Transition Drill: What Do You Do If Your Rifle Goes Down?

By Michael Mills
Posted in #Skills
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Transition Drill: What Do You Do If Your Rifle Goes Down?

June 3rd, 2022

6:04 runtime

We have all been there on the range and experienced a rifle malfunction or we ran the gun dry. On the flat range, usually this results in some form of administrative reload. In real life, whether it’s a competition or an actual encounter, we don’t have the option or time for admin work with the rifle.

Man practicing shooting drills while transitioning from rifle to handgun
Any weapon can break down. Ensure you practice transition drills on the range to improve your odds of winning a deadly force encounter.

I think we can all agree the rifle is a superior weapon system to a pistol due to its range and power, but there are times when you may have to ditch the rifle and go to the pistol for immediate use (or run for cover, which we will discuss later).

Broken or Empty?

Any mechanical device can malfunction, either from failure to clean, failure to maintain or maybe just bad ammo. Or, if it is not a malfunction, did we simply run the rifle dry? In the video above, you will see a manually induced malfunction and a bolt lock scenario.

Man manually causing a rifle malfunction
In a range environment, practice dealing with malfunctions so you know how to handle them if they occur in the real world.

There are a few reasons to do these drills. First, they give you a good chance to learn how the malfunction feels when the gun tries to cycle. Second, they give you a clearance drill training scenario. And lastly, it gives you the opportunity to make a decision between taking cover or transitioning to another tool. In this case, we are using the SAINT Victor 5.56mm rifle and the XD-M Elite Tactical OSP 9mm as our tools for the day.

Man shooting drills with Springfield Armory rifle
The author used a two-point sling on his carbine when practicing the transition drills on the range. This allowed him to retain control of the rifle while engaging targets with his pistol.

Cover vs. Concealment

When talking about cover and concealment, I should explain the terms so we are on the same page. In the most simple terms, cover is something that is bulletproof. Cover completely stops the projectile from penetration. Concealment on the other hand is just a visual barrier that will not stop projectiles from going right though.

I used a vehicle for cover in this in the video, showing that the only real cover is the engine block or behind the axle areas. Pretty much every other part of the car will look like swiss cheese if someone shoots at it. Making the decision to run for cover or transition your firearm is going to be based on distance, time, opportunity and ability.

Man using a car engine block for cover during rifle training
Most of a modern vehicle is concealment instead of cover. Here the author is using the engine block, wheels and front axle for maximum cover.

How To Get It Done

So now that we know the why, let’s talk about the how in some simple steps:

  1. Engage the target
  2. Recognize a stoppage/malfunction
  3. Decision time: transition to pistol or run for cover
  4. Index rifle while gaining master grip on pistol
  5. Finish drill or re-engage target
  6. Recondition rifle
Man looking at pistol while reholstering
Handling multiple weapons at the same time is a complex skill and increases the potential for an accident. One way to avoid an unintended discharge is to look at the pistol while reholstering.


The basic steps are going to be the same whether you have an empty gun or a serious malfunction like a bolt override. With dry practice or live rounds this is a pretty low round count drill that will work not only on manipulations but thought process as well.

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

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Michael Mills

Michael Mills

Michael Mills created as a way to help spread good information, shed positive light on the gun community and to have fun. He has always loved teaching and helping others, especially when it comes to gun rights. This passion was further ingrained during his service in U.S. Army Special Operations, and he is a Use of Force Instructor, Defensive Tactics instructor, DEA Firearms Instructor and Police Academy instructor. He also has 15 years of law enforcement experience from patrol to supervision.

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