Beretta Blog

Tap/Rack as a Conditioned Response

Posted by Dick Jones

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on Apr 5, 2017 10:35:00 AM


Today, it seems there are more trainers than there were shooters just a few years ago. Many train by teaching sound principles that apply to the real world while others tend to make their training sessions look like a Special Forces exercise, with students rolling around under cars and jumping out of windows. There’s no doubt those classes can be fun but do you really have the skills you need firmly entrenched in your psyche? Those skills must be sufficiently ingrained to allow you to perform under real pressure, not just the pressure of not embarrassing yourself in front of other people.Also see: The Importance of Inducing Stress In Gun Training

You must shoot in a conditioned response mode

To truly be effective, you must be able to perform and run your gun without conscious thought - even when you’re scared to death. Being "scared to death" is a simple description of being in fear for your life, the requirement that gives you the right to use deadly force. When you drive your car, and another vehicle suddenly stops in front of you, the instant reaction is to apply the brakes. This is done without thought; it’s a conditioned response. While most drivers automatically step on the brake, more effective drivers also calculate whether or not they’ll be able to stop while looking for an alternative to hitting the stopped car. Hard braking while maneuvering the car into an empty lane, or the shoulder of the road, or even a ditch, is preferable to hitting the stopped car and well-prepared drivers do this without conscious thought. If the driver has to consciously think of getting on the brake, his mind is occupied, and he won’t be able to make those avoidance decisions. 

When the gun fails!

If you’re confronted with a threat and your gun malfunctions, will you have to think about what’s wrong with the gun, or will you instantly do what’s needed to get the gun running again? My friends who’re police instructors have told me time and time again that when many police officers experience a malfunction during their qualification, they stare stupidly at the gun, or even raise their hand to report the malfunction to the range officer. In a critical situation, this inability to react properly without thinking could easily cost their life.

Eventually, all semi-autos will fail to fire due to a bad round or a mechanical failure. When shooting a semi-auto and a malfunction occurs, the proper reaction is a tap/rack. Tapping the magazine to make sure it’s seated, and then racking the slide will get a malfunctioned gun running again, almost every time, and costs little time. While learning the tap/rack process is easy, learning to do it without thinking when the gun "clicks" is considerably harder and requires practice. Since modern semi-autos rarely malfunction, simply planning to automatically do a tap/rack the next time your gun malfunctions won’t provide you with enough practice for the process to happen without conscious thought.

Why tap/rack?

If you have a dud round, a simple rack of the slide will correct the problem, but many failures result from the magazine not being properly seated. Just racking the slide doesn't correct that problem. Daily carry in concealment increases the chance of inadvertently bumping the magazine release or knocking the slide out of battery. Going right to racking with a magazine not seated will result in an empty chamber. A tap to ensure a properly seated magazine will correct almost all malfunctions and costs little time and to get the gun running again. 

Thankfully, modern guns, especially the most reliable handguns, are so trustworthy that malfunctions always come as a surprise. If you train with another person, you can have that person load an inert round in your magazines randomly to teach you to clear a non-firing round. Most shooters don’t instantly perform the tap/rack sequence even though you know the dud round is coming. The normal response is to stupidly look at the gun as if it betrayed you on purpose before you begin the tap/rack sequence. Some shooters drop the magazine and check the chamber, and others simply stop shooting. Many, conditioned to range or match rules will resort to the aforementioned “stop and raise your hand” procedure.

Make the tap/rack a conditioned response

So we know that an automatic tap/rack response is the right response, how do we ingrain the process into our psyche, so it instantly happens without conscious thought? The answer is the same as the way we learned to back off the throttle and cover the brakes when we see brake lights, repetition. Combining malfunction drills into regular practice sessions will assure that you’ll instantly go into tap/rack mode when the hammer falls, and nothing happens. A great drill for this is the 4 + 1 tap/rack drill. This drill not only trains you for a dud round, but it also sharpens your draw, accuracy, and reloading skills.

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Here's how it works:

Load four live rounds and one inert round into your primary magazine. As you load the 4 + 1, mix them up in your hand and don’t look, so you have no idea when the dummy will occur.

  1. Load a second magazine in the same fashion.
  2. Begin from your daily carry location and store the backup magazine where you’d normally keep it.
  3. Set your timer for a random delay, so you have a longer window of wait before the beep.
  4. On the beep, draw and fire until you encounter the dud, tap/rack and get the gun running again.
  5. Shoot to slide lock, reload, and check the area around you before re-holstering.
  6. On completion of the round, reload the dropped magazine with four and one, replace it in your spare magazine location, and you’re ready to repeat the drill.

The 4 + 1 drill addresses five issues:

  1. The draw is initiated at a random time and drawing from the daily carry method improves draw, presentation, and first shot speed.
  2. When the hammer falls on the inert round, the shooter sees any gun movement due to anticipated recoil or poor trigger management.
  3. The random nature of when the gun malfunctions creates the conditioned response of the tap/rack without thinking or being distracted. The repetition of the drill ingrains automatic motor programming.
  4. Reloading the gun on slide lock teaches fast and positive magazine changes.
  5. While this is happening, the shooter is working on his accuracy in relation to speed and reinforcing the habit of always reloading on slide lock and of looking around before re-holstering.

In this drill, work on accuracy and speed. Try to be smooth before fast, but never slow. Work on grip, sight alignment, sight picture and other skills. While many instructors advocate shooting until you’re knee deep in brass, focused practice is much more valuable than simple trigger time without defined performance measures. With one box of ammunition, the 4 + 1 drill provides 12 strings of measurable performance testing, which not only improves your skills but creates confidence at the same time. That confidence is invaluable and will allow your body to go on autopilot while your brain solves the problem in front of you.

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Topics: Concealed Carry, Self Defense, Dynamic Shooting, Handguns


Written by Dick Jones

Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point, North Carolina. He’s an NRA Certified Instructor, a Distinguished Rifleman, former High Master, and teaches shotgun, rifle, and pistol as well as the North Carolina Concealed Carry Certification and Hunter Safety at Lewis Creek Shooting School. He can be reached at or on his Lewis Creek Shooting School facebook page.