Skills Check: Empty-Chamber Carry Drill

posted on April 22, 2019

Do you carry a concealed handgun? Do you carry it fully loaded? While everyone I know in the defensive-firearms-training business advocates carrying pistols loaded with a round in the chamber, a surprising number of people think it’s safer to carry the pistol with an empty chamber. Where does this idea come from? In years past, military police and watch-standers were prohibited from carrying a pistol with a round chambered. As silly as it may sound, up until quite recently some security guards at military installations carried modern, double-action, six-shot revolvers loaded with only five rounds—a throwback to the days of the Colt single-action revolver. And then we have the Israelis, who are rumored to advocate carrying semi-automatic pistols with an empty chamber.

I suspect some people who carry concealed firearms with an empty chamber do so because they feel it’s safer and are nervous about carrying a fully loaded pistol. A recent tragedy revealed that it might actually be more dangerous to leave the chamber unloaded. In September, 2018, in Wyoming, a bear killed a hunting guide while his client, unfamiliar with the guide’s Glock 10 mm pistol, was unable to chamber a round and use the pistol to stop the bear from mauling the guide. 

At Gunsite Academy, we refer to a pistol with an empty chamber and a loaded magazine as being in Condition Three. As Jeff Cooper told us: “Condition Three was no doubt touted as a safe way to carry pistols when introduced. However, safety is a matter of practical gun-handling procedures and presence of mind.”

For this month’s “Skills Check” we’re going to deal with getting a Condition-Three pistol into action. Even if you don’t carry in Condition Three, I want you to give this a try. For those of you who carry subcompact pistols, I expect you may find manipulating them is a great deal more difficult than running full-size pistols. 

Here’s the drill:  Set your carry pistol up with an empty chamber and a loaded magazine. Draw the pistol from concealment, rack the slide to chamber a round and fire two center hits on a silhouette target placed at 3 yards. Repeat six times.

Here’s Drill #2: With a Condition-Three pistol in your holster, draw and fire two rounds at the target while holding a box of ammunition in your support hand.

CAUTION: Drill #2 can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, but it illustrates that getting a Condition-Three pistol into action with one hand is rather difficult. The pistol can be racked on a belt, holster or even a boot heel, but extreme caution must be taken to ensure the trigger finger is straight and not touching the trigger and at no time does the pistol point at any part of your body. Do this slowly and with considerable thought. I suggest you practice this with a completely unloaded pistol until you feel you can do it safely.

While there may be some reasons to leave a pistol in Condition Three, I don’t advocate doing so with a pistol intended for protection. These drills should make that point abundantly clear. 


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