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Breaking Old Range Habits

Friday, 14 December 2012 03:08 Written by 

Real life situation firearms training is far more complex than standing at a static distance from a bullseye target and striving to turn the “X” ring into a dime sized hole in the paper, with a boxful of ammo. It is a series of exercises designed to train both brain and muscle memories to act and react faster in real life shooting situations. The “range” shooting situations, where you are standing still and upright (Weaver or isosceles stances) and concentrating on the bullseye; could get you killed in a real life situation. So, what can you do to help prepare for real life shooting situations and have a better chance of winning?

Bullseye Target Shooting

I’m not thumbing my nose at bullseye target shooting. Most of us, and many of the shooting world’s top competitors, were introduced to shooting in this manner. Whether standing, sitting, or hunched over a shooter’s bench; we learned the firearm basics like sight picture, sight control, breathing control, trigger squeeze, and then there was that wonderful feeling of accomplishment when we could put several shots into the target’s “X” ring.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time static target shooting. It’s how my dad taught me to shoot when I was a kid. It’s the primary training technique the Army used while I was in basic training back in 1972. And, it was the dominant training method of choice, during a major part of my career as a police officer. It’s the way I taught my kids to shoot, and it’s the way I hope to be able to train my grand kids.

To this day, all these many years later, I still enjoy turning little holes into big ones, on paper targets, at static distances. For me, it’s a way to have a fun day at the range. But it’s not how I spend the serious days. In order to prepare for the possibilities of a real life shooting encounter, you have to break away from the static and get more into the rough and tumble, mental and physical, training routines that simulate real life situations. It’s what is commonly called “Run and Gun.”

What Is Run and Gun

The term run and gun implies quite a bit less than what is actually required, though. In professional competitive setups, shooters are required to run a short distance between target locations, engage multiple targets, shoot around “barricades,” drop to and shoot from the prone position, or go into kneeling, squatting, and prone positions to shoot through various sized openings in plywood partitions to hit targets. In some setups, competitors are also required to transition from a pistol to a rifle and to a shotgun; not necessarily in that order.

How is training in this manner beneficial? Physiologically; (1) the physical activity portion gets the heart and lungs pumping to create physical stress; a negative force that needs to be overcome when pressed to perform under duress. (2) Engaging multiple targets, (most being “shoot targets” but some designated as no-shoot “noncombatants”) plus mandatory reloading of the firearm while on the move, creates mental stress; another negative force encountered when under pressure. (3) It develops hand / eye coordination which creates muscle memory.

From a tactical standpoint, it helps instill the use of cover and the need to safely move; to either advance on or retreat away from the opposing threat.

So… What Is Muscle Memory

Muscle memory, or motor learning, is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created that for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscience effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems. Examples of muscle memory are found in many everyday activities that become automatic and improved through practice; like riding a bike, typing on a keyboard, or playing video games.

Findings related to the retention of learned motor skills have been continuously replicated in studies, suggesting that through subsequent practice, motor learning is stored in the brain as memory. That is why performing skills such as riding a bike or driving a car are effortlessly and unconsciously executed, even if someone had not performed these skills in a long period of time.

Long story short; this is how we learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. Or, better yet, how we learn to run, acquire the target, shoot, reload plus chew gum at the same time. And the number one way to getting there is through R E P E T I T I O N !!!

Divided Attention Motor Skills

An important aspect of our training exercises is the development of more advanced divided attention motor skills so as to perform multiple tasks under duress. For example, when a real life shooting situation starts; you want to reflexively draw you weapon, seek solid (protective) cover, decide upon a defensive and/or offensive firing solution, and then execute that solution.

As the situation progresses, you will have to constantly assess the need to move for better, safer cover, especially to maintain distance between you and the threat. You will need to maintain a mental inventory of weapon reloading necessities, at-hand ammunition resupplies, or the need for transitioning from a pistol to a rifle or shotgun, as necessity dictates; and maintaining a mental inventory of those ammunition levels and at-hand resupply.

From a hand / eye coordination point of view, we need to constantly access the threat and threat level. If you are drawn into a shooting event where you are one against multiple aggressors, you will need to determine which one(s) is / are presenting the highest level of threat and responding in a descending order. The individuals actively shooting and advancing on you must be dealt with first, as opposed to ones who hug cover, shoot less, or appear to be looking for a way out. We also have to be aware of who are innocent bystanders or human shields, known as no-shoot noncombatants.

As an example of very poor divided attention motor skills training; years ago many police firearms instructors were taught, and passed on to their students, the practice of reloading their revolvers by first dumping the spent brass into their free hand and then into a can or bucket, before loading fresh rounds; some “brilliant” idea to save picking spent brass off the floor or ground. The muscle memory became ingrained and on several occasions, police officers who were killed in shootouts were found with their revolvers (cylinders open) in one hand and six spent casings in the other hand. Quite simply, they couldn’t find a bucket to toss the spent brass into, which would have made their free hand open to perform the reloading function. In that few seconds of confusion for the officers, the bad guys seized the opportunity and came out the victor of the encounters.

Reaction is defined as a response to something that has already occurred. Studies have concluded that humans require about three seconds to see, analyze, recognize then react to even the most urgent of situations. Within that three second time frame, you can most assuredly come out the loser. So, how do we improve the odds in our favor? We train to overcome the static through enhanced muscle memory.

The Training Exercises

Note: The information contained herein is not intended as a substitute for professional training in a person to person setting. The negligent or careless misuse of loaded firearms can lead to serious injury or death. Before attempting these exercises, you should become proficient with all safety precautions as they relate to shooting and specifically to your firearms. You are encouraged to practice with unloaded weapons until you can perform the exercises in a safe and cautious manner. Neither I nor the administrators of Prepper Link assume responsibility for any property damage, injury or death caused as a result of negligent or careless actions while attempting these exercises. If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the safe handling of firearms, you are strongly advised to seek professional instruction from a certified firearms instructor. 

I am not going to sugar coat it. Like anything in life that is worth your wild, you have got to put some time into it. Since we are talking about skills that may come in handy in saving your life, it should qualify as “worth your wild.” But reading about it just won’t cut it; you have to dedicate time to physically doing the exercises if you want to develop those muscle memories. To begin, try putting in three to six hours, stretched out over a week, for several weeks. This will establish the foundation of your muscle memory retention building.

Unloaded Draw and Move

Start with the basic moves of drawing your (unloaded) weapon into a two hand hold while moving a few feet to the left, then alternately to the right. Conclude the exercise by lowering your weapon to the low ready position and then scanning visually to your left and right.
The purpose of this particular drill is to (1) prepare you to engage the threat(s) while (2) moving for cover. Then, after “neutralizing” the threat, (3) scanning for any additional threat(s) before securing your weapon.

The desired results are; you will reflexively draw your weapon immediately upon seeing or hearing a significant threat (seeing someone with a weapon or hearing a gunshot would definitely qualify) while moving to avoid being a “static target,” and seeking the safety of solid cover

When I speak about moving to solid cover, I mean putting something solid between you and the threat, such as a brick wall, a vehicle or, going prone in the street up against the curb. Assume any position, readily available, that will make you as small a target as possible. Keep in mind, however, that you won’t necessarily have the luxury to pick and choose your cover in a real life situation and, for that reason, you will need to train at firing your weapon from both the dominate and the non-dominate hand.

Speed Reloading Drill

The next set of exercises to practice are (with an unloaded weapon and magazine, or speed-loaders with dummy ammunition for revolvers) to conduct reloading drills while on the move. Engage the target, fire six shots and while moving, go through the motions required to reload and prepare your weapon for continued use. Conclude the exercise by lowering your weapon to the low ready position; scan left and right for additional threats then secure your weapon.

The purpose of this drill is to acclimate you to the divided attention skills required to (1) reload your weapon and (2) make your weapon ready for use while on the move.

The desired results are; you will reflexively eject the magazine, (or spent brass in the case of revolvers) insert a fresh magazine (or load the revolver cylinder) and make the weapon ready to fire again while, quickly moving to change cover locations, retreat or advance on the threat.

Switching Firearms

Note: In the “prepper’s worst nightmare” we have all come to know and love(?) so well, it is reasonable to assume many of us will be carrying two, possibly three, weapons; a holstered handgun, a slung rifle in a front low ready position, and for those of us who see the utilitarian advantages, a shotgun slung across the back. There is also the possibility that, in a firefight, you may acquire firearms dropped by members of the opposing force, to supplement or replace your own weapons (commonly referred to as a battlefield pick-up). These are the reasons why we train in transitioning from one weapon to another. If you using a third slung long gun, you will need to be mindful of the placement of the front weapon and back weapon slings, to avoid entanglement.

The next exercise will require the use of either a rifle or shotgun (or both) with a sling. With the rifle or shotgun slung in the front muzzle down position, Draw your handgun and engage the target with six shots. Re-holster and transition to the long gun, while moving, to engage another target with four shots. At this point, if you have opted for a third long gun, un-sling the third weapon while moving back to the first target, engage and fire four shots.

Once you have become comfortable at performing this last exercise and the movements feel more reflexive, it’s time to return to the beginning, but with some changes.

Begin by drawing the handgun and engaging the target with six shots. While on the move reload, making the weapon ready the engage a second target with six shots. Holster the handgun, transition to the rifle while moving to a second target and engage that target with five shots. On the move, reload the rifle and engage a third target with five shots. If you’ve opted to lug around that third weapon, repeat the steps you just completed with the rifle. At the end of the exercise, holding the last weapon at a low ready position, scan the area for any additional threats then secure the weapon.

Taking Notes

I highly recommend that you take notes (or keep a diary, if you will) on your progress. Note the amount of time you are spending in each session, what exercises you have performed and an honest critique of how you performed. Also, record changes you make in the exercises, such as firing positions you assume, or the number of threats you visualize. Just like taking notes in school, it gives you something to go back to as a refresher or a return point if you have to suspend training for a time.

Kick It Up A Notch

The next step in the training evolutionary chain is to take it to a more complex level. Enlist the aid of others and “adlib” situations to help introduce more stress to perform better. We all want to perform our best when others are watching. If you belong to a local prepper group, you will probably find several members who are more than willing to get involved in training with you. It does benefit all in the long run.
 The best multi-person exercises would include the use of AirSoft guns while indoors, or paintball guns outside. The “thump” of being hit with a paintball will definitely help create stress and inspire more logical tactical thought processes. It’s also a fairly good source of physical exercise. 
The point here is simple… Make your training interesting, make it fun, and don’t let your training exercises become stagnant or static.

Like To Know More

If you are interested and have cable access that includes The Outdoor Channel; “Shooting USA” (Wed. 8:30 PM ET) provides video segments of competitive shooting sports that are patterned after practical defensive and tactical disciplines. It can give you a real good idea of what these exercises look like when performed at speed on a hot range.

Looking for Individualized Training

I cannot stress the point of safety strongly enough. If you are new to firearms, new to shooting firearms, or you just don’t feel comfortable performing these activities without professional training in a more personal setting; you can find National Rifle Association certified firearms instructors in your area through the NRA website.

If you are looking for advanced instruction, you can check out Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, Thunder Ranch, or Gun Sight Academy.

A Word About Personal Trainers

We live in a world where anyone can watch a Bruce Lee movie marathon, go out and buy the clothes, equipment, rent a storefront, and pass themselves off as a 32 degree flashing neon red sash martial arts expert. Likewise, anyone can Photoshop themselves a very authentic looking certificate or diploma for virtually any subject matter under the sun. BUYER BEWARE!!! Don’t be convinced by fancy dress, equipment or certificates / diplomas. Check references; contact the Better Business Bureau and the NRA to verify you are getting the real deal. It’s your money and your life.

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2013 22:19
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  • Comment Link DesertRatJak Saturday, 15 December 2012 20:19 posted by DesertRatJak

    Cyclops, good stuff.
    It is unfortunate, (though understandable from an insurance point-of-view), many public ranges do NOT allow presentation from the holster, let alone movement while shooting. You may need to look around to find a range for this type of training.

    Also, an excersise I enjoy is the "Figure 8". Set up 3 targets at different distances: example, target 1 at 7yds, target 2 at 5yds, and #3 at 12yds. On the firing line place 2 place holders; water bottles, empty ammo boxes, rocks, etc., about even with the first and last targets. Simply stroll around the place holders in a figure 8 pattern until your training partner shouts a target number. The object is to shoot the called target and not the others. You may need to move around #2 to see and shoot #3, or, move to shoot #2 so #1 is not behind it. (shoot thru danger). Add to this, your partner may call a "failure to stop" on any target requiring a "head shot".


  • Comment Link Graywolf Wednesday, 09 January 2013 16:13 posted by Graywolf

    One of the best things I've found to help people shoot better in the Army was the dime drills. I still use that technique when I'm helping people learn to squeeze and not pull.

    Great article by the way Cyclops! It's nice to see other people who take the time to write a thorough useful article and not just a bunch of short ones for pageviews.

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