong opinions or ignore the need for training for something that is possible, although not likely. Having said that, it is our job to help our students learn how to train more efficiently, but having them stand at the 25-yard line and take head shots for 45 minutes out of the hour is ridiculous when it is much more likely they will need skills in the seven- to 15-foot range. I tell my students to look at the statistics for defensive gun use (DGU). This statistical data should help you form a solid training plan.

I am not saying you shouldn’t practice 25-yard precision shots. I am saying that if about 80% of all DGUs are near the 12-foot range, that is what you want to spend a majority of your time training for. Spend more time training for things that are likely to occur and less time training for things that are less likely to occur. If you are interested in this perspective, search for articles relating to the “plausibility principle.” Having said all of this, whether you are at zero or 50 feet from an adversary when you need to do a reload or clear a malfunction, there are concrete and vital reasons you should not be looking at your gun while working on it.


He continues to process new information while working on getting the fresh magazine into the gun, chambered and back into battery.

He continues to process new information while working on getting the fresh magazine into the gun, chambered and back into battery.

Although this is covered in other articles I have written, I will touch on it again because it relates to this topic. The answer is, “in your high compressed ready position.” Where is this? It is in front of your chest, around the sternum, with the firearm parallel with your line of sight but not in your line of sight, and elbows at your sides. You should also have a proper grip on the gun, whether that be with one or both hands. You do this because it is a strong, ergonomic position that allows you to work on the gun with higher dexterity, strength, and retention when needed. The gun is also close to your chest, hence the name high “compressed” ready position. I like to think of this as the default position when not in the holster but also not shooting. You could be scanning for a potential threat after engaging and stopping the first, reloading, loading the gun, or possibly clearing a malfunction. Think about where humans are most efficient at working on things. If I were struggling to get the top off a jar of mayonnaise and I handed it to you, where would you place that jar to attempt removing the top?

Another reason to mention the high compressed ready position is because by having the gun in this position, it also leaves your field of view clear so you can take in new information, what many others and I like to call processing information. The more information and stimuli you can gather for your brain to process in your environment, the better your brain can filter this information accurately in order to produce learned and/or stimulus responses. For those who don’t train frequently and realistically enough, at least it will help you decide and act on better and more complete information in your environment.


Author inserts full magazine into the mag well of a modern striker-fired handgun, while also keeping it in an efficient and consistent high compressed ready position.

Author inserts full magazine into the mag well of a modern striker-fired handgun, while also keeping it in an efficient and consistent high compressed ready position.

Now that we have some foundation, let’s discuss why we shouldn’t look at the gun while working on it. In severe stress situations, especially those involving life and death during violent encounters, there is a tendency to have a threat focus, more accurately described as having a rise of visual acuity in the center of your field of vision. This is colloquially known as “tunnel vision,” which puts a negative connotation on what is really happening and also is not accurate in defining what and why this is happening. In relation to vision and this rise of visual acuity, here are a few points to consider.

1. You may not be able to break that focus on the threat to do a reload in the middle of an attack.

a. Why spend time training to look at your gun while reloading when it is highly unlikely that you will be able to anyway? This is why context is so important. I understand this is not happening on the range while practicing, but if you understand the context you should be training for, you will understand that this is likely to occur in real life.

b. If you know this, why would you continue to train in a way that is not congruent with what actually happens to the human body in real life?

2. Even if you could break that focus, you shouldn’t be looking away from the danger area until you have determined that the threat(s) are over.

a. And even if you could, would you want to? Wouldn’t it be better to keep processing the area while you are completing the reload? I think so. You could be scanning your area for new information to help you make better decisions, e.g, Where to move to? Is there cover or concealment? Are there more bad guys? Are police arriving? Was anybody besides the bad guys injured? Where is your family?

3. If you are attacked in a low- or no-light situation and need to work on the gun, you may not be able to see it because of the limited lighting. Being able to work on the gun without the visual information may prove essential.

4. In an entangled fight where a gun is present and needs to be reloaded or cleared of a malfunction, you may not be able to see the gun.


Author followed magazine up and firmly inserted it in the mag well. He has now rotated his hand up and over the slide (behind the ejection port) and has grabbed on to the slide serrations to rack the slide to the rear and chamber a round.

Author followed magazine up and firmly inserted it in the mag well. He has now rotated his hand up and over the slide (behind the ejection port) and has grabbed on to the slide serrations to rack the slide to the rear and chamber a round.

Under this type of stress, other things are happening internally to your body. In this case it relates directly to the rise of visual acuity in the center of your field of vision, which means you are able to take in more information about the threat. The problem is you cannot process that information any faster, causing what is called a “time distortion,” where things appear to be in slow motion. In reality it’s just your perception. Time is not actually slowing down. You have most likely not been in a shooting, but almost all adults have experienced time distortion.

Think back to when while driving, you almost hit a deer or almost ran into someone who jumped out in front of you. Close your eyes and recall that incident. You probably have very vivid recollections of it and can remember feeling like things were moving in slow motion. Now imagine you are in the middle of a critical incident and are able to break that threat focus (albeit unlikely) and you look down at your gun to do the reload and it appears you are moving in slow motion. What are you likely to do? Speed up because you think you are moving too slowly, then you will likely mess up the reload, which now could take even more time, meaning more time exposed to the threat and less time processing information in your environment.

Task fixation is another possible byproduct of looking at your gun. You can watch numerous videos online that drive home this point. I have been in force-on-force classes where a bad-guy role player was attacking a good-guy role player and, when the good guy drew his (sim) gun and pulled the trigger, it went “click,” and most of his focus went from the attack and controlling the adversary to trying to get the gun up and running. During that time, the good guy received what could have been fatal blows and was taken to the ground almost every time, which ended up in a fight for the gun because the good guy relinquished control and traded it for trying to clear and reload the gun (i.e., he was fixated with a task).


handgun reload

Time lapse, starting with recognition of slide lock due to magazine being dry and out of ammunition.

If you encounter a malfunction while shooting, do not try to diagnose the issue. You can also use the “plausibility principle” in this approach. Rather than looking at the gun, you can follow a linear set of steps to work on it based on the likelihood that it will clear or help you get your gun back up and running so you can stay in the fight and prevail. This is called Non-Diagnostic Linear Malfunction Clearing. The steps in this procedure are:

    1.Tap the magazine with your support-hand palm.

    2.Overhand rack the slide all the way to the rear and then let it go. (This will clear 85 to 95% of malfunctions that you could experience when using quality firearms and ammunition.)

    3.If the above steps don’t clear the issue, and you should know by the stimulus or feedback you get from the gun, go into a reload. (This will clear about 3 or 4 of the remaining percentage points.)

    4.Strip/rip, lock or remove the magazine, clear x3, then do a reload. (This will clear the remaining 1 to 2% of malfunctions.)

Having a non-diagnostic linear clearing method in your arsenal is very important. It also allows you to de-select yourself from some of the negative things we have already discussed in detail, like task fixation.

Whether you are loading your gun before you leave your house and putting it in your concealed carry holster or unloading it when you come home for safe storage, keep the gun in the high compressed ready position with the proper grip … and don’t look at the gun.

Practice efficiently and consistently. A key to developing this skill is having the gun in the correct position in front of your chest. Proprioception and ergonomics help you to interact with your defensive tool much more efficiently and easily. Now it’s time for you to head to the range and start practicing these skills. It may feel slow at first if you have never done it, but just like any other shooting or personal-defense skill you’ve had to learn, you can’t just snap your fingers and you’ve mastered it. You have to slow down, internalize what you’re doing, practice it frequently, and keep developing and evaluating your skills.

Stay safe and I hope to see you out on the range. Train smart, train hard, train realistically!

All pictures were taken with an NEX-5R and a remote capture phone application through an iPhone. The remote was controlled by Laura Carson.

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  1. Art Meyer

    Lots of interesting views from many different people, I would wonder how many have ever been in an actual shoot out situation. The best way is the way you are most comfortable at but nothing is any good without hours of practice so that it becomes second nature when you have to do it.

  2. Tony

    Unless it is an emergency reload (empty mag), I recommend you check your magazine carrier to be sure you have a spare there before you hit the release button and let the active mag fall to the ground. You just might need to retain it if there are rounds in it.

  3. nelson rodriguez


  4. etph

    Very interesting about time distortion. I learned why after many years time seemed to slow down and worse, why I made things worse during some of those times where time seemed to be distorted. Your explanation was like a paradigm shift. I had read about this but your explanation finally made it click.

  5. Travis

    Combat or Tactical reload?: Combat: You never drop your pistol out of view. You bring it back at eye level or a little lower as not obstruct your view, and rotate it so your shooting arm is in a natural position of rest,release and strip mag in one movement, slam new mag in and do not rely on the slide release, come over the top like you would in a failure drill and “rack” like you would in a “tap” “rack” “bang” scenario. Then go back to work.
    Tactical reload: Leave the firearm in a state of ready with your arms extended, bring your weak hand off and locate your new mag. (This takes practice) hold the new mag in your hand/fingers gripped to the outside. Release and remove the old mag and take it out in the palm of your hand and rotate your hand so the new mag is in position and insert into the mag well. Place new mag in back pocket or another location that is easily gotten to, but NOT next to your other spare mag, lest you need to combat reload and get the one low on ammo. All this is done at eye level so you can view with your peripheral vision while scanning for threats. Tactical reloads can be done from the last position you fired from as the idea is the threat is down. Combat reloads are active and fluid and you should seek cover/concealment. DO NOT BRING THE FIREARM LOWER THAN YOUR EYE LEVEL OR TO YOUR ABDOMEN TO RELOAD. Also remember, finger off the trigger people.

  6. George

    That is a very good article and you presented it well. I do not have a problem with any part of the article. Thank you. I suggest that practice and more practice is very important.

  7. Eugene

    Excellent piece. It’s exactly how I was trained when we transitioned from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols.

    Tap, rack, bang… while ALWAYS keeping your eyes on the threat and scanning for other threats.

  8. Russell F Steen

    I have found the one serious detriment of the “close combat” weapon use. Hesitation.! Hesitation to present, Hesitation to train, Hesitation to commit to weapon use. I do not and never will advocate the use of deadly force as a first option. Rather indeed IT is a option of last resort.
    If the presentation of the weapon can solve the situation. Or in the more delicate areas bye you the time to leave without having to use deadly force it’s a win win. Also after time in service, I have no problem with sending SOMEONE ELSE to the morgue. If it means saving my family and or myself from occupying that cold table.

  9. Tony

    In violent agreement with a good portion of the article but there are exceptions – especially when in a gunfight and the adrenaline is pumping. Surprised that “muscle memory” was not mentioned as repeated training will take care of the automatic response to the point that one may not even realize that a malfunction occurred until pointed out by an observer/witness. Not a fan of competition shooting as self-defense engagements are the real test of one’s training. Type of malfunction (1, 2, or 3) will determine whether one needs to “look” at the firearm (of any make/model). A “click” should not require a look but only a rack of the slide to eject the misfire round, but the gun remains pointed in. A “nothing happened” warrants a good tap of the magazine and a rack to clear a probable failure to eject – and there’s no harm in a quick flip up in the line of sight to glance at the ejection port to ensure you’re not dealing with a double-feed scenario, which requires a slide lock to the rear, magazine strip, and 3X rack + reload. Tactical reloads and type 3’s require you check for your supposed backup mag before you drop the one in the well to the ground – especially if you are moving to cover (which you should be most of the time when a bonafide malfunction occurs).

  10. Charles Hartsell

    Great article. Reminds me of In The Gravest Extreme. And the book Ayoob wrote next.

  11. Mike

    Bottom line. Practice and train and practice and train and then practice and train some more. Muscle memory (and the skills that go with it) deteriorate over time. This stuff isn’t automatic. You have to maintain your proficiency.

  12. Michael

    Give me a break.

    Your advice: “Whether you are loading your gun before you leave your house and putting it in your concealed carry holster or unloading it when you come home for safe storage, keep the gun in the high compressed ready position with the proper grip … and don’t look at the gun.”

    Absurd! In your wildest imagination, you can not come up with a reason to re-holster, without looking at the gun and the holster.

    • Bruce Furr

      Do have any information of non-LEO/Military self defense gunfights where where a reload was necessary? Any references would be appreciated.

  13. Chastity Lincoln

    The nonlinear diagnostics section was very informative, and the plausibility principle as well. I can still see them in our class m endorsement riding class (slyly pointing out, and questioning me on these things) making little hand guns every time our instructor said eyes up, eyes up. Great memories! Thank you!!!

  14. John

    Not agreeing with some of this here.
    IF looking at the mag/gun during a reload SLOWS you down, why don’t all the top competition guys quit looking at their mag/gun during a reload? Sounds like a great way to win your matches.
    However, if looking at the gun/mag during a reload is faster/more consistent, then that is what I am going to do for that .5 seconds you need to look at what you’re doing (x10 if you flub the reload).
    During that .5 seconds, you are not going to gain much more, if any information on your situation.
    There is a bad guy, he has a weapon (?), he is shooting at you (?), he is coming at you (?).
    When the gun ran dry, you knew the situation, and decided that this was a good time to reload. Completing your reload is priority #1. Until it’s loaded, it’s nothing more than a bludgeon tool… Do what needs to be done NOW. Your threat won’t go away if you take your eyes off of it for .25-.5 seconds. If you decided you need the gun loaded, based on the situation, what will change that fact in the next .5-1 second that you can react to, and alter your plan for?
    He’s getting too close? Did he change his speed that much in .5 seconds?
    The cops arrive? They weren’t in useful range .5 seconds ago?
    There may be scenarios where looking at the threat 100% of the times your best bet.
    I would suggest that most often, you’ll be best off executing your task (reloading) as quickly and reliably as possible.
    That said, I would suggest not looking at the gun/mag until it is useful. Looking at the gun while you’re still getting a mag from the pouch/pocket isn’t of much use. Watch what you’re doing as you put the mag in the magwell, the rest doesn’t need your attention. (thats why I say looking at it for .25-.5 seconds vs. 1 second to actually complete a reload)

    • John

      P.S. I have zero issue with where you suggest to keep your workspace. Manipulation is more important than wasting time moving the gun up to your face.

  15. Rj

    Obviously you have never been in a real gun fight…you’re just a bit off from reality my friend…I can keep my eyes on the the threat and watch my magazine as I insert into the mag well by bringing my weapon into my work space…just below eye level…ever heard of that?

  16. Claude Traufield

    Thank you for the great article. I would like to point out your training is very applicable to women who do not have the physical strength in arms or hands to reload & clear malfunctions at arms length and point-in positions. I have recently begun training my daughters-in-law in life-death self protection scenarios. The analogy of opening a jar is a great one as all the ladies in my family are petite and that motion is instinctive. Therefore, reloading and clearing malfunctions in the high compressed ready position makes sense. I also want them to keep the gun trained in the direction of the last threat in case they have to shoot before extending to the point in and aim position. They are training for low level light conditions with distances not much more than the length of the cars or size of their living rooms. I have bookmarked your site and look forward to more words of wisdom regarding real life scenarios. Good photos too.

  17. Thomas Sanders

    Outstanding advice for the defensive shooter! This is definitely one of the skills that I’ll be honing on a daily basis. Thank you for the excellent instruction.

  18. Bill

    Very good article once I realized the author was speaking about his weapon, not his gun. If I don’t look at my gun, the wall gets wet. I agree about getting off the X. Seek cover and/or concealment. Having been in several battles, I firmly believe in firing 2,3,4 shots, then moving.

  19. Janice

    I really enjoy how well you explain everything. As a relatively new shooter, these are things I would never have thought about. Thank you.

    • Luis

      Don’t believe the Hipe, the location of his work space is incorrect. It’s way too low, that location will automatically draw his eyes down and away from the threat. A high work space is better, if you have a high work space you should be able to keep your weapon at eye level, it will also allow you to get back on your sights a lot quicker after the reload has been performed. If you are a new shooter, I would absolutely recommend for you to slow down the process and guide the magazine into your maxwell at least a 1/4 of and inch into the gun. Then Pop your eyes up and identify your target (ensure you get a good grip as soon as you can before your weapon goes back forward)

  20. David Farber

    I disagree. I shoot a lot of IDPA matches and reloading is a fine motor skill. I have messed up a reload more than once by not looking at what I was doing.

    • idstraining

      Skills that help you win matches and skills that help you stay alive are not the same thing. Having said that, there are thousands of examples of competition shooters looking at their guns to reload and speeding up because they had a micro time distortion and when they “did” look at their gun during the reload they sped up to complete if faster because they thought they were moving to slow and messed up the reload…. The point is that looking at your gun under critical incident stress can actually make you more likely to screw up.

  21. JD

    Im sorry, but I completely disagree about where the reload is being performed. You shouldnt have to look at the gun because the gun should be up in front of your face, just below the line of sight. Which will allow you to glance, at the magwell as the new mag is inserted, and be able to keep an eye on the adversary. The word efficient is mentioned. Having to bring the gun down to where you suggest, do the reload and bring it back up and get back on the sights is far from an efficient reload. Too much movement. In a self defense shooting, having to reload should be done behind cover. I realize cover may not be an option in all situations. So having to do a reload in the open has to be done as fast as possible, which equates to minimal movement.

    • Derek

      Agreed! The weapon should be kept in your work space so that 1) frontal and peripheral movement can be detected; 2) and the weapon remains in the closest position to return to operation.

    • idstraining

      Did you read that section of the article where I discuss “time distortion and task fixation”? Like I talk about in the article, saying that you will be able to glance down or look in your peripheral during a chaotic event where someone is trying to kill you is disregarding the science of how humans respond. Many people incorrectly categorize something that is faster as being more efficient, it is a component of efficiency but not the end all be all…like I discuss in the article context is pretty important as well.

      • Corey

        When you’re in a life or death scenario you don’t fixate on the threat per se, you fixate on the *problem.* “What is wrong in my world right now? Oh! Deadly aggressor! Problem!” If the gun is out to solve that problem, it is now part of your brain’s conscious efforts in solving that problem. If, in your efforts to solve the problem, you press your trigger and get a shlub or click and not a bang, you are going to fixate on the new problem — the gun isn’t working! Look, if you want to train to not look at your gun, you can do that all you want regardless of where your pistol is. Staring at the threat while reloading your gun doesn’t do anything to solve the problem, but I’ll certainly agree that being aware of what the threat is doing is a critical component of surviving. If you really want to stare at the threat you can do that with your pistol in your field of view. Remember, the pistol not working is the new problem, if you screw something up with the reload (fight or flight much?) you *are* going to look at it! Do you want the pistol to be between you and the threat that you still need to keep tabs on, or do you want it between you and the ground? Unless you’re skydiving, the ground is not your problem, the threat is and, at the moment, the non-functioning firearm is.

        • Chris Jensen

          Gun in your peripheral, a quick peek to see “why” the gun is down, will make doing a tap rack, to default to double feed, or empty mag that did not lock back, will put you back in the fight faster. Fact, you will fight like you train, if you train and you train to fight. That is the great thing about being an instructor, there are so many ways to do it.

    • James

      JD, I believe Rob has a lot of great info but also disagree on this one.
      You’re in a gunfight, things go sideways and the only thing between you getting killed and getting out unhurt is getting your gun back into action and you’re not supposed to look at it?
      I think this drill works very well in practice, but we ALL know the “50% rule.”
      Under stress your fine motor skills go to hell in a hurry.
      I’m sorry but I would never teach this drill.
      When it stops working:
      1.A quick glance to insure you are out and not fighting a malfunction
      2. Keep the gun up and off to the side of your Field-Of-View. Strip the empty mag from the gun.
      3. Grasp a full mag and index it into the mag well.
      4. Push it home. then slam with the palm of your weak hand.
      5. Release the slide the way you are most comfortable and most trained to do.
      Get back in the fight…..

    • Lew Johnson

      EXACTLY!!! Mr. Carson, not sure of your experience(s)….. In a static environment manipulations will be simple ALL DAY LONG. Add stress, elevated heart rate and respiration, adrenaline dump and the world is now a VERY different place. Get that Smoke Slinger up into your work space and look through that window of opportunity when working your gun.

  22. rl

    I am moving off the X first, towards cover, keep the gun up so I see what state the gun is in without looking down.

    • idstraining

      When you recognize that your gun is empty and or has malfunctioned I recommend lateral movement at the point the stimulus is recognized, keep moving laterally until the gun is back up and in working order.So in other words, it is not something you do before you reload is should be happening simultaneously. Like I talk about in the article, saying that you will be able to glance down or look in your peripheral during a chaotic event where someone is trying to kill you is disregarding the science of how humans respond.

    • Joe

      Most people don’t realize that shooting ranges condition you to stand completely still during a shooting evolution. Even competitions rigidly govern when you can move or not. Watch security video of real shootings; movement before, during, and after is commonplace. Yes, I know it would be unsafe for ranges to be otherwise. It’s up to you to somehow train for that reality gap.