I first became aware of Will Petty’s Vehicle Close Quarters Battle (VCQB) course back in 2015. Honestly, it was not really on my radar as a potential class to take at that point. I had assumed (DANGER DANGER!) that it was a course geared more towards police officers working patrol scenarios rather than something applicable to my own life as a “regular guy”. I had also seen some student-produced videos on YouTube—recorded during different iterations of this course—that, without context, I completely misinterpreted as—at best–unrealistic exercises that simply “look cool” on video.
Did you hear that? That was me slapping myself in the face.
Thankfully, somewhere in the last year or so I found AARs written by other “regular guys” who recommended the class quite highly. When one of my mentors did the same and said that it fit in with my new goal of taking as many courses as possible where I would be “thinking with a gun in my hand”, I kept an eye out for an offering of this course close enough to home to attend with relative ease.
This particular iteration of the course was held at the excellent Alliance Police Range in Alliance, Ohio. The range is run by the indefatigable Joe Weyer of Weyer Tactical and Alliance Police Training. I have to give a shout-out here to Joe for all of his help in hosting, getting the range set up, moving the cars around, etc. Yeoman’s work, no doubt.
This course was taught by Will Petty and Chase Jenkins, both of Centrifuge Training. Including myself and fellow Civilian Gunfighter founder John, there were fourteen students in class (about half were active law enforcement officers). Students came from as far away as the states of Washington and Connecticut. Cost of the course was $550 with an additional $50 for a range fee. Neither John nor I are affiliated in any way with Centrifuge Training, Alliance Police Training, etc., except as full-price-paying customers.
I did this class in a basic concealed carry setup. For a handgun, I used my typical 3rd Generation OD Glock 19, modified as per this article and equipped with Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights. Of some note is that I eclipsed 10,000 rounds through this pistol during this class. I shot PMC Bronze 115 grain FMJ ammunition and had no malfunctions of any kind. I brought along a second Glock 19 as a backup, but never needed it. I carried this in my usual Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon holster, with spare magazines carried in a no-name two-magazine kydex carrier and both of these items mounted on a V Development Group Megingjörð belt. I carried a Combat Application Tourniquet in a carrier which I will be reviewing very soon (I will go back and link to it here once the review on it is live). I was not expecting to need a flashlight for this course, but carried my usual Fenix PD-35 Tac with Thyrm Switchback 2.0 Large. I also brought along Arc’teyrx knee pads which I used for about half of day one. Despite the heat and humidity (lower 90 degrees for highs with fairly high humidity, especially on Day One), I wore a long sleeve shirt and long pants which provided at least rudimentary protection from the gravel and concrete of the range and the broken glass from the cars.
I will note here that most other students used Glocks as well, but there were two Smith and Wesson M&Ps (one was John’s) and one FN pistol. A few students used compensators on their handguns, and there were several red dots on the handguns as well. I will also note here that John shot as well as I have ever seen him shoot, so it looks like his relatively recent switch to the M&P was a good move.
Training Day One
John and I arrived early at the range (around 8:30 AM), and I was happy to have the time to say hello to Joe Weyer (primary instructor from the shoothouse class I took at Alliance back in March) as well as to a student who had been in that same class with me. We filled out the usual liability waivers, paid our range fees, and got to work.
Will Petty took the lead and introduced himself along with his co-instructor, Chase Jenkins. I am not entirely sure of the history here, but Jenkins has been lead instructor of a company called Talon Defense. That company seems to have been folded into Centrifuge Training. Jenkins is particularly well-regarded for his low-light training, and appeared on Ballistic Radio discussing that very topic.
As noted, Petty took the lead, and after quickly going over his own resume (law enforcement, primarily on the training end), he talked about what this class would be all about. He began by informing us that he would be doing this class a little bit differently than usual. Because the Alliance Police range supports shooting at night, we would end this first day a bit early, have a dinner break, then return at night to do the low-light portion (which was not in the course description = value added!). This would mean that he would have to cover all of the “exterior” work around cars on Day One and do the “interior” work on Day Two. Usually he does these the other way around, but we needed to learn the exterior movements in order to be ready for the evening’s festivities.
With that good news shared, Petty talked about his own interest and history in fighting around vehicles. He felt like the officers in his own department were getting beaten in fights around their vehicles, and after he lost a friend in such an engagement, he decided to start looking at the issue more closely. After what I would describe as exhaustive research (over 6,000 shootings that took place in and around vehicles) and crunching a lot of numbers, certain themes began to emerge. For example, 68% of all law enforcement engagements happen around cars. Further, 83% of officers killed on the job die around cars. In the end, the commonalities are that these events are high intensity, short duration, close-range events. Other data points about the “best” places to be around vehicles also emerged, which will be covered later. I will note here that his VCQB curriculum has been so well-regarded that it has been adopted by numerous state police agencies (Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, among others) and by the FBI.
Some of our readers may now be thinking: what does this have to do with civilian applications? The answer, of course, is a lot. As Petty mentioned several times throughout the class, the reason “why” a person is around a car does not matter. For example, while I may not be making felony car stops, I do spend a good portion of my day behind the wheel of my car, and when I am not driving, I walk through parking lots, walk on sidewalks next to cars parked against the curb, etc. In short, cars are everywhere. I should also note that the 6,000+ vehicular engagements he has examined were not all law enforcement engagements. Some involved civilians being assaulted on the street, at gas stations and convenience stores, etc., and some even involved criminals fighting other criminals. The “who” does not matter; the principles matter.
Another note: Petty specifically said in these first few minutes of class that this course is about stateside engagements involving law enforcement or private citizens. Taking this information and trying to apply it in a true combat zone would be inappropriate. In a military setting, the vehicle itself could be the target, hence the need to get away from it as soon as possible. Also, in a combat zone, chances are the weapons used against a vehicle will be of heavier caliber, hold more rounds (belt fed?), and there will also typically be more than one enemy fighter firing. There may, depending on theater of operations, be plenty of cover available, and the vehicle itself may be armored. Stateside, chances are there will be one opponent armed with a handgun who will want to kill you, not the vehicle, and the only protection available may be the vehicle itself. It is a very different paradigm.
This morning presentation only took about 30-40 minutes, and once completed (in the comfort of the air-conditioned classroom), we moved outside to the range. At this point, the range was empty of vehicles, and after the obligatory safety and emergency procedures segment, we set up at the 7 yard line to work on some basic shooting (a chance for the instructors to make sure our marksmanship and manipulations skills were up to the challenge). We shared USPSA cardboard targets and worked them over for a magazine or two, and then Petty started going over positional shooting. Petty teaches four positions for working around vehicles: standing, squatting, kneeling, and roll-over–or urban–prone. He demonstrated each position, shot from each position, and had us do the same. He stressed that, around vehicles, standing was preferable to squatting, squatting preferable to kneeling, and kneeling preferable to prone. The reasoning behind this continuum is that the preferable positions offer greater vision opportunities as well as superior mobility. Nevertheless, the situation will always dictate which is “best”.
Once we had covered each position, it was time to move to the “1 to 4 drill”. Nothing too crazy here. Basically, Petty or Jenkins would call out a number (1, 2, 3, or 4). If he called out a 1, we would fire one round at the A zone of the target from the standing position. If he called out a 2, we would fire two rounds from the squatting position. If he called out a 3, it would be three rounds from the kneeling position. If he called out a 4 left or 4 right, we would fire four rounds at the pelvic area of the target (so as not to launch rounds over the berm) from the roll-over prone position (right or left side, depending on the instruction). Lots of up and down in this drill, which we would be revisiting MANY times over the rest of the course.
We broke for a 20-30 minute lunch while Joe took over the front loader and moved some junked cars around on the range, placing them with expert precision right where Petty and Jenkins wanted them. Once everything was set up, we moved into the ballistics portion of the course. This was probably the most enlightening portion of the class for me, and even though I have seen videos on YouTube outlining some of this presentation, I must say that being there made all the difference.
To begin, Petty asked about where the “traditional” points of cover on a car are located. The students almost universally answered with the engine block and the wheels. Petty acknowledged that these are useful bits of cover. However, the problems arise when trying to actually fight from these positions. A person has to get quite low to utilize them, and we had already covered why higher positions are generally more favorable than lower positions (visibility and mobility).
Petty has found, through the study of actual gunfights, studying how automobiles are constructed, and from actually shooting A LOT of cars, that the better pieces of cover are the “pillars”. On a typical sedan, there are three pillars on each side of the car. The “A” pillar extends from the lower frame just in front of the door all the way up alongside the windshield and to the roof. The “B” pillar extends from the lower frame behind and between the front and back door up to the roof. The “C” pillar extends from the lower frame behind the back doors and up to the roof on both sides of the rear window. SUVs and wagons have a “D” pillar that extends upward from the bottom of the frame at the rear (basically where the rear bumper is) and up to the roof.
Petty selected a green, late 90’s Ford Taurus to demonstrate on. Shooting at the “A” pillar, he fired a round of 9mm ball, a 9mm 124 grain Gold Dot, and a 147 grain HST. The 9mm ball fell out when he opened the door, while the other two stayed inside the metal/edge of glass inside the metal frame. Ah, 9mm is weak! He next fired a .40 S&W 165 grain HST. It did not perform any better. Next up was a round of .45 ACP FMJ and then a .45 ACP Federal HST. Again, no discernable difference from the 9mm rounds. Hmm. Borrowing a shotgun from Joe Weyer, Jenkins fired a 12 gauge slug and a round of 00 buckshot from about 12 inches from the “A” pillar. The results were THE SAME. Nothing came close to going through the “A” pillar and all of that glass of the windshield. Next, Petty placed a target on the far side of the car at the “B” pillar. He knelt a few yards off the car, readied his AR-15, and asked us to get into a position to safely see the target and tell him when rounds started hitting the target. He ended up firing around 40 rounds through the “B” pillar on the one side before a single round impacted the target on the far side! What I think most amazed me by this whole demonstration was the practiced ease with which Petty performed the demonstration. It was clear that he knew what the outcomes would be even though he had never shot at this car before.
A couple of thoughts here. First, some of you might be thinking that this is all great, but the pillars are so narrow as to be ineffective in protecting someone seeking cover. To this, Petty removed a ballistic plate from a plate carrier and put it over the “A”, “B”, and “C” pillars of a student’s SUV. The pillars were at least as wide as the plate. If we rely on a plate of said width to protect us (well, I do not, but many people do!), what is wrong with using the pillar? Secondly, as much as possible, we try to maneuver to utilize more than one pillar at a time. This is called “stacking pillars”, and there are some positions that can be utilized (shooting from back by the trunk area towards the front bumper area), where three or four pillars might be stacked in order to afford more protection. In a parking lot, one can even stack pillars of vehicles in adjacent parking spaces.
I know some other instructors seem to take some sort of “offence” to all of this, citing some vague definition that cover—something that stops bullets—cannot be temporary. If something only provides protection for a small amount of time until it becomes degraded, then it is not cover. I am not sure what field manual—if any—this definition comes from. Regardless, perhaps instead of using the word “cover” we can use the word “protection” (?). After all, a ballistic plate worn in a plate carrier on the human torso can certainly provide protection, but will degrade after multiple hits. In any case, as Petty said several times, he would prefer to always have something besides air between himself and an opponent.
Another component to this ballistics presentation concerned the windshield. Petty explained and then demonstrated how the “rake” (angle) and curvature of the windshield tends to direct rounds fired at it/through it from in front of the car down and toward the middle of the car. This is an issue for officers or citizens who engage through the windshield from behind the wheel or otherwise take “cover” down below the dashboard. That area is a bad place to be in a gunfight due to visibility, mobility, and the fact that rounds tend to get “focused” right there by the windshield.
The final component to the ballistics segment concerned using the doors as cover. The students pretty much already universally recognized that unmodified doors are not “cover”, and a quick demonstration with two targets on one side of the driver’s door and Petty and his Glock on the other confirmed this hypothesis. Behind the door is not the place to be!
With this segment out of the way, we would now get to utilize the best protected areas of cars while moving around them. First, however, came a brief section on moving with pistol in hand and the controversial “temple index”. Much was written and said about Petty’s use of the temple index about four years ago when his VCQB classes were becoming more well-known. It is my opinion that many of those who were critical of temple index took it completely out of context, largely because they never took the class. Imagine that! Temple index is NOT a ready position. It is a position that one may assume while moving when pointing a gun forward (compressed high ready) or down (Sul) would be inappropriate. Down is often a preferred direction, but down while seated means that the muzzle may be flagging the user’s own legs. Up, while not without hazards, is often the better way to move around inside of a car. Likewise, when operating around others outside a vehicle, down may not be the best direction to have the muzzle oriented if those around the user are shorter in height, sitting or kneeling, etc. In short, like so many things, the use of temple index is dependent on the situation.
To complement the temple index, a new position (to me) was covered: holster index. This would be used primarily outside the car in situations of movement when those around the user were in a higher positions (for example, the user might be kneeling after getting up from prone, but those around him/her were already standing). In this case, the user would simply hook the firing hand thumb into the holster and move with the pistol in hand, outside the holster and pointing to the ground parallel with the seam of the pants. This worked great for those officers in the class in duty belts, but for those of us carrying concealed (especially AIWB), this was problematic. For us, we would just hook the thumb into the belt or even into a pocket. In the cases of both temple and holster index, the key is to anchor the firing hand somewhere in order to keep the muzzle from moving in an uncontrolled fashion.
Four cars were arranged in a line parallel with the berm (the aforementioned Taurus remained perpendicular to the berm, but still on line with the other three vehicles). Targets were arranged around each car. Some were low and only visible if one assumed an urban prone position. Some targets were inside the cars. There was also a singular steel target per car located at least 10 yards beyond the cars near the berm. Our task, which we would perform one at a time under the watchful eyes of Petty and Jenkins, would be to approach the first car and engage targets beginning with those inside the car, those beyond, and then any that might only be visible from beneath the car. After engaging each target, we would assume the necessary positions of movement (temple or holster index) and move to the next car, and the next, and the next. We did this twice moving from left to right across the range and then once moving from right to left. The purpose of these drills was to get us used to moving around the car, getting in and out of different firing positions, and utilizing the temple and holster index positions. This was not a scenario. The multiple targets in and around each vehicle were meant to simulate a target that was moving around, changing his position. This completed the daylight portion of live-fire for the day.
We moved back inside the classroom to go over what Petty called the principles of vehicle CQB. He reminded us that the key part of this is not the vehicle, but the CQB. In other words, it is simply the principles of CQB applied to a vehicular environment. I am not going to list them all here, but some interesting tidbits included: it’s all about the gun, not the vehicle; shooting around/over/under a vehicle is better than shooting through it; movement must be tactical in nature, athletic in motion, and safe in environment; learn to fight from the position(s) you find yourself in; and, as always, the high ground wins. We stopped in the classroom around 1645 to go out to get dinner, buy spare flashlight batteries, etc., before returning to the range at 2100.
Training Day One—Low-light
Full dark comes late near the western side of the Eastern time zone, so when we arrived back at the range just before 2100 hours, there were still a fair amount of light in the sky. Petty and Jenkins went over their preferred flashlight methodology. Petty taught an icepick hold on the flashlight with the thumb actuating the tailcap switch (already my preferred method). He then covered temple index (with the light, not to be confused with the pistol temple index covered earlier), the FBI position, and the Harries technique. All of these were methods with which I was already familiar though, probably like most people, I do not get nearly enough practice utilizing these techniques with live fire.
We did two runs (one left to right, one right to left) identical to the afternoon runs, with the obvious difference that now we were mostly shooting one-handed and with light provided only by our flashlights. Here, the three dimensional shapes of the cars and the shadows created by the car and their parts (roof pillars, etc.) cast many shadows, so we had to constantly maneuver ourselves and our lights in order to get maximum light on the targets. Other than one steel target that I was struggling—for some reason—to hit, and one target I completely failed to engage (I thought I already had!), I was happy with my performance during this segment. We wrapped up at 2300. I fired 310 rounds on the first day.
Training Day Two
The second day started in the classroom at 0900. We watched a couple of videos from Petty’s vast collection that illustrated certain key points. Takeaways for me from this presentation included: a parking lot is a “structure” without a roof, so treat it accordingly; vehicles are rooms; move sooner so you do not have to move faster later; good tactics buy us time, so use that time wisely; and finally, tactics have to work when they are opposed. Much of this presentation was based around law enforcement issues (such as how many departments conduct felony car stops), but many elements were still applicable to the CCW life. One video in particular showed how quickly things can happen around a vehicle. In this police dashcam video, the suspect exited his crashed vehicle and started putting rounds on the police car before a headshot from the driver of the police car–through his own windshield–ended the fight. Total time from first to last shot was 3.5 seconds. The lesson: sometimes you have to fight from inside the car.
Before heading out to the range, Petty put the potential safety hazards of the anticipated activities of the day in perspective with a great video and great speech. In short, if your head is not in the game, then do not play the game. There would be no room for a wandering mind on this day.
This set up the day’s instruction nicely. Essentially, we would work three drills on day two. An “exiting the vehicle” drill, a fighting from inside the vehicle drill, and then a final outside the vehicle drill. The first of these drills was probably the one I approached with the most trepidation. I would be in the front seat with John (we did the drill twice so that we would both get to work from the driver and passenger seats), shooting live rounds through the windshield and then exiting the vehicle to fight from the back of the car, moving around John while he moved around me. Needless to say, safety would be a concern, as I did not want to have to call John’s wife to tell her I just shot him in the back of the head. Before starting these drills, Petty and Jenkins reviewed the best way to wear and then remove the seatbelt (we all wear our seatbelts, right?). Depending on if the participant is right or left handed, where he or she wears his pistol, and which seat he or she is in, there are different techniques one can use to get out of the belt. It was also in this segment that the issue of task vs. priority was most emphasized. Sort of like those classic scenes from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”; if you have to shoot, THAT needs to be the priority. The seatbelt can come off later. Thus, in this drill, we would have to shoot some targets in front of us, then remove the belt, then assume temple index, then get the door open, then move to the back of the car, then shoot/move/communicate with our partners. Again, this was a drill designed to develop certain skills, not a scenario.
The final two drills were different versions of the by now somewhat famous “alphabet soup” drill. The first of these would be the interior version. The shooter sat in the driver’s seat with the instructor in the seat directly behind. Surrounding the car in a roughly 180 degree arc were at least a dozen targets—some near, some far—each with a letter or number spray painted on. On the signal of “contact”, the instructor (Jenkins did these for some students, Petty for others) would call out different targets to be engaged. However, at times, just as the student was about to engage a target, a new target would be called out. Sometimes, the letter or number called out did not even correspond to a target that was present! The point of calling out the different letters and numbers was to simulate a moving target. It was stressed several times that, like everything else we did in this course, this was a drill, not a scenario. We were NOT simulating twelve bad guys attacking someone in a car.
I should mention that, prior to starting this drill, Petty demonstrated how to “deck” the pistol muzzle on the steering wheel between engagements of each target so as not to be waving a gun around as different targets were called out. The student would have to look, find, then maneuver his or her body into a good position, and only then engage with live fire. This was a stressful drill that involved a lot of movement in the driver’s seat, finding targets, engaging targets at different cadences depending on the distances involved, and even some one-handed shooting.
The final drill of the day was the exterior version of alphabet soup. In this case, two cars were positioned parallel with and about 15 yards off the berm. They were parked nose to tail with about 5 yards between the rear bumper of one and the front bumper of the other. Similar to other drills from the prior day (and with the interior version of alphabet soup), an array of targets were placed in and around the cars. These included steel targets located near the berm, targets under the cars, etc. Again, each target had a number or letter painted on it.
One at a time, each student would have to advance on the cars and then engage targets as they were called. Physically, this was the most demanding drill of the course, as the student would have to run back and forth between cars, drop to urban prone, then back up, back down, back to the other car, etc. For most students this lasted about three magazines, and several expressed elation when their pistols went to slide-lock on their last magazine! A note to prospective students: if you live on a flat piece of land and use a ride-on mower, start working on your legs! I did not have any major issues completing the drill (Petty referred to me as “a spring-loaded chipmunk”!), but my legs were a little sore the next day. I also had some bruising along the right side of my rib cage and my right elbow.
Once everyone had completed alphabet soup, we had our final of many “roundtables” to discuss what we learned, what we liked, what we did not like, etc., about the course. We policed up the range just a bit, said some goodbyes, and John and I were in my car and on the road by about 1545. I fired a total of 145 rounds on Day Two, for a total of 455 rounds over the course of the class.
I never intended or thought this AAR would run to such lengths! Leaving the class, while I had a great time and learned a lot, I was not thinking that it involved all that much. And yet, here we are! I included so much detail (and, as always, could have included much more) mainly for my own benefit, as I do expect to revisit this AAR often (and not for reasons of narcissism).
Quick note: this was NOT a basic level class. Safely handling the handgun, marksmanship (at least one student needed some remedial help from Petty on the range), and manipulations needed to be on point.
I am going to say right here that I really enjoyed this class. It was loaded with information, got me “thinking with a gun in my hand”, and was presented very clearly. The information was the very definition of “research-based best practices”, and after completing the course I immediately contacted some police officers I know and told them that they NEED to take this course. As already noted, however, I also think this course was quite applicable to the “regular” person practicing concealed carry.
I found Will Petty and Chase Jenkins to be excellent instructors. Everything was presented clearly and questions were answered expertly and directly. Indeed, in speaking with John after the class, I described it as “tight”, perhaps the tightest course I have ever taken. Petty and Jenkins expressed several times that they wanted everyone to learn, to be safe, but also to have fun. Though I can see how not everyone would appreciate their brand of humor, I am surrounded by kids all day at work and so appreciated the R-rated jokes. I also noticed how, before the more stressful drills, either or both of them would take a moment to make sure the students were calm and settled down. These extra few seconds before each drill allowed the students to get focused to task.
Finally, I was very pleased that they were able to include the low-light segment. As this was not listed on the course description, this was “value-added”. I rarely get the chance to shoot around cars; shooting around them in a low-light environment was like a unicorn sighting.
In the end, I would highly recommend this course for all police officers (street cops and, perhaps especially, administrators who often have the street cops utilizing sub-optimal vehicle tactics) as well as civilians practicing concealed carry. Automobiles are ubiquitous; learning to fight in and around them should be almost mandatory in the training path of concealed carriers.
One final note: I am going to attempt to post some video clips from class on our Facebook page over the next week or so, so please keep an eye out for those. Also, I found this interview with Will Petty on Firearms Nation (from about a year ago), and in it is much of the lecture material from this class. Give it a listen. I will also mention that there are a TON of videos on YouTube from Petty’s VCQB courses, and now that the reader has some of the context behind them, they might be worth a look. Also, my blog partner John found elements of this class so compelling that he too wrote an AAR about this class.
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