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Departments : The Winning Edge

Shooting From the Hip

Take a rough-and-ready approach to close-quarters gunfights and you’ll be ahead of the game.

January 01, 2007  |  by Michael T. Rayburn - Also by this author

An officer working traffic witnesses a motorist running a stop sign. He activates his emergency lights and pulls the vehicle over a short distance from where the stop sign was. As the officer approaches the stopped vehicle, the motorist suddenly explodes out of the driver's side door and opens fire with a small-caliber handgun. The distance between the two combatants is minimal, and the officer's reaction time needs to be even shorter.

If you look at the Unified Crime Reports compiled by the FBI-and any officer serious about surviving on the street should-you'll notice an alarming trend. Well over half of all officer-involved shootings occur at a distance of five feet or less. Why is this? Well, think about the last incident you were involved in where the pucker factor was running a little high. I'd be willing to bet you were in close quarters with the bad guy.

Unfortunately, it's the nature of our business to be up close and personal to the people we deal with. You don't stop a motorist for running a red light and then send a carrier pigeon from a safe distance to retrieve his license. How about throwing a pair of handcuffs at an arrestee from 30 feet away so she can put them on herself while you maintain your distance? I know it sounds kind of silly, but I'm trying to make a point here. The nature of our business, and that is the business of policing, requires us to be in close proximity to the people we have to deal with, whether that contact involves some type of enforcement action or not.

With this being the fact of our jobs, we need to know how to defend ourselves at these close distances, and that requires learning how to shoot from the hip. If you try to raise your gun up to eye level, to get some type of "sight picture," then you'll be wasting valuable time-time that you don't have. Gunfights are won in fractions of a second; don't waste any time trying to look for some type of sight alignment on your weapon, especially when you don't need it.

I want you to think of this simple phrase: "elbow up, elbow down." As you draw your firearm from your holster your elbow goes up. Now slam your elbow down into your side, locking it in. At this point your gun should be aligned with the centerline of your body. Tighten your arm up so you can see your triceps muscle. This will help you absorb the recoil from the firearm, and keep the gun aligned with the centerline of your body. You can quickly fire from this position.

Doing Some Damage

Using this technique, your rounds may not be center of mass/chest cavity hits. That's not a problem. At these close distances, all you're looking for are hits on a man-sized target. You're in close with this bad guy who is trying to kill you; you'll want to put a hurting on him as quickly as you can.

Consider some of the areas you'll be striking with these shots. First, you've got the possibility of hitting the subject's hipbone. Breaking the bad guy's hipbone may, or may not, knock him down. The big thing here is that you've lessened his mobility. Sure, he can still shoot at you with a broken hip, even on the ground. But hopefully you'll be thinking about cover and moving to it while his ability to quickly move will be diminished.

Secondly, the majority of your bodily fluids are located in your lower abdominal area. Have you ever taken a plastic jug filled with water out to the range and shot it? It's a pretty neat trick. It's called hydrostatic action.
The jug is filled with water and sealed with the top. As the bullet enters the jug, it displaces the water. The water has nowhere to go but out, so it expands (bursts) the sides of the plastic jug. To a certain extent, you get the same effect with the human body. Human tissue is a little more expandable than a plastic jug filled with water, but the bullet displaces the bodily fluids, causing damage.

If one of your rounds is able to strike the bad guy's lower spinal column, then his ability to move about will be greatly diminished. You will most likely take his feet right out from under him. Again, he can still shoot at you from the ground, but it will be very difficult for him to be aggressive and attack you if he's unable to walk. Plus, his ability to physically follow you as you move to cover will be virtually impossible.

Range Practice

If the majority of officer-involved shootings are up close and personal, then you need to train for when that day may come. Head out to the range and place a realistic-looking, life-sized paper target up on your backer. Make sure you're at a safe distance away from your backstop so you don't get any splatter coming back your way, especially on an indoor range. Get in close to the target where you can touch it with your off hand. Start at this distance and gradually move back, eventually adding in a second target.

From this close distance practice that elbow up, elbow down draw, remembering to tighten your arm up to help you absorb the recoil of the firearm. Make sure that the gun is aligned with the centerline of your body as you lock it in place. Dry fire this draw several times, picking up the speed as you go. Look down at your gun to see if your rounds will hit the target. If you're standing square to the target (and we all do under stress) and the gun is aligned with the centerline of your body, then your rounds will strike the target.

Keep your off arm up high and out of the way to protect your vital head and neck area, and go ahead and live fire this drill. Start off with one round. Then work your way up to two rounds and then up to multiple rounds. Take a big step back and start all over again with one round, two rounds, and then multiple rounds. Take another step back and start all over. Keep going to see how far back you can get and still be accurate with your weapon. You may be surprised at how accurate this really is.

Now add some movement to the drill. Get back up near the target, to within touching distance with your off hand, and draw and fire as you move backward, away from the target. Since 95-percent of officer-involved shootings occur at a distance of 21 feet or less, move out of that kill zone. As you move further back, start to raise your gun for that center of mass/chest cavity shot. If you feel you need to use your sights as you get further back, then go ahead and start looking for them, if you're able to find them under your fight-or-flight stress.

Fighting Multiple Assailants

One of the FBI's 10-year studies on officer-involved shootings found that in 46 percent of the cases studied, the bad guy was "in the company of others" when the officer was attacked. Bad guys like to hang out with other bad guys. That's one reason gangs are so popular. If this is the case, you need to train for that as well-the possibility of facing multiple assailants.

This time go out to the range and set up two targets. Stand about five feet away from them. Stand in front of one of the targets, with the other one off to the side of the first target. Dry fire the course again, using the elbow up, elbow down method. Only this time pivot your whole body and address that second target. Pivot back and forth between the two targets, dry firing one round at a time into each target.

You're in close and outnumbered; you'll need to address both of these targets as quickly as possible. If you try to fire multiple rounds into the first target-even if it's only a double-tap-without quickly addressing that second target, then you're going to be in trouble with that second bad guy. Time is of the essence here. You'll want to "put a hurting" on these guys as quickly as you can. Fire one round into each target, pivoting back and forth if you have to, to place multiple rounds into them.

You need to train like you fight. If the distances are up close and personal, if it involves multiple assailants, and if you want to move to cover, or at the very least move out of that kill zone, then practice hip shooting. Why waste time trying to bring the gun up to eye level, or run the risk of a possible gun grab by sticking your gun out in front of you, when you don't have to? Keep it in close with that elbow up, elbow down method, and you'll be prepared for the CQB fight.

Michael T. Rayburn is a 27-year veteran of law enforcement and is currently an adjunct instructor at the Smith & Wesson Academy. He is the author of three books and a video, "Instinctive Point Shooting with Mike Rayburn."

Tags: Gun Battles


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