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Shooting Tips: Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills

Drills for beyond the square range to take you to the next level.

Shooting Tips: Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills
Special Forces veteran John Peterson provides skills and drills for fighting with an AK rifle at an advanced level. (Photo by Sean Utley)

When most armed citizens imagine “tactical shooting,” or are preparing for what a possible defensive, fighting rifle scenario could entail, often far too much training emphasis is devoted to “static” (stationary) shooting on a square, flat range. Or it’s done at longer distances and slow fire, at stationary targets. Typically in broad daylight, in one direction at resting pulse. To truly be capable of fighting with a rifle, you need the combination of the basics and more advanced, relevant skills. These are all performed in more stressful, realistic conditions simulating some of what can happen in a gunfight. It is the difference between learning to swim in an ocean versus a swimming pool. 

Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills
Having good foundational skills is essential but you need to move beyond the static square range mentality. (Photo by Sean Utley)

Speaking of Realistic

The stipulation of this article is, given the option, you would prefer to use a shoulder-fired firearm over a handgun for self-defense. The AK is an excellent choice for that, and proven as a fighting rifle at that. Although what is written here is in the context of the AK and Kalashnikov style rifles, the skills and drills discussed apply to tactical rifle training with any semi-automatic rifle.

Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills
Tactical movement, being both able to move quickly with a firearm and shoot effectively while moving is a critical skill set you absolutely must have, practice it! (Photo by Sean Utley)

Most self-defense situations will be in built-up areas and at much shorter distances. We are talking as close as room distance and maybe in low light. Most of your skills and drills should be practiced well inside of 100 yards and focus on urban, multiple directions and being able to hit one or more assailants quickly and judiciously. This followed by extraction or escape from the situation altogether. Many do not practice for that, but it is a survival “must.” That being said, distance is the friend of the rifle armed citizen. But, what would determine at what range you engage would be, at a minimum, how well you can identify an imminent and justified threat. Any of these situations could certainly be complicated by an injury, bystanders, and/or elevated heart rate and blood pressure. This all means you need skills which correlate to the types of threat, environment and what might actually happen in a gunfight. Here they are:

Use of Cover

Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills
Along with hitting quickly and accurately, mastering the use of cover is one of the most essential AK rifle fighting skills. Practice shooting around the side, and from under vehicles. (Photo by Sean Utley)

Cover is any material that might stop incoming projectiles, as well as spalling (back-splatter) from a round impacting it. Most that get shot are hit while they are in the open. But, whether or not an inanimate object serves as true ballistic cover, if you are under fire or near gunfire, get behind something, anything. The assailant might not know their rounds will penetrate it or even see you. If you disappear from view, it may delay their firing at you. Remember, make your body small. The proper use of cover means getting everything you do not need to see or shoot with all of the way behind cover. When coming out to search or shoot, never appear from the same place or height twice. If you can’t move to another location, then come out from another side. When having to look past cover, always try to come from the side, never over the top.

Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills
You might have to move without shooting (run!) creating distance while seeking cover. (Photo by Sean Utley)

A “quick peak” or extended exposure at cover could be fatal. Therefore, the basic technique for searching beyond your cover is done by “slicing the pie,” moving in small increments. Every door, edge of a building, object or vehicle should be treated this way. All openings, especially doors and windows, should be regarded as “fatal funnels” which naturally are great locations for an assailant to ambush you as you pass in front of them. Instead, “slice the pie” while only exposing your shooting eye, with rifle depressed so you can see. All other body parts are behind cover. When standing, lean at the waist in the fighting stance. Slicing the pie means to lean and step (not step then lean), viewing what is on the other side in slices.

If you can’t come around the side, then shoot from under an object. Only shoot over an object as a last resort, as you will overexpose. Far too many use the “jack in the box” technique, popping up from behind cover, offering their most vital areas as easy shots to an assailant. Use cover for support only for longer distance shots, when “threading the needle” for a shot amongst innocent bystanders or when wounded. Always look for other cover, especially cover further away.

Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills
Avoid crowding too close when using vehicles as cover as it impedes movement and your ability to rapidly traverse and engage threats appearing at different locations. (Photo by Sean Utley)

Shooting On The Move

If you are not behind cover and find yourself stationary in the open when, hearing gunfire, facing a threat, or being fired upon, it should feel as though it’s an unnatural act. If you are in this situation, MOVE! Specifically, this means to move laterally or diagonally away from the threat, creating distance while seeking cover. You might have to move without shooting (a.k.a. haul ass, run!), or shoot on the move. Practice both. The AK’s design is very conducive to this. Movement makes you difficult to hit and less of a choice than those stationary. It is in fact the only way you are going to get to safety unless you are able to end the fight right there. Movement is how you will likely escape from a situation.

Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills
When shooting on the move lean into it with an aggressive stance, knees bent, moving foot over foot, upper body forward, elbows down. (Photo by Sean Utley)

In terms of technique for shooting on the move, the same rifle fighting stance outlined in my other article in this issue is what you need. Lean into it in an aggressive stance with the knees bent, moving foot over foot, upper body forwards, elbows down. When training on this, start at a slow walk, then build your speed. Practice moving backwards, diagonally to cover and laterally without crossing your feet. Lateral movement is not sidestepping, but feet pointed where you want to go, and the upper body rotating like a tank turret towards the threat to fire. But, if you have to move so fast that you cannot maintain a sight picture, then just take your finger off of the trigger and MOVE! Practice all of this. Overreliance on stationary shooting tactics can be life ending.

Moving Targets

Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills
The moving target is the most difficult to hit, you may have to engage an assailant before they can reach cover. Practice is very important! (Photo by Sean Utley)

When under fire, nearly all human beings will do one of two things: stand still and wonder what that sound is, or move as though their butt is on fire! The moving target is the most difficult to hit. You may have to engage an assailant BEFORE they get to cover. Otherwise, being there might give them more stability and ability to fire back at you. Plus, better protection thereby endangering you more. Finally, whether firing at multiple assailants or at a mover, the weight of the rifle in itself could cause you to over swing past your target(s). The solution and most important skill for hitting movers is “follow-through”. Anyone can build an inexpensive moving target trainer with clothesline kits, pulleys, two high locations to affix these and someone to stand behind you and run the mover(s).

Low Light

The majority of assaults occur in low light. But, even during the daytime, a home invasion or other urban scenario will call for use of the light. You may need it to locate the threat, identify the threat (watch the hands), possibly to navigate and move and to engage the threat. A high intensity tactical flashlight used at closer range can have the effect of disorienting or temporarily blinding an assailant.

The basic technique for engaging with a light and firearm in sync are:

  • Light ON (then, if needed…)
  • Rifle UP
  • Light OFF
  • Rifle DOWN
  • MOVE (laterally or diagonally away from where you just lit/shot from)

Remember: On-Up-Shoot-Off-Down-Move. 


However, a “tac light” can be a tactical tool or a bullet magnet. Always move away from the spot that you either shot from and/or used your light when in low light. Blip the light when in danger and do not keep it constantly on unless you have someone at gunpoint. The basic technique for rifle fighting in low light is “light and move”. Always move away from where you last shot and/or turned on the light. You should have a purpose-built weapon light mounted to the rifle. A light with at least 200 lumens and a momentary contact switch is what you need. If not, learn these techniques for firing with it handheld. Not perfect, but it can be done. Finally, consider buying self-defense ammo for the AK that has low-flash powder in it. Many loads, combined with the lack of a flash suppressor on most AKs, makes for an extremely large, bright fireball in low light. Add to this being indoors, and you could be in for a temporarily blinding situation. That is not something that you would want in a self-defense situation. 

Advanced Close Quarters AK Rifle Skills
A rifle mounted light is an essential tactical tool, but can become a “bullet magnet” if you do not incorporate proper techniques and tactics. (Photo by Sean Utley)

Scenarios and Induced Stress Training

Not all self-defense situations are simple, and you will not see most of them coming in advance. You need to be ready for not just mechanical operation of the rifle, but for both tactical decision making and being able to handle stress and stimuli you might encounter. Once your rifle is zeroed, functions perfectly with your defensive ammunition, and fitted to you well; the most valuable training you can do is reality based and scenario driven. Scenarios will enable you to both simulate possible situations and even more importantly, they allow you to practice proper justification to shoot, application of the law and tactics. So, once you have decided which techniques you are going to use, do the following:

Step 1: Conduct sets of integrated skills combined into drills.
Step 2: Increase the physical stress for a given drill.
Step 3: Once you can handle that, it is time for realistic, scenario training with your rifle.

Eventually progress up to where you can multi-task and perform the skills and drills at an elevated heart rate. Try to incorporate these into any of the various methods depicted here that help you to validate your rifle fighting skills. Plus, see how you perform when many of the necessary elements and conditions are put together.

There are a number of training methods and apparatus available for putting it all together, combining your techniques, tactics and decision making. Some realistic rifle fighting training can also be accomplished in certain competitions, such as 3-Gun or other scenario driven events. Look for safe, realistic ones. Or, set up a training group and conduct rifle scenarios that have judgment, movers, cover, low light, verbalization and incorporating the skills discussed here. It is time well spent to conduct stress shoots where techniques are combined with tactics and scenario-driven courses of fire. These include shoot houses, multi-directional ranges, “Hogan’s Alley,” or in some competitive events. This is also one of many opportunities to incorporate reinforcement of knowledge on lawful justification to shoot and threat identification. (If you do not practice this, you may wish you had!)

But, there is nothing like a three-dimensional, live environment against real people (who shoot back). Force-on-force, interactive scenario based training (ISBT) is the most realistic self-defense training there is. It is often hard to find courses which can do this, not to mention do it safely and realistically.

The Next Steps For The Serious AK Shooting Rifleman

There is a wide array and serious disparity in the practicality, realism and credibility of rifle courses and instructors nationwide. Not all shooting and manipulation techniques are suitable for fighting with a rifle. Be picky with your chosen instructor, training school and combo of tactics and techniques you are going to go with.

Here is my list of most highly recommended fighting rifle instructors and schools. Each instructor has at least ten years of instructor experience, with many of these having twenty or more. Some of these I have trained under or with. Each has the credibility of full-time work in fighting rifle using professions, leading into their instructor careers. Plus, they met other very important criteria I am writing about separately. When it comes to life and death skills do not trust your training to amateurs. Go for the best money can buy. 

Where to get training on how to fight with a rifle:

(note: Vickers in particular is an experienced instructor on the AK series rifles. You will be in good hands!)

(note: Iverson came up through the ranks in South Africa using the R series rifles, which are an AK type design)

Has own facility:

Once you have learned and evaluated the combination of your rifle/support gear package, applicable techniques, and potential situations you could face, put it all together into a training regimen. Work on refining those skills and developing some individual tactics to go with it. If you can find some scenario based training and realistic competitions, they will also help.

You may also want to consider not just “self-defense,” but the historic rationale and Constitutional basis for the rifle armed citizenry. Whether or not there is a likelihood you will ever have to fight with a rifle, we know that “chance favors the prepared mind.” The AK or one of its variants, combined with the right ammo, accessories, and training are a superb combination for fighting with a rifle. You may have to commit a lot of time, money and effort into building your capability of fighting with a rifle. If it ever happens for real, you will be glad you did.

About the Author

John Peterson is a former U.S. Army Special Forces Weapons Sergeant and Infantry soldier, with service in Afghanistan and elsewhere since the 1980s. He was a full-time instructor at both SIG Sauer Academy and Smith & Wesson Academy before going to work for the federal government. He writes the new column in Firearms News Magazine called “On Guns, Freedom, & Vigilance,” both online at and in the newsstand magazine. He is on twitter and all social media @jtfpeterson

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