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Maintaining your firearms skills while on disability

My surgeon says it will be at six months before I can live fire a pistol again. Here’s how I plan to stop my skills from perishing with these SHOT Show products


The Surestrike magazine is a joint development between DryFireMags and Laser Ammo. It turns many firearms into a training pistol with trigger reset. The parts are shown on top of where they would be inside the firearm.

Ron LaPedis

Editor’s note: If you have sustained any type of injury, please check with your physician before performing the drills listed below.

Like many of you, years of wear and tear added up and I finally needed back surgery to fuse my lumbar spine. This put me completely out of work for six weeks and on light duty for another six months to a year depending on healing time.

As a part-time firearms instructor, I know that my skills are perishable and not practicing them for even six weeks can leave me rusty. After six months, I’ll have nothing left. But I am in luck, due to products introduced at SHOT Show 2023 and some coming up at SHOT Show 2024.

I cannot bend, twist, or lift more than 6 pounds. My training battle belt with a SIG P320, three spare loaded pistol mags, and more ammo in a dump pouch gets close to that, and it’s too short to go over my back brace anyway.

I haven’t covered recoil yet, which would go right down my spine possibly shearing the screws securing the titanium plate holding my vertebrae together.

Until I did the research, I had no idea that from 1993 through 2015, there were an estimated 2.6 million emergency department visits for injuries due to firearms. Of those, 10,296 involved the spine — with 28.6% involving the lumbar spine. My surgeon says it will be at 6 months before I can live fire a pistol again.

So, no heavy battle belt, no rifle, and no recoil. But as I said, some new and not-so-new products are here which will let me practice my craft without injury. Let’s take a look. I’ve included booth numbers for those vendors exhibiting at SHOT Show this year.


For my P320, I used the Surestrikemag, jointly developed and sold by Laser Ammo (booths 14432 and 20012) and DryFireMag (booth 10129). Two components make up the combo — the Smart DryFireMag and the SureStrike Cartridge by Laser Ammo.

Installation is simple. Put the button batteries into the laser cartridge and charge the Smart DryFireMag. After ensuring your pistol is clear, install the cartridge into the chamber of the pistol, lock it in place from the front of the barrel with the safety pipe, then insert the Smart DryFireMag into the magwell. Every time you pull the trigger, the laser fires. Let the trigger go forward and the trigger resets. The trigger pull and laser timing are both adjustable to match them to your own pistol.

In the video below: The iMTTS controller has multiple drills, each programmable. I set it for 15 shots of shoot/no shoot. Green is shoot; red is no shoot. Pressing Start begins a 4-second countdown. I definitely need more practice.

While I cannot use my heavy everyday battle belt, I do need a belt to hold a holster that is lighter than my Alien Gear level 3 holster and two mag carriers so that I can practice reloads with empty mags. I am wearing a back brace and even if I pulled most of the attachments off either of my two battle belts, they are 3 inches too short even at full extension.

Belt & accessories.png

5.11 Maverick D-ring battle belt and the parts I need to create a lightweight belt which will allow me to practice without hurting my back. Right: KT-Mech kydex level 2 holster and Alien Gear Rapid Force level 3 holster. Every ounce counts.

Ron LaPedis

When I was at the 5.11 store in Las Vegas (Hi, Kylie Walls) during SHOT Show 2023, I was impressed by the selection of all types of belts, and selected a two-part Maverick D-ring battle belt from the rack. Unlike my existing belts, this one is adjustable to larger waist sizes and has an ergonomic “U” curve to make it more comfortable when worn. Find 5.11 at SHOT Show in booth 10334.

I grabbed two of my EDC G-Code bungee-loaded scorpion mag carriers (booth 40112) backed with Uticlip 3+ (booths 42867 and 10769) to mount on the left and a KT-Mech kydex level 2 holster to mount on the right using a Blade-Tech Tek Lok belt attachment (booth 41548) and a Safariland QLS (booths 70323 and 11271). This totaled 3 pounds, 2 ounces. Because my brace is covered in Velcro, I skipped the Maverick’s inside belt and attached the outside belt directly to my brace. Yes, there was a little vertical give, but protecting my back is primary.


Need an EDC, duty, or battle belt? With 100 retail stores across 34 states, 5.11 has you covered. And unlike mail order, you can try them on.

Ron LaPedis

The first use of a pistol in 4 weeks was with the Laser Ammo iMTTS target system. The drill consisted of 15 shots of shoot/don’t shoot with a par time of 2 seconds. I was shooting from 3 yards at 1/5 scale targets so in theory this is equivalent to shooting a full-size B27 at 15 yards.

You can see how I did in the video. As my pain decreases and I am allowed more movement, including a proper punch out, I’ll work up to shooting from 5 yards, or a simulated 25 feet and moving to low or high ready between shots (you can see that I did this one time in the video then decided against it) and a 1-second par time.


Left: iMTTS 3 module target system plus optional controller. Batteries are included! Right: 4 mini targets are included for each module – 1/5 B27, 1/4 IPSC, 3” and 5” bullseyes. Scaled targets let you practice in space-limited areas.

Ron LaPedis


I also wanted to keep up my rifle skills, but there was no way I could practice room clearing or stationary offhand shooting since my tack driver AR rifle with a LaRue upper weighs in at 11.6 pounds, including the scope and 30 rounds of 5.56. I had to settle for sitting using a bench made up of a rolling coffee table and a recycle box with my Sinclair precision rifle rest up top trying to do its best.

After my wife moved the rifle from the safe to my makeshift bench, I set myself up with two products from Mantis (booths 43102, 11873 and 70428) – the Laser Academy and a Blackbeard auto-resetting trigger system for the AR-15s. The Blackbeard, in use by the US Marine Corps, US Army and Special Forces, fires a laser and resets the trigger, giving you the same functionality as we have had for years for our pistols.


The Blackbeard consists of a laser and trigger reset module that replaces your bolt and charging handle plus a battery disguised as a magazine. The kit comes with a charging cable and hex key for laser adjustment.

Ron LaPedis

It is a two-piece system consisting of a replacement bolt with a laser and trigger reset lever, and a battery pack disguised as a 30-round magazine. The laser has momentary and always-on modes, the latter allowing you to zero it to your optic. A pricier version integrates the MantisX real-time shot analyzer for analysis and feedback.

You can use the Blackbeard with most laser targets in addition to the Mantis Laser Academy. The Mantis Laser Academy uses QR-code encoded targets with an app that runs on most tablets and smartphones. The system uses the device’s camera to detect the target and score your hits.


Left: The Laser Academy consists of hardware and software. The hardware comes as a basic kit – what is in the zippered pouch on the left, as well as a larger kit that comes with bigger targets, five target stands, blue sticky material to put targets on the wall, and an amazing tripod that folds into nearly nothing but extends to over four feet tall. You can see it in the video. Both kits come with an unlock code for the software, which is downloaded from your device’s app store. Right: The screenshots from my iPad show two runs. The top is zoomed in showing 3 in the 10 ring. The bottom is zoomed out so you can see my flyer (oh the shame!!)

Ron LaPedis

To start, shoot the box at the bottom of the target (Control) and follow the written and verbal directions. The software includes dozens of drills for handguns and rifles, and you only need to touch the phone or pad when you are changing drills or courses.

The handful of available courses package drills in a specific order, the first of which helps you learn how to use the device and the app. For incentive, Mantis offers around a dozen physical patches mailed to you when you complete the drills in the training courses — which might take over a thousand rounds.

I found a few downsides to the Blackbeard. First, the bolt doesn’t fit several of my rifles and if you remove and replace the bolt, you need to re-zero the laser — so keep the hex key in the kit. Check the video for how well I did shooting from 12 yards — with a Crimson Trace scope designed to go from 10-1,000 yards. Yup, the target was as fuzzy as a pair of rearview mirror dice.

In the video below: At the bottom of the target is a start/stop bar. If you look closely, you can see the laser on it at the beginning of the video. After that, the 3-shot drill starts. This drill is part of the first course which teaches you how to use the system. Later courses get much harder.


All in all, I had a great time getting back to the range, even if it was in my living room. I didn’t do too badly after a month of not handling a firearm. Now I know that I’ll be able to return to teaching classes when the doc clears me with most of my skills intact.

Yeah, I’ll still need to re-learn how to deal with recoil and prepping the trigger while getting back on target, but that’s better than having zero neural pathways (sometimes called muscle memory) when I start sending lead downrange.

Have fun at SHOT Show, y’all!

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For your reference

Laser Ammo:

  • Product: SureStrike Cartridge
  • Website: Laser Ammo
  • SHOT Show Booths: 14432 and 20012


  • Product: Smart DryFireMag
  • Website: DryFireMag
  • SHOT Show Booth: 10129

5.11 Tactical:

  • Product: Maverick D-ring battle belt
  • Website: 5.11 Tactical
  • SHOT Show Booth: 10334

G-Code Holsters:

  • Product: EDC G-Code bungee-loaded scorpion mag carriers
  • Website: G-Code Holsters
  • SHOT Show Booth: 40112


  • Product: Ulticlip 3+
  • Website: Ulticlip
  • SHOT Show Booths: 42867 and 10769


  • Product: Kydex level 2 holster
  • Website: KT-Mech

Blade-Tech Industries:


  • Product: QLS (Quick Locking System)
  • Website: Safariland
  • SHOT Show Booths: 70323 and 11271


  • Products: Laser Academy, Blackbeard auto-resetting trigger system
  • Website: Mantis
  • SHOT Show Booths: 43102, 11873, and 70428

Crimson Trace:

Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.