We turned to a dec­o­rated war vet to pro­vide tips on re­al­is­tic, prac­ti­cal train­ing. By Chuck Tay­lor

Once the fun­da­men­tals of com­bat shoot­ing are un­der­stood and the shooter has de­vel­oped his skills ap­pro­pri­ately, it’s nat­u­ral that he seeks to el­e­vate his knowl­edge and abil­i­ties to higher lev­els. Yet, sur­pris­ingly, a stu­dent oc­ca­sion­ally comes to me who, due to a mis­im­pres­sion of their ac­tual abil­ity, seeks to by­pass ba­sic in­struc­tion.

This is a very dif­fi­cult per­sonal sit­u­a­tion re­quir­ing tact and diplo­macy, be­cause, while mak­ing ev­ery at­tempt to avoid of­fend­ing him, this kind of prospec­tive stu­dent must be ad­vised that for max­i­mum tac­ti­cal, crim­i­nal and civil li­a­bil­ity pro­tec­tion, this isn’t a good idea. How does this hap­pen?


All train­ing pro­grams, even those teach­ing the so-called “Mod­ern Tech­nique” of hand­gun­ning, are not the same, and the build­ing of skill to higher lev­els is gen­er­ally a step-by-step process, based on the build­ing-block prin­ci­ple. As such, best re­sults can be ob­tained only if

the stu­dent has al­ready re­ceived “the com­plete pack­age” of fun­da­men­tal (ba­sic) skills and aca­demic knowl­edge, some­thing that is by no means univer­sal within the train­ing in­dus­try.

In many cases, I have found that stu­dents who have re­ceived their lower-level in­struc­tion from other sources are un­able to keep up with those who have trained with me all along. This not only pre­vents the stu­dent him­self from re­ceiv­ing max­i­mum ben­e­fit from the course, but it also slows down the class and may even cause a safety haz­ard to the stu­dent and oth­ers.

For this rea­son, in this age of con­stant li­a­bil­ity con­cerns, nei­ther the stu­dent nor the in­struc­tor can af­ford to make as­sump­tions about the stu­dent’s skills—all it takes is a sin­gle in­ci­dent to open the flood­gates of lit­i­ga­tion. For the most knowl­edge and skill in re­turn for your time and ex­pense, it re­ally is best to start at the ba­sic level with a rep­utable, pro­fes­sional trainer/school and, at least un­til you have reached an ad­vanced level, stay with them.


To say the least, ad­vanced com­bat pis­tol­craft is highly chal­leng­ing and, for the most part, fo­cused more to­ward the tac­ti­cal as­pects of shoot­ing. With­out a doubt, at this level, the prospec­tive stu­dent has a wide va­ri­ety of in­struc­tors and schools from which to choose. How­ever, when de­cid­ing from whom your more ad­vanced train­ing should come, be cer­tain that it is based upon a realworld per­spec­tive.

By “real world,” I mean that the ba­sis for the in­struc­tion should be real-world ex­pe­ri­ence rather than be­ing the­o­ret­i­cal or com­pe­ti­tionori­ented. Cer­tainly, no one can suc­cess­fully claim that top-level com­pe­ti­tion shoot­ers are not ex­cel­lent shots—this goes with­out say­ing. But, their reper­toire of skills and in­struc­tional fo­cus is to­ward win­ning pis­tol matches, rather than knock­down, drag-out gun­fights. And there is a dif­fer­ence, is there not? A big dif­fer­ence. In fact, the two are like night and day.

This be­ing the case, make cer­tain that the in­struc­tional pro­gram you choose is based on a real-world per­spec­tive, cre­ated and taught by in­struc­tors who know what deadly ac­tion is re­ally like, and who un­der­stand its many nu­ances and foibles. Taken in­di­vid­u­ally, these might ap­pear mi­nor, but when they sur­face in a self-de­fense en­vi­ron­ment, they can quite lit­er­ally make the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death— yours.

Yet, in too many in­stances, the im­por­tance of shoot­ing fun­da­men­tals is not pro­por­tion­ately em­pha­sized. Re­gard­less of the tac­ti­cal prob­lem you are fac­ing, if you do not pay care­ful at­ten­tion to what I face­tiously call, “The Three Se­crets” of com­bat shoot­ing—sight align­ment, sight pic­ture and trig­ger con­trol—you will

be sorely (and pos­si­bly ter­mi­nally) dis­ap­pointed with the re­sults.


From the very be­gin­ning of their train­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, stu­dents should uti­lize the weapon, am­mu­ni­tion and equip­ment they in­tend to carry in their daily ac­tiv­i­ties, also some­thing of­ten ig­nored these days. In­stead, too many uti­lize weapons, hol­sters and an­cil­lary equip­ment geared to­ward good per­for­mance on a fir­ing range in­stead of the real world. From an in­struc­tional stand­point, tar­gets, too, should be re­al­is­tic and var­ied, to ex­pose the stu­dent to the widest pos­si­ble ar­ray of visual im­pres­sions.


Next, the mat­ter of mul­ti­ple tar­gets. Any ad­vanced train­ing pro­gram should in­clude ex­po­sure to not only typ­i­cal con­fronta­tions—sin­gle tar­gets in the open, for ex­am­ple— but also to mul­ti­ple tar­gets in var­i­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions. In a lat­eral con­fig­u­ra­tion, the best bet is to en­gage tar­gets from the fir­ing to sup­port­ing side, hit­ting each one with a sin­gle shot into the tho­racic cav­ity.

This com­pleted, bring the weapon down to “ready” and as­sess the sit­u­a­tion. Any­one still func­tion­ing in what you con­sider to be a lethally ag­gres­sive fash­ion should, of course, be re-en­gaged, but as a “fail­ure to stop,” mean­ing that you change your tac­tics and go for the head with sub­se­quent shots.

Why shouldn’t you con­tinue to shoot him in the chest? Be­cause it does not usu­ally work in fail­ure-to-stop sit­u­a­tions. What hap­pens in a fail­ure to stop? Put sim­ply, in slightly un­der one sec­ond af­ter the ini­tial trauma is sus­tained, in­vol­un­tary ner­vous sys­tem shut­down (an au­to­matic phe­nom­e­non com­mon to all mam­mals) oc­curs, elim­i­nat­ing the tar­get’s sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to shock.

As ap­plied to a mul­ti­ple-tar­get sit­u­a­tion, by the time you have shot your at­tack­ers once each, con­sid­er­able time has elapsed, and the ner­vous sys­tem is closed down, so shoot­ing for the chest again is largely a waste of time and am­mu­ni­tion.

A fail­ure to stop can also oc­cur with a sin­gle tar­get, even though you have hit him with two quick shots in the chest in­stead of only one. If the ner­vous sys­tem is not over­pow­ered by the trauma of the ini­tial wound, the tar­get can, and usu­ally will, con­tinue to func­tion for an in­de­ter­mi­nate pe­riod, of­ten as though he were un­in­jured. Given his abil­ity to con­tinue pro­ject­ing deadly force dur­ing this time, shoot­ing him in the chest again and again usu­ally has lit­tle or no im­me­di­ate ef­fect—he feels noth­ing be­cause his ner­vous sys­tem has al­ready be­gun its pro­tec­tive process.

If we do not go to an al­ter­nate plan of ac­tion, we can only wait for “hy­draulic fail­ure,” a term used to de­scribe the point at which, due to his wound(s), the tar­get’s blood


pres­sure drops be­low that re­quired to re­main func­tional. The prob­lem is that the length of time re­quired for this to hap­pen is un­pre­dictable, so if you have a fail­ure to stop, to con­tinue shoot­ing the tar­get in the chest while await­ing hy­draulic fail­ure is not a vi­able al­ter­na­tive. There­fore, the con­cept of “keep shoot­ing him un­til he goes down” is a dan­ger­ous fal­lacy.

To il­lus­trate, here is an ex­am­ple. In the in­fa­mous 1985 Dade County, Florida in­ci­dent in which two FBI agents were killed and three more se­ri­ously wounded, the felon who did all the dam­age had been shot through the brachial artery and heart with a 9mm 115-grain JHP dur­ing the first few sec­onds of the en­counter.

Both were fa­tal wounds, yet he con­tin­ued to func­tion for quite a long time, dur­ing which he was able to tra­verse con­sid­er­able dis­tances and, in the process, suc­cess­fully en­gage mul­ti­ple FBI agents. Had he been hit in the cranio-oc­u­lar area (eyes/ brain cav­i­ties), this could not have hap­pened.

Thus, com­mon sense and tac­ti­cal ne­ces­sity re­quire that you aban­don the old tac­tic of shoot­ing each tar­get twice be­cause, given the sit­u­a­tion in­volv­ing the ner­vous sys­tem, it sim­ply takes too long to suc­cess­fully per­form. Mean­while, while you can deal only with one tar­get at a time, each of those mul­ti­ple as­sailants has only one tar­get to hit—you— and will most likely be do­ing so si­mul­ta­ne­ously. So, a compromise must be made be­tween the max­i­mum stop­ping power po­ten­tial of a quick, con­trolled pair of shots and the need to hit each tar­get quickly.

If the tar­gets are spread out in a lin­ear (lon­gi­tu­di­nal) for­ma­tion, step­ping in line with the near­est tar­get as you present your own weapon places him di­rectly in his com­pan­ion’s line of fire, ob­struct­ing their view of you and, to them, con­fus­ing the is­sue. This has the ef­fect of chang­ing a mul­ti­ple­tar­get prob­lem into a series of sin­gle tar­get en­gage­ments, al­low­ing you to max­i­mize your weapon’s stop­ping power po­ten­tial by hit­ting each tar­get twice in the chest, in­stead of only once.

Once the near­est tar­get is neu­tral­ized, step clear to the left or right and en­gage the re­main­ing tar­gets on the move as they be­come vis­i­ble, which also makes you a more dif­fi­cult tar­get to hit. Then, as pre­vi­ously dis­cussed, lower your weapon to ready, as­sess the sit­u­a­tion and re­spond ac­cord­ingly, based on what you see.


In ad­di­tion to lat­eral and lin­ear mul­ti­ple tar­gets and nor­mal-size tar­gets in the open out to 50 me­ters or so, the stu­dent must be able to

present his weapon and hit small tar­gets at close ranges, from both the ready (gun in hand) and from an open or con­cealed hol­ster. Typ­i­cal sit­u­a­tions in which the need for this abil­ity might oc­cur are: fail­ures to stop, tar­gets be­hind cover or con­ceal­ment, tar­gets at odd an­gles, and ve­hic­u­lar sit­u­a­tions. In each in­stance, only a part of the tar­get is vis­i­ble and thus sus­cep­ti­ble to ef­fec­tive in­com­ing fire.

In ad­di­tion, he must be ca­pa­ble of deal­ing with the night­mar­ish sit­u­a­tion we all wish to avoid—the hu­man shield or hostage sce­nario, where only small por­tion of the hostage-taker’s head is vis­i­ble—yet the ac­tions of the hostage-taker man­date im­me­di­ate ac­tion. As un­pleas­ant or “po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect” as it may be, to avoid ex­pe­ri­enc­ing prob­lems like this and em­pha­siz­ing eas­ier sce­nar­ios in­stead won’t pro­vide the stu­dent with a suf­fi­ciently re­al­is­tic per­spec­tive to ex­pect him to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion “out there,” where the bul­lets fly both ways and real peo­ple—per­haps you or your loved ones—get hurt when things go wrong.


An­other is­sue gen­er­ally over­looked is the need to be able to shoot through open­ings of dif­fer­ent sizes and shapes. Here at CTASAA, we deal with this by plac­ing such open­ings both in front of the stu­dent and in front of the tar­get, as well, forc­ing them to change their an­gles of fire and main­tain max­i­mum tac­ti­cal flex­i­bil­ity al­ways. In other words, they must think on their feet.

We also deal, in con­sid­er­able depth, with shoot­ing from un­com­fort­able po­si­tions and the quick use of the kneel­ing po­si­tion to change the an­gle of fire up­ward in a crowded sit­u­a­tion, to min­i­mize the dan­ger to non­in­volved per­son­nel near the tar­get. Pro­vided the shooter can as­sume it quickly and uti­lizes it cor­rectly, kneel­ing is very use­ful for sup­port of the fir­ing arm when en­gag­ing tar­gets at longer dis­tances or when you wish to make max­i­mum use of avail­able cover or con­ceal­ment.


Yet an­other ad­vanced train­ing is­sue is the ten­dency to “crowd” cover, a grave er­ror nearly al­ways over­looked by most in­struc­tors and schools. Viewed his­tor­i­cally, this prac­tice came from us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial or sim­u­lated bar­ri­cades on the train­ing or com­pe­ti­tion range and, though in­valid, has over the years spilled over into the realm of tac­ti­cal shoot­ing.

The fact is that those who crowd cover in­crease their risk of be­ing struck by ric­o­chets, par­tic­u­larly when that cover has a re­silient sur­face, as does, for ex­am­ple, the body of an au­to­mo­bile. Po­si­tion­ing your­self at least 7 feet back from such cover al­lows ric­o­chets to pass over­head in­stead of strik­ing you in the face.

Though at times it seems to be a best-kept se­cret known only by a few train­ers, it re­ally is not. It’s just one of the many things that in­struc­tors with a real-world back­ground know about and those whose back­ground and re­sul­tant train­ing pro­grams are based upon the­ory or com­pe­ti­tion can­not. Yet, its im­por­tance is ir­refutable.

An­other rea­son many in­struc­tors fail to deal with this is­sue is be­cause they have mis­un­der­stood the FBI study in


which it was de­ter­mined that bul­lets ric­o­chet­ing from a solid (non-re­silient) sur­face—con­crete, brick, cin­der blocks, etc.—would as­sume a rel­a­tively flat tra­jec­tory par­al­lel with that sur­face and would con­tinue to travel downrange at a height above the sur­face of be­tween 6 and 15 inches.

The key here is the term, “solid sur­face,” which is a to­tally dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion from a re­silient sur­face, where bul­let be­hav­ior is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Un­for­tu­nately, it has been ar­bi­trar­ily as­sumed that pro­jec­tile be­hav­ior on a re­silient sur­face will be the same as on a solid sur­face, a dan­ger­ous er­ror, con­sid­er­ing its po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic consequences.


Since most of us spend a great deal of time around au­to­mo­biles, we em­pha­size shoot­ing from both parked and mov­ing cars and how to best exit them in a tac­ti­cal en­vi­ron­ment. There are many the­o­ries on how this is best ac­com­plished, but the plain truth is that there is only one way to do so— use a real car and pro­ceed from there.

If the ve­hi­cle is mov­ing, you will quickly find that vi­bra­tion and up-and­down mo­tion from the car pre­vents ac­cu­rate shoot­ing, un­less the shooter uses his body to cush­ion mo­tion by po­si­tion­ing his fir­ing-side leg un­der him on the seat, press­ing his fir­ing shoul­der against the top and rear area of the win­dow frame. Only in this way can the shooter’s arms re­main un­af­fected.

Stu­dents should know how to ap­proach and deal with tar­gets in and around cars and how to ric­o­chet bul­lets un­der­neath and across the hood, roof and trunk to hit tar­gets on the other side. And, again, the only way to gain a use­ful per­spec­tive on this sub­ject is to get down and dirty and see what hap­pens.


Of­ten, at the more ad­vanced lev­els of in­struc­tion, at­ten­tion to ba­sic tac­ti­cal prin­ci­ples are ig­nored in fa­vor of the raz­zle-daz­zle of high-speed shoot­ing and move­ment. This, too, is a grave er­ror and one which should, at all costs, be avoided. Ba­sic tac­ti­cal doc­trine—use of the eyes and ears, re­main­ing as far away as pos­si­ble from dan­ger ar­eas as the ter­rain and/ or build­ing struc­ture al­lows, avoid­ing close-con­tact with cor­ners, keep­ing

one’s bal­ance, use of the sights when ac­tu­ally fir­ing if at all pos­si­ble, and pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to chan­nel­ized ar­eas—can­not be em­pha­sized enough. To be the “Fastest Gun in The West” means lit­tle, oth­er­wise!


Since most hand­gun fights these days oc­cur be­tween sun­set and sun­rise, ad­di­tional at­ten­tion must also be paid to shoot­ing in low light en­vi­ron­ments, both with and with­out a flash­light. In our on-site ad­vanced pro­gram, we al­ways in­clude shoot­ing house and “jun­gle lane” ex­er­cises in the evenings, in ad­di­tion to nor­mal low light drills on the range. There is sim­ply no bet­ter way to ac­quaint the stu­dent to the prob­lems in­her­ent to low­light shoot­ing, than to ex­pose him to as many of its vari­a­tions as pos­si­ble.


These are some of the ad­vanced con­cepts you should ad­dress when en­deav­or­ing to reach your high­est po­ten­tial as a com­bat shooter. A clear per­spec­tive on what train­ing is all about, in con­junc­tion with an in­tel­li­gent, real-world choice of the source from whom you re­ceive it, will take you a long, long way.

More­over, as much of this text dis­closes, at the more ad­vanced level, the cor­rect ex­e­cu­tion of seem­ingly ex­otic or small things makes a great deal of dif­fer­ence when the chips are down, and your life hangs by a thread.

In fact, they can make all the dif­fer­ence, be­cause it is not just prac­tice that makes per­fect. Only per­fect prac­tice makes per­fect. So, do your­self a fa­vor. Take a re­al­is­tic, prac­ti­cal ap­proach to your ad­vanced train­ing, be­cause if you do not, you might well be un­wit­tingly set­ting your­self up for a li­a­bil­ity dis­as­ter.

Whether it ap­pears as tac­ti­cal, crim­i­nal or civil li­a­bil­ity does not mat­ter—the consequences of ig­no­rance can take many forms but con­sti­tute a catas­tro­phe nonethe­less. As such, you owe it to your­self to get the best, most prac­ti­cal train­ing you can find, from some­one with a real-world tac­ti­cal, rather than com­pet­i­tive back­ground. I don’t think you’ll re­gret it, and it just might save your life! TW


Real- world skill means be­ing able to shoot through open­ings of dif­fer­ent sizes and shapes. At the au­thor’s academy, CTASAA, they teach stu­dents to change their an­gles of fire and main­tain tac­ti­cal flex­i­bil­ity.

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