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Train as you mean to fight. Problem: it’s simply not possible at a traditional or “square” gun range. Sure you can train yourself to load and handle your gun properly and hit that at which you’re aiming. But there’s no shoot/no shoot interaction. No movement. No cover or concealment. No stress. Most ranges won’t even let you draw from a holster or rapid fire. Unless you’re running through reality-based scenarios using your actual self-defense equipment against [role-playing] bad guys intent on doing you [pretend] harm in a [semi] realistic environment, you’re training is incomplete. To say the least. Because it’s entirely possible that it’s worse than that. You could be training yourself to fail . . .

Take a look at the target behind General Dynamics’ Simunition trainer Jeff Peltier. Recognize it? That’s the Advanced Silhouette SP-83A or B-60, commonly known as “the Thug.” Click here for The New York Times’ most excellent article on the target’s origins.

All we need to know is this: shooters have trained with this target for over 52 years. That and the fact that the bad guy’s gun is drawn and pointing at the shooter.

Hello? Never draw on a drawn gun.

If the bad guy has you in his sights before you have him in yours, you lose. Immediately and instinctively seek cover or concealment. Either do this before you extract your gun, or, if your gun’s already out, shoot while seeking cover.

Millions of shooters have brought their weapon to bear on the Thug from rest or their holster, doing so whilst standing flat-footed at a square range. Training themselves to draw on a drawn gun. How great is that?

There are other training routines which can create “training scars:” habits that may get you killed. How about the post-shooting scan-over-the-shoulder-left, scan-over-the-shoulder-right routine?

As we’ve discussed, a post-shooting scan is critical to survival. If you don’t break your Bad Guy (BG) focused tunnel vision—an extremely difficult process given the natural fascination with blood and guts—you could be taken out by the assailant’s amigos.

So, through endless repetition, shooters train themselves to bring their gun back towards their chest (for retention purposes and possible reloading) and then scan for threats over their shoulders. Uh-oh . . .

First of all, most shooters perform a perfunctory scan. Perfunctory’s not good. Second, they perform the check too soon after shooting. Another attack, either from BG1 or his/her friends, is likely to come from the same general direction. Are you really sure that BG1 is fully out of action and the area in front of you is clear?

Along the same [sight] lines, they pull the gun back to retention too quickly after shooting. If another fusillade is the order of the day, they’ll have to push the gun out again and get a new sight picture. That takes time.

Lastly, why scan over your shoulder with your gun pointing downrange? If there’s something outside of your peripheral vision (on either side) that requires investigation, why wouldn’t you bring your gun with you when you turn?

If you scan with your gun pointed forwards, you’ve turned a four-step process (turn head and body, ID new target, push out gun, shoot) into a five-step affair (turn head, ID new target, turn body, push out gun, shoot).

Of course, the over-the-shoulder scan is ideal for . . . square ranges. Where, sensibly enough, you cannot aim a loaded gun at the shooters on either side of you. But that’s not training the way you’d fight.

In the real world, in a real gunfight, there’s no one answer to the scanning thing. A threat in a narrow hallway in your home at o’ dark presents a far different post-shooting scanning challenge than a mall parking lot on a sunny Sunday afternoon. God forbid.

Depending on what’s going on, you can A) not worry too much about lasering people B) point the gun down as you turn and scan C) prioritize running to cover and concealment and look around as you book.

If you practice the left-right scan-over-the-shoulder-after-shooting thing a thousand times, by God that’s what you’ll do when criminal push comes to ballistic shove. Like I said, training scar.

The trick to avoid training scars is to question everything. Think about what you’re doing. Take nothing at face value. Not even the face of the Thug that’s trying to kill you.

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  1. I thought you were referring to the scar on the back of my thumb from practicing left handed with a two handed grip while running away from target shooting over right shoulder. My right hand didn’t know what to do and in the heat of the moment went to the wrong place and got bit.

    Some training scars are self correcting.

    Good article.

  2. You bring up a great point that some of us simply don’t have access to ranges that will allow anything other than vanilla target shooting. I live in the ‘burbs of Atlanta and I am Jonesing for some land to call my own where I can shoot the way I want.

    • You should try Creekside firing range in Thomasville, GA. Members get to use their training pits. They have all kinds of steel targets and barrels for cover/concealment. Membership is pretty cheap. As a bonus, members get to use the 300 yard range once a week.

  3. I wonder if you read your own blog. How many DGUs of the day read like “two bad guys break into a house or attack someone, good guy shoots one and the other runs away?”

    While it is entirely possible that you could encounter two determined criminals who are intent on taking you out it is an unlikely event.

    One wonders who you have pissed off during your legal career that you have to worry about the the second guy scenario.

    • Well, apparently it DOES happen. If this account is to be believed, it’s a situation I wouldn’t want to be in. Far from help, and two intruders in your yard, planning on entering your house. What action do you take and when. Of course in my situation I have three mean dogs totaling well over three hundred pounds and multiple gun owners/users on the property, body armor, the whole works. All behind a five foot iron fence with locked gates. I don’t need the cops to help me. The coroner can pick them up at the curb. This thread is still developing and the OP has not posted the end result of the confrontation. I suppose it could be verified if he posted more details:

      • Your link says nothing about the actions of the either BG after shots were fired so we don’t know if anybody went down and if BG #2 continued the attack.

        Unless you have a couple of mob hitmen or FSB thugs going after you it is highly unlikely that the survivor will press the attack after the gun goes off.

    • All violent encounters are unlikely events. Chances are, you’ll never have to use a gun to repel an attack of any kind, ever. If you do, however, you won’t get to select number of opponents, how determined they are, what weapons they bring, any of that stuff. If you’re ready for that rarer, but more difficult scenario, you’ll be ready for the easier but more common ones. And I have a hard time seeing that as a bad thing.

      • Hey if you’re a lawyer does quoting Willie Shakespeare count as “good cause” for a CCW?

        • Before the introduction of the modern attorney or advocate “Lawyer” was a loose term for persons in law-related professions: clerks, judges, legislators, ect.

          Kinda puts that old quote into a different light, doesn’t it?

  4. “Hello? Never draw on a drawn gun.

    If the bad guy has you in his sights before you have him in yours, you lose.”

    Lance Thomas disagrees.

    • I was going to reference Lance Thomas, and I agree, although he’s also been shot multiple times. He’s actually lucky to be alive, though he’s decided he’d rather be dead than negotiate for his life at gunpoint and hope the thug decided to let him live.

      • And I agree with him on that point. Who’s to say the scumbag won’t shoot you anyway once he has what he wants? It’s not unprecedented.

        • Yes, as I said, I agree. It’s always hard to tell what you will do in a situation like that until it happens, but I train to draw quickly while moving for a reason. If I’m drawing I’m about to get killed, or shot or I already have been.

  5. That image reminds me… why do some people pronate their hands when emulating holding/manipulating a firearm? Chris Costa and Travis Haley are pretty bad about it in the Magpul series of videos…

  6. It’s only been in the last eight or so years that the Army (big Army, not the special folks) have started reflexive fire and transitioning from rifle to pistol on ranges. With the exception of a few shoot houses for CQB (close quarters battle), 90% of our shooting is still done on square ranges, at distances from 50-400m, against small green men holding AK 47’s at port arms for rifle qualification, and against plain silhouettes at 7 to 35m for pistols qualification.

    I almost got fired back in 1998 when I actually let soldiers (of the dumb ass tanker variety) fire at targets while moving on a pistol range (the horrors). Today we’re doing reflexive fire and the shoot house with everyone from infantrymen to cooks.

    I’m lucky enough to have access to a civilian range (made famous by MAJ Nadal) where I can at least draw from my holster and shoot as fast as I want, but no moving.

    • Wow. The regular Army has become smarter since I was a grunt during Gulf War 1.

      Close in work was definitely discouraged during my 4 year service time. Hell, any sort of practical excellence on the range was discouraged. I didn’t shoot for years after leaving the service – I suppose I was partially brainwashed into thinking that all shooting had to be boring, drudge work.

      OTOH, it should be stressed that proper CQB type training is difficult. There are many hurdles, from getting a proper range, to the actual fire discipline and safety. For the average CCW holder, the focus should be on situational awareness, drawing and re-holstering, and shooting from a variety of stances. Add video recording for some after action critique.

      • There are training outfits that have you fire in shoot houses, do moving and shooting, and even do force-on-force with Simunitions. I can recommend Tactical Defense Institute ( from personal experience, but there are others as well.

        As for practicing on a range, my gun club has outdoor ranges. During the week, I can usually have a range all to myself (weekends are for matches). Plenty of opportunity to practice drawing, moving while shooting, etc. See if you can find a similar outfit near you.

        Finally, get an airsoft gun that imitates your carry gun, and practice in your basement or back yard.

    • The Army has an amazing gift for taking something that should be fun (shooting), and sucking all of the interest right out of it. Unfortunately, it’s still works that work 99% of the time for the Nasty Guard. Occasionally, we can finagle some time on the Engagement Skills Trainer or the like, which has some decent shoot-no-shoot and reflexive fire drills, but you’ve got to convince the DA civilians to come in on a weekend (horrors!).

      (SSG) Sig

  7. Notice in this post the reference is to “the Thug”, this is incorrect as even if you were to order this target it is typically known by the name “Bad Guy Situation” and the BG number follows this naming as well. Just thought i would point this out

  8. I know I’ll get hammered for this but I think Video Games are a great addition to training, especially FPSs. You have to constantly scan all around you for threats and identify them under stress, utilize cover and Badguys usually take variable numbers of shots to put down depending on where you hit them. What’s not to like?

      • I would argue yes, somewhat.. But moreso Tetris. Certain games help to sharpen your reaction time and spacial awareness (although its while you’re looking at a small screen). On a large enough screen, with some of the more realistic shooters, it also helps to enhance what you can recognise in your peripheal field of view. Tetris, or a variant of it, has also recently been shown to help soldiers suffering from ptsd, to some extent.. I forget where I read that.

        • I remember reading something to that effect as well. The problem I always had with Tetris was I couldn’t stop seeing it after I stopped playing, even when I closed my eyes.

  9. You train for the mostly like scenario not the outlier; and most likely scenario that any civilian is going to face is the one where one or more bad guys pick you because they think they can take you. If they knew you were armed they would pass you by. When they encounter an armed civilian their instinct and perhaps “training” is to run, not fight. Why do you think most DGUs are brandishing and not firing events?

    I won’t say practicing the kind of complex tactics required to defeat multiple threats bent on killing you no matter what is worthless but fixating on a situation that you will probably never face detracts from your readiness to face the likely threat. The key to surviving any self defense situation is mental flexibility, i.e., improvise, adapt and overcome. You can train all you want but if you can’t do that you will fail no matter how “well trained” you are.

  10. One of the things I noticed and admired in the movie History of Violence was how Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) immediately spun 180 after knocking off each assailant.
    As for training, I suppose you simply get by with what you can. If all you have access to is a traditional square range, I suppose that’s better than nothing.
    An alternative is getting an airsoft gun that’s as similar to your EDC, and practicing close-combat drills with it indoors. Again, better than nothing.

  11. Excellent article and very good points. Too bad that most ranges are so concerned with liability that they will never let people move, or draw. BTW, I’ve always thought that pop-a-cap and-immediately-look-behind-you was a bit Hollywoodish.

    Glad I’ve had access to realistic combat training, because it did make a difference when the time came.

  12. RF makes some good points. I guess it depends on how much you train. I have to admit that I am sadly lacking in this department. Most of my training takes place during my once or twice weekly trips to the range. I do have the luxury of using a really nice outdoor range tied to a firearms training facility whenever I want to and with only one exception, every time I have gone there, I’ve had one of the outdoor ranges all to myself. I can do the whole moving while shooting and shooting from concealment, etc. There are not too many rules other than the main one, which is not to attempt anything that you are not trained to do.

    For others, there is no reason why you cannot practice many of these skills in a dry fire environment in your cellar or even in your house. As long as you take care to ensure that all bullets are put away and you check your gun at least twice before trying things, you can practice gun movement to your hearts content. If you want to take things a step further, pick up the Laserlyte target and one of the caliber specific laser cartridges. With that loaded in your gun, you have now effectively created a safe pistol as the cartridge cannot be ejected, so it is impossible to accidentally chamber a live round (you need to poke the laser cartridge out with a pencil to remove it from the chamber).

    • Most of my training takes place during my once or twice weekly trips to the range.
      You are probably better trained than 90% of your fellow shooters. And most cops.
      Furthermore, your humility and the tone of your post (you respect what you don’t know) show that you’re practically prepared for the vast majority of SHTF situations.

  13. Instead of going through all the trouble of trying to go all Delta SAS SWAT commando with CQB (you know, with live fire, shoot houses, blood bag targets, ect.) why not just get together with friends and use airsoft? Now, before I am burned at the stake for daring to mention airsoft, think about it. With airsoft, you are using realistic copies of guns, and you are going against real people, and you can do it in so many more places than with real guns.
    Plus, it makes training fun, so you’ll actually do it.

    • +1. Unless you have trained with simunitions, you have never trained for CQB. Airsolt / Paintball / Red Ryder BB Guns / throwing rocks at each other is still better than standing at a lane at a range shooting at paper.

      • yeah, you only get the full measure of the uselessness of traditional square shooting ranges for training when three people round the corner on you with ultra high powered (airsoft) rifles, and all you can do is think “this will be painful” because you can’t get to your sidearm fast enough. I still remember those welts *shudder*
        Of course, I nailed one of them in the teeth the next round, so I regained enough honor to not have to commit seppuku with a nerf sword.

  14. I dont really care. If some one is going to try and shoot me, I’m going to draw, and try and shoot him. The fact that he already has drawn, and is trying to murder me, only means that I need to draw faster, and with out hesitation. I try and minimize anything that can lead to some one getting to the drop on me. I play by aces and 8s and keep my back to a wall where ever I go, I park far away from other vehicles, and preferabally under lights…But I plan for the worst case scenario. I plan on having to actually defend myself from a lethal threat. If you’re drawing and shooting some one who is NOT pointing a gun at you, you’re going to have a hard time in court.

    Training to use cover is a good thing. But you can never train to the exact situation you’re going to actually be in when you need to defend yourself. Getting good shot placement in after drawing quickly from a holster is a lot more likely to save your life than perfect use of cover and concealment. In real life, things happen fast, and you’re going to be shooting at some one at close range, and you’re both going to be moving. You take cover first in that situation, and you’re going to get shot a lot more than if you move around and make yourself hard to hit.

  15. Robert,

    “Lastly, why scan over your shoulder with your gun pointing downrange? If there’s something outside of your peripheral vision (on either side) that requires investigation, why wouldn’t you bring your gun with you when you turn?”

    The answer to that is simple. You can snap your head around very, very quickly. Most people cannot say the same for wielding a firearm. And who is to say that the thing you are looking at is a threat? Maybe you can’t see the threat coming now because you have moved your entire body when all it would have taken was a snap of the head to check and then move.

    “If you scan with your gun pointed forwards, you’ve turned a four-step process (turn head and body, ID new target, push out gun, shoot) into a five-step affair (turn head, ID new target, turn body, push out gun, shoot).”

    I get where you are coming from logically but the body does not work that way. You are taking a very simple, quick movement and making it lumbering. I don’t know how long you need to scan an area but I can snap my head around at something in less then a split second and move accordingly. Any self-defense class will tell you to see your target then acquire it. There is even a stance a defender should take for these uncertain situations. Not quite committing to either direction but kind of circling while swiveling the head all around. It’s hard for me to explain but any night at a dojo and seeing a dude fight two or more opponents will show you what I mean.

    For your logic to work would require the mythical clairvoyance that ninjas were said to have in seeing brief steps into the future during combat. But to each their own.

    “Of course, the over-the-shoulder scan is ideal for . . . square ranges. Where, sensibly enough, you cannot aim a loaded gun at the shooters on either side of you. But that’s not training the way you’d fight.”

    No. And neither is swing your gun around at every little noise during an invasion. You want to look before you paint a friendly.

    For those of you about to say that this isn’t a dojo or it is a gunfight not a fist fight – pah! A fight is a fight. Being flighty and twitchy is all that counts.

  16. Agree that your eyes and your muzzle should always be pointed in the same (general if not exact) direction. One without the other is less useful…
    New usmc pistol ranges are moving towards training with Some degree of movement. We already train that way on rifle ranges (except yearly kd course)

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