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Tueller Drill: 21 Feet To Survive

Posted by Logan Stark on

by Will Sandberg

It’s true that you should never bring a knife to a gunfight. However, to underestimate the effectiveness of a knife in a close quarters situation could easily end up being a fatal mistake.

A 1983 S.W.A.T. Magazine article written by Salt Lake City Police Sergeant Dennis Tueller described a “danger zone” of 21 feet in which one should use your firearm to engage a knife-welding attacker. The basis of the article went on to become standard police doctrine and resulted in a common training exercise known as the Tueller Drill. 

The issue is still debated by some, mostly those with no first-hand experience with knives, guns, or psychopaths, and they see the use of a firearm against a knife-wielding attacker as murder. They are most likely the same people that say “shoot them in the leg” or “use a taser.”

However, if you take a few minutes to practice the Tueller Drill with a buddy you will be surprised to learn how quickly a person can cover 21 feet… on average 1.5 seconds.

To perform the drill, one person charges at another with a dummy or imaginary knife. The other person draws their cleared or dummy firearm from their holster, takes aim, and fires an imaginary shot. It’s incredible how close, and sometimes successful, the attacker will get.

There are several variables that may come into play if and when the need arises to use the 21-foot-rule or Tueller Drill in a real world situation. Some of these variables cannot be effectively trained for, so it is important that you work the kinks out of the variables that you can control.

First of all, your holster type and carrying technique needs to be taken into consideration and constantly trained for. Is there a locking mechanism on your holster? If so, that will lengthen the time it takes to draw your weapon. Rehearse speed drills to shave time off this process. Do you wear your daily carry holster in the small of your back? Then don’t practice on the range with a combat hip holster. Keep your training relevant to the situations you will actually be facing. Have you been wearing an ankle holster to avoid printing around your waistline? You may want to reconsider that carrying technique altogether and adjust your wardrobe to allow for unnoticeable waist concealment. To kneel down and pull up a pant leg in order to draw your weapon from your ankle anchors you in a single location as well as puts your face and neck at a perfect level to sustain severe knife wounds. You are going to need your legs to be working, keeping distance between you and your attacker until the threat is subdued.

To be able to draw your weapon and fire in an instant is very important, but it will do nothing to save your life if you cannot get on target and make accurate and effective hits. Being an accurate shooter also reduces the risk of making unwanted hits on innocent bystanders. There are a number of training techniques that can help with accuracy.

First, work on your form and stance. You don’t even need to expend expensive ammo or make use of a firing range to practice this. Rehearsing your form in pointing your weapon will allow you to bring your front sight post to the same place every time you draw through muscle-memory. Practicing a good athletic firing stance helps to mitigate recoil and will allow you to make timely and accurate follow up shots. A good athletic stance also puts you in a ready position to back up or side step to keep life-preserving distance between you and the knife-wielding attacker. Accuracy can be improved on the range by using smaller targets as well as increasing the distance to the target.

Work on speed and accuracy individually, but also perform drills that combine the two. Taking classes from a professional training team, staffed by experts in the field, will do wonders for your personal skill set and give you the opportunity to ask questions and learn alternate techniques.

 There are countless other factors that must be taken into consideration as well. The attacker can come from any direction, so practice accordingly. Terrain could be an issue, whether it be unstable or cluttered ground. Nearby structures or automobiles may help keep distance between you and the attacker, but could also trip you up if you’re not situationally aware at the time of the attack. Complacency kills. There could be a number of uninvolved bystanders nearby or behind your attacker, so target discrimination is necessary and there are various drills that can help with this as well. On a side note, achieving and maintaining some level of physical fitness can only benefit you. Improving stamina, speed, and agility will help to better implement these tools learned in training.

Again, the 21-foot-rule is still the subject of ongoing legal debates, so it is important that you become familiar with your state’s laws regarding the use of deadly force to stop an attacker, and when the use of such force is not only necessary but legal, ensuring you don’t end up being prosecuted for simply trying to defend yourself. In many states, the attacker must be posing an imminent threat and an obvious danger to your life, or that of your family. Shooting a stranger that is merely brandishing a knife in a static position will most likely get you into a drawn out legal battle. However, if that same stranger is charging you, or has verbalized that they will harm you if you do not comply, justification for defending yourself will be easier to achieve in a court of law.

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