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An Assaulter’s Guide to Doors

Into the Breach

In the world of professional assaulters, few subjects cause more arguments, questions, and ass-ache than the management of doorways. There’s a constant battle between force protection and the aggressive violence-of-action mentality. Balancing I don’t like getting shot with get in the room and face shoot them is a difficult task indeed, and knowing which is more important depends on your mission.

“Having run a couple of schools where CQB was on the menu,” says Justin Dyal, a retired USMC lieutenant colonel, “I think doorway procedures kicked off more heated arguments among instructors than probably any other two topics combined.”

Priority of Life
The Priority of Life is a simple list of priorities we use to determine a course of action, based on whom that action will benefit the most. The Priority is:
1. Citizens: Bystanders, hostages, the public, etc.
2. Good guys: Cops, teammates, firefighters, friendly troops, etc.
3. Bad guys: Suspects, the enemy, people harboring the suspect, etc.

Students and teams tie themselves in knots on this subject when they lose sight of their actual mission, focusing too heavily on one side or the other of the “don’t shoot me” versus “I get to shoot you” scale. The most effective way to deal with this constant friction is to develop procedures based on clear principles, applied on a sliding scale based on the mission at hand, the priority of life, and the specific circumstances.

One of the challenges with managing doorways is the number of variables that surround them. Variations in the space available outside the door, whether the door is open or closed, whether the door is a push or pull door, and what side of the door we end up on during our approach. Our training goals for handling doors is to create a few sets of procedures that apply to the widest array of doorway configurations we’re most likely to encounter.

None of these procedures take place in a vacuum, and the way we handle doors should seamlessly integrate with both our hallway procedure (before the door) and our room-clearing procedure (after the door). If we develop a door procedure that puts us in a bad position to manage the room once the door is open, we create safety issues. Our goal is to create a door procedure that maximizes our advantage for both the position we’re in and the position we’re about to be in. It’s also important to make sure our procedure applies to all the common door scenarios. We encounter doors in rooms, stairwells, and outside buildings, not just at the end of long, straight hallways.

Smooth room entries start with a well-executed door procedure.

Smooth room entries start with a well-executed door procedure.

When we speak about handling doorways tactically, what we’re really talking about is managing movement through the threshold of a room while dealing with the threat beyond. This distinction is important because getting the door open isn’t the mission — rather we’re trying to get safely and effectively through the choke point the door creates is what we’re trying to accomplish.

As we discuss doors, keep in mind we’re not just talking about the piece of wood or metal that fills the door frame, but the space on both sides of the door covered by the swing of the door itself. Imagine opening the door fully in the direction it normally opens and drawing an arc of the swing of that door; that’s one half of the threshold. The other half of the threshold is the swing of the door if you could push or pull it in the opposite direction.

door-threshold

Our first order of business is to define some terms. The striker side of a door is the side of the door with the knob or the opening mechanism. The hinge side of the door is the side opposite the striker, where the hinges are located. Push and pull refer to the direction of movement of the door from your perspective. Determining whether the door opens inward (push) or outward (pull) is important because it dictates who opens the door, who has primary responsibility for threats in the threshold and room, and who initiates the movement through the threshold.

In order to ensure our door procedure flows smoothly, we have to break it down into its component techniques: the approach, the setup, the breach, the threshold clear, and the entry. We’ll discuss these procedures in the context of a two-person team, because this is the fundamental CQB formation. Effectively working a door by yourself, such as in a home-defense situation, requires at least an understanding of these two-person principals.

The Approach
Much like playing billiards, handling doors as a team requires simultaneously planning and moving. In CQB, this means getting to a position of advantage before reaching the next problem. As soon as we identify the door as our next problem or danger area, we need to consider where the door is and who needs to cover it. The person with the best angle on the door will shift their attention to it while their partner covers the long threat — that is, the area down the hallway or a danger area in the room.

Doing this as early as possible allows you to evaluate the door and determine if it’s open or closed; and if closed, which side is the striker side and which side is the hinge side, and whether it’s push or pull. Early identification allows you to move to your breaching positions without having to stop in front of the door and wasting time figuring it out and repositioning bodies.

As this two-man team approaches the door, the one with the best angle (left) covers it while the other assaulter continues to cover long.

As this two-man team approaches the door, the one with the best angle (left) covers it while the other assaulter continues to cover long.

The positioning we aim for at the door is either two people on one side (splitting the door in half, vertically at its center) or one on each side, close in to the door. The nirvana of a perfect approach is you and your team properly set up for the breach the moment your feet stop at the door. This allows for an instant transition between approach and breach, leading to minimal dwell time outside the door. Playing “Who’s on First” once you reach the door means you have more training to do.

The Setup
Properly setting up on the door is critical because it sets the team up for success; getting the door open and the threshold cleared from a position of maximum advantage is the difference between winning and a pine box. This is also the stage where quickly and correctly reading the details of the space you’re in now and the door itself becomes absolutely essential.
The most common issues we see with positioning is people setting up too far from the door (limiting their ability to create a mechanical advantage for the breach or forcing them to move again to breach) and/or people hugging the walls to the side of the door (feeling some subconscious need to suck up to the wall as a known point in space).

search-warrant

The same side door procedure, when the breacher also works as the primary assaulter.

The same side door procedure, when the breacher also works as the primary assaulter.

To effectively accomplish the task of getting in the room, we have to place ourselves in a position that maximizes tactical and mechanical advantage. This means getting up on the door and opening angle whenever possible. Here’s a newsflash: That sheetrock wall doesn’t stop bullets any better than the door does. Get up on the door so you can breach, fight, or move violently.

Determining the team’s setup for a door requires four pieces of information: location of uncleared areas, door open or closed, push or pull, and striker plate location. Let’s take these factors and the actions they dictate one at a time.

Identifying uncleared areas is actually pretty simple, assuming you’re paying attention to the world outside your optic. An uncleared area, or danger area, is anyplace you haven’t cleared or that’s accessible to an uncleared area. For example, in a residential hallway, everything behind you is cleared and everything ahead of you is uncleared. This is a critically vital piece of information because we want to avoid turning our back on areas we don’t control.

If there are uncleared areas past a door in a longer hallway, you and your partner will set up on the same side of the door. One of you will cover the long threat (the uncleared area down the hall), and the other will set up to breach. The breacher will also be primary assaulter into the room, riding the door to get it open.

If there are no uncleared areas beyond the door, or the risk from behind the door is greater than the uncleared area, one of you will go past the closed door and turn to face your partner.

If the door is open, skip ahead to the threshold technique and keep working. If it’s closed, stop (hopefully without too much unnecessary movement) in the position as dictated by the push/pull direction and striker side of the door.

Next, look for hinges to determine if the door is push or pull. If the door is a push door, both operators will set up just inside arms length from the door, with their ears about even with the doorjamb on their side of the door. Both will orient their muzzle on the striker side seam of the door, prepared to fight as soon as the door cracks open and alert for noise or other indications of movement inside the room. For a push door, the hinge side person is the primary assaulter, and the striker side person is the breacher.

Assaulters set up for a cross entry to a push door.

Assaulters set up for a cross entry to a push door.

For a pull door, the hinge side person positions on the half of the door closest to the striker and is the breacher. When they breach, they won’t pull the door into their face, but trap the door behind their body. This leaves them immediately vulnerable to the room, so they must get the door open and trapped quickly. The striker side person is the primary assaulter and must evaluate and fight as soon as the door begins to open.

With guns pointed all over the place in preparation for a breach, understanding weapon-ready positions is absolutely essential. The primary assaulter has to be ready to fight the instant the door begins to open, so that muzzle should be up and oriented on the threat area. But the breacher is likely moving their arm in front of the assaulter to open the door. The assaulter avoids flagging by keeping their muzzle up, on a plane above the striker. Now, with the breacher aware of the primary assaulter’s muzzle, they just have to be careful not to cross it in their haste to get the door open.

The Breach
Once the team is set, the primary assaulter signals it’s time to breach using a silent signal. The “barrel release” is a simple, silent movement that’s observable in full, low, and no light (under NVGs). It’s the smooth lift and drop of a muzzle from about 45 degrees.

Next, spare the embarrassment and danger by checking the knob to see if the door’s unlocked. Generally speaking, using a sledge, ram, pick, or explosive charge on an unlocked door simply wastes time and gives the bad guys a heads up.

If the breach requires no tools, the breacher should keep a firing grip on the weapon, keeping it oriented away from the primary assaulter’s path of movement once the door is open (all the way up or all the way down). Once the door is open, immediately get both hands back on the weapon and get ready to pass the threshold behind the primary assaulter. If the breach requires tools, and there are at least three of you at the door, the breacher will get out of the way after breaching, stow his tools, and join the back of the stack looking for work.

The striker side assaulter is primary on a pull door, because he’ll have the most advantage as soon as the door begins to open.

The striker side assaulter is primary on a pull door, because he’ll have the most advantage as soon as the door begins to open.

The Threshold
As soon as the door begins to open, the primary assaulter clears the threshold area, making sure there are no immediate threats to be dealt with. He can continue evaluating the room from the door, or initiate the entry, depending on the priority of life and his judgment of the situation. If the primary assaulter or breacher observes a person or a lethal threat inside the room, they can yell commands at the subject or yell “Shot.”

The Entry
Once the threshold is clear, the primary assaulter initiates the movement into the room. This requires the breacher to be on his toes because he needs to be right on the primary assaulter’s ass as he goes through the door. The primary assaulter moves in whichever direction he feels is best for that specific circumstance. Whether he crosses or buttonhooks, the breacher goes in the opposite direction. There’s a saying that might as well have come from scripture: The number-one man is always right.

Primary assaulter is ready to fight the moment the door begins to move.

Primary assaulter is ready to fight the moment the door begins to move.

At this stage of the operation, both assaulters’ job is to dominate the deep corner on their side. This should be done as soon as each assaulter gets eyes and muzzle into the corner, ideally while still moving through the threshold. Once at this point, the team transitions into the room clearing phase, and the door work is finally done — until you’re ready to leave the room and it starts all over again.

The primary assaulter and breacher in the threshold at the same time, minimizing the time the primary assaulter’s exposure to the other deep corner.

The primary assaulter and breacher in the threshold at the same time, minimizing the time the primary assaulter’s exposure to the other deep corner.

Shot/Shoot
Shot/shoot is a procedure we use whenever we need to fire across a threshold, freeze our partner in place in close quarters so we can shoot safely without their crossing in front of our muzzle, or shoot into a space where teammates could be working. To execute this safely, the person who needs to shoot yells “Shot.” Their partner stops moving and says “Shoot.” The shoot command clears the shooter to engage the target. The shooter’s partner can then assess the situation and maneuver to get in the gunfight without interfering with the primary assaulter shooter.

While safe, this technique isn’t without drawbacks, however. Jeff Gonzales, decorated Navy SEAL and founder of the training outfit Trident Concepts, says, “In an exercise where initiative is everything, creating a procedure that requires permission will lead to poorly executed tactics. I caveat this with the skill level of the team and that the lead shooter always has priority of shot.”

In the tight confines of a threshold, shot/shoot can prevent your partner from walking into your line shot.

In the tight confines of a threshold, shot/shoot can prevent your partner from walking into your line shot.

Single-Man Doors
Working doors by yourself is dangerous. Opening a door without a partner exposes you to too many angles and danger areas to cover by yourself, but when something goes bump in the night you may not have a choice. Mastering the fundamentals of two man entries can give you the perspective needed to do it solo, should you have to.

Getting two guns in the room simultaneously.

Getting two guns in the room simultaneously.

Takeaway
This article isn’t a how-to or a class-in-a-book. It’s a snapshot of the complexity that waits at every doorway. Professional instruction and practice is necessary for you to develop the tools to manage this complexity. Whether working CQB by yourself, with a partner, or as part of a larger team, well rehearsed and violently executed door procedures is the foundation on which sound CQB skills are built.

Perfecting techniques and procedures is like painting a bridge — it never ends. When all else fails, dominate the space you’re in now, and set yourself up to quickly dominate the next as soon as you get there.

About the Author
John “Chappy” Chapman is a police officer with over 25 years of full time and reserve police service in patrol, training and SWAT positions. He’s currently a SWAT team leader, and has completed thousands of hours of firearms and CQB training with some of the world’s best instructors. Chappy has taught in the private sector since 1999, serving armed citizens, police officers, and military units, most recently as an instructor for EAG Tactical. Chappy, along with John Spears, recently founded Forge Tactical (forgetactical.com), an advanced tactics focused training firm, to carry on the legacy of EAG.

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