The fact that you deploy a handgun in defense of yourself or another means you were faced with an actual or potential imminent deadly threat. Based on this premise, there is a reasonable expectation you may be injured during the course of this high-stakes encounter—especially considering you will be reacting to the attacker’s action.
Several years ago, at a SWAT conference, an inner-city ER doctor who had treated hundreds of gunshot victims told me that approximately 80 percent of handgun wounds are survivable. (Similar statistics can be found in various studies available online). The doctor reasoned that if you have been shot and have the wherewithal to comprehend you have been shot, there’s a good chance you will be among the 80 percent who make it.
However, in order to tilt the odds in your favor, you’re going to need to do one of two things without delay. If you are injured and the threat is still present, there’s no time for self-doubt or even self-aid. Assuming you’re ambulatory and you have a reasonable avenue of escape, putting as much distance and cover (objects that will stop bullets) between you and the assailant would be ideal. After all, the sooner you get to a hospital, the better your chance of surviving whatever traumatic injury you sustained. However, escape may not be an option, for a number of reasons.
If you thought you could escape, that would’ve probably been your plan A—unless, of course, you decided to intervene to prevent others less capable of defending themselves from being injured or killed. In such case, sustaining a gunshot wound might not deter you. In any event, when escape is not feasible, it’s go time.
Unfortunately, this is the time when, despite your injury, you will need to perform at your best. While it’s impossible to anticipate every eventuality in a deadly force encounter, you must train your mind and body to respond appropriately should you become injured. Mastering physical techniques for overcoming injury in a gunfight is important, but they take a backseat to your will to win the encounter.
Defeating an opponent is largely a matter of will. Sometimes the mentally tougher boxer will beat his technically superior, physically stronger opponent. The more talented boxer may not be as willing to get hit, for instance. And as Mike Tyson so eloquently stated, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Getting punched in the mouth (especially by Mike Tyson) would be bad enough, but imagine being shot, stabbed or struck with a baseball bat.
When you are hit, regardless of what by, you need to be even more resolved to fight back. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself or dwell on the pain. You need to shift your focus to what you are going to do to him and launch a counterattack so overwhelming that the assailant looks for a way out.
Make sure your training is fostering the aggressive mindset that’s required. For example, if you have the opportunity to take part in airsoft training (or have invested in airsoft gear on your own) and you get hit with a marking cartridge, don’t stop, don’t automatically take yourself out of the fight. Keep going, acknowledging you know have sustained an “injury” that’s going to affect how you are able to operate.
Your training should include strategies to develop the physical skills to shoot while injured. There are several range drills that can enable you to simulate various injuries and their subsequent limiting repercussions. The only limiting factor to training to overcome injury is your imagination and safety constraints. What follows are some items to consider.
Vision is, of course, a critical component in the ability to shoot a handgun, and in defensive handgunning, it’s best to aim with both eyes open. This affords you a wider field of view and helps mitigate tunnel vision. However, one of your eyes may be debilitated during a fight—be it from a punch, blood, pepper spray or some other factor. If your non-dominant eye is non-functional, no big deal, but when your dominant eye fades to black, you could have a problem.
A simple way to train to shoot without the use of your dominant eye is to completely cover the lens of your shooting glasses with tape. Sure, you could accomplish the same thing by closing your dominant eye, but the tape is cheat-proof, and believe me, if you miss your target, you will be tempted to peek. You will likely find that turning your head slightly to your gun side will help to align the sights with your non-dominant eye (and it will give you some empathy for cross-eye-dominant shooters who are, for example, right-handed but are left-eye dominant).
An injured eye can make it difficult to aim your gun, but how can an injury to your hand or arm affect your ability to fight with your gun?
If you’ve ever shot a target depicting someone holding a gun or other weapon, you’ve probably noticed there was a cluster of bullet holes around the weapon and/or the hand that’s holding the weapon. I found this effect to be even more dramatic when encountering the target is a surprise to the shooter (as would be the case when “slicing the pie” around a corner).
The reason guns, knives, clubs, etc., are shot is because they are what the shooter is focused on when he or she presses the trigger. What this means to you, as a defensive handgunner, is that when you draw your gun in response to a deadly threat, there’s a good chance the bad guy will be focused on your gun when he shoots. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon you to train to shoot one-handed.
An injury to your non-dominant hand is much less of an issue than an injury to your dominant hand. Without the use of your non-dominant hand, your draw, presentation and even firing are exactly the same except your non-dominant hand isn’t able to help support the gun. When your dominant hand is taken out of the fight, however, you will need a plan. Here it is.
Assuming your dominant hand/arm was injured before you drew your gun, reach across and grab the grip of your gun and remove it from the holster. If you can’t reach the gun, grab your belt and slide it toward your non-dominant side.
When you draw the gun from the holster, you will be holding it backward. If you’re standing, placing the gun between your knees momentarily will allow you to roll your hand over and achieve a proper shooting grip. If you’re on the ground, simply set the pistol down and pick it up with a proper grip.
Even after you’ve achieved a proper shooting grip, shooting accurately with your non-dominant hand is challenging, and it’s something you need to work on. In training, you can hold a bucket containing rocks or other heavy objects in one hand to simulate that hand/arm being disabled—as illustrated in the lead photograph for this article. The added weight makes moving and staying balanced more difficult, which adds to the value of this drill.
Being shot in the lower extremities may result in the temporary or permanent loss of motor function to one or both of your legs. If you’re unable to bear weight, your only option may be to scurry toward a position of cover while still having to engage the assailant.
Have your training partner duct tape your legs together and practice scooting away from a threat while shooting. It’s unlikely your rounds will be supremely accurate, but that’s not the point. Your goal (aside from being safe while training) should be to get rounds on target to facilitate your movement to cover.
One commonality with gunshot wounds and stab wounds is bleeding. Have your ever shot a pistol with bloody hands or while dripping sweat or in the driving rain? In each of these conditions, your grip on your gun can be compromised. If you haven’t experienced this, you need train for it.
One way to replicate shooting with a compromised grip is by slathering some baby oil on your hands and gun. Then practice drawing, shooting, reloading and clearing malfunctions.
Dave Spaulding of Handgun Combatives uses this drill in his courses to make sure his students are achieving a proper grip on the slide of their pistol before cycling it. Here’s a hint. If you attempt to cycle the slide with only your pinky finger and the heel of your hand, you may not be happy with the results. [Ed. note: We strongly advise against training with an intentionally slick gun containing live rounds, unless it’s part of training overseen by a professional instructor.]
These are just a few of the mental and physical components of training to fight through an injury. There are a lot of other things you can and should practice such as reloading and clearing malfunctions one-handed. You should also train to shoot from the various disadvantageous positions you could find yourself in while injured—from your back, on your side, etc.
You can even combine “injuries” to really challenge yourself. Engage a target with your dominant eye covered and while holding a bucket of rocks with your non-dominant hand, for instance.
Of course, you have to crawl before you can walk. Adhering to the crawl, walk, run approach, you should have a solid grasp of firearm safety and shooting fundamentals before even considering these types of drills. Getting ahead of yourself is detrimental to your progress and just plain dangerous.
Train with an inert training gun or an airsoft gun or through dry-firing (with or without dummy rounds). This enables you to get a feel for the techniques in a safe environment.
If you can’t do them without breaking any of the four cardinal rules of gun safety—all guns are always loaded; never point a gun at something you’re not willing to destroy; be sure of your target and what lies beyond it; and keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire—do not attempt any of this with live rounds. Instead, find a training professional to assist you in these techniques.
In a deadly force encounter, there’s a good chance you’ll be injured. This doesn’t mean you are going to die. When injured, your only option is to dig deep and push past the pain and doubt to stop the deadly threat that faces you.Don’t expect this mindset and skill-set to come to you mysteriously mid-fight. Train to make it happen.