The Differences in Fighting with a Gun and the Range
by Dave Roberts
Owner of Tennessee Arms Company, LLC
former USMC Force Recon Sgt and Security Contractor, Iraq-Afghanistan 2004-2012
To be honest I'm not around non-military shooters a whole lot. Most of the people I usually shoot with were/are in the military Spec Ops community or were Security Contractors. I didn't do that on purpose but when you go shoot you typically shoot with the same crew. I've had a few guys come into the office lately that made me realize some things. There seems to be a pretty wide gap between how people train on the range with gear they think they need and the realities of a no shit gunfight.
To be frank, there is a lot more to fighting with a gun than just putting rounds on target. That is called shooting a gun. Fighting with a gun is a whole different card game. The range is great because it can help you develop trigger control and recoil management. The downside is that you know exactly where your target (threat) is going to be and the time you need to shoot is roughly in your control. Even during a competition they ask if you are ready before the buzzer goes off. Range time is not a good substitute for a good combat mindset.
A customer came in the other day and was talking about how sore his legs were after a shooting course he went to. Taking a knee and the normal up and down of dynamic shooting was something he wasn't used too. Kudos to the guy for knowing he needed to work on it. That was when I realized that someone probably needs to write down some of the differences between shooting and fighting.
Fighting with a gun is an extremely physical event. Outside of the adrenaline dump which will wear you down all by itself, the speed at which everything needs to happen and how tense you will be demands that you maintain a pretty high level of physical ability. Some of the guys at Survival and Tactical Sysytems (link) are pretty good about mixing the two during range events to give people an idea what its like to be accurate while being tired with a high heart rate.
Why is all this important? Because you are in a fight and not all problems can be solved by simply shooting well. If that was the case why would gunfighters spend so much time working out instead of just shooting all the time? Fighting with a gun is no different than training for an MMA fight, it just involves the use and implementation of a gun or a couple of guns if you do this professionally. I have never been in a gunfight where it didn't involve some high level of physical effort before, during, or after the fight. That just simply doesn't happen.
Let's take a look at a simple textbook example of a concealed carry shoot in a parking lot:
John is walking to his car in the local strip mall. He is approached from the side by two men wanting to ask him something. John is pretty wary at this point and he can feel something is about to happen. One of the guys is about 8 feet from him when he brandishes a knife and ask for his wallet. John reacting as he needs to throwing the bag at the knife guy distracting him just enough to pull his pistol and put two rounds into the guy as he moves toward him. The guy falls backwards but isn't dead and is just realizing he is shot and on the ground. John shifts fire to the stunned but uninjured guy who was involved but is not a threat yet.
(This is the point where the range training stops and fighting with the gun begins......)
John puts a little space between them but his heart is racing and he still has his gun on the other guy. The knife dude is coming around to realizing he is shot and may be bleeding out. John screams at the other guy to get down on the ground but he isn't complying at all. He keeps looking around at his friend and looking to the direction he came from. John cant see where he is looking because of the line of cars. He doesn't know if the guy has friends that are coming or what he should do. John can feel the situation getting out of control as more people are screaming and moving around but he doesn't know what is really happening. It feels like it has been an eternity but has probably been less than a minute.
The narrative above is probably allot closer to reality than most of us would like to believe. Guys do not just die like in the movies. People do come around and want to watch who aren't involved in any way. People will not do what you want them to just because you have a gun. Everything is going to go to shit really fast and you are not going to know everything that is happening. Unlike my military or contractor time, when it happens on this side of the pond I probably won't have a crew of trained capable guys who have my back when shit gets stupid. It will just be you and hopefully not your loved ones with you. How would this scenario be different if John had his 7 year old walking with him who was now huddled behind him terrified, or if the other guy wasn't as neutral.
The importance of physical fitness and fighting ability is every bit as important as your shooting ability. Learning how to shoot and manipulate your weapon while dead tired with your heart racing is more important than well rested on a shooting line waiting for a timer beep. If John would have been grabbed from behind and had thirty seconds of real struggle before getting free enough to pull his sidearm how would things have been different? Hate to tell you folks but that is the reality of gunfighting. Its gritty and dirty and you will end up exhausted...maybe bleeding. But hey you had three hours of shooting last month on a firing line wearing the newest Crye Precision and a shooting vest right, you should be good..... That little bit that you haven't run a sprint or done pull ups since high school wont have any bearing on the real fight you would get in. Maybe all that Multi-cam will help you blend into the pavement where your assailants cant find your hyperventilating ass.
Train for the fight you are most likely to get in. Last time i checked society hasn't broken down to the point where tactical gear was necessary on a large scale in the US since the Civil War. Unless you wear it for some aspect of your employment it really isn't practical. Yes, I still have all my stuff. My house looks like an entry team exploded in my gear closet I have so much. I hardly ever wear it, why would I? I train with my pistol more than my rifle despite owning an AR factory.
How You SHOULD be Training
If you need to work on your basic physical fitness then that is your first step. You need to develop a mentality of training for the fight you are likely to get in. You should be able to mix high intensity interval training with your range time if possible. I realize that the rules of most public ranges forbid this but for starters try running some 70 yard sprints and busting out some push up sets....Now go to your backyard and do a few presentation drills and mag changes just to see the difference. Find a spot on your back wall and try doing some dry-fire training when your hands have a little shake in them.
You should also start learning to shoot on the move and using cover to shoot from. Vehicles and walls can keep incoming rounds from hitting you but only if you can make it to them quickly. This is where the physical part of fitness is important. Being able to move your body quickly is much harder when you have a pistol in your hand. Try laying on the ground with a handgun in your strong hand and getting up real fast to run. Now try it with a rifle.
Start thinking about having to fight hand to hand while armed and unarmed. Muzzle strikes and other non-lethal means of controlling people are absolutely necessary when shooting them isn't. You CANNOT develop the attitude of shooting your way through all your problems. Develop the confidence of only using the force necessary by stressing yourself in realistic training.
Just to Get Started
Just for an example I am going to give you a quick range scenario that might make things a bit more interesting for you. This is similar to a long gun shooting exercise that is used currently to test shooters who do this for real.
Start at 400 meters from the target with 4 magazines of ammo between 6-12 rounds each for rifle and three mags for pistol between 3-8 rounds each.
- Start Your Time
- Run 200 meters to the 200 meter line- Shoot 4 rounds standing/ 4 rounds kneeling
- Run 100 meters to the 100 meter line- Shoot 4 rounds standing/ 4 rounds kneeling (change mags as needed)
- Run 50 meters to the 50 - 2 rounds standing/ 2 rounds kneeling
- Run 25 meters forward- shoot until your long gun is empty/ transition to your pistol 4 rounds
- walk to the 10 putting 3 rounds on target while moving, holster your weapon
- strong hand draw your weapon and shoot a failure drill (2 chest-1 head) continuing through at least one mag change
- continue until you are out of pistol rounds 2 round drills from the holster
From 25 meters with your sidearm and at least two full magazines
With a holstered pistol and magazines secured on you do 5 Burpees (link) draw and fire two rounds, check your surroundings and reholster. Move forward from a draw and shoot 2 aimed rounds center-mass while moving to the 10 yard line. Do 5 Burpees and and draw and fire 2 aimed rounds to the head. Reholster
Move back to the 25 yard line and repeat until you're out of rounds or cannot function safely anymore.
Yes I know it looks dumb. It isnt cool. Neither is being dead because you cant do a mag change when you are tired. This is the kind of thing that we do when we all get together though. I cant remember the time we all got in line and just shot at a paper target. Almost everything we do is dynamic.
I don't want to burst anyones bubble about how things really go down, but real life isn't like the movies and real fighting hurts like hell. Even when you are good at it you sometimes end up hurt. Reality needs to steer where your training goes, not some preconceived notions about what you think you need.
A firearm is just a tool that you can use to help defend yourself and others. Guns are just inanimate objects without a trained and willing hand behind them. To be effective in a real fight and come through the other side alive you must be willing and able to defend yourself with a gun or without one. To train for the fight you are most likely to get in you should assume that both armed and unarmed conflict is going to happen. Be ready for both through realistic and harsh training.