Firearms training for when the 'Zombies' attack

When the lights go out, you will be attacked by a group of Zombies — using your squad car doors for cover, draw and engage the Zombies with a couple of rounds as they show themselves...

OK, my fellow Firearms Instructor... You’ve been tasked with creating a short block of in-service training for the department, but budget and time constraints have dictated that each officer will only get to shoot 50 rounds of handgun ammo and you have only one hour of training time. Your goal for this training session is to work some shooting drills from the patrol car doors in a dimly-light environment, maybe even incorporating some cover. You want to make the training as fun and interesting as possible so the officers will enjoy it, and of course, you’d like to make it memorable so they will look forward to returning to training at their next available opportunity.

What should you do?

This is exactly the scenario I had at my department this quarter. Training resources were limited but I knew I had 50 rounds of ammo per shooter and I had access to an indoor range with eight individually-lighted targets. I could drive a pair of patrol cars onto the range and I had a few pieces of plywood for simulated cover. The classes would be reasonable with between eight and 12 officers attending at a time. I knew what training concepts I wanted to cover in the training: low light gun handling, use of the patrol car door for cover as well as using simulated ground cover, two-man teamwork, and reload skills (and of course I wanted the training to be fun and memorable).

Between five and seven yards in front of the cars we set up four pieces of simulated ground cover (plywood stair-steps —  eight targets were hung on their tracks just above the pieces of cover (four targets and two pieces of cover for each patrol car).
Between five and seven yards in front of the cars we set up four pieces of simulated ground cover (plywood stair-steps — eight targets were hung on their tracks just above the pieces of cover (four targets and two pieces of cover for each patrol car).

Bringing 'Hollywood' to the Range
While considering this, I remembered a series of targets from LE Targets that depicted full-color Zombie-photo targets as well as a new series depicting Zombies attacking innocent victims. The movie “Zombieland” had recently been showing on cable TV and I heard some of the guys in the locker room joking about “When the Zombies attack...”

So, what would be better than a good-old-fashioned Zombie shoot?

A few weeks later, the rangemaster had ordered some of the Zombie targets as well as some depicting innocent people being threatened and we came up with a quick fun drill.

We set up the drill with two patrol cars on the range similar to a high-risk traffic stop.

Between five and seven yards in front of the cars we set up four pieces of simulated ground cover (plywood stair-steps). Eight targets were hung on their tracks just above the pieces of cover (four targets and two pieces of cover for each patrol car). We then hung three normal classic zombie targets and one zombie threatening a citizen target on each bank of four targets. The lights were dimmed and we were all set for the drill.

Before bringing the students into the range, I had a short briefing about the principal objectives of the training. I reminded officers of the techniques we teach on how to draw and achieve a shooting platform using the patrol car door as partial cover. I discussed teamwork during reloads — the verbal signals used to communicate and ask for cover while reloading and how to let your partner know when your back in the fight after doing a partial- or empty-gun reload. I discussed the importance of balancing speed with accuracy, particularly when an innocent person might be in your potential line of fire.

Finally, I discussed the techniques we teach for tactically using ground cover, reviewing the kneeling positions and discussing the importance of keeping some distance from the cover, discussing variations of firing over the top or around the side of cover. After our review, the officers were paired up and put into the patrol cars in the front seats. The drill briefing itself is rather simple, and our instructions went like this:

“When the lights go out, you will be attacked by a group of four Zombies. Using the car doors for cover, draw and engage the Zombies with a couple of rounds as they show themselves. Whenever a light is shining on the Zombie, he is considered a threat to you and will remain so until the light shining on the Zombie goes out. Occasionally, you will see a Zombie attacking an innocent person. In this case you must hit the Zombie but avoid hitting the innocent person. Reload when you can or must — using teamwork to avoid reloading at the same time. At some point, the Zombies will retreat. That is your cue to move tactically to the ground cover and be prepared to use a kneeling position to continue the drill from behind the ground cover. When the Zombies reappear, continue to fight them from behind the ground cover as you had from behind the car doors, fighting until there are no further Zombie threats.”

Performing the Drills
With everyone briefed, we put an instructor or two on the line to watch the shooters in the cars and one in the tower to control the lights that would indicate the targets were live. Once the drill started and the lights started shining on the targets, the officers decided how fast to shoot to maintain accuracy from behind cover and they decided when to use team work to reload. After each officer had used about 20 rounds and done at least one reload of some type, the targets were pulled back behind the cover into the trap (retreating) and the officers used teamwork and tactical movement to advance from their car doors to the stair step ground cover. The drill continued until the officers had fired the remainder of the ammunition. After all was done we checked the targets for accuracy and noticed that overall they were very accurate in their firing and they were especially accurate on the target depicting the “innocent person.”

We reviewed the real life principals of training we had covered and reminded all of them that it was unlikely we would have to shoot real Zombies any time soon, despite the popularity of Zombies in recent horror movies and modern video games. But the drill did allow us to practically exercise several key skills our officers might use in a real gunfight during a high-risk traffic stop, from ground cover and while working in two man teams. Most of all, the drill allowed us to work these skills at relatively low cost. It was fun, it was cheap, and the officers were able to enjoy firearms training that offered doing something other than a normal line drill.

Now, not every department has an indoor range like mine with lit targets, but the drills could easily be modified for an outdoor range during a night-fire session by setting the targets on the berm. Set the cars up the same as described above, with a few extra yards between the cars. Then place the stair steps off to the side of the car doors at the same range. When the officers are done shooting from the car doors, they will simply dismount and move laterally a few feet to the ground cover. If you don’t have a turning target or light on the target like I described, just have an instructor use a laser dot to designate when a target(s) is live or designate a target by calling out its number. Add in your wig-wags and overheads on the patrol car to add to the environment and get the most bang for your buck. The drill can easily be modified to use rifles by changing the distance to targets or shotguns, by making officer select load a slug to ensure a hit on the zombie attacking the innocent person. For those of you who have ranges that get fog when it gets dark, you will enjoy an especially creepy feel to your Zombie shoot.

So how about it, Firearms Instructor? Have a little fun this quarter and use your imagination. Get the most you can out of a box of ammo, a few minutes of training time and a few creative targets.

Special thanks to the folks at LE Targets for designing the zombie targets just for those of us who can’t resist having a little fun on the range. For more info, go to:

About the author

Sgt. Bill Campbell began his law enforcement career as a U.S. Marine Military Policeman in 1986. After six years of active duty service as a patrolling MP stationed in Yuma, AZ. and Okinawa, Japan, Bill received an honorable discharge and went to work for the Gilbert AZ. Police Department. Bill has served Gilbert Police Department since as a Patrolman, Bike Officer, Academy Training Officer, Proficiency Instructor and Patrol Sergeant. Bill has served with the department’s SWAT team since 1995 as an Entry Operator, Precision Marksman, Trainer and currently serves as the Entry Team Leader. Bill was recognized as an AZPOST Subject Matter Expert in Firearms training in 1999 and about that same time, the National Rifle Association recruited Bill to serve as a Staff Firearms Instructor for the NRA Law Enforcement Activities Division.

Bill’s column, “Bringing the Street to the Range” is an extension of his efforts with the NRA to seek the practical principles involved in daily police tasks and to create specific firearms training to help officers win in that environment. Police work is a complicated environment with ever changing tactics, tools and liabilities.

“We cannot bring the sterile, comfortable environment of the “training range” to the harsh, unpredictable environment of the “street.” We must instead find ways to bring the street to the range.”

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