Having first learned transition drills almost 20 years ago, there has been an evolution in teaching this drill. Initially learning the drill at T.E.E.S. using MP5s and UZIs it was a very straightforward methodology. The M4s and other patrol rifles were still in the future for law enforcement. Showing these drills to colleagues brought comments of astonishment like, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’ The drill was still something new. Lately we have seen students coming to courses with modified versions of this method. Some methods are OK, but some methods are slow and/or hazardous.
The transition drill was developed for room combat when the primary weapon, usually a SMG, either ran dry or malfunctioned. The theory was it was quicker to change over to a pistol in close quarters than trying to reload or remedy the problem. The same holds true for patrol rifle engagements up to 15-20 yards. What we teach is that same basic drill with a couple of slight modifications to compensate for the AR15/M4 weapon platform and changes in holster design. Quite frankly, the original method is sound and leaves very little room for improvement.
The cross sling method lends itself to being slower than the conventional technique. This process has the shooter physically sweeping the weapon to the side or, in some cases behind the back, before starting to draw the pistol. Usually this is done with the weak side. Depending on where it was learned, the shooter holds the rifle in place and performs a single-hand pistol shot. A more inept version is the long gun moved to the strong side, secured behind the holster (or weapon retention belt clip) before accessing the pistol.
A more dangerous version has the shooter, with his / her strong hand still on the pistol grip, placing the rifle in the armpit of his / her weak arm. The muzzle faces backward. The rifle is supposed to clamped in the armpit to allow a two handed grip on the pistol. On the firing line, this movement muzzle sweeps everyone adjacent to the shooter. More often than not, the rifle falls out of the armpit clamp; especially when movement is involved.
Regardless of the method taught, transition drills must be performed with an empty long gun. With the selector on Fire and a live round in the chamber, there is a significant chance the trigger could snag on the pouch or piece of belt kit. If the shooter’s timings are off with the finger partially remaining in trigger guard as movement starts, a negligent discharge could occur.
We want the shooter to experience the trigger click or mush and react from that cue. This is more realistic and relevant. The shooter needs the tactile, instinctive impetus of a mush or click trigger to transition rather than a voice command. Taking the time to sweep the selector to safe on a hot gun is an extra step for the range only. Why add an extra step to an already worst case scenario. In a real situation, the chamber will already be empty or action jammed, so there is no need to place the rifle on safe.
Step By Step
Shooter performs a normal presentation with the long gun. He / she presses the trigger and experiences a ‘click’ (empty chamber or bad round) or ‘mush’ (no sear reset or other internal issue). The shooter recognizes this as the signal to immediately go to the next step. With the strong hand still on the pistol grip, turn the rifle 90 degrees outboard. At the same time, the weak hand comes over the top and grasps the hand guard. With the length of the rifle, 30 round magazines and vertical fore grips, it is important to turn the rifle to prevent being struck in the groin when the rifle is released later.
As soon as the weak hand establishes control of the rifle, the strong hand moves to the pistol, defeats the retention device, and begins the draw from the holster. At the same time, the weak hand lowers the rifle about three-fourths of the way down, and then releases the rifle. With a one- or three-point sling, the rifle will swing harmlessly down. Keep the weak hand cupped and at sternum level.
As the pistol clears the holster, rotate the muzzle toward the target line. Keep the strong hand thumb up rather than a full grip. If a complete grip is established with the strong hand, there is a tendency for the thumbs to cross over each other when the weak hand comes into play. The weak hand remains cupped at sternum level about 10-12 inches away from the body.
Continue pushing the pistol forward into the cupped weak hand. As the hands meet, it’s important for the weak hand’s index finger to establish positive contact under the trigger guard and roll the remainder of the hand to a firm two handed presentation. This puts both thumbs in normal orientation. The pistol continues up to eye level. The eyes start picking up the sights in the peripheral vision. The trigger finger rests on the trigger until the final decision to fire.
A main component of transitioning is also getting yourself ‘of the X’. In other words, moving your body away from where the bad guy last saw you, at the same time initiating the transition drill. This helps compensate for the micro-second reactionary lag time of recognizing the malfunction.
To begin with, we incorporate a single-step body shift with the transition. Simply put, at the same time the shooter is in step one, he / she steps out with either foot or drags the inside foot to a balanced combat stance. In training, we have students practice both left and right movements. In combat, the direction will be dependent on the room floor plan and proximity of obstacles and personnel.
At the novice learning level, we noticed a number of students would complete one step; stopping movement regardless if they had completed their draw. Some would stand still for several more seconds while they accessed their pistol. Along with the one-step method, we also teach the students to keep moving laterally until they come up on target. On the flat range, sufficient spacing (approximately 15–20 feet) is recommended to prevent crossing over target lines.
We incorporate transitions into many of the other fundamental drills such as stationary turns, multiple targets and / or shoot on the move. This requires trainees to multi task and works especially well with fluctuating round counts for each rep that ensures at some point the primary weapon will run dry in the course of fire. In the shoot house, the trainer may have the trainee load only one round in his / her primary weapon, forcing a transition in a room with multiple threats. Transitions can be incorporated into just about any drill within practical pistol range.
Verbal signals are a mixed opinion for patrol rifle use. In our tactical team courses, we have the trainees call out, “Cover Me” as they begin their transitions. The nearest available operator responds “Covering” and moves up to assist with that area of responsibility. Some feel communications are unnecessary for patrol rifle use and they may have a point.
Using the patrol will not always be a solo event. Take, for example, rapid response to an active shooter. For continuity across the board and better integration with SWAT members working patrol, these signals are part of the training process. Even in a solo encounter, this could be just enough to distract the suspect.
Although less common than in years past, we still see a few students arriving with the military two-point slings or no slings on their patrol rifle. We came up with a drill to give them a transition option in close quarters. Upon discovering a problem, the shooter immediately begins a one-handed draw process with the strong hand. At the same time, he / she turns the rifle muzzle up and bring his / her weak hand against his / her chest—as close to the shoulder as possible.
Along with giving the user better weapon retention and balance, pulling the rifle close ensures a cleared path for presentation of the pistol. Depending on the individual’s ability, we may recommend they exaggerate a forward lean into the pistol to better control recoil.
Transition drills are truly a life saver. It is the ultimate fail safe drill for close quarter encounters. Even as a dry fire drill, it’s time well spent on any range session. Remember this is a drill that needs to be performed instinctively. A sound skill set combined with regular practice can make the difference as to who prevails when an officer’s patrol rifle fails to fire in an armed confrontation.
Ron Yanor is retired after a 25-year law enforcement career. He spent 19 years on a 22-operator, multi-jurisdictional tactical unit, with nine years as the training and intel officer. Since 1999, he has been a contract trainer and currently operates Adamax Tactical Academy in Illinois. He is also on the staff of Tactical Energetic Entry Systems.