Tactical Shooting: How to find the right tactical shooting system for your agency
By Paul Howe
When looking for a tactical shooting system for your agency, several important factors should be considered. First, the system should go from dry-fire, to range-fire, to SIMS, to live-fire close quarter battle, (CQB) to combat (street or tactical encounter) with no changes and be accomplished in a safe manner. Too many systems have limitations and problems when making the transition across the spectrum of shootings we encounter. Most systems will fit only a few scenarios, creating glitches in a streamlined system. Your dry-fire and range-fire procedures should compliment your CQB tactics and work in a street or tactical encounter. If they do not, you’re making things too complicated. Remember, simple is best.
Selecting a System
Think about this, “do you see first or do you shoot first?” The answer is always the same, you must see before you shoot. This practice, (seeing before shooting) will set the stage for proper discrimination, which I’ll discuss in more detail later. For the handgun, I promote one ready shooting position–the high ready. The weapon is kept in tight for retention, enhancing your ability to scan. This position can be used in CQB and in tube targets, such as buses or aircraft. You may carry your weapon at the low ready while in the stack, but when you’re on point or ready to shoot, your pistol should be at high ready.
Adopting a Standard
After shooting the standards, I note which drills I failed–those are the first drills I work on during my subsequent practice. The use of time/accuracy standards will let you know your strong and weak points in short order. Besides pistol standards, I shoot 10 rifle standards, all starting from the low-ready position. Many of these drills came from John Shaw and Mid-South Institute. I analyzed and modified them to fit what I consider tactical or combat shooting. Originally, these standards were developed for the 1911-style pistol and reloads. You can modify them as you see fit to accommodate your equipment, such as magazine pouches and holsters. They begin with one shot from the ready in one second and move to one shot from the holster in 1.5 seconds. Two shots, six shots, multiple targets, reloads and several other core drills are covered.
Point Shooting or Sighted Fire? Which Works all the Time?
First, I don’t believe you can consistently replicate the stress you will be under in a gunfight on a flat range. Your muscles will be different from the first shot to the last, similar to the difference you feel before or after your weight training workout. All good shooting requires is being consistent and doing the same thing every time. Next, if you practice point shooting and also practice using your sights, you’re using two systems. Remember, we need to use one system that will handle all situations. I believe point shooting requires less mental discipline than using your sights. So when it comes to a high-stress situation, which system will your mind revert to–the easy way or the disciplined way? Unfortunately being human, you’ll probably revert to the easy method, which is point shooting. I don’t think your mind will say, “it’s under 10 yards, so it’s time to use my sights.” You’ll simply revert to one of two systems and generally that will be point shooting.
Many of the tactical team shootings I have read about in the last year show a 20% hit ratio for tactical team engagements. This is poor at best. This means that we are losing 80% of our rounds downrange into the community or into other officers. Furthermore, I don’t know how someone can go into court and say, “my position felt good. I don’t know why my rounds missed?”
During my time working as a special ops instructor, we had a shelf with old handouts and miscellaneous articles. While rummaging through piles of paper, I remember finding what I consider to be the best set of shooting rules that apply to tactical shooting.
System Safety Practices
Regardless of the manner in which you were taught to discriminate, you must be able to change. During my service in special operations, we were taught to look at the hands first (as were many law enforcement officers). In combat, this practice caused problems when operators were shooting faster than they could think. They would look at the gun, go to center mass and launch rounds, only to find the target was a good guy. Their mind was not moving fast enough to process the information–the weapon their target was carrying was the same as theirs. They simply responded to the way they were taught. Now, my first step is to look at the whole person, and then I collapse to the hands.
The Silver Bullet of Reality
Follow-through and cover is a core training point that should be emphasized. After firing a shot, the weapon’s sights should be realigned on the target and the trigger contacted and slightly pressed. This is follow-through and it will build a good habit for combat shooting. When an officer gets used to doing this, he will instinctively do it during a real shooting situation. This will ensure that the weapon is up, ready to fire after every shot with no loss of momentum, should the threat still be present.
The next step is to cover left and right after the suspect has fallen from your sights. This can also be done on the flat range after each shot with a straight trigger finger. This practice gets the officer out of the hard focus he has on the target he neutralized and reminds him to scan for other potential threats. During range fire practice, students continually hear me say “follow-through and cover.” It should become automatic.
Finally, keep your positions and techniques simple. For example, as an instructor, I teach three different kneeling positions, Hollywood, supported and unsupported. Only one, (unsupported) works for me stripped, in duty gear, concealed carry and tactical gear. In keeping my personal system simple, this is the only technique I practice. Instead of wasting my time on three different positions, I practice one that will work in all uniform/situations.
What Equipment Should the Instructor Demonstrate With?
Next, officers should be encouraged to find a weapon that best fits their hand, in a caliber supported by the department. Too many times officers are required to shoot ill-fitting weapons that tear down their confidence with each shot. There are too many models of weapons to choose from to accept a firearm that does not fit the officer’s hands. A good fit helps build confidence with every shot.
Equally important is to pick a handgun with one trigger pull. Our long guns have one trigger pull, why shouldn’t our pistols? Administrators are doing officers a disservice when they issue a weapon with two distinct trigger pulls. Find a weapon (Glock and the Springfield XD series are examples) that has one trigger pull to learn. You’ll make life a whole lot easier on the officer and the range personnel.
Compensators work, but do a sanity check first. Get some duty ammo and shoot it in low light conditions to find out how much longer it takes to find your sights. Generally, your duty ammo is a bit hotter than your practice loads, and when the compensated guns vent, they do it in your visual plane, causing momentary blindness. Weigh the advantages of rapid follow-on shots, and also consider being unable to see your sights. I keep reading that most shootings happen in low light. You be the judge.
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