Above: NRA Instructor and Well-Armed Womanteam member Natasja Brant uses an inert plastic training gun to show how easy it is for a seated shooter to sweep themselves on the draw. A shooter focusing on a cross-body target and drawing directly to it will sweep their legs.
Competitive shooting ranks as one of the safest participant sports—even in action shooting where shooters move rapidly from position to position with loaded firearms. One reason is a rigid adherence to multiple safety rules. Another is that all shooting is conducted under the watchful eye of a Range Officer/Safety Officer, who enforces rules and will disqualify a shooter from a match for violating them.
There are a number of ways for a shooter to be disqualified. One of the most common is “sweeping.”
Sweeping is defined as allowing the muzzle of a firearm—whether loaded or unloaded—to pass across any portion of any human body, whether the shooter, the RO/SO or another competitor. This rule applies in all action-shooting events. The only location on a range where the sweeping rule does not apply is in a Safe Handling Area, where a shooter is allowed to handle their firearm, but not ammunition.
Competitive shooters are well aware of muzzle discipline and while momentary lapses from safe gun handling can occur, they are rare. Some situations, however, take some advanced thought. I refer to these as “Sweep Traps,” and they can even capture experienced shooters. Here are three of the most common ones.
1—Drawing From A Seated Position
This is a very sneaky trap for those unaware of it. Many a shooter has been caught by it for a simple reason.
A standing shooter will have their body on a vertical line, with their handgun located at the mid-point of that line on their right or left side. As the gun is drawn and clears the holster the muzzle moves forward and away from the vertical line of the body. There is nothing for the muzzle to sweep unless the shooter lets their support hand cross the muzzle as they achieve their firing grip.
Savvy shooters beat the seated draw “trap” by drawing the gun to the outside of the body. Next, bring the gun up and above the body to assume a proper firing grip before bringing the gun onto the target. This lengthens your first shot time, but certainly beats going home early because of a disqualification.
A seated shooter’s body arrangement is totally different. The holster is in the same place, but there will be a couple feet of hips and legs forward of the gun, especially if the lower legs are splayed to the side or pointed forward. That’s a lot of body that can be swept on a shooter’s normal draw.
In fact, if a right-handed shooter focuses on a target to their left side for their first shot (or a southpaw chooses a right-side target) their normal draw stroke/presentation to the target will inevitably sweep their lower body. This is an immediate DQ—and it’s happened many times.
Veteran shooters are aware of the “trap” and will change their drawstroke for a seated start. One technique (if possible with the target array) is to engage wide targets on the gun side first. This will direct the muzzle away from the lower body on the draw/presentation. If the COF layout is such that the shooter has to address cross-body targets first, the same draw stroke applies—present the gun outward from the holster side until it hits shoulder level and then swing it over the body to the cross-body targets. It can add a second to the first shot, but it beats going home early.
2—Opening A Door
It’s not uncommon in any of the action disciplines (although more common in IDPA) for a shooter to begin the COF by facing a closed door. At the BEEP they open the door and proceed through it to engage the target array. Sometimes these doorways are equipped with a doorknob that must be turned, or sans doorknob and require only a push.
This is another clever “Sweep Trap.”
The normal inclination at the BEEP is for the shooter to initiate the draw while the support hand moves to open the door. As the gun clears the holster and the muzzle moves up and forward, at the same time the support hand moves upward to the door, and the chances of the muzzle sweeping the support hand are very high.
For a shooter facing a door, the normal inclination at the BEEP is to draw the gun and open the door. As Brant demonstrates, that’s a good way to earn a sweeping DQ if the gun and support hand cross. Experienced shooters facing a doorway will get the gun out first and pointed above the door knob, before their support hand opens the door.
This is another case where a failure to recognize the “trap” can send a shooter home early. There are two common ways veteran shooters address this.
One method (if the COF description allows it) is to open the door first, then lower the support hand while drawing to move through the door and engage targets. If the COF requires the gun be drawn before entering the open door, savvy shooters will keep their support hand low while they draw the gun to a shoulder height and point it at the door. The support hand is then well-below the muzzle and can open the door, while the shooter steps through and joins hands in a firing grip.
Unfortunately, you don’t always need to hear the BEEP before getting DQed for a sweep.
3—Unbagging A Gun At The Firing Line
Pistol Caliber Carbines (PCC) are allowed in USPSA and IDPA, while Steel Challenge allows both PCC and rimfire rifles. A common way to bring them to the firing line is in a zipped soft long-gun case, or a “scabbard-type” case. The normal procedure (at least in Steel Challenge where these guns are most popular) is to lay the case on the table at the side of the shooting position, with the muzzle pointing downrange, and then unzip the bag at the Make Ready command.
The simple act of opening a cased gun has resulted in a sweeping DQ, as Brant shows when her right hand is swept as she fully opens her zippered gun case. But, this isn’t a DQ if the gun is in the case and the trigger is not accessible.
This is a seemingly simple and routine operation. But if a shooter fully unzips their soft case their hand will cross the muzzle. Technically (under SCSA Rule 220.127.116.11) that’s not a “sweep” if the shooter’s hand is not touching the gun inside the case because the trigger is not accessible. However, not all ROs are aware of that and have called it a sweeping DQ.
Some MDs have even upheld the call as a DQ. Savvy shooters with a soft case solve this by punching a hole in the case about 5 inches back from the muzzle and inserting a sturdy tie wrap into it to wrap around the zipper. That stops the zipper before it crosses the muzzle, but leaves more than enough room to remove the long gun.
Scabbard-type cases have their own issues. I once watched a shooter set their scabbard down, put a hand forward on it to hold it in place, and then pull the gun out the rear. But they didn’t remove the steadying hand and it was swept as the muzzle cleared the scabbard. That is a clear DQ because their hand was touching the gun at the time; making the trigger accessible.
That also applies to those who bring handguns to the line bagged or boxed.
Steadying a handgun case as the gun is removed can easily create a sweep, if the steadying hand isn’t moved clear as the gun muzzle leaves the case. In addition, be cautious while using scabbard-type cases for long guns.
A “Sweep” is a DQ. Common sense prevents most. But there are traps that shooters need to be aware of. It’s never fun when your match day ends earlier than planned—especially if it results from a shooter doing what they thought just was simply a routine action.