I’ve always liked the saying, “Advanced skills are the basics mastered.” To me, this says that gunfighting is more than just punching holes in a target. You can’t reliably hit well enough to incapacitate your attacker unless you perform the fundamentals of grip, trigger control, weapon alignment, etc. If you can’t do these basic skills, then you’ll never be able to shoot good enough to save your own life. Can you get lucky? Sure. But I would never choose luck over skill. The harder I work at a given skill, the luckier I seem to get.
What concerns me is when an instructor or school makes “advanced” skills out to be some secret of a Ninja instead of a natural progression. The truth is, there are only so many ways to shoot a gun, and they’ve all been invented. Sure, these skills can be tweaked to look more “tactical” (what ever that is) with herky-jerky, spastic motions and manipulations, but these don’t really improve anything. Often, they’re actually harder to do.
Spastic body motion is actually slower than eliminating unnecessary motion. We’ve all heard the saying “smooth is fast,” and it’s true. Smooth is eliminating unnecessary motion, which is what we should all strive for. Don’t strive to look cool. If you look cool but can’t hit what you’re shooting at, what’s the point?
One of these advanced skills is shooting on the move or shooting while moving. Understand that this isn’t the same as “shoot then move.” We’re talking about actually shooting the gun while in motion. Many people have difficulty shooting a gun accurately while standing still. How well are they going to do this while moving at the same time?
Shooting on the Move
Delta Force veteran Sgt. Paul Howe, founder of Combat Shooting and Tactics (www.combatshootingandtactics.com) in Texas, states in his article Training for the Fight or Avoiding Fantasy Gunfight Training, “Reference shooting on the move, it’s a skill all shooters aspire to learn and spend a great deal of time and effort trying to master. I’ve never had to use it in combat. When moving at a careful hurry, I stopped, planted and made my shots. When the bullets were flying, I was sprinting from cover to cover, moving too fast to shoot. I didn’t find an in-between. If I slowed down enough to make a solid hit when under fire, I was an easy target, so I elected not to.
As for shooting and closing on a target, it only makes the bad guys accuracy better and walking into a muzzle may help you to test your new vest sooner than you wanted to. Diagonal movement works, but again if you have to slow down too much, you’re an easy target, and are generally in the open. Speed can act as your security in this case to get you to a point of cover.”
Howe deployed to hot spots all over the world and was on the ground during the famed “Blackhawk Down” incident. His words are worth considering. After all, how fast do you really travel when shooting on the move? Is it fast enough that you’d use the technique if bullets were inbound? After all, not getting shot is the goal of any combative firearms skill.
At this point, I may have ticked off a number of you because I’ve shaken your tactical belief system. But stay with me. There’s a point to this.
Think about it: How is shooting on the move taught on the square range? Back and forth, side to side in a very controlled manner for safety reasons. A line of students pointing their guns are liable to point at each other, so movement is strictly controlled. “Groucho walking” or “heel, ball, toe” are usually discussed, but let me remove some of the mystery.
The Coffee Cup Test
If you’ve ever filled your coffee cup too full, you’ve probably shot on the move or at least performed the body motion. You’ve stopped at a convenience store and filled your coffee cup to the brim and really don’t want to pour it out. You might have taken a sip, and then extended the cup out from your torso and lowered your center of gravity (hips) by bending your knees. You then smoothly walked heel, ball, toe to the check out working hard not to spill the hot liquid on your hand.
If this sounds familiar, congratulations! You’ve shot on the move—at least going forward. Instead of trying to stabilize the hot beverage, you’re now trying to stabilize a firearm. But how fast can you move and fire an accurate shot? Think trigger control is hard to master? Wait until you try to walk at the same time.
Going backward is worse, because the body isn’t designed to do this. There are no eyes in the back of your head, and our feet, knees and hips are all geared to move forward. In order to move smoothly to the rear (remember we’re shooting), we must use some type of shuffle step or step-and-drag motion to keep the gun stabile and fire an accurate shot. How fast can you do this and not fall? Remember: Bullets are inbound.
Having spoken with a number of cops who have attempted this in real gunfights, I’ve found that in no time at all, their rear overrode their feet, and they fell, unless they turned their body and rotated their upper torso shooting back one-handed as they moved. Have you ever practiced shooting on the move in this fashion?
How about the much-vaunted lateral movement? The truth is getting off the line of attack does work, but the single lateral step taught on many square ranges doesn’t accomplish this. Lateral movement, to be effective, must be explosive and is more likely to work if your opponent is 12 o’clock and you’re 6 o’clock, and you move in a 2-or-10-o’clock direction, drawing and shooting as you go. This is hard to train on a square range when you have a line of shooters, but it’s more realistic than the entire line moving a step in each direction. Movement in conflict needs to be aggressive regardless of which direction you travel.
Do you train like that or is your motion slow and controlled so you can get tight groups? Remember: You will default to your level of training.
Airsoft and Simunitions can be helpful. Although many think of these devices as scenario-based, they can be a big help in anchoring combative firearms skills. Example: If you want an officer to explosively move off the line of attack as he draws, have his “attacker” shoot him. Doing this gets them to respond to an aggressive visual queue—something that actually looks like an attack. It also gets them to understand that these situations are over quickly, and the only way to get out in front is to be explosive, aggressive and accomplished. Luck isn’t enough.
Do we need to practice shooting on the move? You bet, but it needs to be goal-oriented. The only reason to move in a fight is because it offers some advantage. At minimum, a moving target is harder to hit, and shooting while moving may get us to hard cover. What’s cover? It depends on what we’re being shot at with. That’s a good thing to know before you move.
The most common range drill is to shoot while moving going forward, but as Howe observed, this makes us easier to hit. Unless you’re on some type of entry team, this action might be ill-advised. Sure, it’s possible that your only option might be to attack or you need to move forward to get to cover, but moving closer to your potential murderer is fraught with peril. Moving away is more likely—and probably a better tactical option—but moving backward is contrary to how we humans are built.
Moving more than 10 or 20 feet to the rear is likely to result in falling—not good in a gunfight. Try combining rearward movement with turning the feet/legs in the direction you want to move, and rotate the torso to the rear. This works pretty well and allows quicker movement. Offline movement is a good skill to learn, but short movement is designed to end the threat quickly by getting ahead of your attacker’s action/response curve by doing the unexpected. Explosive movement at an angle, while delivering accurate fire, will help you prevail.
I realize that this column might anger a few, but one of the primary missions of Law Officer is to help the good guys and gals win on the street. Often this requires thought on the part of the reader. Remember: Shooting while moving is so much more than a cool range drill. It’s a valid technique that must be taught, learned and mastered.