10 range habits that can get police officers killed

Ammo is cheap, lives are expensive — maintain your level of proficiency by regular practice


What you do consistently will become your habit. The range is a long way from a gunfight, and all too often officers adopt range behaviors that can lead to serious injury or worse. Here are 10 quick tips to improve your abilities in a gunfight and correct a few bad behaviors I have seen in my time on the range.

1. Snap your snaps

In order to draw or reload faster, some officers will release one or more of their retention devices to speed up their draw. The Force Science Institute has determined that if you undo a snap it slows you down because you are programmed to follow a certain sequence. When you change that sequence your brain gets confused and works slower. Train the way you fight because you will fight the way you train. If you train with one device deactivated when the fight comes and that device is in place you will be fighting with the holster, rather than with the suspect(s).

Maintain your level of proficiency through regular practice. (Photo/Tyson Kilbey)
Maintain your level of proficiency through regular practice. (Photo/Tyson Kilbey)

2. Don’t worry about the score

All too often shooters are so concerned about putting one bullet on top of the other that they never push themselves to shoot fast enough for a gunfight. A score is nice as a gauge of progress to meet a qualification standard, but qualification and a gunfight are two different worlds.

3. Take a hard look at the target you use

Disregard the scoring rings, as many of them bear no resemblance to the human body. Work on placing the majority of your rounds in an area about four inches wide from the base of the throat down to the bottom of the sternum. The heart and all of the arteries and veins leading to and from it are concentrated in that area. That is the area you want to hit to stop a suspect quickly. More than likely your target doesn’t have the 10 ring in that area. I have seen targets with the “X” down in the stomach – bad practice, bad training, expect a bad outcome.

4. Speed kills

Most qualification times are very generous. In a gunfight, officers fire around five rounds per second. If you haven’t trained to shoot and hit at that rate of fire in practice, don’t expect a visit from the ballistic fairy to guide your rounds in a gunfight. Realistic training must include realistic rates of fire.

5. Reload like your life depends on it

When your gun goes dry, reload fast every time like your life depends on it (because it does). If you ever find yourself standing with an empty gun and counting the holes in your target, kick yourself. The bad guy probably won’t be showing any bullet holes. If your gun is empty, ammo is your priority.

6. If things don’t go perfectly, get over it

I’ve lost track of the number of times I have seen shooters freeze up or quit a course of fire when a gun malfunctioned or they fumbled a draw or reload. There are no alibis in a gunfight. Fix the problem and finish the fight even if things don’t go perfectly. There is no such thing as a perfect fight, so train to win regardless of the obstacles that you face. Fine motor skills can deteriorate under stress, prepare for it in your training.

7. Push yourself to the point of failure

If you always stay in your comfort zone, then you are not training for a fight. A gunfight will be very uncomfortable. You can’t predict the time, the date, location or opponent(s). Push yourself out of your comfort level on the speed of your presentation and your firing rate. Once you find your failure point (the majority of your rounds start going outside the high chest area), slow down, identify the problem and work on fixing it as you continue to speed up.

8. Move

Practice side stepping on your draw to teach you to get off the line of attack. If you don’t have cover, side step on your reloads. Practice shooting moving sideways, forward and back. If the range you normally practice at won’t allow it, find a different range to train on.

9. Use cover

The use of cover or concealment will increase your likelihood of surviving a gunfight. As you approach the site of a call, are you identifying your available cover and concealment? A pre-planned response will be faster than having to do an environmental survey before seeking cover when bullets start to fly. Use cover so that the least amount of you sticks out while you locate and shoot at your threat. Practice using cover at all of the levels: standing, crouching, kneeling and prone. A vertical line of cover is better than a horizontal line of cover because less of your head is exposed. In a gunfight you get what you get, make the most of it.

10. Scan with a purpose

A range is usually a 180-degree world and, as a result, a lot of training is done using only half of the world. Threats and bullets can come from any direction once you step outside the range. Once you finished shooting, check the world around you before you put your gun away. Draw quickly, holster reluctantly. All too often a scan turns into a fast head whip in all directions. Understand that when you move your head quickly from side to side your vision actually shuts off. When you scan, look carefully for any additional threats. In practice have someone stand and hold up their fingers to show a number between one and five. That way you are always looking with the intent of seeing your environment.

Ammo is cheap, lives are expensive. Maintain your level of proficiency by regular practice.

This article, originally published 11/09/2016, has been updated. 

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