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“I wouldn’t want to be the guy who tries messing with him.”

A range buddy was commenting on the shooter next to us. That shooter stood steady as a rock and was putting all his light reloads in the center ring. He had definitely mastered the fundamentals of sight picture and trigger control.

But standing static at the range, shooting at a paper target, has nothing to do with how he would fare on the streets. In a real-world, life-or-death confrontation, the dynamics completely change, and he might find he needs to do things such as shoot while diving for cover, clear his jammed gun and shoot from an unorthodox shooting stance because the attacker is too close for a proper stance. Even then, you have to wonder, would he even see trouble coming?

To me, being “street smart” isn’t just about knowing all the bad actors in the ’hood and being privy to all their dirty little secrets. It’s about acknowledging the realities of what you’ll face out there, preparing accordingly and recognizing a bad thing happening before it slaps you in the face.

“Add to your readiness by acquiring skills and adopting strategies that can enhance your chances of surviving a deadly encounter.”

Train To Win

Practicing the fundamentals at the range is a great first step. Taking part in pistol competitions under the pressure of a ticking clock is a good thing, too. I shot in a couple of local events recently, and it was a wake-up call that I had lots of work to do when it came to getting on target quickly and transitioning from one target to another.

However, traditional practice at the range doesn’t prepare you for times when you can’t use your sights or get into a solid shooting stance. Worse, it conditions you to stand still out in the open when the shooting starts—when your automatic reaction should be to dive for cover.

And the downside of some shooting competitions is that they force you into unwise tactical moves, such as crowding your cover, extending your gun beyond your cover and moving with a single bullet left in your gun when you should be doing a tactical reload behind cover.

A British police officer draws his gun as he takes cover on a rooftop during the siege of the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984. Moving to cover should be an automatic reaction when the shooting starts. (Photo: Ken Towner/Getty Images)

When you crowd your cover, you risk a stoppage if your pistol’s slide rubs against it as you fire. You’re also more likely to get hit by flying debris and ricochets; and, in order to make accurate shots, you’re likely to expose more of your body. Extending your gun beyond cover leaves it open to being grabbed. You and your gun are exposed and more likely to be hit by bullets headed your way. Failure to perform a tactical reload while relatively safe behind cover can leave you out in the open with an empty gun.

These competitions also allow you to analyze the scenario before you reach the shooting line, so you know how many targets there are, their locations and how best to approach the stage. That would be great in the real world … but it’s not going to happen.

“… Traditional practice at the range doesn’t prepare you for times when you can’t use your sights or get into a solid shooting stance.”

Incorporate stoppage-clearing drills, and practice moving to cover as you draw your pistol from concealment—while wearing your normal cover garments.

Prepare for a situation when the attacker is right on you. One drill is what we used to call “shove and shoot,” although there are other names for it. It trains you to strike out with a blow to an attacker’s face or throat as you take a big, lunging step back to give yourself some space to draw your weapon and fire.

In some cases, that might not be possible. So, train to shoot one handed from the hip. It’s not just a gimmick of old Hollywood Westerns. Stand about 3 yards from your target, draw, press your elbow into your side at hip level, gun angled slightly upward, and fire.

If your range has strict rules against defensive skills practice, many of these things can be adapted to dry-fire drills in your own home.

If you take cover behind a vehicle, try to use the wheel as cover. Try not to kneel, which might expose your femoral artery to bullets skidding under the car. (Photo: Steven Paul Barlow)

Seeing Trouble

“Situational awareness” means more than spotting threats. And you can’t spot trouble if you aren’t in a position to do so.

Have a view of the room. My wife thinks I’m nuts when I insist on sitting with my back to the wall when seated in a restaurant. (This strategy is not new: Wild Bill Hickok liked to have his back to the wall when seated at a poker table. The one time he didn’t, Jack McCall shot him from behind and killed him.)

Get into the habit of assessing a room: Look for positions of cover, possible improvised weapons—these can be used by you or against you—and avenues of escape. As a police officer, I always looked for available cover when approaching a house and tried to limit my exposure in the open. I always scanned every room I entered, because it was customary in the more rural parts of my patrol area for folks to keep a loaded shotgun behind a chair or near the door.

To use cover properly, don’t crowd it. Here, it’s done properly by a competitor in an NRA law enforcement competition. (Photo: NRA)

Skidding Bullets

Be aware of probable bullet paths, and stay out of the way. When fired at a low angle, a bullet striking a hard, smooth surface—concrete floor, wall, sidewalk—will tend to skid off and then fly parallel within a foot or so to that surface. The head firearms instructor demonstrated this quite effectively at our police academy’s indoor range, bouncing both pistol bullets and buckshot off the floor into a target downrange.

That puts you in the path if you’re hugging a wall while moving down a hallway or kneeling behind a car, where your femoral artery could be hit.

Add To Your Abilities

You still need to practice the fundamentals, and it’s still worthwhile to participate in the shooting sports. But do more: Add to your readiness by acquiring skills and adopting strategies that can enhance your chances of surviving a deadly encounter.


About The Author

Steven Paul Barlow is a retired sergeant/station commander and former firearms instructor with the New York State Police. He has been writing on outdoor topics for more than 30 years and has served as the editor for a number of Engaged Media special publications, including Gunslingers.


Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the January 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.