The competition arena has developed shooters who can run a patrol rifle unbelievably quickly and accurately. If you’ve had the chance to watch an experienced three-gun shooter, you see how they have taken the operation of the AR platform rifle to the next level. I know police officers aren’t competing in a three-gun match while they’re working, but we can adapt some useful techniques to improve our skills. What police officers do is serious work, so we need to be willing to adopt better ways of doing things to make ourselves and our fellow officers safer.
The shooting platform is the foundation for being highly accurate, improving recoil control and making fast follow-up shots. When I talk about the shooting platform, I’m referring to body position, weight transfer, grip, posture and everything else that stabilizes the rifle. A stable patrol rifle is imperative for recoil control, accuracy, speed and precision.
It begins with getting into a balanced athletic position. This means placing your feet in a stable position that allows you to move in any direction. There is no “perfect” foot position that works for everyone. Most of the time, an athletic position starts by placing your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, with the strong-side foot slightly behind the support-side foot. Your body weight should be on the balls of the feet with the knees slightly bent. I tend to imagine my support-side kneecap being over my toes to prevent me from standing too upright. This athletic position allows you to be stable while standing, moving and shooting from cover. “Nose over toes” is the phrase we use to describe this weight-forward balance.
Once you’re balanced and mobile, it’s time to address how you hold the rifle. Just like with a handgun, get the strong-side hand as high on the pistol grip as possible. With your grip, pull the rifle straight back into the chest while applying most of the grip pressure with the pinky and ring finger to the bottom of the pistol grip. This puts downward pressure and leverage on the patrol rifle, minimizing muzzle rise during recoil.
Another secret to running your rifle like a champion is riding the safety switch with the thumb of your strong-side hand. Right-hand shooters — and left-hand shooters running an ambidextrous safety selector — will be able to quickly disengage the safety as the rifle is mounted into the shooting position. We see a lot of officers forget to run the “on/off” switch during more intense courses of fire. If you pay attention to this tip, under stress you won’t forget to disengage the safety.
For some reason, left-handed shooters are less likely to forget to run the selector switch, even when using a traditional single-lever safety. Without an ambidextrous selector, left-hand shooters can either switch their thumbs over to the left side of the rifle or use their index finger to manipulate the safety. There’s no one way for lefties, since both methods work well.
On the support side, get your support hand around the handguard and as far forward as possible, pulling the rifle straight to the rear. On rifles with long handguards, your support-side elbow should have a slight bend. Getting your support-side hand and arm in this position has several benefits. First, the increased leverage on the front of the rifle gives you more control over recoil. Instead of recoil causing your sights to climb, the rifle will move in a straight line, significantly reducing movement of the sights. Second, the increased leverage makes it faster to move the rifle from target to target, making multiple engagements smoother and quicker. Finally, when snapping the rifle from target to target, it eliminates the tendency to travel past the target.
When I was growing up, my father taught me the traditional bladed hunting stance. As I got older and started regularly shooting rifles, the traditional bladed hunting stance was still the go-to standard for stabilizing a rifle. When using a patrol rifle, especially while wearing body armor, the traditional hunting stance turns your hips sideways and places the stock of the rifle on the outer part of the shoulder. When the rifle recoils, it pushes the rifle back into the shoulder, turning the body further sideways with each shot. The rifle sight, or optic dot, moves off center and cycles high right for a right-handed shooter and high left for a left-handed shooter. You can’t be both fast and accurate when the rifle is moving diagonally during each shot.
Instead, get mostly squared up to the target with your head erect. Put the buttstock of the rifle high on your strong-side pectoral muscle, so you can bring the rifle directly up to your eye-target line without needing to move your head. In this position, the recoil will push backward into the shooter and the sights won’t move diagonally or laterally. This predictable sight travel allows for faster and more accurate follow-up shots. It also improves your effectiveness while shooting on the move, because the rifle won’t bounce as much while moving dynamically.
Once the patrol rifle is mounted in the correct position, it’s important to get aggressive behind the rifle. The strong-side elbow should drop down toward the ground while that same shoulder is driven forward toward the target. This makes the pectoral and front deltoid muscle contract, providing a solid foundation for the buttstock. Driving the shoulder forward increases pressure between the shooter and the stock, creating a solid patrol rifle position. When you drop the elbow, it keeps movement of the strong-side arm in line with the patrol rifle, rather than creating lateral movement that takes the rifle off target. An added bonus is that it helps us utilize cover more effectively by making us a smaller target when shooting around the side of cover.
For some female shooters, this buttstock position may be uncomfortable, or even impossible, due to the breast tissue over that pectoral muscle. For those shooters, lifting that elbow slightly creates a deeper pocket, preventing the stock from slipping off the shoulder. The shoulder should still be rolled forward, and being aggressive behind the rifle is even more important.
Minimize movement and make a hit
With the patrol rifle mounted in a stable shooting platform, the last thing to do before the trigger press is to minimize movement. One way is to create a bit of isometric tension in the upper body by “twisting” the strong hand and support hand downward, so the tension meets at the 6 o’clock position. When I say a bit of tension, I don’t mean you’re trying to break your rifle in two. This tension should simply allow for the rifle to stabilize down and back, creating a solid lockup with your upper body to reduce muzzle lift during recoil. This tension also helps prevent rifle bounce when you’re moving and shooting.
When we create a solid shooting platform with good hand, body and rifle positioning, our sights won’t move much even when we are moving quickly and shooting. At this point, we can press the trigger straight to the rear and be assured of a solid hit, maximum recoil management and minimum sight movement, just like a three-gun champion.