Back in 1983, Sgt. Dennis Tueller of the Salt Lake Police Department posited a fun problem. Suppose you are a police officer with a gun in a duty rig1. Suppose that in front of you, there’s an evildoer with a knife. He will take his knife and charge you.2 As he does, you will draw and shoot him. Clearly, when he is far away, you will shoot him before he gets to you. And clearly if he is very close, he will stab you before you get your gun out. What’s the distance at which you will tie? I.e. you shoot him and he stabs you.
Sgt. Tueller worked this distance out to be about 21 feet.
Which isn’t a lot. Let’s look further. Clearly, Tueller couldn’t actually run the test as written. Officers aren’t likely to want to get stabbed or shot. So he had officers draw to a man-sized target at a given distance (say seven yards) away, and another officer that same distance behind the shooter. On a buzzer, the first officer would try to draw and shoot, and the second officer would try to tap the first one on the shoulder. Ties happened when that distance was seven yards, or 21 feet.
Sgt. Tueller also worked this out theoretically. He and his cop buddies worked on their gunfighting skills, including their draw. They averaged a time to draw and get a hit on a man sized target of 1.5 seconds. And in 1.5 seconds, a reasonably athletic adult (e.g. one of them) could run an average of 21 feet (also their distance to target).
Of course, it’s all a thought experiment. There are many other avenues of attack available to the foe with a melee weapon. But let’s tug at this further.
You might have noticed a bit of an assumption above. The man size target is fixed at the starting distance, when we are thinking or testing. But our hypothetical attacker will be charging. So the target will get larger. By the time we get our gun out and up, he might be only a couple yards from us, and that’s a significantly easier shooting problem.
Since he will be so close, we might also consider shooting without full extension. We might call this a retention position. Specifically, we have the gun in a full, two-handed grip, pointed at the target, only a few inches from our chest. The same position we’re in partway through a draw. Note that the gun should be close to your chest, but not so close that the slide will thwack you. Also, it bears repeating, two hands in a full, firm grip, pointed at the target. If you’re in position Sul, you’re doing it wrong.
Why are we using this position? Well, the target will be close enough that we can get away without using our sights all that much. Plus, it’ll give us time to get a few more shots on the target. We have a pistol. Pistols are not good at making people stop. We can make them a little better at this by shooting often. If he’s worth shooting once, he’s worth shooting a lot.
Okay. So we’ve attacked two assumptions already. There’s another big one here. Have you spotted it yet?
We’re not moving. In the above problem, our shooter is stationary. Probably not very realistic.
If someone is charging you with a knife, it’s not likely that you’ll stand still. You might turn and run. And you could shoot over your shoulder; the knife wielder will be close. But he’s charging. And frankly, I don’t like my odds. I suspect I’ll probably end up getting run down if I tried this.
We might try moving sideways. Now we’re getting somewhere. We’re forcing him to change direction. This will make him slow down a bit, and keep the attacker in front of us, making our shots easier. But we’re not forcing a radical change of direction, and we can’t move sideways all that fast while shooting. Better.
Our sideways move is good because it forces a direction change, which forces the attacker to slow down. Time is our friend. Let’s try to force more direction changes.
Suppose we moved at an oblique angle towards the attacker. So if he’s coming at us on a bearing of zero degrees, move on the 60-75ish degree line. We’ll have to move that way and turn to keep our sights on the target, but that’s fine. We’re going to force the attacker to turn aggressively, since we’re going out wide. And we can repeat the process every time he orients himself on us. Which will look goofy and spiral-like from above, but it will maximize our time to riddle our foe with bullets before he can get all stabby.
This isn’t exactly intuitive, but that’s ok. We train so that we develop correct thinking and proper technique. That is the point of training.
- I.e. a holster with retention. Interestingly, for those who practice, draw times from a retention rig are usually about equivalent to draw times from concealment. So the findings still hold for the concealed carrier. ↩
- I’m quite aware that this isn’t the only way this could go down. It’s probably not even a very likely way this might go down. I don’t have those statistics handy, and I don’t care. It’s a thought experiment. ↩