AAR – Martial Arms Tactical Vehicle Gun Fighting Skills

Date: 9/26/2015
Instructor: Steve Collins

Some have asked why I would spend my time taking a course like this a second time.  The answer is simple; there’s no way to adequately remember the lessons learned in such a course by going through only once.  Too much time passes from the beginning of the course to the end of the day and there isn’t sufficient time to take notes even if note taking were more practical on an outdoor range.

That said, as a previous graduate of this training course, I had a pretty good idea what to expect as I was going into it.  Although the course is basically the same, there were a few minor changes to the lesson plan and, of course, the scenario based shooting was different out of necessity.

The day began with a safety briefing and explanation of how the course would progress.  Once everyone understood the special safety considerations involved with moving and shooting in, from, and around vehicles, we moved over to the actual vehicles we had obtained for use in the class to discuss some basic concepts about defending oneself around a vehicle.

We had acquired a 1991 Ford Tempo sedan and a 2003 Plymouth Voyager minivan from a local salvage yard.  Steve began by going over each vehicle’s best and worst areas of cover as well as a few “don’ts” such as defending with one foot on the ground and the other in the vehicle.  We also discussed when and where people are most vulnerable and what ways we could help to make ourselves a more difficult or less desirable target.

After a thorough look at the best cover areas on each vehicle, we moved to the range and started with some warm up shooting.  I should add at this point that it is an instructor’s responsibility to begin shooting classes with some fairly basic shooting to ensure each student is “up to speed” and doesn’t need remediation before moving on.

The first shooting exercise was simply to draw and fire a single round using a two-handed grip at full extension.  We did this ten times at our own pace.  We then were instructed to draw and fire multiple shots using a two-handed grip at full extension.

Then we moved up to arm’s length of the target and shot using a “guarded” position in which the dominant hand would grip, draw and fire from retention while the other hand would come up to the side of the face to protect from incoming blows or cuts.  Adding a layer of complexity, we then turned toward our dominant side and were told to first strike the target with our non-dominant hand, turn toward the target and then perform the previous exercise of guarding, drawing and firing.

These two exercises were run through dry many times before live fire was permitted.  I personally noticed a very real possibility that, if guarding with the non-dominant hand incorrectly, a shot could be put right into the elbow of the non-dominant arm.  Dry fire practice is vital to work out these kinks to ensure a safe shooting exercise.

The idea of this exercise was to simulate putting a child or cargo into your car and being approached by a would-be carjacker.  I should mention that it was firmly pointed out that at no time should we use the “speed rock” method due to the off balance nature of that position.  Instead, we were instructed to take a more aggressive position and lean in to the target.

Once we had performed these drills we moved chairs to the line and worked from a seated position in order to get used to drawing and firing from a seat.  The chairs faced the targets on the first set of exercises and then we turned them to our dominant side.  This proved to be especially challenging to the left handed shooters on the class as they realized accessing a gun that may be up against their driver’s door would be very difficult.

The warm up done, it was time to move the junk cars into place and set up scenarios.  Steve took great care to make the scenarios believable and challenging, since the bad guys rarely make things easy for you.

While it’s difficult to describe the drills run from the cars in any great detail, I will mention a few major points that I took away from my participation in each scenario.

  • Shooting your attacker(s) is less important that not getting shot.
    • Don’t stand your ground behind a flimsy car door to shoot back if you have the ability to move behind more substantial cover.
  • It’s always better to move forward.
    • Moving backwards or sideways is less natural and, therefore, less efficient and provides a greater opportunity to stumble or fall.
    • Moving forward sometimes requires the gun to be transferred to the non-dominant hand. When it can be done, it should be done but it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t do it.
  • Running the drills alone is one thing but running them with a partner is totally different.
    • This isn’t something you’ll just do without taking the time to discuss and plan your actions well in advance of the need for such actions.
    • Now, throw an unarmed passenger or kids in the backseat into the mix and see how easily you come up with a “solution” to the “problem.”

In all, we each had the opportunity to run through several scenarios at least twice each.  Some were performed on our own and others were done with a partner.  Steve allowed us to use our best judgement to go through most of the scenarios.  If, during dry practice, he noticed something that needed improvement, he would interject and have the student try it again.

Personally, I have come to realize that there are many “right” ways to get the job done when someone is attacking you.  Some of these right ways are better than others but the end result of surviving speaks for itself.

There are also plenty of wrong ways to defend oneself and that’s why we each need training like this to help eliminate our tendency to go for the wrong way to begin with.

The last hour or so was spent doing a Test and Evaluation of various calibers of ammunition through various firearms at various parts of the two vehicles.  We used a .380ACP, 9mmx19, .40S&W, .38SPL, .357 Magnum, .45ACP, .454 Casull,  7.62×39mm, 12 Gauge Buckshot, 12 Gauge Slug, .44 Magnum (through a lever action rifle), .30-30, .50 BMG.

We shot at front doors, rear doors, B-pillars, and a tail gate.  With few exceptions, most of the above mentioned rounds failed to fully penetrate the Tempo from one side to the other.  Several of them failed to penetrate the first door leaving anyone inside relatively safe until a follow-up shot in the same location finally breaks through.  Even the 12 Gauge Slug failed to penetrate the B-pillar of the Tempo.

On the other hand, the .30-30 had little difficulty penetrating the tail gate of the Voyager as well as the rear seat and front seat.  It would be likely to be seriously injured in the event someone shot a more potent round tough the rear of a minivan or SUV.

The .50 BMG, on the other hand had no difficulty penetrating pretty much anything we shot it at.  It went all the way through the minivan leaving a fist sized hole in the firewall before becoming lodged somewhere in the engine.  On a second shot, a five gallon bucket of paint left in the cargo area of the van was struck leaving paint throughout the vehicle.  There was even paint on the dashboard and windshield.  It bears noting that this paint and the human body have roughly the same consistency.

It’s no surprise that a round so powerful would have such a devastating effect.  It was designed to disable military vehicles from a distance.  Thankfully, your average gang-banger thug doesn’t have access to such a weapon.

In general, cars are more bullet proof than you might think but there’s always that chance that something will make it through.  Your best bet is to get out and get behind as much solid material as is possible.

The day ended with a quick debrief and certificates were handed out.  As usual, Steve Collins met the superior expectations that I have come to have for his instruction.  He has taken a lifetime of military experience and masterfully translated it into the civilian world of moms and dads getting groceries or going out to eat.

I will take this course again as it is not only very informative but it is also extremely fun.

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