burglar with crowbar to break door to enter the house


I  slowly went through the house, keeping my Smith & Wesson M&P up, ready to activate the light and laser if a target appeared. It was late, the house was very dark, and I knew it contained multiple assailants.

I went around corners and through doors slowly, keeping back from the walls, as I had been taught. I had already taken down two assailants and only had a little more to clear. As I went through the last door, I kicked on the light and saw a man holding a gun. I immediately fired three rounds center mass.

Prevention is the first part of protection. Deploy a video surveillance system to increase your chances of deterring home invaders. (Photo: Getty)

Right then, Instructor Charlie McNeese kicked on all the lights so we could review my results in the Gunsite Academy shoot house.

The scenario was conducted during night training and in real-world situations with the Crimson Trace Lightguard. The Lightguard performed well through four nights of training, which culminated in the above situation, along with a couple of other scenarios designed to test the capabilities of both the Lightguard and the shooters.

Training to Fight

I’ve spent most of my life in self-defense training of some form or another. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with quite a few expert shooters and even spent an entire day with legendary gunfighter Walt Rauch. However, it wasn’t until I spent a week at Gunsite that I truly understood the difference in training to shoot and training to fight.

Shooting is about obtaining a good sight picture to accurately put rounds on target. Fighting, however, is so much more. Fighting is about using the force necessary—including deadly force—to defeat an attacker, regardless of the situation. That’s why training is so important: It makes the mind work tactically to sort situations quickly.

Reach for the door handle with the support hand while keeping the gun up and ready. (Photo: Paul Rackley)

Training is needed for any self-defense situation but especially if you have to clear your home. In fact, clearing a house just might be the most dangerous scenario you can face. Not only do you have to search for a potentially dangerous intruder, you also have to positively identify the target, which could be a family member out of position.

In the Gunsite scenario, I was supposed to clear the house to find a friend who had called me for help because he was facing multiple intruders. The instructor actually called it a suicide mission before saying, “He’s a good friend. Go get him.”

It was an experience that expanded on years of training and pushed me to redouble my efforts in preparing for whatever could happen, even if unlikely. I took another look at my home-defense plan and started training more in scenarios.

When clearing, keep your concealment and cover options in mind. (Photo: Paul Rackley)

Have a Plan 

While it might seem impossible to plan for a seemingly chaotic event, this is actually where a plan shines. A plan provides an idea of what to do in a certain situation, such as a break-in. Now, many folks’ first reaction is to go in search of the problem. However, according to Tiger McKee of Shootrite Academy, this is the worst thing to do, particularly if you truly believe someone has broken into your home. In fact, he says, “Don’t do it unless it is a life-and-death situation.”

Single people and couples should hole up in a safe location, probably the master bedroom, while parents should use the room best suited for defending from the perceived threat. In both situations, you need to arm yourself—and call the police. It is their job to catch criminals; your job is to keep yourself and your family safe.

Angling the gun keeps the sights easily aligned with the eye in a single-hand grasp. It is also more comfortable on the elbow and helps prevent someone from snatching the gun. (Photo: Paul Rackley)

The family safe room could be the master, but one of the other bedrooms could work as well, or even better. If you and your wife slip down to the kids’ rooms, you might not want to expose them by moving them back to the master.

However, you also need to consider having an escape route. This might mean one room is better than another due to the direction the room faces; if it has space for a rope ladder; or even if you have a rebellious teenager for whom you’ve previously sealed a window. Something else to consider is the ability to throw a spare set of keys to arriving police. Officers have to get inside to do their job, which might require taking the door down if they don’t have a key.

Of course, sometimes, family members aren’t in a convenient location. They might be in the bathroom, the kitchen or even on a different level. For whatever reason, you have to sometimes leave the safety of a defensive location and go handle the situation. So, you might want to practice clearing your home before the skills are needed.

After opening a door, back away and carefully “slice the pie,” looking through the door to see if an intruder is waiting. (Photo: Paul Rackley)

Around the Corners and Through the Doors

Many folks have bad ideas regarding clearing a house—mostly caused by Hollywood improperly dramatizing reality. Movies and television fare often shows heroes charging through doors and around corners all alone, guns ready, before taking out the bad guy in a dynamic shootout. In the climax, the hero often gets wounded (this is the only part that would be correct in a real situation), although it’s never life-threatening on the screen.

“ … clearing a house just might be the most dangerous scenario you can face. Not only do you have to search for a potentially dangerous intruder, you also have to positively identify the target, which could be a family member out of position.”

Going through a door or around a corner without knowing what’s on the other side is a good way to get shot, and probably killed. Consequently, dynamic entries should be left to teams, with a solo homeowner moving slowly and methodically—and not at all, if the situation is not critical.

Burglaries and home invasions often occur during daylight hours, so be alert to potential threats at all times. (Photo: Getty)

Clearing a house is dangerous work. There is really no safe way to do it—especially doing it fast, according to McKee. In fact, going too fast is the biggest problem he sees with students.

“The more dangerous anything gets, the slower you need to go to ensure you don’t make mistakes,” McKee points out.

This means you have to clear the house slowly and carefully. You also have to keep your distance and ease around corners and through doors in a way that allows you to see but still keeps you safe. This tactic is known as “slicing the pie,” which involves looking at the process of going around a corner or through a door as if they are wedges of a pie. As you ease around, you see more sections. This provides the benefit of being behind cover or concealment if you see an assailant. The idea is to lean slightly around the corner, taking one small step at a time without crossing your feet. You can quickly lean back to get behind cover.

Common household items (such as a dresser) can, at the very least, be used as concealment. However, only things that can stop a bullet are considered cover— and there are very few of these in most homes. (Photo: Paul Rackley)
While a gun light is a great tool, everyone should learn to use a handheld light. Shown here being held via the “cigar” method, the light is placed between the index and middle fingers, using the thumb for activation. Your flashlight must have a tailcap switch for this to work. (Photo: Paul Rackley)

Going through a door is conducted the same way, with the added motion of opening the door. Be sure to turn the handle with the support hand before backing away to obtain distance from the cover or concealment.

Distance is much more important than most realize. In fact, this is another situation the entertainment industry gets horribly wrong. It is never advisable to lean or slide down a wall (as is so often shown by those “gun masters” of TV and the movies). You want to have distance from walls and any other cover you’re using for protection to shield yourself from debris if the cover is hit. It is also never as dark in the movies as in real life, because cameras wouldn’t be able to pick up the action in total darkness.

While grip is always important, it is especially crucial when clearing. You do not want an intruder to be able to snatch the gun away; nor do you want to lose your grip at these ranges. (Photo: Paul Rackley)

Seeing What You’re Shooting

While a break-in can happen any time of the day or night, the time most folks would be home and in danger is well after the sun goes down. In fact, most invasions that happen when the family is home come late at night, when everyone is asleep. Because of this, you really need to have a light with your home-defense gun.

Most experts recommend having a light mounted to the gun, such as the Crimson Trace Lightguard I used at Gunsite. This allows you to instantly see what the gun is pointing at. Other folks say a handheld light is actually more versatile. And, of course, they’re right. However, handheld lights are much more difficult to use, especially under the stress of clearing a home.

When clearing, you should always lean into open areas to check them instead of stepping into the space. It is quicker to lean back than it is to step back. (Photo: Paul Rackley)

I have always felt it is best to have both a gun light and a handheld in this type of situation. Nothing can beat the feeling of having both your gun and light aimed directly at an attacker, but it can be beneficial to have a second light that you can hold up and away from the body. If the intruder fires at the light, their target (you or a family member) is smaller—and hopefully, if hit, it is not life threatening.

Regardless of the type of light used, it needs to have a switch that allows momentary activation, because the one downside of a light is that it reveals the holder’s location. This is why you should hit the light, quickly scan the area for attackers and then release the light before moving. It cannot be overemphasized to always move behind cover after scanning.

Clearing a house is very risky. The noise that alerted you might be a child moving around unexpectedly, or they could be investigating the same sound you heard. (Photo: Getty)

Gunsite Evaluation

According to McNeese, I handled the shoot house pretty well overall. I “sliced the pie” around corners and remembered to back away from doors and cover. I was also accurate, because every bullet found its intended target. And, if I didn’t eliminate the attacker, at least, I put them into a whole lot of pain.

However, I did two things wrong. The first was that while I did not cross my feet while moving, I did drag them along the floor. Part of that problem was caused by the ear protection—I couldn’t hear myself moving. In addition, for some reason, I didn’t want to pick up my feet all the way as I moved.

While most home invasions happen at night, you should start practicing in the daylight. Once you get the motions down, you can then transfer to drilling at night so you can work with a light. (Photo: Paul Rackley)

The second error I made was that I put three rounds into the man I was supposed to be saving. I thought he had a gun in his hand, but it turned out he was holding his eyeglasses. In my defense, though, I was not given a picture of my “friend,” whom I feel I would have recognized if I truly knew him well enough to come to his rescue.

Training in a shoot house really makes one understand the dangers involved in clearing a house. You might want to consider trying it.

You should always transition to cover and concealment when clearing. Use every advantage to win; if you’re in a “fair fight,” your tactics suck. (Photo: Paul Rackley)
Holding a flashlight in your support hand allows you to move the light without affecting your aim or shooting readiness. (Photo: Getty)

“ … training is so important: It makes the mind work tactically to sort situations quickly.” 

Your weapons need to be as ready as you are—or even more so—so you can depend on them if the SHTF. Be sure to keep them properly maintained at all times. (Photo: Getty)

To Call Out or Not to Call Out

The only reason to clear your home is because it is an absolute necessity. If you have your family gathered in a safe location, there is no reason to put your life—or theirs—in danger. After all, stuff can be replaced; lives can’t. However, if someone is out of place, you might have to go in search of them.

This brings up an interesting dilemma: whether or not you should call out before conducting a search. Arguments can be made for both sides, but I’m of the opinion that you should, both to determine the location of family and even to warn intruders that you’re willing to fight.

After all, the unusual sounds or activity that raised the alarm in the first place could be due to a family member. Calling out keeps you from pointing a gun at a loved one.

However, you need to have a safe word developed beforehand, as well as a distress word. An intruder could be holding the person at gun or knife point, so come up with a challenge and response for “all clear” and “help.” I like something simple, such as, “Are you getting a glass of water?” The response can be “yes” for “safe” and “no” for “help.”

The second reason I believe in calling out from a safe location is that I don’t really want to shoot anyone. And I figure most criminals are lazy cowards who don’t really want a confrontation. Getting them out of the house keeps the family safe—which, of course, is the primary goal.

Always Carry a Flashlight

While a weapon light makes a great tool in a low-light situation, it makes gun concealment tricky. As a result, it is advisable to always carry a small handheld light, especially considering how much the cost of lights has come down. Many powerful models are available that run on AA batteries rather than the expensive 123A lithium batteries.

In addition to illuminating the situation, a flashlight can be used to blind potential attackers, and the aluminum housing makes an excellent impact device.

However, a small flashlight simply makes a good tool in the pocket for seeing in the dark. I’ve used mine to help change tires, spot horses in a field and even find a baby’s “binky” on a plane. Flashlights are not considered weapons, so they can go anywhere.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.



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