I was a founding member of my agency’s SWAT team in the fall of 1980. The concept of Special Weapons and Tactics was in its infancy, so everything was new and exciting. Much of the information we used to formulate our doctrine of tactics and techniques came from military manuals and the personal military experience of the deputies who made the team. We were quite fortunate to have a Vietnam-era Green Beret as an advisor (he was an investigator for the County Prosecutor’s office), and he single-handedly lead us through the formative period.
Our first uniforms were one- piece jump suits and baseball caps, while our armament consisted of .38 Special revolvers, Remington 870 shotguns and Ruger Mini-14 .223 carbines. Initial training consisted mostly of shooting and physical fitness, while tactics followed as time went by. Our first shooting house was a door frame with 12 feet of plywood wall on each side built into the corner of an earthen berm. We trained for a year before the team was activated in 1981.
It did not take very long before we realized that our internal knowledge was limited and we needed outside help. The regional FBI SWAT team was a huge resource, as was Bill Groce, the lead firearms and tactics instructor at the fledgling Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.
As best as I can remember, it was during the mid- to late 1980s when I was first introduced to shooting on the move by John Shaw of the Mid-South Institute of Self-Defense Shooting (MISS) (www.weaponstraining.com). As most everyone reading this knows, John Shaw is one of the finest three-gun shooters in the history of competitive shooting. Being self-taught in the art of weaponcraft, John opened his school on an acre of ground in the early ’80s, training all comers. Today MISS is open only to military and law enforcement units, as all of the available training time is occupied by these teams due to world events.
I can remember watching John shoot demonstrations and wondering how any man gets as good with a firearm as he was at the time. Today I realize that it takes a lot of time and millions of rounds of ammunition. There is no other way to do it, even with natural ability. Much of what is currently taught in the realm of tactical firearms can be directly tied to John and his staff at Mid-South.
My first lesson in shooting while moving was walking toward a single target while triggering shots from my handgun. I was taught to point my toes outward in what was called a “Groucho walk” (reminiscent of comedian Groucho Marx), as this would flex my knees and hips, creating a shock-absorber-like effect to stabilize the firearm. The reason for this technique was obvious: It allowed the SWAT officers to shoot while they were running their route during an entry. Since entry and room-clearing techniques involve aggressive forward movement, the need for stability when shooting while advancing on your opponent was a no-brainer.
I also remember realizing that performing the drill accurately was easier said than done. One FBI instructor told me, “Forget trying to shoot tight groups while shooting on the move. Accuracy while doing this is any hit on the torso, especially when they are shooting back at you.” As I practiced this drill over time, I began to realize that it was a drill for a specific type of law enforcement and military operation, as doing this keeps you on the same eye/target line as your opponent while making your opponent’s target (you) larger. Speed, surprise, aggression and total commitment to the task at hand would be what would keep you from getting shot when working in the tubular/linear environment that is shooting on the move.
Fast-forward 20 years and shooting on the move is now doctrine in most all defensive shooting courses. But not just moving forward as in an assault, but sideways, backward and diagonally, too. I am not talking about the “Shoot, Move, Communicate” doctrine pioneered by Clint Smith. I am talking about the current trend of trying to teach average folks to trigger shots while they are trying to walk in all directions.
Gunfights are fluid affairs. I have learned from personal experience that when the guns come out, people scatter like rats in a fire, which is a good thing, as moving targets are hard to hit. But are we actually endangering people by teaching them to try and draw a gun and shoot while they are moving away from a threat? This especially concerns me when we are moving in a direction that our bodies are not designed to travel in, like backward. Today it is common practice to teach shooters to “step and drag” or “shuffle step” backward while they shoot. It is commonly called “fighting to cover,” but is it wise?
One of my former basic academy students, Deputy Robert Gates of the Clinton County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office, was one of the officers who bravely shot it out with the white supremacist Kehoe brothers during a traffic stop in Wilmington, Ohio, in the mid-1990s. This gunfight was caught on a cruiser camera and has been viewed the world over. Many who have viewed it have been critical, but only those who do not understand what really happened during the fight. Bob called me after the trial was over and the gag order had lifted to tell me what happened.
At one point he is seen engaging one of the suspects in a close-quarters gunfight (and hitting him multiple times in the chest—not missing, as many surmised, as Kehoe was wearing body armor—an excellent example of combat shooting and keeping one’s head under fire) and then what looked like moving to cover behind the hood of the cruiser. This was not the case. Bob told me that he was trying to move backward while shooting and that he went “ass over feet” and fell in the street. He related to me that it was the scariest part of the fight, as he had no cover or mobility, a sitting duck.
“Don’t try to shoot while moving backward,” Bob said. “You’ll fall. Your body isn’t set up for it.” Deputy Gates was on a paved road with no impediments. What would happen in a situation where curbs, grass, holes or loose gravel got in the way?
A more recent case occurred o
n March 3, 2005, in Schertz, Texas, when Officer Richard Kunz made a traffic stop on a vehicle that was speeding on I-35. Unbeknownst to Officer Kunz, the driver was armed with an AK-47 and a 9mm pistol and was willing to shoot it out. The officer approached the vehicle and asked the driver for his operator’s license. As the driver made a motion similar to reaching for a wallet, the camera shows that he produced the pistol and opened fire. At this same moment, Officer Kunz removed himself from the kill zone that is the driver’s-side window and ran back toward the cover of his cruiser. As he ran, he turned his upper body and fired one-handed in the direction of the suspect. This motion allowed Officer Kunz to continue rapid forward movement, while at the same time cover his retreat. This motion also allowed him to keep track of where he was going with just a turn of his head.
Using a stop watch, I timed Officer Kunz’s movement from the first shots to when he goes off camera as 3.47 seconds. How fast would this movement have been if he had tried to draw his pistol and return fire while he fought to cover? The suspect was already behind some degree of cover when he came out of the vehicle ready to fight with an AK-47. What was more important in this situation, accurate fire or getting away? The suspect unloaded with a torrent of fire directed at the officer, leaving him with no place to retreat. Officer Kunz kept his head (which can be heard in his calm voice on the radio) and returned fire with his handgun, hitting the suspect three times even though the suspect fired more than 40 rounds of 7.62×39 ammo in the officer’s direction.
I have personally seen officers use the same movement used by Officer Kunz, both while under fire and during force-on-force training. It seems to me that this is what a person being shot at will do, not shuffle step to the rear. My question is, if moving backward while shooting is likely to fail and puts us in a disadvantageous position, why are we teaching it? Maybe we should incorporate a movement like that used by Officer Kunz during training.
I recently ran a range drill where I fired on two targets from five to 10 yards while shuffle stepping away vs. turning and shooting one-handed. Guess what? The accuracy difference was negligible; however, the time difference was great. It took me about 1 1/2 seconds to turn and move vs. almost five seconds to fight my way to cover. You do the math.
Except for those who are on entry teams, how much time and energy should we average cops and legally armed citizens spend on shooting while moving? I would call your attention to the writings of Paul Howe, one of the finest weaponcraft instructors currently in the business. Former Sergeant Howe is a veteran of the U.S. Army’s First Operational Detachment Delta and was written about in the bestselling book Black Hawk Down. Actor William Fitchner portrayed him in the movie of the same name.
Howe teaches classes from his facility in Texas (www.combatshootingandtactics.com), which should be on your short list of training courses in the coming year. I know that he is on mine, and I have never met him.
In his article “Training for the Real Fight, or Avoiding Gunfight Fantasy” Howe addresses shooting on the move as follows: “It is a skill that all shooters aspire to learn and spend a great deal of time and effort trying to master. I have 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 did not find an in-between. If I slowed enough to make a solid hit when under fire, I was an easy target, so I elected not to.”
Howe goes on to say, “As for shooting and closing on a target, it only makes the bad guy’s 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 are an easy target and generally in the open. Speed can act as your security in this case to get you to a point of cover.”