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Realistic Rifle Training

Written by Ed Van Winkle

The deployment of rifles by patrol officers has become much more common in the past several years. Violent incidents involving armed suspects throughout the United States have made it easier to persuade administrators to spend the money and dedicate the training time to outfit patrol officers with rifles.

Some agencies have formed specialized rifle teams, and other agencies have issued rifles to some or all of their patrol officers, just as they issued shotguns in the past. Patrol rifles clearly have increased the ability of officers to respond to calls involving armed criminal suspects that exceed the capabilities of the duty pistol or shotgun.

Basic Rifle Training

Officers who carry patrol rifles usually are required to attend some basic rifle training that is provided by their agency or a local training academy. This training often is just the bare minimum needed for proficiency. Topics covered in basic rifle training include marksmanship fundamentals, handling skills, and firing from basic shooting positions (standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone). Though these are important topics, officers need more than the basics to feel comfortable in deploying the patrol rifle on actual calls or critical incidents.

In order to provide patrol officers with realistic rifle training, law enforcement firearms instructors should challenge their officers with shooting positions that are not standard—also known as combat field firing positions. Positions such as roll-outs, the supine position, the strong side prone position, and the flat prone position will greatly enhance the ability of officers to adapt skills taught on the firearms range to real-world situations.

Cover and Concealment Considerations

Shooting from behind cover or concealment is a critical skill when deploying the patrol rifle. It is commonly taught that officers should shoot from the sides of cover and from various positions behind the cover, but they are rarely required to actually shoot from more than just one position for qualifications. Additionally, the cover used during qualification courses rarely resembles the actual types of cover encountered in patrol environment.

It is universally taught that weapons should not be extended beyond cover. In fact, officers should position themselves slightly behind the cover to increase their ability to change positions and to possibly see the suspect before they are seen (by slicing the pie). When shooting the patrol rifle (specifically the AR-15), officers must remember that the sight plane is 2 ½ inches above the center of the bore. Therefore, it is important not to cant the rifle to prevent the officer from shooting the back side of his cover.

Roll-Outs

The technique known as roll-outs trains officers to fire from both sides of cover while exposing very little of their bodies to the suspect. Roll-outs can be practiced from the standing or kneeling positions. The rifle should be held vertically and not canted while practicing roll-outs (to prevent shooting the back side of the cover). The officer shifts his upper body either to the left or right side of the cover, just enough to see the target.

The shift of the upper body keeps the rifle and the officer’s torso aligned vertically to prevent canting of the rifle. A quick sight picture is established, shots are fired, and the officer shifts back behind cover after determining if the shots were effective. Roll-outs should be practiced from both sides of cover during the same course of fire in order to encourage officers to actually use both sides of their cover. This technique can be used when shooting from the rear of a patrol car, from behind a large tree, or from behind a cement trash receptacle, just to name a few.

Supine Position

The supine position allows officers to fire from low confined areas of cover, such as in a ditch or from behind a high curb. The officer lies flat on his back, and the rifle rests on the officer’s chest. The stock of the rifle merely rests on the officer’s shoulder in order to allow the officer to keep a low profile to the ground. When shooting from the supine position, the officer must maintain a firm grip on the pistol grip and handguard in order to control the recoil of the rifle.

Because the rifle is fired from a 90-degree canted position in relation to the target, officers should practice the supine position from a variety of distances before trying it in the field. This is because of the effects of canting on the rifle’s ballistics. The strike of the rounds is slightly low and to the left. The effects of firing from a canted position vary from rifle to rifle, so each officer should know the effects of canting on his issued rifle.

Strong Side Prone Position

The strong side prone position capitalizes on the strong points of the standing ready position: elbows tucked, abdominals tucked, and firm pull of the strong hand into the shoulder. The officer lies on his or her strong side in a fetal position and grips the rifle in the same manner as the standing ready position. The stock of the rifle rests in the shoulder, just as it would in any of the “standard” shooting positions.

The strong side prone position provides a high level of stability and can be used for shooting around or under cover. It is fired with the strong side closest to the ground to increase the officer’s ability to fire under objects of cover. Using this position on the weak side would certainly work, but there would be no advantage over the standard rifle prone position. The issues discussed above regarding canting of the rifle should also be considered when shooting from the strong side prone position.

Flat Prone Position

The standard rifle prone position provides officers with a stable shooting platform for accuracy of 100 yards or more. However, the standard rifle prone position requires the officer to expose his head and upper body when shooting from an open area. It also prevents officers from shooting under a common type of cover—the automobile. The flat prone shooting position allows the officer to shoot under cover that is very low to the ground. When shooting from the flat prone position, the barrel of the rifle is only 1 to 2 inches off the ground, which gives officers a significant amount of flexibility in the field.

The shooter’s body is angled at about 45 degrees to the target. The support hand is placed on the ground with the palm down. The rifle rests on the back of the support hand (much like a pool cue). The strong hand grips the pistol grip of the rifle, and the base of the stock touches the officer’s bicep. The officer’s upper cheek rests on the stock, and he actually looks through the sights upside down.

Despite the awkward feel of the flat prone position, it is quite effective with some practice. The issues discussed above regarding canting of the rifle should also be considered when shooting from the flat prone position. It should also be noted that this position must be fired right-handed only, because it is necessary for the ejection port to be up for proper weapon function.

Law enforcement agencies have come a long way by providing rifles and rifle training to patrol officers. Many agencies have provided basic training in handling and deploying the patrol rifle, but some advanced techniques are needed to fully equip officers in the field. Law enforcement firearms instructors must challenge their officers by offering realistic rifle training in the form combat field firing positions.

These rifle shooting positions give officers new tools for deploying the patrol rifle in real-world applications, and they enhance the officers’ ability to respond to deadly force threats in unique environments. It is time for the next step in the progression of law enforcement patrol rifle training.

Captain Ed Van Winkle is a district commander for the Gainesville Police Department in Gainesville, FL, where he is a 17-year veteran. He spent 12 years as a member, team leader, and commander of the GPD SWAT team. He can be reached by e-mail at vanwinklel@cityofgainesville.org.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2006

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