April 10, 2023
Think about why you would have to fight with a rifle to survive. It might be the proverbial “bump in the night” that turns into a home invasion. It could be criminal rioting or politically inspired insurrection as seen recently. Or, a family camping, boating, or RV trip that turns ugly at the hands of a criminal element. Perhaps even an active shooter situation for which there is no way out. We also know we have terrorists on our soil that show no signs of giving up. The late Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper wrote in his 1997 book “The Art of the Rifle”: “The rifle is a weapon. Let there be no mistake about that. It is a tool of power, and thus dependent completely upon the moral stature of its user. It is equally useful in securing meat for the table, destroying group enemies on the battlefield and resisting tyranny. In fact, it is the only means of resisting tyranny, since a citizenry armed with rifles simply cannot be tyrannized.”
You can be sure of one thing, a battle rifle, especially a semi-automatic one that is properly outfitted and reliable, can be a highly effective tool for survival in the most extreme of self-defense situations. It makes perfect sense to have a rifle for protection, especially where standoff is required. Considering the low percentage of hits, or effective hits, most people get with handguns, a shoulder-fired firearm is a better choice for any situation you can have one. But, you have to train with it to ensure success when it’s for keeps. What follows is what you need to train on, or get from a formal course, for rifle fighting skills. Everything detailed here applies to any shoulder-fired self-defense firearm, whether it’s a semi-auto, bolt action or lever action rifle, pistol caliber carbine or even a stocked pistol. Once you have learned basic rifle marksmanship that applies to gunfights, you should then practice these skills with any defensive shoulder firearm. Also look for them in course descriptions when shopping for a fighting rifle course.
Reactive Shooting Technique
This is how you bring the rifle to bear for quick shots from a ready position, or upon immediate reaction after bringing it out of storage condition. Once you have it right, practice these “up drills” while in a fighting stance, both stationary and moving. Practice with both dry fire and live fire using single & multiple shots.
- Mount toe of stock in pit below the collarbone.
- Upper body: torso leans forwards, chest squared towards the threat (and not too bladed, if at all), elbows down, head erect, shoot both eyes open.
- Shooting hand high on pistol grip, pulled back firmly into shoulder.
- Support hand and arm, there are variations on how to do it and where to put that hand.
- Lower Body: Feet shoulder width apart (no matter where they end up), knees bent, toes forward. This is the same stance that enables you to shoot on the move, use cover, and react more quickly.
- Ready position: Muzzle at least below the level of the hands of the assailant (but if they are within ‘leap or lunge’ distance, too low can actually endanger you).
Important Note: If you cannot fire rapid multiple shots stationary, or moving, without the muzzle rising, cannot move, pivot or turn quickly, or lean out of cover properly with a minimal portion of your upper body only, then you need to get into a more aggressive fighting stance. The rifle should not recoil up to the left or right but remain in the sight plane while shooting. Lean into it! You control the rifle don’t let the rifle control you!
- Identify the threat.
- Raise the rifle pivoting from the stock toe to eye level, so the sights instantly go into the line of sight and appear in front of the dominant eye with no needed movement of the head (bring the sights to the eye, not the eye to the sight. If this does not instantly occur, then your shoulder mount of the stock may need to be higher).
- Safety reflexively comes off as rifle is raised.
- Shot breaks simultaneously as it comes to eye level, or slightly after.
- Press and reset, finger not coming off of the trigger until the threat falls or dissappears from view.
After the Shot(s)
- Follow-through (very momentary pause).
- Muzzle down or up as appropriate, as finger comes off trigger.
- Safety on.
- Scan left, right and behind you to break tunnel vision, locate possible additional threats, locate initial or better cover, and to find an escape route. But, never take attention off of the initial threat!
- Move if needed (it is almost always best to create distance with the threat).
- Check status of rifle.
What about breathing? Firing in the natural respiratory pause (NRP)? Although for longer shots and “threading the needle” in close proximity to bystanders, yes, a cleansing breath or NRP would be the way to go (if you have time). But, for most all self-defense situations, the focus needs to be getting the rifle on target quickly and accurately, either stationary from cover or while on the move. We are not talking about a High Power match here folks. You can breathe once the initial engagement is over!
Reloads And Stoppages, Some Critical Tips
Think about why you would have to reload in a gunfight. Especially if armed with a rifle and a higher capacity magazine. It’s what I call “an emergency within an emergency.” You are either out of ammo or have a stoppage. There are many techniques and options. But, whatever you do must be smooth, fast and right on the first try.
Basic Principles Of A Preferred Reload Technique
- Do not lower the rifle from the sight plane. Maintain shoulder pocket at all cost. Wasted motion is wasted time. Tilt the opening of the magazine well towards where the new magazine will come from.
- Eyes stay on the threat and scanning (practice the technique so that you are not dependent on looking at the rifle).
- Finger off trigger.
- Drop (or pull out) old magazine.
- Insert new magazine.
- Rack bolt every time regardless, and with your support hand (some rifle designs require this anyways, such as the AK). How you rack it is all the way to the rear, letting it go and never riding the charging handle forward. It must be both fast and vigorous.
- Back in the fight.
Or, if you are exposed or in the open, the moment the rifle goes “click” or fails to make a loud noise, MOVE! Real survival shooting calls for immediate movement the very second you detect the rifle is not working. Click = Move.
Rifle Shooting Positions
In most cases, you will want to be up on your feet, moving to cover and away from the threat. But, as the military has been taught for centuries, “terrain and situation dictate.” Your surroundings, available cover, position of the assailant(s) and possibility of being injured all factor in. Some practice these in the open, which is ok for basic skill building. But, why would you shoot from a static prone, kneeling or other position in the open when under fire? Practice shooting positions at cover, in urban, vehicle and rural situations. Every position must be quick to get into, and quick to get out of. Most should allow you to use cover.
At least half of all assaults occur with more than one assailant or actor. Practice on multiple threats trying to envelop you at different distances. The critical skill for this is “look-shoot-look,” as follows:
- Look: Identify the threat (bring the rifle sight(s) to where the eyes are looking, if they’re not already there).
- Shoot: Once you identify what is in their hands, your vision goes to the assailant’s chest or head, where the sight picture occurs. Fire one or more shots.
- Look: The head moves independent of the rifle in cases where you are scanning for new threats (and cover). Repeat as needed, driving the rifle to the next target with the power of that aggressive rifle fighting stance.
Why this is a better technique: By looking first, it enables better eye-hand coordination, bringing the rifle to bear where the line of sight already is. Try this on the range, going faster and faster from target to target. Then widen the target array as well as the distances to them, capitalizing on the aggressive fighting stance. Try to work up to where you can very quickly engage out to about 180 degrees. How you find other threats (who are not already shooting at you) may be by constantly scanning your surroundings.
Transition From Rifle To Handgun
At close range to a threat, your “immediate action drill” for a rifle stoppage, or any failure to fire, should always be to transition to your handgun. The fastest reload is always a second gun. Once the threat is dealt with or disappears, then take cover, holster and conduct the mechanical stoppage reduction or reload the rifle, then back to a ready position, ready to fight.
Extreme Close Quarters Shooting
If an assailant is standing only a few feet away and could try to take your rifle away or you are surrounded or trapped at close quarters: Tuck the rifle under the firing side armpit, parallel to the ground and under the dominant eye, leaning into it. This is not applicable for shooting beyond a few feet or yards to your front. In addition to weapon retention at close quarters, this also may be needed if you are injured and cannot raise the rifle to eye level. In this situation, a visible green or red laser zeroed to your rifle can help you to get your shots on target in lieu of the sights. If you do shoot from this position, then immediately come up to eye level for more accurate follow-up shots. This is where this next skill can be a lifesaver.
Single-Hand Rifle Shooting
Quite often, someone in a gunfight gets shot in the hands, arms, or their weapon takes a hit. Be ready to immediately transition to the other shoulder, or shoot single-handed from your dominant side. This can be done without support, by stepping forward with the same leg the rifle is on, and lean hard into it. This can be done even with a heavier rifle. If you have cover or an object available, then you can brace the rifle against cover. Practice single-handed rifle reloading and stoppage techniques. This is safest to do with inert “dummy” rounds.
Deployment From Storage
Practice quickly bringing the rifle to bear from home storage, your vehicle and a concealment device. There should be a purpose-built wrap-around sling on the rifle. It is pre-adjusted and donned the moment that you access the rifle. This is important for retention at close quarters if you need both hands free to climb or drag others out of the line of fire. There is a wide array and serious disparity in the practicality, realism and credibility of rifle courses and instructors nationwide. Not all techniques are suitable for fighting with a rifle. Be picky, as this is life and death we are talking about.
So, when choosing which rifle techniques to become proficient on and which courses to attend, please consider the wisdom of the late Colonel Rex Applegate, as said in his famous book “Bullseyes Don’t Shoot Back,” “There is a tremendous difference between shooting methods that work well when you’re simply trying to put holes in the target and those that work well when the target is trying to put holes in YOU. Failing to understand this difference is a mistake that will get you killed.”
This article was originally published in Be Ready! You can find the original magazine on the OSG Newsstand. If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.