By Jim Weiss and Mickey Davis
While all law enforcement officers train to become proficient shooters, top marksmanship skills are a requirement for SWAT officers. Learning the skills and tactics to dominate the criminal element within appropriate force levels is a formidable challenge. Competitive shooter, firearms trainer and Florida-certified instructor Todd Salmon recently taught a course on deadly force shooting skills.
Florida Bullet, Inc. (www.floridabullet.net) and SPEER sponsored the course and provided the frangible ammunition. The use of frangible ammunition allowed officers to shoot right up to point blank range on high quality MGM Triple Dropper Targets—reactive, multiple-hit steel targets supplied by Mike Gibson Manufacturing (www.mgmtargets.com).
Todd Salmon is a 25-year veteran of law enforcement (SWAT) with over 4,500 hours of advanced police training. His former department, Cape Coral, Florida Police Department awarded him a Medal of Honor for actions performed during an armed conflict. He is also a world-class competitive shooter with five national championship titles in 3-Gun shooting. Salmon additionally has won the USPSA Overall Rifle Championship title and the Shotgun title two times each, and has placed in the top ten in the World Championship 3-Gun Matches seven times since 1997. He and his partner, Bennie Cooley, are the current World Sniper Team Champions. Practical shooting is his training environment. Todd is presently employed with Total Control Training (www.totalcontroltraining.com), in Brandon, MS. Todd believes that shooting accurately is a science with established mechanics, while shooting fast accurately is an art form.
This SWAT Round-Up course was for people who like to shoot, offering good trigger time and skill refinement, including shooting on the move with multiple shots and targets. Participants were required to shoot 300-500 rounds during the fast-paced course. As mentioned earlier, the MGM Triple Dropper/Slider targets were used. They simulate a threat wearing body armor. While shots on the chest and shoulders were recognized, only head shots would make the target slide down a series of notches and eventually cause an orange post to indicate that the threat had been neutralized. Depending upon the levels at which the targets were set and where the officers placed their shots, it sometimes took several rounds to accomplish neutralization.
Most law enforcement agencies probably practice point shooting at silhouette targets that are large, compared to the drop-plate targets used in this course. Drop-plate targets allow officers to get immediate feedback on their actions through the visibility of the bullet impact, sound of the hit and reaction of the target as it moves when hit properly. The head shots needed to make the targets drop dictated the reference of sights in all but the closest targets. With additional stimuli of hearing and seeing hits, officers receive positive feedback, leading to proper performance.
The value of laser training was emphasized as a useful tool in teaching shooters proper draw and presentation and to quickly index on targets. Salmon uses Crimson Trace lasers effectively in assisting his students to clean up trigger manipulation. The laser accentuates and allows the shooter to see the movement of the pistol while the trigger is being pressed, as well as seeing the value of smooth trigger manipulation while focusing on the threat in CQB (close quarters battle). Like everything else, lasers have their limitations.
However, misinformation and a tendency of some shooters to stay with what they know keeps lasers from being more widely accepted as a standard tool on firearms. Lasers are not meant to replace traditional sights and they do not cause officers to forget how to use sights. Salmon prefers lasers that are a steady beam rather than pulsating, because flashing lights tend to draw the eyes to focus on the beam. Lasers are simply a tool that enhances training and shooter performance, especially in CQB and low light situations where most law enforcement confrontations occur.
For CQB, Salmon teaches center power positioning (isosceles) and sight reference; that is, gross motor skill utilization and performance from a natural fighting position. At five to ten yards (CQB range), the focus is on the threat. The pistol is pushed out in front of the face where the entire top of the slide can be used as a sight reference. An aggressive isosceles stance will occur naturally. Students should not allow themselves to get lazy and start standing up straight and pushing their hips forward when training. Under the stress of a gunfight or personal attack, most officers will go into a crouch with a widened stance, lower center of gravity and aggressive posture. Time, distance, and cover allow for more traditional sighting techniques. The biggest challenge to pistol shooters is mastery of the trigger. Only when trigger control is mastered can the pistol be mastered, including shooting from awkward positions.
Some of the range commands to engage targets included: “fire,” “gun,” and “neutralize.” By varying fire commands, conditioned responses, such as simply hearing the word “gun” are not factors in an officer automatically firing his weapon. Starting positions on the firing line varied and included “low ready,” the shooter was ready with the weapon’s muzzle pointed toward the target but below the line of sight; “hands high guard,” the shooters’ hands were up just below the line of sight but in an extended protective position, standing “interview stance.”
A sequence of commands was sometimes used. For example, they might be “draw, low ready, center mass four rounds, then neutralize.” Todd stressed the importance of officers staying in the fight until the targets were dropped. He also instructed them to keep the pistol up, with the target covered, instead of immediately holstering it. “Scan” and “tuck to center” were commands given before the pistols were holstered. This brought the weapon below the eye level, tucked into the chest with the muzzle still covering the target. Officers then looked right, left and over their shoulders in a 360-degree scan before holstering.
Trigger Control and Grip
Other areas addressed during the course included: officer down drills, street level tactics, pivot and sidestep drills, slow precision shooting, combining shooting and movement and primary and secondary weapons transition and reloading. All of these were taught with an emphasis on sight reference and trigger control. The FBI has identified trigger control as the top problem shooters must overcome. While various techniques were demonstrated, the students could select what worked best for them. When problems such as anticipation and jerking the trigger were observed, Todd offered sound advice and workable remedies.
Todd recognizes that there is more than one way to accomplish a task. Therefore, he mentioned thoughts from other known shooters such as Brian Enos, author of Practical Shooting: Beyond Fundamentals. According to Enos, shooting accurately requires three elements. 1) See a target, 2) See the sights and align them correctly, 3) Keep the sights aligned through the pull of the trigger. (The third element is where most problems occur.) Salmon agrees that it is that simple. For pure accuracy, sight focus is essential.
In real-life tactical/action shooting, whoever is the fastest with hits on target wins. This is where martial skills come into play. The most important factor in control while shooting fast, is establishing a proper grip on the pistol. Establishing a high grip and giving the pistol the proper support from the reactionary hand are both essential in managing recoil and maintaining control of the pistol for fast, accurate shooting. Salmon prefers pistols that have a low bore axis and stresses keeping the slide low to the forearms when the pistol is being fired. As important as trigger mastery is to accuracy, grip is to speed.
Combining Shooting and Movement Drill
The targets used in the class were stationary, steel-plate targets. The students did not walk erect, but rather stayed in the basic aggressive stance and glided heel-to-toe parallel to the targets. Keeping the feet apart for stability and balance instead of bringing them together in the traditional “Groucho” style of glide was encouraged. Shooters had limited time to make shooting decisions and to engage a line of targets.
Todd recommended keeping the handgun punched out while moving with the upper body stabilized, while absorbing the shock of the ground in the legs and hips. Avoid crossing the feet if moving laterally and walk forward and pivot at the waist. Focus on the threat. If a shooter can shoot accurately while on the move, he is already ahead of the criminal’s capabilities. While reloading, students were encouraged to keep their guns out in front of their faces and to always watch the bad guy. Also, a weapon held high in this manner could deflect an incoming round away from the head or upper body.
Pivot and Sidestep Drills
In these movement exercises, the participants turn their heads, pivot, plant their foot, draw and fire. The pivot was done with body weight on one foot, which stayed grounded. For safety, the shooters drew and fired their weapons after the pivot was made and when they faced the target. This drill may also be conducted with the shooters drawing as they pivot. Sidestep drills had the participants face their target, slide two steps to the right and fire two rounds, then slide two steps to the left and engage their target with two rounds.
The old NYPD Stake Out Squad member Jim Cirillo developed this tactic. It is an option for officers who have been knocked down in a fight or trip over furniture, children, dogs or rubbish. It uses the officer’s legs as armor by keeping them tucked toward the threat and providing cover for the rest of the body; hopefully the legs are more treatable than taking hits elsewhere. In doing this survival shooting technique, the shooters leaned back until they were almost lying on their backs with their heads away from the target, and their arms and weapon toward the target as they aimed and engaged it.
To begin, the course participants faced down range, made ready with their guns aimed down range and then dropped down on their posteriors. Three methods could be used: 1) shooting from inside the shooter’s two legs, 2) shooting over the top of the legs, or 3) placing the legs together and shooting from along side one of them. When shooting from a traditional prone position, participants were taught to go to their knees first, draw and go prone and to avoid shooting from the support of the body’s hard points such as the elbows. Negative considerations for shooting from prone include the fact that bullets tend to follow flat surfaces and can skip up into a prone shooter. Skipping bullets are also a consideration for shooters who like to drop to a knee for reloading. To counter this, it was recommended that the shooter go to cover if available. The same use of cover is also true for going into a kneeing position during urban combat. While going into such a shooting position reduces the officer’s profile, it is also a liability unless the shooter is behind cover. Remember, shooters have a tendency to shoot high when firing from the prone position. Todd’s class also incorporated competitions such as a relay race in which a shooter’s partner ran to an ammunition source and brought back a loaded magazine, keeping the shooter in ammunition. Stress induced from competition can be valuable in training.
Improving Stale Techniques
Surprisingly, many outdated techniques were seen on the range. These included: standing up straight when shooting instead of staying aggressive and keeping a wide stable platform; failure to follow through after shots were fired; low grip with the strong hand or poor support from the reactionary hand in gripping the pistol; and using the tip of the trigger finger for combat shooting. To bring shooters up to speed, Todd’s coaching concentrated on shooting from center, using gross motor skill techniques to stay with the power center and using an aggressive isosceles stance. Todd advocated the use of aggressive gross motor skill techniques, while maintaining a position that brings the pistol to center in front of the face to maintain sight reference. For fast and accurate handgun shooting, think outside of the box. Keep the mind open. Stop using antiquated reference guides that were written years ago. Watch professional action and tactical shooters and learn shooting techniques from them. It only makes sense—they are the best shooters in the world. Take what they can show you about speed and accuracy, and mold it into real life technique. Watch videos of real gunfights and see what worked and what did not. Review what officers and deputies in your own area have done in situations and figure out how to prevent making the same mistakes, while maintaining the positives. To train for the fight, one must learn from fights of the past. Never kill your warriors in training. Don’t teach officers to quit. Even if hit, they must stay in the fight. Practice for game day. Train to survive.