3 Simple drills

By the time many officers have enjoyed their first couple of years on the street, the reality of austerity sets in. If a law enforcement officer wants to maintain his level of competency, he’ll have to take training into his own hands.

For this article, I looked at shooting drills that require very few props and are easy to set up. Since paper targets are the cheapest alternative, these drills require paper targets and simple target stands.

The minimum number of times these drills should be repeated during a single training session should not be measured in reps. Rather, each drill should consume one box of bullets per shooter. If this is an abbreviated training session, consume one box of bullets for all three drills. How often should an officer perform these drills? Ideally, once a week.

Modified El Presidente

The El Presidente is a drill originally designed by Col. Jeff Cooper in the 1970’s. Three combat silhouette targets are placed shoulder-to-shoulder, one meter apart. The shooter faces away from the targets, 10 yards away. Shooters then engage each target with two rounds, reload and add another two rounds per target. This drill is well known among competitive shooters. Scoring uses a calculation which factors in time and accuracy.

I use a modified version of the El Presidente. Rather than shooting from the 10-yard line, I shoot at 5 yards. For this drill, I use Birchwood Casey Eze-Scorer 23 x 25 BC Bad Guy Paper Targets. This drill concentrates on speed and accuracy. Although many shooters are familiar with the El Presidente, the method of engaging multiple targets between competitive shooters and law enf orcement trainers can be a little different. For example, when my training associate (Reserve Officer) Rick Macchia stepped up to the firing line he engaged the center target first, swept to the left, then shot the right.

Rick turned to me and told me he fired on what he perceived to be the greatest threat. Because he was at the apex of an isosceles triangle, the center target would be closest.

Often, when I shoot this (modified) El Presidente, I put a single bullet in each target, then sweep again. I figure if every target has an equal threat value, everyone should be engaged as quickly as possible. No threat should receive just a single bullet. Therefore, engage every target once , then engage again.

The truth is, any simple drill can have training value. Training value is derived from its association with the scenario that can potentially happen in the “real” world.

For the El Presidente, one training goal is a magazine change; it is arguable that this drill has less value than other static drills that include drawing and shooting. Statistically, most police gunfights don’t expend more than a magazine’s worth of cartridges. Does this mean that law enforcement officers should not train combat drills with magazine changes? Absolutely not. It just means that there should be a higher priority on other skills.

How can this drill be made better? Action Target makes a product called the PT Turn Swing. It is a simple swinger that can be used with a cardboard target or cardboard backer. It is driven by two simple pull cables, which don’t require any power at all. Using the PT Turn Swing, any trainer can increase the level of challenge for the El Presidente. It’s cheap, it’s portable, and they can be used for other tasks like qualification.

Barricade drill

The Barricade Drill requires two targets, placed side-by-side. A barricade is placed 3 to 5 yards in front of the target. A target stand can be used, but I generally use a plastic 50-gallon barrel because they are easy to move around.

Shooting from behind the barricade, shooters engage the targets from 3 positions: standing, kneeling and prone. The idea is to stay behind cover while engaging. If a shooter is on the left side of the barricade, they engage the right target. If they are on the right side, well you know…

Begin by drawing, then firing two shots from the right side (to the left target) standing, followed by two shots kneeling and two prone. Continue with prone on the left side, followed by kneeling, then standing.

Part of this training is to discourage shooters from firing over the top of the barricade when kneeling. That is, it’s generally better to shoot around a barricade than over the top. Apparently, this is a Hollywood thing that has spilled over into real life. I try to discourage officers from training to shoot over the hood of their car when we roll a vehicle out on the range.

On a “skipped” bullet, the angle of departure rarely matches the angle by which the projectile struck the object. I don’t know the science, but I have been told that a projectile designed to deform when it strikes something will ricochet at a shallower angle.

If an officer is looking over the hood of a car and a bullet fired in his general direction hits the hood of the car, a likely scenario is having the bullet continue at a shallower angle along the hood of the car. Anyone maintaining a low profile over the hood of the car is at risk.

I know, it is absolutely impossible to choose one’s battlegrounds sometimes. However, looking around the front of the car will often work better. This also is true for many other objects, including mailboxes and electrical boxes. While we’re thinking about it, any cover that is weight bearing (architectural column, tree, lamppost) is generally wider and sturdier at the base. If one fires a rifle over the hood of a car, the results can be comical. Many shooters don’t account for the difference between line of aim and line of trajectory on a rifle. If they have fired their rifle over the hood of the family car, it’s going to have permanent marks where the bullet exited the muzzle. An extreme version of this is a shooter who punctured their own hood. This is a good reason why agencies should use the non-running “range car” on the range (at least borrow the detective sedan, then shrug one’s shoulders at the mysterious burn marks upon its return).

This is not a timed drill. The goal is toward shooting accurately from each position while maintaining cover.

By the way, here is a great way to start an argument. Ask your firearms training professional the following question:

“If you are a right-handed shooter firing from the left side of a barricade, do you switch hands to engage? If you are left-handed shooter firing from the right side of a barricade, do you switch hands?”

For this drill, it’s kind of interesting to see how shooters respond. Some firearms trainers will specifically teach not to switch hands. Others will leave it up to shooter preference. I was talking to my firearms instructor friend, who happens to be left-handed. I asked him if he would switch hands when going to a right-handed barricade, shooting left. He told me if it was handgun, he would not switch. If it was a rifle, he would.

When I ran this drill for the first time in a long time, I switched hands. I am a right-handed shooter and hardly practice with my left hand. I shot more accurately with my left hand. I found I could get more body behind cover when prone if I shot the left-handed side with the left hand. My trigger control was better with my right hand.

What’s the answer? Be consistent and train consistently.

Regardless how the shooter responds, the goal is accuracy. Firearms trainers: do not accept anything but A-Zone hits for this drill.

The other part of this topic is near and dear to my heart. After repeating this drill a few times, my heart rate had kicked up. I’m certain that my arms would be sore from going prone or maintaining a kneeling position. After a box of bullets, it’s as good as doing 20 push-ups. The next time I do this, I may add a short run.

I used my FNP-9 for this drill. In my opinion, this is one of the sturdiest and most versatile guns that FNH ever manufactured. I would complain about their discontinuation of this model, except the fact that I think the FNS series of autoloading pistols is a worthy improvement.

The FNP-9 is a hammer fired gun, the FNS is not. With a hammer fired gun, the first pull is usually double action. A barricade drill is excellent for this kind of gun because it trains the user in the different trigger pulls. When I switch from one hand to the other, I “decock” before switching.

In complete disclosure, one advantage of my FNP-9 is the fact that it has very accurate conventional rifling. I pour my lead bullets for it, allowing me to practice cheaply. Yeah, I know, it voids my warranty. Doesn’t everyone have a training autoloader? Yeah, I know, lead is bad because apparently some wildlife prefer lead to other forms of food, which is why lead products come in boxes.

Failure drill (Mozambique)

This is another drill attributed to Col. Jeff Cooper. It is commonly known as a “Mozambique Drill” because it comes from a story told to Cooper from Rhodesian Mike Rousseau, a mercenary during the Mozambican War of Independence. Rousseau hit an AK armed assailant twice in the chest and the bad guy kept coming.

The lesson from the failure drill comes from the need to assess when shooting. It is much like the mantra that was taught to me in OCS, “If what you are doing is not working, experiment with new behavior.”

The Mozambique Drill is done with a shooter and a coach. The shooter stands in front of the target at a designated distance. I like 3 to 5 yards for law enforcement training. The first command from the coach is “threat” or something similar.

The shooter engages the torso portion of the target. On the command of “failure,” the shooter engages the head. This is often misconstrued as “two to the body, one to the head.” Actually, it should be interpreted as “fire on the body and assess. If necessary, fire on the head.” The assessment is as important as the shooting.

When I train shooters to engage in failure drills, I generally have them “walk” the bullets from the chest toward the head. This is often called “zip line shooting.” It encourages continuous engagement of the threat until the threat is no longer a threat. When training I like to ensure that there is no set number of bullets fired on the torso before “failure.” This will prevent being stuck in a training rut.

It should be noted that it is hard to make a correct head shot. A few years ago, I wrote about the head shot as a tactical option (see An Emergency within an Emergency, November 2007 Law Enforcement Technology). A correct head shot is harder than it sounds. When we practice on paper targets, we don’t get to engage a three-dimensional version. That should be added to the training regularly also. The cadence should be different. An officer should be capable of delivering quick shots to the torso and a well aimed shot to the head. If one were listening to the cadence, one could tell when the officer is making the head shot. This is also a good opportunity for officers to practice keeping both eyes open, looking over the sites and “checking six.”

There are plenty of other simple drills. When you train with a partner on the range, let them load your magazines and encourage them to stick a few expended brass in them where loaded cartridges should be.

Practice firing from the open doorway of both sides of a patrol car. Again, don’t use the family sedan. Use a practice barrel like the Blade-Tech Training Barrel and shoot your TV screen. Practice your magazine reloads everywhere you go using the Blade-Tech Training Barrel. The Training Barrel is probably one of the best inexpensive training products that every officer in any capacity should own.


Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade and enjoys competing in shooting sports, running and cycling events. He welcomes comments at lbertomen@letonline.com.