Advanced Tactics

Part 4 in series on concealed carry.

Once you have passed the basic course, you need to become a proficient shooter. Few will become expert marksmen in a short time, but the ability to become proficient personal defense shooters is well within your reach. First, you address the basic skills and then you learn tactics. Facing the criminal element with skills and tactics to dominate the situation is a formidable problem for which the police train constantly.

Two young women, one in a pink t-shirt, one in a white shirt, face a shooting range
Working in pairs with a good instructor is vital to advancing.

Remember, you are facing the same threat as a well-trained peace officer. However, you are training less, and your schooling is briefer. Felons attend a training school that is far more difficult where they either learn survival skills or perish; it is called the penitentiary. To defend yourself properly, deadly force shooting skills are essential.

The main concerns are getting time on the range and pushing yourself in a fast-paced course. You must practice firing from cover, firing on the move and getting good, solid, center-mass hits to stop the attacker. Often, you need several hits to achieve neutralization.

A young woman in a dark t-shirt calls 911
This young student is illustrating a homeowner dialing 911 while checking out a potential threat.

While point shooting without referencing the sights is foolish, there are ways to quickly get a hit without using the sights while you are aiming. These tactics are most useful at very short range.

The light may be dim or non-existent, and quickly moving into a firing position and firing are important. You may have learned the boxer’s stance in training; that stance is essential.

Whether you use the ultra-stable Weaver stance, or the fast-to-assume isosceles, you need to master firing quickly from presentation and pivoting and addressing threats from all angles.

Practice Routines and Stances

A man in a gray t-shirt with ear protection is under the watchful eye of a range officer who is keeping the shooters safe.
Among the best range officers to work with the author is this young lady. She is keeping a watchful eye on the group.

There are several ways to practice and enhance your skills and ability to defend yourself and those you love.

The Meat and Paper Drill

At the beginning of training you will begin from a low-ready position with the handgun held in front of the body and progress to drawing from the holster and firing. When you do, you are ready for the meat and paper drill, which is really simple. Essentially, you use the slide or the cylinder of the handgun to aim.

  1. Draw.
  2. Thrust the firearm (the meat) at the target.
  3. When the meat is in the middle of the paper, fire.

This is an advanced drill that works brilliantly and is very effective at close range.

The meat and paper drill is not point shooting; it is simply using the handgun as the index against the target. You bring the handgun to eye level and superimpose the outline of the handgun against the target. You will clearly see the paper around the pistol. If you see the flats of the slide or the top of the slide, the index is wrong. You can deliver wery fast and accurate fire to about 5 yards with this system.

Shoot Steel Plates

A large pile of spent brass and other items need to train
This is just a few months’ worth of spent brass, replaced springs and various sundry items needed in training.

Another practice routine that helps a lot in developing skill is to shoot steel plates. An 8-inch gong gives immediate feedback; you have either hit or not. As you concentrate and get hits, the steel gong reacts, and it is obvious where it was hit by how it reacts. A hit on one side tips the gong, and a proper hit will push it back.

The steel gong is a great practice asset. Just be certain that you follow the safety rules.

  • Stay at least 15 yards away from the gong or use frangible ammunition. (Allegiant Ammunition’s frangible is excellent).
  • Be certain the gong is properly set up to give a bit when the bullet hits and that it allows the bullet to go to the ground and not bounce back.
  • When performing these drills, always reference your sights. Use the sights and direct the bullet to a hit.

When practicing, you will have to decide which firing stance to use—isosceles or weaver, which are outlined in the NRA’s basic handgun course.

The Isosceles Stance

The isosceles is a simple stance. You thrust the handgun in front of your eyes. Always keep your head erect and bring the gun to the eyes—not the eyes to the gun. If you pinch off your blood flow, your vision will blur and you will not shoot well. So do not compress your neck. The isosceles is faster to assume and works well enough for those willing to practice. The Weaver stance is more involved and takes more time to master, but the benefits are greater accuracy and recoil control. If you are not willing to master the Weaver, then you will get by very well with the isosceles. Some of our best competition shooters use the isosceles.

The Weaver Stance

Bethany Tedder is demonstrating the proper handgun grip.
Bethany Tedder demonstrates the proper handgun grip.

Everyone is different, with different length arms and muscle strength. Some will like one stance over the other, and do give each an honest try. The components of the Weaver include using the proper two-handed technique. That means wrapping your support hand around the firing hand, with your support hand index finger strong along the bottom of the trigger guard. The old cup-and-saucer grip, in which the support hand is under the firing hand, does not work and is little better than using one hand. The cup-and-saucer grip allows the firearm to fly up out of your hand.

You must master the proper two-hand grip, regardless of the firing stance used. With a solid two-hand grip, you are ready to assume the Weaver stance. Extend your arms in the Weaver stance, with the strong-side elbow bent slightly and the support-arm elbow bent at a greater angle. Push your firing hand forward while your support hand pulls back. This creates good tension and results in an excellent firing platform. Recoil control is good and muzzle flip limited when using this technique.

The second important component of the Weaver stance is to position the feet in a kind of boxer’s stance. Angle the strong-side foot slightly out and to the rear, while the non-dominant side is forward with most of the body weight on that side. Keep the torso generally erect, but bend your body forward slightly at the hips. The result is a stable firing platform that is not only secure but also very fast to assume once the shooter has practiced.

Outdated and Ineffective Techniques

A young woman in a white t-shirt and jeans stands next to her practice target
A nicely centered group, and a good start to proficiency with a handgun.

It is surprising how many outdated and ineffective techniques we still see on the firing range.

  • Doing the cup and saucer.
  • Not leaning into the gun properly for recoil control.
  • Crouching too deeply, causing undue discomfort on the neck as the shooter practices.
  • Unable to keep balanced and standing flat-footed when they should balance with the firing-side foot to the rear.
  • Gripping too high on the revolver or too low on the self-loader.
  • Neglecting to continue with follow through.
  • Anticipating the shot and experiencing involuntary muscle contraction known as flinching (perhaps the worst issue).

It takes concentration on the proper tactics to achieve proficiency, and you cannot reach a good goal by continuing to practice with a drill based on a false premise.

Other Valuable Combat Drills

The El Presidente

This is a challenging drill well worth your time to learn.

  1. Place three man-sized silhouette targets 1 meter apart 10 yards from you.
  2. Begin with a loaded, holstered handgun and a spare magazine.
  3. Face away from the three targets.
  4. The signal to begin is given—most often a whistle.
  5. Pivot to face the targets, draw and engage the targets.
  6. Fire twice at each target.
  7. Reload.
  8. Repeat the drill.

The time from a concealed-carry draw to making 12 hits at 10 yards should be 10 seconds for a highly proficient shooter, although some make the grade with a faster score. I have burned up a case lot of Winchester USA ball on this one this year, and it is a challenge.

Night Firing Drills

When I was very young, I read a story by a New York City cop who faced three burglars in a warehouse. The building was practically pitch dark, and his description of the pop and flash of a small-caliber handgun being fired at him impressed me very much. He survived the gunfight unscathed, with one bullet left and one burglar wounded and captured. Since that time, I have had an interest in nighttime combat. I read of a great knight who fell from his horse at night and was nearly trampled by his fellows. During the Civil War, a Confederate general sadly remarked, “We have killed one another in great number.” He was alluding to mistaken-identity shootings at night. When it comes to civilian personal defense, I think we need to realize that the night may be our ally and offers concealment, if not cover.

Weapon-Mounted Light Practice

Understanding the weapon-mounted light is essential. No mounted light will blind an attacker although it does disorient one. When someone is in your home, they are most likely a threat, so illumination and identification are vital. The Viridian laser/light is among the ones I trust and use heavily in training. It is too good not to have, and learning to use it properly is not that daunting. When it comes to fighting in the dark, the hand, eye, gun and light coordination needed demands practice. We will seldom face a threat in complete darkness.

In the close-range scenarios—those most often experienced in defensive shootings—the body stance and proper alignment of the sights with the eye will carry the day whether you can see your sights clearly. I am talking about firing at a few feet with a handgun that fits your hand and with which you have practiced.

An instructor in a red shirt stands behind a student in a white shirt and dark jeans, firing at a target.
This student has learned the proper definition of the muscles, the proper firing grip and is moving rapidly toward achieving real proficiency.

You should not fire unless you have a clear target. But if you are being fired on from a few feet away and are without cover, you have to go with what you know. If you are prepared, you will have a light in the home. For the most part, flashlight and gun combinations are best suited to peace officers conducting searches.

Self-luminous iron sights (night sights) are more applicable to civilian shooters, although either benefits from having both on hand. A true 24-hour personal defense handgun should have night sights, which have ampoules of radioactive tritium, a hydrogen isotope, sealed in a tube with a synthetic sapphire at one end to pinpoint the energy and focus your miniature nuclear furnace.

Those sights offer an excellent option when you can see the target but light conditions prevent you from seeing the sights. Most of my personal defense handguns sport some type of tritium sight. The Wilson Combat sight is available, excellent and affordable. While night sights are an excellent option, too many shooters never practice in dim-light conditions.

Night sights will not carry the day if you have not practiced. In dim light, you have lost visual acuity, and it is hard to see or define the target. It is as if your glasses have fogged, so to speak.

You need to practice and understand the relationship between the sights and the point of impact at close range in dim light.

I experienced a night action during which I dropped my flashlight while moving in a large, open rural field off a major highway. It took precious seconds to recover my night vision enough to use the night sights on my handgun. That was an invaluable lesson.

Do not let your night vision be diminished; target the other man’s night vision. A particularly offensive individual once shined a powerful flashlight out the back of the truck he was a passenger in, attempting to affect my night vision during a traffic stop. Fortunately, I had enough lights on the Crown Vic to illuminate the traffic stop, and let’s just say it was the worst night of his life.

You should always have a small light in your pocket in case you drop your keys in the parking lot or to check the vehicle for unwanted hitchhikers when you return to the car. A good quality light is essential for use with the handgun. Few of us will holster a weapon-mounted light, although a flashlight is a great tactical tool to have once you have learned to marry it to the weapon. The proper form for marrying the light and handgun is simple enough, but you will tie your arms and hands up like a pretzel if you do not practice.

  • Bring the non-dominant hand under the dominant side wrist.
  • Hold the backs of the hands tightly, each against the other.
  • Carry the light with the non-dominant hand, with the globe pointing out of the bottom of the hand (practice activating the on-and-off switch to produce short bursts of light).

Ammunition Selection

Gunpowder, oil and grease has made its mark and so has recoil. Train hard and sweat blood in training not in combat!
Gunpowder, oil and grease have made a mark and so has recoil. Train hard and sweat blood in training, not in combat.

A consideration in night firing is muzzle blast. Some ammunition emits a tremendous blast, and so will handloads. However, quality American ammunition most often gives little muzzle signature because the loads typically feature a full powder burn. While you can expect some flash, a warm orange glow is all that is acceptable. The first line of defense is you and your skills. Everything else is secondary, and take any advantage available. Among the loads best suited to low light use are Winchester loads intended for law enforcement. While it may seem a small consideration, as I said, take every advantage. A load that exhibits extra muzzle flash is not recommended for all-around defensive use. A full powder burn is a sign of quality manufacturing. Muzzle flash is simply unburned powder burning outside of the barrel.

Taking Cover the Right Way

Young man in red t-shirt and jeans takes cover behind a vehicle.
This is the best shot we know: practice hanging back from cover. Here, our subject is well covered, and a bullet that strikes the cover is not likely to bounce and hit him. He has a low profile and excellent visibility.

Firing from behind cover is an essential part of the combat mindset. While tactics and skills are important, you need to develop a mindset to take every advantage, which takes practice. Those who take cover survive whether or not they manage to shoot the adversary.

Cover is anything that will stop a bullet.

  • A motor block in a vehicle or a concrete wall is cover.
  • A large tree is cover.
  • A car door may be cover but it may not, depending on the firearm used against you.
  • Brush is not cover.
  • A clothesline with clothes hanging is concealment but not cover.To effectively use cover, you must have mastered the basics.

Remember, nothing is accomplished until you master:

  • Grip.
  • Stance.
  • Trigger press.
  • Sight alignment.
  • Sight picture.
  • Follow through.

Extensive practice, dry fire and practicing body positioning are required. In your daily walk, you need to consider what may happen, likely areas of attack and where you can find cover. Also consider the best cover and how to spot it if you are caught flat-footed in a strange area. Simple common sense indicates that if you have a choice between taking cover and returning fire, taking cover is the superior measure.

A dark vehicle with a handgun too far out from behind the cover of the vehicle.
In this illustration, the handgun is hanging over cover too much.

The primary advantage of cover is that it stops a bullet. If you take cover, then hang your body out of the barricade or wall to fire, you are defeating the purpose. Minimizing the target area you present is important. If you crowd your cover, you take the chance of catching a bullet that bounces from the cover. The best tactic is to stand behind cover and have a good setback. By doing so, you become practically invisible quickly.

When you are caught in the open, such as in the street, there are almost always vehicles in the area. The rear trunk area of a vehicle is often thin metal. The engine compartment, however, stops even high-power rifle fire. The average student chooses to lean over the hood and fire across it, a very poor idea. If the assailant comes anywhere close to your firing position, the bullets may bounce off the hood and into your body. It is far better to stand at least 3 feet behind the cover, off to one side, and deliver fire if needed. Remember, you are not a peace officer who is duty bound to take a violent offender into custody.

If a street criminal is firing at you, are not required to capture or shoot him. Escape is what is important. On the other hand, if the adversary is an active shooter bent on killing innocent people, we would like to see him brought down. In that situation, a covered position both protects your body and, in most cases, makes for a formidable firing position. Proper use of cover also braces you for more accurate shooting.

I am not a great fan of the kneeling position for many reasons. While it works great on the range for increasing accuracy, when you get into the kneeling position behind cover, you often have a difficult time getting out of it. A good portion of my students is over 50, and some of the younger students are not in the shape they should be. Do not adopt a firing position you cannot reasonably use to your greatest advantage. When firing from a covered position, there are those who teach that only the firing hand will be exposed. Properly done, a minimum of the firing hand is exposed, which means you are presenting a very small target.

She has rounded a corner with the gun and the trainer shows her the error of her ways. (Thanks to Bobbie and Alan Campbell)
She has rounded a corner with the gun and the trainer shows her the error of her ways. (Thanks to Bobbie and Alan Campbell.)

The only part of your face and head that you should present is enough to get a view of the adversary. If you cannot see him, it is always best to duck—he may see you. Remember, use the same firing technique as you have when firing from any other position, and pay attention to detail. Practice crouching behind cover, recognizing cover and taking cover. When possible, practice on the range. The barricade firing position is meant to simulate firing from cover. Take advantage of the firing position, and do all you can do to recognize and take cover.

The life you save is your own.

The Presentation from Concealed Carry

When you take the gun from the holster, you are presenting it toward the target, hence the term presentation. The draw is not terribly complex, although if you attempt draw with lost motion, you will be hopelessly slow. With practice, you may execute a swift and sure presentation, and the key is practice with the correct technique. Too often, trainers do not concentrate on the presentation. Frankly, there is a certain amount of trepidation involved in allowing untrained individuals to draw from concealed carry.

Gray haired man in purple shirt with ear protection shoots his handgun into the woods.
A hard-kicking .357 Magnum demands more practice. Be ready to invest the time, training and ammunition.

By using a triple-checked, unloaded firearm or dummy gun and beginning with practice from an uncovered position, you can quickly present the handgun from concealment in time. While you may not need a rapid presentation, most of us have difficulty seeing trouble coming and are unable to meet it gun in hand. Whether the draw is rapid or leisurely, make sure it is controlled and smooth. An essential part of your gun skills is to practice drawing from concealed carry. A peace officer has received a call indicating something is dangerous, you; as a citizen, are reacting to something close at hand.

Presenting the handgun from leather means moving the handgun in a straight line without presenting a danger to you or the public. Do not let the muzzle sweep your body or the body of a bystander. You must keep your trigger finger off the trigger during the draw. When you draw and present the handgun, your trigger finger is along the frame during the entire motion and only touches the trigger once you make the conscious decision to fire—not when you think you will fire, but when you are about to press the trigger and fire the weapon.

Make sure the non-dominant hand is never in front of the muzzle and is always out of the way of the muzzle as you draw the piece. First, practice drawing in slow motion until your draw is smooth; then work on speed.

  1. To begin the draw, jut your elbow to the rear.
  2. Press your hand under the holster.
  3. Raise your hand and scoop the handgun out of the holster after you affirm your grip.
    Your hand does not stop and affirm the grip; it rises from under the gun and grasps the handle.
  4. Continue moving your firing hand forward.

Unless the range is very short, you affect the two-hand hold. Your support hand meets the firing hand, roughly in front of the belt buckle, pushing the handgun toward the target. That is the most efficient presentation. When you wear a covering garment, the presentation is more complicated. As your hand comes to the pistol, it blades under the garment, and your hand moves to the pistol. This works best with open-front garb, such as windbreakers and open jackets.

In the case of pullover garments, such as sweatshirts and T-shirts, you must use a different technique.

  1. Sweep your hand under the garment to draw.
  2. If possible, bring up the covering garment with you weak hand to facilitate the draw.
  3. When you draw, keep your trigger finger along the holster to prevent an accidental discharge by pressing the trigger too quickly.
  4. Keep that finger along the trigger guard as you holster to avoid a holstering discharge.

A Good Beginning Drill

Young man in gray t-shirt and jeans watches his students to make sure they stay stay.
A student is in the safe zone, and a safety officer keeps an eye on the class—the only way to keep students safe is with diligent attention to safety.

A good beginning drill is to draw and fire from the ready position at a target beginning with a 3-yard range and progressing to 5, 7 and, finally, 10 yards. You should be able to get a center hit in 1 second at 3 yards once you have enough practice, and in 1.5 seconds at 10 yards. You need to do a lot of work with an unloaded gun to achieve that goal. Work consistently and do the drills correctly. Speed will come; accuracy is final.

What practice drills do you follow to make sure you are ready to use your weapon safely and quickly? Share in the comments below.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (2)

  1. All of the women I have seen in these photo’s have a terrible stance. All leaning back and off balance. Mr. Campbell should address this before any more live fire drills.
    I have been an instructor and rangemaster for more than 40yrs. both CA. DOJ and Federal DOJ but this problem should be addressed.

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