Gunfighting Skills: Situational Awareness and Task Focus

August 18, 2016

Gunfighting Skills: Situational Awareness and Task Focus

This article was originally published on policeone.com.

Firearms trainers have long been studying the best ways to increase shooting proficiency in gunfight situations. Through my own experiences as a law enforcement officer and from colleagues in law enforcement who have been in gunfights, I have gained some crucial insights into gunfighting skills.

After-Action Reports

I have heard and read after-action reports of gunfights with a wide variety of responses about the encounters. Such responses range from “I don’t remember my sights or aiming or trigger or anything” to “I can recall seeing my sight clearly on his chest at close range and pressing controlled shots into him.”

One of the key things I’ve observed in my studies on the subject is the ability of high performers to focus on the execution of a skill even in a rapidly evolving situation while others are so caught up in the moment that they can’t focus successfully.

Situational Awareness vs. Task Focus

During a gunfight you must stay on top of the situation as it unfolds, perceiving and orienting rapidly, and then responding to and hitting the threat as soon as possible. This requires a very rapid mental shift from a general situational awareness to a specific focus on the task of delivering fight-stopping hits.

As a trainer I pay very close attention to a student’s ability to transition back and forth between situational awareness and task focus. One of the keys to successfully training a high level of task focus lies in environments that simulate the conditions that you will operate in. This necessitates putting the operator under stress and pressure until they acclimate to the conditions and are able to operate in a state of relative calm–making critical decisions under stress and executing shooting skills with speed and precision.

Practice, Practice, Practice

An operator in a shooting situation must be able to focus on the various aspects of the reactive shooting cycle so that he or she can make rapid, precise shots in very short time intervals–not just throw bullets in the general direction of the threat.

In the training we conduct at TPC, we seek to help students focus on the mental aspects of “control under pressure,” as well as the technical aspects of shooting. Here are some of the questions we ask to help students develop the proper focus:

  • What did you see (and recall) on the gun in relation to the target?
  • What sort of sight picture did you have (or did you use point shooting)?
  • What did you feel while manipulating the trigger?
  • What shooting grip and platform did you use?
  • What did you recall after the event in terms of tasks performed?

We then put students in situations again and again until they can recall many more things in far greater detail.

I’ve found that this approach can help a shooter become far more competent in their shooting skills in deadly force events, as well as sharpen their skill at recalling the entire situation far more accurately.


Ron Avery, co-founder

Tactical Performance Center



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