Shooting Outside of the Box

He recommended "a wide, sturdy stance" when shooting. His method of finding the proper stance was to build a little wooden box for the shooter to stand in. I've forgotten the dimensions of the box because...well...because it was a ridiculous idea.

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Recently, I was attending a trade show where they had all of the latest equipment and "toys" on display. I love to look at those cool things I can't afford, but what I needed was a new rucksack, so one booth in particular caught my eye.

As I was checking out the features on the rucksack and looking for a price tag, the TV monitor above my head suddenly came to life. It was a firearms training video, so naturally I gave up my hunt for a price tag and began watching the video. On the video was a "firearms training expert."

I'm not poking fun at the video; that is exactly what the voiceover said, "A firearms training expert." I've never met a firearms training expert; I consider all of us students since no one will ever know everything when it comes to firearms training. So my curiosity was piqued, and I had to watch.

Bad Advice

The instructor on the video was talking about the importance of having the proper stance while shooting. Since I also believe this is important, I continued to watch. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. I won't get into all of the specifics, but let's just say that this "expert" was way off base.

He recommended "a wide, sturdy stance" when shooting. His method of finding the proper stance was to build a little wooden box for the shooter to stand in. I've forgotten the dimensions of the box because...well...because it was a ridiculous idea.

The wooden box was supposed to keep the student's feet at the proper distance every time it was his or her turn to shoot. This expert's method was to use the box every time during training, that way "out on the street" the shooter would "automatically" get into this stance before firing.

Gee, what a great idea. Well, except for when you're trying to shoot while moving or jumping behind cover. Or fighting with someone and you have to shoot while wrestling around with the bad guy. Or you're down behind cover, and standing up to plant your feet will get you killed. Or maybe you come under fire while in your vehicle, and you have to return fire through the windshield or lay down some cover fire as you exit the vehicle and duck for cover. Or maybe when you're lying flat on your belly trying to use a concrete curb for cover. Or you're knocked on your back. Or...the list goes on and on.

Maybe we should bring this guy's little wooden box with us on the street for these situations. I quickly looked around the display to see if they made a rucksack to carry the little wooden box in, but I couldn't locate one. Maybe this company had a rack for the patrol car to carry the wooden box in, right next to our shotguns and patrol rifles. That way you could just throw the box on the ground, and get into it before you shoot, just like you had conditioned yourself to do during training.

Bad Habits

"Conditioned yourself to do during training" is the key concept here. This expert is conditioning his students to stand still in a wooden box during a gunfight.

OK. The wooden box is an absurd training concept. I'm sure you're not doing anything that clueless in your training. But ask yourself, what bad habits are you embedding in your brain?

If you consistently train using this box or some other impractical training method on the range, will you look for the box on the street before you shoot? If you're running for cover, will you stop to plant your feet "properly" before you return fire? If you're fighting with a bad guy over the possession of your weapon, will you hold your fire until your feet are in the "right position?"

Some of you may think these ideas are too ridiculous to think of, but think back to our recent past. Think back to April 6, 1970, to the gun battle that has become known as "The Newhall Incident."

On that dreadful day four young California Highway Patrol officers lost their lives in a running gunfight with two career criminals. During the subsequent investigation of the incident, some of the officers were found to have spent shell casings in their pockets. In the middle of this horrendous firefight, that only lasted 4.5 minutes, the officers did exactly what they had been trained, conditioned, or allowed to do on the range. Rather than waste time picking up empty brass at the end of the range training, just eject the empty shells from your revolver into your hand, and put them in your pocket.

There is another case involving an officer who was wounded and lying on his side. Civilian eyewitnesses stated they observed the officer repeatedly trying to sit up to reload. The officer had been trained to reload from a seated position, but had never been trained to reload while on his side. The eyewitnesses watched in horror as the bad guy calmly walked up to the officer and shot him in the head as the officer was still trying to sit up to reload.

You will not always fall back on the bad habits you learn in training, but sometimes you will. How else can you explain the two incidents discussed above?

Your training needs to be realistic, and you always need to remember Murphy's Law because "what can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible time." Putting brass in your pocket or trying to sit up to reload when you can do it on your side are just two examples out of many bad habits that you can learn in training.

Finding Your  Stance

At the beginning of this article I explained how I agreed with the importance of a proper stance, and I do. But that stance should come to you naturally, and you should be able to use that stance under any combat circumstance. In order to achieve this goal, your stance must be instinctive and intuitive to you. Can you ingrain some other type of stance into you? Maybe, but why bother when you've already got one that works?

Stand up right now from wherever you're sitting and take five steps. (Just make sure you're not sitting on a boat reading this article.) When you stop, your feet will be shoulder width apart. Run a couple of yards, and when you stop, your feet will be shoulder width apart.

Have you ever seen a boxer stand with his feet spread way out or fight with her heels together like standing at attention? Of course not; if a boxer did that he or she would get knocked right down. Jump straight up and down and have someone yell "stop" when you're in the air. When you land, your feet will be at shoulder width. Run in place as fast as you can; you guessed it, shoulder width apart.

If this is how you walk, run, and fight, then shouldn't you be training to shoot this way? Train in a stance that works, instead of trying to box yourself into one that doesn't.

Leave the wooden box out in front of your house for your spouse and plant some flowers in it, then train the way you fight. Train in a stance that you already use every day, one that will work under any condition, in any situation.


Finding Your Feet

Let me give you a simpler way to find the proper shoulder width stance, rather than trying to lug some wooden box around with you.

Stand up right now and put your feet together as if you were standing at attention, with your heels touching together. Now spread your toes out as far as they will go, and then spread your heels out to the same distance as your toes. That will be shoulder width for you. To confirm it, jump in the air a couple of times. When you land your feet should be at the same distance.

Keep your feet at a shoulder width distance and you'll be able to walk, run, and fight more effectively. It doesn't make any sense to train the opposite of what is really going to happen in a gunfight, and that is that you'll be moving, running, ducking for cover, and fighting, with your feet at a shoulder width distance. Don't box yourself into something that you're not going to use anyway. 

Michael T. Rayburn is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and an adjunct instructor for Smith & Wesson. The author of four books, "Advanced Vehicle Stop Tactics," "Advanced Patrol Tactics," "Combat Gunfighting," and "Combat Shotgun" and the video "Instinctive Point Shooting with Mike Rayburn," he can be reached by sending an e-mail to

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