The Safe Direction Rotator Target, used in its sideways configuration, is used to play Gunner’s Alley. During the drill, the steel plates are painted different colors. Photo courtesy Safe Direction
Gunner’s Alley set up in a corner berm.
Gunner’s Alley set up on a straight berm.
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
A well-rounded combative firearms training program needs to have three levels: fundamentals, combative aspects and interactive aspects. One must know how to shoot and run the gun, and how to fight with the gun. One must also interact with “hostiles” while engaged in mock gunplay to build confidence that skills will work and to understand the dynamics of armed conflict.
Proper interactive training is tricky because, if not done right, the exercise will deteriorate into silliness rapidly. I’m not averse to introducing fun into the training process, provided the exercise builds upon one of these levels. However, students must understand that concentration is critical and that there are serious consequences for errors made while fighting. Fights are often lost due to panic under fire. Working to keep this in check is essential.
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Enter Gunner’s Alley
With this in mind, I created an exercise—a game, really—I call Gunner’s Alley. It’s intended to pit one combatant against another in live fire. They don’t shoot at one another, but the accuracy of their rounds and their ability to draw quickly, clear malfunctions effectively and reload smoothly affects whether they’ll prevail. At the same time, they must move constantly to seek a position of advantage and watch out for non-hostiles by depressing their muzzle to cross another’s path.
Note: You don’t want to play this with new shooters. But with students who have achieved a competent skill level, Gunner’s Alley can be a very eye-opening experience. The challenge becomes getting shooters to want to stop!
The exercise is done using the Safe Direction Rotator steel target. This 3/8" AR 500 target has two 8" steel paddles that represent the high chest region of the human body. The two paddles are weighted, so the target can be mounted end-over-end or rotated around its axis sideways, which is how I use it for Gunner’s Alley. The target easily disassembles and only weighs 60 pounds, so it can be transported and set up anywhere.
To play Gunner’s Alley, a range with appropriate back stop is necessary. The game is best played in a corner where the berm is at a two-sided 90° angle (see diagram) with a berm length of at least 10 yards in each direction—the longer the better. If such a corner doesn’t exist, Gunner’s Alley can be played in a straight-line configuration (see diagram, p.57) with appropriate berm length. Two safety officers are needed to play—one to watch the shooters to ensure that no safety violations occur and another to watch the spinning target to determine who prevails. The target turns so fast and frequently that it’s easy to miss a complete turn if not watched constantly. The two shooters are required to stay inside a shooting zone for safety purposes.
The zone is six feet wide and is marked on the ground via painted lines, strips of wood, gravel or any other substance that will visibly mark the boundary. The shooters are shown these boundaries to ensure they understand where they can move. Steve Camp, the creator of the target, recommends the Rotator be placed no closer than eight yards from the shooter. I’ve played Gunner’s Alley as close as seven yards with no problem, but Steve’s recommendation is worth noting. Regardless, good eye protection is a must.
Each plate is painted a different color and that plate represents their “attacker.” In order to win or incapacitate their opponent, the plate must make a complete 360° rotation due to incoming gunfire. Shooting your opponents plate to make this happen isn’t permitted, and doing so is the same as shooting an innocent with the shooter facing “prosecution.”
The game begins with guns holstered and secured by whatever level of retention the shooter has selected. If one shooter is using an open-top Kydex scabbard and the other a Level III retention holster, so be it. They must train the way they’ll fight. At the same time, the shooter who draws first and gets the first solid hit has a huge advantage, as the target will start to turn to their way. This is much like what it will be in the street. If your draw is slow and awkward, fix it! Don’t give up. Staying in the fight, the person who started out behind can catch up by delivering quick and accurate shots, which requires concentration and commitment.
“Spray and pray” happens more often that I’d like. Shooters start to panic and launch rounds in hopes that some might hit. However, if they’d kept their cool and delivered accurate shots, they could have “saved their own life.” Panic fire seldom works in Gunner’s Alley or the street. Remember: Rounds that don’t hit are the same as rounds never fired, unless they hit a non-hostile. This happens in the street too often.
If a reload is required, it’s wise to do it quickly because your opponent will be shooting while you’re reloading. If a reload takes four to five seconds, you’ll probably lose. At the same time, if you know you’re running low on ammo and notice your opponent is reloading, you might also take that moment to feed your gun. Should you reload with retention (retaining the partially spent magazine instead of just ejecting it)? It depends on how long the lull in action will be. And, nope, you won’t know in the street either.
A malfunction? These usually take longer to remedy than reloads, so hopefully you won’t have one. If you do, hope that your opponent misses a lot if you can’t “tap-rack” quickly.
The use of cover can be incorporated into the game by placing a barricade at each end of the shooting zone. This not only tells each shooter the end limits of their zone, it gives them a place to move in the event of a serious malfunction—if they think to use it! If a shooter takes refuge behind cover, the other shooter must stop until they move again. Some have tried to play the entire game from cover, but it’s almost impossible to rotate the target 360° without moving back and forth. Is it possible to stalemate? Sure, but that can also happen in a real firefight. Both combatants can take refuge behind cover and refuse to move, or both can run out of ammunition. The latter happens more that I’d like to see. It usually means they’ve wasted a lot of ammo.
Moving back and forth in a flanking motion can offer a better shot, much like a flanking maneuver in a real fight can offer a position of advantage. Yes, you’ll have to move past your live opponent, which can safely be done by depressing your muzzle and moving to the rear. Many shooters find out their favorite muzzle-down position isn’t fast enough to safely get around a non-hostile and get the gun back on target with speed and precision. The fact is, most shooters want to keep both hands on the gun at all times so they’re ready to shoot.
Gunner’s Alley is about accurate shooting, proper use of tactics, movement and trying to think ahead of your opponent. There’s no room for panic or luck. A cool head and skill is what will win, much like in a real fight.
Is Gunner’s Alley the same as combat? Of course not. Nothing, including interactive scenarios, can replicate a real gunfight. There’s no expectation of injury of death in simulations. However, valuable lessons can be learned while having an enjoyable training experience. The need to draw fast and get accurate hits, not wasting rounds in “panic fire,” reloading quickly, moving and shooting, thinking tactically for advantage, clearing malfunctions and keeping track of cover/concealment are all part of the game.
Is Gunner’s Alley potentially dangerous? Of course. This is why it shouldn’t be played without two switched-on referees that can keep track of both the shooters and the rotating plate. One alone can’t do both, and safety is paramount. It’s not a game for rookie shooters either. It’s for the experienced, and it’s a great way to reinforce the combative applications of the pistol.