By Jeff Gurwitch
August 24, 2016
When it comes to techniques and methods employed in tactical shooting, there are, in many cases, certain developed solutions to very specific tactical problems. Unfortunately, when passing on these techniques to others, sometimes the “why” of something being done a certain way is poorly explained or left out altogether. As a result, all too often, you see techniques being taught or employed incorrectly or being adopted as an all-around shooting method instead of as an answer to a specific problem.
One such technique that is very misunderstood within the tactical shooting community is the High Ready method of holding the rifle. What has been lost, or not understood about the High Ready, is that it is an answer to a very specific problem within CQB/CQC (Close Quarters Battle/Close Quarters Combat). Often it’s explained that you’re automatically in the ready position to muzzle strike someone or be able to run faster with the gun (both are true), but these are not the main reasons behind the use of the High Ready.
Arguments against High Ready
Consequently, there is a lot of criticism of High Ready. Many will usually point out two problems; first, that it is slower than the traditional Low Ready method, and second, that it is more dangerous, with the chance of catastrophic injury from flagging someone going up.
As an individual ready position I agree that the Low Ready is faster. If you are shooting off a buzzer, bringing the target and eyes to sights as fast as possible right before pulling the trigger is one of your main goals. With the Low Ready, all this can be done with one smooth upswing motion of the muzzle. Your buttstock is already set in your shoulder and your cheek can position itself in the same time it takes to bring your rifle up.
With High Ready, this is a two-motion push-pull action to mount the rifle, because the buttstock is usually down between your elbow and mid-section (instead of touching your shoulder). So given the choice of a starting position to try and shoot a timed drill, such as Kyle Lamb’s excellent 2X2X2 drill, for a best time, I would use the Low Ready. Now, before I address the safety concerns of the High Ready, I think it is best to actually go over the how and why the High Ready came about.
Mounting the rifle from the high ready: Push rifle out away from you, muzzle toward target. Once the buttstock has cleared from between your elbow and mid-section, pull rifle back into shoulder, placing sight on target.
A quick history
The High Ready was being taught at places such as Mid-South Institute of Self-Defense Shooting and the Direction Action Recourse Center (DARC) as early as the beginning of the 2000’s. Additionally it was being employed by Naval Special Warfare (NSW) operators, though the primary method of holding the rifle for CQB for Army Special Operations was still the Low Ready. It was not until about 2005/06 that High Read really started to be used and taught within Army SF units. The timing corresponds with some of the hardest CQB that was taking place in Iraq between late 2004 and into 2006.
What assaulters learned during this time is that aside from the number one man going into a room full of bad guys, holding the rifle at the Low Ready was not a fast enough technique for getting rifles up in time to engage threats and back up the man in front. That was the tactical problem that needed solving–how to get your rifle into the fight quicker while you and your teammates are flowing into the room.
Body mechanics and getting an edge on entry in CQB
The solution to this problem was found just by observing how shooters move when holding a rifle, shooting and moving at the same time. Watch someone shooting and moving, 99.99% of the time you will see them bent slightly forward at the waist (lowering their center of gravity), head forward with chin on butt stock. Compare their upper torso to their bottom half, you will see their head and shoulders are actually forward of their lower torso. Observe from the side a shooter walking by while shooting and you’ll see their shoulders and head move ahead of their lower half.
Now observe 3 or 4 shooters in a straight line (one behind the other) and have them flow through a doorway, peeling off on alternating sides and driving their muzzles to the corners of the room. What you will notice, as they pass through the door and turn towards their corner, is that they will lean forward to be able to drive the gun. You will actually see a gap created at head level as they peel off left and right before you see a clear space below torso level into the room. This gap, or “Cut,” is what is being exploited by using the High Ready.
Instead of waiting for the last part of a person’s body to move out of the way with the Low Ready, assaulters found that it was much faster to hold their rifle muzzles up and just drop the rifle down in the torso/head gap (created as the guy in front of them started peeling off left or right). This method proved faster than coming up from Low Ready, where you’re waiting on the lower body to clear. The increased speed of dropping down from High Ready can only be measured in fractions of a second, but in close quarter battles, that is a lot of time.
You can cover a lot of ground in a second when you walk into a room at a brisk pace. Granted, it may only be a couple steps, but it is a large distance in CQB, especially if you don’t have anyone supporting you with fire. As point man, wouldn’t you want your number two man to be able to shoot faster and engage any threats that you can’t because you must turn and clear your corner?
Something else to think about is the unfortunate possibility of the number one man getting hit and falling down in front of you. The gap clearance in this instance will be top down, versus bottom up, and it’s much faster and easier to fill this gap from the High Ready. This also opens up the probability of your buddy falling back onto you, making a rifle motion from Low Ready significantly more difficult.
Safety “The High Ready is a good way to get someone killed”
That’s what I was told from by a “Tactical Expert” who was eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with a fellow shooter at a gun match, telling him my preferred techniques for CQB. Here is the bottom line, with the High Ready, does chance of flagging go up? Really, no. With a correct High Ready technique the front sight, or gas block, should be sitting up at your eye level. That way, no matter what barrel length you are running you will always have the muzzle of the rifle up in your line of sight. This allows you to control the angle the rifle rests at. To avoid flagging when your buddies are around you, simply raise the muzzle up.
Now does the chance of catastrophic injury increase by running the High Ready? Of course. If there is an accidental discharge and it does hit someone, chances are it will be the head area and not in the legs, like with the Low Ready. But you have to keep in mind that the High Ready was adopted primarily by Special Operations military personnel members who were facing armed enemy combatants. This is an important factor due to the higher than average level of CQB training these soldiers go through, and the danger their armed adversaries pose. The biggest risk in CQB is not being shot by your buddies, but by the enemy you are going against. So therefore, why not use techniques that give you the best chance of dealing with those threats?
The Wrap Up
I understand the High Ready is not for everyone, and outside of CQB there are only one or two more instances where using the High Ready might be the way to go. But when you look at it as a solution to a very specific tactical problem (when going into harm’s way against armed opponents in CQB), the High Ready has proven to be a winning technique.
Editor’s Note: This and previous articles here on DR are the authors sole opinion and not endorsed by SOF, the U.S. Army or the U.S. Government.
About the Author (Jeff Gurwitch):
– Currently serving with U.S. Army Special Forces
– Competitive shooter: USPSA, IDPA, and 3-Gun.
Company Contact Info:
Mid-South Institute of Self-Defense Shooting, Inc.
5582 Blythe Rd.
Lake Cormorant, MS 38641
Fax – 662-781-5068
Direct Action Resource Center (DARC)
North Little Rock, AR
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