Are You REALLY Doing It Right?

Are we treating the standing targets as “non-shoots” or as true innocent bystanders and applying all the basic safety rules?

At our last training day, Wayne Dobbs and I ran into a little problem. After a solid day of shooting a variety of tough drills and courses, we decided to add a little “competition” to the end of the day. We recently began running a pretty good little drill of 2 hits on a 10” plate at speed and then transition to an 8” plate for a single hit. We decided to now run this on a rack with a 10” plate and two separate 8” plates. To make things a little more interesting, we added two “innocent bystanders” between the targets. We also added a couple of rules. You could not violate the four basic safety rules. This meant that on the transition from the various plates across the innocent by-standers, you could not have a finger on the trigger, and the muzzle could not cover the non-shoot targets. After a couple of runs, we just put the timer away. It was insanely hard to not cross those non-shoots and to get that finger onto register. It took a lot of work to try to do this “right” and not necessarily “fast”. We also started moving to offer up better shots to minimize the risk to the non-shoots.
Wayne and I are fairly dogmatic on safety and this should not have been hard for us. It was. We tried various different means to control the muzzle off the non-shoots, and it really took a ton of discipline to get off that trigger when you knew that you had a couple of targets that needed to be neutralized at speed. It really was difficult to get your follow through figured out. You needed it to get your hits, but the transitions made for getting off the trigger fast to get to your next target without muzzling a non-shoot with a finger on the trigger. We have decided to start spending a lot more time dedicated to cleaning up a very bad training scar that is really a left over from competition. When you have been treating “non-shoots” as simply a thing not to shoot instead of treating those targets like your mother, sibling or your child.
I would offer this challenge up to the readership. Try this. The next match you shoot that is not simply shooting at “shapes”, but have true non-shoots that represent other humans who are not threats, do not muzzle them and remove that finger from the trigger the second you are coming off a confirmed and engaged threat…you know, the way it is supposed to be done for real. I would offer up that if you were DQ’d from stages for “safety violations” for muzzling non-shoots, and trigger finger issues, you would see a different “match strategy”. I can flat guarantee that our students will be getting some wrenches thrown in during future First Responder classes with non-shoot targets having to REALLY be treated like true innocent by-stander targets.

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About Darryl Bolke

Darryl Bolke is a retired SoCal police officer who spent 17 years assigned to SWAT as a firearms instructor and primary instructor on all firearm systems. Darryl also authored and created a program for L/E edged weapons use and issue knives for all officers, and assisted in the design of several knives. Darryl has worked several years on various private sector investigation and protection details, is a Pro Staffer for L/E with Aimpoint, and is the co-owner of Hardwired Tactical Shooting (HiTS).

41 thoughts on “Are You REALLY Doing It Right?

  1. Come on, if the “bystanders” are almost shoulder to shoulder (angularly, as we see them) with the bad guys, and the bad guys are shooting at us, what is more important? To neutralize the targets ASAP and thus avoid you and the bystanders getting shot by them, or be sacrimonious about not muzzling non-shots, rising the gun and getting the finger off the trigger? Getting two double taps in 1.2 second, including a quick and smooth transition, or do it the safer way in 1.7 seconds?

    I can see respecting all safety rules if the targets are not so close to the bystanders, but things that are theoretically good may add so much additional complication and time that you have to evaluate each case.

    • We looked at this as a practice what we preach drill. The question starts to become how are we “training”. If we are always training to be running over non-shoots with muzzles and fingers staged at reset off the follow through, how will that translate to reality? Then we ask “who” is qualified enough to get a pass? Is it someone with “special” in the description of the unit they are assigned too? Is it the cop who “qualified” last year just like every year. Is it a top competitive shooter who is in-grained to do this. The problem comes in when the annually qualed LEO may have issues with their shooting and gun handling while not really phased about the stress of what is going on. The top competitor may have a complete melt down when the targets are now moving dynamically and have faces. The “special” person may not be “special” that day. If that was your wife and daughter at the mall, how would you want the “armed security guard” to have been trained….to be .5 faster?
      I remember doing one of Scott Reitz’s higher end vehicle classes and Scotty was discussing the draw in the vehicle and the de-bark (we work up to doing these at some amazing speeds), he made the comment that “we are aware that when the glass is shattering all over the car, you are trying to get the car in park and unbelted, and under the stress of doing this for real, you may end up sweeping a muzzle over your own body. That does not mean that we will be training to do it that way. We will train to do it with no safety violations so that it is ingrained right”. I passed this along in training and when one of my guys had to do it for real, he ran that muzzle around the top of his steering wheel and delivered one of the best performances I have ever seen on a street shooting. It can be done right. If we do it wrong, we will hopefully have at least a couple of the fail safe’s of the basic safety rules in place so we don’t hurt someone we don’t intend to (if the muzzle is on the finger is in register, or if the finger is on the trigger, the muzzle is off the non-shoot). Otherwise, we are just hoping for luck……..and with mine, that is not one I want to bet on.

      • Additionally……I have already been talking to some other trainers at working out a couple of different means to deal with these situations using some different gun handling techniques melded together to be faster and more efficient……this is how progress is made.

      • Excellent article Darryl, and timely too. After going to Pat Mac’s class, where he preaches safety on when reloading, it got me thinking about this same topic. Fast forward 5 months, and watching our team at the range shooting a shoot/no shoot course with multiple targets. It’s all too easy to just ‘sweep’ past the no shoots with finger on the trigger and say, “Well, what am I supposed to do? This is the way we’ve always done it!” (Commence the tossing of the BS flag!)

        I’ve come to realize that I can’t be a prophet in my own village, so this will help me drive home the point and actually make us THINK about what and why we do things.

        Thanks again guys!!

  2. Next IDPA match I will definitely consider this. I don’t really attend them to “play the game” anyway, but to reinforce specific skill sets. So what did you determine worked best for you so as to not muzzle a no shoot? Come back in to high ready, and punch back out directly on the next target? Sweep the muzzle in a semi-circle down toward the ground? Safety sul between shots?

    • This is the progression and how we will start to develop ingrained and seamless techniques. This is probably a good place for a quick transition to a high ready and then back on. We have an issue where we train that if you look at the picture, the range rules are that the muzzle cannot go above the dirt on the berm. I have been working on this at home with a blue gun/and a SIRT and the high ready seems to be the best solution to this problem. What we intend to do is to start adding a lot of “Obvious non-combatant” simulators (seems like an oxymoron to call them “targets”) not only around the shoot targets, but around the shooter. I find that a modified version of the NRA safety circle (we call it “Indoor ready with a pistol”) works really well for the movement around things problem, and we were using a downward semi circle into an extended true low ready (below the feet) to deal with this at this particular range. Trying to develop solid TTP’s is always tough, but I think with some work and starting to set up our classes this way, both our instructors and students will be able to deal with these problems without having to give up much, and be far better equipped to deal with some difficult street problems.

  3. I’m all in favor of making training more realistic and not allowing competition training scars to negatively affect real world applications but there may also be a point of diminishing returns.

    The challenge is identifying the no-shoots to begin with, if you have 3 or 5 targets that you can readily identify as “good guys” rather than “unknowns” than it may be desirable to not muzzle them but how do you translate this in to low-light or no-light?

    If running a WML, you will have to muzzle the unknowns before being able to discriminate the good guys from the bad. Obviously there are techniques that allow you to still use a WML without directly muzzling the torso of each target but how much visibility do you sacrifice in order to not muzzle the target directly?

    If running a hand-held light, you’ll have the same challenges with speed and have now added another layer of complexity, all this to the detriment of getting good hits on target as quickly as possible to neutralize the threat. Slowing yourself down too much if there are bad guys that need to be shot puts yourself as well as those no-shoots in greater jeopardy than accepting the calculated risk of muzzling a target.

    To me, taking your finger off the trigger as you transition from target to target makes more practical sense than blindly following Rule #2 if the targets are in close proximity, if farther apart then lowering the muzzle may be a viable option.

      • Yep…………we all figured out that this is hard. That “hardware solutions” don’t always work (WML as a panacea for everything). I would agree that if you end up violating rule #2 (it isn’t blindly following, you are essentially making a choice to violate rule #2), then it will become critical to be very disciplined on rule #3………..right up to the point that someone isn’t, and we catch folks unconsciously “dirty” on rule 3 violations all the time. This isn’t with screw ups and novices, this is with some very squared away folks…..including ourselves. It particularly rears its ugly head in competition. The ” this is my safety (while imitating Blackhawk Down)” stuff that seems to be very in vogue in the last few years is a very dangerous path. We used to have the opposite years ago with many riding the finger on the trigger for “speed”, but that was okay because they would “never” cover anyone………until they did.

        • Copy on all points, I think for pistols having a hand held light to supplement a WML makes a lot of sense. On long guns, shotguns in particular, you’re pretty much married to using a WML so it’s inevitable that you will muzzle sweep people before, during, and possibly after the threat discrimination phase.

          Years ago when I first trained with Bennie Cooley, he articulated the differences between a “sacrifice” and a “violation.” A sacrifice is when you make a conscious choice to do something that is not ideal after weighing the pros and cons whereas a violation is when you do something, like muzzle sweep a no-shoot, and not realize that you’ve done it. I use that as part of my decision making process for what to train and how to prepare. For me, I understand the potential risk but am I willing to accept that risk in order to neutralize the threat, and more importantly that I am willing to accept the responsibility if my actions prove to be incorrect.

          For low light situations as an example, is it more important for me to have as much information as possible in order to make good decisions while relying on good weapon handling skills or am I more concerned that I may make a mistake with my weapons handling that I’m willing to take a more difficult approach to gather that information?

          I believe that safe weapons handling is much easier to train than good decision making, so because of that, I’d rather compromise on the “dirty” than to reduce the amount of needed information.

          Even in daylight, if I’m spending time thinking about not muzzling sweeping targets, how much of that is taking away from me assessing the situation, deciding on a course of action and then executing that action?

          Also, as others have stated- in the real world good guys and bad guys move, so if I were to go from being pointed in on a threat or potential threat, by the time I try to move my muzzle around the no-shoot, the topography may have changed before I can complete my action. Basic OODA loop stuff.

  4. In that enormous environment outside of a square range, I intentionally tried to NOT muzzle any innocents – other COPS and citizens alike. But, I did it more times than I can count and if that’s wrong I guess I won’t get a gold star.

    • We all have. Trust me, this is not a “look how neat we are” post, this is a “we have all been guilty of this and what can we do to address it to be better”. This is why really training hard not to, and more importantly being very aware of what we are doing is so critically important in training. Why is it everyone is always wanting to spend all their time getting “faster” or maybe “more accurate”. Should we also be training to be “as fast and accurate as possible” while also using exceptional gun handling skills and mindset across the board?

      • I agree. As it relates to competition, I would suggest that the consequence of hitting a no-shoot be as proportionate as possible to reality. If the “procedural” for hitting a no-shoot was an automatic DQ and immediate expulsion from the range, the gun handling and mindset thing would be fix itself.

        • This was discussed. Could you imagine a Match DQ for hitting a no-shoot, and a stage DQ for covering one………..could change the face of competitive shooting. Two things would happen. Some really good handling solutions would come out of it, or (most likely), match instructions would quit being “you are in a 7-11 when 17 bad guys enter-the white targets with red are no-shoots, and the buff are shoots”. The new instructions would be shoot the buff squares and do not shoot the white circles…….these do not represent people, just shapes to test your shooting skill. I have been preaching for awhile that this is really how “sport” shooting should be done.

          • You’re probably right and I’m perfectly OK with that … let’s just stop calling this other silly stuff practical or reality based.

  5. DB, this is a very important addition to responsible training. Thank God someone else is emphasizing it. It accomplishes so much more than just safety when the innocents are “shoulder to shoulder” with bg’s. It also trains us to stay aware of the other 2 dimensions, foreground and background. Most range and comp practice leads to tunnel vision, target- only focus on the street.

  6. No matter what the arena, do you want to be the person who shoots an innocent? I do not.


    • If you want ot be 100% sure about not shooting the bystanders, then why take a shot thas goes a mere 12″ at his side (or even less)? He can move too, you know.

      If bullets are flying towards you (and missing the bystander by inches), what to do? Keep calm and pray? Decisions are tough.

      • I have been shot at, and more than once, but that was in the sandbox and under a different rule set.

        Backing up to the idea of using competition as a sort of stress innoculation from an earlier post on msw, I’m hoping my training and awareness don’t cause me to ever pull the trigger on a non-threat.

        And yes, you’re totally right. There is a difference between shooting static paper and the real thing. But knowing I shoot one very well gives some confidence for any time i might have to shoot the other.

  7. I agree that safety is paramount, and pointing guns at innocent people is not advisable. But what is the basis for this concept? Are innocent people being shot because officers AD’d while sweeping then with their muzzles? Using your concept, do we as officers not point our guns at anyone until a deadly threat presents itself? It’s never black and white. Cardboard targets on the range are! Granted, once someone is deemed not a danger to us, guns come down, but that is an after thought, the result of my training and experience. I don’t want to enter a situation and have my training consume my thoughts with something other than neutralizing a threat and survival. I certainly don’t want to get shot because I’m lowering my gun to avoid sweeping someone. In NYC, after the shooting of 9 innocent people by officers outside the Empire State Building, the NYPD considered this as collateral damage, and they were not compensating victims. Some of the bystanders shot were the results of shots that missed their intended targets. There are no berms on the streets. I’m not taking a stance on their policy, but if I’m in an active gunfight and I sweep someone with my muzzle, oh well..

    • Before we act like I am some newby with pie in the sky fantasy expectations the fact is that I am medically retired because of a decision to not take a shot that I REALLY wanted to. I held the shot because of two small children behind the suspect that were in jeopardy if my rounds over-penetrated and I missed. I am good with the decision. Of course, “screw it, they aren’t my kids” was also an option. I have put down every guy I have had to shoot before without any one else getting hit, but I still didn’t want that day to be the day I dumped a felon…….and collateral damaged a couple of kids.
      I am not trying to change the world, and you should do whatever you think is best. This is simply “here is what we are trying to work on”. You may have a better idea, and that is fine. Feel free to disregard any of this.

  8. I can say I thoroughly support this training concept 100%. OUTSTANDING article! This concept needs to be preached across the training community at large. We have grown to be too tactikewl (in my opinion). It’s all about run n gun too many times,,, put your mind in coast mode and climb on the trigger.

    I end with this thought,,,, how many of us have ever shot a no shoot in a match?

    • To be fair, most of the people that are shooting hostages in a match are pushing beyond their capabilities trying to shave a small fraction of time… and many times the targets that you MUST shoot are mere inches away from the no shoots, and you have no option but to try the shots (at speed notheless) from a certain position and distance. It is like shooting an armed bad guy holding a hostage, not a simple case of bystanders.

      If there is some reasonable separation from targets and no shoots, I never even graze the no shoots. Perhaps I’m not too competive but I always try to get well centered shots, even if that takes a bit more time.

  9. In a gunfight I want my eyes and muzzle to be one… threat identification is paramount but I may not determine that until after a weapon is pointed at them! Finger off the trigger, ID threats, assess and or engage.

    I would like to see your range training be done shooting life size targets with clothes on and weapons that are not immediately recognizable. Would you still feel the same way?

    • The hardest training I have ever done was done exactly this way-dressed, full body 3D targets with the scenarios shot cold. This was with instructors from an L/E unit that is involved in a lot of shootings. They are zero tolerance on safety violations………which is why they are so good on the street. Very tough training. The key to doing this is staging an entire scenario so the shooter can make articulable decisions.

  10. Seems like you have exposed some some interesting priorities. Protecting the public used to be #1. Now it seems some have bumped that to #3 behind neutralizing a threat and self preservation. Maybe that explains some of the bad press of late. I admire your tough decision under fire. We need more like you.

    • It is not that simple… six of one, half dozen of the other? Remember that neutralizing the threat in this situation also equals protecting the public and yourself… you may show all the restrain you can muster, the question is if the bad guy is going to care or happily spray you and everyone in between.

  11. Nice but if no shoots are that close to shoots in real life do you really think they are going to stand still?

    Odds are in real life the student will lock up if the no shoots are that close to no shoots.

    Maybe the proper response should be running for cover and waiting for no shoots to run away leaving shoots clear.

  12. BEST WORD USED YET”RANGE SCARS” Love the article, love the fact that you saw that even more.
    Thank you for getting people to think out side the box.

    • I think many are missing the point of this. The question we asked ourselves was “should we be training to do this right”. Right now most are not training to do this right on the range and certainly not in competition that replaces training for many people do to access. Practices makes permanent and we are thinking that it would be better to hardwire a response that we do not want to be muzzling obvious non-combatants, children, and other officer’s family members or teammates, and we really do not want to be doing it with a finger on a trigger (which is often sitting prepped at reset in these situations). I would much rather train to not violate the basic safety rules (rules 2&3 tend to be agreed on by a majority of respected trainers), and then have it be a very conscious decision if I had to in the field due to some horrific situation, than to train to violate those rules all the time to the point that their violation is done without any thought at all…which many are doing a lot. If you think about a typical shooting match (or training venue) that is using targets that look like, and represent people, and right after the safety brief where everyone nods up and down that they understand the safety rules and agree that they will not violate them, and then go out and do it over and over with not only impunity, but it is encouraged to be “faster”, are we making it sub-consciously okay? I am thinking yes. Others think no…and that is what the point of these articles are all about, to at least have the discussion.

  13. I like the idea of a dq for a no shoot, but by the same logic, since threat targets arejust that should we also dq for failure to engengage a target? That would change things also. Maybe for the better. Or it might just frustrate the crap out of competitors. I will bring it up at the local range for if they decide to do non-sanctioned matches.

  14. Excellent article, and spot on… I first experienced a similar observation at Paul Howe’s Tactical Pistol Instructor Class 3-4 years ago while attempting to pass Paul’s standards… I was having a hell of a time trying to pass this engagement: (2 rds on 2 tgts from the ready position in 3 seconds). I learned that as I transitioned my pistol from the first target to the second I wasn’t coming off the trigger to index, I was simply not resetting (holding th trigger to the rear) until the sights were on the second target then I would re set and engage.
    Most of the students in our class at the time were treating this engagement in a similar fashion . When we were “remediated” by Paul, the engagement became even harder for me trying to master going to index while transitioning to the second target. For me it was slower to get off th trigger and get back on it and pass the engagement. Paul related to the students exactly the same point you are making in this article. The dynamic changes when you put an innocent between the 2 targets. The need to safely transition becomes imperative in.
    At the time this was thought provoking to me because I had just left the FAM service and I don’t know how I developed that trainig scar. Our Department is moving to Reality Based Training and I think a great way to evaluate this is with Simunitions. I’m going to suggest we run our officer’s through this type of drill to see how they’ll handle this problem… I expect it’ll be ugly…

    Again excellent article and pretty thought provoking…

  15. Great job my other brother Darryl, quality observations, thought provoking, well stated.

    Your competition observations are spot on. I noted at Tom Givens’ Rangemaster Tac Conference match that the 100 second penalty for hitting a no-shoot bit a number of folks in the butt. As it should be. I see too many competition guys blowing off nailing a no-shoot target, especially in USPSA matches at the local level.

  16. Darryl,

    Solving the ‘spacetime equation’ to best balance the factors of safety to bystanders, ourselves, and neutralization of the threat(s) is something we’ve been doing for several years and I think it’s a really valuable way to train, even when it’s just static targets on a range. It can also be done with moving targets. I like the article, though I don’t seem to have the level of heartburn about competition that you do. There are some very valuable benefits to competition that can be hard for some people to otherwise acquire. I just take care to address what competition doesn’t represent very well elsewhere in training and practice for myself and my students.

    Sometimes the parallels between your beliefs and what I was taught by my mentor is pretty eerie. He was career LE in CA too.


    • I am in no way shape or form against competition. My “heartburn” is representing things in matches as being “people” and “tactical situations” and then not treating them as that. Personally, I really loved shooting falling plates and did it a lot in uniform. They were not represented as being “people”, it was all pure fundamentals at speed, all man on man for some stress, and I didn’t see any real bad habits. A ton of competition could be run the exact same way with the same benefits if they would take the attempt at making them somehow “realistic”. “Openings” instead of doors, targets represented as simply shapes or colors instead of people, “Non-scenario” based stages that are simply a “course” and not reflective of a “7-11” or a “mall”. That is my only real heartburn. If I ever get my 8 plus hours during the week and entire weekends free from girl’s club volleyball in my life, I really want to start shooting plates again, so my issues are with how the courses are presented than what they are. I look at it as a “relative sport” (just like things like BJJ/martial arts, Crossfit, driving race cars, or playing team sports, etc. are all beneficial) rather than a replacement for truly directed training for use of lethal force with a firearm.

  17. Lots of agreement with you there Darryl. Sounds like IDPA might be the worst offender on ‘false realism’ in your eyes? I don’t know how I missed the p-f thread until this morning. I will probably repost my comments there. Sorry about the slightly crossed wires.

  18. Perhaps part of the solution lays with modifying the 4 Safety Rules to have better applicability in the real world?

    I know Pat Mcnamara teaches a modified version to allow for a seamless transition from dry fire to square range to real world; Larry Vickers has stated that Rule 2 is most likely to violated in the real world and that you should never unknowingly point your gun as something you don’t intend to destroy (forgive me as I’m paraphrasing based on memory)

    I have no issue with slowing down or making things harder in training, my concern is that a potential over-emphasis on safety distracting from the goal of putting bad guys down as soon as possible

    • Here comes a rant: Negative. The rules are not the issue. It is how they are taught.

      First-Pat McNamara-I have HUGE respect for Pat-period. I do take exception on how he addresses this, more because of how his teachings have become horribly perverted. Rule #1 (and 4) is a mindset rule. 2 and 3 are handling. Pat doesn’t like the way #1 is taught as it is done in a way to teach like it is done to children. This versus what he expects from L/E and Military. Guess what, most of the population needs to be dealt with like children on this. Rule 1 relates to assumed “status”. If I handed Pat a pistol and said “don’t worry, it’s unloaded”, I guarantee that Pat would in fact assume differently UNTIL HE CONFIRMED it was not. Thus, applying a manipulation confirmation to its status (know the condition of your weapon). And you still need the other rules, because even with the P-Mac added manipulation confirmed status, human beings make mistakes. The number of firearms accidents that happened with “unloaded” guns is very high. So the “know the status of your weapon” is obviously an issue. I would make his #1 an add on to the “All guns are loaded mindset”. If there is any change in control or status of a firearm, then you need to error to the side of loaded. I trust no one on firearms status (including myself). I go in with the assumption of loaded status and work from there. Even when I have confirmed un-loaded status for dry practice or maintenance (where lots of negligent shootings have occurred), I still don’t dry practice with things I love in line with the muzzle as I treat it like its loaded. Tons of tragedies have happened with “status failures”. I’ll actually turn Pat’s words on rule #1 . Assuming its loaded can only be an enabler and never a disabler. I use Rule #1 for everyone else all the time, and me until I have really confirmed status. Also keep in mind, that the take-down procedure for the Glock has really been the biggest problem with some of the rules. It is also the one feature of the Glock that has been a big reason for the number of ND’s with them.
      I will also note that some of the organizations with the best safety records while conducted very high level training directly correlates with how serious they take the “Modern Technique” safety rules as written as an organizational culture. By the way, serious is not reading the rules as fast as possible before training and making everyone nod, or even better…..”everyone know the safety rules” nods and grunts “cool, let’s get going”. That is pure b.s. in my world and is not a professional or serious approach to training safely.

      Reference your concern about “over-emphasis” on safety as distracting to putting bad guys down. I find it interesting that some of the most efficient and experienced folks in the United States at dropping crooks also happen to be hyper vigalante on safety and tend not to shoot each other as many organizations who “aren’t distracted” by safety.

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