Accuracy After Injury: How Will You React in a Firefight When Suffering from the Symptoms of Shock?

By: Brian C. Smith

Editor’s Note: The views in this article are the author’s own and don’t necessarily represent those of Action Target, Inc.

Approximately 16 years ago, I had a conversation with an old “salty” veteran police officer over lunch. He was sent by his police agency to attend a firearms class that I was teaching as a way of punishment for his actions that were defined as unsafe firearms tactics by his police agency’s administration. The class I was teaching was titled “Survival Shooting Tactics for Armed Confrontations,” which was a one-day, eight-hour course at the time. The course has undergone many revisions and updates since then. In our conversation, I soon realized that this officer has probably forgotten more than I will ever know or experience in my police career. I found myself taking mental notes while conversing about details he had mentioned on how he survived in a few of his encounters with close call situations.

The officer then hit me with a question, “How would being injured in a fire fight encounter affect your firearm accuracy?” Being young and cocky, my response was, “That should not matter, sight alignment and sight picture would be the same. I still should be able to hit the threat no matter what.” The old salty police officer looked at me as he leaned back in his chair and just smiled. After a few moments of both of us just staring at each other, the old guy said, “I will give you credit for being a good firearms instructor, but I can see that there are some things you have yet to experience in this life as a police officer.” After that brief lunch, it was as if I had just been educated by one of the three wise men.

I then researched how the human body is affected by blunt trauma and what physical symptoms that person will experience as well as how these symptoms would affect a shooter’s accuracy in a fire fight. In my research, I discovered the medical condition that may apply is referred to as “neurogenic shock.” This is a condition where the human body suffers a minor injury or traumatic experience. In the condition of neurogenic shock, the most common symptoms include:

  • A fast, weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Feeling faint, weak, or nauseous
  • Dizziness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Blue lips

The symptoms start developing approximately 90 seconds after the incident occurs. This time span can vary due to age, physical condition, or pre-existing health problems.

I have personally suffered from this condition many times when I have sustained a minor injury while playing sports or engaging in other physical activities. I have witnessed the common treatments of this condition as having the person lie on their back with feet slightly elevated to raise their blood pressure, keep them warm by covering the person’s torso with a blanket or garment, and administer fluid. A person can develop this condition by suffering a dislocated finger, sprained ankle, brachial stun to the torso, or the unthinkable – a gunshot wound.

From this research, I developed a shooting drill that we have included in the “Injured Officer” segment of our firearms training curriculum named as the “Equilibrium Drill.” This helps our training staff to illustrate two different concepts on how your condition may affect your firearms accuracy.

1. Physical reactions that may compromise your firearm proficiency due to an injury

2. Diminished firearms accuracy due to inebriation

Also, while serving in my former position as Director of Training with the Chicago Heights Police Department, one of my duties was to orientate and prepare the new recruits graduating from the academy for their new assignments. This included an orientation class that consisted of about 16-18 hours (two consecutive days) of training that was to be completed just prior to being assigned to an FTO (Field Training Officer). This Pre-Field Training Officer’s course curriculum consisted of topics such as handcuffing, expandable baton, OC pepper spray, and an eight hour handgun course on survival tactics at the range. My prior experience and perils as a young officer qualified me when I recited the common cliché, “Been there and done that.” I have an understanding of young male police officers, full of testosterone, and how they are capable of making many mistakes in the infant stages of their careers. We found it necessary to always discuss with the recruits the topic of off-duty encounters, which is included among a variety of topics on consuming alcoholic beverages and developing “beer muscles” while patronizing a liquor-serving establishment. Therefore, this shooting exercise also emphasized the outcome if a police officer were to be engaged in a firefight while intoxicated.

The “Equilibrium Drill”

(Simulating shooter intoxication or neurogenic shock as a result of an injury)

Target: 3 metal pepper popper plates or 3 large round balloons – I suggest you use 12-16 inch diameter balloons.

Distance: 40 feet (from the target to the established firing line)

Ammo: 5 rounds, no magazine exchange or reloads required

Weapon: Pistol or revolver

Shooting Position: Kneeling, sitting, or prone


A. Shooter loads and makes ready, then places the weapon on the ground with muzzle pointed double down range.

B. Shooter steps back approximately 15 feet away from the weapon.

C. Shooter stands in the center circle of 2-3 range officers with his arms folded across his chest.

D. The range officers spin the shooter around in a circle for approximately one minute to create the dizziness effect.

E. After the one minute, the range officer will give the command “Go,” at which point the spinning will stop and the shooter must attempt to get to his weapon while dizzy and dazed.

F. Upon reaching his weapon, the shooter will take a shooting position on his knees or prone and engage the targets in a rapid fire manner.


It is rare that a shooter in the class has been able to hit all his targets while dizzy, although there have been some exceptions. This exercise involves a great deal of humor, along with a certain reality among the class in witnessing each other’s reactions while dizzy.

This exercise has proven to be a positive illustration for the recruits, teaching them the risks of carrying a firearm while consuming alcoholic beverages in a social setting with other officers or their families. It also allows them to experience the symptoms of suffering a bullet wound so they can be aware of how it will affect their accuracy. Once recruits are aware, they can learn how combat those symptoms and regain a measure of accuracy when shooting. I encourage officers to assume a shooting position low to the ground such as kneeling, sitting, or prone. Experience has revealed that the longer you attempt to stand while suffering from shock the more likely you are to faint.

I also encourage recruits and veteran officers to remain in the fight until the threat is down or stopped. Fainting during the fight is not an option. The officer is expected to give 100% to the end and hope for a positive outcome.

About the Author

Captain Brian C. Smith is a 28-year veteran of the Chicago Heights Police Department and is currently serving as Commander of Training and Special Operations. He has 21 instructor certifications and four armorer certifications. Captain Smith has an associate degree in law enforcement from Thornton Community College and graduated from tile 184th session of the FBI National Academy. He is member of the Illinois Tactical Officers Association, National Tactical Officer Association, ASLET, IALEF, and the American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens, where he serves as Chairman of the Survival Tactics Committee.

11 thoughts on “Accuracy After Injury: How Will You React in a Firefight When Suffering from the Symptoms of Shock?

  1. Though I see the benefit of this, I am concerned using this exercise with live ammo, and the safety of the other officers in the area.

    I can foresee a lesser, inexperienced student firing in many directions, jeopardizing others. You don’t mention this, but is there a range officer at his close backside providing security?

    What has been your experience?

    1. Tom, if you would like I can put in touch with Brian Smith. He’s an associate of Action Target and what he wrote is his personal opinion. He could probably answer those questions better.

  2. Excellent article. Thanks, Brian. I hope one of your certificates is a Master Firearms Instructor, University of Illinois. Keep up the great work and sharing your knowledge . . . . much appreciated.

    Sgt. Jim Hagearty
    MFI – State of Illinois

  3. very interesting article and it makes me think. I have been here with King County Sheriffs Office for 35 years, the past 22 years as the senior swat sergeant going through the doors. I appreciate these articles and continue to be humbled by what I don’t know..thank you..jk

  4. The author has a long paper trail of accomplishments. However no personal critical incident or high risk experience as an operator is listed. Also the affects noted are “medical” affects the body is “suppose “for to experience.
    The article would be much more relevant if say 100 or more combat wounded veterans had been interviewed to find out what affects they noticed while continuing to fight.

    Also I can think of other “attention to detail” tasks I would have a student perform other than shoot live ammunition while experiencing any form if incapacitation.

    1. Lon,

      While the author does have a long trail of accomplishments, I am unaware of any personal critical incident or high risk experience he may have encountered. I’m sure he would have a better answer for you, and I could put you in touch with him if you would like. I agree, an article on the subject based on interviews with wounded combat veterans would be wonderful. I haven’t seen qualitative data as thorough as what you are referring to, and we currently don’t have the resources to produce such an article, but I hope someone will take this idea and run with it.

      As for the drills, if you have any suggestions you feel could help prepare law enforcement and other gun owners for the realities of a gun fight, please share them. This is a very important topic and any assistance offered could potentially save lives. Thank you for your comments.

  5. Interesting “Action Target” asks for readers opinions. I submitted an opinion, which was professionally questioning the authors operational experience, and the depth of which the subject matter was investigated. That opinion was not approved by Action Target, however the two “it was a great article” opinions were approved. Action Target should ask for only warm and fuzzy lovey and huggy opinions. Yes I know this one will not be approved either but at least the moderator will know I called them on it, and face it I can’t be the only reader who was thinking it.
    Tactical operators grow and get better by having thick skin and taking criticism well.

    1. Lon,

      I assure you, we were not intentionally ignoring your comments, and I’m sorry it appeared that way. We are currently in the process of redefining assignments in relation to the website and comments made on the blog. Yes, the simple comments that said, “it was a great article” were quickly approved. Comments of that sort don’t necessarily require responses. We take comments like yours, however, very seriously, and we wanted to make sure we responded as thoroughly as possible. The problem was, the process was very vertical so different levels were approving and responding to comments. That’s what led to the delay in our response. We greatly appreciate criticism, and you can be sure your comments will be consulted as we work to improve our customer communication. Thank you.

  6. Old, burnt-out, retired Sgt. from Ohio. L.E. F.I. in Ohio from 1978-1996. Same in Fla. 1996-current.

    FWIW, I (and others in the sport shooting world) have used these types of stress exercises in competition (IDPA) matches. Turning the shooter around 10 times just prior to them drawing and engaging targets; also shooters have had their hands in ice water for several seconds prior to drawing and engaging, and I’ve had shooters fire immediately after 15 jumping jacks. A few contestants are L.E. officers, but most are private citizens. In general, I’ve seen that shooters are slower to respond and less accurate, but still manage hits. For safety, during exercises such as these, two trained Safety Officers are positioned on either side of the shooter; however I’ve not seen issues with disorientation, dropping guns, or anticipated safety issues.
    Yes, I know competition isn’t training, but the shooting skill and stress issues are much the same. Just saying.
    (Hmmm? I can see my next match… 15 jumping jacks, immediately followed by ten rotations, while hands are in ice water! Shooter ready, beep!)

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