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How to Practice Support-Side Shooting

You often hear about support-­side training, but how many of us have really trained diligently with the support hand?

How to Practice Support-Side Shooting
Photo by Alfredo Rico. Practice before you need the results.

I remember hearing the phrase, “You don’t have a weak hand.” As a young firearms instructor, I thought that I’d be repeating it to small-­statured people in uniform. I never thought I’d have to tell it to myself. You often hear about support-­side training, but how many of us have really trained diligently with the support hand? I did, but only on occasion.

It took major surgery on my primary side shoulder to get my mind right about the subject. After the doctor looked at the MRI, he sent me home from police work. I knew things were bad. “You’re not going to work until I fix the shoulder,” he said. “It’s a mess, and it’s gotten worse in the last six months. If we don’t fix it now, it will never be right.” It was time to take medical advice seriously.

The first thing that I was determined to figure out was how I was going to carry and shoot while recovering. In fact, I chose my favorite snub nose: the Smith & Wesson M&P340 capable of shooting .357 Magnum loads. As many know, if there is a cartridge malfunction, simply press the trigger again and move on to the next round. Unlike a semiauto, there are no malfunction-­clearance drills to practice, and no reloading, though I’d only have five rounds. If I had to use it, I better make sure every round counts.

Support-Side-Shooting
Photo by Alfredo Rico. Step 1.

The second consideration was how to carry the gun. I didn’t want to overthink the solution, so I stuck with an inside-­the-­waistband (IWB) holster that I generally wear in the appendix position. It’s designed to be worn strongside or crossdraw, so I ordered a left-­hand version.


Support-Side-Shooting
Photo by Alfredo Rico. Step 2.

Because I don’t normally work on my draw from the left side, I started with dry practice from the holster, unconcealed. I did this in front of a mirror because it helps to make sure that my draw stroke was as efficient as possible. Honestly, it was not pretty. I was all over the place with my movements. My head and torso didn’t listen to the instructions from my brain. I didn’t go on the timer, but I’m positive my inefficiency was costing at least a half a second. I slowed down and watched myself carefully, and gradually increased speed until I was eventually content with the results.


Support-Side-Shooting
Photo by Alfredo Rico. Step 3.

Mechanics complete, I added a cover garment. Cover garments are a pain to begin with, but clearing a cover garment with the support hand and then drawing with that same hand takes awkward to a new level. I usually don’t get down on myself, but this part of the exercise was humbling. What ended up working best was to drop the hand below the hem of the shirt and rip upwards, hooking the garment with my thumb. Once my hand cleared the butt of the revolver, I’d change direction and drive the hand back down onto the butt of the revolver to obtain a firing grip before reversing direction again to draw the gun. It is definitely not the prettiest draw, but it’s consistent and works with cover garments I’ve tried since. Once I had the technique figured out, I had to slow down, but soon I was able to start pushing my speed while keeping the draw efficient and smooth. When you’re training for speed, there’s no substitute for speed. Smooth is not fast. Fast is fast. Within a couple of days, I was ready to take my dry practice to the range and go live.

Support-Side-Shooting
Photo by Alfredo Rico. Step 4.

When most folks work on support-­side shooting, it’s from a ready position, or an exaggerated mirror image of their primary side stance. I’ve even seen instructors advocate a dueling-­type stance when shooting support-­side only. All of that overthinking goes out the window when you find yourself in a fight and you have to draw with the support-­side hand. Stay in your primary stance and don’t switch your feet; you’re going to have to move. You’ll want to keep your feet in a familiar stance in order to move effectively.

At the range, I started my drills at 3 yards from the target. It was simple enough; I would draw and fire one shot at an NRA B8 bullseye. That’s it, draw and shoot one shot. I did that for about 20 minutes and came to a conclusion: Shooting +P ammunition from an ultralight gun using only the support hand is not fun. When shooting with both hands, felt recoil is distributed differently, so while the support hand doesn’t reduce recoil by half, it does moderate it somewhat. I missed the second hand. With recoil, my accuracy suffered.

I returned home with bruised ego and sore hand before heading back to the drawing board. I practiced diligently with my SIRT pistol so that I could continue to work the muscles in my hand, running the trigger while keeping a sight picture. My favorite drill with the SIRT is to aim at a calendar on the wall about 3 yards away and give each square two presses, working left to right and then down one and right to left.


During my range visit, I started with the same drill at 5 yards using standard-­pressure Hornady American Gunner 125-­grain XTP load. Speed and accuracy were where they needed to be, so I started working multiple shots; not a true accelerated pair, but fast enough so that I was pushing some outside of the bull.

When you speed up with one-­handed shooting, there are some stance modifications that help. By shifting the weight in your rear foot to the ball and slightly elevating the heel, it will move your center of gravity a bit forward, which allows you to acquire the sights and get that second shot off faster. Unlike shooting with the primary side only, I also benefited from canting the revolver slightly inboard. It was canted no more than 20 degrees, and it made a difference in recoil control.

Post-­surgery, my first trip to the range went as well as I could hope. The bulky sling on my primary side made for interesting range theatrics, but because of the work that I put in prior to the surgery, I was able to perform on demand. There are no shortcuts when shooting with the support side, you just have put the work in.


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