Paper Targets: Part Two

Problem #2: Paper targets do not drop when they are shot.

At first glance this seems to be a simple problem, but it is not. When you draw a pistol and fire it at a person, you can bet that they are going to react. One human reaction to danger is to move (both fight and flight require movement), whether you shoot them or not; as discussed in Problem #1. Another possible reaction, again whether you shoot them or not, is to fall down. Hollywood has taught us that gunshot wounds cause people to fly backwards in a theatric fashion. Not true, but the psychological conditioning will cause some people to fall down, even if they are not actually hit by a gunshot. That seems to make sense, but let’s think it through. We have to talk about some basic scenarios before we can make informed decisions about our training:

Scenario 1:  An armed threat approaches a seemingly unarmed victim and initiates an attack. Suddenly the “unarmed” victim produces a handgun and points it at the attacker. A natural reaction for many people, including prospective criminals, at having the muzzle of a gun unexpectedly pointed in their direction, is to back up. When people start to back up quickly, they have a tendency to fall over. Now we have an uninjured and still armed attacker who happens to be on the ground.

Scenario 2: The same as Scenario 1, except this time the “victim” shoots the attacker in a non-vital area and he goes to the ground. We have a slightly injured and still armed attacker on the ground

Scenario 3: The same as Scenarios 1 and 2, except this time the attacker is shot in a vital area and goes to the ground. We have a seriously injured but still armed attacker on the ground.

Scenario 4: The same scenario, but this time the attacker takes lead and is obviously DRT (dead right there). We have a seemingly dead but still armed attacker on the ground.

We have four separate scenarios. How do we properly address each one? We have no idea which scenario we are in so initially we act in exactly the same manner. We do not know which scenario we are in for two reasons. Firstly, it is very hard to detect bullet wounds in moving people that are wearing clothes, especially dark clothes or several layers. (I will talk more about this in later posts.) So, we are not entirely sure if, or where, we have shot someone. The fact that an attacker falls down when we fire a gun does not guarantee that they have been hit. It certainly does not guarantee that the fight is over.

Secondly, bullets do funny things, as do people with bullets in them. Some people can receive a non-life threatening gun-shot wound and immediately drop to the ground. Conversely, there are literally thousands of anecdotes concerning people being shot more than a dozen times, shot in the head multiple times, or hit with something truly nasty like a .50BMG round and still continuing to fight. Some of these people have survived truly horrific wounds and not stopped their attacks. As I have said before, a gun is not a magic wand that makes a bad guy disappear, and shooting someone does not necessarily end a threat. There are many credible resources that discuss the effects of firearms on people. I recommend starting with the seminal FBI report, Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness.

Our initial actions for all four of the above scenarios are the same: We identify a deadly threat and make dynamic movement, preferably towards cover, while drawing our gun. As we present the pistol we stop, set our feet, exhale hard as we extend our arms, and find the front sight post. Once we have the correct sight picture, we break the trigger and continue to fire: front sight-fire-front sight, until the target goes to the ground. The front sight follows the threat to the ground and then we assess the threat. Shoot him to the ground. Then look at the hands, they are where danger emanates.

In the above Scenarios 1-3 above, the threat could still be aiming a gun at you or trying to aim a gun at you, keep shooting and then re-assess. Repeat as necessary until there is no threat.

With the same Scenarios 1-3, and Scenario 4, the assailant may have decided that he does not want to fight anymore, or is physically unable to continue the fight. Again look at the hands. If he is actively getting rid of a weapon, raising his hands to surrender, or not moving at all, stop shooting.

For all of the above scenarios, if the attacker was armed with an impact or edged weapon it is up to you to determine the level of threat based on range and capability. With these weapons, as long as the attacker stays on the ground, he is not likely to remain a threat. Stop shooting! If he starts to get back up and renew his attack it is time to start shooting again.

Once the initial threat is reduced, breathe and examine your surroundings. Exhale and inhale purposefully, practice this on the range. If you stop breathing your body starts to die and the fight is not necessarily over. As you breathe, bring your weapon back to retention, high in your chest with both hands on the pistol. Start to scan your surroundings. Deliberately look over your left shoulder, come back to your initial threat, and then deliberately look over your right shoulder and come back to the threat. Also practice this on the range. There is no guarantee that there is only one attacker. You also need to be aware of the potential for intervention of police or another armed citizen. You do not want to survive a deadly threat, only to be killed or injured by the good guys.

Some dynamic movement is probably also in order at this point. There is no reason not to move to cover, or to a position of advantage, while breathing and scanning. A moving target is harder to attack.

At this point in time the deadly force portion of the attack is over, it is your call how to proceed. I do not give legal advice; I am a shooter not a lawyer. Just remember you are responsible for every round you have fired. I highly recommend calling the police. I also recommend getting your pistol back in the holster before they arrive.

How do the above scenarios inform our training? It tells us that paper targets behave like paper targets, and not like people. So, we may be training to fight paper targets. How do we correct that?

We shoot targets that can move and drop whenever possible. Even if they are unavailable, we train to follow a sequence. If we are on a range that does not allow movement, we can train certain factors of the correct sequence.

Identify a threat; make dynamic movement (if possible) while drawing your weapon. Once the gun is out plant your feet, exhale hard while presenting the pistol and make your shots. Imagine your attacker going to the ground and follow him down. Assess, breathe, scan, assess (while moving if you can).

Even on a static target do not get into the habit of only firing two rounds and assuming that the attacker is down; fire iterations of rapids, two, three, four or five at a time. This gets us out of the “two rounds and stop,” mindset and will help to identify problems with our draw stroke, grip, and sight picture. If you are making good shots for the first two or three rounds, but sliding out of the vital areas for subsequent shots, then your grip may not be strong enough. You may also be coming off of the front sight post, or shooting faster than you can reacquire it. Remember: front sight-fire-front sight-fire-front sight, as necessary. Do not get trapped into the bad habit of firing on a certain cadence, fire as soon as you reacquire the front sight but not before. This may not look or sound as cool, but you will shoot much better.

A good training tool is a partner shouting instructions as you shoot. You draw and fire until your partner shouts (down!) then you proceed with your scan. Your partner may then indicate the necessity to reengage the target during your scan. This trains us to act based on external stimuli which more closely simulates actual conditions. There are multiple variations of this idea. Your only limitations are your imagination and the resources at hand.

There are some great targets out there which will drop when shot in vital areas. Some steel targets can also be rigged to drop after a certain number of hits. Several of these targets are very expensive, but others are relatively cheap or easy DIY projects. Here are some ideas but there are many more out there:

Use your imagination and tailor your targets to fit your training objectives. Do not make your training fit your targets. To be continued…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: