The Gunfighter’s Guide: Lessons Learned the Hard Way- Part 1, by The Grumpy Gunfighter

For me shooting has been away of life. I can vividly remember the first time my father handed me a .22 rifle and the awe it inspired in me. Its wood stock had been worn smooth by generations of men in my family who had owned it before me. Its presence had felt like a warm handshake in my grip that welcomed me into a skill that has served me well over the years.

That old .22 must have made quite an impression on me because after two police departments, some time in the military, and several shooting competitions later, I am still hungry for knowledge to help hone my skill set. This article is a compilation of lessons I have learned, either from real world events or through lessons taught to me by the men and women I served with. Their advice has saved my life on a few occasions, and perhaps this gunfighter’s guide, also developed from lessons learned the hard way, may do the same for you one day.

Guns and Cars

A Terrible Place To Get Into A Gunfight

A soft skin (unarmored) vehicle is a terrible place to get into a gunfight. It is basically like sitting still in a tin can. If you can’t easily escape by driving away, get out so you can move.

The engine block is the only place on a car that may stop a bullet. Your best bet is to crouch near the front wheel well, putting the engine block between you and incoming rounds.

The Difference Between Cover and Concealment

Know the difference between cover and concealment. Cover is anything that can stop incoming bullets; concealment only shrouds you from the view of the enemy. Cars are largely seen as concealment.

Barrel Sit Lower Than Sights

Be mindful that the barrel of your firearm sits lower than the sights. When shooting from a concealed position, it can be easy to accidentally send a round into the object you are hiding behind instead of over it. For instance, when shooting from behind the front wheel well of a patrol car, one could easily zipper open up the hood of a brand new vehicle, which is not easy to explain to your supervisor.

Shooting Through a Windshield

Bullets shot into a front windshield will impact targets in the vehicle a few inches lower than you expect them to, and rounds shot out of a windshield into outside targets will hit higher than you expect them to. Both of these situations are due to the extreme angle of the windshield.

When shooting out of a front windshield, it may also be helpful to have the first few rounds of your magazine be full metal jackets, which will not come apart when they hit the windshield and will punch clean holes. The idea of this tactic is that the holes left by the full metal jackets will allow the rest of your hollow points to pass the opening unobstructed, since hollow points have a tendency to open up and break apart on the first object they hit.

Drivers Don’t Shoot

Drivers don’t shoot; they drive. Passengers shoot and maintain fields of fire. They are responsible for providing security for the driver. Time and time again it has been proven that multitasking, such as shooting while driving, often leads to misplaced shots and accidents.

Small Space = Small Gun

A small space requires a small gun. Tailor your firearms to the environment in which you will be using them. AR pistols bring a powerful cartridge in a small package, while pistol caliber carbines work well for the cramped quarters and can be easier to control due to the smaller rounds being fired.

The Scorpion vs. Box Jellyfish Philosophy

The Two Strategies in Combat Zones

Modern warriors often pick one of two strategies while operating in combat zones. For example, they choose either high profile or low profile.

You can choose to either be the baddest looking guy on the block to deter those individuals from confronting you– the scorpion philosophy. Alternatively, you can choose to blend in, look unassuming and insignificant so threats will underestimate your capabilities. This is what a box jellyfish does.

The Scorpion Philosophy

Most people see a scorpion and say, “I am not going to mess with a creature that is covered in thick plate armor and has two sharp pincers and a formidable venomous stinger.” This is the same philosophy that some defense contractors use in war zones when they armor their vehicles and adorn them with light machine guns.

This tactic is in an effort to portray that they are going to be a particularly difficult target to defeat. If you chose to go with this philosophy, understand that you will attract a lot of attention and you better have the firepower to backup your image.

The Box Jellyfish Philosophy

On the other hand some contractors chose to blend in with their surroundings, much like a box jellyfish. The box jellyfish is a small invertebrate that is almost invisible in the ocean and yet is one of the most venomous creatures on the planet. Contractors demonstrate this philosophy by driving local vehicles, wearing the locals clothes, and concealing their firearms until they absolutely need to use them. This philosophy will attract much less attention, but it also can make you less capable and less armored, if you do encounter enemy fire.

Best Fit For Your Circumstances and Capabilities

In a SHTF situation, either of these philosophies can help you traverse potentially dangerous environments. I have seen both used effectively. It is up to you and your team to decide which will be the best fit for your circumstances and capabilities.

Close Quarters Battle Takeaways

Survival in U.S. Gunfights

In the U.S., most gunfights take place from zero to five feet and are over in less than three minutes. So, learning close quarters fighting is critical for survival.

Awareness is your best ally. You can be one of the fastest guns in the west and still be easy to kill if you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings.


If awareness is more than half the battle, then the remaining piece is the ability to quickly access, draw, and fire on hostile actors. To accomplish this requires you to have lethal force ready and available.

Concealed Carry

Find a comfortable concealed carry holster, and practice drawing from it multiple times a week to stay proficient. Personally, the appendix conceal carry is most comfortable for me. However, I am fastest when I conceal carry from the front waistband holster. I found that it is easier to access too and more natural to lift up my shirt with the supporting hand when the firearm is on my waist in front.

Muzzle Flash

Do not stick your barrel out of windows and doorways when engaging distant targets. Fire from inside the room. This makes your muzzle flash and residual dust harder to spot.

Clearing Buildings

Practice clearing buildings by yourself as well as with a team, because the way you approach this will be different. For example, when entering a room with a teammate you have them to cover the angle you can’t cover. However, by yourself, you won’t have that luxury. So, it is important to take things slow and steady.

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. “Pie” the corners of the room before entering by methodically inching your way around the corner until you have scanned the entire room. Most rooms can be scanned 80% of the way without ever entering. This is particularly important to do if you are a single person clearing a building.

Engage Before Dump Into a Room

If possible, engage targets before you dump into a room. Getting into a gunfight in the hallway is much better than getting into a gunfight in the doorway. From the hallway you can work the angles and disengage faster if you don’t get an advantageous shot.

Clearing Room by “Out Violencing” To Survive

If and when you do have to enter the room to fully clear it, do it with swift and deliberate intensity. You should know where you are going to stand/kneel and have a good idea of where a hostile subject could be hiding.The goal is to surprise and overwhelm hostiles inside. One of my first range instructors referred to this as, “Out violencing others’ violence in order to survive.” It has been years now, but his words still ring true.

Tomorrow, we will continue with backwoods fighting tips, dealing with intense stress, and more.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 78 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

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Round 78 ends on September 30th, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. There’s a lot that can be done to up-armor a vehicle. Some of the modifications can be a bit more cumbersome than others, it all depends on how much risk you are willing to accept. 30 mm armor plate in all the doors and panels and 1″ polycarbonate replacement windows were pretty standard in civilian style vehicle upgrades. They proved fairly effective against small arms fire, though they did add some weight to the vehicle, and you did have to open the driver’s door in lieu of a window that no longer rolled down.

    Nowadays, my Crown Vic has kevlar in the door panels, just because that’s the way it came. There’s enough there to stop pistol rounds, probably not enough for high powered rifles. But then I am not in the same threat level where I am that I was in/around the IZ.

    As for offensive capabilities, there are plenty of options. Not everything has to be carried on your person.

  2. G.G. wrote, “In the U.S., most gunfights take place from zero to five feet and are over in less than three minutes. So, learning close quarters fighting is critical for survival.”

    I have heard this before. And I recently viewed a DVD program that addresses this topic in detail. I thought it was absolutely excellent. I have no affiliation with the program, instructor, etc, etc. I don’t believe the author of this article has any affiliation, either.

    If this is permissible — to recommend an item — here is the link, although I will admit, the webpage is painfully long. But the information was *extremely* helpful to me. I am a small, middle-aged woman.

    Oh and one more DVD I watched recently. Also excellent. Also with no affiliation:

  3. This is a great read, thank you for this. I look forward to reading your next two in the series. As someone with no military or police experience, I spend a lot more time than I should worrying about what to do in a gunfight. I know there is training available but with student debt, a mortgage, and baby number one on the way, its probably not the most wise use of my money budgeted to preparedness.

  4. One other thought about gunfights and vehicles. The muzzle blast from guns fired inside vehicles is greatly magnified. Take what you experience when you shoot at the range and multiply by ten. This is both noise and blast. If you aren’t ready it can overwhelm and distract you. This works equally for drivers and passenger/shooters.

    1. “Retired cop,” your comment is spot on. Time after time movies depict the firing of a gun inside a vehicle with no particular negative results–except for the victim. In the movies, a squib load would be used and the sound would be dubbed in later. In reality, everyone in the vehicle would have their “bells rung.”

      The results could be even worse inside a structure, depending on the construction materials used. How many times have you seen firearms being used in concrete buildings or in sewers and tunnels, with no particular reaction to the sound by the actors? This is simply not “real world.”

      My son did a tour in Iraq in a “tip of the spear” unit. I asked him whether he and others used any sort of hearing protection while engaged and inside buildings. He said that they didn’t because “you’ve got to be able to hear,” meaning hearing what was said by others.

      He lost some hearing while he was in the Army, although I don’t know how much. I asked him whether it qualified him for a disability rating. He said, no, “everybody loses hearing.”

      1. Survivormann,

        Get on your son to go back to the VA and get a rating. Even if zero % it is worth it. If his hearing worsens, he won’t have to prove it didn’t come from his life as a civilian.

        When he gets older he will likely need hearing aids, and the VA can get them for him…better than shelling out $7k a pair for them himself.

        Too many young bucks figure “to heck with it, comes with the job” when it comes to the aches and pains. They gut it out. Then 30 or 40 yrs later when they have to do something about it, they can no longer prove it came from the service.

        Tell him to get the DAV to help him file his claim. They won’t steer him wrong and will fight for him with the VA.

        When I got my screening, actually had one VA doc tell me: “You do know it is my job to screen you out, not into the system, right?”

        34 yr 50% disabled Vet.

  5. “In the U.S., most gunfights take place from zero to five feet and are over in less than three minutes.” I’m sure that the author meant “less than three seconds.” Hey, it happens.

    About being a “scorpion” or “jellyfish,” many people simply don’t have the skills and training, much less the temperament, to go the scorpion route. While none of us have actually experienced a “Mad Max environment” in this country, I’m a big believer that those with the proper skills should be very prepared to use the scorpion approach, given that a “don’t tread on me” approach may be the only way to avoid being tested.

    Imagine that a total meltdown occurs. Imagine that there are five “wolves” in a vehicle who are trying to decide which home to hit that night. They pass a home with a fellow standing outside in a T-shirt, shorts, and sandals while holding a 12 ga. shotgun cocked on his hip. Down the road a half-mile, these same wolves pass a property that is sandbagged. The people who can be seen there are wearing BDUs, complete “battle rattle,” and are armed to the teeth.

    Predators, whether two-legged or four-legged, almost always choose the weak and old as their targets. In this case, it certainly seems to me that the wolves will decide that the low hanging fruit is the home with the fellow in the T-shirt, and that a rational “wolf” will decide to hit that home that night.

    1. “predators … almost always choose the weak and old as their targets”

      more specifically, they choose the weakest of whoever has what they want. “full battle rattle and heavily armed” may be a tempting target for just that reason.

  6. The only times I have had to pull my gun from concealed carry is on charging Pit bulls on bicycle rides with my wife= This breed of dog will kill you!

  7. Survivorman – Yes, every combat veteran loses hearing to some degree. Every vet should get that loss validated by the VA. Believe me, eventually you will need hearing aids and the VA will supply them. Ironhorsecowboy

  8. One thing I slightly disagree with, GrumpyG. The average person is wasting time practicing clearing a house, esp alone. I believe it was Massad Ayoub who first said that. Unless the world turns upside down and there is no police force, and you cannot dial 911, the average Joe is more likely to engage a family member, or get shot him/herself if they go doing the room clearing thing. In any event, the odds are pretty low for you to get it right, and you only have to get it wrong once.

    If you are in a house where you cannot get out, stay put and get ready to defend yourself if necessary. Obviously get out if you can and dial 911. If you are outside and see a house broken into, stay out.

    If you are of the mindset that you HAVE to learn to clear a room solo or en mass, get professional training. It takes a lot of training time to learn to do it right, and for most folks, that is time better spent at the range or one of the other myriad of tasks in your life.

    JSOC 89-91 and watched the pro’s do it a lot.

  9. Even when on the job always paid for extra training out-of-pocket . There’s some decent civilian schools. Just signed up for IDPA. Most people describe it as just something fun to do, but been running my carry peace and think it’s good practice.

    Like the old saying goes , get out there and train

  10. About up-armoring vehicles, there are several YouTube videos on homemade bullet resistant panels. The materials usually involve fiberglass welding aprons, ceramic tile, and fiberglass resin. The results appear to be impressive with regard to defeating pistol rounds.

    For those who will never get around to ordering protective armor for a vehicle due to the high cost or simply their own procrastination, but who might be interested in a shop project, these panels might be something to consider, especially since they can be cut to fit the space available in a vehicle.

    The YouTube videos seem to support the claim that these panels will defeat 9 mm and .45 acp. among other calibers.

    Before I would bet my life on these panels, however, I would absolutely, positively, spend a couple of hours at the range testing them.

    Unfortunately, none of these homemade panels are shown withstanding centerfire rifle bullets.

  11. In the first Gulf War we were waiting for the minefield to be blown so I can drive the humvee with the NBC detection gear across to check. Sitting there waiting the Gunny and I exchanged glances then we exchanged firearms. As a Corporal I had my M16 and he had his 9mm. So I focused on not hitting a mine and he had my rifle pointing out the right while the L/Cpl in the back covered the left. Half way across we took an artillery strike which encouraged me to drive much faster. So when ever we drove around we would switch, then once out of the vehicle switch back. yep, good times.

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