Photos by Lukas Lamb
Almost each and every day we normally spend several minutes, or even hours inside or near our vehicles. This might be traveling to and from work, or maybe using our vehicle as a mobile office. Even when the workweek is over, we seem to grab the wife and kids and load up some sort of vehicle to get us to our desired recreation spot. So, why do we seem to skip the integration of vehicles into our training regimen? Why do we often overlook the tactical training required to be successful in and around our rolling bullet trap?
Urban Legend would lead us to believe that fighting near a vehicle is likened to standing out in the middle of a football field, just hoping we don’t get shot. This couldn’t be any farther from the truth. In this article I want to highlight several things. The first is, being prepared and how and where to properly use the vehicle as cover. Next will be how to certain positions in order to enhance the cover, or concealment of the vehicle.
Right out of the gate, let me state the “not so obvious” to the average firearms owner. Vehicles are great pieces of cover and concealment. Vehicles may not always stop bullets, but in many cases the bullets are destroyed to the point of being ineffective once they exit the friendly side of the vehicle. The friendly side is the side that you are on, no matter where that might be. Many self-proclaimed tactical experts would flat out make a statement that all bullets, to include shotgun slugs, can’t possibly be stopped by a car door, let alone one on a modern compact car. Here is the cold hard fact, you don’t know. No one knows. I have seen bullets, to include these magical slugs, stopped by a single compact and mid-size car door. Are the odds in your favor that a cute little Prius will save your life from a hail of AK or 12 gauge slug ammo? Absolutely not, but if your vehicle is the only form of cover available I would want to know how to use it as such.
After shooting hundreds and hundreds of vehicles during my career in the Army, and more recently as a tactical shooting instructor teaching our Streetfighter training course, there are a few common occurrences. You won’t hear me say always because we really cannot predict reliably what will happen. With that said there are a few things that seem to hold relatively true. One is the use of angles to help deflect bullets when they are incoming. A couple examples of this are behind the door and behind the engine compartment.
If you have dismounted the vehicle and find yourself behind the “V” of an open door there are a few things you can do to make this position more effective. The first advice I would give you is to use the door as cover, get low and stay low as you engage the threat. The key is to use the angle of the door, windshield and car hood to help deflect bullets over your head or around your body. If you sit still long enough though, eventually a bullet will find its way through so don’t dally. Next, stay back from the door to give the bullet time to deflect, as well as any bullet that hits the door time to fragment and bleed off velocity, before they impact your hide. You also have to keep the “threading of the needle” effect in your favor. What I mean by this is that the bad guy has to thread the needle from a larger distance than you, therefore you have an advantage. You have to get your bullet through a small opening from 1-4 feet away, while the bad guy has to thread the same needle from an extended distance, or at least more distance than you.
If you decide to use the hood and engine compartment as cover, there are a few tricks here that can keep your head in one piece. Staying as low as possible is a given, but sometimes we can’t get low because we are in the wrong position. Crowding the cover is fine in this case since when we get shot at it is common sense and human nature to crowd cover. Once close to the vehicle you now need to effectively engage the threat. When placing your carbine on top of the hood, lay it to one or the other side, this will allow you to keep your head significantly lower than a standard, vertical position. This does take practice, so head to the range and be careful not to shoot your car. I personally prefer to use dedicated range vehicles or wooden barricades to imitate the battlefield.
There are a few tricks to being quick and having control of your carbine from this position. The first is to use your sling as an anchor if possible. I like to grab the sling in my support hand and push the rifle forward to press my knuckles against the vehicle. This gets your shoulder to help with recoil control while using the knuckles and sling to maintain muzzle control. Another trick that works without a sling or in lieu of sling support is to actually grab your optic with the support hand. Another benefit that comes from this technique is that your eye naturally centers itself to the proper location in order to see your reticle. Not sure why this is but grabbing the optic immediately drives your eye into the correct alignment in most cases. Holding the optic will also help with recoil control as you fire the carbine. I call this position Junkyard Prone, since I am usually using junked vehicles and it is an easy name to remember.
If you must engage a near target from the Junkyard Prone position remember your offset. You can easily miss a head-shot if you don’t consider offset. An example is this, you lay the gun on its left side and engage a target at 5 yards or less, your bullet will impact at least 2.5 inches to the right of your intended target. As I said this can be the difference between a hit and a miss. This takes practice and concentration to quickly determine your hold.
As distances increase the issue of offset and eventually hold offs get even more difficult. In the perfect world all of the targets we shoot with our rifle would be 25-50 yards away. This would eliminate any hold off issues but since we live in the real world we may need to figure out at distance where we need to hold. Once again with the rifle lain on the left side and shooting at 100 yards, more than likely your bullets will impact 8 inches low and left at a 45 degree angle. To fix this problem you should shoot repeatedly for practice and always remember when your rifle is laid on its side you must hold high to the magazine side to get the desired down range results. So if I am shooting at 100 yards I would hold high right if the carbine is lying on its left side. Sounds difficult but after shooting a few pieces of steel at distance you will be dialed in.
If you must shoot around the front or rear of the vehicle or even down the side of the vehicle, there are a few things you can do to enhance this firing position. Some would say to get away from the car because of skipped rounds. When getting shot at your natural reaction is to get close to the car so, let’s just deal with that as we might. You should also consider that if there are multiple assailants, leaving the cover of your vehicle, or creating distance only allows the team of dirt bags to get a better angle on your position, essentially a flanking maneuver. Stay close and this won’t be as likely.
If you are close enough to touch the vehicle I prefer to use a clamping grip on my rifle’s fore end to help eliminate recoil and aid in follow through to quickly reengage the threat. In addition to this, I keep my rear knee up and let my shooting side elbow touch that knee, this will allow for a more stable shooting position regardless of distance to the target. Close or far engagements, I prefer to use this position. If we always use the same position we can attain a quick and steady position reliably. If you need to reduce your height, slide your elbow in front of your knee, this will help you with recoil control and lower your profile all at the same time.
The last position and by far my favorite is the Broke Back Mountain Prone position. Don’t let the name fool you, this works well even for the heterosexual males in the tactical shooting arena. The idea behind Broke Back Mountain Prone is to be able to quickly get into a shooting position under the vehicle while maintaining some semblance of concealment all the while having a position that will allow you to shoot even under the lowest vehicles on the market. I prefer this position to a fully laid out prone position because of the speed at which you can get into and out of this position. It also works better than standard prone because of the tighter shooting position and the fact that you can still get into this position with body armor, helmet, and extra gear on the front of your vest.
I use a vertical grip on my AR most of the time, actually all of the time if possible. The Broke Back Mountain position is one of the reasons for this. If you use the vertical grip as you get into this position by hooking it on your forearm to help with aiming and recoil management. You will be hooked, literally. If you hook your forearm the butt stock doesn’t even need to be against your shoulder, all of the recoil is absorbed by your forearm and the vertical grip. You don’t need a long one, just enough to hook the arm and take up shock. I keep the lower portion of my forearm straight to hold the vertical grip in place. Then I apply rearward pressure as I lower my body into position, until I can see the intended target. This position requires practice, most certainly from the support side.
In a follow-up article I’ll cover what gear will help us be more successful in and around vehicles, and shooting through vehicles.
Sergeant Major (retired) Kyle Lamb is a veteran of US Army Special Operations with over 15 years with a Special Mission Unit. The author of ‘Green Eyes and Black Rifles’, ‘Stay in the Fight!!’ and ‘Leadership in the Shadows’, he is the President and Founder of Viking Tactics, Inc. A highly sought after shooting and tactics instructor, Lamb travels and teaches most of the year.
Sources: Viking Tactics, Inc.; 910-987-5983; www.VikingTactics.com