Combative firearms training
Combative firearms training should result in officers who can use their firearms to defend their own lives... Combative firearms training
The draw stroke
The draw stroke is a fundamental—no, essential—skill that gets the gun on target fast, regardless of whether the attacker is... The draw stroke
FEATURED IN TRAINING
Stagnation is the true enemy of police training. The words tradition and training should never be used in the same sentence. Skills that enhance officer performance must constantly evolve. Admittedly, there are only so many ways to shoot a gun, swing a baton or make a traffic stop—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continually strive for improvement. But over the past three decades, I’ve seen many training institutions get locked into their doctrine—or dogma—and continue to teach what they do for no other reason than, “That’s how we’ve always done it.”
Unfortunately, stagnation runs rampant at state training councils. I’ve traveled extensively and taught, or trained with, many fine police officers, and a common theme I hear is: “I'd love to incorporate this, but the state training council says we have to do it this way.” Or, “This is a great technique, but the state says we have to teach this. ” When I ask why, I’m universally told, “If they didn’t think of it, forget it!” Fortunately, a new wave of instructors is rising, and they want change.
I recently had the pleasure of taking an exceptional new firearms course offered by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy (OPOTA). The OPOTA courses are open to all law enforcement, military and bona fide private security personnel.
Any course is only as good as the instructors. In the case of firearms training, I like to see instructors demonstrate every lesson, not just talk a good game. Lead Instructor Chris Cerino—a former federal air marshal (FAM)—is not only an excellent instructor, but also an exceptional shooter. Having gone to the FAMs from a Cleveland-area police agency, Chris brings a broad range of training and experience to a new pistol program called “Combat Marksmanship.”
This three-day program introduces students to a fast, but accurate, shooting methodology, with 1,000 rounds of ammo fired over a two-day period. Fellow OPOTA instructor Drake Oldham and two adjunct instructors, Rob Gaydosh and Andrew Blubaugh (Akron-area police officers) joined Cerino in the training. The instructor-to-student ratio is deliberately low, so every student gets the individual attention necessary to dramatically improve.
Day 1: The Basics Refined
The first day began with introductions, and the instructors established goals and reviewed the four rules of firearms safety. The course would focus on the fundamentals of fast and accurate shooting—“the basics refined,” as Cerino explained it.
“The body needs to go on autopilot, so your mind can think about the problem at hand,” he said. The lecture—what Cerino called “death by PowerPoint”—focused on grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, presentation and scanning for additional threats. The instructors advocated the “High Chest Ready” and “Position Sul” stances, both of which are controversial.
In the High Chest Ready stance, the gun is placed in front of the breastbone, with the muzzle pointed straight forward. Intended for use in linear environments (e.g., airplanes, trains and buses), detractors claim the position isn’t safe because the muzzle will cover areas that aren’t a threat. In their defense, the instructors never claimed that the High Chest Ready position was the only ready position, only that it was a good position from which to shoot quickly and accurately.
Ready means “prepared to act,” and this stance puts officers in position to do just that; however, I believe that everyone will agree that ready positions are situationally dependent, and that we should use a muzzle-down position as well. Position Sul gives the officer a felt index to know the muzzle is depressed and not covering non-hostiles. To use it, the support hand is placed flat on the chest with the gun hand sideways on top of that with the muzzle pointed toward the ground. The lesson: Be willing to try new things.
The second half of day one stressed the importance of, and methods to accomplish, trigger control. Trigger control is, in my opinion, the single most important aspect of accurate shooting, whether in competition or combat. Trigger control is really weapon control, and regardless of whether you’re a point-shooting or sighted-fire advocate, if you pull the muzzle off target—the result of poor trigger control—you’ll miss. Period.
The class moved to the range, where the instruction stressed proper dry-fire techniques. Drake Oldham summed up dry-fire training succinctly when he said, ”You shouldn’t need ear protection for dry-fire practice!” The lesson: Double-, triple-, quadruple-check that your gun is unloaded before beginning any dry-fire program.
Day 2: Back on the Range
Day two started on the range. The instructors reviewed High Chest Ready position and trigger control, and the class began with one shot on the target with proper follow-through emphasized. The staff hammered into the class that for every shot fired, there should be an additional sight picture, because you should always be ready to shoot. I discovered many years ago that the officer doesn’t decide when the fight is over; the suspect does. The officer can, however, help them come to this decision, and follow-through is part of that process.
The class then fired one shot from the holster, with emphasis on a smooth draw and continued work on follow-through. Cerino likes the draw to be high on the torso, getting the gun into the eye/target line as quickly as possible.
“Get on the sights as soon as you can,” he said. “The faster you are on the sights, the faster you break the shot, and the quicker the fight is over!”
We then fired two shots from ready, with the instructors once again emphasizing trigger control and reset. Once two shots from the ready were anchored, we added two shots from the holster. A pyramid was built with these simple drills being fired at seven, 12 and 20 feet with no loss in accuracy.
Recoil control was the next lesson, which the instructors reinforced with a slick drill using a small rectangular target placed 15 feet from the shooter. From ready, the student had five seconds to fire two shots. The drill was then repeated, but with four shots fired, then six and eight, working up to 10 shots in five seconds. As with many drills that push the student, groups “exploded,” so we returned to trigger control, with each student standing very close to the backstop, holding their gun sideways at stomach level and slowly firing their gun while watching the trigger action and how their finger handled reset.
I was skeptical, but seeing is believing. A visual representation of what your finger and trigger are doing proved helpful. We then shot 1" squares at seven feet, trying to keep 12 rounds inside, which reinforced trigger control quite well, because only a one-hole group would accomplish this. The lesson: Trigger control is everything.
Holster skills and reloading drills completed the day, with students practicing speed loads with and without slide lock. Three rounds were fired, and when the slide locked open, a speed load occurred with three more to follow. Stepping it up, instructors required the students to draw while moving laterally and shoot three rounds, which locked the slide. We then had to move back in the other direction laterally while reloading the gun, releasing the slide and firing three more rounds.
The second day concluded with students firing two shots into a 6" circle at five feet and then taking two steps back and shooting two more. This continued until each student reached 75 feet, the length of the range. Interestingly, few rounds were outside the 6" circle.
Day 3: Multiple-Shot Drills
The course’s pace increased dramatically on the third day, during which speed was coupled with the accuracy established on day two. Multiple-shot drills with up to four rounds on each volley of fire were the order of the day. The instructors then incorporated pivots, turns and multiple targets into the drills, with Cerino advising everyone to “look before you move your gun.”
“Turret shooting” is quite common in competition, but the shooter knows where the target is beforehand. This isn’t the case in a fight, and every officer will need to scan the area to look for threat. Thus, it’s wise to do this in training.
The course concluded with the “Double Nickel Drill.” Here, the shooter stood 15 feet from five targets with gun in holster. On command, the shooter drew and fired two rounds at each target, speed loaded after the fourth and fired two rounds at the fifth target. The time limit for the drill was five seconds! Impossible? No, but certainly difficult, and keep in mind that it was supposed to be a challenge. Those who used duty gear with a retention holster and snapped-down magazine pouches found the drill darn near unreachable. I wore Kydex concealment gear from Comp-Tac Victory Gear ( www.comp-tac.com ), so I had a better chance to move quickly. I’m no longer on the street, so I don’t wear duty gear and see no reason to practice with it. Frankly, it’s one less thing for me to practice, but if I were on patrol these days, I’d wear it. The lesson: Practice with your carry gear.
At the end of two days of shooting, I fired 1,000 rounds of Federal 9 mm Ballisti-Clean frangible ammo that Federal Cartridge ( www.le.atk.com ) supplied to me. At one time, lead-free ammo was less than reliable, but that’s not the case anymore. Every round I fired proved not only reliable but also very accurate—good to know with more police agencies moving to indoor ranges as outdoor facilities close. Combat Marksmanship gave me a nice step up in getting my combative pistolcraft skills in order. It had been a while since I had been in a training course, and I appreciated the chance to train under professional instructors.
Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy
4055 Highlander Pkwy., Ste. B
Richfield, OH 44286