07/27/2006

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Firearms: Don't be a sitting duck

3 skills for shooting while moving

By Dave Spaulding

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Some firearms trainers classify shooting while moving as an advanced skill. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's an essential, lifesaving skill we should consider one of the fundamentals of combative pistol craft, right alongside grip, body position (I don't use the word "stance"), sights, reloads and malfunction clearances. We all know hitting a moving target is harder than hitting a stationary one. Sitting ducks in a gunfight get hurt or killed. So, don't just stand there — move! Here are three techniques to help you out.

Shooting While Moving Forward
The most commonly taught shooting-on-the-move technique is moving forward, but unless you serve on a SWAT or entry team, this is the least desirable movement in a fight. Take a moment to think about what you do when you perform this technique: You move closer to your opponent. Unless you relocate to a more strategic position, moving closer to your opponent reduces your skill advantage and makes his ability to hit with lucky shots far less lucky and far more likely. That said, moving forward is the easiest of the three shooting movements to master.

Let's look at what's required to accomplish shooting while moving forward. Have you ever filled a hot beverage cup to the very brim in an effort to get your money's worth only to discover it's hard to walk away with the drink? What did you do in order to get on with your day? You lowered your center of gravity by bending at the hips and knees, and you walked heel-ball-toe in order to smooth out your stride. You held the cup at shoulder level and away you went. Holding a gun steady is no different than holding a hot cup of coffee steady. 

The better known shooting schools instruct you to shoot from the waist up just as you would if you stood still. The secret to stabilizing the gun lies in the hips, knees and feet. When you use your hips and knees like shock-absorbing pistons and walk heel-ball-toe, the upper body stabilizes and the gun doesn't bounce on target. The deeper you bend your hips and knees, the flatter your gun on target. It's quite easy, actually. Some instructors advise you to "toe out" while walking in a "Groucho Walk" (after the legendary comedian Groucho Marx). I've never found this helpful, but if it works for you, do it.

While I normally shoot with my arms straight, I find I can hold the pistol steadier by bending my support arm in a Weaver-like position. If you use an MP-5, M-4 or shotgun, which give you four points of body contact (cheek, shoulder, shooting hand, support hand), the drill is even easier. Sorry, I don't teach the secrets of the Ninja here, just the ability to walk smoothly with a hot drink or gun in your hand.


The lateral movement: 1. Stop and get stable. 2. Draw while taking a step sideways. 3. Stop and stabilize the upper torso; then deliver the shot.

Lateral Movement
Now let's talk about the two movements that prove more difficult to accomplish while providing accurate return fire. But first, note: You cannot run and return accurate fire. While some disagree and actually teach running and shooting, I'm concerned you'll merely fall, trip or slip. Also, don't try to shoot and run with the intent to offer cover fire; this justification won't hold water. The courts do not consider hosing down an area with pistol fire in an effort to keep your opponent's head down as a justified use of deadly force. Who knows where your errant rounds will end up? Stay behind cover unless you need to move to better cover. If you are going to run, run; if you are going to shoot, shoot. It's that simple.

The most common and best-utilized movement in a gunfight is the lateral movement. In fact, you should incorporate the lateral movement just about every time you practice the draw. Consider this: You confront an armed suspect in the act of committing a crime. You both zero in and decide to draw your weapons. He draws and attempts to deliver his gun in your direction, but you aren't there. You've side-stepped (i.e., moved laterally), which gives you just enough time to get into his reaction/response loop, creating lag time for him and allowing you to deliver the first accurate shot. Match point, game over, and you win just as you should. This isn't wishful thinking. This move has saved cops and legally armed citizens time and time again. It's a valuable tool worth having in your personal skills toolbox.

The secret: Get stable and stop moving before triggering the shot. It doesn't take much muzzle movement to miss the human torso, even at relatively close range. Drawing while moving sideways is acceptable, but try to stop and stabilize the upper torso before delivering the gun to the target. You can accomplish shooting while moving forward and backward because you remain on the same linear plane as your opponent, but lateral movement entails moving outside of a straight line, which makes delivering accurate shots problematic. Try to stop, if even for the slightest moment, before pushing the gun to the target, and deliver the most accurate shot possible. If you need to make a lateral movement of more than a few steps, don't try to shuffle-step sideways; this will only result in a slow, convoluted movement that won't get you out of the line of fire. After a few steps, turn sideways and walk as if you are shooting on the move going forward, but turn your body and shoot with either one hand or an extreme Weaver-style arm position.

Moving Backward
Shooting while moving backward (what I call "attacking to the rear") remains the most difficult move to execute correctly. Some instruct you to simply walk backward in a toe-ball-heel stride, which you can accomplish on a flat range, but it won't likely keep you upright if you need to move fast. Walking backward turns into running backward if a fight develops, and no one can run backward. Your butt overrides your feet, you lose balance and you fall. Most of us have seen the video of the Ohio deputy sheriff shooting it out with the white supremacist Kehoe brothers. During this fight, we see the deputy move off camera around a cruiser. Many think he's taking cover, which is not the case. He fell while trying to run backward on a flat, paved street. The deputy told me his fall was the scariest part of the whole fight: "I just knew I was going to take rounds up through my rectum," he said, "and those would be non-survivable wounds." Take it from him: Don't try to walk or run backward.

A better way to move to the rear in a controlled fashion is to either shuffle-step or step-and-drag. Either of these allows you to move back quickly while remaining upright. Like moving forward, the shock-absorber effect of the hips and knees is necessary to keep the upper body stable. The shuffle-step allows you to use your feet in the conventional motion of one foot preceding the other, while the step-and-drag requires one foot to step back while the other then catches up. Both enable the feet to stay in contact with the ground, making a fall much less likely if you must move rapidly to the rear. You can disengage surprisingly fast when using one of these two techniques; it just takes practice.

Moving away from an opponent proves important because every step you take greatly increases the likelihood an untrained opponent will miss. Take a look at these statistics showing the degree 1/8 inch of muzzle movement affects on-target accuracy at increasing distances:

  • 5 yards: 1/8 inch changes the point of impact by 41/2 inches;
  • 7 yards: 1/8 inch changes the point of impact by 61/4 inches; and
  • 15 yards: 1/8 inch changes the point of impact by 87/8 inches.

Take into account an untrained opponent who grabs a pistol and slams on the grip and trigger, and it's not hard to see how someone can miss by a couple of feet. The distance you create between yourself and your opponent translates into your ability to prevail.

Check 360 often and move quickly to the rear.                           

Dave Spaulding is a 28-year law-enforcement veteran, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He currently works for a federal security contractor. He's worked in all facets of law enforcement — corrections, communications, patrol, evidence collection, investigations, undercover operations, training and SWAT, and has authored more than 600 articles for various firearm and law enforcement periodicals. He is also the author of the best-selling books Defensive Living and Handgun Combatives.

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