At the range, we get into habits. Draw and fire one round. Draw and fire two rounds. Draw and fire three rounds. Unload & re-holster. These drills are great for the person running the range. The degree and level of control is heavy, and the chance for mistake or injury with new shooters is reduced. As a new shooter, these types of drills will probably serve as the range
experience you have during those first few shots fired.
Demonstrate the ability to follow range commands, show that you understand the rules of firearms safety – without the instructor or range staff needing to remind you, and other course of fire options may materialize. Shooting in the cold and limited training environment of a beginning firearms course will let you see how the gun works, and will let you feel how shooting a gun feels, but it has very limited application to self-defense applications.
Shooting a gun is much different than fighting with a gun. Poking holes in a paper target that rests motionless in front of you is not very realistic. In an actual shooting situation, a bad guy probably won’t just stand in front of you and wait until you are ready to fire for center mass. By the same token, if there is a threat to you serious enough to shoot it – you probably won’t be standing still either.
As soon and you begin to gain confidence in safe gun handling, you need to include realistic drills into your training routine. The sooner you make your training realistic, the sooner you ingrain good survival habits into your shooting training. More importantly – the sooner you stop doing the wrong things when training, the easier it will be to avoid bad shooting habits.
The story is this: A rangemaster with a law enforcement agency required those shooting at “his” range to put empty cartridge cases into their pockets when reloading their revolvers – instead of dropping them on the ground and “messing up” his range. Continued repetition during training ingrained this response to the point that when an officer was involved in a shooting, he repeated this habitual motion – potentially delaying his ability to reload quickly – the story concluded that he was shot dead by a bad guy, found with an unloaded gun in hand, and empty cases in his pocket, as he had been “trained” to do.
Other stories indicate that an agency placed tape over the action of patrol shotguns used by officers. If the officer racked a round into the shotgun’s chamber, the tape seal was broken, and the officer was required to have written a report explaining the need for the shotgun. The story – an officer was concerned about loading the shotgun, and hesitated, long enough that the bad guy got the drop and killed the officer, who was holding a shotgun loaded with shells – but that did not have the seal broken or a shell in the chamber.
Real examples, or fictional stories told only to give cops nightmares? I don’t think it really matters at this point. What does matter is the purpose of these stories. If you don’t train realistically, you will be less able to react realistically in an actual situation. The basic drawing drills described above are an example of ingraining bad habits into your shooting training.
A large majority of shootings require more than one shot to stop the threat. While shooting a bad guy once, and only once might stop them from continuing an attack against you – you should never expect this to occur. If you shoot only one round in a self-defense situation, your realistic action should be to prepare to shoot a second, and possibly a third and additional rounds. The draw & fire drills described above lend themselves to having the shooter fire the number of rounds specified, and then once that task has been completed, to immediately re-holster the firearm and prepare for the next directive.
At the other extreme, is the direction that you draw and engage the target with all the ammunition the firearm holds. There are good reasons to have a shooter experience firing both single and multiple rounds, but only when there are some intentional guidelines to make the experience realistic and applicable to actual situations.
If you train yourself to react to a threat by firing only one round and then re-holstering the firearm, what happens when the bad guy isn’t stopped by a single round and as you realize this, you also realize your firearm is well on its way back to the holster – causing a delay in bringing the gun back up and another round on target.
Likewise if you train to “empty the gun” into a threat. What if the first, the second, or the third round causes the person to stop the attack? And then, you continue to fire a fourth, fifth, sixth and additional rounds before you realize the threat has stopped, and any additional bullets you have fired are later determined to be excessive and unneeded.
In my time training police officers I would do drills where I would ask them to shoot a target as long as it posed a threat. I would use a flashlight to luminate a target, or some other indications where the officer could clearly know the target was a threat, and when the threat had ended. When the target was a threat, they would draw & fire one, maybe a second round and I would turn off the light and remove the threat. Just as is likely with an actual attack, once the first attack has stopped, there is a risk of a second attack as soon as the person assesses their condition and realizes they must now attack again, and probably more forcibly than before, since the injury they suffered increases the chance of arrest.
As soon as the light went off, almost without fail with some officers, the officer would immediately start to re-holster their firearm. I would of course turn the light back on re-luminating the target. They would scramble to get the gun back up to shoot additional rounds into the target. Afterwards, they would whine and complain – “that wasn’t fair…” Fair? Hey, you just had to shoot a bad guy, and after you shot him twice, you didn’t continue to keep your gun out and cover them in case – even though wounded – they were still able to pose a threat?
If the situation was perceived by you to be serious enough to draw a firearm, actually point it at someone, and potentially even shoot someone who you believe is attacking you, it’s probably a serious enough situation for you to look around and re-assess the threat, re-assess the area, and make sure everything is safe enough to put your firearm away – before you actually put your firearm away.
Start as soon as you are able to avoid this negative training habit. Draw and point the firearm at a target without shooting (chances are you’ll need to draw your firearm more often that you’ll need to shoot it), then assess. Shoot a target once, then assess the situation. Shoot a target twice or three times, then assess the situation. You might need to empty all the ammunition you have in your firearm to stop the threat, but you will have done so AFTER you have decided it was necessary, and not as a pre-programmed reaction that didn’t fit the situation you faced.
Here’s the way I train others. I use four steps, four steps before you relax, before you decide everything is Ok, before you put the gun away. “Down-Scan. Down-Scan. Look Around. Move to Cover.”
Lower the firearm a bit – not down to the ground, but down maybe 20 degrees. If the gun was pointed at the chest, it’s now pointed at the stomach. If the threat returns, you react. You can still pull the trigger and hit the threat, maybe not in the area where you would prefer, but you can still get a solid body shot without needing to raise the firearm again. Lowering the firearm takes it below your line of sight – opening up the area that is clearly able to be seen in front of you. You can now get a better, broader view of what is in front of you.
Remember that in periods of stress, the smaller capillaries in your extremities constrict, this limits blood flow to those areas, so the larger vessels and central core get the majority of the body’s blood supply. Under stress your focus is also directed to the primary threat that is directly in front of you. While focused on this threat, you may not notice other details or other potential threats slightly to either side. Lowering the firearm helps you to see, and process these other areas and potential threats.
The firearm is down, now scan. Your eyes are controlled by very small and finely tuned muscles. These are great in many situations, but when stress hits the body, the eyes tend to look straight ahead. To counteract this, use the larger muscle ground in your neck – actually move your head around, scanning the area to each side of the threat – looking for other problems, gathering additional information.
In more and more situations, bad guys do not travel alone, they have someone with them to assist and back them up. Should you shoot the primary threat – and then only focus on that individual, you may miss seeing his friend off to the side who is now preparing to shoot you. Your firearm has been lowered slightly, but can very quickly come back up to engage should you see another threat.
Is everything still looking safe and secure? Then take a breath, and lower the firearm even a bit lower. Now the gun would be pointed at the pelvic region. With the firearm lower and your hands and arms further out of your sphere of vision, scan again. Use your larger neck muscles – which aren’t as likely to be limited as the very fine muscles in your eyes. Look a bit farther to each side, and maybe even slightly behind you – both to scan for additional threats, and to orient you to your surroundings.
The person you shot – are they still an immediate threat? Are you safe where you are? Should you move toward cover where you can protect yourself, yet still fire should they try and attack you again? Or, is the scene and immediate area secure, and you see no further threats or danger? Once you have surveyed the general area, and can see you are no longer in danger, then, you can divert your attention to moving to cover, calling for help, etc. Once you are sure you no longer need to shoot to defend yourself or anyone else, you can re-holster your firearm.
The time from making a decision to draw and fire your pistol through the actual drawing of the pistol from the holster and firing a shot takes one to two seconds on average. The time to fire a shot when the firearm in in your hand and generally pointed in the direction of the threat is one-half to one second on average – half the time. And in a deadly threat situation, that extra time can literally make the difference between successfully defending yourself, and being harmed by a bad guy.
If you have a reason to draw your firearm and expect to need it to defend yourself, don’t get into a race or a hurry to put it away. Make sure the area is safe, and the danger has passed, you are behind cover or safe, then re-holster. Training in the Down-Scan/Down-Scan technique every time or very often when you shoot, will engrain the technique into your subconscious memory, so in an actual shooting situation, you will be checking the area around you without even thinking about it.