Stand, Move, or Seek Cover?

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Stand, move, or seek cover? What works in a gunfight? Greg Ellifritz decided to run a little experiment — using “Code Eagle” brand paintball cartridges in .38 revolvers:

In the first phase of the experiment, shooters were given orders to fire their two rounds at each other as quickly as possible after a surprise start signal was given. I instructed the students to remain stationary during the simulated gunfight. Absolutely no movement of the feet was allowed. Phase two was identical to the first phase, except that students were allowed free movement (forward, backward, or lateral) after I gave the surprise start signal. In phase three, students started a step away from one of two fifty-five gallon steel drums. These drums were to simulate cover. On the start command, students were instructed to move to their steel drum and use it for cover while engaging their respective adversaries.

A total of nineteen students participated in the experiment. One hundred fourteen rounds were fired, with thirty-eight rounds fired per phase. I tracked and compared hit percentages during all three phases, differentiating between hits on the torso and the more peripheral hits on the arms and legs. The data are as follows:

Phase Hit Rate Torso hits
Standing 85% 51%
Moving 47% 11%
Using Cover 26% 6%

The students who participated in my study were as surprised by the results as I was. We all expected that movement and the use of cover would reduce the hit rates of the rounds fired. We were astonished, however, at how much difference moving and seeking cover made. The difference in hit rates between standing and moving cannot be explained away by a lack of skills by the shooters. Each shooter had extensively practiced shooting on the move, with most being able to hit a twelve-inch steel plate on demand any distance inside of fifty feet while moving. Similarly, these students are adept at hitting a moving target while standing still. The critical factor seemed to be the difficulty the shooter experienced in hitting a moving target while moving his own body at the same time. This clearly identifies a need for additional training and highlights the critical importance of making yourself a moving target during a gunfight. If highly trained shooters hit their opponents’ torsos with only eleven percent of rounds fired, imagine how much worse the average street thug with no training and minimal experience will perform under similar conditions!

It is also clear that when students used cover they fared even better than they did while moving. The hit rates would be far less than reported if several students didn’t break cover and retreat after running out of ammunition during the drill. Most of the hits occurred when this happened. Proper use of cover almost eliminated the chance of being hit.

One other critical statistic needs to be noted. Thirteen percent of the hits across all phases of the experiment struck the hands or guns of the person at which they were fired. This indicates a strong focus on the threat being directed against the shooter and a lack of attention to the front sight, creating some implications for future training. These shooters are strongly indoctrinated in the use of their weapon sights for most shooting situations. Even when shooting fast, they generally utilize a “flash” sight picture when shooting on targets. Even with extensive practice, very few students reported seeing their sights in this experiment. Not wanting to bring up the dreaded “point shooting versus sighted fire” debate in this forum, I’ll simply say that we as trainers need to do some more work. We need to find a better solution to allow our students to hit their targets with a greater percentage of rounds during the stressful, fast-evolving nature of a gunfight. Whatever that solution is, be it training in point shooting techniques, an enhanced sighted shooting curriculum, or stress-inoculating scenario-based training, it is our collective responsibility as trainers to find it.

It was interesting to note that some of the shooters in the above experiment shot with only one hand despite doing the majority of their training from a two-handed platform. When asked why they had done this, most were unaware that they had fired one-handed. Their bodies seemed to be on autopilot, self-selecting what was perceived to be the fastest way to get their guns on target. This fact, combined with the prevalence of hits on the hands or guns of the shooters indicates that we should focus much more of our time training one-hand shooting, hand transitions, and support-hand shooting techniques. We should also emphasize the importance of carrying secondary weapons in case our primary gun becomes inoperative after taking a bullet.