Training to Drill or Training for Real?, Part II

[Ed. note: This is Part II to the original “Training to drill or training for real” article.]

The current firearms qualification course at my agency is divided into two phases, and I use it here just as an example of what an agency could do to add real life shooting drills into their firearms training program.  There is one course dedicated to the basics.  In that course of fire officers must show proficiency in withdrawing their sidearm, proper shooting platform, and shooting on target in specified times.

There are some combat and tactical reloads incorporated into the training and time restrictions ensure officers are “moving with a purpose”.  Weapons malfunction drills are also performed to ensure proficiency and muscle memory.  We shoot Glock Model 22, full size .40 cal. pistols and we do use the Glock qualification course in that phase to help determine an officer’s ability to use their sidearm.  That’s the easy course, and you are not considered qualified on your sidearm by passing this course alone.

Remington R12E ShotgunWe also carry the Benelli M1 Super 90 entry shotguns in our patrol cars so we use the Benelli course for our basics drills, along with some transition drills, reloading while on target, and ammunition selection drills (changing from 00 Buck to Slug while on target) that the Benelli allows.

The second qualification course would probably be considered a “combat” course by most instructors and agencies, and often is only done as a “fun” course elsewhere.   Some agencies wouldn’t even attempt this course because they’re too concerned with an accidental discharge from officers moving with their weapons drawn.  But this is exactly what an officer is going to be doing in a real-life shooting encounter – if they hope to survive and win!  And at least for my agency, this is the course that must be passed to be considered “qualified” to carry your pistol and shotgun on duty.  Oh how things have changed, and thankfully for the better!

In the “qualification” course officers must be wearing their ballistic armor, duty belts and patrol footwear.  We’ve tried to require patrol uniforms being worn, but at about $200 per uniform the Staff isn’t as eager to have officers tear their uniforms in training (a minor loss that we’re still working on).  The course requires an officer to show proficiency in a wide-range of real life shooting situations under a time limitation:

  • Checking weapons (pistol and shotgun) for proper duty use.  Something that every officer should be doing at the beginning of shift anyway.
  • Sprinting 100 yards after exiting a patrol car to increase heart rate and breathing rate and to mimic stress.  Push-ups, sit-ups, or other cardio exercises could be used as well.  The point is, when the shooting starts in real life, the officer is going to experience stress, so we need to train in that condition.
  • Proper threat identification and engaging multiple targets with the shotgun from 25 yards.  Using the patrol car for cover and changing shooting positions between targets.  Changing shooting positions is a key element to this course, as officers often get not only target fixated, but fixated in the position in which they are shooting from.  As a stationary target you are not hard to hit, but constantly moving makes it more tactically sound and safer for the officer.  And we should be comfortable and accurate while shooting in different positions.
  • Proper doorway barricade clearing, shooting two steel knock down targets from about 10 yards away.  Door entries are not just a SWAT Team tactic.  Patrol officers do this every day and should be well versed in proper and safe tactics used to “cut the pie” and make rapid clearances of doorways (a.k.a. one of the fatal funnels).
  • Tactically move to a new barricade – this means weapon up and in the fight and moving with a purpose (fast enough to make you a hard target, but not so fast that you surrender a good shooting platform).  The officer must identify two threat targets among friendly targets at a range of 15 yards.  Each target must be hit twice, center mass, and the shooting position must be changed between targets.  Again, get used to shooting from different positions.
  • Transition to off-hand shooting stance and while on the move to a new barricade the officer must shoot a body armor drill on a threat target 7-10 yards away (at least two hits center mass and one to the head).  The shooter must be able to identify their hits to confirm completion, and if needed, to fire additional shots to satisfy the two to center mass, one to head requirement.  This is a real life necessity – simply shooting at or even hitting your adversary does not mean that your adversary is out of the fight.  Officers must train themselves to evaluate their hits and know that the subject is out of the fight before they move on to check their surroundings for new threats.  And officers must be proficient in off-hand shooting.  Murphy’s law tells us that in a gun fight the things (e.g. hands) that we most rely upon will be the first things to get hit or fail.  Without off-hand training and proficiency we have set ourselves up to fail.  And how many times have you found yourself in a tactical situation that offered cover only from an off-hand position.  Trying to lean out to fire from our strong side is a poor shooting platform and one that unnecessarily exposes us to danger.  SHOOT OFF-HAND!
  • IMPORTANT NOTE – Officers are responsible for tracking ammunition and conducting appropriate tactical reloads during the course.  Running your pistol dry is considered an officer-safety violation and a time penalty is added for each time the officer runs dry.  In reality this should be standard practice even on the “basics” course.  In my opinion we should never train muscle memory into our officers to allow their weapons to go empty.  It may happen in an L.A. bank robbery maelstrom, but we don’t need to train that memory into our officers on the range.  And officers should be very familiar and comfortable with locations on their gear or uniform to store partially full magazines in case the situation goes ugly and we need to go back to them.  We use Blauer Street Gear uniforms so we have the built-in cargo pockets on our uniform pants – a great addition.
  • A tactical reload is defined here as a fast exchange of a partially used magazine for a fresh magazine without the pistol running empty or the slide locking back.  In a tactical reload the officer should placing a full magazine in the firearm and then storing the partially full magazine in a well trained spot for future retrieval if the situation requires.
  • A combat reload is defined here as a fast loading of a fresh magazine when the current magazine and firearm has run empty, or the pistol has gone out of battery due to one of the many shooting failures that can occur.  In a combat reload the officer is in a bad way and is not looking to retrieve the empty magazine.  The empty magazine is simply dropped from the magazine well to make room for the full magazine, and will most likely be discarded until the firefight is done or the officer has appropriate cover to retrieve the magazine.
  • Tactically move to another barricade and successfully shoot a target moving in a pendulum motion with an off-hand shooting technique.  Officers are only allowed two shots from any shooting position before having to change positions.  Officers must get at least two hits before moving on.  Ammunition management is a key to this kind of course – as it should be in a real firefight.
  • Transition to primary shooting stance and engage three steel popper targets from 5-7 yards away.  There is no doubt with hits or misses on steel!
  • Tactically move to a ground barricade and take up a prone position.  Shoot three steel targets from the prone position.  Prone pistol shooting may not be comfortable even for seasoned shooters, but that position may be the best position of cover to shoot from – get used to it.


  • This course should be able to be performed in less than two minutes.  Once you gauge your officers’ abilities try to drop the times down to require a minute and a half time limit.  If we don’t push ourselves to the limits the thugs will!
  • For obvious reasons officers need to learn to tactically move with their weapon in the fight.  Being a stationary target is not acceptable.  And moving with your weapon in the “no-ready” (pointed down – or worse, up) position places the officer in an incredible disadvantage to a motivated, and probably superior-positioned adversary.  Shooting effectively on the move is a critical skill!
  • Very few people stand still when being shot at, and that includes bad guys.  Officers need to learn the critical skill of properly leading a moving target or aiming ahead of the target and allowing the target to move into our sights.
  • Officers should be so familiar and comfortable with tactical reloads (reloading when there is still some ammunition in the magazine) that there is a fluid transition between magazine changes.  Officers also need to have pre-developed locations to store partially loaded magazines that allow them to be readily accessed during the course of the fight.
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Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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