This month we’re back on the range talking patrol rifle and SWAT firearms training. There’s a lot involved with such an instructional effort. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time and space to address them all. Make sure to check out last month’s Train the Trainer article, Pro Tips for the Firing Range. We’re going to hit a few more tips this month, but they are only the tip of the training iceberg.
The good folks at Law Officer and I encourage you to never be satisfied with what you presently know and teach. Look for the next step or the newest technique so you can share them with your students. My brain could never come up with all the pro tips I share unless some good instructors had been willing to do the same for me. In fact, I wish I could spend a couple of days swapping ideas with you so that this could be a two-way discussion.
Shoulder to Shoulder
Normally, range training takes place with some distance between shooters. Although this is good for standard live-fire drills and certainly required for new shooters, there’s another placement to be considered. This alternative is to put patrol rifle officers or SWAT cops shoulder to shoulder.
Here’s the logic: We’re acclimating the students to a close-quarters shooting environment with a partner next to them. Whether in a “T” formation, hunting down an active shooter, or two SWAT cops firing down a hallway at an armed suspect, it’s realistic to train in such close proximity. Important: The first time students experience muzzles going off next to them and brass flying in front of their eyes shouldn’t be during a gunfight.
There are safety considerations that have to be addressed with this approach. One is that hot brass may land on exposed skin—often the neck or shoulder. To prevent this, shooters are told well in advance to button their collars and turn them up or wear something like a high-necked shirt. An alternative is to have them bring towels or similar items to wrap around the neck as protection.
Note: We usually tell our students that if they smell bacon, it’s not time for breakfast. It’s probably hot brass on exposed flesh. There’s an expectation that students will maintain control of their weapons and behavior until the heat subsides. A strong combat mindset requires the ability to think and act appropriately even though your skin has become a “brass magnet.” This admonition should be part of the safety briefing prior to starting close in firing.
A drill to throw into the mix with SWAT as well as patrol rifle training is “The Wave.” If run safely and correctly, it’s a challenging way to gauge students’ accuracy, use of firing positions, communications, tactical awareness and handling stress—all in one package. Note: This is an advanced drill that shouldn’t be run unless the students are capable of safely participating. A review of the weapons handling rules should precede the drill.
The Wave starts with a relay of officers on line at a chosen distance. Each individual shooter’s target is a plain sheet of white paper. The course of fire begins with the long guns loaded and ready. From a standing position, it starts with the command to fire given to the first officer on the left flank who now must shoot three rounds at their target.
Once done, that person has to communicate with the next shooter to the right that it’s their turn. That person can only fire after hearing this. This carries down the firing line to the end. When done, that last student must loudly communicate to everyone this status.
As the wave progresses, the original shooter on the left flank takes a kneeling position, ready to fire again. Once the first phase has been completed, the shooting sequence returns to that first officer. Now three more accurate shots are required from each shooter in sequence until the wave reaches the last officer again. The final firing position is the prone.
Especially as shooters transition from kneeling to the prone, they should be instructed to have their safeties “on.” The reason for this should be obvious: Multiple muzzles are on the move. Although it’s expected that students will observe the Laser Rule, the extra insurance of having the safety on as they do so is just plain smart. (Pro tip: If a student’s muzzle accidentally digs into the ground while getting into the prone, the shooting should be stopped and that muzzle inspected before more shots are fired.)
Each individual fires three shots from the prone. The last shooter communicates when done and the shot timer is stopped.
Along with the built-in peer pressure to get accurate hits, timing the drill adds mental pressure too—especially if we’re pitting one relay against another. If they’ve been accurate, each paper target should have nine hits on it. Each miss adds an extra second to the time score. The winning relay with the shortest time is designated the Class Assault Team and the losers are labeled the Perimeter Team.
A twist that’s even more advanced (and has to be run safely) is to get the next relay involved. In this case, those officers waiting their turn are invited to interact with their brother officers on the line. They can’t touch the shooters, use bad language or range commands. But they’re allowed to verbally harass those on line during the wave drill. This provides additional stress and forces the shooter to focus even harder on what needs to be done. Remember: Accurate hits are the quickest way to end a lethal force encounter.
We often run some form of low-light training. To do this, however, an instructor has to have an even higher level of safety awareness while also making it as realistic as possible. Here are some suggestions.
Count off: Before low-light training starts, consider taking roll by having the students verbally count off. They should then be instructed that if they have to leave the range, they must first check in with the instructor running the low-light drills. They must also check in when they return.
At some point, the shooters will be taken forward to look at their targets. The last person to leave the impact area should be an instructor. Prior to doing so, the target line area should be illuminated to make sure no one else is still present. It’s suggested that the instructor also ask multiple times in a loud voice, “Is anyone down range?”
With no response, the class counts off again to make sure everyone is present on the line and no one is missing before shooting resumes. Although this may seem excessive, these are smart steps in making sure that it’s safe to resume training.
Light ‘em up: I’m not a big fan of students raising their hands when they have a problem on the firing line. It’s a potentially life-threatening practice. Instead, they should be taught to work through a gun glitch as they would have to do in a firefight. But it’s a given that they may need help on the range.
Under low-light conditions, an easy way to pinpoint a student is to include in the safety brief the following instructions: “If you experience an unfixable condition, keep the weapon pointed toward the target, take out a handheld light, hold it behind your back pointing down at the ground and then turn it on.”
This is a better way to get help from the staff when operating in low-light conditions.
Dark targets: An option to make paper targets appear more realistic for low-light conditions is to use black spray paint. Darken the area around the target and then for good measure spray a light black mist over the target. This changes the appearance into that of a suspect in a dark hallway or at night in an alley. You’ve probably experienced something like this for real. Let students experience it first under training conditions rather than in a real confrontation.
Range disco: Another idea for low-light training is to simulate a suspect’s muzzle flash toward the students. Obviously, this isn’t going to really happen on your range, but make it a little more realistic with this technique.
Purchase some strobe lights and electrical cord. Set the strobes on a slow flash sequence and hook each one into a wireless remote control and power source. (You can find these remotes in home improvement stores around Christmas time.) Depending on how many lights you have, position them at regular distances at the base of selected target stands. Instruct the students that the strobes represent hostile fire coming at them and before the drill begins, briefly turn them on to orient the firing line. (It’s a good idea to emphasize that lethal force should be aimed at the target and not the strobe!)
The command to fire isn’t a verbalization. The instructor should instead activate one or more of the lights. This means that some students will be shooting and some won’t. Those who do are expected to use an illumination tool to identify the appropriate target and engage that target. This “range disco” drill is obviously a little out of the box. But done properly, it works. We’ve used it for static firing line drills as well as lateral movement and firing on the move as the students advance and withdraw from the targets.
(Editor’s note: A variation of this can be done by using the overhead emergency lights on a patrol car. While you don’t have individual target lighting, you expose your students to another real-world possibility in nighttime shooting.)
I hope these suggestions prompt you to take your firearms training to the next level. Try them out and if they work, share them with other instructors as well.
Train safe. God bless America.