“What makes someone a gunfighter as opposed to a shooter?” In regards to my tactical training, people often ask me this. When I give my response, they seem surprised when I tell them they won’t need to enlist or adopt multi-cam as their signature color. First, let’s start by saying that there’s nothing wrong with being one or the other. You can be a shooter without being a gunfighter, but not the other way around. However, understanding what these terms mean—and the difference between the two—just may cause you to rethink how, where and why you train.
There are lots of shooters out there—some good, some bad, some exceptionally skilled. They are recreational shooters and casual enthusiasts, competitive marksmen, hunters, military and law–enforcement personnel, and champion 3-gunners. Great shooters know the fundamentals of marksmanship: Stance, grip, site alignment, site picture, trigger control, breathing and follow–through. That being said, among this group of shooters, there are very few gunfighters. This is not because being a “gunfighter” is an exclusive club. To the contrary, I wish there were more of us.
In defining what makes a gunfighter, the application of a shooter’s skills into an operational environment is key. When I say “operational environment,” I mean the environment in which the shooter expects to have to employ his/her weapon, under threat, in uncontrived conditions.
“The single woman who is trained in the use of her concealed-carry weapon … is just as much a gunfighter as a soldier on the battlefield.”
The single woman who is trained in the use of her concealed-carry weapon—including having developed the situational awareness, mindset, and the physical and functional skills required to employ her weapon in a dark parking lot as she walks to her car, for example—is just as much a gunfighter as a soldier on the battlefield. While each has a markedly different level of experience and training, both must train the skills necessary to employ their firearm within a particular operational environment—often with their life on the line. Whether you own a gun for home defense, employ a weapon in the military or law enforcement, or are a concealed-weapons carrier who seeks to protect yourself and those around you when things hit the fan—you need to have the fundamental skills of a gunfighter. In order to do this, you have to train like one.
MAKINGS OF A GUNFIGHTER
In the Marine Reconnaissance community, it was understood that every member of my four- to six-man team would possess the physical and mental attributes to accomplish our mission. Our training cycles typically lasted 18 months—from start to finish—prior to deploying to some third-world country, often into an active combat zone.
Weeks were spent on the flat range, in “shoot houses” and on live-fire and maneuver ranges. In addition to weapons training, we honed our skills in areas like patrolling, using communication equipment, insert/extract capabilities and controlling air assets. There was a saying that was constantly drilled into our heads as we trained: A Reconnaissance Marine had to be the best at doing one thing: Shoot, move, communicate!
Those three words—presented as a single concept—would remain indelibly imprinted like a jingle that you just couldn’t get out of your head. Those three words encompassed everything we did as Recon Marines, and have shaped the way I train others—military, law enforcement and civilians alike.
THE 3 TENETS
Shoot: In order to be a capable gunfighter, the fundamentals of marksmanship, as well as weapons manipulation, should be addressed on a daily (or nearly daily) basis. For those of you who are already formulating excuses in your head, getting to a range every day isn’t necessary—you can do this at home.
Conducting “dry practice” (ensuring your weapon is unloaded and applying the safety rules) is, in my opinion, the best way to develop and maintain a mastery of marksmanship fundamentals and confident, efficient manipulation of your firearm. I remember spending hours in the team room and outside the barracks running through presentation drills, getting into various shooting positions and mentally rehearsing various scenarios with which we might be confronted.
The “flat range” is a safe and ideal training venue to teach and train basic marksmanship, weapons manipulation and individual movement. Once a strong understanding of these three things can be safely executed, it is time to get off the flat range. (More on that later.)
For many gun owners, the “shoot” part of training is where things begin and end. However, without the next two tenets—move and communicate—the important “shooting” skills are lacking context and application.
Move: Let’s face it, enthusiasm is no substitute for capability, and our physical conditioning—or lack of it— is going to affect the way we perform at an elevated heart rate, under physical duress. I’m not suggesting you have to be a marathon runner to be a good shooter—only that you know your fitness level and understand how physical exertion and an elevated heart rate affects your marksmanship. Do you know how your trigger control or site alignment changes after doing a couple 40-yard sprints to reach cover? You only know if you’ve done it.
Just like an NBA player can’t confine his training to shooting from the free-throw line, anyone who expects to employ their weapon outside the flat range needs to train in ways that will prepare them—physically and mentally—for whatever scenario where they are likely to have to use their firearm. I have never been in a gunfight where I wasn’t in blazing heat or freezing my tail off; dead tired; carrying a heavy equipment load; or under some high level of physical stress. While much of my marksmanship training in the Marine Corps was done from the standing position, in combat, I almost never engaged an enemy standing in the open. The few times I did, I regretted it.
“Pay attention to your surroundings, and conduct mental and physical walk-throughs … to rehearse possible scenarios.”
Footwork, positioning, moving to cover or concealment, adjusting to unpredictable terrain, or heavy gear are all elements of consideration for the gunfighter and need to be trained. As an instructor, I incorporate movement into all of my courses. Students who arrive with a ton of “range time” under their belts quickly realize that adding the element of movement and an elevated heart rate makes performing the fundamentals more difficult, and that they would benefit from changing up their training routine to include these things.
Instead of preaching a particular shooting “stance,” I prefer to teach and train the concepts of stability, balance and positioning. Just as an athlete has to maintain a sense of balance while moving and performing more technical skills, a gunfighter needs to maintain form and balance to employ their weapon safely and effectively—whether they are on the move, behind a barricade, avoiding sidewalk curbs, sitting in a car or reaching to a nightstand while lying in bed.
Communicate: We communicate using all five senses. As Marines, we used to say, “Talking too much gets you killed.” When I use the term “communicate,” I use it in a sense that has less to do with talking, and more to do with communicating or interacting with ones environment, oneself and those around you.
Situational awareness, mindset, and individual/team preparation and rehearsals all fall under the tenet of communication. I believe these things should be 80 percent of a gunfighters’ training; however, it is rare to find courses where it makes up even 20 percent of the focus.
Once a shooter can be safe and proficient with their weapon in a more controlled environment, training the fundamentals should move quickly to a venue and context where they can be practically applied.
If my mission is to defend myself and my family in our home, conducting walk-throughs with my spouse and children, determining the type/caliber and location of any weapons, discussing what should/should not happen if they hear a gunshot or suspect an intruder, practicing low-light scenarios—these are all part of the communication that needs to be a part of our training if we want to raise the odds of fending off an intruder while ensuring the safety of other family members in the process.
Now that you know that being a gunfighter has less to do with your job or rank, and more to do with how you train with and employ your weapon, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Mastering marksmanship fundamentals and weapons manipulation is just a first step. Conducting frequent “dry practice” when you’re away from the range (always with an unloaded weapon, employing the Safety Rules) will help keep your skills honed, and allow you to spend more time on practical application when you do get to the range.
Incorporate movement (footwork, changing shooting positions, moving to cover/concealment, shooting with an elevated heart rate) into your training; be able to demonstrate a mastery of the fundamentals under physical duress, and from various shooting positions and shooting platforms.
Pay attention to your surroundings and conduct mental and physical walk-throughs, both individually and in teams, in order to rehearse possible scenarios. Refine your weapon setup and method of carry/concealment to match the requirements of your mission or purpose.
Get off the flat range—train in a venue that mimics your “operational environment” whenever you can. Be a great shooter not only from the 25-meter line, but also in real life.
MASTER HOW TO ACT
Whether you’re a law-enforcement officer, a personal-protection specialist, a homeowner or an armed citizen, training yourself to being aware of your surroundings, and in knowing what to look and listen for in your operational environment, will allow you to act, rather than react, when faced with a threat.
Three-gun competitors get great training in movement, especially footwork and shooting from multiple positions. In my courses, I run a “Point of Domination” drill that teaches a different type of footwork and movement—focused on moving quickly to and from cover, depending on the location of the threat.
Students are required to think about their own operational environments, including the type of gear they wear and their current level of fitness. Scenario-based target engagements and decision-making on the fly require movement to be quick but deliberate, with attention given to the safety and practicality of how they move with and employ their weapon.
I’m always surprised at the amount of time and energy spent in courses and online forums discussing theories and opinions on proper shooting stance. Rather than compare the pros and cons of the Isosceles vs. the Weaver, I prefer to teach and train the concepts of positioning, athletic balance and creating a stable shooting platform.
It is one thing to use one of the above-mentioned shooting stances on the flat range; however, you’re going to find getting into that Isosceles a little more difficult—if not impossible—when you are shooting from an awkward position behind low cover. And, if your first response to an intruder in your home is to show him your best Weaver…well, then you’re missing the point.
A gunfighter understands his or her “operational environment,” trains to utilize cover and concealment, and adjusts to various positions (crouching, sitting, kneeling, etc.) in order to achieve balance and a stable shooting platform.
Buck Doyle, Follow Through Consulting, LLC
Facebook: Follow Through Consulting
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the July-August 2016 issue of World Of Firepower Magazine.