SWAT firearms qualification training: Why quality over quantity counts
Effective firearms training can have a round count barely reaching double digits, where every shot is an opportunity to learn and gain valuable information
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Many people believe you need to send thousands of rounds down range to be a solid shooter and, while it’s true that practice makes perfect (and always will), when it comes to firearms training on a budget, less can be more.
I served as a sniper in Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Commandos and represented the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Combat Shooting Team in competitions both at home and abroad. Some of the most beneficial drills we ran did not involve firing a single round. Both dry-fire and hold drills were the foundation of my shooting skills.
As a sniper, training is all about quality over quantity. A day of sniper training can have a round count barely reaching double digits, where every shot is an opportunity to learn and gain valuable information. There is no reason the same principles should not be applied to other platforms.
After moving to the United States and becoming an American citizen, I entered into law enforcement and became a sniper team leader and a lead firearms instructor on a SWAT team. I was asked to develop a SWAT firearms qualification with the only guideline being, “Keep the round count low.” Unless you work for a well-funded agency, budget is going to dictate all training parameters.
Developing a dynamic qualification
I knew I wanted to develop a dynamic qualification incorporating movement and reloads, forcing the shooter to have to think about more than one task. I considered four elements during my planning:
- Range restrictions. Fortunately, we had a perfect range – Tac Pro Shooting Center offered a 100/200-yard open-air range nearby – however, I also wanted the course of fire to be such that it could be shot on most rifle ranges. Since 100-yard ranges are common, qualification would be held to within such a distance standard.
- Limiting the round count. How low is too low? Shooting a group requires three or more rounds at the same point of aim. Being a Royal Marine I like to keep the numbers rounded up, so I chose five rounds per phase.
- Number of phases. Having shooters move to different firing lines forces them to think about multiple tasks. They need to concentrate on what they are doing at that particular moment and then think about what they have to do next. This is also the reason for magazine changes, low round count and changing the point of aim from center mass to head shots.
- Time limit. If you have two people to run through a qualification, it won’t matter if it takes five or 10 minutes per shooter; however, when you have 20 or more people to run through, you need to keep the time limit, scoring and reset time to a minimum.
Since this qualification course was developed specifically for a SWAT team, full kit was worn during the shoot. Obviously, you can run it in light order if you do not have a plate carrier and/or helmet. Wearing a level III plate carrier not only adds weight, making you breathe harder, it restricts your movement and alters your normal firing position.
After running the course several times and making some final tweaks, I presented the outline below to the SWAT team command for consideration.
- A rifle and a pistol;
- Three magazines of five rounds for both rifle and pistol; Fifteen rounds for rifle and 15 rounds for pistol;
- Full SWAT team entry kit: Plate carrier, helmet, eye and ear protection;
- Target with reasonable scoring system (we opted for the C-SAT target);
- Shot timer;
- Score sheet.
Course of Fire
Set up a target 75 yards from the barricade. All ammunition and magazines are carried by the shooter.
Before starting, the shooter should take the time to determine their best, most comfortable position for shooting off of a barricade, whether standing or conventional/reverse kneeling. At this time, the shooter should also determine how much pressure to put on the barricade and rifle. Too much pressure can lead to reduced stability, which generally increases time, delays follow-up shots and negatively affects accuracy.
Once the shooter is prepared, the start position is rifle loaded and made-ready (one in the chamber) and positioned comfortably at the barricade. Initiate the start using a shot timer or verbal command.
- While utilizing the barricade, engage the target with five rifle rounds aimed at center mass;
- After the fifth round is fired and the bolt locks back, reload rifle on the move while continuing to the 50-yard line;
- At the 50-yard line, engage the target with five rounds aimed at center mass from any firing position;
- After the fifth round is fired, reload rifle on the move while continuing to the 25-yard line;
- At the 25-yard line, engage the target with five rounds aimed at the head portion of the target from a standing, unsupported position.
This completes the rifle portion of the qualification and forces a transition to the pistol.
- While transitioning from rifle to pistol, move to the 20-yard line;
- At the 20-yard line, engage the target with five rounds aimed at center mass;
- After the fifth round is fired and the slide locks back, reload pistol on the move while continuing to the 10-yard line;
- At the 10-yard line, engage the target with five rounds aimed at center mass;
- When empty, reload the pistol while moving to the 5-yard line;
- At the 5-yard line, engage the target with five rounds aimed at the head portion of the target to finish the qualification. Time stops on the last shot fired.
This completes the qualification course.
Scoring is the same for pistol and rifle. Any shot out of the center box or head is minus two points. Any shot outside of the body is minus five points. Any head shots not in the head are minus five points. All of this has to be done in under one minute forty-five seconds (1:45) and with a possible score of 150 points if shot clean. A passing score of 135 (90 percent) or more is needed to pass the course.
What to remember during qualification
Shooting positions: Moving in full kit is going to be slower than without. Getting in and out of shooting positions is going to be drastically slower the closer to the ground you choose to go. My most stable position is to shoot from kneeling. Not only do you make yourself a smaller target if you find yourself getting shot at, but it offers a solid position you can quickly get in and out of. I did see people shoot from prone and finish within the time, but they were not the norm.
Hold over: The closer you get to the target, the greater the potential for deviation from your point of aim and point of impact. Deviation really becomes an issue at the 25-yard line – this usually means holding approximately two inches high. Any shots that fall out of the head, either low or completely off target, are minus five points. In a real-world application, forgetting your hold over can be the difference between making a hostage-rescue shot or hitting the hostage.
This particular course of fire was used as an annual qualification and as part of the selection process. The course was also designed to incorporate everything that might have to be done on a SWAT call-out or any engagement with an adversary.
Delivering accurate fire, closing the distance to the target and being able to make smart tactical decisions are the foundations for any successful fighting force. Just sending lead down range is not an option.
We used this course of fire for almost four years with great success. Not only did it challenge newcomers, but it kept current team members on their toes. We were able to evaluate each and every member’s proficiency level and it only cost the agencies 30 rounds.
Just because ammo has become easier to find and the price has generally returned to normal, it does not mean you have to blow a ton of money to train. You really can do more with less. I encourage you to give it a shot.