I think we can all agree that there’s much more to defensive shooting than just putting rounds on a target. If you’re training for the possibility of a dynamic critical incident, it’s important to consider aspects that might mimic reality. In the real world, if you have to use your firearm for self-defense, you can’t just stand there, locked into a limited field of view, potentially missing half (or more) of what is happening around you.

As such, you may have been taught to break your focus and scan. But the word “scan” does not quite meet the objective. Scan basically means to skim over, glance at or peruse. But it’s not enough to do that quick whiplash movement or the range theatrics you’ve probably seen. There needs to be meaning and purpose. So, how about adding the word “assess” to the mix? To assess means to consider, evaluate and weigh options. This is the kind of action needed after you have had to stop a threat, and for this scan-and-assess drill, you are going to put some attention on these important movements.

To Run the Drill

To run this drill, you will need a minimum of two targets. To bring in a bit of cognitive load, I like to use paper plates, two spray paint colors (or markers), two paint sticks and a small bucket or container of some sort. Set up your targets about 2 to 3 yards apart at a reasonable distance — one at which you feel confident you can get defensive-accurate hits. (Think 10 to 15 feet.) If you have all of the suggested supplies, spray paint (or color) one paper plate and the end of one paint stick in one color and the other paper plate and the end of the second paint stick in another color. Attach one paper plate to each target, and when the paint is dry, put the paint sticks into the container or bucket — paint-side down — and set that on a table or bench at or near the shooting line. You will be starting from a holstered position, so load and make ready.

Once your setup is done, take a few steps back from the shooting line and distract yourself. Look at the scenery around you. Check your watch. Think about a favorite recipe. You don’t stand around waiting for a threat in your everyday life, so relax and focus on something else until it’s time to react. At the sound of a buzzer or a shot command, move to the container and grab a paint stick at random. Whichever color you pick, that is the target you will engage. When you are on the shooting line, present to that target and engage the threat with three to five rounds. When you visualize the threat has stopped, bring the firearm into a high-compressed ready position (close to the chest, with your arms bent and your elbows at your sides) and begin to scan and assess.

Remember that scanning and assessing is a very active process. After a self-defense incident, you will need to make observations and decisions about whether there are people around who might hurt you, help you or need your help, or if there is a position of advantage, cover or even an escape route. While going through these motions, you will need to be mindful of your muzzle and make sure it remains in a safe direction. Thus, your head, upper body and hips may move as you scan and assess, but your gun will stay relatively still and pointed downrange.

Once you have finished your scanning and assessment, you will turn back to the target area and recognize that the second target is a new threat. Engage the second threat with three to five rounds and then scan and assess once you visualize the threat has stopped. After an effective assessment, you can make the decision that no other threats are around, and you can carefully put the firearm back into the holster. Repeat this drill from step one several times to get in good, effective repetitions and practice.

Adding a Partner

If you have a buddy, this partner can add a little more cognitive load to the drill. During your scan and assessment, he or she can hold up a certain number of fingers for you to notice. Or he or she can even ask you a question that you must answer to ensure that you have broken your focus from the shooting activity and are actively engaged in the process. If it is difficult to hear on the range where you are shooting, you can even use a pad of paper or notecards to write down those questions.

The fundamental purpose of this drill is to get your brain more active in the training process. While you still want defensive-accurate hits at all times, the main goal will be to break focus from the target to scan and assess your surroundings, recognize a second threat, and then scan and assess again until you determine that the threat is indeed over.