View Full Version : Anyone here been in a gunfight?

February 10, 2007, 02:52 PM
I was wondering if anyone here has actually been in a gunfight and can describe your physiological reaction to the situation. I have read articles from psychologists, etc. (including the post made here:http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=232663&highlight=re%3A+military), but I've never heard from anyone with first hand experience. I have hunted all my life, and remember the first time I ever got buck fever. I was a teenager, and had a nice buck walk out into my shooting lane. When i saw the antlers, I found it hard to control my breathing, I got tunnel vision to the point that everything was blacked out except the deer (peripheral vision was gone), my fingers got real cold, I lost some of the dexterity in my hands, and I had a huge adrenaline rush going. These are just the "symptoms" that stuck out in my mind afterwards. My question is this:
Is my (perhaps naive) comparison of bad buck fever accurate in terms of the physical reactions one experiences when they realize they are going to have to possibly kill another person to save their own life? It would make sense that it is, since the same hormones are being released, and the same parts of the brain are being activated. I also understand that my example probably pales in comparison to the response one has when their life is in danger, but buck fever is the closest thing I imagine I've ever experienced, hence my comparison. I realize this is the dark side of self preservation, and I hope to God I never find myself in this situation, but I want to know what to expect if it ever happens. I think anyone who has firearms for SD/HD purposes should know what their body is going to do in this situation. Not knowing seems like it could possibly make your weapon a liability rather than an asset. If someone is going to arm themselves with a potentially deadly weapon, they should know how to not get themselves killed with it.
I appreciate any responses, but will only give full consideration to those who know first hand.



February 11, 2007, 02:14 AM
I'm military, but I know from my own experience that if it's in defense of your own life or the life of a loved one then it will be instinct. You'll simply be "doing what needs to be done". But if there's another way out (Your gut will tell you so) then you may get "buck fever"....

I speak for no one but myself. Everyone reacts differently.

I know all about Buck Fever, and I never got it when in a gunfight.

It's hard to explain...


matthew temkin
February 11, 2007, 09:24 AM
I have never been in a gunfight, but as a LEO I have come close several times.
Actually once I had my gun in hand I was very calm and felt in control of the situation.
I never experienced rapid heartbeat, fast breathing or any others things that is so often written about, but I did have extensive tunnel vision.
So much that had someone else crept up beside me I would not have seen them.
Which taught me not to rush into a situation, but take ones time to gather as much information as possible.
I too am a hunter and have experienced buck fever, but I never had such a reaction when facing an armed man.

February 11, 2007, 11:15 AM
+1 on keeping your head on a swivel. If you see the threat before he sees you, you have a big advantage. Tunnel vision / target fixation can get your tail shot off.

Hard Ball
February 11, 2007, 01:21 PM
Consider these facts about gun fights which actually occur in the United States. The FBI study "In the Line of Fire: Violence Against Law Enforcement (1997) found that the majority of officer involved shootings happen at 10 feet or less and in the dark or under poor lighting conditions and are over in an average time of 7 seconds.
Officer debrieffings show that many officers suddenly finding them selves under fire react by pointing their weapon at the target and firing at the attacker as fast as they can.
Why don't the officers use the specialized stances and use their sights as most of them have been taught? Because of the phisical changes that take place almost instantly when you are suddenly under lethal attack. Your body is flooded with adrenaline. You lose fine muscle coordination and complex motor skills. You may suffer from tunnel vision as you concentrate completely on the target. Under the intense stress of a kill or be killed situation loss of near vision is common making it difficult to see your sights clearly and focus on things within four feet. Your front sight may be blurred if you can see it at all and the loss of loss of fine muscle control and complex motor skills means your sight alignment may be impossible.
What will you do under these conditions lookking into your opponent's muzzle flash? You will instinctively point your weapon at the target and fire at the attacker as fast as you can.

And if you ever have the bad luck to be in a kill or be killed hand gun fight, Good luck!

Blackwater OPS
February 11, 2007, 01:49 PM
I have, and while I won't go into details I can tell you how it felt.

Really, up until the actual firing it felt like going through the motions, like a drill. Once the firing starting training took over completely and everything was a blur until it was over.

What that means to me is it's all about training training training. If I did not have the training I don't know what I would have done, but I'm not confident I would still be here. This means more than getting very good training a few times and since you KNOW what to do, assumimg you will be able to do it in an emergency. In an emergency, you CAN'T THINK. Only dozens or hundreds of repetitive drills will give you the "muscle memory" that will allow you to act without thinking and not just panic and fire blindly or worse.

February 11, 2007, 04:11 PM
Thanks alot for the great responses. Sounds like training and development of sound muscle memory is the key. This is something I knew before I posted, but it sounds like it can't be reiterated enough.

Slight aside question from my original post: FWIW, has anyone else heard stories of officers downed in gunfights being found with their spent brass in their pockets? Supposedly because this is the routine that their department required them to do everytime they trained at ranges, MOUT's, etc., to keep the range clean. WTSHTF in real life, supposedly some folks revert completely back to muscle memory including (even though it sounds crazy) picking up their brass off the ground. I have heard stories like these from alot of older LEO's who supposedly know their stuff, but what do you guys think? Do you think this is just an old law enforcement tall tale, or is there truth to these stories?


Capt. Charlie
February 11, 2007, 05:24 PM
WTSHTF in real life, supposedly some folks revert completely back to muscle memory including (even though it sounds crazy) picking up their brass off the ground. I have heard stories like these from alot of older LEO's who supposedly know their stuff, but what do you guys think? Do you think this is just an old law enforcement tall tale, or is there truth to these stories?

Truth. It was among a series of events that occured during the infamous Newhall Incident on April 5, 1970, and it sparked the nationwide officer survival movement.


Early in my career, four state
police officers were shot and
killed in a gun battle with two
heavily armed suspects in an
event widely known as the Newhall
Incident. After this heartbreaking
event was scrutinized and analyzed in
hopes of preventing similar tragedies,
a critical training issue emerged:
During the intense and prolonged firefight,
at least one of the officers had
carefully placed his expended brass in
his uniform pocket—an action that
may have cost him his life.

February 11, 2007, 05:56 PM
Thanks for posting that article, Cpt. Charlie. I've heard of the Newhall Incident before, but had never really researched it or really read anything about it other than four officers were killed in the line of duty.


Blackwater OPS
February 11, 2007, 08:35 PM
Yeah, those guys were CHP I think.

February 12, 2007, 11:39 AM
Involved in gunfights? More than I want to even think about, when I was in combat back in 1967-1968! Only 2 as a LEO, thank goodness!

I don't think that I ever got "tunnel vision", but I know that my peripheral vision was lessened, since more focus was on what was happening directly in front of me.

For some reason, there seemed to be "dampened" hearing! In combat, you don't take a time-out to put hearing protection on, but I don't recall hearing what would be described as "excessive" sounds from the gunfire. I often wonder if the auditory system is affected directly by the adrenal system. Adrenaline seems to affect a LOT of physical actions!

Acute awareness AFTER the gunfight! My first-ever combat situation was really something else! One of the guys next to me had accidentally taken a "dump" in his shorts during the firefight, and the smell was terrible! So was the smell of gunpowder! I seemed to notice more small things shortly after that gunfight, such as a minor scrape on my hand, and that one of my boot laces was un-done. Even my hearing seemed more acute, for I remember hearing one of the guys sniffling afterwards....at about a 25 yard distance! I also noticed how close the in-coming rounds had been, even though I hadn't been aware of it DURING the firefight!

As someone else pointed out, training is great, BUT it has to be done properly! The Newhall/Saugus CHP incident in 1970 revealed the training "issue" of LEO qualifications with revolvers. I started the police academy in 1971, and they had changed the training procedures. Let those expended casings fall on the ground, reload and get back into action! Pick up the brass later! Then, when my department transitioned to semi-auto pistols, it took awhile before "combat loading" of pistols took hold! No one wanted to get their magazines dented or scratched, so they usually caught them and inserted them into their pocket OR back into the mag pouch! I actually had a minor run-in with a rangemaster the first time I brought a large piece of foam in during a qualification shoot....to drop the mags on!

February 12, 2007, 12:24 PM
This is always an interesting and sometimes controversial topic. While I have some experience and some of my friends do as well, I am by no means an expert.
In my experience, you don't have time to get scared. Usually events unfold so quickly that you don't have time to. I have never lost any motor control or thought processes and in fact do recall focusing vividly on the front sight. Most of the time, my senses become hyper-acute. My friends have also reported the same thing. Not to attack you personally Hardball but those who contend that the physical and physiological events that you describe happen to everyone are foolish. Most of events they describe are controlled by the mind and are not involuntary reactions. In sharing my experiences and opinions with others, the consensus is that it is training that makes the difference. Not just training in technique, but mental training. I have visualized literally thousands of scenarios, some mission or work related, some just taking in the environment and asking what if? I visualize the scenarios in great detail, what I do, what I see, how I feel (calm & in control), what I think and even what I say during and to the police after the incident. The concensus is that is what makes the difference in how one performs. For me it is like my inner person takes over. I know that in reality it is my subconscious taking over.

The reason I think it is important is because if you tell certain people this is how you are (or should) act/react in a given situation, they will. If you tell someone "you will lose fine motor skills under stress" they will. That is also one possible explanation why people fall down when they are shot in a non-vital area.

February 12, 2007, 12:31 PM
Under stress we revert to reactions that we have trained our bodies to do, or the actions that seem the most appropriate. I've had several "close scrapes" that reinforce the idea that knowledge and training will save your bacon.

For instance, I'd ridden motorcycles for years before finally taking a safety course taught by pros. In class they gave the reason for wearing gloves. Whenever you are falling you automatically stick your hands out against the fall, so without gloves, at 65mph, you turn your hands to hamburger. They also described why you shouldn't spread your arms out if you're going down, because friction can cause your body to flip/roll over (especially at uneven pavement points) and the result can be a dislocated shoulder or torn tendons or both. So when a car clipped a 3-ft tall orange cone and it ended up in front of me at 65mph, I rode over it (no maneuvering room). Front end went over ok, back end not so good as the bike tipped suddenly about 30-degrees to starboard and ejected me. I saw the ground rushing up and my hands in front of me. Recalling hands/hamburger and warnings about spread arms, I crossed my hands at my collar and tucked my head. As a result, I hit the ground tucked & curled, rolled over onto my back and rolled down the road about 40 feet. I was able to get up and off the highway in about 2 seconds and say several thank you's to the man upstairs. According to witnesses, total elapsed time from contact of the cone to getting off the highway was about 4-5 seconds.

In post-stress situations you find you are acutely aware of almost everything. As DesertShooter described, it's like you've suddenly become Superman, with keen vision and auditory abilities, including smell. Oddly enough, after the above accident, CHP arrived and sat me in the front seat of their car. Not only could I sense individual smells, but my brain was cataloging them at a ferocious rate - leather gear, carbonless-copy forms, stale sweat from each of the officers and mild cigarette smoke on one of them, mud on the floorboards and a very faint Hoppe's smell.

Adrenaline causes your eyes to dialate slightly to gather more light so you can see better for flight/fight reaction. This decreases peripheral vision too. You may find it difficult to breathe and your blood pressure increases to provide oxygen to the muscles so you hear your pulse pounding in your ears (perhaps reducing your auditory sensitivity). The down side is that failing to breathe will cause your body to use up its oxygen supply that much faster, which is why sometimes you can hear people puffing loudly even though the fight hasn't started.

The Newhall incident (which happened just before I entered an academy) really did start the "officer survival" mentality of training. One officer, IIRC, was found with expended rounds still clenched in his hand. Training became more realistic once you completed basic shooting classes. Shooting while moving sideways, learning how to use the car door and position yourself, etc.

Capt. Charlie
February 12, 2007, 01:04 PM
The Newhall incident (which happened just before I entered an academy) really did start the "officer survival" mentality of training.

Right. Prior to Newhall, it was considered disrespectful to critique a fallen officer's actions. You simply didn't do it, in public, or in the locker room. The Newhall Incident changed all that.

If you want to read a detailed account of Newhall, member Sweatnbullets posted an excellent in-depth analysis here (http://www.threatfocused.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-373.html) last May.

February 13, 2007, 11:39 AM
I had a close call years ago and unfortunately my scenario training and planning didn't stop the tunnel vision and auditory interruption. I did draw as trained and I remember telling myself to use the front site over and over. I also remember thinking how skinny the bad guy was (facing sideways) and hoped that I wouldn't miss. All this happened in less than 1/2 a second which was my draw speed then. I believe the slow motion feeling is caused by the brain focusing and computing at above normal speeds. My partner said my movement was as fast as normal but it felt to me as if it had taken for ever just to clear kydex. Kinda like how you can't run fast in a dream when the goblin is coming.

Daniel BOON
February 14, 2007, 04:57 PM
I can say this from watching the Vegas boys in blue; they do not hesitate to shoot your silly ass if you threaten them with imminent danger; thier boss seems to support them . and I support them . the more crimminals they shoot and kill, the less the crimminals can wreak havoc for the honest citizen; its just to bad they can't throw a net over the lot of them, and ship them to China/iraq.

February 15, 2007, 12:42 AM
i was in "a few" when i was in the infantry in Nam.:eek:

charlie company...... 2nd /8th first cav.

Double J
February 21, 2007, 10:04 PM
Yes. As far as buck fever, I felt more like the buck. Under normal target practice, I could keep em in the black. But laying on a street curb listening to a man empty a mag then calmly reload was unnnnerving. It was all I could manage to poke my little .32 auto under the bumper and shoot the idiot in his ankle. The "what ifs" are still in my head. Not a good thing.

April 14, 2007, 06:20 AM
I thought Jim Cirillo had some good information to share in his book Guns, Bullets, and Gunfights.

I think it's worth noting, however, that most of Cirillo's gunfights seem to have been in proactive mode, not reactive mode. If I understand correctly, members of the NYPD Stakeout Squad often initiated armed encounters that resulted in gunfights.

Perceptions and reactions from someone who's surprised might be a lot different than from someone who does the surprising.

April 14, 2007, 07:33 AM
Although no shots were fired, I was as close to being in one then I cared to. I was with a girlfriend at the time, and BG had the jump on me. I was able to get my gun out of truck and level off on him (all within 5 feet max). I do remember going into a highly charged state. I never lost my bearings. But i kept thinking to myself to only do what was necessary...we were in a mall parking lot. I do remember it was like time was slowing down. I can also tell you there was some much adrenaline rushing I could taste in my mouth and when the "conflict" was over My back hurt for days.

I've always been ok with having to pull the trigger if I neede to. Parrt of that was prior military training, Part is personnal conviction, But despite my tainig so much was going thru my mind that evening, that I wonder if my actions would have been pure, luckily I will never know

April 15, 2007, 08:53 AM
I have been in quite a few "gunfights", being military its to be expected. Just to re-iterate what others have already said, when you get in a firefight and have trained for it, your training will take over and it is just like doing another drill at the range. Its the same when you take casualties, and as long as you have trained hard for it, your training will take over before your emotions and you can work on the casualty or return fire with a somewhat level head. The more you sweat in training the less you will bleed in combat. Gunfights are nothing like buck fever, I dont get all excited like when hunting. After the firefight you may get the shakes or experience some emotions, but during the fight it has all fallen back on my training.

April 15, 2007, 04:25 PM
The reason I think it is important is because if you tell certain people this is how you are (or should) act/react in a given situation, they will. If you tell someone "you will lose fine motor skills under stress" they will. That is also one possible explanation why people fall down when they are shot in a non-vital area.

Hmmm... kinda like when you give your buddy a playful jab in the shoulder, and they say "OWWWW", when it wasn't really that hard.

I have yet to be and hopefully never will be in a gunfight, but I am preparing like I will, just in case.

On a side note, I would just like to offer a big "THANK YOU" to all you crazy guys who have served in the military/law enforcement. This country would be a whole lot different without you, to say the least. :D

April 27, 2007, 07:31 PM
Not yet...What worries me is things going south like what happened to the NY trooper killed this week, we now hear he may have been killed by friendly fire, and the FBI agent recently shot by a parter while responding to and arresting several armed bank robbers. I'm not too worried about my performance, but the other things you cant control.

April 29, 2007, 11:27 PM
Never have and hopefully never will. A fight is a fight, wether it's fists, bats, or guns, but when guns are involved the stakes are just higher. You need to use 100% of your physical being as well as your mental being. All you can hope for is you've got more than the other guy. There is no room for fear, if your concentrating on fear then you are on your way to loosing.

April 30, 2007, 02:59 PM
Interesting thread! I to would like to thank all LEO and military ladies and gentelmen for their service. I was one draft away from Nam when Nixon ended the draft.:eek:

April 30, 2007, 04:21 PM
Nothing can explain or describe the feeling, though I will say that all of my experiances are in Marine Corps infantry so I always had at least an entire squad there with me. Thats something to think about in the military end... going through it with 10 men armed with assault rifles and belt-fed weapons on your side usually makes the whole firefight process just a little less scary. I will say I have been shot at and didn't even get out of my truck, not being paralyzed by fear but not even caring about it (sort of a ho-hum reaction)... pissed off because I was about to FINALLY get some rest and this BOD (bag of duech) just shot at me and no matter how tired I am he's not getting away scot free. All we really did then was let our turret gunners open up for a few minutes as I pushed a truck over to manuever. Took about 10 minutes to conduct a cursory search (from the trucks of course, we were too tired to care about dismounting) for the BOD and we went back inside friendlies. I guess moral of the story, yeah I've been in a firefight and really scared. The more times you have been subjected to it the more control you have over yourself doing it. Its called pushing the "breaking point stimulas curb" or some junk like that. I will say that I have never faced one or more in a gunfight all on my own. I really think that's apples and oranges, if you are inferring to what it feels like to face one as a civilian in a self defense situation. I've been shot at quite a bit but I still think that would scare the s&^t out of me.