Angles, Lighting, and Retention: A Primer

If you’re reading this article hoping to find the magic formula to safely clearing a residence or building by yourself, you’re about to be disappointed. Here’s the reality: our vision is not 360 degrees and our brains cannot multi-task enough. There are too many angles of exposure for one individual to cover.

Now that I have that unfortunate news out of the way, single-person room or building search, or one-man CQB (close-quarters battle) is a reality some of us may face. Active killer response requires the first armed responder to enter the building to engage and stop the killing. Ideally, when at home, barricading and arming yourself in your room is the best answer. Let the threat come to you.

If you live in a residence where other family members are in separate rooms, you may have no choice but to conduct some kind of search to safely get to that family member. The elderly, infirm, or children are some of those to keep in mind that you may have to take care of. The role of one-man/woman CQB has a limited scope. You are conducting that action, not because you’re some superhero-wannabe, but because not doing so creates a greater risk to those you care about. Entire books are written on CQB and building searches, and people spend decades practicing this topic and still make mistakes. This article is a primer to get you thinking about how to move as safely as possible from Point A to Point B and enter rooms as needed.

Understanding Angles

Angles are the name of the game in room search. If you have no formal experience in room clearing, this will should get the proverbial mental hamster wheel spinning. The image below shows a common layout for a residence with a proposed path from the master bedroom to an additional bedroom occupied by a loved one. The path seems simple, right? Go from one “X” to the next “X”.

Moving from one “X” to the next seems simple. In practice, there are more issues than meets the eye to safely do so.

The reality, unfortunately, isn’t that simple. In the image below, green lines delineate some of the potential threat areas and angles of fire from other rooms, windows, and doors. A single person’s attention can only cover so much ground, otherwise known as the area of responsibility (AOR). Imagine, if you will, working this scenario with two people covering different AOR. What about three? Or four? This is why building clearing is conducted by law enforcement and the military with team elements and not just one person. Single-person CQB looks cool in movies, but it is exceptionally dangerous in reality.

The red line represents the path of movement whereas the green lines represent SOME of the potential threat areas from windows, doors, hallways, and other rooms. This is why clearing a building alone is exceptionally dangerous and not advisable.

Preparation and Planning

How many times have you cleared your home by yourself? Have you had friends or family members position themselves in locations for constructive feedback? Ideally, you should never go through your home, running from your room to get to your loved ones while armed. And even less ideal is doing so for the first time under dire circumstances.

Go through your home enough that you know exposure points, dead space (areas hidden by a kitchen island, areas behind a couch or bed, etc.), and angles of fire almost second nature. These skills are built over quality repetition and practice.

The image on the left is far easier to address for movement from point “A” to “B”. While it’s unknown what is behind those doors, movement past those doors can be done quickly versus having to address the exposed threats posed by the open doors.

Over the years, I’ve developed the habit of closing doors in my home. Why? The image above shows two examples of the same hallway. One hallway has four doors open (one is not visible to the right). Proceeding down that hallway will require drawing your attention toward one of those doors, which draws your attention away from the other open doors. The other hallway, with three of the four doors closed, is far easier to address. I can also see ambient outdoor light emanating from the open bedroom door and address the open door or move towards the destination room if it’s any of the other doors while giving extra attention to the open door. While the closed doors may need to be addressed, consider what the priorities are: Is it to get to a specific room? Is it to move past all those rooms? Does the hallway just need to be bypassed to move to another location? These are critical considerations that need to be assessed based on your skill set and abilities.


Unfortunately, not every scenario accommodates bright, daytime conditions. More often than not, conditions will be dark or ambient at best. I strongly recommend using ambient lighting in your home to provide some level of shadows or silhouette to objects. Movement causes shadows and silhouettes to move which helps identify problem areas. Notice I didn’t say threats. Nothing is a threat until PID (positive identification) is conducted.

A handheld flashlight is not only convenient but serves in the role of aiding with PID and scanning an area to be searched.

PID is aided by a handheld light. For work purposes, I keep a weapon light on my firearm. This is because I am illuminating a defined threat. My handheld light does all the work beforehand. There are multiple instances of family members being shot by a homeowner because they shot at a shadow or figure and didn’t positively identify it. Furthermore, I don’t want to point my handgun or rifle at a family member when I haven’t identified them as a threat. This is where the importance of a handheld light is paramount. Use a handheld light to search and PID, not one mounted to your firearm.

A second point about handheld lights is they allow you to illuminate rooms and objects from different angles. I can peek around a corner with a handheld light without putting my firearm into that room to illuminate it. I also can move it around more freely than a pistol without concern for flagging others or putting my muzzle in a direction where a negligent discharge could over-penetrate to an undesired location.

I strongly recommend toying with your handheld lights and seeing where the focused beam is concentrated and evaluating how much the remainder of the light illuminates an area from reflected light. A trick I learned some years ago is that most ceilings are white and white reflects light well. Point the flashlight at the ceiling in a room and see how much it illuminates versus concentrating the beam on a single wall, bed, couch, or dresser.

Your Gun is Not on a Turret

A common issue, even amongst law enforcement, is for a shooter to maintain the gun at a low-ready with their arms extended. As they scan, the gun scans with them. This is a habit I’ve seen crop up from time to time with me. I normally keep my firearm close to my body during a search and use my eyes to scan for threats. The time to get eyes on target and present to the threat, if identified, is negligible versus the low-ready turret approach. If our head isn’t moving around scanning, we’re limiting our ability to see threats, problem areas, and angles of fire.

Another noteworthy point of consideration is weapon retention. By keeping the weapon close to the body, there is less likelihood of telegraphing entry into a room. Entry into a room with arms extended will leave your weapon exposed to blind spots in that room for up to several seconds where someone will: (a) know you’re entering the room or (b) attempt to disarm you.

Telegraphing your firearm allows a threat to see your gun before you see them. In the photo on the right, entry is made into the room with a firearm and sight line simultaneously.

Using Angles to Your Advantage

Prior to entering a room, there’s a significant amount of information that can be obtained before entry. The image below shows the styles of rooms you will encounter: corner-fed (top) and center-fed (bottom) room. When clearing a room prior to entering, don’t hug the wall. Ideally, your body should be far enough away from the door that your hand can’t touch it if it were closed. The movement is in a circular motion and is fluid. I’ve seen some awful demonstrations of this principle, called “slicing the pie”, where there is a significant amount of jerky and unnecessary body movement. The motion should be fluid, smooth, and slow. Do not exceed the speed your brain can process inputs. The goal isn’t speed, but to be systematic and thorough. Is there something out of place? Did I see a shadow from ambient light behind a bed? Was that nightstand drawer open?

The top room (corner-fed) can be cleared almost completely from the outside before entry. The bottom room (center-fed) has similar results with small areas on either side of the doorway uncleared. The key is to not hug the wall or doorway while circling around the doorway and scanning the room.

Referring back to the image above, the vast majority of a room can be evaluated prior to ever entering it. At a minimum, you will know the layout before ever stepping foot inside. If I can’t see that area, a quick peek of head and light around that corner, while putting yourself in that room briefly, helps get a glance at what’s not been addressed.

Now that you’ve conducted a scan of the room, the goal is to enter the room. There’s no reason to stop in the doorway. Determine where your destination is before entering and make a point of entering quickly enough to process information while being a harder target to hit. Ideally, you should have some level of confidence that the room is unoccupied and your threat areas are minimized. If you do see a threat, evaluate if it’s even necessary to go into that room, confront it, or engage it. If that room isn’t your ultimate goal of getting to your loved ones and you’re unnoticed, why initiate a confrontation when you can secure your most precious of things (e.g. your loved ones)? Prudence, at times, is the better part of valor.

A Final Angle

Fighting alone is not ideal. It never is. However, there is no unfair advantage in defense of loved ones and personal safety. This article discussed considerations and concepts that take training, study, and repetition to gain some level of competency. I urge anyone interested in this kind of information to take the time and effort to apply some of these ideas in their own home. Evaluate your safety plan for you and your loved ones. Ultimately, pursuing validated training from reputable instructors is the goal.

Tom Stilson began his firearms career in 2012 working a gun store counter. He progressed to conducting appraisals for fine and collectible firearms before working as the firearms compliance merchant for a major outdoor retailer. In 2015, he entered public service and began his law enforcement career. Tom has a range of experience working for big and small as well as urban and rural agencies. Among his qualifications, Tom is certified as a firearms instructor, field trainer, and in special weapons and tactics. If not on his backyard range, he spends his time with family or spreading his passion for firearms and law enforcement.

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