Four-Day Subgun School

Mastering the ultimate firearm

Four-Day Subgun School
By: Jim Weiss and Mickey Davis

Unlike SWAT School, which is an in-your-face and beaten-to-the-ground course, the Pinellas County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office Subgun School is conducted in a learning environment where training beyond what patrol officers receive is taught step-by-step.

Each day of the four-day course had a student performance objective. Day 1, familiarization, weapon breakdown, and zeroing; Day 2, introduction to positional stress firing, movement shooting on semi-auto firing; Day 3, introduction to full auto firing and the prequalification course; and Day 4, hostage rescue scenarios, running man target drills, and qualification.

The course was designed to provide the beginner or experienced SWAT operator with the skills needed to operate and control a subgun with confidence and proficiency in order to perform tactical duties. The overall course objective was certification. This gave the operators (students) the right to carry subguns and also helped address liability issues.


The subgun (submachine gun) is a fully automatic (select-fire) shoulder weapon primarily designed for Close Quarter Combat. While subguns have a fully automatic fire capability, some are weapons set up to fire a three-round burst. Subguns are capable of reasonable accuracy at all handgun distances. The weapons used in this Subgun School were either 223 Rem or 9mm. Tactical slings were required, with single-point and three-point slings tending to be the popular varieties used. Each student was issued 2,000 rounds.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office SWAT transports their subguns stored with the bolt closed on an empty chamber; the magazine is loaded and may or may not be inserted. However, at Subgun School all weapons were brought into the classroom with the safety lever on, magazine removed from the weapon, bolt assembly locked to the rear, and the weapon visually and physically inspected.

Familiarization and Nomenclature

While Subgun School involved a variety of drills such as tactical reloading, combat reloading, weapon transitioning, and scenarios, it began with the basics. These included nomenclature of various subguns such as the H&K MP5 (delayed blow mechanism), H&K UMP (blow back mechanism), and M4 (gas-piston operating system). Other basics included breakdown, assembly, and cleaning of weapons, and weapon mechanical function checks, sights, and aiming systems.

During classroom training, several points were made. Never use a firing pin as a punch because that is not what it was made for. Pipe cleaners should not be used to clean a subgun’s barrel gas port, such as that of the M4, but dental picks were recommended.

For subguns with gas rings (such as the M4), it was recommended that rings be replaced every two years, or one year with heavy shooting involvement. All of the subguns like to run “wet” or lubricated.

With 30-round magazines, it was recommended to use 28 rounds when loading them instead of trying to cram 30-32 rounds into them; forced rounds defeat the purpose of the magazine. Don’t take apart the trigger housing, other than air hosing and wiping it clean; there is no reason for oil and other lubricants in the trigger assembly. Crude, heavy firing is what causes malfunctions.

Extractors are always on the right side. It is recommended to have an extender on the bolt-charging handle for better racking. On M4 type subguns, make certain that the gas rings are not aligned when reassembling the weapon. The easiest things to check if the gun malfunctions are the gas rings.

Military safe ammunition was recommended. This avoids the risk of primers falling into the gun on certain subguns because military ammunition has staked or crimped primers to keep them from backing out due to the “longer” military headspace settings. H&K 416 subguns prefer staked primers.

The best operating rods are one piece, made of Teflon-coated brass. They are properly used by pushing the rod through the barrel from the back. When the bore brush comes out of the front of the bore, it should be taken off, and the action repeated. This avoids dragging residue debris back into the chamber.

To zero in, each operator fired three rounds down range on a target from the 25-yard line. The process was continued until the weapon was zeroed at 25 yards for iron sights, and was repeated for any other sighting systems such as EOTech or scopes.

Also taught were loading and reloading drills, first carried out at slow speed and then controlling the weapon firing fully automatic 30-round bursts, with one student at a time firing from the 5-yard line. An instructor checked each shooter’s stance and grip, making certain the operator did not recoil off balance to the rear, and then reviewed shooter errors.

Movement Drills

Movement drills utilize the shooter’s body as a shooting platform with shoulders in front of the knees, elbows in, knees bent, with a good center of gravity. Balance is the key. Movement included walking heel-to-toe in the direction of travel with no dragging of the feet, the shooter’s toes toward the target. The shooter’s eyes and the gun operate together. Shooters know their fields of fire and keep their heads in the game.

The same considerations are in play when moving backward and in pivoting. In moving to address targets, there are two stances. The aggressive stance has the operator squared up to the target with the gun ready to engage the target. Usually the gun is positioned on the strong side shoulder, but this stance can also be done with the gun positioned in the other shoulder when tactically appropriate.

The ready gun position is similar to the aggressive stance except that the barrel is a bit down to identify the threat and to see the bad guy’s hands, and can then be brought up to engage. In these stances, both eyes are open—up to shoot, down to evaluate. It’s all about stance and footwork.

The subgun can be indexed for walking around when an aggressive or ready gun isn’t needed, when opening a door, or when appropriate for an operator working in a stack of operators. Sling techniques included strong side and support side carries.

According to the FBI, 95 percent of shooter errors are due to improper trigger control. This is basic marksmanship. The suggestion was to use either the pad of the tip segment of the trigger finger, or the knuckle hinge to put pressure on the trigger, whichever is more comfortable. The sight picture is obtained with the rear sight blurred and front sight clear for a natural point of aim. In breath control, don’t fight the figure eight picture. Instead, get the rhythm down, stroke the trigger, and then fire.

For point shooting on automatic fire, it is all about muzzle control since the muzzle tends to rise. The gun is locked into the shoulder, hands on weapon, elbows down and locked in, shoulders rolled forward, bend at the waist with a slight bend in the knees, and lean into the gun. The overall grip pulls the gun into the body.

Transition Drills

Transition Drills were conducted with each operator having two 30-round or two 20-round magazines, each with five to six empty cases scattered through the live rounds. These would cause the operator’s weapon to “malfunction,” so the student could practice transition.

The operators fired their subguns until a malfunction occurred. Then the students transitioned to their handguns or secondary weapons and fired two rounds on target. This was a training drill designed to assist the operator in effectively returning fire at a threat, instead of working to correct a malfunction. If an operator stops to fix a malfunction while being shot at, the results could be disastrous. Afterward, each operator did a good cover and scan of the target, then holstered the handguns and cleared the subgun.

When transitioning, the subgun was dropped on its sling with no safety turned on. Since police handguns do not commonly have safeties, if there was a shooter error in holstering, it was because the shooter had not taken his finger off the trigger.

Most of this was basic for operators taking Subgun School as they had repetitively trained in these drills with their SWAT teams and at Basic SWAT School. The drills advanced to going forward toward the targets and backward away from them, and later with the operators donning gas masks and shooting.

More Subgun Drills

Cover drills were practiced so the operator would become proficient with asking for a cover person while they cleared their weapon to make it functional again. Command language rather than a code for the situation was used, such as saying “jam.”

Partners in this drill had their weapons on safe and moved to a cover position, one standing while the line shooter knelt to make his weapon functional again. When the shooter with the malfunction had corrected it and was ready to stand up, he said, “Ready.” His partner said, “Up,” and moved to allow him to stand. This drill continued until the magazines were empty.

Static Shooting, Moving and Shooting, Engaging Bad Guys Wearing Body Armor drills all involved one round to the target’s hip or pelvic area, one round center mass, and one round to the head area of the silhouette target, done at the 7-yard line, 15-yard line, and 20-yard line.

The Trigger Control drill started at the 5-yard line with the operator’s weapons on fully automatic. Once there, he/she fired one, two or three rounds at the target, depending on the number called out by the instructor. This gave the shooter practice in controlling the number of rounds fired on a target at fully automatic. This was repeated as Firing on the Move drills.

Firing Positions drills were accomplished both with and without operators wearing gas masks while in standing, prone, keeling, and squatting firing positions. In Close-Quarter Battle, operators had two fully loaded magazines, and on the command of “Hit,” fired three rounds at their target. To do this, each operator had both eyes open and punched his/her weapon out in front, using the weapon sling as support for point shooting.

Operators were responsible for keeping their weapons loaded. After firing several rounds from the 5-yard line, they moved to the 10-yard line and repeated the drill. The objective was to show the operators that they could engage a target in the ready position at these distances and deliver accurate rounds while punching the weapon out from the shoulder.

CQB Drills

In the CQB Static Turns Drill, the operators practiced until they became comfortable with turning and engaging the target from all standing positions; as always, the goal was to have no misses. For CQB Moving Turns, the drill was run with two operators using two fully loaded magazines on the 25-yard line, one instructor per student.

On the command of “Move,” the student walked toward the target and on the command “Left” or “Right,” the operator moved in that direction. On the command “Hit,” the student fired two rounds at the target, full automatic. After a good cover scan, the operator put the weapon on safety and returned to the line.

The drills continued with Knock Down Steel Plate drills from 50 yards in prone position.

Hostage Target drills designated good guy and hostage taker targets. When moving toward the targets, the operator assessed them, deciding when to fire and on which target. Each operator did this drill several times, with changed good guy/bad guy targets.

Wave Drill Full Automatic had each operator place his/her weapon on full automatic and stand at the 5-yard line. On the command of “Hit,” the operator on the far left engaged his target until empty. In turn, each operator on the firing line followed suit. The firing practice closed with two fun drills.

In the Dollar Drill, each operator obtained a good prone position at the 20-yard line, and upon command engaged a dollar bill that he had stapled to a blank target. The person with a round closest to the center of his bill won all of them. Finally in the Initial Drill, each operator, from the 5-yard line at full automatic, shot his/her initials into a blank target. The goal was no misses and the initials should be readable.

The Qualification Course

The qualification course was shot by each student. While other drills could be conducted with electric sights like EOTech Holographic Weapon Sight Systems, qualification was shot with iron sights. This course required efficiency in a subgun’s use at semiautomatic and fully automatic, at various distances, and with time elements involved.

The closer target distances were fired fully automatic while farther away targets were fired semi-automatic. For example, starting at the 50-yard line operators going through the qualification course began with two fully loaded magazines. They assumed a good prone or seated position, and upon the command of “Hit,” fired five rounds at their target. The weapons were put on safe. Operators then assumed a standing position and fired five more rounds of semi-automatic fire.

Moving up to the 15-yard line and upon the command, operators fired five rounds with weapons on full automatic and reloaded. Again on command, they fired three rounds on the targets at full automatic fire. This shooting at full automatic from the 15-yard line was repeated four times.

As a group, operators moved up to the 7-yard line and put on their gas masks. Upon the command of “Hit,” each operator fired three rounds on target at full-automatic fire. After four volleys of fire, they were commanded to reload. On the command of “Move,” the operators moved toward their targets with their subguns on full automatic fire. This was repeated four times. With their weapons placed on safe, they removed their gas masks.

Each shooter’s target had 50-60 total rounds. The goal was no misses. Qualification took place on the fourth and final day of Subgun School. Failure meant returning to SWAT duty, but with a semi-automatic long gun instead of subgun. All of the students who trained for the full four days of the course passed the qualification, and also demonstrated a working knowledge and ability to safely and  tactically operate the weapon they had been issued.

Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, Ohio, Police Department and a frequent contributor to Tactical Response. Mickey Davis is a California-based writer and author.

Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2013

Rating : Not Yet Rated



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