Officer Smith was dispatched on a disturbance call. Upon arrival, he attempted to interview a known drug dealer who was present on the scene. The suspect verbally threatened the officer, picked up a weapon, and charged the officer in a threatening manner. Realizing that he was in grave danger, officer Smith drew his department-issued Berretta, fired two shots, and then holstered his firearm. The suspect sustained two hits to the chest and continued his drug-driven rampage, killing officer Smith. Although the officer’s name was changed, sadly, this is a true story, and shows why you need street training.
When hearing this, most people’s first question is “Why did he stop shooting and holster his gun when he was still in danger?” The inconceivable answer is “He was trained to.”
Officer Smith, like many other people, spent hour upon hour training to draw, fire two shots, and then reholster. Under stress, we will do what we are trained to do. For that reason, it is important that our training accurately reflect the situations we are likely to encounter.
In reality, not many of us are likely to be attacked by a piece of cardboard that is standing motionless in front of proper backstop with nobody else in the way—but, that’s often what our training is restricted to. Therefore, the impetus is on us to adapt our training methods and make them as realistic as possible to the types of situations that we may encounter in our homes, cars, and on the street. Here are some easy ways to make your training sessions better to prepare you for what you may face in real life.
On the practice range, every situation is usually designed to be a shoot situation. Far more important than gun skill is the ability to determine when to shoot or hold your fire. Don’t train yourself to shoot every time you draw your firearm. Don’t make every scenario a shoot scenario. Be sure to train with no-shoot targets, and place no-shoot targets in a manner that obscures part of the shoot targets. Train as much as possible in both shoot and no-shoot scenarios.
Verbalize on the training range. Envision a real-life situation and interact with the suspects accordingly. Practice cooperative situations. Give disarming orders and practice commands to put the perps in a safe position, practice calling police and how to deal with family and bystanders.
Distance, cover and concealment are your friends. Practice your verbalization and shooting while getting to a safer place. Get so used to running to, and shooting from, cover that it feels unnatural to shoot in the open.
You may be familiar with the police cruiser video of the officer who was attacked on a routine traffic stop. The stress of the lethal encounter overwhelmed him, and it took four attempts to get his sidearm out of his holster. Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticizing police. I am just using that as an example to illustrate, that in addition to practicing proper tactics and techniques, training under stress is a must.
Here are a few suggestions to easily add beneficial stress to your practice sessions. Face away from the target then turn to engage. Start from unusual positions or even while doing other things like calisthenics. Have a training partner call out which target you are to shoot.
Have your partner yell frantically in your ear while you are shooting and especially during reloads. Have your partner set up targets while you are out of view. Not knowing where the targets are, or which ones are shoot/no-shoot targets, ahead of time will force you to think before shooting. Run long distances before shooting to get your breathing heart rate up and breath.
Force-on-force training is one of the best ways to test your abilities and techniques. If done right, it will add lots of stress. Envision a scenario where you’re in the back of a convenience store. You walk to the cashier and realize that there is a robbery in progress. The perp is holding a gun on the clerk. You draw your weapon and order him to put down the gun. He turns to shoot you.
Do you think you can react fast enough to shoot him first? The only way to know for sure is to act out the scenario with simulated weapons such as Airsoft, Simunitions, or paint guns. Train for real-life scenarios with simulated weapons, find your limits, and figure out which tactics work and what does not. Video training systems such as FATS and CAPS are also a great tool.
If you carry a holster that utilizes a thumb break or other security feature, use it—and practice unsecuring it every time you draw. Practice drawing at realistic speed. Draw while moving, verbalizing, and interacting with others. Your support hand may be needed for other duties, so practice one-handed draws and one-handed shooting.
A miss on the street may kill an innocent. Don’t shoot as fast as you can, shoot as fast as you can hit. Don’t worry about speed, it will develop with practice. When you miss, use it as a training tool. Was it a flinch? Sights not aligned properly? Trigger control? Take the time to understand why you missed and how to correct yourself.
Find your limits and understand them. Realize that the stress of a real-life situation will make shooting much, much harder than during training sessions. In one of my own early training sessions, I took five shots at a hostage taker from 30 feet as the bad guy moved from behind the victim. It seemed like an easy shot at the time. The result? Four nice holes in the perp’s shoulder, one in the victim. Before attempting this in training, I thought that I could make the shots if I ever needed to in real life. It took a hit on the innocent on the practice range for me to thoroughly understand my limits and how stress effected my shooting.
On the street, attackers rarely stand still while you shoot them. Use moving targets. If you don’t have a moving target at your range, one of the least expensive ways of creating a moving target system is to attach a helium-filled balloon to a remote-control vehicle. Practice shooting while you move. Use different height targets. Place multiple targets in different locations and at different angles.
The first time I was at a range where it was allowable to shoot at a wall, I found it disconcerting and hesitated the first time because I spent years making sure that I didn’t hit range walls. The first time you are required to shoot a human being, this hesitation may happen to you a hundredfold. To help alleviate the resistance to shooting at people, make your targets as realistic as possible, even if it is as simple as putting a T-shirt and hat over a standard IDPA or IPSC cardboard target. You can also use photorealistic targets or inexpensive 3-D targets—dress those up as well.
In real life, you are supposed to shoot until the threat stops. When you shoot on the practice range, don’t simply double tap the targets; use as much ammo as you may realistically need in a real shooting. Vary the number of shots you make (two, four, or even six hits on each target), so you don’t get into the rut of shooting the same number of bullets every time. If you must shoot on the street, chances are it will not be two shots of slow fire. Practice controlled rapid, continuous fire. When working with pepper-poppers, shoot continuously as they fall and don’t stop until they hit the ground.
Most gun fights are at close distances, yet little practice is ever done at distances less than 15 feet. Set up scenarios where you fire at targets 10, 5 and yes, even 3 feet away. Practice defensive and offensive moves when the perp is close enough to reach you before you shoot. Practice drawing to, and shooting from, the retention position.
After you are done shooting, don’t let your guard down. Stay ready to defend against another attack. Keep an eye on the suspect to make sure you are not attacked again. Scan your surroundings and look for accomplices and other threats. Don’t just look for a whole person, look for parts of a body—look for feet, hands, weapons, etc.
Don’t just simply stand behind barricades. Shoot from barricades as if someone is really shooting back. Don’t expose any more of your body than you really must. Shoot from both sides. Shoot over, though, under, and around the barricades. Practice using realistic objects such as large public mailboxes and especially cars as cover. If you don’t have those props, reproduce them out of cardboard.
If an attacker in your home tries to shield himself behind your couch, you would shoot through the couch, wouldn’t you? So, don’t train your mind to think that concealment is impenetrable. Have a target on the range partially hidden behind concealment and shoot through the concealment.
After your weapon is drawn, at some point you will need to reholster and deal with the perp and possible bystanders. While reholstering may seem simple, it is not uncommon for weapons to be dropped or negligently discharged while reholstering. Practice reholstering while using only your gun hand and without looking at the holster and keep your finger high on the slide or cylinder!
We all train to use the sights on our weapon. During practice draws, I often think to myself, “Front sight, front sight, front sight” to remind myself to aim. In reality, aimed fire may not be realistic. Your mind will most likely be paying attention to the attacker, not your sights—it’s a natural reaction to concentrate on your threat. Realistically, it is quite possible that you will be point shooting and not using aimed fire. Quick point shooting should be practiced as well as aimed fire. Knowing that you can fire quickly and accurately by pointing will give you added confidence, when you need to do so on the street.
If you shoot IPSC, IDPA, or similar matches, keep in mind that the techniques that will help you win the match may get you killed on the street. Unlike the 50% body coverage afforded by the official rules on use of cover, you don’t want that much of your body unprotected if real bullets are flying in your direction. Reloading should be done completely behind cover. If you are under fire, reload as quickly as possible and skip the IDPA “tactical reload” as it’s too difficult to do under the extreme stress of a real gunfight. Two mediocre placed “C’ shots may be enough for a target to be considered ‘engaged’ in a competition, but an attacker may still be able to kill you if hit with just a few “C shots.” For that matter, two “A” shots may not even be enough to stop the perp. So, don’t stop at the required minimum of two shots, and practice covering all threats until you are sure they have stopped for good.
Practice these suggestions, and as many others as you can think of, because training works—plain and simple. The first time I attempted shoot/no shoot video scenarios, I was almost in shock. I stood there nearly motionless, my mind racing through all the options and ramifications that I could think of. While my mind was busy thinking, my body was getting shot. In my next attempt, I was verbalizing, using cover, and taking control of the situation. If just a few minutes of training can have that dramatic of an effect, imagine what the results would be with a sustained and realistic training program.
When you go to the range, are you practicing to punch holes in paper for score or street training? While both can make you a better shooter, only one will save your life in an engagement. How do you train
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