This month, we will look at several of the specific tactical situations encountered at the National Tactical Invitational (described in last month’s article “A Series of Moral Problems”) which are just like problems you might encounter any time you are using a firearm defensively.

If you are ever in a situation where you are tempted to search a building, even your own home, for someone who may be hiding there with intent to harm you, my best advice is: don’t.

Building searches are simply too dangerous to be done by one relatively untrained person.  When police do this maneuver, they generally have at least two officers, more if possible.

But, there are always situations where you have good reason to move through a dwelling rather than ensconce yourself and call the cops.  Perhaps you are trying to make it to your child’s bedroom before the intruder does.  Perhaps you need to get to a telephone located in another part of the house.  Perhaps there is a fire burning behind you.  You make up the reason.

Now, let’s look at some specific tactics that can keep you alive.

Stay Away from Walls and Corners

It seems natural to hug the wall as you search an unknown area where a hostile person may be hiding; it feels comforting and secure to be physically touching the structure of the building.  But it is dangerous.

First of all, it is noisy to go sliding down a hallway with your back or shoulder pressed to the wall, and why should you be telegraphing your position and progress to your enemy?

Secondly, in real buildings, particularly homes, there is seldom a long stretch of empty wall.  Pictures, bookshelves, posters, bulletin boards, and furniture will impede your progress considerably if you try to stay close to the walls.

Third,  if you have your back toward the wall, you may have to turn through three quarters of a circle when you come to the corner; this is slow, and invites dangerous overswing that will make you miss your target.  If you are facing the direction you are moving, you will have to move your gun muzzle at most 90 degrees when you get to an intersection of a hall or room.

But the last and most important reason is that the closer you are to a corner, the harder it is to peek around it.  This point was brought home at the NTI by one stage that involved a building clearing, part of which is illustrated in Figure 1.

Moving down the main hallway, the problem was to deal with any hostile targets around the corner to the right.  Participants who thought they were quite far enough from the wall when they peeked around the corner from position A could see a humanoid target, apparently neutral, just outside the window.  A no-shoot situation, right?


Moving 1

Figure 1.  Staying far away from the wall that is providing cover gives you the best view of what is around the corner.

Wrong.  The target was actually holding a gun in its left hand, high up and close to the body, so that the muzzle was right between the edge of the window and the body of the target.  From position A, you could see 90% of the target, and it was easy to assume that you had seen it all.  Upon detailed debriefing, the stage judge showed that from position B the line of sight that still used the corner for cover would have included the entire edge of the window, revealing the gun.  Many shooters, including several in my squad, failed to engage this target because they were standing in the wrong spot and couldn’t see all of it when they peeked around the corner.

Get Off the Line of Force

What do you do when confronted by multiple assailants, say three mean dudes with guns, at close quarters.  This awful situation is illustrated in Figure 2.

Moving 2a

Figure 2a.  Don’t just stand there!

Most people would either give up, or, hoping that the rule of “action beats reaction” doesn’t apply to them, they would draw and fire at all three assailants ASAP.  Unfortunately, the third assailant will have plenty of time to fire his gun (it takes less than half a second) while you are drawing and firing at the first two.  In fact, it is pretty likely that several of them will be able to shoot you while you are busy shooting them.

But there is a better way.

Moving before (or while) drawing and shooting will surprise your attackers.  They expect you to be where you were a moment ago, and that’s where they’ve aimed their guns.  If you take even one medium-size step to the side, from A to B in Figure 2b, they will MISS you if they are firing at the place they expected you to be.  Even if they try to track your movement, each one of them has to move his gun through a considerable angle, and, as we all know, shooting a moving gun at a moving target is a good formula for a miss, even at close range.


Moving 2 b


Figure 2b.  Stepping from A to B forces assailants to re-aim.

Like “take cover”, the rule “get off the line of force” is a combat universal.  Whenever you are faced with an attack, particularly at close range when your opponent has already started to bring his weapon (gun, knife, club, or hand) into play, it is MORE important for you to MOVE than to go for your own gun.  And it is moving sideways, not directly backward, that gets you off the “line of force” from the attacker to your original position.

If you can go for your gun as you move, so much the better, but the most important thing is to MOVE so that the attacker will have to redirect his force in order to harm you.  That redirection takes time, and  increases the chances that he will miss you.

Hide and Peek

The use of cover is one of those topics that you might think you’ve mastered if you have been to a class where you shot around the right and left edge of barricades.  Not so.

The effective use of cover is a never-ending learning experience.

Most real-life environments present some tricky decisions about when and how to use cover, and when to move from one position to another.

As with walls and corners, objects that can serve as cover (desks, couches, chairs, cars, mailboxes, etc.) should not be hugged.  By staying as far back as possible, you get the best view possible of the surrounding area, while still taking advantage of the cover to shield you from shots fired from most of the area in front of you.

Of course, the actual tactical situation will dictate whether you need to be close to the cover to be shielded from shots from above, but in general, the farther back, the better, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Moving 3

Figure 3.  You can see more of the room from B than from A.


Cover, Cover, Everywhere

Take a good hard look around the room where you are right now.  If you had to hide from someone breaking in, where would you go?   Your childhood hide-and-seek experience might make you think first of curling up into a ball right next to a sofa or large chair.  But if you are defending yourself with a gun in your hand, you don’t just need to hide, you need to be able to see trouble coming before it gets to you.

Most rooms offer a number of options for cover (which means enough protection to stop a bullet) or concealment (which means only being hidden from view, not protected against bullets).    An afghan thrown over you on the floor could be very effective concealment.  A file cabinet full of paper, or a book shelf full of books would make excellent cover.

Hide right behind a big object such as a chair, and notice that you can’t see much of the area in  front of it.  Imagine that you have a gun in your hands; the chair will get in the way of moving the muzzle safely from one side to the other.  Now back up a couple of feet, still crouching down.   Notice how much more of the area you can see at the both sides of the chair, and how much easier it would be to cover both sides with a gun.

Could you create better cover by tipping a table or a bookcase over?

Practice going from one room to another, very slowly.  Notice that if you hug the wall as you try to go around a corner or through a doorway, you will probably feel very vulnerable, and will at least momentarily be in a position where it would be hard to bring your gun onto a threat.

Now try the same room-to-room exercise, staying well away from the walls and corners.   If you go slowly enough to be sure that you aren’t exposing yourself to an adversary, you should be able to give a thorough visual check to the room you are about to enter, while having your gun ready to use at all times with a minimum of movement.

Once you have the basic moves down pat, you can play “Find the Cover” anywhere, anytime.

In a restaurant, on your way to the ladies’ room, walk slowly (but naturally) and visually clear each area before you enter it.  When you are back at your table, look around to see where good cover would be if you need it.

In an office building you are visiting on business, notice, on your way in, where the exits are.  Before the elevator door opens on the floor you want, prepare yourself to glance around completely to assess the area you are stepping into.  During a slow time in one of those interminable meetings, look around and ask yourself where you could take cover if all hell broke loose in the hall outside.  Where would you stand, and how would you check the hallway to see if it was clear?

Exercises such as these are not paranoia. These exercises are simply the one-person equivalent of a civic organization laying out plans for evacuating your city in case of emergency.  Nobody calls civil defense workers paranoid because they rehearse for disastrous situations that are, in fact, quite unlikely to happen.  They are prepared, not paranoid, and you can be prepared, too.


This article appeared originally in the October 1997 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright © 1997 Lyn Bates