Skip to comments.Are You Ready For A Gun Fight?
Posted on 08/24/2008 9:29:35 AM PDT by B4Ranch
Where do you fall on the hierarchy of tactical shooters?
Everyone with a concealed carry permit would like to believe they're ready should they ever have to use their gun in self-defense. I've seen people whose level of preparation for that possibility ranged from dedicated practice to no practice at all. Can we set up a system to estimate, all else being equal, just how prepared we might be to defend ourselves should we ever wind up in a gunfight? I think so, and I call the resulting system the Hierarchy of Tactical Shooters. It breaks down into five levels, and from lowest to highest they are as follows.
Level 1: Shooters Who Don't Shoot
I'm continually amazed by the number of people carrying guns on a daily basis--who consider themselves serious, prepared, tactically aware shooters--who never shoot. I think there are many folks out there who are scared to death of a physical attack on their person. In order to live with that fear they have to believe they can handle anything that comes their way. This means they avoid going to the range and firing their carry guns so they don't have to face the reality of their marksmanship skills.
A common refrain from such people is, "How good do I have to be to hit someone at arm's length?" I would ask instead, "If you can barely hit a man-size target at arm's length on the range, what makes you think you're going to suddenly get better when someone's trying to kill you, your hands are shaking and your life depends on firing your gun fast and well?" In such a situation only well-honed marksmanship skills will save the day, and there's no way you'll possess them if you don't practice.
That means making the time for practice sessions and allocating the funds for training ammo. It means paying your dues, putting in time with a gun bucking in your hand. It means, in short, burning ammo live fire.
I don't say that to minimize the importance of dry fire, for it is an invaluable part of the serious shooter's practice regimen. However, let's not kid ourselves--dry fire is only a piece of the puzzle; there's no way it can do the job alone. Dry fire can't harden you to the experience of having a loud mechanism explode right in front of your face and whack your hand in recoil every time you pull the trigger. Experienced shooters barely notice the sound and recoil. Shooters who never shoot, by contrast, tend to cringe, flinch and miss their target when they fire their gun.
Shooters who never shoot operate at the lowest level of competence and preparedness. The frightening thing is that most of them don't realize that that's the case.
LEVEL 2: SHOOTERS WHO PRACTICE ON STANDARD RANGES
Our next level is occupied by shooters whose live-fire practice is limited to standard ranges. "Limited" is the operative word. At most public ranges you will be restricted to standing bolt upright in one place, shooting slow fire at a single target. Level 2 shooters tend to think drawing from the holster is a really advanced technique. However, these people are still a big step up from Level 1 because at least they're shooting. Thus they're probably not going to freak out when their gun goes off in a defensive emergency. They can probably be sure they possess some sort of basic marksmanship skills.
LEVEL 3: SHOOTERS WHO ATTEND TRAINING CLASSES
I have in the past several years attended about 20 firearms training classes, most but not all relating to the defensive handgun. If you can afford it, I seriously suggest you spend the money and take the time to complete some formalized handgun training yourself. At a good shooting school you'll learn more in a few days than you could in years of reading gun magazines and self-teaching. Take lots of notes at the class because you'll be swamped with information, and without written reminders it's easy to forget a lot of it.
Although I will shortly make a case for match shooters being in a higher state of readiness than their strictly class-trained brethren, that doesn't mean I downgrade the importance of training classes. Part of becoming a well-rounded combat handgunner is gathering information and skills from as many different sources as possible. As the very best martial artists tend to be those who've trained in many different arts, the very best shooters are those who've trained with various instructors, been exposed to diverse systems and ideas, then put it all together into something that makes sense for them. The more options you have in your bag of tricks, the better because you never can tell when something you learned at a class will come in handy, whether at a match or to save your life.
LEVEL 4: MATCH SHOOTERS
Shooters who compete on a regular basis in serious combat pistol matches are a step up in preparedness from those whose only experience in advanced shooting is through training classes. I can think of five reasons this is so:
(1) At pistol matches you never know what they're going to throw at you until you get there; if you're shooting a surprise stage you don't even know what you're up against until you're actually up against it. This gets you in the habit of keeping your mind in gear under stress, of performing on demand with a gun in your hand. This is something you get very little of until you reach the highest levels of formalized handgun training. But even then, match shooters have a serious edge.
(2) Even the most ardent student of combat pistolcraft can't attend a training class every weekend because classes simply aren't scheduled that often in any one geographical area. But if you live in a region with a vigorous match schedule you can shoot a match every weekend if you want. This frequency keeps the muscles flexed, maintaining your skills at a high level.
(3) Unless you're independently wealthy you're not going to be able to attend training classes often enough to maintain yourself in a condition of readiness. Good firearms training is expensive. The going rate is about $100 a day, sometimes a bit more. Pistol match fees, by contrast, are cheap. In my area a USPSA/IPSC or IDPA match fee tends to be $15 or $20 unless it's a state or area championship. While you probably can't afford to attend a lot of training classes, you can afford to shoot a lot of matches.
(4) In the vast majority of training classes you're standing upright and stationary in the open as you execute your skills. It's been said that we fight like we train, and if all you've ever trained to do is stand in one place in the open and shoot, then under stress, when the bullets start flying, that's exactly what you're going to do. Even if you have an intellectual understanding of the tactical importance of movement and cover, you'll never move under stress because you're not in the habit of doing it.
I remember the first time I went through a Simunitions exercise where live opponents were firing real projectiles at me. Under stress I did exactly what I practiced all the time, which was to draw and fire back, standing right out in the open even though good cover was only a few steps away. Need I mention I got waxed big-time?
(5) In most shooting classes you have a group of students on line, all shooting at once. I'm not knocking that--it's really the only way to train a large group of people in a timely manner. The problem is that when shooting on line, with other people standing to your sides, you are never allowed to point the gun anywhere but downrange. How many times have you heard, "Don't break the 180-degree plane," and, frankly, if you even get close to 180 degrees you're pushing it. Turning around with a gun in your hand is the ultimate sin.
Unfortunately, while we train in 180 degrees, we live in a 360-degree world in which attackers often work in teams, and one or more people may well come in from the sides or rear while you're dealing with the guy in front of you. I really worry we're training people into tunnel vision, to not look behind and around them and scan their surroundings for any attackers who aren't necessarily to the front. In the real world this could get you killed.
LEVEL 5: SHOOTERS WHO'VE BEEN IN GUNFIGHTS
Which brings us to the level that none of us ever really wants to reach. There's no doubt that people who've actually been in gunfights and/or who operate in environments where there's a high probability of that happening (i.e. SWAT team, stakeout unit) are probably more emotionally prepared than folks who've never had to do it for real. Nothing is more terrifying than the unknown, and once you've done it and come out the other side, it's no longer the unknown.
Jim Cirillo, survivor and victor of numerous armed encounters during his days with the legendary New York City Police Stakeout Unit, has said, "During my first gunfight I felt like I was coming apart, like I was turning to water and seeping right down into the floor. But by the time you get to your third or fourth gunfight, it's no big deal."
I don't think most of us really want that much experience, but for the people who've done it and emerged alive, it's like being inoculated against a deadly disease.
Now, let's put this in perspective: The fact that someone has been in a gunfight and survived doesn't necessarily make him an expert. He might simply have survived through dumb luck. As the old saying goes, "It's better to be lucky than good." Also, the fact that he had this experience doesn't mean he was hardened by it or even that he learned anything from it. But still, beyond question, the people who've "been there, done that," who learned from and were toughened by the process, have an edge over the rest of us when it comes to preparedness.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Now that we understand the Hierarchy of Tactical Shooters, how does this relate to our level of preparedness for a real-life self-defense situation? I would say that if you have a lot of experience at any one level in the hierarchy you can probably jump to the next level with minimal trouble. For instance, if you've put in a lot of dry-fire practice but haven't been shooting in a blue moon (Level 1), you can probably go to the range and turn in a respectable slow-fire group on a single target at close combat range (Level 2). If you've put in a lot of time honing your basic marksmanship skills on a standard range, you can probably attend a serious handgun training class (Level 3) and do all right. If you've attended a lot of training classes, you can probably go to a pistol match (Level 4) and turn in a tolerable performance. And if you are a well-practiced competitor in combat pistol matches, you're just about as prepared as you can be to do this for real (Level 5).
Problems arise when you have to jump more than one level at one time. The person who never shoots (Level 1) is probably not going to be able to go to a training class or pistol match (Levels 3 and 4) and do well. Likewise, those who've only trained at classes (Level 3) but never broken out of the structured range mentality into the free-form, anything-goes world of combat competition (Level 4) are probably going to have a hard row to hoe in a gunfight (Level 5).
Those folks who pooh-pooh match pressure have never watched another person lose it during a match stage. I have, and the problem in every case was that these were people trying to jump three levels at once--from never shooting (Level 1) to combat pistol match (Level 4).
I'm not saying it can't be done. I know people who've gone from shooting on the range to competing in combat pistol matches with no formalized class training in between. But for many people, contemplating that jump is frightening.
You can certainly make a case for jumping from Level 2 (range) to Level 4 (match) and skipping Level 3 (classes). As previously mentioned, formal training in a class environment is expensive; pistol match fees are cheap. I know people who've gone that route, and they did just fine at the match.
Competing at a serious combat pistol club will expose you to people who can shoot a lot better than you. You can look at that as a humiliating experience to be avoided or an incredible opportunity to be pursued. Picking those better shooters' brains can be an education in itself. On the other hand, you can also make a case that beginners who've decided they want to be serious shooters should get formal training from a good instructor right off the bat so they don't have to unlearn bad habits later.
The hierarchy I've outlined, from Level 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 and hopefully never to 5, is the classic progression. Typically, serious shooters burn a lot of rounds on the range before they get trained, then test their wings in training classes before they compete in matches. I do admire people who can jump straight from the range into a match environment and do well, because I had to have a lot of experience at each level before I felt ready to go on to the next. That's the way I did it, and it seems a good way to go.
The author stresses the value of marches and how they train you for impending attackers. While I agree I also disagree. He minimizes dry firing which I rate very highly because it gives you a chance to do things that a range will never permit.
Marksmanship skills are not the only issue in security with a sidearm. Situational awareness is a large slice of the pie. Being able to feel if you are in a tight place on comes from practice.
Is everyone watching you walk through the mall or down the street? Ask yourself WHY do all these people give a damn what I am doing. Are they looking at me because I am the only woman or am I an older man they view as a victim. The odds are that you won't be attacked from the front which means that you will have to draw and make a half turn.
Sorry but a 180 is against every range law that I know of. That's where dry firing with an empty sidearm comes in. Dry firing is where you practice technique. Many ways to do this. Fall to the ground and rotate as you are dropping. Turn and fire or strike rearward with an elbow as you turn. These can only be practiced off the range. Sorry, the liability is just too high for a range operator to bare.
Not many ranges will tolerate you firing in full darkness. You can and should practice changing magazines, drawing, trigger control, clearing jams, etc., at home in total (100%) darkness. Doing it while you are light blinded is an excellent practice.
Take a drive out in the countryside on a cloudy evening and locate a remote area where you can fire off a magazine or two so you understand exactly how blinding the muzzle flash is on your sidearm. It'll make you want to start saving for some Crimson Laser sights.
If you are entered into a match and you're competitive like me, you'll want to win it so you won't be using your everyday accessories. Put the everyday magazine and holsters off to the side and use the competition ones because every second counts. You don't want to be unsnapping the mag pouch if it's not in the rulebook that you must. Unless you use your everyday gear at the match I don't feel that you are practicing real world situations.
Ladies, dry firing at home is where you get to practice drawing to your hearts content. Put on an old blouse that won't break your heart if it gets torn. Use that purse holster until you are so smooth with it that you don't believe it.
Always fire twice if you draw your weapon from a concealed holster. In the real world if the threat is there to make you draw then that threat must be sufficient to also make you fire.
One more thing about dry firing, it's free! So there's no reason why you should do it at least twice a week, is there?
Levels 1-5 are hack amateur.
Special Forces troops only eliminate threats that refuse to surrender quietly and peacefully. If making noise or refusing to surrender endangers the mission, then the threat will be removed.
'A mans got to know his limitations'...
Great advice about practicing turning and firing : )
I don’t know much, but the biggest problem that I see isn’t firing the gun, it is situational awareness. If anyone is within 20 feet of me, I simply don’t have enough time to get the gun out, much less fire it.
A gun is just a tool and not the primary self defense tool at that.
Special Forces are a different breed, Andy.
Punk came out of the store and pointed a 45 auto at me. I reached back into the car and drew my brother's 44 mag. Drilled him once right side chest high. I was aiming dead center at 25 feet. The "miss" shook me up until I took the gun to the range and found out it was out of adjustment.
In general I agree with your remarks but I have also seen guys who were very good on the range absolutely melt under pressure.
A very good friend of mine on his third tour in VN was point walking a dike in a rice paddy- he was considered the best shooter in the squad. A Charlie stood up about 30 feet from him (theory was he was taking a BR break) they both pointed their weapons at each other and emptied them. My friend is around because he was faster on the reload. At a unit reunion I called BS on him and his Top was there and said no it was all true he was the next guy in line.
I would recommend that anyone who carries go to Thunder Ranch or Cooper's place for a week long training and that if you have ANY doubt that you could shoot someone do not carry.
Lastly a little know fact is that many bad guys practice shooting ALOT!!! More than the average citizen would believe.
Very good info, and it contains MANY useful concepts. However, I offer one important caution. Highly trained and experienced professionals and hobbiests tend to get this mindset that without tons of training and practice, a person will be a useless trembling waste, unable to defend theirself or a loved one. The problem is that its simply not true. Every day we hear about the mom, the elderly person, the clerk at the market,,etc, that save the day with a handgun they otherwise rarely touch. When you get down to it, if you have the strength and hand & eye coordination to use a blow drier, you can handle a pistol sucessfully. I wonder how many people read articles like this and then, too intimidated at being level 1 or 2, or so strapped financially that a trip to thunder ranch is unobtanium, don’t later have a gun with them, precisely when they really wish they did? When its for real, the bang and blast just aren’t hardly even noticeable.
If you buy a revolver, take a basic course or make a few range trips, you will amaze yourself years later when you can still use it. Last, enthusiastic shooters tend to prepare for Armageddon, or Friday the 13th part VII.
While there’s not a single thing wrong with this, in the real world, most people will be facing a bully or coward who never expected ANY resistance. And even though they would easily be overwhelmed by a band of nazi al-queda frogmen in nomex operator-suits, brandishing Kimbers with flashlights, these moms, regular guys in their 40’s who were in the army 20 years ago, and octenogerians will continue scaring off and successfully shooting bad guys just as they always have. Dear beginner,,,just remember the first and the *main* rule of gunfighting. “Have a gun”.
Armed citizens, regardless of training levels are rarely defeated or disarmed as the anti-gun crowd tells you is likely. And excessive requirements for training are the tool of Sarah Brady, designed to scare away beginners and to increase expense for the others. OK,,now that you have my opinion, i’d advise you to go back and read his post again carefully,,*and take heed*, because despite my post,,he’s still as right as I am. I mean it. He correctly mentioned number 5’s might have just been lucky,,,all you might need is to just have ONE idea of his to sink in to get you through.
Not every body need to train to that level to defend themselves from criminal. Lots of criminal's are taken care of my people who load their guns and only pick it up to use it when needed.
Is that a tenth of a second from a holster highly unlikely.
Or is that a tenth of a second when sights are already on target. Or how many tenths of seconds are you talking about.
Training and practice is a good thing the more the better but to say one needs to be the world best isn't real. Most people do not have ready access to a range nor the time to do it.
Should they do more yes will they most likely not. It is real easy for gun people to get down on non gun people for not shooting enough. Would I like most every body who carries to train more yes I believe it is a good idea.
Am I going to stop people who only shoot once a year or less from being able to defend themselves no.
So whats the answer Train help others train take classes past the info on ect. Become an instructor helps others learn and take them out shooting.
In a gunfight, you must HAVE A GUN. All else is secondary.
A willingness to kill without hesitation has historically been the key to winning mortal combat. That is generally far more important than actual skill, but yes it can’t hurt to be prepared, and the more skilled the better.
I really suggest that you don’t just go off in the country to what you think is an empty spot and start firing off rounds. If its private property, you might find that its not as empty as you think. Worse, you might get return fire. Cattlemen and farmers aren’t keen on having people shoot around their livestock.
My wife carried a 38 snub reluctantly, and even fired at least 50 shots thru it on a “level 2” range. She always said she was sure she could never shoot anyone anyway. Then one night when i was gone to Kuwait during the Gulf war 90/91, someone followed her through several turns in a lonely area,,and unprovoked, he suddenly made his move and blocked her car in and exited agressively. She said she *instantly* realized her life was far more important than the concept of “never shooting anyone”. It still irritates her when i tease her about how fast her liberal ideas vanished. She’s still here.
Where do hunters fit? It seems that the writer has forgot to include lots of stuff. He has made it too long to be interesting and too incomplete to be of use.
I respectfully disagree. Most of the time, from “victim” surveys, the mere presence of the firearm is enough to defuse the situation. If you wait so long that you must fire immediately upon drawing your firearm, you have probably waited too long. Police *do not* always fire when they draw their weapon.
Spot on. The world is full of violent amateurs. (I think Murphy said something to this effect). Unless you're going force-on-force with a squad of enemy infantry, your opponent is just a two-bit thug. One who almost certainly spends less time at the range, cleaning his weapon, or otherwise preparing for his life being on the line. He's resorted to violence because life's other options have proven too taxing, and his application of violence, while enthusiastic, will also be amateurish.
The one time in my life an enemy got a completely free shot at me, he missed a <150m shot at the unguarded back of a stationary target. Likely because his sights were closer to his bellybutton than his eyes when he pulled the trigger.
That's inexcusably incompetent for an allegedly trained anti-crusader combatant, rolling the dice against Team Infidel, but hardly uncommon.
Even with training and experience, most thugs are idiots. That's why they're thugs. Their inability to make sound decisions puts them at a strong disadvantage against an aggressive opponent that acts rationally. Grandma doesn't have to be hard as woodpecker lips, 300+ on her PT test, and at the range every Sunday after church to put steel on a half-wit criminal. She just needs a gun where she can get at it, and the sense to do it at the right time.
On a macro scale, that's what society needs; brave amateurs who will fight back. On a micro scale, sure, you-the-individual want to be as ready as possible to defend your own life, and the life of others. But be real. Most Americans aren't going to spring for a few weeks at Blackwater learning combat rifle and pistol, though. We should be happy if most able bodied Americans just owned a gun, were willing to use it, and practiced adequate weapons handling and safety.
the fact is that criminal hearts driven by evil, already have 'gotten over' the instinctive hurdles o do greivous violence on their victims, putting the good samaritan at a dis advantage from the gitgo...
its an exponential complication when they practice marksmanship and the good guys trust their machismo to get-r-done...
I dont practice as much as Id like or should, but I constantly work on the mental barriers/prep to help obtain the initiative...that can be done anywhere at anytime...
Right on target, no pun intended. That willingness to kill without hesitation was what made the Old West's top gunmen like Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and John Wesley Hardin so deadly.
Macho bull-shit post
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