Most people who learn to shoot start in the same place. They learn how to grip the firearm, how to line up the sights, how to squeeze the trigger without moving those sights, and how to stand to allow for the most efficient control of the firearm. Unfortunately, this is where many people stop in their training, choosing to be happy with punching holes in paper on a static range.

There is no denying that being able to put all of your shots in a nice, tight group on a bulls-eye or bad guy target is very satisfying. But is it realistic? A small amount of time spent watching video footage of law enforcement or armed citizen involved shootings shows that such life and death encounters never take place in a static environment. When the proverbial feces hits the air movement device, regardless of what type of situation it is, one thing is always the same: people move.

I recently attended a short handgun class which focused on introducing movement into handgun shooting. The instructor was a retired Navy investigator who opened his own range after a long military career. The concept was simple: to show the effects of movement on handgun marksmanship and to get us thinking about the realities of using a firearm for self-defense.

Over the course of four hours we practiced shooting while moving towards the target, away from the target, laterally, and while navigating barriers. In addition, we trained on engaging multiple threats while moving, both with and without barriers. At the end I was forced to take a hard look at my personal training methods and admit that movement had not taken a high enough priority in my shooting.

Based on my experience at the class, movement became my primary focus at the range. Taking it a step further, I decided to test how movement affected my marksmanship with different sizes of handguns. Like most concealed carriers, I do not have just one handgun that I carry all the time. During the colder months I often carry a larger double stack pistol but during the warmer months, like many, I switch to a smaller, easier to conceal single stack.

Smaller handguns are inherently more challenging to shoot well, a problem which I suspected would be compounded when movement was added. To conduct this test I utilized three different pistols: A Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 4.25” in 9mm, a Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 Compact in 9mm, and a Smith and Wesson M&P Shield 2.0 in 9mm.

Only The Dead Are Still: Shooting and Moving
TOP to BOTTOM: Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 4.25”, Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 Compact, Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 Shield

Both of the double stack M&P’s are stock except for aftermarket sights. The M&P Shield has aftermarket sights and Apex Tactical trigger parts. My target consisted of a standard FBI Q Target at approximately 7 yards, a realistic self-defense distance. This is not to say that defensive encounters cannot occur at longer distances but for the purposes of this test 7 yards is more than adequate.

I began by firing 5 shots, about one shot a second, from each pistol in a static, two handed standing position. This is the baseline to show how I perform with each pistol without movement involved.

Only The Dead Are Still: Shooting and Moving

Next, I replaced each of the targets with a fresh one and proceeded to fire 5 shots while moving laterally left, 5 shots while moving laterally right, and 5 shots while moving towards the target. All shots were fired at the same 1 shot a second rate while walking at a steady, purposeful pace.

Only The Dead Are Still: Shooting and Moving

At this point it becomes quickly evident that adding even a small amount of movement has a sizable impact on my accuracy and precision. I did find it interesting to note that my grouping with the Shield was, as expected, larger than the others but it was also more precise and better placed on the target. I attribute this partly to the upgraded trigger but also to the fact that I found myself focusing more on the fundamentals due to the smaller size of the pistol.

The key to shooting on the move is stability. When you look at an athlete, the often utilize the same type of stance: feet apart, knees slightly bent, and weight evenly distributed. This lowers the center of gravity allowing the knees to act as shock absorbers which in turn allows the upper body to remain as still and undisturbed as possible.

Using this platform, we can think of our body like a tank, with our torso being the turret and our legs and feet as the treads. Like a tank, we should be able to move our lower body in multiple directions without changing the stability and orientation of our torso and arms.

Next, we have to examine the way our foot interacts with the ground when we walk. Typically, we have a very slapping type of gate as we essentially fall forward then catch ourselves each time we take a step. In order to promote the stability necessary to shooting on the move, we must make a conscious effort to change the way we walk.

Our steps should be smooth and deliberate, starting at the heel and rolling the foot forward to the toes. Exactly how this is accomplished will vary from person to person and you will have to spend some time finding out what works best for you.

I have never claimed to be an expert marksman and as evidenced by this test, I have a lot more training to do. But hopefully this will get you thinking about your own training regime and how movement might need to play a more significant role in it.

This is the point where I know many are going to say “But I shoot at an indoor range!” If you are serious about being prepared for the moment when you may have to defend your life or the lives of your loved ones, then you need to find a way to incorporate movement into your training.

Many techniques can be practiced with either dry fire or a training aid such as a SIRT pistol. At the end of the day, it is up to you to find a way to practice the skills which might one day prove to be the difference between life and death.

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by Bryan Patten

Originally hailing from the backwoods of Georgia, Bryan Patten is currently a Senior Supervisor for a 911 Center in the Midwest. With a background in private security, he is a student of shooting and self defense. Bryan’s focus is on training and techniques for the everyday person and those new to the world of firearms. In his off time he also enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking and camping.