Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April Event Report

This month the Utah Polite Society went to the dogs . . . and to a restaurant. We had a really interesting set of drills and scenarios this month. Our first had a drill that gave each shooter a chance to practice drawing and shooting while seated and scenario involving a restaurant robbery while you're seated at a booth. The other drill gave people a chance to practice getting off the X and moving away from the assailant and a scenario that allowed you to put these skills into practice against a rapidly approaching canine target. We also had a great discussion about personal rules of engagement and when to get involved in a violent situation that doesn't threaten you directly, which inspired Harold Green's recent blog post.

Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit
Our first exercise this month gave people a chance to practice drawing and shooting while seated. You start off on a bench, facing a target about four yards away. While remaining seated, draw and fire until you've neutralized the target. After the first string, we rotate the bench 90 degrees to the right, so the target is to your left, and you have to draw and fire on it again. After turning the bench around so the target is on your right, it's time to shoot one more time.

After a safety briefing that emphasized not sweeping your legs when drawing (particularly when the target is on your support side), we got started. Perhaps the most consistent thing I noticed people doing on this drill was when we turned the bench sideways, a lot of people decided they really wanted to sit on the end of the bench nearest the target, rather than in the center. Everybody's looking for an edge, I guess. One yard of range really doesn't make that much difference for this drill, but I think scooting down to the end changed the drill in another way. Folks who sat at the end of the bench tended to swing their legs around to face the target before shooting. Folks who shot from the middle of the bench ended up shooting across their bodies when shooting to the support side and shooting one handed to the strong side. Facing the target makes things easier, but it may not always be possible (in a restaurant booth, for instance).

Check Please!
Our next scenario put you in that restaurant booth, with an armed robbery occurring at the cash register a few yards away. This was inspired by an armed robbery that took place at a restaurant a few blocks from my house. I've eaten there occasionally, so it inspired me to think about what I'd do in that sort of situation. To complete the booth effect, we put a table in front of the bench and put a sitting height target directly across from you simulating your dining partner (a friend or significant other). Downrange there were 2-3 assailants and at least one no-shoot target (simulating the cashier). A pair of barricades delineated the entrance to the kitchen, marking one possible exit. You could also exit by going directly downrange past the cashiers station. The target stand with the dining partner was loose, rather than clamped tight, allowing you to grab the target and drag them to safety.

When I was explaining this scenario I asked Harold Green to give his "Who are you willing to defend" spiel. He didn't know I was going to do this, so I kind of ended up putting him on the spot (sorry Harold). This is a complicated issue, one deserving of a blog post of it's own, but it boils down to this: are you willing to put your financial future, your freedom, and your life on the line for the clerk in a convenience store? How about for a casual acquaintance? For a close friend? For a family member? This is a complicated issue, and the answers are going to be different for different people, but the important thing is to think about this and make your decisions beforehand. The worst possible decision here is not to consider the issue. You do not want to start weighing the pros and cons in the middle of a holdup. This led to about 15-20 minutes of very good discussion among the people there, and while it delayed our getting started I think it was really worthwhile.

After getting everyone pondering their moral and ethical obligations to their fellow man, we got started with the scenario. The scenario started with me yelling the robbers demands. To simulate what we'd just been talking about I generally escalated the robber's threats from just being against the cashier to threatening everyone in the restaurant.

We had a fairly high number of new shooters this month, so I noticed a lot of typical new shooter mistakes. The number one new shooter error we see is shooting too low. We use our own custom scoring zones on targets. They're based on the "golden triangle" principle and are located quite a bit higher than the zones on typical IPSC or IDPA targets are. There is a 5 point zone about the size of a fist directly over the heart and a 4 point zone about a handspan across around it. This is where the important stuff is in a human body (heart, major arteries). Hits anywhere else in the torso are only 1 point. This means that hits that would be in the A zone of an IPSC target or one point down on an IDPA target are only worth one point on ours. Since nine points are required to neutralize, low hits aren't really going to get you anywhere. To make thing even more difficult we cover the targets with t-shirts both so you can't see the scoring zones (bad guys don't come with bullseyes) and so you can't see whether you've hit it. New shooters, used to targets that let you hit them a lot lower, often shoot a nice tight double tap in the sternum, for a grand total of two points.

That double tap brings up the second most common new shooter mistake, which is failing to shoot the target enough times. The combination of small scoring zones and the t-shirt makes neutralizing one of these targets a pretty demading task. Even excellent shooting skills won't necessarily save you, since the t-shirt means you have to guess where the "X" ring is. Again, bad guys don't come with bullseyes on their chest. New shooters generally put 2-3 rounds into each target. Folks who have been shooting with us for a while average 4-5. I generally get no more than three targets out of the 14 rounds in my Glock 21, and I've been known to burn through an entire mag on just two. This, of course, is one of the reasons we use small scoring zones and t-shirts in the first place. Pistol bullets are not good stoppers and one or two hits probably aren't going to immediately physically incapacitate an assailant. The challenging nature of our targets is intended to ingrain the habit of shooting more than once or twice.

Aside from the usual new shooter mistakes, most folks did pretty well. With one exception, nobody shot their dining partner. A great many people probably deafened them (at least temporarily) by shooting past their head though. Some folks ran off without their spouse or used them for cover (I sense a divorce in their future). One of our more experienced shooters did shoot his dining partner, but he had a good excuse. Someone decided to have a little fun at his expense and hung a threat indicator around the wife's neck (it wasn't me, I swear). He'd shot all the other targets and was dragging her off when he noticed the cardboard gun. He seemed a bit puzzled, but decided to put a round through the target for good measure.

For a couple of people we put a cardboard sheriff's star on one of the targets along with a threat indicator, simulating an officer responding to the robbery. As usual, a few folks ended up shooting the cop. Again, it's important to pay attention to what you're seeing, not just to look for what you're expecting to see (in this case, a cardboard gun).

7 O'clock Rock

Our other drill involved getting off the X away from a threat. This is something a lot of us learned in Gabe Suarez's class last year, but we've gained a fair number of new shooters since then who have never done it (and the rest of us could always use a refresher).

When facing an assailant armed with a contact weapon like a knife or a baseball bat, you want to create as much distance between you and them. Optimally, you'd like to stay out of arms reach entirely, but barring that, you want to give yourself as long as possible to stop them with your handgun. It might seem like the logical thing to do is to run directly away from them, but it's not. Running directly away makes it difficult to get your gun on target and it simplifies the pursuer's task. Running away at a slight angle makes your job easier and the assailant's a little harder. If you imagine a clock face, with the assailant at 12 o'clock, you want to run in the 5 o'clock or 7 o'clock directions.

I've used the word run so far because that's exactly what you want to do. In some action shooting competitions you see shooters moving (including backing up) in a shuffling sort of half crouch. This provides a very stable gun platform, but it's not going to do much to keep you away from a charging assailant. You also don't want to be backing up. Trying to run backwards is an invitation to trip and fall, which will leave you lying on the ground with the assailant about to run over you. If you hit the back of your head hard enough, it may even leave you unconscious on the ground at the mercy of your attacker. Instead, you want to point your toes in the direction you're going and move as quickly as possible. The key here is quick, explosive movement.

If you're a right-handed shooter, shooting while moving in the 7 o'clock direction is fairly simple. Just point your feet back and to the left and twist your torso around to shoot one handed. Shooting right handed while going to the 5 o'clock direction, on the other hand, is almost impossible. There's just no way to get your upper body twisted around enough to shoot with the right hand. If you have a choice it's easiest to go to 7 o'clock (or 5 o'clock if you're left handed) but sometimes that may not be possible because of some sort of obstruction.

If you have to go to the other direction, the best strategy is to transfer the pistol to your support hand and shoot one handed from that side. We demonstrated a technique for transferring the pistol smoothly and quickly while minimizing the risk of dropping it.

I was busy running the other drill, so I didn't have a chance to shoot this exercise or see anyone else shoot it.

The 21 Paw Rule
The 21 foot rule is a rule of thumb that's taught to police officers. Anyone within 21 feet armed with a contact weapon can be on you in less time than it takes to draw and fire a pistol. The Tueller Drill, created by Salt Lake City police officer Dennis Tueller, is intended to demonstrate this. A moving target is placed 21 feet away and is pulled towards you. The goal is to get your pistol out and engage it before it reaches you. This scenario does essentially the same thing, except we used a simulated dog rather than a human looking target.

Harold put together a pair of rolling targets in the shape of a dog. Some folks thought they looked more like ducks or sheep than canines, but I think he did a really nice job.

We gave each person at least two chances to shoot it. The first time you stand and deliver, remaining still and just concentrating on drawing and firing as quickly as possible. The second time, you apply the get off the X technique from the previous drill. This gives you considerably more time to engage the simulated canine.

The dog really does come at you fast. The first time through I had both my cover garment and a jacket on and I wasn't able to get my gun out before the dog blew by me. I wasn't alone in this either. One guy kicked the dog as it went past. Once I discarded the outer jacket, I was able to engage the dog before it got to me, but I only got one round into it before it got too close. When I switched to getting off the X, I was able to get two hits on it before it reached me (one of them right through the head).

Shooting the dog is a lot harder than shooting a human sized Tueller target. It comes at you faster and it's a lot smaller and lower, making it harder to hit. Couple this with the fact that an aggressive dog is likely to continue attacking even if he's hit and 21 feet starts to seem awfully close.

I was a bit worried that the dogs would get all shot up, particularly the wheels. Since they're so much shorter you're shooting a lot closer to the wheels than on the Tueller target. Cujo held up pretty well though, at least until Robin Hood decided to try the drill with a shotgun.

Overall I think this month was really successful. Things went smoothly and everyone seemed to enjoy both the restaurant and dog scenarios. I also think the new shooters learned a lot, and I hope some of them will be back in June.

Speaking of June, just a reminder that our May event will be preempted by the Gunsite class. Our June event is going to be an all-day affair, with pistol practice in the morning and the first session of our summer rifle series in the afternoon. I'm really looking forward to doing some rifle work.

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