Shooting in the hole

Different firearms instructors have different opinions about the most efficient way to train for shooting in the hole. In fact, many of us have different names for contact and near-contact shooting. Me, I like “in the hole.” I have heard, “in the crucible,” “point blank” and several others. In any case, it defines the area where the threat is close enough to touch.

Statistically, the hit ratio of close encounters is relatively low, even when officer and assailant are within a contact distance. One study (in one region) found that hits were about 43 percent for shootings within six feet. There could be a lot of reasons why the numbers seem low, but it could also be argued that these numbers aren’t bad, considering the factors. Regardless, this article is an examination of some of the training considerations for shooting “in the hole”.

The biggest problem with shooting in the hole is the fact that all options are counterintuitive. Within the realm of close quarters battle, one option is to shoot at close distance, another is to fight, rather than draw, and yet another is to shoot and create distance. Which option is the best in extreme close quarters? They all are, depending on the tactical situation and the strengths of the officer.

Inside the hole, the officer has to do one of two things: stay ahead of the sequence of events, or short-circuit the OODA Loop. These strategies have two completely different outcomes. The truth is, officers need to prepare themselves to engage at all distances.

Within the hole, the level of sight alignment changes as the distance increases or decreases. As the threat comes closer, a precision engagement isn’t as important as a fast delivery. Still the rule is, deliver rounds until the threat is no longer a threat.

I had a chance to pick the brains of three firearms experts. As training experts, their credentials are extensive. But that’s not quite as important as the fact that I know them personally and have seen them train others. John Hall, Dan Gray and Dr. Ron Martinelli are results-driven trainers.

Gray, a retired police sergeant and lead instructor/owner of Trident Firearms Academy, told me that the “speed rock,” the rocking of the heel of the gun to bring the muzzle level just above the holster, is dead. He has been teaching the “high tuck” position, which differs from the original speed rock because the firing position is not over the holster, but at chest-level.

The logic behind abandoning the speed rock makes the most amount of sense when the officer needs to draw from a seated position. Seated in a vehicle, a booth at a restaurant, or in a similar position, officers would have to stand to be effective and may not have time to stand. Raising the handgun to the “high tuck” position allows the officer to be effective.

The target area, Gray continues, is also different. From the high tuck position, the hit zone is lower in the abdomen, rather than high up in the big blood bearing organ areas.

The support hand now becomes part of the weapon defense system. Its purpose is to strike, deflect, protect, grab or defend. When the officer draws, he uses the non-drawing hand to facilitate getting bullets to the target, which can mean striking or even drawing the assailant to the officer.

Gray’s training to shoot the lower abdomen/pelvic girdle area has added benefits. This area can quickly take away an assailant’s mobility. Most important, a miss is most likely pointed toward the pavement.

Hall recommends that officers practice their close quarter draw consistently. When he teaches this, he uses an IDPA style target with the center circle cut out. I do, too. We sometimes call this a “negative” target. The idea, of course, is to shoot the close quarter target through the hole without hitting the target.

Officers begin at a distance of approximately one arm’s length. On the command to draw, they perform a distraction strike while beginning the draw stroke. As the gun clears the holster, the officer raises the muzzle, canting the gun slightly away from the body. The officer continues to fire and create distance.

Since the majority of Hall’s law enforcement career has been in casual clothes, he is adamant about practicing in environments where clothes-clearing is part of shooting training. His requirement for this type of training is 1.5 seconds from a concealed draw. That is, officers don’t leave the range until they can do this consistently.

Hall’s training method is one I use myself: officers compete against each other, two at a time. They do this all the way to an elimination round. The competition creates a little stress in the training. Hall told me he used to have a knife giveaway for the fastest round. One thing that he stresses is the fact that draw speed is a significant criterion for holster selection.

I have just discovered the Safariland 7TS, one of the most versatile and indestructible holsters I have tested. For an open top, thumb released holster, it has an ideal level of retention. Even after an hour or so of orientation, I could make the 1.5-second draw with it. The good news is the fact that the officer who goes from uniform, bike, motor, detectives to special duty can use the same holster.

Hall told me that, ideally, officers need to consistently draw and shoot under two seconds. Up close, it’s faster. At near contact distance, it should be under 1.5 seconds, which most officers should be able to do. The shift in distance between zero to three feet and three to six feet is actually more dramatic than it seems. At contact distance, when the gun comes out, the adaptable decision making process can be quickly short-circuited.

For example, let’s say that an officer, ticket book in hand, is writing a municipal citation in a city park. Consider this a traffic stop where there is no vehicle. The suspect, whose mental status is questionable, slowly closes the officer-suspect distance, and then charges him while reaching for the waistband. The officer has a slight delay in observing and recognizing the withdrawn object as a threat/non-threat. In this case, the suspect draws a knife.

Here’s where the critical distance decision-making concept comes into play. If the two subjects in the illustration were just standing facing each other at a distance where they could place each others’ palms on their adversary’s shoulders, the officer would be better served to strike before drawing. This is why the “reactionary strike” using the support hand is crucial.

Now the decision making part: Should the officer maintain contact, or create distance? It’s best to try to avoid a wrestling match. The best answer is for law enforcement professionals to train for both.

Reaction to visual stimuli runs around 0.25 seconds (a quarter second). That is, an average person has to see, and then process visual stimuli before they can do something. This delay is increased if the stimulus is not immediately recognized, or the officer does not register it as a threat. Added to that is the “what to do” equation.

We also have to factor in “recognition” memory. If the threatening object is only partially exposed, like the handle of a knife in a waistband, the officer’s experience has to navigate memory of items and the context from where the officer’s experience places it.

If anyone thinks context isn’t a big deal, consider this: The other day I saw my dental hygienist at a restaurant. I knew I knew her, but I could not place her into context. I said hello, but my inability to place her was probably very obvious. Seeing a partial section of a weapon and distinguishing it in time from a cell phone is a complex task.

All right, let’s go back to the decision-making. If the officer maintains contact, he could jam the draw and stay hand-to-hand. Visual recognition, as I said before, is 0.25 seconds. Tactile recognition, the ability to touch something and recognize it by feel, is 0.17 seconds on the average. This is potentially an advantage. Trust it when doing a pat down. Remember it when forced to close the distance.

Here’s the part that non-officers (especially the media) don’t get:

If the officer is wrestling with the subject, somebody’s gun is within arm’s reach.

Even if the suspect was unarmed, the opportunity to become armed is there.

One of the most likely common factors of officers killed in the line of duty where initial physical contact was made is not enough initial controlling force. This may indicate that many of the fatal encounters were actually disengagements.

The close quarters factor means the officer is also precluded from keying the radio; his hands are full.

Putting away one tool to pick up another is also precluded because it severely increases the risk to the officer.

I had a chance to talk to Dr. Ron Martinelli about this. Martinelli developed Unarmed Defensive Tactics (UDT) and Arrest & Control Tactics (ACT) systems used by a number of agencies. His data (and training) agrees with the preference to avoid going to the ground with a suspect.

Martinelli’s recommendations:

Keep it simple. Never use complex moves.

Work to make any fine or complex motor skill into a gross motor skill.

Nothing will be retained without lots of practice and development of confidence through competency and comfort doing the skills.

It takes a minimum of 10,000 repetitions of any physical skill to move that memory from forebrain to midbrain subconscious mind where it is retained.

Officers need to have a combat mind-set where they think outside the box when things get rough.

It will be impossible to go to your gun at close quarters. Prioritize: Attack the aggressor swiftly, directly and end it fast. Then create distance and access your weapon.

Don’t waste time blocking when you can better use your speed, energy and power to strike and disable your assailant.

Studies show that in-shape officers tire at about the same time as out of shape people.

Any fight that lasts more than 10 seconds is not a fight; it’s a struggle.

End it quickly. The longer you struggle with an assailant, the higher your odds are of being seriously injured or killed.

86 percent of all officers who struggle with resistive suspects land on the ground. 25 percent are seriously injured or killed on the ground, 12 percent by their own weapons.

There is no second place winner in any fight. We call second place the “victim.”

For a very realistic illustration of fighting with a gun at close quarters, the video with Richard Nance and Frank Borrelli says it better than I can write it.





Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. He welcomes comments at