Transitions and Protecting the Firearm

  • Beau Doboszenski, Owner/Lead Instructor

  • Originally published February 8th, 2018

Last week we discussed the possibility of facing multiple threats at once, and the concept of Threat Immediacy. Now that you know how to determine who to engage first, let's move on to the methods of target transition.

At DMT, we're primarily focused on the defensive application of firearms. If you're doing a lot of competitive work, your transitions will be slightly different because you're never concerned about someone closing in to fight you for the firearm, nor whether a missed target will shoot back at you. For a defender, this could mean life or death. That’s why DMT's transitions take these aspects into account, and we recommend you practice this methodology if you're carrying a firearm for personal security.

There are three methods of transitioning targets, based on what you as the defender can see. Having three options allows you to freely adapt your motion to the situation at hand, while maintaining effective retention, muzzle awareness and trigger finger awareness.

Let's go through each situation and corresponding transition method.

Line of Sight

As the name would imply, in this situation both the first and second targets are clearly in your field of view. We ballpark this "field of view" at about a 45 degree angle from looking directly at target 1.

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Since both targets are clearly seen AND identified, it's reasonable and efficient to simply move from one to the other as quickly as possible. This clarity is signified by the green 45 degree cone. And because they are both clear, you can keep your finger on the trigger and keep sights aligned in the transition.

Shoot at target 1, then reset on that target before moving in case your shot didn’t stop or slow the most immediate threat and you need shoot again before transitioning.

Inside 45 Degrees

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In this scenario, target 1 is clearly in your field of vision, but target 2 is sitting just on the edge of it. You can perceive target 2, but are unable to identify it as a threat without gathering more information. Normally, humans have a very broad field of view, but under the physiological response to stress, our vision narrows and constricts. This is called Visual Exclusion, or more commonly, "Tunnel Vision."

It's hard to say how much your visual field will constrict under stress. If you are experiencing a very intense physiological response, it might be a lot, whereas if you have trained to manage that response, it may be very little. To help train the skill of transitioning in this visually limited capacity, DMT roughly sizes the field in which we're working at between 20 and 45 degrees from direct observation.

Before transitioning between target 1 and 2, you'd need to identify that target 2 was actually a threat by turning your head and looking at it. Therefore, you’ll engage target 1, and reset on the target to give a split second to determine if further shots are required. Then look toward target 2. As soon as this happens, you will no longer have sight alignment so your trigger finger should come off the trigger. Once target 2 has been identified as a threat, the firearm would follow the eyes to alignment, finger back on the trigger and a second engagement can occur.

Outside 45 Degrees

This is the most challenging transition and the most dangerous for defenders. This situation can happen because of an ambush. One target or threat commands your attention while another comes in from a blind angle, leaving you vulnerable to one side. You may not even know that secondary target is coming until it is sending fire your way, or you may find it only after your primary threat has been nullified and you begin a tactical followthrough, scanning three hundred and sixty degrees of your environment. However you found the second threat, you run into two large problems.

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The first is the large gap between target 1 and target 2. That gap could contain no-shoot targets, even people that you may be trying to defend. Unfortunately, if you move to transition between these threats while maintaining 100 percent muzzle awareness, lowering or raising your muzzle as needed, you are adding roughly .25 to .5 seconds on the transition. Mind you, target 2 is trying to kill you in those .25-.5 seconds and can cover a lot of ground and fire at least once or twice, considering combat shooting speeds.

Consequently, in this situation, the necessity of speed of transition may outweigh the risk of muzzling a no-shoot or defending target.

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I personally train for both contingencies: that I have enough time to transition so therefore I can maintain 100 percent muzzle awareness, and that I do not have enough time and will therefore move from target 1 to target 2 as fast as possible, ignoring the transgression of having my muzzle sweep everything in between during the transition.

There is one other consideration to this transition: you will likely have no idea how close or how far away target number 2 happens to be, so you must be extremely concerned with retaining the firearm from a grab.

Imagine a scenario where you start by identifying and addressing target 1 and resetting on it. Then you pull the firearm back into a retention position. Then, just as in the Inside 45 Degrees, your eyes drive the firearm, looking to target 2 for complete identification. Now you make a decision to adjust muzzle orientation based upon time, no-shoot targets or range of threat. You turn your entire body to address target 2 and engage. If the target is close you engage from retention; if the target is far, from Full Presentation.

These three transitions will take dedicated time and practice, not only to simply perform the skill correctly but to condition the response of each transition with muzzle awareness, trigger finger awareness and retention considerations. You definitely want to work these concepts dry before you ever work them live.