Scanning for Multiple Threats, You May be Doing it Wrong [Video]

Where there is one bad guy, there could be two.

Bad guys, especially organized and motivated ones, like those pulling off bank robberies, home invasions, kidnappings, and terrorist acts often roll in packs. So scanning and assessing the area for other threats has become a drill I teach and often see. Unfortunately, many instructors and students don't understand the reason behind the skill; and because of safety concerns and liability, proper execution of the process is not carried out during live fire. What this means is …

… you are learning a technique improperly, and missing the purpose.

I know I am going to rub some people the wrong way, but it is important to me that people understand not only the HOW of what they are doing but the WHY.

Scanning for Additional Threats:

The How:

Chances are you already do it. After you shoot you're scanning to the right and left, making sure there are no more threats. You may even look behind you to check for additional threats. Typically I see scanning done with the firearm still extended, finger off the trigger and slowly moved from right to left, maybe in an 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock sweep across the initial threat area.

As the scanning progresses further to the right and left (the shooters 9 o'clock to 4 o'clock) the shooter's position collapses to some variant of a high-ready position. You look behind to your 6 o'clock while keeping the gun pointed toward the original threat area.

Scanning for threats to our front is relatively straight forward. (pun intended)

The Why:

There are a couple reasons. First the not so obvious one: Scanning the area, or breaking your focus on one object can stop the tunnel vision that occurs under stress and limits our ability to see things in our periphery.

The second and more obvious reason is that in a true deadly force incident you won't be on a range where all the threats are downrange. There may be one or several attackers, and they may be at your side or behind you. So while scanning for additional attackers you are deliberately looking for people with weapons or preparing to physically assault you.

Why You Have Been Taught Wrong:

If the above description of how you are assessing the area for additional threats sounds familiar, you have been doing it wrong. It is the WHY of what you are doing that should help you understand why I say this.

Remember the reason we are scanning is to locate additional threats so you can also quickly and efficiently engage them. We can quickly and effectively address threats located immediately to the left or right of the original target; because we are already in a good shooting position.

What about as we scan with our heads further to our flanks? If we simply move our head to the right and left, keeping our gun facing the original threat (downrange) we may see the threat, but are not in a position to properly address it.

Now you have to either rotate your torso independently of your feet or change foot position while reorienting the gun toward the threat. This takes a ton of time and is an inefficient way to engage threats.

Think of it this way, you're on the range and want to engage a target quickly. Do you first, face 90° to your right and point your gun in that direction? Then, when you hear the beep of the timer first, look to your left while keeping the gun pointed down the line, identify your target, and only then turn your whole position to address the target? Probably not.

Still tracking …

This problem is exacerbated when we look over our shoulder to check our 6. Again when performing this check, you aren't in any sort of position to use your firearm should you actually see a threat. You don't have a balanced position where you could defend against a close attack, or even just a push.

This is how many of us have been taught to check our six…and it's wrong.

The Correct Way:

First, think about not being a stationary target. If we are engaging an attacker, we are likely moving toward cover, a better position, creating distance if appropriate, or moving to make ourselves a moving target. Extend this desire to move to your searching for additional threats.

Think about it, if you just subdued an attacker, and are scanning for additional attackers, wouldn't you want to move so you are not a stationary target to those guys too? So movement while assessing for additional threats is appropriate and pretty simple.

  • When assessing for additional threats we should be doing it in a way that actually lets us quickly and effectively address them, so we should remain in a good position. Because you were focused in this area, to begin with, you should have a pretty good idea of any additional threats in front of you. See a bad guy, assess and engage if appropriate. You are likely moving during this stage, either shooting on the move or possibly moving, and pausing to get good shots on target, then moving again.
  • Scanning our flanks and rear, the process is mostly the same, however, we have no idea what is there. It is even more important to keep from becoming a stationary target. As we assess the area, we rotate our entire position, along with the firearm so we can effectively address any threat.

Properly checking your flanks and six, requires you to place yourself in a position to address a potential threat from these locations.

  • The movement involves stepping forward into the area we know is secure. We index our firearm in a compressed, ready position so we can better retain our weapon. We bring our off-hand up to protect us from a close quarters attack. This movement places us in a well-balanced position and allows us to engage a potential threat with our firearm or a hand strike.

In this position, one can properly protect and defend against an attacker with their firearm, or hand strikes whichever is more appropriate.

A quick note about when to scan: Scanning for additional threats may be appropriate in a lot of situations. However if you find yourself in a location where a threat cannot physically exist behind you or it is impossible for there to be another person, say in an elevator, scanning is unnecessary. In other words, use common sense.

Why Were We Taught the Wrong Way?

The answer is simple, safety. The vast majority of ranges do not allow for 360° or even 180° training. Meaning if we turn our body and orient our firearm down the line or up range, range officers, shooters and basically anyone in the area is going to go berserk. Most ranges and instructors are hesitant to take on the extreme liability that comes with allowing this movement with a loaded firearm (even if it is still pointed at the ground).

In an effort to inject some realism into the scanning process, while still maintaining a level of safety, I have seen at least one instructor instructing students to check their 6, by pointing the firearm straight up in the air and slowly turn around. Generally, I don't think straight up in the air is a safe direction, and scanning to the rear like this really doesn't put the students in an effective position to address a threat.

Another reason some still instruct this way is they just haven't thought about the WHY of scanning for threats. Once you realize why you are looking behind you, it will become evident why quickly glancing behind you is not effective.


What Can You Do?

Okay, I strongly advise against performing 360° turns with your firearm at the local range. That is probably a good way to get banned or shot. I do recommend including some turns to the flank and to your 6 o'clock in your dry-fire routine. Keep that good high ready position and when you turn, assess a threat and engage.

Additionally, seek out an instructor who holds classes that allow for this. Expert instructors like Michael Seeklander, Dave Spaulding, Pat McNamara, Rob Pincus, and Greg Elifritz, to name a few,  provide high-level classes that allow advanced tactics. Being able to receive instruction like this is why training from quality instructors is so great.

Searching for additional threats requires proper body positioning, not rapid head movements.

If you scan ‘the old way' you're not doomed. I actually commend that you have realized the importance of scanning the area for additional bad guys. I just hope with this article I can help you inject a little more realism into that process, so you are ready for that secondary threat that may be right behind you.

If you liked this training tip, make sure you check out the Concealed Carry Podcast, where we speak about training tips and all things concealed carry related

About Matthew Maruster

I follow my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is the eternal co-equal Son of God. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughter. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry. I was a Staff Sergeant and served as a Platoon Sergeant during combat in Iraq. After I was a police officer at a municipal agency in San Diego County. I have a Bachelors's Degree in Criminal Justice from National University. MJ Maruster Defense.


  1. Nancy Merrell-Robertson on September 26, 2017 at 8:44 am

    I’m a senior woman, court reporter, NRA Basic Pistol Instructor. THIS is the kind of thing I want to learn and need to learn. Thank you Matthew Maruster for this video, a small but perfect master class telling me what I need to learn and for your demonstrations SHOWING to do it. I will definitely seek out instruction.

    • Matthew Maruster on September 27, 2017 at 1:34 pm

      I am really glad you took away some things from the article! Now if you could teach me how you all type and learn shorthand, that would be amazing!! 🙂 God bless!

  2. LM on September 26, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    Very good piece. Keep in mind, that unless you have access to a farm or spendy specialized training facilities, this can be done at home with rubber pistol as well

    • Matthew Maruster on September 27, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      Absolutely! Great point about the benefit of dry fire or training with a blue gun or something like the SIRT.

  3. Janet on September 26, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    In our classes we have run experiments on scan and assess techniques the author described. We found that moving the gun in sync with the scan results in a miss when making a quick return to the original threat. The tendency to swing past the target was more prevalent when moving the gun than when the shooter only moved his eyes and head.

    • Matthew Maruster on September 27, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      Janet thanks for the response. I would agree that anytime you are moving the gun there is a higher risk of missing. This is why shooting while moving is generally more difficult that shooting stationary.

      Training to shoot while moving is extreamly important. But often this training consists just of forward, rearward or sideways movement. Shooting while turning/pivoting is a skill that is not practiced much, if at all. This is why people have a tendancy to miss if they transition back to the origional threat after performing a search technique where the gun stays in line with the shooters eyes.

      I have found that after having students train 90 degree and 180 degree turning and shooting, they become very proficient. They are able to search and assess the area, keeping the muzzle in line with the eyes and place fast and accurate shots on the origional threat.

      It will always be faster to engage a threat if your eyes and gun are already alligned, rather than trying to quickly bring your gun to align with what your eyes are looking at. But the accuracy cant be overlooked, thats why training this skillset is important.

      I do realize you have seen a tendancy for students to miss on returning to the originaly threat. Without training the 90 and 180 degree turning skills, the students would have the same tendancy to miss that additional threat that they see to their flank or behind them.

      So while I do agree with your findings, I don’t think that the solution is to only move the head without also moving the gun. I feel the solution is to train on how to proficiently move the gun and the head together while still maintaiing accuracy.

      Thanks so much for the input and God bless.

  4. Mr.M on September 28, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Very good to know..
    And one thing people…. Remember good….
    If you ever need to use your gun to protect yourself/family.
    When the police come. Just give your name & say. I was in fear for my life. I want a lawyer.
    Do not! Do not talk with the police until you have a lawyer with you.
    The police are not your friends. Know your rights & use them.
    Be safe.

  5. CHarlie Loving on September 28, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    The last time I worried about anyone with a gun trying to do me harm was in Vietnam. Since then I have totally forgotten about carrying guns for defense. I have fourteen and they are in the attic. So far in all the years since being on the Me Kong delta no one has ever made a threat and I was in Angola and Rhodesia during the bad times. I never carried a weapon even as military liaison with the French foreign legion. Somehow this fear mongering just doesn’t make it with me.

    • Steve on September 29, 2017 at 8:28 am

      First of all, thank you for your service!

      Just this past week, a church was shot up and a man with a legally owned firearm confronted him and possibly saved many lives. What you call ‘fear mongering’ is a response to the reality that people may be forced to defend themselves or others and they should have an educated idea on how to do so.

      For example, recently, a couple shot and killed some policemen in a restaurant. They then were found in a store where one of them was confronted by a concealed weapon holder. He was shot from his blind side by the criminal’s partner.

      These are facts. You are welcome to your opinion, and, luckily for you, you have not been called upon to defend yourself or others. That is not the universal truth though.

  6. Rob on September 29, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Great information. A little food for thought. I have a large living room in my house where I practice dry firing. I ALWAYS make sure my Glock is unloaded and only practice when I am home alone. I set up targets on the four walls (moving them with each session). I begin with assessing/engaging the target in front (threat), I look and step to my right first, 90 degrees approximately and asses/engage the target. Then I turn 180 degrees to the left and asses/engage the next threat. Finally I turn another 90 degrees to my left, now I am facing my 6 from the original position, and asses/engage the threat. I vary the direction I turn first all of the time. So it does not become rote. I also vary my weapon’s position, (High ready or extended ready). This way I feel I am always pointed in the correction to take action if necessary. I picked up this style of threat assessment from the martial arts and working outside in a very bad neighborhood. It just seemed natural to use the same method when I started carrying full time.

  7. Paul on October 2, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    Very interesting article. I agree with you that a more realistic threat scan as described would better serve those of us who carry a firearm for a living or private self defense. I did notice one thing that maybe you can expand on for me. You talked about and demonstrated bringing your support hand up in front of you as you do the expanded scan. The advantage is having the ability to defend/protect oneself from further assailants to your side or behind you. Two things concern me with this.

    One, in the heat of the moment, I would be very concerned about having that support hand anywhere close to potentially being in front of the firearm. I would think that it should be on the firearm in its normal grip position or on your mid-section and out of the way. Both options equal no hole in the hand or forearm.

    Two, if I have already had to use a firearm on Assailant #1 and I discover Assailant #2 behind me, Im not going to worry much about hand to hand combat or at the very least using my hand to protect me. I believe the rules of the game have been set and his intentions are clear. I’m going right for the firearm option and firing immediately. I guess you could make the arguement that as you turn around, suddenly theres a baseball bat or other blunt object on its way towards your noggin. With the raised hand you might get some protection.

    Curious on your thoughts.

    Thanks again!


    • Matthew Maruster on October 4, 2017 at 8:51 am

      Hi Paul, totally valid with your concerns across the board. Here are my responses to the concerns. With the gun indexed at your side at 45 degrees (or so) at the ground the muzzle of the gun is clear of your arms and legs. The hand being up is to protect against a strike to the head/face that could knock you out/blind you etc. A strike that would be impossible for you to protect or adress because it is so proximate and already happening. Think of a sucker punch from behind. If you were to turn and immidiately catch a fist to the face you probably wouldnt be in a position to address the attacker with a firearm because you would be caught off guard. The hand up is to protect against an attack like this. If you turn and see a threat that must be engaged with deadly force, as you present the firearm your support hand would join the grip process just like it would from the draw stroke.

      I would agree that if your firearm is already out because you engaged a threat, transitioning to hand to hand combat is problamatic for most concealed carriers. A common situation would be if you had to protect against an attacker who you may not have justification to use deadly force against. Maybe the origional threats spouse wants to grab you and stop you from protecting yourself. You may be able to articulate using deadly force, but not always. Being able to push this person away, while gaining space and protecting your firearm, would allow you to give this person commands and keep from having to shoot them.

      There are so many variables and situations that would dictate proper body positioning etc. But in general, I believe that being in a position to protect yourself and respond to a threat in any direction gives you the best chance of responding appropriately.

      Thanks so much and God bless.

  8. Gene on October 3, 2017 at 3:07 am

    Great article Matthew. This is some great training and corrects a huge error taught in a lot of shooting schools. I would like to add a caveat to the method. This based on years in law enforcement and years as a self defense instructor focused on civilian concealed carry and self defense. The positioning of your body when checking your six is great. However having the firearm exposed can be problematic for several reasons. First if involved in a self defense shooting in a public place the average citizen won’t know for sure who is the bad guy or good guy. If the bad guy is down and they see you turning with a firearm the average person will assume you are the bad guy and may assume you are pointing the gun at them. This is a problem if you aren’t immediately on the phone calling the police and getting the first call into them. Now lots of calls are going in listing you as the suspect to the responding police. Additionally, if by some luck the police are near by and responding to the gunfire they will see you pointing the gun in their direction and probably will be on the receiving end of their self defense shooting. This is very possible as officers responding to an active shooter in training scenarios regularly shot the good citizen thinking they were the suspect. Been there seen it. Ask an officer you know and will get that honest answer. I advocate placing the gun in the “sul” position where it is pointed at the ground like you have it but using your support hand covering the slide. With medium size autos (Glock 17) or smaller the slide is easily covered and in the confusion of the event almost all the people and officers will not see the firearm. In force on force drills where civilians and police were in the class rarely didn’t participants know who the good guy was only that a person was down and probably shot. As a law enforcement officer citizens complained about having a firearm pointed at them even when officers just saved them. And yes the complaint had to be taken. Even more important technique for the undercover/plain clothes officers. With practice shots on target are quick and getting support hand up to fend off a hand attack was quick to learn. Just a thought from real life experiences.

    • Matthew Maruster on October 4, 2017 at 8:38 am

      Hi Gene, great point about the possibility of being mistaken as a threat by responding law-enforcement/fellow armed citizens. While this is always a possibility no matter at what stage in the shooting (initial engagement or subsequent scan.) Like you I was an LEO for a miniciple agency. Responding to calls of people with guns is pretty routine. Training for the appropriate response definitly varies from department to department and some officers are well trained and some…not as much. Personally as an officer responding to a subject involved in a shooting, I cant say My response would be much different if the shooter was in the ‘sul’ position or a position with their hand up and the firearm indexed at a 45 degree angle at their side. My response would still be to aproach from a position of cover and give commands to gauge compliance before shooting. I think there is a misconception that ‘most’ officer just shoot anyone who they see with a gun. Again, I can’t speak for every LOE out there, but at least the majority of fellow cops, don’t look at a person with a gun as sole justification to use deadly force.

      Another point I would make is that verbal commands are just as important for civilians as they are for LEO’s, sometimes even more so. Giving commands such as ‘drop the gun, I am a concealed carrier, please call the police and let them know I am a concealed carrier’ is important. This way people calling the police can start relay the information they are hearing and responding officers will be able to hear this if they are tactically approaching the sceen. And obviously this helps for witness statements later in the investigation as to what they heard the shooter saying, and goes to the motivation of the defensive gun use.

      I totally agree that we have to do everything we can to keep from being mistaken as a threat by responding LEO’s and civilians. If using the ‘sul’ position makes someone feel more comfortable and less likely to be mistaken as a threat, I say they should absolutely do what they feel comfortable in doing. It is always a weighing of risk vs reward in how we choose to respond to a situation. In my mind, I feel the risk of being struck in the head/face by a secondary, proximate threat outweighs the added risk of being mistaken as a threat with my hand protecting my face rather than in the ‘sul’ position.

      I would also say that it could be a response that is situationally dependent. If one was in an extreamly crowded area where prior to the shooting they were already in extreamly close quarters, like a crowded bar, maybe the more appropriate response would be to guard against a close quarters strike. If one was in a relitivly open area where prior to the shooting people were not nearby, maybe like an open parking lot, maybe the ‘sul’ position would be more appropriate.

      Thanks so much, stay safe and God bless.

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