Unload, Show Clear

Three Gun, USPSA, IDPA, Steel challenge, Bullseye, Single Action Shooting Society a.k.a. Cowboy Action. All very different competitions yet all share one common set of commands.

When the shooter stops the Range Safety Officer will say:

“If Finished, unload, show clear.”

After the shooter follows this command the Range Safety Officer will say:

“If Clear, Hammer down and holster.”

Three commands:

  1. Unload

  2. Show Clear

  3. Hammer down

The reason the shooting sports have such an amazing reputation for safety and it is why they are the same commands you should hear in your head every time you are done shooting. Every time.

One of the areas for potential accidents with a firearm is replacing a gun into it’s carry bag, safe or any other storage area without properly clearing it. I was uncomfortably close by when a hunter pulling a rifle from a case discharged a weapon he thought was empty. Funny how often gun accidents happen with “empty guns.” This time it only ended in embarrassment; but all too often it ends in tragedy. But if we followed these simple commands we would never have to experience the gut-wrenching fear that follows a negligent discharge. Lets break them down.

Unload! This means the weapon is empties of all rounds. There are many different ways that weapons feed rounds and thus there can be different methods of accomplishing this action for different guns.

Bottom line: If you do not know how to unload a weapon; DON’T LOAD IT!

Where people who know better make the mistake most often is with a magazine fed weapon. The most common error is they will attempt to clear the chamber before removing the magazine. This action will eject the round in the chamber; but then feed in a new round. The shooter thinks they have cleared the gun when in fact they have loaded the weapon. Always remember; magazine first; then work the action to clear the weapon.

Show Clear. To show clear it means that you look in the chamber. This doesn’t mean pretend to look; it means to LOOK in the chamber. Work the action several times and check not once, but twice and even three times is never a bad idea. Show Clear, Know Clear. Remember the next thing you are going to do is pull the trigger. Knowing that is what happens next; maybe one more quick peek makes sense.

Hammer Down. This means with the weapon pointing in the safest direction you have available to you, pull the trigger. Do not de-cock the gun! Pull the trigger. If something stupid is going to happen let it happen when your weapon is ideally pointing down range or at the dirt. Pull that trigger. With a striker fire gun you have just turned that weapon into a paper weight as it will require a full working of the slide to get the weapon back into fireable configuration.

So, every time you shoot. Every time! Hear the commands; if finished, Unload, Show Clear. If Clear, Hammer down.

Every time.

Bullets Be Bullets


Hollow-point, flat nose, wad cutter, jacketed, semi jacketed, full metal jacket, frangible and the list goes on.

Before we get dragged too deep into the minutia of bullets, let's limit this to two: full metal jacket (FMJ) and Hollow Point.

To further clarify this piece is about handgun rounds in general and the bullet (the projectile of the round) in particular.

When we look at the study of Ballistics we look at three elements:

Internal Ballistics

Internal Ballistics concerns the construction of the round. The primer, powder, casing and how it all fits together. The quality of these components can matter a great deal; but with centerfire hand guns, most target ammo shoot close to point of aim. Granted some are slightly more accurate and burn cleaner, but they are also more expensive and 9 out of 10 shooters surveyed want the cheapest ammo for range use.

External Ballistics

External Ballistics tells us what the bullet will do once it leaves the barrels of the gun. Again, in centerfire handgun rounds the difference is slight; though not completely irrelevant. Competition shooters generally prefer a heavier grain bullet, which many feel are more accurate. Many swear by federal Syntech rounds claiming they provide the best accuracy. This is as likely due to the bullet’s internal ballistics (lower recoil, smoother burn) than actual improved flight offered by the coated bullet.

Terminal Ballistics

Terminal Ballistics for those concerned with personal and home defense is where the rubber meets the road. This is what a bullet does when it impacts a target.

Full Metal Jacket rounds perform universally similar in that they either over penetrate when they hit a soft target or flatten and possibly ricochet whey then hit something solid. This makes FMJ ammunition a poor choice for a defensive round. To understand FMJ Rounds one need look no further than the most famous bullet of American History; the “Magic Bullet” that killed President Kennedy, striking him in the back, exiting his body and proceeding to cause a total of seven wounds. It was found in what was called “Pristine” condition. Conspiracy theorists claim this is impossible, yet it is almost exactly how we would predict a high powered FMJ rifle round to perform.

Hollow-point rounds are designed to expand on impact. Thus, they tend to transfer most of their energy to the first target they hit. As a hollow point contacts a soft target, it will fill the hollow cavity in the nose of this bullet. The subsequent pressure forces the nose of the bullet to expand. This will cause the bullet to slow rapidly. The baseline effect is that primary targets receive more damage while reducing the chances of over penetration.

There are a lot of different manufacturers and styles of Hollow Point bullets. Each year most companies try to come up with something new (often just packaging) and either claim their new design is extra safe or more effective.

Most commonly the new bullets are some sort of frangible round. A round that breaks apart on impact and causes several wound paths. This takes away some of a bullet's immediate impact and, from a self-defense perspective, that is what matters.

In general, what we would like to see from terminal ballistics, in a defensive perspective, is a bullet that would start to open upon impact, retain its full weight and reach complete expansion quickly. This would release more energy to the target and create a larger trauma channel within the body. You still want enough penetration to get deep into a body cavity even if passing through heavy clothing. These wants are at odds with each other and getting it right is a matter of applied physics.

What is the best bullet?

There are hundreds of web sites you can visit to learn more about ballistics and bullets. For myself, I prefer the Federal HST. I have seen numerous ballistic tests and no other round has performed as consistently as the Federal HST round.

The Federal HST opens like a flower with six points. This creates more surface area than a standard round and allows the bullet to retain weight thus, giving good penetration while causing a larger trauma channel. This is not to say that other round and brands are not good, but at the end of the day, the importance of defensive ammo is that its performance breeds confidence in the round.

I’m confident in Federal HST.

What round has won your trust? Come talk to us about it at Stock and Barrel.

Stock and Barrel is Minnesota’s premier gun club, pro shop and indoor shooting range located just south of Minneapolis with locations in Chanhassen and Eagan.


Shotguns for Home Defense


Among the most persistent of myth is the value of a shotgun for home defense.

Now let’s be clear; someone well versed in the use of a shotgun will be very effective with the weapon. That being said most people who have settled on a shotgun for home defense are not doing so because they enjoy training with a shotgun; but rather because they believe a shotgun will cover the sin of being unskilled.

I have watched dozens of shotguns leave gun stores in the hands of people who have never been to the range. “Just rack it,” they say, and the sound will scare away anyone and, if it doesn’t, just point it down the hall and blast away.

Telling someone to fire blindly is terrible advice for many reasons, and this very unsafe counsel was given by Vice-President Joe Biden. Remember Safety Rule #4 “Know your target and what is behind it”. Don’t be like Joe.

Is a shotgun best for home defense?

In the movies, shotguns solve a great many problems and perpetuate the myth that a shotgun is a “street sweeper.” In reality shotguns are challenging to handle and racking one in the stress of the moment is not an easy manipulation to perform.

These shotgun myths are busted when a novice is punished by the recoil of a 12-gauge buck shot load and discovers that shot doesn’t spread that wide.

In an indoor residential environment, buckshot will easily penetrate walls. Handguns are smaller, easier to maneuver with and have a much higher capacity then your standard 5 shot home defense shotgun.

An AR or pistol caliber carbine has stacks of ammo in the magazine, little recoil and are vastly more accurate then shotguns or handguns.

When making a choice for home defense you can take the advice of Joe Biden; or come talk to the professionals at Stock and Barrel.

Stock and Barrel is an indoor shooting range and pro shop located in the south Twin Cities metro area with locations in Chanhassen and Eagan.

Gun Myth: Revolvers Don’t Jam


I have experienced or witnessed five different types of revolver malfunctions in my decades of gun handling. The big difference between “jams” in revolvers and semi-automatic pistols is that most pistol malfunctions can be cleared fairly quickly. However, with a revolver, the malfunction will usually take you out of the fight.

Here is what can happen to a revolver:

  1. During recoil, the bullets in the non-firing chambers may creep out of their shell casing causing the bullet to collide with the barrel’s forcing cone thereby locking up the cylinder. In order to clear this jam, you will need a mallet and a dowel rod so that you can tap (or pound) the bullet back into the shell casing. That’s a difficult task to perform during the stress of a self-defense encounter.

    Bullet creep can be caused by an improperly crimped bullet (and I have seen this happen with factory ammo as well as reloads) or by shooting high velocity loads in a lightweight revolver. A close inspection of your ammo may reveal imperfections in the crimp and your owner’s manual will generally warn you against the types of ammo not to use in your lightweight handgun.

  2. During recoil on Smith & Wesson revolvers (usually those made prior to 2000) the ejector rods can unscrew themselves jamming the cylinder shut. It is a good idea to check the tightness of the ejector rod before use.

  3. The ejector rod can get bent and interfere with the closing of the cylinder. This occurs when the firearm has been dropped on the ejector rod or when the revolver has been mishandled, usually by someone flipping the cylinder closed as they had seen James Cagney do in a plethora of gangster movies.

  4. A bent moon clip can completely stop the cylinder from moving. Worse yet is that the moon clip may prevent you from opening the cylinder to remove it. Moon clips are stamped out from sheets of spring steel. They need to be malleable enough so that you can force the rounds into the clips but that also means the tines of the clip can be easily bent out of alignment.

  5. The hand and the teeth on the cylinder star, which causes the cylinder to rotate, can become worn over time causing malfunctions in rotation and the ability to open the cylinder. These parts should be periodically inspected by a qualified gunsmith. I have been hearing the myth of revolver infallibility as long as I have been a shooter.

“Revolvers don’t jam, you get 6 shots for sure, every time”. The myth-buster in this equation is that revolvers are a mechanical device and all mechanical devices will, at some point, breakdown.

Revolvers are still viable handguns for recreation, hunting, competition, and self-defense. If you want to learn more about them, seek out one of the experts at Stock and Barrel.

Stock and Barrel is gun club, pro shop and indoor shooting range located in the southern suburbs with locations in Eagan and Chanhassen.