In Firearms Training: Creating Options for the ‘Real World’ I introduced readers to the importance of officers who carry a lethal force option on the job receiving training in combat shooting and began to discuss some of the options available, beyond qualification training, that can assist officers in the operational use of firearms. The discussion continues below.


Tracking means moving the firearm to acquire a new sight picture, most commonly vertical or horizontal, depending on the circumstances. When tracking, move the eyes and firearm together to maintain consistent sight alignment and be prepared to fire once a new sight picture is acquired. Looking first and then moving the firearm may be safer in regard to an unintentional discharge, but it may be dangerous in terms of reactive shooting to stop the threat. Quick and proper assessment, accurate firing and safe handling are all key aspects of tracking.

Horizontal tracking is the process of moving the firearm from side to side on a horizontal plane. Possible situations include when engaging multiple subjects who pose a threat to life and, after firing at the most immediate threat, officers have to track to the next most impending threat, or when engaging a single subject who poses a threat to life whilst moving and officers need to track the firearm horizontally to maintain a sight picture.

Vertical tracking is the process of moving the firearm up or down on a vertical plane. A possible situation may be when the subject has been shot, but he continues to pose a threat to life due to body armour, enhanced physiology (alcohol/drugs), or strong goal orientation despite severe trauma, such that further shots at his torso may not effectively gain control. Tracking down to the pelvic girdle increases the chances of shots hitting and limits the subject’s mobility, whilst tracking up to the head is a more difficult shot but offers a high potential of control. Another situation is when the subject is shot and he diminishes in height, by bending, kneeling or falling, but he continues to pose a threat to life. Vertical tracking in this case may not necessarily involve firing more rounds, but may be used to cover the subject before taking further action.

Movement Dynamics

Movement is a critical aspect of operational skill development. Static drills are important for marksmanship, but once proficient, officers should progress to dynamic drills that involve tactical decisions, such as movement, cover, multiple threats, malfunctions and officer down. Movement should be smooth and balanced to minimise the effect of body motion on the front sight. Keep the knees bent and posture over the feet and transfer weight smoothly across the feet. Officers should move only as fast as they can effectively engage, with trigger discipline until ready to shoot.

The ability to turn smoothly with balance, whilst maintaining operational capability and attaining accurate sight pictures, is an important skill to master. Officers may be required to identify and engage targets from a variety of directions – forwards, backwards, left, right and diagonally. Options for turning include turning with the whole body and/or simply rotating the upper body only.

The concept of fire and movement uses suppressive fire to decrease a subject’s ability to engage officers. It involves organised, coordinated movement in the safety afforded by the suppressive fire laid down on the subject, keeping him pinned down and forcing him to take cover until flanking officers engage him. Trigger and muzzle discipline should be maintained when moving between cover positions, and officers should maintain good balance so they can move and react quickly to a threat in any direction.

It can also be used for tactical disengagement, where officers use fire and movement to cover each other and allow officers to tactically disengage to a safe distance, where they can cordon and contain the situation and wait for responding assistance.

Countermeasures make it harder for the subject to track officers, giving him less of a target to shoot and possibly causing confusion. Countermeasures do not work if officers remain stationary, so they should move tactically in an evasive manner. Be unpredictable. Officers should move from cover to cover and return fire from a different place to where they entered. When firing from behind cover, change firing positions and places. When moving under fire, zig-zag randomly.

When firing around the right side of cover, brace the body on the right side, and vice versa for left, for balance and to avoid unnecessary body exposure. Avoid creating a silhouette and look around objects, not over them. Reload only behind full cover; if proper cover is not available, then be mobile. If officers remain stationary for too long, subjects may employ their own countermeasures, so endeavour to keep moving. Moving and firing at the same time can be inaccurate and slow down movement whilst being exposed. Maintain smooth, stable balance to give a consistent sight picture at all times.

Flanking is effective because of tunnel vision, so officers should continue scanning all around to avoid this. Officers should maintain constant awareness of a subject’s location and avoid getting so suppressed that they lose sight of the subject. Whilst cover is the best protection, officers can use concealment when moving or taking cover to mask their actions from the subject.

Tactical Options

If officers come under fire, they may all take cover until they decide they are not the ones being shot at. However, even once they know they are not a target, they may still be reluctant to move out of cover unless required to do so. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct and, under stress, officers are in pure survival mode and under control of the mid-brain.

Covering fire is used to decrease subject accuracy and can play an important role to control a deadly force encounter because it can deny the subject specific firing requirements, such as officer location, target area and aim point. If the subject cannot shoot accurately it decreases the chance of officers getting shot. Incoming fire tends to encourage people to take cover first and worry about accuracy second.

Preventing the subject from firing is the ultimate goal of covering fire. If the subject is intimidated by officer fire then officers can move with relative safety. Suppression means to discourage the subject from firing accurately. It takes time to acquire a target and aim and, if bullets are hitting near him, he might not be willing to take that time. Accurate fire is what prevails in a deadly force encounter, which is why marksmanship is important.

Covering fire can force the subject to move in a certain way, allowing officers to deliver accurate shots or forcing them to retreat to a position that is more exposed. It can also confuse or distract the subject from officer activity. If the subject is too busy cowering from officer fire they are not likely to notice other officers moving off to the side where they can get control. Distracting the subject with covering fire may give officers more time to aim or get closer.

Accuracy is a key factor to control subjects, as they do not want to be harmed any more than officers do. The rate of fire is also important. Greater incoming fire is more intimidating, but if officers run out of ammunition they are not going to suppress the subject for long. By controlling the rate of fire and firing consistently, officers can keep from running out of ammunition at the wrong time.

Officers should use teamwork to cooperate with each other to locate and suppress the subject, make sure they do not run out of ammunition at the same time and not get out-manoeuvred. Everyone should have an area of responsibility they have to cover (arcs of fire). Officers should know their designated arcs of fire and maintain muzzle discipline when working with other officers to ensure fellow officers are covered and everyone is safe from indiscriminate fire. It also ensures economy of fire, as officers only have to cover their designated arc, trusting that colleagues do likewise. Before engaging in multiple-officer drills, officers must learn to control their arc and rate of fire.

Combat is chaotic, so good communication is critical. Officers should be constantly talking back and forth, telling each other where the subject is, who is doing what, who is reloading, who is firing at who and so on. Any subject movement should draw counter-fire – if the subject sticks his head up, he is shot at; if he tries to fire at officers, he is shot at; if he does anything but cower, he is shot at.

During a violent confrontation, there may not be time for the nuances of precision shooting. On the range, targets do not shoot back. Shooting is a physical and mental discipline that requires practice in order to maintain proficiency. Much of survival depends on mental preparation prior to an actual situation. Without the will to prevail, practising tactical skills may not help officers survive.

Firearms training should prepare officers for a critical incident, but to put the odds in their favour they must prepare properly for such an event. Train beyond the simplistic qualification skills of static marksmanship and create a plan so the event can be practiced before it even occurs. Using alternate options and simple first responder guidelines can save lives. Be prepared.

Richard Kay
Richard Kay is an internationally certified tactical instructor-trainer, director and senior trainer of Modern Combatives, a provider of operational safety training for the public safety sector.