What can you learn from a playhouse? Life-saving tips, actually.

I just returned from a few days at Gunsite Academy, one of the nation’s premier shooting academies located just outside of Prescott, Arizona. That’s pronounced more like “biscuit” by the way, not “Scott.” Sturm, Ruger & Company also builds most of their pistols there—it’s a gun-friendly place, to say the least.

I ended up at Gunsite thanks to the good folks at LaserMax. They’ve got some big news that will ripple through the laser sighting industry over the next couple of years—Native Green technology. We’ll talk more about that next week when I write a separate article on Native Green laser technology. For now, just be aware that green laser light is currently generated by shooting an infrared laser through some “magic” crystals to “create” green light. Native Green lasers generate bright green light right off the bat with no conversion required.

We used these marking rounds with Simunitions conversion kits.
We used these marking rounds with Simunitions conversion kits.

The LaserMax team enlisted the Gunsite staff to help us test out the new LaserMax Native Green lasers in a variety of scenarios, one of which was clearing the famous Gunsite Playhouse. The Playhouse is a specially-constructed building designed to simulate a home or business with multiple rooms, hallways, and hidden corners and nooks. In other words, it has lots of places for innocent bystander and bad guy targets to hide. The Playhouse is set up to handle either live fire from real guns or Simunitions marking-projectile rounds. We used Glocks configured with Simunitions  so we could easily see hits. Using Simunitions in the Playhouse also allowed us to take pictures from a catwalk above during the exercises without risk of losing photographers to friendly fire.

I’m an experienced shooter and have taken a number of self-defense shooting classes. One predictable outcome from every training experience is that there are always leaning epiphanies. This time was no different.

First, I must stress how much our Gunsite Range Masters, Mike Moore and Chris Weare, emphasized that you never, ever, ever, ever want to clear a house on your own. It’s a bad tactic and you’re at a major disadvantage from the start. The purpose of this drill was to learn some basic clearing techniques in the event you had to “clear” a building in order to get out of it, or perhaps reach a loved one in trouble. If you ever arrive at your home or business and see a sign that there’s been a break in, back up and call 911. Don’t go in on your own.

We were given minimum instructions: open the front door and “deal” with things. That’s it. At the end of my three- or four-minute house clearing, I thought about what went right and what went wrong.

Chris is not telling me how awesomely tactical I am. He's telling me to stop "water skiing" and that I just shot the bad guy in the hand.
Chris is not telling me how awesomely tactical I am. He’s telling me to stop “water skiing” and that I just shot the bad guy in the hand.

First, when I was sneaking around corners, knowing that “people” were likely in my house, I had a natural predisposition to shoot. The very first surprise behind the front door was a large and scary-looking dude with his hands in a threatening position. I instinctively wanted to shoot him, but didn’t. It’s a good thing, because all he had in his hand was a sandwich. I value my Dagwoods as much as the next guy, but a sandwich is not worth a human life. The learning was that you really, really have to focus on trigger discipline when you’re amped up and expecting trouble. Granted, I knew this was a shooting exercise, but I was still surprised at how quickly I wanted to fire at the first sign of intruders.

Another lesson that stood out was how my shooting form degraded. I’m kind of fanatical about using an aggressive forward shooting position and not doing the Bernie. However, that great shooting stance fell apart when I was focusing on my “searching position” rather than my shooting position. One of our lessons was how to “pie” a new room before entering by moving in a semicircle outside the doorway in very small increments. This exposes very narrow slices of your body to whatever is coming into view in the room. When all my attention was on not exposing myself to whatever was in the next room, I found myself leaning back. I think it was a natural “hiding” instinct kicking in as that’s exactly what you’re doing: hiding the majority of your body from view. It was a sobering lesson, even through Range Master Chris made light of it by accusing me of water skiing. If a real person had run at me out from that room, I would have been very off-balance right off the bat. This one will require practice to fix.

I’ve read numerous accounts of police and armed citizens either getting shot in the hand, or shooting an attacker in the hand. Not because they’re showing off their Lone Ranger skills, but because their eyes were laser focused on their attackers hands. Where the eyes are, the shot goes. Sure enough, my first shot on my second bad guy target hit him right in the gun, which was almost at his waist-level. I wasn’t even conscious of aiming at the hand, but I did. I tried to tell Range Master Chris that I was “trying to shoot the gun out of his hand” on purpose, but Chris was having none of that huff-puffery. He explained that I had just experienced what many before me had—a focus on the source of the threat (the hands) and a responsive shot in that direction. Well, at least I hit exactly what I was apparently aiming at!

One of the few things I did right was not shoot the scary-looking dude who was eating a sandwich.
One of the few things I did right was not shoot the scary-looking dude who was eating a sandwich.

I’ve been converted to the benefits of lasers by a number of night shooting-and-moving activities, and this exercise simply reinforced that value to me. While moving through the house, I found I often wanted to hold the gun in a non-conventional firing position. For example, when opening a door, I drew the gun back closer to my body and out of a standard eye-level sight picture. With the laser, I was still able to get hits on target without raising my gun to eye level. Another big lesson was how much a standard shooting position (with sights right in front of your eyes) interferes with your vision. It’s great for shooting, but hard for searching beyond your gun. With the laser on, I was able to lower the gun out of my primary view while I looked for threats.

One last thing: I did find myself turning the laser on and off while I searched. While moving down a hallway with a 90-degree turn, I couldn’t help but notice that my laser dot was shining on a wall where it would be visible to me and a hidden attacker at the other end. I turned it off until I got around the corner.

There’s a lot more to talk about, and this article is certainly not intended to be a tutorial on how to clear a building. Rather, by sharing just a few of my “light bulb moments” I hope to emphasize the value of quality training and repeated practice. It will take some deliberate work to remove some of the bad habits I exposed. If you can get to a Gunsite class, by all means do it. If you can’t, look for a quality training company in your area. It’s a matter of life and death, after all.

Images courtesy Tom McHale

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