Scan and Assess: why this defensive practice should be part of your firearms training.
You’ve seen it. I know you've seen it. You may not realize what you were seeing at the time but if you’ve watched Gun Youtube, you’ve seen the scan and assess. It’s that silly little movement you see a lot of ‘tactical’ shooters do when they quickly turn their head left and right. However, sometimes, shooters do it so fast and hard it looks more like someone just asked them if they'd prefer a vegan steak or non-alcoholic bourbon.
People who want to look cool do things fast in the gun world. They draw fast, shoot fast, do fast reloads - which I'll admit looks pretty cool but isn't exactly the best way to practice for real-world situations.
The scan and assess isn’t actually goofy, useless, or a great way to give yourself whiplash.... as long as you do it correctly!
The idea behind the scan and assess is that after you shoot in a defensive situation, you scan and evaluate the situation all around you. This serves to increase your overall situational awareness and break the tunnel vision that often occurs in an adrenaline-fueled situation. With this in mind, what is the point of the scan and assess if you are doing it rapidly?
Spoiler alert: there is no point.
Because of this, the scan and assess is often seen as a rather silly thing to do which stinks because it’s actually a very useful technique when used properly.
The Scan and Assess technique was first taught to me when I was a cool guy in the United States Marine Corps. Part of basic infantry training, it was used for both close quarter’s shooting as well as general patrolling. We were taught to keep our head on a swivel at all times, and that scan and assess was just a small part of that.
To fully understand why the scan and assess is valuable, you have to put yourself into a post-defensive shooting mindset. You just drew your gun and used it to defend yourself. Once you are in that situation, you want to commit to a scan and assess for several reasons.
Most people will tell you to scan and assess to spot additional threats. While this is partially true, it’s not the only reason to scan and assess.
From a tactical perspective, if I’m scanning and assessing, I’m looking for threats for sure, but I’m also looking for potential cover and concealment. I’m looking or routes I can take to get to that cover, or better yet, escape if necessary.
I’m also looking for people reacting to what just happened as well. Is someone scared, maybe in a car, and are they gunning it? I may need to move to avoid additional violence and unintentional threats by nervous people who just witnessed my actions. I'm looking for police officers who may be telling me to drop the gun because I may not be able to hear them due to adrenaline, shock, or the fact that I've just discharged my firearm.
I’m not looking for a certain thing, and I’m looking at everything.
QUICK! Jerk your head to the right and to the left as fast as you can! What did you see?
Not much, right?
Okay, now deliberately look left and look right, take a peek behind you. Lookup a little, look down. Make an "M" with your eyes while turning your head from side to side. Take in the whole world around you. What did you see?
Infinitely more than jerking your head left and right. The scan and assess is a deliberate action and not something done to look cool. If you have a threat coming at you, you’ll see it coming before anything else because you’ll recognize the aggressive action.
There are lots of thoughts on the scan and assess in regards to what to do with your gun. Personally, as a civilian concealed carrier, I feel keeping the gun orientated to my previous threat, in the center of my body. This way, as I scan left, right, up, down, and wherever else I’m not flagging anyone.
When it comes to efficiently train the scan and assess, there are a few things you can do. You can have a partner do something as simple as hold up a random number of fingers in a random position on line with or behind the shooter and spot those fingers.
If you are on a public range and scan occasionally, try to truly assess the entire situation around you. Pay attention to what the other shooters are doing - look and see, observe their specific actions.
Look behind you and observe the parking lot, or in the case of an indoor range, the wall, and notice something about it. Where is the door? Is it opened? Is someone walking behind you? Really take everything in.
You might feel silly using the scan and assess practice when training but the good news is that if you're doing it right, you just appear to be looking around and paying attention.
Don’t feel pressured to do it every time you shoot. It’s not necessary when plinking and having fun, or zeroing a rifle optic, or even when you hit the range to relax through gun therapy. Use it when you are training with a purpose.
The most important thing to remember about the scan and assess is this:
The scan and assess technique isn’t about looking at something; it’s about seeing everything.
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. Travis has trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army.
He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms based hobbies.
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