360 Degree Check

I’ve recently noticed the dire need for training on doing a 360 degree check for those who carry a firearm for self defense. Let me explain what this is and why you need to practice it.

A 360 degree check is a complete and rapid scan of your environment in all directions. DMT teaches students to do this check at the end of every firearm repetition. In fact, the 360 degree check is a portion of the Shooting Fundamentals we teach students right as they start training with DMT.

The goal of the 360 degree check is to: identify more threats, avenues of escape, and/or find someone that can help you. Let’s go through each of these pieces.


At DMT we often talk about the “Plus 1 Rule.” What this means is there is always one more weapon, one more threat, etc. By scanning your environment for more threats, you give yourself the opportunity to identify them as early as possible and begin taking action.


When you have just been involved in a lethal force engagement, you probably don’t want to stay where you are. An avenue of escape is a means to escape your current situation and move to a Safe Environment, where you control the access and no threats are present.


Help refers to someone that has both the capability and obligation to provide you aid. Generally this is someone who is uniformed law enforcement or security, people in positions of authority in places of business, or capable family and friends. By determining who you have near you following a defensive encounter, you know who to use to help you identify, avoid, or deter any other threats. There’s a “downside” with help though, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

There’s a second, underlying reason why you want to develop your 360 degree check: to counter your physiological response to stress. When you experience a traumatic event, one of your body’s natural responses is neurological. Portions of your prefrontal cortex are chemically blocked, reducing your ability to rationalize your situation and causing your vision to become hyper-focused on the thing that is potentially causing you harm. You might refer to this as “tunnel vision.”

So how do you fix tunnel vision? It sounds silly, but the answer is to simply look around. If you can get your body to start turning your head, your vision will open up, defeating the tunnel vision. Neuroscience has shown that whatever we condition our bodies to do, they’ll do, even under lethal force stress. Therefore, if we condition the body to scan for more threats, avenues of escape, and help after deploying a defensive tool, your body will do it even after a lethal force encounter. 

So when we teach our students to conduct a 360 degree check after every firearm deployment, whether they take a shot or not, the student will automatically do it when it counts: gathering intel from the scan, breaking tunnel vision, and rapidly beginning the re-control of the prefrontal cortex, thereby regaining the ability to think and figure a way to safety from a serious situation.

Now we understand what the 360 degree check is - looking all around us for more threats, avenues of escape, or help. And we know why we want to do it - the Plus 1 Rule, to escape the dangerous environment, or to find help, as well as to speed up the process for regaining prefrontal cortex engagement and defeating target fixation/tunnel vision. So here’s how to correctly do the 360 degree check.

The check is part of the final piece of our Shooting Fundamentals, which we call the Follow Through, which I want to briefly explain first. The Follow Through actually starts with resetting the trigger of the firearm, ensuring that the tool is ready to be used again. This discipline of reset also helps to condition your finger out of bad mechanics like flinching or crushing, which is a massive handgun shooting problem.

The next step of the Follow Through is the Assessment. By lowering the firearm slightly, you can clearly see if the threat or target has been engaged correctly. If further engagement is required, it is a very short motion to raise the firearm back to sight alignment and continue shooting.

Finally, you engage in the 360 degree check by pulling the firearm back tight alongside the body. This withdrawal of the firearm makes it much easier to defend the weapon from a grab. Next, look at the threat, then while maintaining muzzle orientation, scan to one side, all the way over the shoulder of that side to a point behind you. Then reverse that scan back to the target, and continue the scan all the way to the other side over the other shoulder to the same point behind, 360 degrees, and finally return to the target. The sequence is target-shoulder-target-shoulder-target. As you are scanning to the side, your eyes move up and down, 45 degrees above and below sightline. 

With each person you look at during your scan, consider the Plus 1 Rule and rapidly assess the face and hands. If you asses someone as a threat, begin taking action, either deterring or defending. If there is an avenue of escape or a position of tactical superiority, head in that direction as quickly and safely as possible. If you assess a person as help, you can summon them, in addition to the other moves you take. 

This is where I want to come back to the downside of “help.” Consider that a defensive encounter is incredibly chaotic, and to establish who is the the “good guy” vs. the “bad guy” at a split second is really, really hard. This is the confusion that Law Enforcement, one of our help options, is stepping into when they arrive. In several recent stories, the “good guys” have been shot by responding law enforcement, such as the stories linked here, and here. In my next newsletter I’ll explain DMT’s Post-Fight Procedure, which will place the 360 degree check within context and help you avoid accidental conflict with law enforcement.

Until next time, train hard and stay safe.