The Gunfighter’s Guide: Lessons Learned the Hard Way- Part 2, by The Grumpy Gunfighter

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.

In part 1, I covered three main topics– cars and guns, the scorpion vs. box jellyfish philosophies, and close quarters battle takeaways. Today we will move into fighting in larger spaces, specifically the backwoods and move onto other topics also.

Some Backwoods Fighting Tips

Stay off the crest of ridgelines when moving. Although the high ground is best in a firefight, it is important not to silhouette yourself against the skyline.

Use Bounding Overwatch When Moving Under Fire

Use the bounding overwatch method when moving under fire. Bounding overwatch is a technique where one team member stays in cover and scans for enemy fire or movement while your teammate runs to the next usable piece of cover. That teammate will then scan and provide you covering fire while you move to the next covered firing position.

Stay Low in Flat, Heavily Forested Areas

When in flat heavily forested areas, stay low to the ground. Staying low often allows you to see movement of legs through the brush while keeping your position concealed. If your head is constantly popping up over bushes, your movement is often easy to spot.

Shooting in Dusty Areas

When shooting long distance or close to the ground in dusty areas, it can be helpful to wet down the ground. On way is with a hole poked into a water bottle to moistens the dirt so that the dust isn’t kicked up from your muzzle fire.

Dealing with Intense Stress

Fighting for your life is just about the most stressful thing a human being can go through, and it takes a tangible toll.

My friends returning from fighting places where society has very literally crumbled, attest that night terrors, PTSD, and depression are all real consequences from operating in hostile environments.

It is not far fetched to believe that widespread fighting in a TEOTWAWKI situation would cause stress for a large degree of the population. A skill that will no doubt be useful is how to handle some of that stress.

Combat Breathing

I have found combat breathing to be particularly effective. My sergeant taught me to breathe in while counting slowly– one, one thousand; two, one thousand; three, one thousand. Hold the breath, and count to three in this same manner again, and then release the breath out while counting to three a third time. Then, repeat.

Breath is a natural way to center yourself to focus on the moment. Whether you are behind a low wall, taking sporadic enemy fire, or in your bed years later reliving that moment, focusing on your breathing can center you and bring you back to the present. Practicing this combat breathing isn’t going to fix PTSD, but it has helped me on more than one occasion bring myself back to reality so that I can focus on the task at hand.

Practice Like You Play

“I pulled my patrol car into the field and that’s when I saw him pull his gun on me. I don’t remember stepping out of my patrol car. I don’t remember how many rounds I put down range. All I remember is that he went down and when the dust settled I was still standing.” This is a quote from a friend of mine whose training saved his life.

Effective and Frequent Training

When it is a life or death situation, we refer back to our training. We most definitely need that training to be effective and frequent. You can learn all the firearm basics of sight picture, grip, trigger squeeze, breathing from any NRA concealed carry course, but you simply can’t stop there to be proficient in a gunfight.

Simple Drills to Keep Skills Sharp

Keep your skills sharp with simple drills designed to test the basics, like drawing, lining up the sights, and pressing through an easy smooth trigger squeeze. Once you have them down, add time constraints to your drills to get an idea of just how quickly you can draw and fire effectively on targets under normal conditions.

Once you feel that you can accurately and consistently put rounds on a target from reasonable distances, it is time to stress test using scenarios.

Stress Testing

Stress testing is adding distractions and complexity around your shooting. Yes, you may be able to get a one hole grouping at 25 yards on a clear sunny day but what about at night when you are out of breath? What about when your hands are shaking from running a quarter mile and chaotic screams or gunfire fill your ears? What happens to your grouping under stressful conditions?

If you ever have to get in a gunfight, it will likely be under these stressful and chaotic situations. So, the only way to truly test your capabilities is to train with this added level of stress.

Do. Not. Stop. Fighting

Let me tell you a story of why you just do not stop fighting in a gunfight. You cannot quit.

My friend and a few fellow officers were searching for a domestic violence subject in a second story apartment when they heard the barrage of gunfire from a semi automatic 7.62 rifle. My friend was standing on the stairwell when he was ambushed. The gunman opened fire on him from a window that led off of the master bedroom. Without a second to react, he was hit six times throughout the chest, stomach, and legs. His partner behind him grabbed him from the stairwell and began dragging him away when he too was shot. Although the bullet went through his stomach and into his leg, he continued to pull my friend out of the line of fire and to safety. Incredibly, several months and many surgeries later, both officers were back on the streets patrolling.

Gunshot Wounds Very Survivable With Medical Attention

I share this story because it highlights just how survivable gunshot wounds can be with proper medical attention. In the movies, we see actors die almost instantly after being shot. However, in reality, this is rarely the case.

Excluding the head and heart, gunshot wounds are very survivable, and we should train to that fact. Just because you got hit doesn’t mean you are out of the fight. This is the foundation of a warrior mentality.

If I Can Move, I’m In This Fight

If I can move, I am still in this fight. Tell yourself that you will survive and continue to take action to ensure your survival. The last thing you want to do is curl up and stop functioning, because that is a guaranteed death sentence.

Simulated Training For Loss of Appendage

You can integrate aspects of this mindset into your training by taping up a limb to make it “combat ineffective”. For example, by using athletic tape to keep your dominant hand closed in a fist, you can stimulate the loss of that appendage while conducting your regular shooting drills.

This technique forces you to practice the use of your non-dominant hand for shooting and reloads. It is simple drills like this that can greatly increase our capability in the event of an injury sustained in combat.

Simulated force on force drills have been very effective in my understanding of this “don’t quit” mindset. At the academy, they tell you to keep fighting and keep pushing through even after being shot, because it isn’t over until you can’t move.

Tomorrow, I will share with you about customizing your kit or loadout, discuss calibers, and deal with misfires 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. Hollyweird movies often make good training films. On how NOT to do it. You will not survive standing around, talking loudly after, or during, or just before a gunfight. Hand and arm signals are of crucial importance, because yelling, “I’m out of ammo”, just tells your adversary you are as good as dead. And practice your hand and arm signals and your movement to fire, or being fired on, or retreating until you get the bends. Do not move fast in dense forest, or any vegetation, and do not return to your base by the same route you left it. If you ARE hit, try not to let the bad guys in on that.

    1. If a small group can do as well as a doctor operating in 1865, many lives can be saved. Look at US Civil War doctoring and note how primitive it was, but quite a few men survived horrible injuries (including chest hits to the lungs). Anesthetic above the level of ethanol makes a difference, but what will make the most difference is getting basic medical treatment/support inside the first hour after the injury (perhaps the most important thing learned about trauma care since the VietNam war). Does gman expect that fighting men will be operating alone and unsupported by buddies and medics? That’s a job for super-elite specials, not regular soldiers who can operate well in 5’s and dozens.

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