Specialization Isn’t for Insects: Consolidating Your Shooting

Specialization Isn’t Just for Insects: Consolidating Your Shooting

In 2013, Pew Research reported that for the first time that organization asked the question, personal protection was the number one reason Americans owned firearms.  From 1996 to 2013, the number of respondents answering personal protection rose from 26% to 48%.  By 2017, that number had jumped to 67%.  I suspect the overwhelming majority of the readership here follows that trend – and indeed, may well poll above those numbers if surveyed.  It stands to reason that many of you wish to improve your performance on that front. While I generally recommend against trying to buy performance, there is a way to do that: consolidating your purchases and practice to a particular type of firearm.  This article will focus on the performance and financial benefits of consolidation of your collection as they relate to practicing for self-defense and other high-volume shooting.    

The Performance Benefits of Consolidation

Firearm selection is a contentious topic online: each brand, action type, material, and caliber seems to have its disciples and prophets.  My recommendation for the shooter interested in personal protection (or, for that matter, competition), is that they should pick a gun.  While there is such a thing as the wrong gun – the commonly-recommended snub nose .38 of decades past was exactly that for many – once you have a gun that doesn’t impede basic skill development, the type of gun doesn’t really matter.   For most, the modern wave of polymer double-stack pistols fits the bill: they’re light enough to carry and accurate enough to shoot well, small enough to conceal and large enough to manipulate. Above all they are reliable – the current generation of polymer duty-style guns generally have a mean rounds between failure in the neighborhood of 2,000 rounds, with many having the capability to exceed that greatly.  

Once you’ve picked a gun, my suggestion is that you buy a second copy – or at least something very similar, such as a Glock 34 to go with your Glock 19 – as soon as possible.  The benefits of this practice are straightforward: you’re putting your mileage on your “shooter,” you’re able to leave your carry gun alone when you dry fire (it’s a lot harder to ND when you’re not regularly loading, unloading, and handling your firearm), and if your gun breaks, you’ve got an identical (or at least very similar) copy to carry while Brownell’s ships that spring or Ruger performs their warranty work.  When you’re at this point (and even before this point, if you simply cannot afford a second gun right now), focus all of your practice on that gun.  I’m not talking about the plinking you may do for fun, but rather the focused tasks you do at the range to measure and improve your shooting.

Carry gun and practice gun.  While the sights differ slightly, the trigger and grip are the same – which makes practice with one just as good as practice with the other.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to afford – both time-wise and financially – over 100 hours of firearms training over the past year, with both local and nationally-recognized instructors.  Each of those classes was shot with the same gun. That meant thousands of draw strokes performed with the same weapon and from the same holster under the watchful eyes of people whose job it was to teach and coach me.  When I didn’t have to worry about how the quirks of my gun – the same gun I’d done all my practice with for the past few months – that meant I could forget about working the gun and focus on the instruction. Likewise, under the stress of shooting solo drills with the whole class watching (and heckling), I was able to forget about the nuances of my particular firearm and focus on the shooting problem in front of me – which led to better performance.  

I’ve fired many thousands of rounds through my HKs.  Over the past year and a half, I’ve done some of the best shooting in my life with those guns.  It’s not that my guns are superior (except, well, they are…) or provide for some sort of store-bought shooting prowess.  It’s that I’ve fired them both dry and live many times more than any other type. I’d estimate that 90% of my dry fire performance is with a copy of my chosen carry gun, and that provides several benefits.  Key among them is that manipulation of the gun – the trigger, the magazine release, the slide release – is all but second nature now. In live fire, I know what sight picture is required to make a particular shot, what an acceptable trigger press is for that shot, and how the gun will behave under recoil if I need to shoot again.  If I were to get into a shooting tomorrow this familiarity can only benefit me. Because I won’t have to worry about the gun and I can focus my attention on the problem presented to me; to borrow a phrase from elsewhere, this decreases cognitive load. If you’re a competitive shooter, the same benefits are obviously present.

Consolidation’s Current and Future Financial Benefits

In 2020, we will have another national election.  If they haven’t made there in 2019, guns will be on the menu in 2020.  For some, 2019 and 2021 may bring new infringements. For many others, the mere threat of those infringements will cause manufacturers, distributors, and dealers to adapt to the resulting demand.  

Many readers (and this author) are too young to truly remember the 1994-2004 Federal Assault Weapons Ban.  The gun owners I knew as I came of age lived through that time. My father told stories of going into the ban with a pair of magazines – the two that came in the box – for each of his pistols, of paying $70 (quite the sum in 1996) at a gun show for a third CZ-75 magazine (the first he’d seen for sale since the law’s passing).  For those – myself included – who didn’t learn the lesson, history threatened to repeat itself in 2012. I have very clear memories of Wolf .223 being sold for $1.00/round at gun shows, CheaperThanDirt’s $99.00 USGI mags, and FFLs raising their transfer fees to $100.00 or more to discourage online shoppers circumventing their in-store price gouging.  As a perpetually broke college student, I felt lucky to find the six Hungarian 20-round magazines for my AK I was able to afford that December – the panicked hordes didn’t seem to catch the less-common 20-round AK mags on their first pass. There was a real sense among the gun community that twenty dead children in Connecticut was the cover President Obama required to get another ban – a topic he studiously tap-danced around throughout his presidency – through Congress.  

Let’s say you have $500.00 to spend on guns over the next three months and you’re concerned about future legislation.  So maybe you can buy six magazines for one pistol type and still have money left over for a couple of cases of ammo, or perhaps you can buy three magazines for three different types of pistols and maybe have money left over for a case of ammo.  In my view, you get more value for your dollar if you have fewer mouths to feed, so to speak. And, let’s face it: many of us won’t prepare for this eventuality as much as we’d like to. If you’re scrambling in October 2020, wouldn’t it be easier to try to find one or two magazine types or calibers, rather than half a dozen or more?

The “serious” pistols all feed the same magazines. Caliber is the same for all the pistols. Accessories – sights, holsters, and lights – are largely interchangeable. If facing a ban or a shortage, the stuff I buy fits everything important.

You may think I’m misguided and that Trump’s legacy of a solidly conservative Supreme Court will swoop down and forever vanquish the threats to our gun rights, so there’s no need to go out and acquire a closet full of mags and ammo before 2020.  That’s cool. The financial benefits to consolidation still remain.

While the common internet answer to “how many [guns/bullets/magazines] are enough” is N+1, the reality is that you will reach a point where you’ll ask yourself if you really need to buy that thirty-sixth VP9 mag.  Keep in mind that I’m not presenting you with a hard number, just the idea. You will reach that point far sooner if you’re only dealing with a few mouths (guns, calibers) to feed, so to speak. Once your perceived needs – both immediate and long-term – are covered, you’re left with more money available to buy the things you want.  When I was in school and in the early years of my career, I could really only afford to keep around the guns I used for defense. While the number fluctuated depending on my financial situation, it usually meant a pair of pistols and a few long guns. I had enough accessories – holsters, magazines, sights, and so on – to get by, but I didn’t have a lot because I couldn’t afford a lot.  On a budget, obtaining what I considered to be an acceptable minimum of guns and support gear was a lot easier when I was only dealing with the Glocks.

Here’s how this works in practice: let’s say you own a pair of VP9s, one for carry and one for practice.  You’ve got a good set of sights on both guns and you’ve got 20 magazines and a good carry holster, and maybe a few thousand rounds of 9x19 set aside for a rainy day.  You’ve still got the same discretionary income every month once you’ve reached that point (and, hopefully, wages have increased and you’ve got even more available). That means that maybe you can afford to keep that nice Smith and Wesson revolver around as a range toy or build that AR you’ve always wanted.  Perhaps you can build your ammo stash or buy a training class or buy some nicer ear protection or gear. Or you can always throw what you didn’t spend next month on shooting and buying new toys into savings. And if you’re one of those people who views a long-term societal collapse as a realistic possibility, I suppose James Wesley Rawles would approve of your purchasing habits as well.  

Getting “serious” doesn’t mean not having fun once the plateau has been reached. The pictured VP9 doubles as a fun range plinker in addition to serving as one of my home defense guns. The $1500 1911 in the $200 custom shark-and-horsehide range holster fills a niche of Americana that’s otherwise lacking in my collection, and one I probably wouldn’t own if I didn’t have the “necessities” out of the way. The in-progress AR pistol will end up as the AR I want, not just the AR I can afford.

Now, am I saying that you shouldn’t have fun, that you shouldn’t buy and shoot the guns you like and enjoy?  Absolutely not – I’m simply suggesting you mentally separate what you do for fun from what really matters. So try it out.  For the next three months, do all your practice – both dry and live – with one gun and one gun only. Buy only the things you need (or “need”) for that particular firearm.  Most of you will see performance dividends, and all of you will see your gear and equipment stash increase. Specialization may be for insects, but insects tend to be quite efficient in their role.

1 Comment

  1. This is exactly my mindset. I'd rather have five pistols of the same make model & caliber that share ammo, magazines & holsters, than five different handguns that share nothing. I'm not a collector; this isn't a hobby, it's for life and liberty.

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