No, Really, Run in a Straight Line from an Active Shooter

Its all too often that those of us even halfway interested in learning self defense tactics are presented with one of the various myths that never seem to die. Perhaps most egregious is the advice that one should run in a zig-zag line when attempting to flee an active shooter. The operating theory is that the intended victim will be harder to hit by changing their direction often, almost as if running from an alligator.

The most poignant example of this is perhaps Generation Kill, which took great pains to show the simultaneous danger, absurdity, and hilarity of the though through the use of “Rolling Stone”, the resident embedded writer. When coming under sniper fire, the Marines run straight and the reporter zigs and zags.

“Next time we come under fire, run in a straight line, you’ll live longer.”

Moving from the entertainment value to the truly real-world is Active Response Training, who sets up a small experiment simulating an “active shooter” event with someone of reasonable experience with firearms.

The results?

Run in a straight line!

Those shot at running straight line may have a hit rate nearly identical, running in a straight line gets one out of danger faster. With the vast majority of handgun wounds survivable, reducing the potential for being hit multiple times greatly increases the chances of survival.

Check out the full article here over at Active Response Training.





Nathan S.

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

Nathan can be reached at Nathan.S@TheFirearmBlog.com

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • iksnilol

    Y’know, serpentine.

  • neckbone

    If you’re getting chased by a rhino it might help to zig zag. I’m thinking they don’t turn as good. Just a theory.

    • TheNotoriousIUD

      Or a 1989 Chevy Astrovan.

      • VeriAeq

        I don’t remember Tiger being chased by a rhino, and I thought he was driving a Buick.

    • datimes

      Zig zag works for escaping an alligator. They are fast sprinters but they don’t turn well.

      • phuzz

        As long as you run faster than the person next to you, you’ll be fine.

  • Funniest Hollywood version is “The In-Laws” (the old one with Peter Falk and Allen Arkin). Hilarious!

    • Herp

      2nded

      • Bob in Houston

        SERPENTINE SHEL!, SERPENTINE!

  • valorius

    If your concern is to make someone miss, run perpendicular to them.

    • VeriAeq

      Like in a circle?

      • GaryOlson

        Vertical, up or down your choice.

        • Alan

          Combat tactics Mr. Ryan. Turning into the bullet before it armed….

      • Francisco Machado

        Right – ’til they run out of ammo – or until it doesn’t matter any more. As soon as I figure out how to run perpendicular to someone who’s chasing me, I’ll post it. Keep watching…

    • Isn’t “returning fire” historically more effective?

      • valorius

        There’s no rule that says you can’t shoot back while moving in a perpendicular fashion to the axis of enemy fire. And stuff.

        • Zebra Dun

          There is a video of a Thug doing this, shooting backwards without aiming as he ran away, he’s dead. Cops shot him.

          • Wow!

            Valorius didn’t say shoot backward, he said shoot perpendicular to the enemy’s fire. “Move off the X” as is commonly said today. Practicing firing while moving AT FULL SPEED is a skill that I think a lot of people lack in and don’t train enough. Rarely will we be returning fire starting from cover in a stationary position. That heel to toe slow moving that we do in competition is worthless IRL, and won’t throw the enemy’s aim off. We move not to dodge bullets but to get in a position of cover and consequentially, fire superiority.

          • Zebra Dun

            I never said valorius said this.
            I said I saw a video of a thug running and shooting backwards.
            USMC Infantry four years I ain’t an expert but I am educated and trained.

          • valorius

            The white dude on the motorcycle right?

            Anyway, running directly away is the opposite of running perpendicular. 😉

          • Zebra Dun

            No, it was a young black kid, fight in front of a bar, a slug fest turned into a gun draw and the kid ran away directly from the crowd and fired his handgun without looking over his shoulder in their general direction, he ran perpendicular to the Police who just happened to be cruising by and across the road in front of the bar, they dismounted, yelled the appropriate words and when the kid did not stop, they shot him full of holes.
            If I had the link I’d put it here.

          • valorius

            Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

          • BobTrent

            And his family’s attorney was able to prove that the kid was deaf, and that he was legitimately defending himself?

          • Phillip Cooper

            Yay for cops!

        • Phillip Cooper

          Yes. By all means get off the X. Violently.

      • BobTrent

        Depends. If the person shooting at you is the usual incompetent criminal, maybe. If the shooter is trained and experienced, probably not.

      • BobTrent

        Depends. If the person shooting at you is the usual incompetent criminal, maybe. If the shooter is trained and experienced, probably not.

  • Jeez Louise

    Tell that to Rickon Stark.

    • gusto

      too soon man, too soon

    • marathag

      Serpentine! Serpentine!

      • Zebra Dun

        Works well against Sleestacks. Not so much T-Rex.

    • Becky

      In Game of Thrones it was an arrow at extreme range. If Rickon had run in a serpentine pattern he would have most likely would not have been hit. Even with Ramsay’s skill, the shot would have some down to luck—arrows move so slowly that at such a range, Ramsay couldn’t predict where a dodging Rickon would be. However, this test is simulating a handgun at close range. The bullet moves so fast and the distance is so short that a serpentine pattern has little or no practical effect.

      • Scouse

        Arrows do not move slowly!

        • iksnilol

          100-150 meters a second compared to 400 is kinda slow.

          • pun&gun

            Yes it is. At extreme ranges you can reasonably watch the arrow fly at you and step to the side. lol

          • Just say’n

            When I was eleven an annoying neighbor kid ran in front of our firing line while my buddy and I were shooting our Red Ryders. He claimed he could “see the BBs commin'” at him and could dodge them. The big red welt between his eyes that he still carries to this day proves he was wrong (well, at least once anyway).

          • Zebra Dun

            Quick kill USMC CLNC if the sun is right you can see BB’s coming at you LOL, won’t help you none but it is amazing to be inside a blizzard of golden BB’s.

          • Francisco Machado

            From the shooter’s perspective, under the right conditions it’s easy to see BBs going away. It’s also possible to see shots from cap-and-ball pistols and .45s I’m very not interested in finding out if I can see them from the target’s perspective.

          • BobTrent

            Wonder what became of the fellow I shot in the brow just above his eyes with a .22 pellet pistol at one foot range? Think it gave him a red welt?

        • Kyle

          Compared to a bullet? Yeah they are pretty slow.

          • DaveGinOly

            There’s a real difference between an arrow shot from a longbow or recurve and one shot from a compound bow or crossbow. Those shot from a traditional bow take their time getting to, say, 50 yards, have a higher trajectory, and hit with a “thump.” An arrow from a compound bow is much less leisurely, flies a flatter trajectory, and hits with a noticeably sharper “fwap.” A compound bow at close range (under 50 yards) is not to be trifled with, but still (like you said) no comparison to a bullet.

      • n0truscotsman

        1:45

        • Zebra Dun

          Almost.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    This type of “advice” always cracks me up.

  • Pete Sheppard

    Like valorius below, I wondered about trying to run a a sharp angle to the shooter (such as a path straight to the side), to force the shooter to swing around to line the gun up. I’ve seen where some trainers teach to retreat in a similar direction; to the shooter’s strong side if possible.

  • Bill

    “Zig-zagging” is fine as long as it’s from piece of cover to another better, farther piece of cover.

    • Michael Fallon

      And only a distance of no more than five meters at time.

      • Wow!

        I’m up, they see me, I’m down.

  • 22winmag

    If the “shooter” is a cop you don’t have much to worry about to begin with.

    • Phillip Cooper

      Depends on if the shooter is a NYC cop and you are a completely innocent bystander.

      Hint: you probably wore a red shirt that day…. even if you didn’t.

      • BobTrent

        In NYC NO ONE is innocent!!
        Shot 40 times for brandishing a deadly wallet?

  • valorius

    You could always try the FPS tactic of jumping up and down real high while at a dead run and making head shots.

    • Strafe jumping is how I always get away.

    • pun&gun

      That awkward moment when video games gave rise to a gunfight trope even dumber than Hollywood’s “roll around everywhere spraying infinite ammo.”

      • Young Freud

        If you think “bunnyhopping”‘s bad, the Metal Gear Solid/ARMA roll has actually been seen in the wild. In the infamous “Abu Hajaar” video, the Keystone Kops division of ISIS tries to get away from an impending Kurdish death wave by rolling away (spoilers: they don’t)

        • Phillip Cooper

          Post is worthless without link..

    • Cal S.

      Hey, it gets you twice as far in the same time in Minecraft…

    • MeaCulpa

      Just fire the 303 into the ground at an adequate rate and you’ll fly away from the shooter.

      • valorius

        Rocketjump!

  • Joey Jo-jo Shabbadoo

    Run backwards, away from the shooter. That way from his perspective, he’ll think you’re coming towards him, and hold his fire anticipating an easier shot as you get ‘closer’

    In reality, for be increasing the distance from the shooter, eventually reaching safe cover, where you can dial 911 and await help.

    • BobTrent

      And help will arrive…in 45 minutes.

  • Badwolf

    Depends where you are. If there’s cover or concealment within immediate reach (like in the video), then yes, run in a straight line towards that as quickly as you can.

    But on a large flat open field…. maybe not a good idea.

  • PeterK

    Huh. Is it better to run directly away from them, or slant a little? I guess it depends on what you are running to and from.

    I do find it amusing that people thought the rabbit maneuver was a good one.

    • Zebra Dun

      Rabbits by and large if chased run in a complete circle back to where they were jumped, cottontails do anyway it’s why the l’il Beagles are such good rabbit dogs, too slow to catch Bugs but loud enough to tell you when Bre’r Rabbit is about to come back around. Then you just stay where you jumped it and plug dinner as it come by.
      Rabbit dumplin’s MMM MMMh!

  • paulm53

    The local range thought I was kidding when I suggested putting treadmills in. How else can you practice running away while shooting over your shoulder?

    • LGonDISQUS

      Next yardsale treadmill I see….

    • Scouse

      My comment on an arrow not being slow, was not in comparison to a bullet.

      Mind you, as a 13 year old, indulging in a Street Fight, with a rival Street Gang, in 1948.
      St Helens Lancashire UK. We had lots of projectiles, from derelict house’s, bits of house bricks. Peter Street had bows and arrows, the arrows had nails spliced into the ends.

      I saw a sliver of something coming at me, I twisted my head to the left, the nail bounced off my eye socket, still have the scar (and my eye!)

      The English Archers, fighting the French, in France, 1066? Took the high ground early, so at first light, when the French troops, and cavalry started to advance, uphill, the Brits had big rocks planted at known distances.

      The part facing down hill, were just rocks, the part facing the Archers, painted white!
      To show the distances.
      Arrows were not in quivers, but stuck in the ground. A good Archer, and they all were, could keep 7 arrows in the air at once.

      North America’s, rude sign, middle finger, Brit, the two fingers next to the right thumb, flicked upwards, came from the French habit of cutting the bow string pulling fingers off captured archers! The gesture, up yours,”I still have my fingers!”

  • Don Ward

    Clearly all the trained operators will consider what is the strong side of the shooter and run vertically away from the shooter, vectoring away on his weak side.

    Amateurs these days.

    • marathag

      _Son of Paleface_ 1952 on Gunfighter advice

      Lance: Hey listen, the man that’s after you just killed my brother. Here’s a tip: He draws from the left, so lean to the right.

      Potter: He draws from the left so lean to the right.

      Greg: Son, I’ll let you in on something. Along towards sunset there’s a wind from the east. So you better aim to the west.

      Potter: He draws from the left so lean to the right. There’s a wind from the east so better aim to the west.

      Pete: I know this Joe like a book. He crouches when he shoots so stand on your toes.

      [Outside in the street]
      Potter: He draws from the left so lean to the right. There’s a wind from the east so better aim to the west. He crouches when he shoots so stand on your toes. Thanks… Growl.

      [Goes out into the street]

      Potter: He draws from the left so stand on your toes… There’s a wind from the east, better lean to the right… He crouches when he shoots, better aim to the west… He draws from his toes, so lean toward the wind. Ah ha!

      I got it!

      • Zebra Dun

        LOL hit the deck and aim for the spawn point.

  • Jim

    Faster than a speeding bullet, eh? If you want real training, get a big city gang banger that has survived multiple shooting attempts to show you how it’s done.

    • Button Gwinnett

      Run faster than your homies.

      • .45

        I find videos of thugs in firefights to be almost comical, the way they practically fall over themselves running every which way. I guess they don’t consider the possibility that pointing their gat at someone could go wrong and when it does they suddenly realize they have no clue what to do next except stain their underwear.

    • Jeremy Star

      Stand still because your enemy has never practiced one minute in his life and can’t hit the ass of a whale with an aircraft carrier? I mean, we just had people spray 100 rounds in Charlotte and hit nobody.

    • Zebra Dun

      Do from a car.

  • BG

    Is anyone else playing the Benny Hill music in their head while imagining someone running zig-zag looking for cover?

    • Jeez Louise

      No, but that would be great for Rickon Stark!

      (No, it is not too early! But Hodor man, that still hurts.)

      • Sunshine_Shooter

        Hodor 🙁

  • Leonardo Padrino

    Pretty sure TFB posted an article with the same exact results years ago done with a paintball gun.

  • Major Tom

    If I’m running in an Active Shooter situation, I’m running right at him to stop him.

    • VanDiemensLand

      Nope

      • Curmudgeon

        Well, that’s what my friend did at Ft. Bragg, the fall of 1995. I like to think that he was even a little inspired by the fictional US President who did what needed to be done at the end of “Escape from New York.” His team watched that in college one otherwise boring evening. Being as how the shooter was transitioning from a .22 LR to a 5.56mm, I believe that other lives were indeed saved.

  • Cal S.

    Oh, so my graduate degree from the “Prometheus School of Running Away from Things” might actually have been the right path after all?

  • Jeff

    I find it darn tough to shoot a perp while I’m running away from him, regardless of foot trajectory. But after he’s down, you can easily stroll away.

    • Calavera

      Weak ankles and a bum ticker here. My plan is to make HIM run from me. In any manner or direction he chooses. I’m not particular.

  • Seth Hill

    I thought it was bob and weave.

  • LGonDISQUS

    Generation kill was a great miniseries!

  • The title is very misleading! The “straight-line” runner is actually running at an angle to the shooter. That action dramatically changes accurate aiming, as seen in the video where only 1 shot hits and then it is more of a grazing wound to the shoulder.

    The point of serpentine is to avoid running directly in-line with the shooter, whether towards or away. Any movement at an angular direction from the shooter will help, though a complete serpentine is changing directions several times. This video shows the guy running at an angle which partially fulfills the serpentine philosophy. The extent of serpentine, whether how deep the direction change or how many times direction is changed, depends on proximity to shooter and volume of fire.

    Closer to shooter means getting greater distance is better (less serpentine). Further away and more serpentine could be better. All this video proves is running at an angle is better than running straight (directly) away.

    • Wow!

      To be honest, the idea that movement makes a target harder to hit is mostly pointless. Competition shooting has shown us that even the most novice of shooters can hit a fast moving target with a semi automatic, and humans move much slower (being a relatively slow moving predator to begin with). Movement should have the primary goal of getting to cover or maneuvering to return fire. Anything that gets in the way of either of these two goals should be ignored.

      • First, I absolutely agree that movement should have a purpose of gaining an advantage, providing an opportunity to fire on the adversary, and including moving to legitimate cover. Very sound principles.

        “Competition” shooting and life-or-death shooting are two totally different events. No, competition shooting has NOT shown us “even the most novice shooters can hit a fast moving target.” Some competitors (with significant training) are quite capable of hitting moving targets. Novices? Not so much. I’d be willing to watch videos of novices if you have them. A Texas DPS Trooper was investigating possible drug runners, when 2 companions got out of the car. He had just received training on Constable Lunsford’s attack and death. He does a quick 270-degree spin/sprint to avoid being shot, returns fire injuring one suspect, and scaring the other 2 away. Moving an at angle away from the shooter saved his life. He did not make it to cover until after the first salvo of fire (theirs and his). This movement is not pointless and can save your life. If you have a firearm or other means of defense then move to get the advantage/cover to return fire. If you don’t have a firearm, move to create a difficult target to track, and get to cover or far away from the threat.

      • BobTrent

        Firing a semiauto at 400 rpm is not much different than full auto at 800 rpm.

  • bthomas

    Re: Op. To little data. To much unsupported opinion. Will need to do double blind studies with multiple subjects, etc. Otherwise, just another internet bit of wit. Skim it and move on.

  • Zebra Dun

    Marine Corps Gazette had an issue long ago about running through Machine gun fire.
    It stated, a Marine just had to run between bullets.
    OK, he meant of course strings of fire such as the five to seven shot bursts, but it was hilarious to read.
    Simply put, not only is it faster but, when you zig zag you are crossing the shooters bullet streams so all he has to do is fire in a straight line.

  • phauxtoe

    Running Zig Zag from a Gator is Bullshit too!
    (I hope I missed the joke!)

  • Wow!

    If someone has a bead on you in open ground, you have the highest chance of survival turning around moving perpendicular to their fire, and returning it.

  • jcitizen

    When I hunt rabbits I notice I hit them more when they zig zag – mostly because they end up changing direction and running into my near miss – in other words, I would have missed them if they hadn’t changed direction.

    I was surprised when my uncle reported that at Iwo Jima, the Japanese could always leave en mass from a position and run straight away, and get away with it every time! He said it was vexing to see them just all get up in a crowd like that and get away before the Marines could react and hit any of them!

    • Zebra Dun

      There is a video from Betio that shows Japanese actually doing this, in a line straight from cover. Marines were shooting the place up while it happened.

      • jcitizen

        He was there too in Tarawa; he picked up a head still in the helmet on south Betio beach, and gave it to the cookie to reduce to bone, so he could fish the gold teeth out, but the cook beat him to it. We had that thing in our attic with a lot of other cool Japanese weapons until I turned them over to his kids. That collection would have been worth tens of thousands if grandma hadn’t thrown the skull away!

        He only fought in those two actions, and they were enough; but ended up in Korea and Vietnam – he wasn’t too happy being called out of retirement to go there, but his NCO rank was so high and he knew so much about organizing a motor unit repair, that they had to re-activate him one more time! Whew!

      • jcitizen

        At the risk of a repeat post – my uncle was there too – he brought a skull back from south Betio beach in the Tarawa battle.

    • BobTrent

      Rabbit dodging tactic works on foxes…sometimes.

  • BobTrent

    Where have you encountered an excon who has matured?
    More likely was behaving hissef until he finished his parole/probation.

  • BobTrent

    Where have you encountered an excon who has matured?
    More likely was behaving hissef until he finished his parole/probation.

  • BobTrent

    The typical untrained pistol shooter who is right handed will jerk the trigger with the joint of his trigger and pull to the right. So, running in a straight line, or drawing toward the left, lowers the chances of being hit.
    NO, this is not 100% guaranteed. I’m sure that there are many of you who have a second cousin once removed who knows someone whose friend’s brother in law was hit anyway.

  • billyoblivion

    F*k that.

    GOTX and shoot them in the face.