TOC Vehicle Ambush Tactics – Pistol AAR

After training with TOC last year in a really well-thought-out carbine class, I had made it a priority this year to try to take another class with them. Thankfully, they scheduled their “Vehicle Ambush Tactics – Pistol” class on a day I could take it, so I signed up ASAP.

I’ve never done any shooting in or around vehicles, so I had almost no expectations walking in. I just wanted to learn some new skills, do a little shooting under stress, and maybe have a bit of fun. I think I accomplished all those goals. Read on for more.

Disclaimers of Sources of Bias: None, other than being a previous satisfied customer of TOC’s previously. I did not receive any discounts on this course.

Class Title: Vehicle Ambush Tactics – Pistol

Class Description:

This class is designed around the CCW holder and how to defend yourself if threatened with lethal force while in a vehicle. The techniques taught can apply to a patrol officer in their cruiser as much as to the private citizen heading home from work. Topics Covered:

From the website.
  • Ballistic protection of a vehicle
  • Defending yourself in a vehicle
  • Shooting from a vehicle
  • Exiting the vehicle and using cover
  • Shooting around a vehicle

Cost: $150

Round Count: The course asked us to bring 300 rounds; I think it was closer to 200 expended in the end. Round count was variable in the sense that there were some drills where you could shoot more or less. I opted to go for more as much as possible.

Instructors: The lead instructor was Matt Watson. You can see his bio on the website. The website undersells him somewhat; he’s doing more interesting things in terms of security and counter-terrorism than it may indicate. He’s a very personable guy with the right level of humor and humility to make for an excellent instructor. Nothing he taught us ran counter to the other vehicle course AARs I’ve read from other instructors, and he was able to easily demonstrate all of his assertions. I personally think he is a real unknown gem of an instructor, and probably deserves more publicity than he gets.

Location/Date: May 2nd, 9AM-4PM at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Range in Kearneysville, WV. This combination of timing and location is awesome for me – it’s not that far away, and starting at 9AM means I’m not trying to get out of the house at some crazy early hour.

The range is not necessarily as majestic a facility as you might imagine, but it was adequate for the class. It is basically a 50yd five lane, one-way range on black top, in the midst of a small berm valley (which provided shade, at least in the morning). I heard there was a 270yd range next door, but we did not use it. TOC had some tents and tables out for students to stage their gear and stay out of the sun. Water was also provided (and I partook of a couple bottles).

Weather: The weather started off nice (~70f), but got warmer as the day went on, progressing up to about 85-90f. Despite my best efforts, I got a pretty good sunburn. The sky was mostly clear. Magpul Terrain sunglasses kept the sun out of my eyes.

Equipment Details: I used my Sig P320 X5 Legions (DPP and R1Pro) along with a basic OWB holster and double mag holder setup from Bladetech. Belt was my trusty Uncle Mike’s instructor belt. This is a fairly plebian gear setup, but wearing a battle belt just makes me feel melodramatic.

This time, I did things a little differently and used an EDM ported barrel on my primary P320 X5 Legion. Performance Pistol Works did the work. The difference was VERY noticeable. It was like running a comp, but without all the bad parts about running a comp. The gun stayed so flat that I actually needed to re-adjust to shooting it, which is a good problem to have. No re-zeroing was required.

I was shooting my own 147gr reloads again. On the whole, they were great. I did suffer an ammunition-related failure during the patch drill (of course), but I am also not convinced that wasn’t a magazine issue (I was using a few of them for the first time). I actually found a piece of broken glass in one of my mags – I don’t understand how it could physically get in there, but there you go.

Preparation Drills: I’ve been doing a ton of rifle dry-fire work with my son, but not a lot of pistol.

Author’s Previous Experience: Civilian with no military or LEO background. Have shot some competition, but no accomplishments worth bragging about. Training junkie since April 2018, and have averaged a class a month since then. I am OK with a carbine, pretty good with a pistol, and just average with a shotgun.

Class Demographics: The class of ten people was all men, but was a nice demographic mix otherwise. There were a lot of different skill levels, and a couple LEOs, but I would say that most people were pretty good pistol shooters. A couple needed a bit of remedial work, but they got themselves together quickly after that.

Equipment was all over the place. I saw some small guns, some full-size guns, and all sorts of carry methods. I don’t think anything was really better or worse for the purposes of this class, as long as you understood that it impacted how your gun would be operated inside a vehicle.

TD1 (morning): The class kicked off with a medical/safety brief, along with class introductions. Most of the class was unfamiliar with the subject area – myself included – so expectations were along the lines of “have fun” and “learn the subject matter”.

This was followed by a discussion of how to draw safely, scan, and holster safely. As the old saw goes, no one’s ever won a match by holstering the fastest. This is pro-forma stuff for me, but you never know who’s in an open enrollment class.

Our first drills were the usual diagnostic pistol drills (singles and pairs) to make sure no one was in way over their heads and could draw safely. I was pleased with my cold pistol performance, but a couple folks needed some help to get themselves on target. I didn’t see anything blatantly unsafe, which gave me a little more confidence about having somebody drawing next to me in a car.

Once shooter proficiency had been assessed, we had the initial conversation about how to work with a gun inside a vehicle. This is surprisingly complicated! You’ve got to deal with your seatbelt, there’s a door to manage, the seat belt is in the way, and, perhaps even worse, how all of those things interact with how you’re carrying a gun.

Matt also explained some of the differences between the two vehicles we were going to be using. One was a relatively small Honda Civic, the other was a much larger minivan. While you are perhaps tempted to think “a car is a car”, the amount of room inside the vehicle and the size of the rear pillars makes a surprising difference in the amount of protection you can obtain and the ease in operating in/around the vehicle. We did all of the drills from both vehicles, so exploring those differences was a big part of the class.

He brought great information for us on how to manage these things. Making sure your cover garment is always over the seat belt, how to deal with getting to your seat belt quickly (trace!), and how to brace your door to keep open while you shoot through the V. There was a lot to remember, and while I didn’t execute it perfectly all class, I didn’t feel unequipped to deal with the problems that were presented. His demonstrations were excellent as well.

Before we got down to shooting from inside a car, we did a trial run using a pair of chairs. We sat on one seat, and the seat in front of us simulated a steering wheel. Draw, shoot, stand, re-holster, repeat about five times. I’ve done a fair bit of drawing from a seat, so this was not a big deal, but it did give Matt a chance to point out when people were flagging themselves.

At this point, we got down to business, and did some drilling inside the car. We did it from both the driver and passenger sides. It was surprising – and probably shouldn’t have been – just how different the experience is from different sides of the car. It reminded me a fair bit of how overwhelming it was to learn to draw initially – there’s a lot going on, and it’s coming at you fast. I consistently was bad about bracing open the door, but was pretty good about getting my gun up and around the steering wheel; I can thank Green Ops for this, because they taught me a draw method that works even in tightly confined spaces.

Matt built on the complexity by adding a bail to rear component for the next drill. I must admit, this one had me a bit nervous, because we were breaking the 180. Yeah, your gun was pointed up with a head index or straight down, but running back with a gun is not a thing I do much of. Thankfully, no safety issues arose. One thing I learned that I thought was clever was that you should bail to the opposite corner of the car, which at least forces your opponent to shift their fire more significantly.

Continuing with the complexity building theme, we then did a two person bail out. This meant that one person (the passenger) needed to provide covering fire on one steel target while the driver bailed to the rear (not switching corners), and then provided covering fire on their target while the passenger bailed out. The amount of rounds you fired in this drill depended a lot on how long it took your buddy to bail… as I joked later, your expenditure might depend on how much you liked your partner.

In my opinion, these sorts of drills are where TOC really distinguishes themselves from some of the other classes I’ve taken. I don’t count these as super high risk maneuvers, but the premise that you’re running backwards with a gun, and then opening fire while a guy is to your front is running back would be anathema to a fair number of instructors I’ve met. Sometimes, tiny risks have real payoffs in terms of your learning, and I think these made sense.

We then got to the part of the class that I know I had been anticipating the most: shooting through windshields. We put on masks for this portion of the class, since we didn’t want to breathe in glass dust. Matt described shooting through a windshield as “consistently inconsistent”, and he was not wrong. My coated loads deflected unpredictably (but didn’t seem to fragment), generally high. Matt’s advice was to simply blow a porthole through your window with repeated fire; it took me about two rounds before my rounds went back to point of aim, point of impact.

I’m not gonna lie: shooting through a windshield is FUN, and also looks super cool in movies. There’s some stuff you just can’t practice on your own (at least not without multiple lawyers), and shooting through a windshield is solidly in that category. The truth is, though, that this technique is almost the last ditch of last ditch techniques. Your rounds are deflecting randomly (potentially hitting innocent people) while making the porthole, and if your target moves, your porthole needs to be remade – which means more random deflection. I would never bother with this unless my attacker was EXTREMELY close.

We concluded the morning with a demonstration of the structural strength of the pillars of your car. This was convincing, to say the least. 9mm ball didn’t do much of anything to the pillars, and while a little cover isn’t much, it certainly beats no cover.

At this point, we broke for lunch. During the break, the cars were moved around to different positions after lunch, which created its own fresh set of considerations. The heat also really started to pick up around this time.

TD1 (afternoon): After lunch, we got into a discussion of cover behind vehicles. The pillars, the engine block, and the axles were specifically discussed. There was a drill associated with this where we were dynamically directed to certain points on the cars and had to engage from them. This was a nice bit of cardio, and also really put forward the point that you need to be able to move and shoot quickly around vehicles. I was happy with my movement, but felt I could have had a better index coming off movement – I sometimes felt like I was bobbing for the dot when I shouldn’t have been. Something to dry-fire, I guess.

This led into a drill where we shot from behind the axle of a vehicle. The targets were clever – a pair of legs, and a sideways assailant picture with a gun. This was… uncomfortable on the hot asphalt, but it was interesting as a positional shooting drill. One vehicle even required you to shift sides, which made for an interesting challenge.

While windshield glass is laminated and pretty tough, side glass is not so much. There was a brief demonstration of the results of shooting through side glass, and it’s like you see in the movies; you shoot it, and it’s pretty much gone.

I had to take a brief bathroom break, and when I returned, we were going through how to deal with shooting around a passenger. The simple way of doing this is to use one arm to essentially pin the target to their seat. I am going to go out on a limb and posit that while this is the safest way of doing things, it’s probably going to be a pretty bad day for your passenger no matter how it goes down.

This was unexpectedly one of my favorite parts of the class. Matt used a mannequin of sorts with a connecting stick so that a passenger in the car could actually make it move a bit. So not only were you treated with simulated inane conversation (“aren’t you excited for the wine and cheese festival?” “it’s cool that we met on Grindr! Do you like my minivan?”) developing into “OMG that man has a gun!”, but you had the mannequin bumping into your arm while you were trying to aim. It was fun and tough all at once, which is pretty much what I like out of a shooting drill. We also did a variation of this combined with a bail-out and a second target, which was cool.

We took a break from deafening fictional people to getting a fascinating demo of the effects of shooting JHP and FMJ through various parts of the car. While the effects were not identical, they were close enough that I wouldn’t get too worked up about shooting JHP through a vehicle. However, the efficacy of shooting through a vehicle in general was not quite as high as I would have imagined it; that’s not to say I wouldn’t do it if it was called for, but I’d be a lot more liberal about the amount of lead I put on target .

One structural piece that we were especially interested in was the hood and trunk of the car. People are frequently warned to not hug these due to the possibility of a ricochet. This concern is real. With basically no practice, I was able to get A-zone hits on the other side of the car by skipping bullets. I probably would avoid shooting over a hood or trunk if I could avoid it.

The last drill of the class was the patch competition, with a head-to-head knockout concept. This was a relatively complex drill where each person had to shoot from inside of a car, bail out to the back corner, shoot another target, and then run to the front of the car and engage a clay target. I did OK, but suffered an ammo-related failure that knocked me out in the second round. I am honestly not sure if I would have won without that failure; the guys who tied for the patch were really on their game.

Class Debrief: We tore down the targets, tents, and tables, and then met up for a debrief and certificates. This was short, but I also don’t get much out of long debriefs, so I was fine with it.

Conclusions: This was my first class ever dealing with shooting in/around vehicles, so it was very much a class of not knowing what I didn’t know. I enjoyed the class, and I felt like I learned a lot from it. Matt did a really fantastic job teaching it, and gave individuals the attention they needed to get better. Based on my reading of other AARs, it seems like we covered much the same subject matter as other vehicle-related classes out there.

I highly recommend the class, especially if you’re a proficient shooter with a couple other pistol classes under your belt. You will learn more if you’re not struggling with pistol fundamentals. I’m looking forward to take another class with TOC soon! I also think it’s a tremendous value at $150; I’m honestly a little shocked he could pull off that price given that it was only ten people and two cars were involved.

5 thoughts on “TOC Vehicle Ambush Tactics – Pistol AAR”

  1. Great job out there David! Thanks for taking the time to write this up. I look forward to having you out there again soon.

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  2. Wow, is all I can really say regarding the post..
    VERY detailed and to the point AAR!
    Thank you for taking your time out to recognize Instructors and everyone whome attended as well. Individuals like yourself who take there time put to show concerns and write up articles like these and others should receive more credit than deserve.

    Thanks David!!!

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  3. This seems like a class consistent with the couple of vehicle classes that I’ve taken so far. Seems like the instructor has been influenced by Petty’s teaching, and that’s not a bad thing. Some of the drills seem very familiar in that regard, and it sounds like you got a lot of good information out of the class. Thanks for the detailed AAR. It’s a good read.

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    1. The concept of temple index while moving came up, which I’m given to understand is a Will Petty thing, so I suspect you are correct. (I have no strong feelings about it; I used a straight down position during movement, though.)

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