Mastering the basics of survival shooting should be the largest piece of your department’s firearms training program. I identify six critical things that should form the foundation of your police department’s training (roughly 50-75%) – things that are most likely going to keep cops alive in a gun fight.
There are a lot of “high-speed, low-drag” classes being taught, and there is a tendency by many departments to try to emulate those courses. However, mastering the fundamentals of combat shooting is what will keep cops alive.
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All right. So, let’s start talking about firearms. And today, what I want to talk about is firearms training and where are placing the emphasis in our firearms training at our departments, and also, in our personal — personal practice.
Well, I think that it has become sexy for everyone wanting to learn the greatest and latest tactical shooting methods — to shoot like the S.W.A.T. guys, or shoot like the Navy Seals, or whatever the case may be. And so, you’ve got different schools that have popped up.
And unfortunately, some of these have bled over into just the normal firearms training community and police work. And that is the — kind of this desire to add all of this pseudo-tactical stuff to shooting. And I think that that does a disservice — a huge disservice — to police officers because you’re kind of getting away from the fundamentals. And you’re trying to do all these high-speed, low-drag stuff.
Some of the high-speed, low-drag stuff is good. But none of it is worth anything if you don’t have a mastery of the basics.
My thought process is that police departments and police training programs should emphasize the basics — mastery of the basics. And by emphasize, I mean, if you take your total training hours, I think 50% or better should be just on the basics; somewhere between 50% to 75% should be on the basics.
If you did 75% on the basics — and we’ll cover what I think those are in a minute. But if you did 50% to 75% on the basics, I think that we would improve officer survivability in shoot-outs significantly. Now, of course, that also assumes that we’re doing adequate amounts of training.
If you only train for 10 hours a year, seven and half hours on the basic for the entire year isn’t necessarily going to do you a whole lot of good. And I think it was Dave Spalding that I saw make this analogy. And that is if you were getting ready to lay money on a football team, and you’ve got your two teams going at it, and you’re trying to figure out who you’re going to bet on. And one of the quarterbacks has only practiced passing two, three times a year, are you going to put your money on that? Or are you going to put your money on the team where the quarterback has been practicing everyday for a few hours a day?
And I think that maybe looking at it in those ways that we start to realize that even though the skill sets are completely different, we have to emphasize all these skills related to firearms. We have to practice daily, at least much more regularly than a few times a year if we expect to have those skills available to us, and for those skills to be out at peak when we have to use them.
None of us would go in and place a bet on a football team where the guys only practice three or four times a year. But yet, that’s what we do in police work with our training. Some departments, they only go and qualify once a year; some, only a couple of times a year; some of the better ones, three, four, or five times a year. But at the end of the day, is that even enough? Probably, not.
And I’d certainly don’t think it’s enough if we’re going to try to incorporate all these high-speed, low-drag things in there because we’re barely getting enough as it is to get the basics down. And if we start taking away from the basics to do all these high-speed things, then suddenly, our guys are no longer proficient in the basics.
If firearms training is a pyramid, the basics is your base and all the high-speed stuff is toward the top. And if you don’t have a solid base, then everything that’s built on top of is — is ultimately going to fail.
Hope that makes sense. I hope I didn’t wander around too much on that. But I hope you understand what I’m saying. We have to emphasize the basics. And I think that we need to do the vast majority of our firearms training on the basics.
All right. So, what do I think are those basic, fundamental skills — those critical skills — that every officer has to practice, has to spend 50% to 75% of their time mastering? Well, I’ve actually got about six different things here. Real quick, they’re presentation, target acquisition, trigger control, movement off the line of attack, magazine changes, and malfunction drills.
Now, those are six things, and maybe, other people would lave less than six. Or maybe, other people would have different ones, and that’s fine. But I think those are the fundamental things that we have to drill in to police officers to win gun fights. And there are other things that we can add in there. But these are the fundamentals. These are the basics.
Things like grip — hopefully, that’s addressed as a function of how the hand fits the gun. And therefore, you’re finding guns that fit your officers, whether you’re going with a policy that allows officers to select from a variety of different guns, or if you are using like one of the new Gen4 Glocks, or Smith and Wesson M&P, or something that has interchangeable back straps, okay.
Grip is important, but it’s not necessarily a fundamental skill or — It’s more of a function of hand and gun fit. And there are other things that are typically classified as basics — proper sight alignment, proper breath control, and these things. And those things are important in precision shooting.
But what I’m talking about here is survival shooting, which, generally speaking — if we can average things, if we can take a generality — which I know is a bit dangerous when it comes to designing how we’re going to train. But most police shootings are things that are relatively close, and are relatively fast. And I think that these six things are the basics that officers must master if they’re going to win those confrontations.
Okay. So, let’s take the first one — presentation. Presentation is simply being able to draw your firearm; bring your firearm to barrel in a quick and safe method. So, for the average uniformed police officer, that’s going to be drawing that weapon from a retention holster and starting to point it off in the right direction on wherever the threat is.
Being able to do that, like in a safe manner — in other words, you’re able to disengage all the retention devices; you’re able to keep your finger off the trigger; you’re able to not muzzle yourself or other people as you’re drawing.
All right. Presentation is something that — It’s fundamental to everything else because part of presentation is going to be your grip. It’s going to be — It’s going to set you up for having the gun pointing in the right direction, not pointing at other people. And quite frankly, if you can’t get your gun out of the holster, nothing else really matters because you can’t get it out.
Retention holsters are phenomenal things. I’ve carried a firearm and a retention holster on duty for my entire police career. The vast majority of that time has been the Safariland 070. The SSIII, I think — who was it? The Rogers, I think, is the one that originally came up with the design for that. Safariland implemented it — phenomenal holster. And it is not a slow holster if you train with it.
I am as fast with that holster as most people are with non-retention holsters. And I don’t say that like I’m anybody special. I’m not. I’m just somebody that has practiced time, and time, and time, and time again with it. And I’ve carried revolvers, sigs, and glocks in that same holster. And it works every time with all those different weapons.
And whatever your retention holster is, whether you’ve got maybe one of the SERPA on-duty holsters — Safariland has some new retention holsters. I say new; they’ve been out for a while now. But like, with the rotating hoods and different things — The concept, part of presentation, is you have to be able to acquire a grip on that firearm, disengage those retention devices, draw, and point that firearm in the right direction. And you have to be able to do it very, very quickly.
If you combine shooting with the retention — or with the drawing and presentation, you should be able to put rounds on target in less than two seconds. And if you’re carrying a retention holster, that means you got to practice with it to be good at it. Okay, first shot on target should be just around a second, maybe a little more at relatively close ranges. That’s presentation.
Look around the officers in your department now. Watch them when you’re on a relatively low-stress call. For example, you go to a burglary alarm and you get to the business. And it’s supposed to be closed, but there’s a door open in the back. And now, you’re going to have to clear that building, all right. So, what do you do?
Well, you probably already got your flashlight out. So, you draw your firearm and you’re getting ready to clear that building. Watch the officers around you and see how did they draw their weapon. Are they presenting it in a very clean motion? Or are they somebody that’s kind of struggling with it a little bit?
If you look around your department and started looking at — at all the officers and how they draw their weapons, you’ll be able to get a good idea on whether or not you’re department is spending enough time on presentation skills in their firearms program. And the unfortunate thing is a lot of departments do not.
The good thing is presentation skills are very easy to start drilling in to people. And you can do it every at read-off — presentation drills for five minutes, right? You show up for roll call and read-off and you go over whatever’s in the agenda for the day.
And everybody clears their weapons. Everybody checks each other’s weapons. You make sure everything is safe. You point off in the safe direction. And the seargent runs everybody through presentation drills for five minutes. And if you did that, everyday at read-off for about six months, in about six months you’re going to have people that have mastered that skill. I don’t know, just seeing something that’s relatively simple and under stress if you haven’t mastered the skill it’s going to fail you.
All right, next thing is rapid target acquisition. Now, this could be easier said than done, right? And I’m not going to get to a big debate about point shooting versus front sight focus or anything else. If you remember, I think it was Episode 7 of the podcast.
We have Rob Pincus on, and one of the things that we’re talking about is he teach a front sight focus, does he teach point shooting? Does he teach some other alternate sighting method and they kind of laugh about it a little bit. But if I understand him correctly, what he teaches and what makes a lot of sense is you fire as quickly as you can accurately fire, and if that means you’re very close and you’re not even getting a full sight picture.
You don’t see that nice hard sharp front sight because the distance is one yard and you’re pushing that, you’re pushing that gun, that pistol out towards the person’s chest. You can’t see it but you can clearly tell you’re on target. You’re able to put rounds accurately on target, or you’re at seven, 15, 25 yards and you have to find that sight, you got to get a good sight picture. How rapidly can you do that?
And through, all the different things that you train with, you should be training to rapidly come up either from a low ready or preferably from presentation, from drawing, and be able to quickly acquire your target and put rounds on that target.
Now, I come from the school that believes that under the vast majority of circumstances you should try to find your front sight and I stick by that. But regardless on what school or philosophy you come from on using sights, you have to be able to rapidly put rounds on target. So, you have to be able to get that rapid target acquisition, okay? So, from presentation, you’re coming up, and you’re able to index your weapon and boom, boom, rounds on target.
So, I think those are your first few things, presentation, target acquisition. Third thing, trigger control, I don’t care how fast you go. If you go, if you’re just slapping the trigger you are not going to put rounds on target, you’re going to keep missing, okay? And I don’t care how slow you go, if you don’t have proper trigger control, you’re going to be throwing rounds all over the place.
Trigger control at distant ranges will say for pistol 25 to 50 yards, okay? — is a huge deal. Trigger control like close ranges you know what? — is still a big deal because even at close ranges, if you don’t have proper trigger control, you can start pulling your shots off and a shot that’s supposed to go a center mass has now gone into the gut or it has missed completely and you’re not stopping the threat and that’s the whole point.
We want to stop somebody from killing us, right? Trigger control, how do you improve trigger control? Easy, dry firing, I’ve talked about dry firing before. I’ve talked about it on the website. I’ve talked about it in the Podcast, dry firing. If you’re worried about damaging your weapon go and buy some snap caps. I don’t think you’ll ever damage your weapon but can’t guarantee it. So, if you’re worried, go buy snap caps, and work on dry firing five minutes a day, everyday, before you get ready to go to work.
And for your weapon, make sure it’s clean. Make sure it’s a safe gun, point on a safe direction, dry fire for five minutes. Pretty soon, you will be able to, nice and smooth, roll that trigger straight back. And if you keep working on that, you keep working on that five minutes a day, every day, pretty soon, that is going to be a skill that you master.
So, whether you’re shooting for qualification on the range, or that you’re shooting on the street, that will be just the way your finger and your hand naturally operate is a proper trigger press. Okay, just roll that trigger straight back, nice one smooth continuous motion. It may be a heck of a lot faster, I understand that, but you’re not going to be jerking and not to be slapping it and all those other things that throw bullets all over the place.
Trigger control. Now, if you haven’t noticed, everything I am talking about so far, you can do at home. Dry firing, you don’t have to spend any time on the range, right? Presentation, target acquisition, trigger control, you can do all that stuff in your house. Practice drying, practice getting your sights on target. Practice rolling your trigger. All dry firing stuff don’t cost you a dime, five minutes, and each one of these things and you’re going to be a much better officer, much better shooter, I should say.
All right, number 4, talking about movement off the line of attack. This is important. I don’t care if you’re defending against knife attack, if you’re defending against the guy pulling a gun, or anything else. Whatever the line of attack is, you need to move laterally.
Backwards doesn’t get it, okay? Try to run backwards, try to backup that type of thing. It’s a losing proposition. If you’re trying to walk backwards, chances are, you’re going to fall down and hurt yourself . And then, while you fall down, you’re going to wind up getting shot. There are lots, and lots, and lots of video of this taking place all around the country. Go watch some dash cam videos. It happens.
Moving laterally, however, what you do is you get yourself off the line of attack if the person is running straight at you and you start moving laterally, then they have to change their direction of travel. That slows them down. That gives you opportunity to present, acquire target, and start rolling that trigger backwards to put rounds on target, okay?
Move laterally, left, right, don’t matter. Okay, just get off the line of attack. By moving, not only do you now force them to react to you but it’s buying you time. Its making them slow down physically. Its making them slow down mentally. It’s creating an advantage for you, okay?
If the person has drawn a gun and they’re pointing at you and you are moving laterally, now they have to try to track you, I think everyone of us would agree that shooting on moving target is much harder than shooting a target that is stationary.
So, if they are trying to shoot at you, make you a hard target to hit. Move left, right, don’t matter, one step, two steps, a thousand steps, move. Get off the line of attack. Now there are two different theories about this and I’ll let you make up your own mind. Theory number 1, move all shooting as you’re moving left to right, you draw your weapon, you continue moving, and you start putting rounds on target as you move. That is theory number 1.
Theory number 2 is you move and you set. That is you move left to right, one or two big steps. You move left to right. And while you’re moving, you’re drawing. And as soon as you are done drawing and you’re bringing your weapon, abear on own target, you stop and you press the trigger.
Now, which one is better? Which one is more accurate? Hey, it’s up to you. It’s for you to decide. Okay, I’m not here to advocate either one of those. Me, personally, I’m a little bit more of a believer of the step to decide, step out of the way, move laterally, stop and shoot.
I am a much more accurate shooter when I am stopped than if I am trying to move. If I move laterally, my thinking is that if I move laterally, now I’m forcing them to react to me as I’m moving I’m drawing my weapon. I am bringing it to bear. They are trying to figure out where I’m going or trying to acquire me as a target or trying to readjust physically and mentally to where I am.
I stop when I’m ready and when I stop, now, they are still trying to catch up to me and I have now stopped. I have formed a good stable platform from which to shoot and I put rounds on target. That’s my theory. That’s what I practice. It doesn’t work. Sure. Does the other method where you’re shooting, where you’re moving work? Sure.
What do you practice? What do you train with? Okay. Personally, I don’t care either way, whichever one you want to do, just get off the line of attack because as soon as you start moving laterally, you start taking control of the situation. Now, you’re buying yourself time, now they reacting to you. I think I’ve said that a few times “now they’re reacting to you”, right?
I hope all of us understand that action beats reaction every time. And when we’re out on the street, we are reacting most of the time to what the other guy is doing. Well, as soon as we start moving laterally, they have to react to us and that’s exactly where we want to be. We want to be in control of the situation. And when they start reacting to us, we start taking control. And we assert control, finally and dominantly, by putting rounds on target. So, lateral movement. And you know what? Hey, you can practice that. Head on dry firing, right? Again, you only have to spend a moment on the range.
Okay, next two items are going to be things that kind of — I can sort of a fundamental, but they are a step away from winning the immediate gun fight, if that makes sense.
First one is magazine changes. Magazine changes are very important because sometimes, our first magazine doesn’t do the job. Sometimes, we engage multiple people, sometimes were having to engage someone from behind cover. Sometimes, they’re behind cover and at extreme distances and so, the shots become much harder, so we wind up going through more ammunition and get the job done.
Magazine changes are very, very important. You have to be able to quickly and smoothly change magazines, because an empty gun is useless. It is merely a poorly shaped club at that point. Let me reemphasize that.
Magazine changes are very important. If you run out of ammunition, it’s very difficult for you to defend yourself against an armed adversary. So, I don’t care if you’re carrying a Glock 17 with 17 plus rounds in there, or you’re carrying a six-shot revolver. You have to be able to get more ammunition into the firearm for it to continue to be useful to you. So, fast magazine changes are very, very important. And again, that is something that you can do right at home, right? Part of your dry firing practice, practice them. If you can learn that skill, then it makes magazine changes very easy under very difficult circumstances. It’s a basic skill. You should know this. You should learn this. You should master this.
I have seen, fortunately on the range, I have seen people go to make a magazine change, and they’re on a hurry, and they don’t practice that much, and they go to gym, the magazine, into the body of the gun, only the problem is they miss completely. And they wind up throwing the magazine halfway down the range because they are going to shove it up in there, they miss the gun completely, and the magazine goes sailing down the range, 30 feet down the range. Okay, whoops.
Now, that happens in the relatively low-stressed environment on the shooting range. How well do you think that person’s skills are going to play out on the street in a shooting situation? — Probably, not going to go very well for that person, so practice magazine changes. Practice drawing the magazine from however you carry them on your duty belt, practice dropping the other magazine, jamming the magazine up into the magazine well, and then, dropping the slide — a couple of different things about that.
One, first theory is for the quickest reloads, which you want the quickest reloads. For the quickest reloads, you drop the slide stop lever, you push it down, the magazine, or the slide; shoots forward chambering around from the magazine. Yup, that’s one way of doing it. And it’s a good way of doing it very quickly, and that’s a way if you’re shooting competition always, suggests that’s a way you do it.
The second way, and this is the way that I practice, and not all firearms instructors agree with me, that’s okay. But the second way and this is the way I believe that you should do it is after you slammed the magazine home, you reach up with your off hand that is now free, and you grab the top of the slide, and you yank it back. That will pull a slide off the magazine stop, and the maga –, and the slide will shoot forward stripping around off the top of the magazine, and loading it into the chamber, all right?
Slightly slower than the other method, why do I suggest that way? Well, I believe in simplicity of training, and the next item that we’re going to talk about is malfunction drills. And in a malfunction drill, what do you do? You tap the bottom of the magazine, and then, you rack the slide, right? — which is the same exact motions that you’re doing for inserting a fresh magazine into a gun that’s run dry.
So, if we, instead of trying to learn two different ways of doing essentially the same thing, we learn just the single way, then we don’t have to learn as much. And it becomes twice as quick, or it’s twice as quick for you to master that one skill, then it is for you to try to master two different skills.
Just the way I look at it, you may disagree, and do what works for you, okay? If you’ve been doing one thing for 20 years, then, stick with it, okay? Obviously, it works for you, okay? Just make sure you’re the best as possible in however you do it.
And as I was just talking about, the last thing that which I think is an absolute basic that must be mastered, and that is the malfunction drill. And there are always different types, and classes, and numbers, and all these other things people try to use to describe malfunctions. Quite frankly, I don’t care, all right?
There are two ways I’m going to deal with the malfunction on a firearm, and perhaps three. On a pistol, I don’t care what has caused a malfunction. If my gun has malfunctioned, I am doing the tap rack bang drill, or tap rack assessor, tap rack, whatever PC thing they want to use today.
And that means that I will pull the pistol back towards the center of my body where I have the greatest strength and control. I will slam the – my off hand into the bottom of the magazine, making sure the magazine is properly seated into the magazine well.
I will reach over, and then I will yank back on the slightest hard as possible while pushing forward with the hand that’s holding on to the firearm, and then, I’m back on target. The idea is this that probably, cures; I don’t know, 90% to 95% of all malfunctions associated with the semi-auto pistol, all right? Making sure the magazine is seated; making sure that a round has been stripped and chambered.
Now, there is another kind of malfunction which that, may or may not work, that’s going to be like your double-feed situation. And that is now, you’ve got multiple rounds trying to jam their way, and at the same time, into your chamber. In those types of situations, you’re going to have to strip the magazine out, rack the slide multiple times, and then, insert a fresh magazine in there. That takes a little more time, okay?
So, the reason why I say that I have basically, two methods of handling it, I go tap rack. It’s usually pretty obvious and double-feed when I go tap, and I’m trying to rack it, and the slide is all jammed up. Okay, the double-feed is usually pretty obvious at that point.
So, I may easily go into my second method of taking care of the malfunction, and that is, I draw my backup gun. Now, the double feed can be cleared at a relatively quick amount of time. I can draw my backup gun quicker than I can clear a malfunction, a double feed malfunction, okay?
Generally, I can do a tap rack, and be back on target much quicker than I can draw a backup gun. So, I definitely recommend learning the tap rack drill, okay, clear that malfunction. Then, the double feed drill, you need to know how to clear that. If you do not carry a backup gun, or your department does not allow you to carry a backup gun, then you have to be very proficient with that, okay?
Learn that, use dummy rounds, and practice at, figure out how to make that work for you, okay? Generally, what you’re going to do is you’re going to strip the magazine out which probably, is going to require some force. So, you want to snatch that thing out of there, rack the slide multiple times to make sure that you clear out any additional ammunition that may be jammed up in the area, slam home new magazine, and back into business.
Now, if you carry a backup gun, then it’s up to you how do you want to practice. But you figure that out yourself. And if you notice, all of the stuff, you can train at home. Just a few minutes everyday before you go to shift, or on your off days, or whatever. All of these stuffs can be accomplished with an empty weapon, a safe weapon, dummy rounds, and a little bit of time. I hope that makes sense to everybody.
My thought is, like I said, if we master the fundamentals, and that’s going to get us through the vast majority of problems that we’re going to encounter. And I firmly believe that we need to train for what we are most likely to encounter, and then, build on that. Once we’ve mastered those skills, then, build on that to start dealing with the other issues.
Some secondary skills, once you’ve mastered the basics, some secondary skills like shooting in one hand, or shooting with your weak hand, or your reactionary hand. Transitioning between your long gun, and your pistol, or from your pistol to your backup, or whatever — working with flashlights, all those things are important skills to learn. But I don’t think that they are the fundamental basic skills that have to be mastered from the outside.
Again, those fundamental master skills – your presentation, your target acquisition, your trigger control, movement off the line of attack, magazine changes, and malfunction drills. Those are your basics which everything else is built on. Because if you don’t know how to change magazines, you don’t know how to clear a malfunction, or you don’t know how to acquire a target, then what’s the point learning all these high-speed low-drag stuff when you can’t do the basics.
I don’t know. What do you, guys think? That’s a – that’s the way I train, that’s the way I work with others, and trying to help people out. That’s the way I present it to my department, and previous departments, and depending on who you talk to, you get varying degrees of success with implementing these different things.
But at the end of the day, we’re all each responsible for our own safety, our own survival. And even if I can’t go to my chief, and convince my chief that we’re going to do training in this particular way, I can still do that for myself. And I can still work with the guys on my shift. I can still work with my partners, my buddies, my squad mates, or whatever, okay? We can work together, and we can be safer even if the department is not providing it to us.
So, well, with that, I’ll go ahead and wrap up. If you got any questions, comments, concerns, feel free to leave a comment on the website under today’s episode. Or feel free to shoot me an email, again, Richard@bluesheepdog.com. Yes, that’s my real email address, you shoot me an email. I’d get back to you as soon as I can. Generally, it’s pretty quick, but I will get back to you no matter how long.
As always, stay safe.