[Previous article in the series: Back to Gunfighter School: Gunsite 350 Intermediate Pistol]

Step Left, SHOOT!

We (and by “we,” I mean most of us who own handguns) typically do a decent job of shooting while stationary, regardless of distance, but when we start trying to place accurate shots while walking… well, lets just say that things get… interesting.

As we got into the “meat” of our Gunsite Academy 350 Intermediate Pistol class, we began incorporating movement by stepping either left or right on instructor command, then firing a head shot at 3 yards. The photo above shows students stepping left as they draw, then raising their guns to engage the targets. Like any new behavior, these drills felt awkward at first, but the more we practiced with moving and then shooting, the faster we got. By Friday, the majority of the class could move, draw, and fire a head shot into the eyebox (roughly a 3’x5″ area) in less than 1.5 seconds.

Once we began getting comfortable with moving and then shooting, the instructor cadre threw us a curve.

Our instructors set up a course of fire in which we engaged a target as we walked towards it, took a 90-degree right turn with the gun barrel still pointing downrange, and engaged other targets as we walked parallel towards and  then past them. We then reversed the direction of travel and shot it again, trying to put two shots on each target.

Sitting near the back of the line, I noticed that you could tell who was going to shoot well by watching their hips, not their hands.

The students who walked more upright had more bounce in their steps, and they generally pumped more rounds into the berm than they did on the targets. Those students would mastered an even-keeled crouch like a ballroom dancer (or a real “operator,” if you’ve ever had a chance to watch one shoot) simply flowed from one step to another, and you just heard the steel pop—ping!-ping!—with much more regularity.

We also did a drill where we stationary, engaging moving targets that went left to right, and then back right to left.

I noticed that on both the steel stationary targets we engaged while walking to the right, and on the left-to-right movers, most right-handed shooters did a better job than when walking to the left, or shooting right-to-left movers.

Most right-handed shooters did a decent job when the target was (or we were)  moving left-to-right because we were “pulling” the gun with our firing hands. When the targets (or the shooters) moved right-to-left, we were pushing the gun with our firing hands, and our groups weren’t nearly as tight. Do I have an explanation for this?

Nope, though I’m sure someone does.

Bizarrely, I did much better shooting on the move and shooting at moving targets (in both directions than I typically did shooting at the stationary targets we encountered in our stationary “school drills,” or targets that I engaged from a stationary position before or after moving.

From a purely biomechanical perspective that simply shouldn’t be, as more moving parts means more variables in play and a larger margin of error. So what was going on?

I think that it comes down to focus and mindset. When I was moving and shooting stationary targets, or engaging moving targets from a fixed position, I had to focus much more intently on my front sight to get hits… and I did. I think that when I was shooting paper on a square range from fixed position I was wasn’t focusing as well as I should on any aspect of my shooting game and trust me… it showed.

seated doze
A seated Dozier drill at Gunsite Academy, where the Dozier Drill was invented.

As We got into Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, we shot much more steel, and shot more complex drills with more movement. We fired traditional and alternate versions of the “El Prez” and the Dozier Drill (both invented by Col. Jeff Cooper at Gunsite), and ran multiple “duels” on the steel bay.

steel duel
The steel bay beside Hanneken range at Gunsite Academy looks easy enough… doesn’t it?

The various duels we ran during our 350 class against one another as individuals and in pair teams were some of the most exhilarating and sometimes amusing moments of the class. You’ll note that the small popper targets for each team were on the opposite side of the range than the rest of the team’s targets. This proved to be an impediment to those who would simply clear all the targets on their side, regardless of whether they were supposed to be shooting “red” or “blue.”

Two students "duel" on steel at Gunsite Academy.
Two students “duel” one-one-one on steel at Gunsite Academy.

The splitter target in the middle proved to be tough for some shooters who were too fast on the trigger and yanked their shots. How do I know?  Twice I won the duel for the blue team… while I was on the red team. I’d get excited that I’d cleared my targets and was in the lead, would do my speed reload, and then just jerk the crap out of the trigger… pulling my gun off target, and putting down the blue splitter instead of the red splitter I was trying to hit.

I was not alone in doing this.

2-on-2 team duel in the steel bay beside Hanneken range at Gunsite Academy. The second “red team” shooter is out of frame to the right.

In the team drills, the instructors would designate one shooter (either the inboard or outboard shooter) as “it,” and they would have to accomplish a task before their partner could join them in attempting to knock down the rest of their targets. In this one, the inboard shooter had to hit a eyebox target before their partner could start shooting. In some instances, one of the shooters had to engage with their support-side hand only. The pressure of competition made this very challenging, and was a heck of a learning experience.

One thing I can tell you definitively is that while many law enforcement agencies are going back to 9mm supported by wound ballistics on real people, .45 ACP had a much more definitive effect on steel.

We saw numerous runs where the 9mm shooter may have put hits on the steel first, but the .45 ACP hit harder and drove the popper or splitter down faster when a 9mm sometime took multiple hits.

Standing Dozier Drill, with target (left) down and partially obscured by the shooter.

In one iteration of the Dozier drill, I fired six shots of 9mm into the left-most red target (all decent hits)  in the photo above without driving it to the ground. I didn’t see any of the .45 ACP shooters take more than two hits to put a steel popper down.

* * *

We learned a heck of a lot in our square range and steel bay shooting, but the most intense part of the “Gunsite experience” for me is always the simulator runs.

In our 250 Pistol class last year, we did runs on the outdoor and indoor simulators, with fairly easy to find, identify, and engage targets. In 350 Pistol, the targets are harder to find, require more thinking (friend or foe?), and, oh yeah, you have to also do simulator runs at night.

Folks, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried to clear a narrow wash with a multi-mode flashlight that seems to have a mind of its own, while encountering desert wildlife skittering across your course of fire in the dark.

We’ll talk more about the simulator runs (and talk some more about the force-on-force runs we showed video of earlier in the week) in our next article in the series.