Shooting from Vehicles: Basic Techniques

I would like to cover some basic techniques for shooting from vehicles. The topic could fill much more space than I have here, so I intend to hit the highlights. We will leave for another day the topic of shooting from moving vehicles and concentrate only on stationary vehicles.

This is an image of a man shooting from his carThere are several things you should think about before you find yourself confined to the inside of your vehicle when an armed confrontation arises. First, if at all possible, you want to drive away – through/over the perpetrator if you can! Two actions to avoid are ducking for cover inside the prison of your vehicle or trying to back away from your assailant. These tactics will in all probability hasten your demise rather than prevent it. The remaining options, which are the topics of this article, are how to return fire while confined to the interior of the vehicle.

Good people don’t typically have the luxury of determining the time and place of their gunfights. The bad guy usually dictates the terms. All we can do is meet his challenge to the best that our training will allow.

With that in mind … how do we train to engage in a gunfight from inside a vehicle?

Considerations

The first, albeit minor, consideration is to remember that when firing a weapon in a confined area, there is increased overpressure every time a round goes off. This overpressure can potentially be a little rattling but in all likelihood, during the stress of combat, it will be of little significance.

This is an image demonstration how to shoot from different anglesSingle occupant, front seat, two-hand, full extension through passenger-side window and driver’s-side window.

It is of paramount importance that you practice drawing from your carry rig while inside your vehicle. Try it with and without the seatbelt attached. You never know what issues will arise until you go through them in training.

As is always the case, we like to apply simple, generally accepted principles to any combat situation. When engaging a threat from inside a vehicle, if possible, extend the weapon with both hands toward the threat and start shooting! This may require you to lean into/across the seat.

This is an image showing how to shoot with one hand or with a passenger next to youOne-handed shooting from driver’s seat out passenger-side window, both without and with a passenger.

If circumstances dictate, you may choose to engage the threat one-handed, particularly if it is toward the weapon-hand side of the vehicle. The same rules of extending and locking out the arm apply. This method may also come in handy if you have a passenger whom you have to shoot around. In that case, extend the weapon arm past the passenger to prevent them from entering your field of fire. You can deal with their panic, screams, and minor brass burns after you have solved the life-threatening issue at hand.

Shooting Through Glass

While it is possible that your vehicle-based gunfight may erupt on a balmy summer day when all your windows are down or your convertible’s top is down, understand that you may have to fire through the vehicle glass. Staying true to the old training axiom that your body can’t go where your mind has never been, let’s talk about what happens when you shoot through glass. While there is no precise formula to predict what will happen, there are some very reliable principles that we can address.

The side and rear windows of most modern vehicles are composed of tempered glass. When tempered glass breaks, it shatters into many small pieces. These small pieces are very sharp and will cause injury, but for the most part the injuries will be minor compared to if the glass broke into large shards. When firing through tempered glass, the first shot will quite literally blow out the entire window. The glass will probably cause some degree of deflection of that initial bullet, but that will vary depending on the bullet type, weight, angle of strike, etc. The ideal thing to do is fire multiple shots at the target … or a double-tap at the very least.

This is an image of him shooting through glassTinted rear window just prior to (left) and after bullet strike. Polarizing effect of camera lens allows better view of target than was apparent to the shooter. Fire coming out of barrel has not been digitally altered.

If the tempered glass windows are covered by a tinting film, things change. The film acts to hold the small pieces of broken glass in place like interlocking puzzle pieces. The first shot fired will shatter the glass as before, but since the glass cannot fall out of place, the result is that the window becomes almost opaque, thereby obscuring your view of the target. Expect to experience some degree of deflection every time a bullet strikes the film/glass unless bullets travel through pre-existing holes. The best option is to use something to knock the glass out once it has been broken. This can be time-consuming and dangerous.

shooting through a windshield

Basic driver’s-seat shooting position using steering wheel as support.

Windshields

The front windshield offers more things to consider. In most modern vehicles, the front windshield is laminated glass. It has a layer of tough plastic sandwiched between two layers of glass. When the glass breaks, it is held in place by the plastic layer. This prevents small pieces from coming loose and flying into your eyes in an accident. It also prevents the glass from breaking into those large deadly shards. What it cannot prevent is small pieces of glass – typically dust-like – from coming off the windshield.

When shooting from the front seat(s), be conscious of the windshield. Since it is clear and nearly colorless in most vehicles and you will be focused on your threat, the stress-induced tendency to push forward into the glass should be taken into consideration. If firing a semi-auto, contact with the glass can induce a malfunction. In the event the threat is directly in front of you, the steering wheel can act as a support mechanism and prevent you from accidentally pushing the weapon into the glass.

The second major variable in shooting through a windshield is the angle of the glass. A bullet in flight is heavier in the rear than in the front. When the front of the bullet strikes glass at an angle (whether the trajectory of the bullet or the position of the glass creates the angle), the part of the bullet that touched the glass slows down first and causes the rear of the bullet to begin moving around to the front. When the bullet breaks through the glass, it continues moving in that direction. In other words, shooting from the inside of a vehicle straight through the windshield, the first round typically strikes high on the target, if it hits the target at all. For many people, this is the opposite of what they think should happen.

image of an actual car shooting

230-grain FMJ round fired from driver’s seat deflected off windshield and into dashboard. This was repeated on Oldsmobile Alero with .357 SIG FMJ round and 230-grain .45 ACP HP.

Field Testing

Our experiments showed that the closer the plane of the glass is to 90 degrees in reference to the bullet strike, the less disturbed the bullet in flight will be. For handguns, there is one guarantee … the first round fired through an intact windshield will be greatly deformed and in some cases will not strike the target. In vehicles with steeply angled windshields, the first round fired may even deflect into the dashboard.

The target image below illustrates some of the aforementioned issues pertaining to windshields. We have done these experiments many times and, while this is only one target, it is representative of what generally happens each time. We used a Glock 21 SF firing 230-grain hollow points (both bonded and non-bonded) and 230-grain FMJ. The target was placed directly in front of the driver, at approximately eight feet from the front bumper of a Dodge Neon. The point of aim for the first four shots is the dark spot in the center chest area marked POA.

shooting results on target

One of several targets fired upon from inside Dodge Neon. This target was directly in front of driver, roughly eight feet from front bumper.

Shot 1, a bonded HP round, was fired through an unbroken windshield. The deflection was relatively slight and to the right of the point of aim. Judging from the hole in the target, the bullet was either deformed, tumbling in flight, or both. Shots 2 and 3 were the same bonded HP fired in rapid succession. The shooter attempted to fire through the hole created by Shot 1. Shot 2 went through the same hole as Shot 1, but Shot 3 struck the glass low. As a result, Hole 2 is very clean and nearly on target, while Hole 3 is off center and deformed like Hole 1.

Shots 4 and 5 were fired through the windshield in areas where the glass was not broken. Shot 4 was a non-bonded HP. It fragmented and the larger fragment struck above the target’s head. Shot 5 was a full metal jacket round. The point of aim for Shot 5 was the belt loop to the left of the number 5. The round struck the target considerably high relative to the POA. It did not fragment but did appear to tumble or deform slightly.

windshield before shootingWindshield before and after Shot 1. Compare to image of tinted side window

Coming Up

In our next evolution, I hope to cover some advanced techniques and address a few issues encountered when firing from outside the vehicle. When shooting from inside your vehicle (just like anywhere else), use good fundamentals, positively orient toward the threat, and fire multiple shots.

Discussion
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13 Responses to “Shooting from Vehicles: Basic Techniques”
  1. whmitty

    Mr. Pincus speaks rationally and logically however liberal state legislators have a demonstrated low capacity when it comes to logic.

    Reply
  2. Jonathan F. Rodriguez

    SO sad, BS, that since you lost the argument your last resort is to become over the top crude and just plain silly. Hopefully you are better at shooting than you are at debating.

    Reply
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  4. Scott i GA

    please don’t shoot your gun in front of my face while I’m a passenger. I’d like to hear & see in the future. Fine I guess if you drive around with mannequins.

    And what exactly is the basis for “don’t back up?” In the time it takes you to pull your weapon you could’ve been 50 feet away & out of handgun range.

    Reply
    • Lewis

      Speaking as a relative novice, I don’t really see what’s so hard to understand about that.

      While you’re backing up, you’re in range of firearm attack, and almost might as well be sitting still. I don’t know where you gauge “in the time it takes to pull your weapon,” but nine times out of ten my money’s on it taking less time to withdraw an object from your belt than it does to shift your car into reverse, maneuver so you’re not going to back into anything (or any one) and drive away. Cars are large, cumbersome, heavy, and the act of driving in reverse is the clumsiest and least-intuitive way to drive. Forward and toward the aggressor is safer both because it gives less time to react, prompts a startle reaction (which mentally defaults to “get out of the way” rather than “open fire” in most individuals), and has the distinct possibility of taking the threat out of the equation at the same time. Backing away, unless you’re extremely lucky about your circumstances (and can you count on yourself to recognize that when the adrenaline kicks in?), puts you much more at risk of being injured both from potential collisions and from an armed aggressor who notices you trying to flee.

      As for what you or anyone might feel about having a gun fired in front of your face, I get the distinct impression you’d hear and see a lot less afterward if you took a bullet from someone who might be shooting the place up outside the car; sometimes that’s just the way the priorities have to fall if you’re a sane human being with a self-preservation instinct (or the desire to protect others). Unrelated example: CPR runs the risk of breaking ribs, yes? Same general principle. Maybe harm will come of it, but you need to act swiftly and decisively to avoid a worst-case outcome.

      Reply
    • Patrick Soule

      Choice, dead and/or bullet holes in you OR damaged skin and eardrums. I chose the latter.

      As to see, if you do not scrunch your eyes closed when that happens, you are the oddity of the norm.

      If you are backing away from the threat, they have the luxury of taking their time to aim and fire. If you drive into them, they are making sure they are not hit by the 3000lb item more than taking their time to aim at you.

      Reply
    • jjj

      Depending on where you are located. The first thing in a vehicular ambush is to try and drive through it as fast as you can. If you are at the beginning of an ambush you may be able to back out of the ambush doesn’t have a near and far (left & right) security.

      Reply
  5. BigB

    I guess if you have to shoot thru your window then you do have to but you are behind the wheel of a 3000 pound weapon or just drive outta there if you can

    Reply
    • Lewis

      Odds are good that if you have to consider firing out of a vehicle you were caught unawares inside of it while in some sort of parking situation. That could be in the middle of a Wal-Mart parking lot, parallel-parked at a curb (which is not the best place to be if you want to make a quick escape), or in any number of situations that prevent you from using your vehicle as a weapon in place of a gun. The purpose of an article like this should not be interpreted as “use your gun instead of your car.” It’s simply necessary to train for whatever scenario is likely to occur, and a car is an unwieldy, limiting thing to work with, far more constrained by situational elements than a human body due to its size.

      So, “if you can” is always a good rule of thumb starter phrase. But knowing what to do if you can’t? That’s what this website is for.

      Reply
    • jj

      You’re spot on, you have a vehicle, drive through..Which is the proper technique if you are in the kill zone

      Reply
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  7. Ronald Hodak

    I have never had to fire through any car window, but you have conferred what I always believed. Deflection. think that if you can and the threat is in front of the vehical, you could open the car door, using it as a shield and firing from between the door and the opening created when the door is open. this would I think offer you some degree of mobility and be able to not worry about the trajectory of the bullet. If I am the passenger, I would rather have you shoot across my face. losing you hearing and anything else that does not make you dead is very much principle to me than being dead or wounded as Scott I Georgia suggjests. I do on a certain level agree on backing up in a hurry, but your car might be blocked in and the shooter can still run tword you firing his weapon. I would have to say that would be a judgment call on your part.

    Reply
  8. SiliconSorcerer

    Without covering the noise you missed a big point, after the first shot you might not be permanently deft but your not going to hear for at least a while, expect it.

    Reply