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A situation all defensive-minded shooters must prepare for is when an attacker who is threatening you or a loved one is not working alone. Since bad guys generally get to choose when and where they conduct their felonious activities, they also get to choose whom they invite. And if they bring a friend or two, we want to be prepared. In this article I will discuss a transition technique used in engaging multiple targets, followed by a couple of different tactics, and finally we’ll put it all together in a practical application by adding movement.

Efficient Transitions

One of the first challenges we must overcome when shooting multiple targets is the tendency to get ahead of ourselves—we are thinking about the second target before we have finished engaging the first. This leads to misses. You must align the sights and therefore the muzzle on each target long enough to hit it before moving on to the next target.

When going to the next target, you want to move your pistol as efficiently as possible. It would seem like treating your upper body as a tank turret—where your eye remains on the sights as the pistol is transitioned from target to target—would be efficient. But there are a couple of things working against you. The first is reaction time. As the sights move across to the next target, it takes time for your eyes to tell your brain to stop the pistol. This reaction time can lead you to move past the target. The second thing working against you is inertia. Once we get our 30- or 40-ounce pistol in motion, it wants to stay in motion. This can also contribute to moving past the intended target.

An efficient technique for transitioning from target to target involves moving your eyes first. Once you engage your first target, your eyes—not your head—move to the second target. Your head remains in a consistent position relative to your upper-body platform. Once your eyes are on the second target, your upper-body platform brings the sights to your eye and therefore on target. This technique works for both precision-sighted shooting and target-focused shooting.

Greatest Threats First

The first method of multiple-target engagement is called “prioritization.” When facing serveral threats, engage the greatest threat first. Once that threat is neutralized or is no longer the greatest threat, the next-greatest threat is engaged. A common example used to explain this concept is a scenario where one bad guy is armed with a shotgun and the other bad guy is armed with a pistol. Most shooters will understand that the shotgun is a more devastating weapon and further conclude that the shotgun is the threat that must be stopped first. However, we can’t focus simply on the weapon system being employed. Distance will play a factor as well. Let’s reexamine the scenario, but this time our bad guy with the shotgun is 20 yards away and the bad guy with the pistol is only 3 yards away. Now, while the shotgun is still a devastating weapon, the bad guy with the pistol becomes the greater priority due to his proximity.

The second method of multiple-target engagement is called “spread fire.” This method is utilized when all the threats are of equal priority. Let’s imagine a scenario where we have three bad guys, each armed with a pistol and approximately 7 yards away. You engage the first bad guy with a double-tap to the chest, followed by a round to the head. Next, you transition to the second bad guy and engage him with a double-tap to the chest followed by a round to the head. So far so good, but what has the third bad guy had the opportunity to do while you were engaging four separate target areas on two separate threats with a total of six rounds? You have given the third bad guy too much time to focus on putting holes in you.

For “spread fire” to be effective, it must be like Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone gets a first serving before anyone gets seconds. Let’s go back to our three bad guys with pistols at 7 yards. We engage the bad guy on the left with one round, the bad guy in the center with one round and finally the bad guy on the right with one round. We have gotten a potentially behavior-modifying gunshot wound into all of the bad guys by the third round. In the previous example, the third bad guy would not have gotten his first incoming round until shot number seven.

Now that all the bad guys have gotten their first round, it is time to assess the threats to see if anyone needs a “second helping.” Since you left off on the bad guy on the right, it would be most efficient to work your way back from right to left, engaging any bad guy who continues to be a deadly threat. This process is continued until all the bad guys are no longer threats. Make sure during training that you do not always engage the target on the left first. Mix it up. Sometimes the bad guy on the right may need to be engaged first.

Keep Moving

Unless you are a competitive shooter who has to stand in a prescribed box, the last thing you should do is stand still to engage even just one threat. In fact, in a defensive situation, the first thing you should do is to move, if at all possible. Since we are the good guys, most of the time we have to react to a threat’s behavior. But our movement forces the bad guys to react to us. Your goal is to complete your own plan while making the bad guys modify their plans.

Any movement is good, provided you don’t step off a cliff or into oncoming traffic, but there may be a preferred direction based on where the bad guys are. Imagine that you have a bad guy 5 yards in front of you at 12 o’clock. A second bad guy is 7 yards away at one o’clock. The preferred direction of movement would be to move to the left, toward nine o’clock. By moving in this direction, you decrease the amount of distance you need to transition from one target to the other. You may also be able to create a situation where you are able to put one bad guy between you and another bad guy. In the above scenario, if you were to move to the right, toward 3 o’clock, the distance required to transition from the first bad guy to the second would increase, and the first bad guy would not be blocking the second bad guy’s line of fire.

Truly Prepared

Multiple threats are an eventuality we must plan for if we are to be truly prepared. One threat must be engaged before allowing our attention to transition to the next. Once it is time to transition to another threat, we want to do so as efficiently as possible, by bringing our eye to the target and then our weapon to our eye. How we engage the threats is going to depend on the types of weapons encountered and their distance from us. But before we do any of that, we need to move in order to make ourselves a harder target to hit and to make the bad guys have to react to us.

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