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Departments : The Winning Edge

Moving While Shooting

When you're in a gunfight it's important to move, so train for it.

May 31, 2015  |  by Michael T. Rayburn - Also by this author

Photo: Michael T. Rayburn
Photo: Michael T. Rayburn

Movement is a common element in any gunfight. Either the bad guy is moving, the officer is moving, or both. Therefore, you need to train in shooting on the move and shooting at moving targets. I know, easier said than done. With tightening budgets, the lack of grant money, and time constraints, it's tough to get a well-rounded firearms program off the ground. Sometimes, it's difficult enough just trying to get everyone's yearly qualifications done, but you have to try.

Now, I'm not advocating moving and leaving good solid cover in the middle of a gunfight, but in reality, how much cover do you really have? I'm sure we can all name the various forms of cover out there—a big tree, a concrete wall, parts of your cruiser—but in reality, how much cover is there between you and the people you interact with on a daily basis? Normally, we don't conduct field sobriety tests from behind a big tree, or handcuff someone while ducking down behind a concrete wall.

We do these things, these functions of our job, in close quarters. We're not patting someone down for weapons at the 25-yard line, which means that our shootings are happening at other distances. Are there officer-involved shootings that happen at 25 yards and beyond? Absolutely, but they are few and far between. The majority of OISs are up close and personal, basically at bad breath distance.

Because of this fact, it only makes sense the majority of our firearms training needs to involve close-quarter shooting drills, and these drills need to involve movement. The courts have ruled on numerous occasions that our firearms training needs to be "relevant and realistic." Does standing static, trying to hit the target at 25 yards constitute "relevant and realistic" when the vast majority of OISs occur at 21 feet or less and involve movement?

Action vs. Reaction

There are a number of benefits to shooting while moving. First, a moving target is a much harder target to hit than one that is stationary. Most bad guys have had no formal firearms training, let alone training that involved shooting at moving targets. Secondly, it lessens that action-versus-reaction gap. Let me throw this scenario out to you and play it over in your head for a minute.

You're at a traffic stop. What you stopped the driver for is irrelevant. As you make contact with the operator of the vehicle in an attempt to obtain his driver's license and other pertinent paperwork, he produces a small revolver from between the driver seat and the center console. You see the gun and begin the process of going through the procedures needed to overcome your level II, III, or maybe even level IV safety holster so you can draw your duty weapon. Who is behind the reactionary curve there? If you raised your hand—you are correct.

If you're not sure what the reactionary curve, or the term action versus reaction means, let me explain it this way. There is a television show that uses all kinds of tricks, sleight of hand, and other responses of the human body to play mind games on people. The one they use to best demonstrate action versus reaction involves placing a dollar bill on a table. They then have an adult, usually the owner of the money, hold his or her hand about a foot over the top of the paper money.

They then have a preteen hold her hand about a foot over the top of the adult's hand. The adult is then given the instructions that he or she is not allowed to move to grab the money on the table (react) until the child has started to make her attempt to grab the money (action). Even though the preteen is twice the distance away and is holding her hand over the top of the adult's hand, she grabs the money every single time.

Action is always faster than reaction.

Now let's play the same traffic stop scenario with the reactionary curve in mind. The bad guy goes for his gun. This time you move while at the same time going for your gun. He now has to react to your movement. You're stealing back some of that reactionary time. We're only talking fractions of a second here, but gunfights are won in fractions of a second. He who steals the most time wins the gunfight.

If possible, move to cover if it's available. The majority of officers who are able to reach cover, and use that cover effectively, survive the shooting incident. It only makes sense that if there is cover available, to use it.

Plan for Cover

The problem with cover is you need to think about it before the shooting starts. In the middle of a gunfight is not the time to start thinking about what is and what isn't cover, and how best to move to it. You need to have that plan worked out in your head long before then. That means you need to constantly be thinking about cover and how to move to it at all times.

The majority of OISs are rapid, traumatic events that happen very quickly, and a lot of times catch the officer by surprise. You may have stopped a car for speeding, not knowing that the occupant is wanted for an armed robbery. On the other hand, the bad guy may have already made up his mind that he's not going back to prison, and is willing to kill you to maintain his freedom.

Although we never let our guard down, we certainly would be more vigilant if we knew the occupant of the vehicle was wanted for an armed robbery, instead of the minor traffic infraction we stopped him for. Because we're sometimes behind the reactionary curve through no fault of our own, you need to constantly be thinking about cover and how to move to it should you need it. That means at every traffic stop, on every approach to a residence for a domestic, or any other call you're on, you need to determine what cover is available, and how to move to it should the shooting start.

Disappearing Act

Even if there is no cover available, you still need to move. For all of the reasons previously listed and for one more; and that is to make the bad guy think you disappeared. A classic example of this is an OIS that was caught on dash cam video in Westerville, Ohio, in November 2013. It's a traffic stop for an equipment violation. The officer does a passenger-side approach.

As the shooting unfolds you can see the officer move to the front of the suspect's vehicle while firing his weapon. The suspect exits his vehicle, and immediately looks to where he last saw the officer on the passenger side of his vehicle, but the officer is not there—he has seemingly disappeared. By the time the suspect realizes the officer has moved, it's too late and the bad guy goes down without ever getting a shot off. Chalk one up for the good guys. Take the time to watch the video on YouTube; there are lessons to be learned here.

Moving in Training

Most agencies are doing some form of force-on-force training these days, and that gives officers a huge advantage over the bad guys. There is a reason why sports teams play exhibition or practice games, and that is to hone their skills for the real thing when the game counts. We need to do the same thing, and force-on-force training involving Simunitions, Airsoft, or some form of marking cartridge allows us to practice for the real thing. The only difference is we're not playing a game; this is life or death.

When you're in a gunfight, a fight for your life, you need to move. It's an essential element to have in your tactical toolbox. Practice shooting and moving, and although it's tough you need practice shooting at moving targets, too.

To create an inexpensive moving and reactive target, take a two-liter soda bottle and hang it on your range. You can put some sand in it to give it some weight, or fill it with water and watch it explode when it's hit.

If you combine range time involving shooting while moving at moving targets with your force-on-force training, you'll have a well-rounded firearms program. Just make sure your force-on-force training is realistic. You can do this by making up scenarios taken from actual cases that officers from your agency, or surrounding agencies, have been involved in. Train hard, as often as you can, and by all means, move!

Michael T. Rayburn has been involved in law enforcement since 1977 and is the author of five books. He is a former adjunct instructor for the Smith & Wesson Academy, and is the owner of Rayburn Law Enforcement Training. He can be reached at

Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

Jamie Brown @ 6/17/2015 11:46 AM

Great information Michael, I hope it's okay there were a few things that I wanted to add that may well be of benefit. I know the passenger side approach is perfectly acceptable and commonly used today but I don't go that route for several reasons. I always stop at least a foot to make the driver look over his shoulder to see me and the side view mirror usually gives me a pretty good line of sight to what they might be doing. As far as retention holsters I do not use one I have practiced with a single anap holster for twenty years and feel comfortable with the techniques I learned to keep the bad guy away from it. Remember there is a great difference between cover and concealment and I always have one of each in mind before I execute a traffic stop. I want to be where he isn't and I feel I have the upper hand most of the time it's a direct line from his door to my passenger door or completely behind my car either way I can get to another weapon and up my force continue. Thanks JB

Tony Arcaro @ 6/18/2015 7:57 AM

Great article on a critical skill.

Dirk Lowry @ 6/18/2015 8:37 AM

There was a method/tric we used in the old days. During the so called Days of Rage in the 60's and 70's. It was a new era for police work and coppers were getting shot left and right. Using the old flashlight with the magnet attached and placing that on the metal clip of that clip board, you could have your sidearm in hand under the clip board resting it on the firearm and holding it with just your thumb, ready for any attempt on you life. The other advantage was giving you a light into the vehicle. All of this would have been done, standing to the rear, past the driver's door crack. This was used, not all the time, but when your backup was more than five minutes away. Of note; it would be good to be able to shoot with either hand. This would require additional training, witch should be considered regardless. the article is great and very informative. I've sent it to those still working the street.

All be well and stay safe.

MikeHargreaves @ 6/18/2015 11:49 AM

Michael, very well thought out article, Jamie and Dick, good insights.

I have trained hundreds of Police Officers, never been one though! If you can not do, teach? Comes to mind, been in some form of Security most of my life.

As an Ex Bouncer from The Cavern Club, of Beatles fame, 1960 till 1964, then a year at The Blue Angel, on Seal St. Liverpool UK, my natural reaction, my fists, or feet fly free.

So of course I was not in the situation described, the drawing of a small revolver, from between the seat, and the console?

I (think I would, knowing me for 79 years) have snapped a violent punch into the side of his face, before stepping back! There is so much good stuff to hit on the side of a face, hinge of jaw, side of eye, cheek bone! No major hand breaking stuff there either. But even if I did damage my left hand, the right is good to go for the Glock.

Then following your advice Michael.

Jon Retired LEO @ 6/18/2015 1:57 PM

Great article. Brings back memories. At 75 years old I don't move as fast anymore so cover is paramount to me should the terrible moment arrive.

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