Too often I find that skilled shooters who don’t have an understanding of situational awareness, or don’t think about it or practice it enough, will fail under a little bit of stress at the range. Failing at the range is fine, but failing during a real world defensive encounter is quite another thing – and something that is often over (sometimes with deadly consequences) before the blissfully unaware even know it has started.
If situational awareness is the skill to identify a threat, then tactical readiness deals with the advantages you’ll need to capitalize on in order to defeat an imminent attack: Things like speed, approach, tactics, and control. If a firefight cannot be avoided, wouldn’t the best time to prepare for how to act be right now?
Here are five key principles tied to the concept of tactical readiness that you should closely examine in your training sessions, remember and add to your tactical repertoire.
1. Rapid response
It’s one of the things I find myself repeating the most when I’m training students: Speed matters. Speed and distance matters,speed and draw matters, speed and set up matters, speed and accuracy matters. No matter how you look at it, the unifying theme here is speed. If speed was the ruler that the Old West gunslinger was to be judged by, very little has changed today. It all comes down to how quickly you can react and successfully perform all the little ancillary moves conspiring to slow you down. Here are a couple of examples:
How many times have you failed to take your weapon off “safe” before attempting to pull the trigger? Next time you are at the range and this happens to you, take a moment and just say to yourself “I’m dead”. On an AR style platform, for instance, shooters should rest the thumb of their shooting hand on top of the safety selector switch (yes, even for southpaws who don’t sport an ambidextrous-safety selector). Pistol shooters (who carry with the safety on) need to practice removing the safety with every round they draw and fire to the point that putting the weapon on “fire” becomes an automatic, muscle memory response.
What about when you have to conduct an immediate action drill in the event of a misfire / failure to feed? Malfunctions need to be dealt with quickly and efficiently to get you back in the gunfight as soon as possible. Regardless of whether it’s with a semi-auto pistol, a shotgun or an AR-15, the malfunction clearance needs to happen up high, at about shoulder height.
Malfunctions and reloading should take place in the vision of the shooter, where he/she can get back on target quickly. By dropping your hands (and weapon) down low to deal with the problem, both the gun and your eyes will be taken totally off target. The half-second it takes to raise your gun and acquire the target may be your last.
2. Action v. Reaction
An action is inherently faster than a reaction, so it stands to reason that being reactive puts self-defense shooters slightly behind the power curve. This presents a bit of a paradox for the defense minded becausethe law of the land often demands that the victim is the reactive party. Though overzealousness can lead to serious legal consequences, there are skills that tactically ready shooters can foster that can even the playing field.
The most important of these is to spot the threat as soon as possible and this comes with developing situational awareness – that six sense or warrior’s gift that tells those in tune with their surroundings who and what to watch. But beyond identifying where and who the threat is, it’s almost just as important to have a strong grasp of your terrain and situation. An understanding of these two elements will dictate your tactics.
In support of this, remember and practice the three-foot rule. If you are facing a threat and you are 3-feet away from cover (not concealment), get there ASAP. If not, engage the threat if necessary. Shooting while moving to cover is a great option here(throwing a little firepower at an assailant will likely force him to seek cover himself) and you definitely don’t want to be OTF – Out There Flapping – all alone without cover when someone has the potential to use a gun against you.
Do not fall victim to the thinking a gunfight will be like a Mexican stand-off (seen far too often in the movies), with you and another guy standing with guns pointed at each other wondering who’ll shoot who first. Gunfights are dynamic so get to cover and know how to use your weapon well.