Skip to main content

How to Search for Additional Threats — Self-Defense Tips

In a real-life situation, you need to make sure the known threat is neutralized before scanning for unknown threats.

Self-Defense: How to Search for Additional Threats
It’s important to scan and do it right, but you shouldn’t take your eyes off the original threat until you’re certain that threat has been neutralized.

If you’ve ever taken a defensive shooting course, you’ve seen him—the student who, upon firing, immediately snaps his head sharply over one shoulder then the other, as if posing for the camera. Scanning one’s environment for additional threats after a shooting is important, but many people seem to be more concerned with how they look during the scan than what they are actually seeing. Let’s consider the why and how behind scanning.

It’s well established that during a deadly encounter our bodies will undergo numerous physiological changes as part of our hardwired fight-or-flight response. One of the most significant effects is the loss of peripheral vision, a phenomenon commonly referred to as tunnel vision. This occurs because we become hyperfocused on whatever we perceive to be a threat.

Tunnel vision can help us tell if the black object in a person’s hand is a cell phone or a pistol. It can help us block out all distractions and focus exclusively on eliminating the threat we’re facing. But there’s an obvious downside to having a tightly focused field of view. Since criminals often travel in groups, being too focused on one could leave you vulnerable to the others. Hence, the need to scan your environment.

A common error is for shooters to start scanning too soon. Before their front sight has even settled from recoil, they are taking their eyes and muzzle off the target they just shot to search for the next. This won’t cost you on the range when the targets are made of paper, but when the bad guys are flesh and blood and their guns are real, assuming the person you shot is out of the fight could be a fatal error. Only after confirming the known threat is stopped should you consider scanning for more threats.


There are two broad categories of scanning techniques. One method involves turning your head independent of your gun, which remains in a neutral position. The other entails moving your head and the muzzle of your handgun as a unit, with the goal being to always keep your gun between you and whatever threat you may face.


Scanning by turning your head without moving the gun prevents you from potentially pointing your gun at someone it shouldn’t be pointed at. This technique also enables you to keep your gun close to your body, where you are better able to control it than if your arms were extended.

Having your gun at the ready in front of your body allows you to drive the gun directly to a threat. By turning at the waist and looking over your shoulder, you can scan the area behind you.

It’s hard to dispute the validity of keeping your muzzle between you and whoever is threatening you. That’s why many advocate scanning with your gun instead of just with your head. However, when scanning, you obviously don’t know where a threat may be. For example, if you start scanning to the left only to realize there’s an assailant to the right, your gun is far from being between you and that threat.

In such case, you’d have been better off to have your gun in a neutral position, where it’s closer to the threat. Not only would this allow you to get on target faster, it would minimize the likelihood of swinging past the target.




Conversely, if the threat was located in the direction in which you started your scan, you’d be on target faster than if you had scanned with only your gun in a neutral position.

Scanning with your gun and head together may require you to lower your arms slightly to ensure you have a clear view of a potential assailant’s hands and his waist. A weapon in hand can kill, and a weapon concealed along the waist can be drawn in the blink of an eye. When scanning with a weapon-mounted light, bring the gun close to your body and keep it parallel to the ground so you’re illuminating the threat and not the ground.

Since we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads, we are most vulnerable to an attack from the rear. As such, it’s imperative to “check your six.” A good way to reinforce this habit—and make sure the shooter is seeing as opposed to merely turning his head and looking—is for someone standing behind the firing line to hold up a certain number of fingers. If you conducted a proper scan, you’ll be able to tell you how many fingers were displayed.


After identifying a potential threat from behind, you need to get in position to address it. Merely looking over your shoulder leaves you compromised. A better plan might be to step forward into the area you know is safe, then turn your entire body 180 degrees—as opposed to just turning your head.

The former puts you in a balanced position from which to fight. Turning in this manner also creates a buffer so you are moving away as opposed to directly into an attack.

In a real-life situation, you need to make sure the known threat is neutralized before scanning for unknown threats. Make sure you aren’t just posing but actually scanning to find a threat. Finally, make sure you’re in position to defend yourself should an additional threat be detected.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Dealing with Subcompacts

Dealing with Subcompacts

Jim and Rich cover the benefits and the challenges presented by very small pistols.

Taurus G3c

Taurus G3c

Taurus introduces the compact version of their wildly successful 9mm pistol; the G3.

KelTec CMR30 22WMR Review - Compact, Versatile & Fun to Shoot

KelTec CMR30 22WMR Review - Compact, Versatile & Fun to Shoot

Designed for lightweight, low recoil accuracy, the CMR30 .22 WMR features a nice, single-action trigger, ambidextrous dual non-reciprocating operating handles, ambidextrous safety and heel catch magazine release. The KelTec CMR30 is a .22 Magnum carbine that holds 30 rounds in each of its two flush-fit magazines. That's a lot of firepower for a 3.8-pound, semi-auto, collapsible truck gun. It comes out of the box as you see it, including Magpul sights and ambidextrous, non-reciprocating dual operating handles. She's a straight blow-back tack driver that delivers a ton of fun.

KelTec P17 22LR Pistol – Feature Packed, Accurate & Fun to Shoot

KelTec P17 22LR Pistol – Feature Packed, Accurate & Fun to Shoot

If you're in the market for a 17-round, compact .22LR pistol that's feature packed, then the P17 is definitely an option for you. At less than 14 ounces fully loaded, and barely longer than a dollar bill, the P17 is concealable for pretty much anyone. The threaded barrel, Picatinny-style accessory rail, ambidextrous safety, ambidextrous magazine release and three (3) 16rd magazines come standard. That's a lot of value added in such a small package.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Hornady's Subsonic ammo cuts the noise but still delivers the performance.Hornady Subsonic Ammo Review Ammo

Hornady Subsonic Ammo Review

Keith Wood - December 11, 2020

Hornady's Subsonic ammo cuts the noise but still delivers the performance.

Korth's new NXR .44 Magnum is the crème de la crème of revolvers, and it fetches a high price. Is it worth it?Korth NXR .44 Magnum Revolver Review Reviews

Korth NXR .44 Magnum Revolver Review

Brad Fitzpatrick - December 18, 2020

Korth's new NXR .44 Magnum is the crème de la crème of revolvers, and it fetches a high price....

Small, compact semi-auto pistols are popular with concealed-carry firearm buyers, and these two models – the KelTec PF9 9mm and the Ruger LCP II .22LR – are no exceptions. They are effective for personal protection but only if you put in the time to practice.Compact Carry Pistols Are Effective With Practice Training

Compact Carry Pistols Are Effective With Practice

Handguns Staff - August 14, 2020

Small, compact semi-auto pistols are popular with concealed-carry firearm buyers, and these...

The affordable price, reliability and shootability of the Taurus G3c make it a perfect choice for concealed carry.Taurus G3c Pistol Review Reviews

Taurus G3c Pistol Review

J. Scott Rupp - December 23, 2020

The affordable price, reliability and shootability of the Taurus G3c make it a perfect choice...

See More Trending Articles

More Personal Defense

Products that will keep your handguns out of the wrong hands at home and on the road.Handgun Security 2017 Personal Defense

Handgun Security 2017

James Tarr - July 17, 2017

Products that will keep your handguns out of the wrong hands at home and on the road.

Richard Nance and James Tarr debate which type of trigger system is best for a pocket carry gun.This or This? Striker vs DAO for Pocket Carry Personal Defense

This or This? Striker vs DAO for Pocket Carry

Handguns Online Staff - August 15, 2017

Richard Nance and James Tarr debate which type of trigger system is best for a pocket carry...

These seven tips will help stack the deck in your favor to prevent, or at least survive, a carjacking attempt.7 Must-Know Tips to Survive and Prevent a Carjacking Personal Defense

7 Must-Know Tips to Survive and Prevent a Carjacking

Richard Nance

These seven tips will help stack the deck in your favor to prevent, or at least survive, a...

What cops have learned in everyday dealings with criminals can help you stay safe.Personal Defense: Being Street Smart Personal Defense

Personal Defense: Being Street Smart

Richard Nance - September 19, 2017

What cops have learned in everyday dealings with criminals can help you stay safe.

See More Personal Defense

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Handguns App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Handguns subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now