Personal Defense Tip: Train Not to Shoot

Home Break-In Training Don't Shoot

By Kevin P.

Like a lot of gun owners, I train to shoot. Shoot fast, hit the target. In IDPA, you move, find the target and shoot it. I’m a B+ shot, usually in the top third or quarter in my pistol matches. (I do better when the really good shooters don’t show up, ha, ha.) I’ve been shooting, training and casually competing since I was in the Boy Scouts. But I’ve never trained not to shoot.

A couple of months ago, we had what began as a typical evening. At around 11:30, I locked up the house and made my way to bed. My wife had gone to bed an hour earlier than me, and was already fast asleep. I checked on my three teenage daughters, and all were in bed upstairs and asleep or on the way. I checked the garage door, the front door, and the windows. All were locked tight.

Our ground floor master bedroom has a typical sliding door leading to the backyard. We normally keep this open an inch or two for ventilation (screen door closed). There’s a stick in the sliding track that keeps it from opening any further. Outside that door is a motion sensor floodlight. We also have two little dogs that bark (and bark, and bark). A harmless but reliable early warning system, (mostly for the UPS guy, the mailman, and other people walking their dogs outside). All in all it’s not the White House, but a pretty secure setup, if we do our part.

I actually checked the weather on my phone before going to bed, because if there was going to be rain, I planned to close the sliding door. No rain forecast, a mild night, so I left it open. I went to bed, and fell asleep quickly.

Fast forward to 3:15 a.m., when I woke up, cold. That’s strange, I thought, as it wasn’t a cold night. I sat up in bed, looked over to see the sliding door, plus the outside screen door, both wide open. No motion light, no dogs barking, no sounds at all, just an open door. And me, groggy, but suddenly going 90 mph.

I sat there for a moment, hoping that I wasn’t seeing what I was seeing. I looked around the room, half-expecting to see someone standing there, deciding what to do with me. I listened closely for footsteps or any unusual sounds. Was one of the kids sleepwalking? My wife, maybe? (Stranger things have happened. . .) Or, was this really as bad as it looked?

I thought about the element of surprise. If someone was inside, did they know that I was awake? Were they elsewhere in the house? Were they *right there* in the room with me, out of my line of sight? Or had they come and gone, leaving the open door behind them?

After a moment of. . . nothing . . . I quietly woke my wife and told her the only thing I knew for sure: “the door is open.” To her credit, she instantly realized what that meant, without any of the blearily-eyed disbelief that I felt. “I’m going to my closet.” I whispered. “Ok.” she understood.

I handed her a phone, and quietly walked across the room to my gun box, opened it and retrieved my “nightstand” gun (also my IDPA, range toy, and sometimes CCW) a GLOCK 35 with a blinding 100 lumen Streamlight weapon light. I chambered a round, the sound of the slide sounding like a thunderclap. Damn, that was loud. So much for surprise.

My next thought was with my kids upstairs, but first there was our room to deal with, especially because I intended to leave my wife alone in it.

I first closed and locked our bedroom door. I needed a moment and anyone else in the house sure-as-sh!t heard that slide rack anyway. I checked our closets, the bathroom, and under the bed. Behind the shower curtain? Nothing. I checked again. Still nothing. I looked around. My watch, some of my wife’s jewelry, even my briefcase, were all untouched. Not a burglary…was that good news or bad news?

That left the living areas downstairs and my kids’ rooms upstairs.

I unnecessarily explained to my wife that I was going to check the house. We could either call the police, but they wouldn’t respond quickly enough for me. A lot can go wrong in 10 or 15 minutes. Or had it already?

At that point I realized how foreign this was. Although I’ve been shooting for decades, I’d never trained to clear a house, much less by myself. I’d done it once or twice under other circumstances. Those times, there wasn’t and shouldn’t have been anyone there. This was different. I knew that I had three loved ones in front of me, any one of whom might be up and walking around. Plus my wife behind me. Plus the dogs; I didn’t want to shoot any of them.

High ready retention with my right hand, handheld flashlight in my left, ready to fend off whoever, I opened the bedroom door and set off.

Never have I felt this flavor of stress. Although I am comfortable handling a gun on and off the range, all of a sudden it felt heavy and foreign. The fact that I could not see around corners was messing with my head. All I could see were obstacles, cover and concealment, and little of it in my favor.

Should I go slowly, absorbing the sounds and smells around me, potentially sensing the presence of a person before actually encountering him? Or should I go fast and loud, blowing by anyone potentially hiding in the shadows, until I made it to my kids rooms? And then, which of the three rooms? There seemed to be no right answers, just varying degrees of wrong ones. I chose to go slowly. Maybe I could still have some element of surprise. Yeah, right.

Long story short (too late), the house was empty. I searched it, then searched it again. All the outside doors were locked. The cars and keys were untouched. The dogs looked at me, confused, and went back to sleep.

Peeking out the windows, there were no strange cars parked on the street. Of course, I didn’t sleep the rest of the night. As I thought back, all I could do was count the mistakes that had I made. That stick in the sliding door track? It was out. I didn’t check the night before, and it was probably left out earlier in the day. That’s on me.

The next morning, I couldn’t see any footprints, no signs of forced entry or other attempts, nothing else amiss. Whoever opened our sliding door probably didn’t think there was a bedroom on the ground floor, and backed out on seeing us asleep in bed. Or the motion light turned on and scared them away. Or who knows what. Nothing was touched, no one was there.

Needless to say, we double-check the doors now. We have a camera system now. There are motion sensors in the side yard now, the most likely way to the back yard. Did I mention that I lock the doors?

By the way, that 100 lumen weapon light was awesome. Too awesome. I blinked it on to look in my wife’s closed, and instantly blew my night vision. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.) I’ll still keep the light on the gun, but will always keep a low power flashlight sitting next to it.

Like any good armchair operator, later I searched YouTube for videos on single-person house clearing. Turns out there aren’t many, because there really isn’t a good way to do it. Lock the friggin’ doors, that’s how you do it.

So in hindsight this was probably the perfect non-shooting defensive gun use. It was there, in my hand, if I needed it. Thank God I didn’t. May we all be so lucky, and may we all be prepared.

comments

  1. avatar little horn says:

    pearl clutching in 3..2..1

  2. avatar Gralnok says:

    Eh, we all make mistakes. A cool head can keep these mistakes from becoming worse. It wasn’t your finest moment, but I can relate. Personally, I clear a house room by room, turning lights on, making my presence known. If I’m going into a fight, I’d rather see what I’m fighting. I also figure that anybody who might be in my house, likely would want to get away, rather than ambush me, so I open doors and quickly step back. However, I’ve only once had to actually clear my house. Turns out, I hadn’t closed the door fully and forgotten to deadbolt it. Two highly unlikely things, but not impossible. I’d say, you kept your cool, did what you had to, and rolled with the situation. Excellent job. 😄

  3. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

    IDPA is a timed shooting sport. It’s not self defense training. The skills learned, however, can lend themselves to self defense… but ultimately it’s a game…

    It’s comparing 3-rounds of boxing to a street brawl.

  4. avatar DesertDave says:

    I had a similar occurrence the other night. Woke up to a sound like someone kicking in the front door. Up and grabbed my CZ 07, chambered a round and searched the house, nothing. Nothing outside, nada. The next day my wife was walking the dog and asked my neighbor what that noise was last night, he had his 20′ camping trailer in the drive. It turned out he had closed the slide and it makes quite a racket, shook our house! It was exciting.

  5. avatar Ing says:

    At first I thought this was going to be another one of those “you’re doing it wrong” tactical training BS articles. Instead, it was real. Pertinent and thought-provoking, not prescriptive.

    This is something I think we can all identify with. I’ve been in a couple of similar situations. It’s difficult to know what to do, but in the end you did the single best thing that can be done — you exercised caution and didn’t let fear take over.

    1. avatar tdiinva says:

      The false alarm is a good test of how good your self defense skills are.

  6. avatar tdiinva says:

    You have highlighted why I don’t like IDPA. It trains you to shoot faster than you can process information in a dynamic environment. You can claim that you can tell the difference between competition and reality but you have trained yourself to shoot without actual recognition then you are more likely to pull the trigger when you shouldn’t The top guys know when to slow down but below the 5% I wouldn’t count on it. If you really believe in train the way you fight because you will fight the way you train then stay away from a regular regimen of IDPA. I would like to see competition go to a closest to optimum time approach instead of the typical fastest gun in town.

    1. avatar Anymouse says:

      My problem with IDPA is that they walk you through the stages ahead of time, even the don’t shoot and hard targets. I think the scenarios should be “this is your starting position, once you eliminate those targets, mandatory reload, and move to position 2, etc.” Everything else should be a surprise: how many targets, where they’re located, letting the shooters plan ahead of time which targets they’ll shoot from where and in what order.
      “Uh oh, there’s a break in. There are 2 intruders in the living room and 3 in the kitchen with my wife. I’ll go downstairs, shoot the one standing by the TV, at which point the one squatting behind the couch will stand up for 1 second, and I’ll shoot him. Do my reload, then go to the kitchen passthrough. I’ll pie from the right and shoot the one on the left, and then I’ll have 3 seconds to shoot the next intruder as he runs from behind the cabinet to behind the fridge. Finally, I’ll take my time to get the one holding my wife hostage. Hmmm, maybe it would be faster if I ducked under the passthrough, got on the left side, and pied the hostage taker first, reloaded there, and then did the trigger and mover?” Completely irrelevant for real life. Shoot houses are great for decision making, but most people don’t get to experience them. IDPA should be doing the best it can to replicate that experience, with safety concerns in mind (box range, safe direction of fire, etc).

  7. avatar Silentbrick says:

    It’s important to know what to do and how you plan on doing it. It’s also very important that everyone else knows as well. My house has the master down and kids up. In order to go upstairs, I have to essentially clear the downstairs due to the open plan before escorting wife to kids room. So we talked it and decided that should noise occur, i get pistol from box, hand her second pistol from box, grab phones and light, then I’ll clear the living room/kitchen/stair area before leading her up. It’s annoying but that’s the house plan.

    I also strongly strongly suggest that every upstairs bedroom have an escape ladder AND a means to break and clear the window for deploying it.

    1. avatar Moltar says:

      Not saying you’re wrong or trying to start an argument, especially since I don’t know your house layout, but being that it’s an open floor plan couldn’t you clear the majority of that in one swipe and free your wife up to move upstairs to the kids as you’re clearing the lower floor? Seems to me you could do your first initial glance clearing the way to the stair case and let her move up the stair case to the children while you deal with the first floor. It’ll look something like this.

      1. Clear all four corners of the main room and the middle area up to the stair case.

      2. Wife moves up the staircase clearing as she goes.

      3. You clear the rest of the first floor (mainly behind cover and concealment items like the couch, kitchen island, and the like)

      4. Wife secures children in a designated room upstairs and (IF POSSIBLE) covers the stairwell.

  8. avatar Scooter says:

    I once gloriously defended my home and family against a bread basket that fell in the pantry. Not my proudest moment.

    1. avatar Anner says:

      A dying AC unit’s final groans prompted a full clearing in my house. Little bastard never stood a chance.

    2. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

      Mine was the air conditioning bowling over some empty pop bottles that were precariously positioned at the edge of the kitchen table.

    3. avatar Moltar says:

      Mine was a sleep walking 3 year old turning any room he was in into a rave by flipping the light switch. The most recent however was defending the house against the cat’s obligatory gallop through the house knocking over things after taking a healthy crap in her litter box.

  9. avatar Todd G says:

    One low-light class taught me that all my lumen-hoses were not very practical. Streamlight on the Glock, mid-size one on my belt. After a few exercises, I switched to my EDC pocket Microstream. It was perfect. Simple to include in my support hand (who knew there were so many techniques?) and a pinky over the lens controls the amount of light and direction when needed for ‘fine’ work.

    Still worked with the TL-1 and larger one, but the baby Microstream continues to amaze me. Now one is on the nightstand when things go bump in the night.

  10. avatar Duane says:

    I was working Midnights and sleeping or trying to during the day.

    Single story house with full walk out basement on one end with garage under the master bed room. On a dead end road with the nearest neigbour across a hayfield.

    I was the only one home when I was waken by a loud crash in the basement.
    I rolled out of bed grabbed my 870 18inch barrel. racked a round into the chamber and listen.
    More noise in basement I looked out the window no cars nothing around . No noise in the main part of the house.

    I then opened the bed room window slung the 870 crawled out hung and dropped the 5 feet below my feet to the ground.

    I moved away from the house and sliced the pie so I could see the basement door in side the garage.

    My thinking was a bear entered the basement trough it’s door

    Door looked secure no signs of tampering. checked all the windows and other doors all secured. I went back into the house above the basement heard more noise. Open the stair ways door flipped the lights on. I hear more noise.

    All of a sudden there the intruder was a hen merganser duck came flapping across the floor.

    After capturing her and releasing her I solved the puzzle she had come down my wood stove chimney knocked the clean out door open and tried to find a way out of the house. Most likely she had been looking for a place to nest.

    Needless to say a few tense moments.

    But it turned into a good training run.

  11. avatar IAmNotTheHulk says:

    Good article. I have dogs, anyone who works with dogs knows to recognize the “tone” of their barks. There have been a few times that they went to 11 high alert, not just the usual bark at people strolling by, but the “hey somethings on my property” barking well after hours. We have a school on our road and have seen our share of yahoo kids being, well, kids as well as a guy smacking his girlfriend at 3 AM in a January deep freeze as she tried to walk home(cops called, guy taken in, girl not hurt), the occasional addict checking for open doors, etc, so when we get those rare red alert barks i have my GLOCK 30S with 2000 lumen light at the ready and beat feet downstairs to do a property check. If they get past the dogs, they’ll likely be two bloddy to carry on the fight, but if the dogs don’t deter them, going blind and some hard cast .45 ACP sure will. I digress, do your drills, even if you are just getting up for the late night pottie visit, keeps it interesting 😉

    1. avatar Joleolsen says:

      Unfortunately my dog’s bark occasionally goes to full 11 high alert and sounds like he must kill something for no apparent reason. Then 30 minutes later someone can walk in the front door and he might not even get up to see who it is. Utterly unreliable, but still completely lovable.

  12. avatar the ghost of ironicatbest says:

    the ghost of ironicatbest remembers his buddies and he practicing silent chambering of rounds, silence saves lives, they thought.

  13. avatar TrappedInCommiefornia says:

    Excellent article, and very much appreciated as it has reminded me that my wife and I need to go over a bump in the night drill. A relative of mine and his wife had a bump in the night event. They went to clear the house (he was armed, she was not). They took different paths into the living room in the dark. I’m not sure if he actually pointed his gun at her, but they definitely had an “oh shit” moment.

  14. avatar Kenneth says:

    Author: a small piece of advice. No matter how tense a situation seems, nor how jittery your nerves, keep that trigger finger outside of the trigger guard! You need that small slice of time to properly identify your target. If you don’t think so, shoot a course with some no shoot targets partially blocking the shoot targets. Shoot the same course twice, once with your finger on the trigger, and the other not. Take careful note of which gets the most unintentional hits on the no-shoots.
    You might need to have a friend set up the targets for you. If you have prior knowledge of which targets are where, it could invalidate any results. You will have already decided which and where to fire beforehand, removing the time required to decide whether to shoot or not at a given target.

  15. avatar Pablo says:

    Few years back, had a picture fall off the wall, hit a 3 way switch, and turn on the living room light at 1 am. Between the glass breaking, the bang, and the light…
    I handled it the way I thought I should, “wrong house, expletive deleted” as I was coming down off the ceiling and grabbing my .45 off the nightstand

  16. avatar Rdog says:

    Good story. Thanks. Dogs are the best early warning system. Even little ones might not do any damage, but they can tell you where to aim. Also my glock doesn’t make any noise racking the slide at night, because there is already a round in the chamber.

  17. avatar Martin Dude says:

    I stopped reading at “I racked my slide”, wtf? You keep a gun in a safe for self defense and you still need to rack it? In stead of training for IDPA matches, take a real self defense pistol or rifle training.

    100lm light is a not a deadly blinding flashlight, it’s actually rather pathetic, your room light is most likely more powerful, just switch it on, or carry a real flashlight and learn shooting with it in one hand? Do you want to point your gun at your kid to identify it?

    1. avatar Stevewonderful says:

      This^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

  18. avatar Joe R. says:

    I like a weapon mounted light laser both on intermittent.

    You can immediately regain your night vision by shining it on something else (avoid mirrors and reflectors).

    Did the OP say definitively say what opened the door? I’d hang a small wind chime off that MFr.

  19. avatar Richard Steven Hack says:

    Uhm, still not sure what part of this article was supposed to support the notion “train not to shoot”…

    Unless you meant train to lock your damn doors (including the door jam stick) rather than concentrate on room-clearing technigues…

    And there are single shooter room clearing videos on Youtube. Most room clearing videos are for SWAT teams and police with backup present, but you can find single shooter ones. I think John Lovell has one.

    You might want to put a master light switch in your bedroom that you can hit and turn on every light inside and outside the house at once.

    That sliding door in the master bedroom leading to the outside? Bad idea. That’s the door labeled “Serial Killers Enter Here.” Suggest you replace that with a real door – solid and alarmed.

  20. avatar AFGus says:

    Don’t know how many others do this, but I keep my electronic ear muffs next to my loaded (and chambered) pistol. I keep the volumn knob turned up to high. If something goes bump in the night, my muffs go on, flick the on switch, and pistol in hand. The muffs amplify any sounds that may be coming from within the house. I had a friend stand in my living room and whisper while I stood at my bedroom door (about 45 feet away down an L shaped hallway, with an open kitchen in-between) and could hear him with no problem.

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