Photo Credit Andras Schram

When I first joined the military in 1994 at the age of seventeen, the marksmanship training for the Canadian forces was good, if you planned to fight World War Three on a convential range. The basics where covered: prone, sitting, kneeling and standing.

I competed in the Canadian Forces Small Arms Competition in 2001 and the practicality of those ranges was limited. In the infantry we always trained to a high standard. Shooting on the move with our weapons as well as unconventional firing positions, were in use but not taught. You learned this through trial and error. 

After over a decade at war, shooting and marksmanship changed. This evolution began shortly after we got back from Afghanistan in 2002. Shooting sports, and in particular, 3-Gun, IPSC and IDPA, have evolved the way the military looks at training and range time.  

I approached Master Sergant (retired) Scott Satterlee, a retired United States Army Special Forces operator, now competition shooter, who helped modernize the marksmanship program for 1st Special Forces Group. I wanted to share his expertise on how sport shooting has moulded the military into better shooters.  

Since I write for the law enforcement or armed professional who is looking to gain more practical experience and mindset for their trade. I wanted to see where the overlap with competition and a 2-way range meet. How it helps, and how it hurts, tactical awareness.  

“I didn’t invent any of it, but what I did was take the information and attempt to put it into a training format that was meaningful to my war fighters.” Scott says.

The SF standard he helped develop actually refers to competition split times and draw times for accurate engagements and suggests that operators have a minimum standard for those engagements.

It wasn’t an easy nut to crack either, as Scott explains. “It took some serious convincing and time on the range with a pro-timer and Cadre demonstrating the efficiency of it. Once they got it, the light bulb went off in dramatic fashion. One of my guys started competing and went to production nationals and to top 10% using his duty rig.” 

“I think the rub was from most of my friends who are more on the practical/outlaw end of the sport shooting spectrum. Outlaw 3-gun looks nothing like 3-gun nation -longer stages and realistic shots for the weapons system 5-25 for pistol, 25-100 for shotgun and 15-500 for carbine.”

After speaking with Scott, it’s clear that in this training aspect, competition shooting is responsible for taking operator marksmanship to the next level. Sport shooters are setting new standards for draw times and engagement accuracy. They are continually evolving the sport and those evolutions are directly implemented into operator and agent survaibility. The training and lessons learned from the competition world are invaluable in creating a sense of tactical awareness. 

Scott elaborates, “What I found was the faster I got with my engagements the more I could see. Freeing up the cognitive. I spent zero mental energy in the application of force and am able to spend all my mental energy in decision making.”

However, a dangerous trend has started to develop, the overlap between competition and reality is starting to lean more towards the competition side. This trend is almost a non-issue for high end SF operators, but for the average officer in a law enforcement agency who is developing their skill set on the range, there is a potential to develop fatal habits.

Scott agrees by saying, “Current training methodology places too high of a priority on not failing instead of surviving.”

It’s my experience that the best way to learn is through failure, analyzing your mistakes and coming up with new methods to attain success. It’s clear that sport shooting and 3-gun style ranges are responsible for developing a new standard of efficiency and accuracy with a personal weapon.

Mr. C , a former Canadian Special Forces Operator, tells me, “You have to train the way you fight, I would see shooting team guys with open mag pouches, level 1 retention holsters on their deployment kit and I would ask them, where do you think you are going…the range? It’s not realistic it’s not practical. Sure they shoot well and fast but what they do in competition is just not practical. There are some bad habits that come from there, great training for firearms handling but in the gunfight that’s not the whole picture.”
As Scott mentioned earlier, too much emphasis is being placed on not failing instead of surviving.

Mr. C backs this up by suggesting, “Too much emphasis is being place on passing the test on the range day without looking at that next level.” 

When we refer to the test here it’s not the simplicity of a basic marksmenship course the standard in most units and agencies is low and easily attainable. This standard here is almost the root cause of this dangerous trend.

Scott backed this up, “Most tests for Mil/LE or other agencies take up a bulk of budget and training time and is very basic. It is run by folks that mean well but in reality only really know enough about shooting to get their canditates to pass a ridiculously easy exam. It is at the essence a course where if you don’t shoot yourself and hopefully you hit some targets you will pass. This evaluation has given a score, the individual takes that score and internalizes it and ends up believing they are much better than they are, which is a very dangerous trend. The beauty of sport shooting is every single day, stage and location will be very different depending on what the match director wants to test the competitors on that day.”
 
Scott also describes that “next level” earlier as allowing you to be more aware and think ahead to gain initiative as the gunfight unfolds. He brings this more to light, “Here is another observation. One of the things that really pushed me into analyzing vision, sighting techniques, etc., is that I can’t remember seeing a front sight or focused red dot from any of my engagements. Every clinic I give I ask the question and less than 1 in 20 remember aiming. They were looking at their threat and achieved the accuracy they needed to reduce the threat.” 

He continues by saying, “Developing the ability to use sights in a non-technical way at the subconscious level is an absolute requirement for the gun fighter. Competition shooters have been perfecting these techniques for quite some time, typically used on what they would call a hose stage where speed trumps everything. It is not “instinctual” shooting or “point” shooting in the traditional term it is using the sights but having a hard target focus. The sights are used and lined up in the traditional post in notch but both are blurry.”
 
Without a doubt 3-gun style and competition ranges allow operators and agents to do this. This is the next level Mr.C talks about.  He goes on to explain,”Marksmanship and range training develop a proficiency, like steps to a house. Once you climb the steps you get to the door where you need to pass the test to get the key. Once you open that door you enter the world of the modern warfighter. This world is the next level. This world is about reality and facts.”

Mr.K, a current serving senior United States Army Special Forces operator sums it up. “I think it is important to look at the benefits that competition training brings to the proficiency of tactical shooters, and incorporate as many techniques as is reasonably applicable to our discipline. I have numerous times brought out a shot clock and subjected my mil/le students to new standards. I frequently get subtle eye rolls and scoffs. ‘We arent shooting for a trophy… no one is counting 1/10ths of seconds’. My reply is always the same – an AK-47 on full auto shoots 600rnds/min. Quick math tells us that’s a 7.62 round coming your way at hypersonic velocity every 1/10th of a second. Are you counting them now? That 1/10 of a second for your first round hit on target very may well mean your life. That usually sinks the point home.” 

It certainly does. It’s a very realistic point that drives the need for a high level of training home.

Passing the test is a crucial part of warfighter and armed professional development. Without that high standard, which is continually kept current by today’s top competition shooters, the test wouldn’t be at the level it is today. So, undoubtedly, 3-gun and all modern competition shooting sports have evolved this development at a rapid rate.  

Where the distrubing part of this trend lies is now too many agencies and operators are wasting valuable time training solely for the test. This dangerous trend needs to stop. It’s the warfighter and armed professionals responsibility to focus their training on that next level. As a professional you have already passed that test to be in your profession – lessen the importance of passing it and evolve. 

Scott backs this up, “Most of the time the unit test is retardedly simple and passing it is non consequential. If you can beat the top comp shooters out there at their game, then applying that skill set to your job in the context of the greatest game ever played (combat) your chances of success and survivability go way up.”

This mindset will bring you to the “next” level that all the professionals interviewed here talk about, and go beyond what competition gives you. This will increase your survivability and team effectiveness in the dynamic, random world of the gunfight.  

Scott brings this to light. “Yes I have had some influence in it, mostly in changing training mind set. What is possible mostly in a training environment. It is tough for a lot of guys to separate out the Game tactics from what they are watching and see the essence of it. Sure the tactics used in 3-gun could lead to disaster in a two-way range but change the rules of the game the world class guys will still dominate. Plus, to be brutal, death or life in combat is way too random.” 

Mr. K elaborates, “We must look at the value the gaming world can bring to our world: combining as much of their speed as possible with our use of cover, tactics, situational awareness and discipline for the gunfight.”

It’s incorrporating the rules of the game that we, as a war fighting and armed professional community, need to look at. We, as professionals in the application of violence, need to listen and learn from the sport shooting community and find the gem that we can apply to our next fight.

So the question now becomes, how do we, as armed professionals, change this trend and create practical training methods that will work for your unit or agency? How do we create training that will not only increase your individual skill sets and accuracy, but will increase your survivability? This is, after all, why armed professionals train – not to take home a gold medal, but to get back home alive to your family. 

Mr. B, a United States Federal Agent and former special forces  operator, adds to this conversation. “I think at the end, we need to make more of an argument for the force on force 2-way range training with simulations. It is like the competition and 3-gun range builds individual skills. Progression is then made to a controlled and safe 2-way range training environment, and builds the units collective skills.”

All the former special forces operators interviewed here agree unanimously that competition shooting has evolved the way warfighters are taught today. The standard of marksmanship and skill competition has set undoubtly has increased operator survivability in the chaos of a gunfight. They also agree more emphasis needs to be placed on the “next level” of training to be effective, accurate and composed under fire.  

The facts here are clear, while competition has evolved the way warfighters learn their craft. There are limitations to its practical use in the world of armed professionals. Evolving these lessons and adding a practicality to range training is a must for those of us skilled in the application of violence. Where we work is not a game and it’s time we start recognizing that more in our training and end this dangerous trend of preparing for the test not the fight. 

*names have been changed to ensure operator confidentiality