We have discussed various parts of the after action assessment previously here on the blog. Those posts can be found here and here. What I want to discuss today is how I practice actual observation when checking my six, and how I train to do so safely.
For those that may be new to concealed carry, an after action assessment is exactly what it sounds like. While different trainers teach slightly different formats, the basic idea is that after a shooting you need to make sure that threat is down and is staying down, you need to make sure that there are not additional threats to be dealt with, you need to verify the condition of your weapon (reload), and you need to check that you or those with you are not injured.
This post deals specifically with looking for additional threats. One of the things I took away from training with Mike Pannone was the need to differentiate between drills and scenarios. One of the notes that I scribbled in my notepad from his Covert Carry class was that scanning after shooting a drill on a flat range is virtually worthless, and ingrains a bad habit. Instead I understood him to say that scanning for threats should be reserved for scenario based training. In another class, he assured us that when you’re actually being shot at, you will definitely have your head on a swivel, looking for threats everywhere. All of this makes sense to me.
Having said that, I actually do look around and try to pay attention to my environment when I’m at the range. Most of the time, I do most of my pistol practice in a pit that is probably 25 yards deep and maybe 10 yards wide. There is a main road through the range facility directly behind the opening to this pit. On one side is an indoor range, and on the other is a similar shooting pit. All of these surrounding features add up to a lot of potential traffic.
After I complete a string of fire, I will typically pull my pistol into a retention position (essentially a high compressed ready), and without turning my body around, look behind me over one shoulder and then the other. This is a real look around, not just a choreographed habit. I do this because I have been surprised in the past by a passerby stopping to watch my practice session. I was of course wearing hearing protection (in effect mimicking auditory exclusion), and was shocked to see someone in the pit with me when I turned around to walk back to the loading bench! The gentleman was no threat, just another club member interested in my shot timer and practice routine, but the lesson was clear. That’s how and why I check my six for real when I’m practicing at the range.
Let me talk a little bit more about the how. I have trained with instructors that teach a full 360 degree scan that involves physically turning around. I personally feel that this is an exceedingly bad idea, and I choose to do my 360 degree scan as I described above. In a real shooting, there is no telling who may be behind me when the shooting is done, and turning around with a gun in hand may not be the best course of action if the person behind me is actually a police officer or another armed citizen. I’m also not keen on turning my back to a threat that I just had to shoot.
The aforementioned instructor favored turning around with the pistol held in SUL (muzzle depressed down with the pistol held flat against the back of the support hand and body). If we accept that SUL offers very poor retention against disarm attempts, then I would again suggest that physically turning around to face unknowns with a pistol held in that position is a bad idea. Instead, with the pistol held in a close retention position, it can be punched out toward new threats as they are perceived, or fired from retention or even at contact distance if required. If you do discern a threat behind you that needs shooting, then move how ever you need to move, whether that involves turning around or perhaps even creating distance while seeking cover. But don’t just randomly turn around with a gun in hand. The human head and neck have an incredible range of motion. Use it! Be aware that after a real shooting, you may be suffering from some tunnel vision with a reduced field of view, so make sure those looks over your shoulders are deliberate motions.
Robert has written extensively about the how and why of a 360 degree scan, and I would recommend that you read his article for an in-depth discussion of the subject. I especially like his blind spot analogy and I think that his comparison has some real merit.
Finally, I want to refer back to one of my recent posts. When working through the OODA loop, it is necessary to not only look, but to actually see in order to achieve the correct orientation and thus make the correct decisions before, during, and after a gunfight. Hence, the subtitle of this post!
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