When people talk about practicing weak hand shooting, what is their typical justification? The most common reasoning I hear is preparation in the event their dominant hand is struck by gunfire. This isn’t without reason. Often times we see individuals struck in the hands and arms when shooting at an armed threat, as tunnel vision focuses their eyes on the weapon that has caused them to fire. However, I think there is a much less dramatic, and much more likely reason for needing to practice weak hand shooting.
What reason am I thinking of? Simple; injuries to the dominant hand produced by day-to-day accidents. How many of you have ever broken or fractured a bone? Dislocated a joint, or in extreme cases, had an amputation? Slipping on ice, tripping over children and pets, sports injuries, car wrecks, and more are never too far away. Having personally dislocated a shoulder and elbow, I know this reality all too well. Unfortunately for me, these injuries occurred as a child, and the potential implications of them didn’t hit me until much more recently. Even amputations aren’t too far from reality, as I’ve known a couple of dozen people who have lost partial and whole fingers from injuries as simple as having a door slammed on their hand.
Supporting my Argument
Emergency Room Visits
Supporting this is a 2009 study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), using information collected by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). You can read their information here. Below are the results of the study:
“A query of the NEISS resulted in 92,601 records of upper extremity injury treated at an emergency department in the USA in 2009, which translates to an estimated total of 3,468,996 such injuries that year. This corresponds to an incidence of 1,130 upper extremity injuries per 100,000 persons per year. The most common region injured was the finger (38.4%). The most common upper extremity injury was a fracture (29.2%). Specific injuries with high incidence rates (all per 100,000 per year) included finger lacerations (221), wrist fractures (72), finger fractures (68), and lower arm fractures (64).”
Keep in mind that this data is only reflecting injuries recorded at emergency departments. It does not include injuries treated in other settings, or those which never made it to the hospital. I don’t know about you, but I know plenty of people who get fairly substantial injuries without seeking treatment. This means that we likely have an even greater chance of suffering injuries that could impact our shooting than shown in the data above. Of course, we can mitigate this by being cognizant of our surroundings, wearing protective equipment, and more, but there’s never a guarantee that we’ll go through our lives without injuring our dominant hand, arm, or shoulder.
Something A Little More Mundane
An even less dramatic example of hand and wrist injuries is the prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome in the United States. Nearly 400,000 procedures are done annually in the US alone. As people spend more time on phones, video games, and more these rates continue to climb. Arthritis can also significantly impact our performance, with roughly 24% of all Americans experiencing some form of the disease throughout their lives.
As shooters, we’re at risk as well. The repetitive motion of pressing triggers, absorbing recoil, and more can gradually cause damage to our hands over time. This is magnified when shooting more powerful calibers such as magnum loads and full house 45’s over long periods. Now we have the conditions of everyday life paired with recoil forces pounding away at our bodies, and it’s easy to see how injuries can be commonplace.
My wake-up call came at the height of the pandemic. I thought I’d broken my dominant hand during horseplay with my then-girlfriend, now wife, after smashing it against the kitchen counter. Sure, I practiced support hand shooting every few range trips, but it was never the focus. I knew how I performed in slow fire, but couldn’t quote specific standards for my performance at speed or under stress. As a concealed carrier, horror instantly set in.
I didn’t own a concealment holster for my support side. Due to this, I’d never practiced drawing from that side of my body with my support hand. If my hand truly was broken, I was about to be in a world of trouble in terms of personal defense. Instantly I jumped online and ordered a left-handed Tenicor Velo, my preferred holster at the time. Luckily for me, I’d just really hurt myself. No broken or fractured bones, just a big ouch, with soreness that lingered for a few days.
I got lucky, but what if that wasn’t the case? What if I was stuck carrying in an unfamiliar way, forced to shoot with significantly reduced speed and precision for weeks or months, or even permanently? Not only is my ability to defend myself reduced, but now I’m a far more appetizing target. Like a wounded elk stalked by wolves, a cast or sling on an arm makes us an easier mark for our neighborhood bad guys. Now we have increased our likelihood of needing to defend ourselves, while simultaneously reducing our ability to do just that. This is a recipe for disaster.
Making Positive Changes
Since this incident, support hand shooting has become a larger part of my range sessions. Not just strong and weak hand only shooting, but completely mirror image practice as well; shooting as if I was naturally left-handed, with both hands on the gun. Some days this is nearly all I practice, firing as few as five to ten rounds normally to ensure proficiency with my dominant hand, while getting in a day’s worth of work with my support side. Interestingly, it’s like learning to shoot all over again, with virtually zero muscle memory as a lefty compared to my normal shooting. This allows me to work on new techniques without trying to overwrite bad habits, creating differences between the two sides.
I’ve also purchased additional holsters for carrying on my support side should that ever be necessary, and regularly carry mirror-image at home to gain familiarity. If your budget is more limited, look at some of the quality reversible options out there. While not my favorite holster overall, the PHLster Floodlight and PHLster Pro holsters are excellent options, both of which are completely reversible without having to buy additional hardware. With just a minute or two and a screwdriver, you can swap everything from left to right-handed use and back. This should save you some cash to put towards range time, helping to build those support hand skills.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
With this in mind, when was the last time you practiced shooting with your support hand only? Do you own the equipment to make carrying on that side possible? Have you worked on not only your draw stroke from here, but also holstering?
If not, you may want to reconsider and bust out that debit card. Start spending some serious time at the range and in dry practice working with your non-dominant hand. Wear your offside holster around the house to acclimate to something being on that side of your body, and how it impacts your mobility. It will likely be difficult at first and possibly discouraging, but putting in work will quickly alleviate these problems.
Much like most of our training, hopefully, this is a skill that never gets used. But in the event that it’s needed, you’ll be happy you practiced with your (formerly) weak hand.
About Dan Reedy
Dan is an Air Force veteran, avid shooter, and dog dad. With a passion for teaching, he holds instructor certifications from Rangemaster, Agile Training & Consulting, and the NRA. He has trained with Darryl Bolke, Mike Pannone, Craig Douglas, among several other instructors, amassing over 400 hours of professional instruction thus far. In his spare time you’ll find him teaching handgun, shotgun, and less lethal classes.