CQB (Close Quarters Battle) is the art and science of fighting in confined quarters, specifically manmade structures. It is a gunfight with carbines and handguns at a knifefighting range. You cannot learn CQB techniques from a book or on the internet. You certainly can’t learn it from an article, and I am not trying to instruct it here. CQB training takes skilled instructors and hours of hands-on practice to get even the fundamentals down.
However, understanding and applying some of the basic concepts of CQB can help you survive in a home defense situation. Most of us are not likely to be staging in a stack of five and clearing a room, but the possibility of having to confront intruders in our home is not as unlikely as some might think.
Fighting inside a building is worlds apart from shooting on a range or even in tactical shooting competitions like USPSA. There are things to consider that cannot possibly be recreated on a range, not the least of which is that someone might shoot back at you.
Stay In a Safe Space
First and foremost, if you don’t have a compelling reason to go looking for the bad guy or guys, don’t. Stay in a relatively safe and easy-to-defend location and call the police. If the bad guy decides to come looking for you, you have them at a distinct disadvantage since you will be hunkered down and watching the point of entry.
Of course, if you have family members somewhere else in your home, you may have no choice but to go looking for trouble. In this case, there are some things you must consider in advance and keep in mind once you leave your safe haven.
It’s All About Angles
From a tactical perspective, CQB training emphasizes that the environment inside a building consists of multiple corners or angles. This differentiates it from defensive shooting in a parking lot or on a sidewalk, where most engagements occur in a straight line. On the one hand, these corners provide you with some concealment and possibly cover, depending on the material the wall is made of, from which you can engage the bad guy. On the other hand, they are dangerous because you must expose yourself around the corner to shoot. The bad guy may be watching that corner, ready to shoot as soon as you appear.
Despite what TV shows and movies portray, slowly peeking around a corner is a bad idea. First, it gives the bad guy plenty of time to line up on your head as it slowly appears. Second, the corner of a sheetrock wall will not stop a bullet. Survival in a home involves perfecting the art of exploiting corners, and that means learning to stand back from the corner to increase the arc of vision around it without exposing yourself.
The technique is called quartering or slicing the pie because it generates slices of observable area without sticking your head around the corner. Instead, stay back from the corner and take small steps away from the wall without exposing yourself, revealing progressively larger slices of the area around the corner. This allows you to catch sight of the intruder before they see you.
Alternately, if you must get around the corner quickly, stay as low as possible. People tend to observe at eye level, at least until they sense motion. By coming around the corner below eye level, you will give yourself a few fractions of a second reaction time while the bad guy tries to decide what he is seeing. Those fractions of a second could give you time to get the first shot off.
If you absolutely feel you need to take a look quickly, then do just that. Glance around the corner quickly, then duck your head back. I don’t recommend this because that corner you are ducking back around is usually going to be wallboard. In other words, concealment, not cover.
Cover vs Concealment
Interior walls are built from 2X4s and sheetrock wallboard. A corner may provide you with concealment, but it will not provide cover for either you or the bad guy. Even a 9mm bullet will pass through multiple interior walls as it travels along its trajectory.
That means that once someone knows roughly where the other person is, they can take shots through the walls or corners. Whether they hit their target or just suppress them, it will give them an advantage in the tactical situation. While you may be a responsible person who wouldn’t shoot blindly through walls, the bad guys won’t hesitate to do so. Don’t rely on that wallboard corner to protect you.
The Deadly Doorway – The Fatal Funnel
Silhouetting yourself in a doorway comes under the heading of a Bad Thing. In the daytime, you will stand out like a picture in a frame. At night, any backlighting will make you an easy target. It could be a night light somewhere, outdoor light coming through windows, or even just a bright moon. No matter the light source, you will be in the fatal funnel.
To avoid silhouetting yourself, never just step out into a doorway. Slice the pie to see where the intruder is before acting.
Be an Ambidextrous Shooter
It’s beneficial to be competent in shooting with either hand in a CQB engagement. This is relatively easy with a handgun but a bit more difficult with a long gun like a carbine or shotgun. You should already be training to be able to shoot a handgun with your off-hand so you can stay in the fight if your strong side hand or arm is wounded.
The benefits of being ambidextrous are simple to see in a CQB engagement. If you are holding your weapon right-handed and approach a left-hand corner, everything is good because you can engage without showing all your body. But if you are approaching a right-hand corner while shooting right-handed, you must expose most of your body to engage. This is when being able to transition from right to left-handed comes in handy. Just ensure you transition before you reach the corner, not while coming around it.
Use Your Ears
Listen for sounds that will help you determine where the intruders are and what they are doing. If you know the layout of your home and the way sound carries in it, you may be able to determine where they are, allowing you to surprise them and gain the advantage.
Do not call out asking who is there. Don’t say anything until you have the drop on them. Then, you can give a verbal command if you are so inclined. That will satisfy any legal or moral requirement to warn an intruder; just don’t expect the bad guys to meekly surrender to you. Personally, I consider my locked door as an adequate notification they should not be in my house.
Know the Layout
Know the layout of your home and be able to navigate it in the dark. This will allow you to move quickly and quietly if a night invasion occurs. The last thing you want is to run into a wall or go sprawling as you trip over the coffee table. Pay attention to your interior layout, and then practice walking it in the dark.
Flashlights Are a Force Multiplier
A bright flashlight is a force multiplier, but you must use it properly, or it can become a disadvantage. Don’t just shine your flashlight around indiscriminately. Leave it off until you have a definite need to use it. Turning it on as soon as you leave your bedroom will only serve to indicate where you are and that you are coming. Remember that darkness is as much your friend as the bad guy’s.
If you hear a sound, see a shadow moving, or want to check a specific location, aim the light directly at it and then turn it on. That will maximize the blinding effect and deer in the headlight response from the intruder. Just be aware that there could be a second intruder who will see your light and know where you are.
For that reason, I prefer to turn my light on just long enough to identify my surroundings and then turn it off again. The sudden return to darkness after having a bright light shone in the room will leave the intruder dazzled and functionally blind. It also enables you to shift position to line up a follow-up use of your light or take a shot without telegraphing your location to the intruder.
Whether you use a gun mount light or prefer to carry it separately is a matter of personal preference. I have lights mounted on both the G21 and shotgun that reside next to my bed. I also have a couple of flashlights on my nightstand. That allows me the flexibility to use whichever fits the situation best.
When we shoot on a static range, which is how most of us practice, our focus narrows down to include our sights and the target. Everything else is tuned out, sort of like looking through a toilet paper tube. This is due not just to your concentration but to how the human eye processes images. It is something you are trained to avoid in CQB when you are using a carbine that is being carried deployed at your shoulder. But it is also a potential issue when using a handgun.
To demonstrate the problem, hold your arm straight out in front of you with your thumb pointed up. Focus on your thumb. You will note that your thumb is crisp and in focus, but the area to the right and left of it is fuzzy. The same phenomenon occurs when you focus on your sights, particularly with handguns.
When you focus on your sights, only a very narrow area of your vision can be processed. The problem is even worse in low light. Detecting peripheral movement on either side of your sight will draw your attention to the movement, triggering a refocus to a wider range of view, but that takes time.
To avoid this sight fixation:
- Focus on the whole rather than the part.
- In other words, keep your field of view wide.
- Carry your gun at the ready, but do not make it the focus of your attention.
- Think of it the same way as drawing your handgun for a shot.
Your eyes are on the target, and as you present your firearm, you bring your gun into line with your eyes to shoot.
Look At Their Hands
Any LEO will tell you to ‘watch their hands.’ That may be easier said than done when under stress in poor light conditions, but it’s worth the effort. Eye contact can convey a lot of things, but it won’t tell you if the bad guy has a gun or other weapon. For that, you must see their hands.
Knowing whether they have a gun and whether it is pointed at you or not can influence your actions. If the intruder has a gun pointed at you, you will have very little time to act in self-defense. If it is pointed away from you, or they are not armed, you have more options for dealing with the situation. Consequently, it is preferable to know where they are pointing their gun if they have one before you act.
You Must Never Hesitate
As Sean Connery’s character, John Patrick Mason, said in the film The Rock, you must never hesitate. If you have opted to leave your safe haven to find the intruders in your home, you have committed to a course of action that could require you to pull the trigger. Anything less, and you could die. If there is even the slightest chance you will hesitate to take immediate action, you are better off staying in your bedroom and waiting for the police. Moving with care does not mean the same as being indecisive.
If you’ve ever been shot at or been in a situation where you were about to be shot at, you know it’s stressful. Advance training is critical, and having at least a basic idea of what to do is a Good Thing. As I said at the beginning of this article, it is impossible to learn CQB with anything short of intensive, hands-on training.
Don’t kid yourself that practicing in your house after reading a couple of articles and watching a video will make you a CQB expert. It won’t. But it will give you some strategies that could give you an advantage if you are ever faced with a violent home invasion or even just a burglary in the dead of the night. And in a situation like that, I’ll take every advantage I can get.