Tactics at the individual level are as complex as tactics at higher levels. The individual usually has little say in whether or not combat is initiated and is more concerned with not getting killed, killing the enemy is secondary.
Individual tactics, more than any other level of tactics are extremely common sense. If the enemy doesn’t know you are there he’s not likely to shoot you. If he does know you’re there and is firing at you, he can’t hit you if there is something in the way that his bullets can’t go through, unless of course you stick your head up to shoot back. If you don’t stick your head up and shoot back he is going to move into a position where he can shoot around your cover or throw a grenade at you.
This is what it is all about and it is amazing how commonly people mess it up. Amateurs (like Rambo) will stand out in the open (believing they are bullet proof?) and try to mow down the opposition. What usually happens is that one of the bad guys takes aim from behind cover and ventilates the ‘hero.’
Some other common mistakes an amateur makes are taking cover behind something that does not stop bullets. Plywood does not stop bullets, neither do leaves and bushes. Leaning up against a wall is a bad thing too because bullets will ricochet off it and travel along the wall, about one to six inches parallel. Bullets do not ricochet off objects in perfect angles. Laying on concrete is not a good idea for this reason.
Another thing that amateurs do is keep sticking their head up to fire from the same spot. Eventually the enemy gets a chance to aim and when the amateur does get predictable and stick his head up again he gets shot because the enemy was waiting for him. A professional will vary his firing location and he will look around cover instead of over it because it is easier to silhouette yourself by looking over something.
It is never easy to figure out where the enemy is when he is shooting at you because nine out of ten times he is shooting from cover or concealment and you are trying to avoid getting hit rather than finding the enemy. A muzzle flash is not very visible in the light but at night it is a good indicator of where the enemy is. Bullets cannot be seen as they fly overhead, the human eye cannot track something that fast. Bullets do make a crack as they zip by because they are breaking the sound barrier. This crack can sometimes be mistake for the firing of the weapon. At longer ranges this can make things confusing because a crack can be made by shooting past a large hill. This makes the target thing the shot came from that hill.
It is very difficult to pinpoint one single shot (which is why snipers prefer firing only once) and the more shots the easier it is to figure out which direction the shooter is in.
Also, despite what most people see on the movies, bullets do not make cute little explosions when they hit something. If they don’t penetrate the object and leave a little hole, they ricochet, usually unpredictably. Although they lose much of their velocity when they hit an object and ricochet, they can still be very deadly.
The movies are usually pretty good about having the good guy leap behind cover made of dry wall and receive protection. Dry wall does not protect against bullets. A trailer, in a trailer park is unlikely to stop bullets, some of the furniture inside probably will but usually not the walls, floor or ceiling. Concrete stops bullets, along with heavy metal. The type of round is also important, an armor piercer will very likely go right through a car door which will stop a lesser round but an armor piercer will also punch a hole in the bad guy that is much smaller and less dangerous than another round.
Another important aspect of individual tactics is presenting as little a target to the enemy as possible. This is one reason for crouching, or laying prone. An amateur will show a lot more of his body than a pro when firing from cover. For instance, when a pro fires around the right side of a corner, he/she places his right foot at the corner and leans over, this presents a very small target area for the enemy. An amateur will step to the side exposing everything from his head to his foot. Ricochets make it easier to hit this type of amateur.
When an individual fires it is usually his intent to hit and kill the enemy. This is not done by ‘throwing bullets’ at him, aiming is the most effective way of hitting the enemy. Aiming is also best accomplished when the weapon is braced. Anyone who has handled a weapon and used the sights will have noticed that the sights don’t sit still on the target. Even something as little as breathing will cause the aimpoint to keep moving. This becomes even more important at longer ranges when the target is smaller.
Consider the size of everything. Bullets are very small, even a 30mm cannon round is small when you compare it with the area it is being shot at. Bullets do not home in on living targets, they go where they are aimed at and where gravity helps guide them to. This means that it is much easier to miss a target than hit it, unless the target is close enough to count pimples.
That is why professionals do not run and fire at the same time, even with a machine gun. If the weapon sight is wavering when the shooter is motionless and concentrating, it is going to waver a hundred times more dramatically when the shooter is moving. Even slowly walking forward and aiming it is difficult to keep the weapon aligned on a target at further than fifteen feet. Try aiming sometime with a toy gun and you will see how difficult it would be to hit a target at about fifty to sixty feet. Rifles are easier to aim and have a longer range, pistols are the worst and anything beyond twenty feet is usually a waste of ammunition. Pistols are good for close range where speed and ease of movement is important.
A pro is going to aim his weapon, even a machine gun, an amateur is going to spray and pray. Machine guns put out more rounds than a regular rifle, they are not more accurate. The advantage of a machine gun is that by firing a larger number of bullets at the enemy the shooter is more likely to hit OR force the enemy to take cover.
If the enemy takes cover he can’t fire back effectively because it takes time to aim, time he no longer has. Of course the spray and pray practitioner might get lucky but chances are he won’t. Spray and pray was the method preferred in Vietnam and thousands of bullets were expended to just get one single hit, and that was not always fatal. Explosives and shrapnel scored most of the kills.
Another reason a person will get in the prone, or behind something is because he/she can then brace his/her weapon and fire more accurately. Fox holes usually have the edge of the hole carved out to brace their weapon and expose as little of the shooter to the enemy as possible. Fox holes (or fighting positions as the Marines call them) are not just holes in the ground, when properly built they provide cover, concealment and a brace for their weapon so the shooter can kill the enemy with a minimum of personal danger.
Firing from the hip is also stupid, even firing a machine gun from the hip is something only an amateur will do. Some machine guns, however, have too much kick to fire from the shoulder and must be fired from the hip in an emergency. When Rambo mowed down all the bad guys with an M60 machine gun in one hand I realized that the producer had no clue as to what he was doing. Hip firing is not accurate at all and is a great way to waste ammo. The only way it might be accurate is if the gunner ‘walked’ his rounds into the target by observing where they hit and adjusting his hold. Walking rounds into a target is only effective if the shooter has all the time in the world and the target is not firing back. Machine guns come with bipods and tripods for this reason, they are not meant to be firing without being braced on something solid.
Moving under fire is also important. The shooter wants to get closer to this target because it is easier to hit him. Running across the open is stupid, the runner is a big target and very hard not to see. Running is fast however and is most effective when the individual has to cover a small distance. Crossing a long distance (like thirty or more feet) is suicide unless the individual’s buddies are keeping the bad guys from looking.
Zig-zagging is good when running toward the enemy and he is aiming at you, it only makes you move slower when you are running across his front. Zig-zagging can also be bad if you are zigging or zagging in front of a buddy behind you who is trying to provide covering fire, he might accidentally shoot you in the back.
It is always important to move unpredictably when the enemy is firing at you because he will try to anticipate your movement and aim at where you will be. Shooting at a moving target is not as easy as it sounds, especially at longer ranges, don’t forget the bullet is very small compared to the target area.
Another thing that is important about movement is the person should know where he is going before he moves and it shouldn’t be far away. Solid cover should be chosen before the person even gets up.
When a unit is on patrol people do not just blindly follow the person in front of them. Everyone has a job and everyone has a sector to cover. When an individual is on patrol it is in his better interest to assume that the enemy will start firing at him any moment. For that reason a professional will carry his weapon ready to be fired, and will continuously be looking for cover and concealment (in addition to looking for the enemy.)
Each person in a patrol is responsible for a certain arc that overlaps with another persons. Before the patrol everyone should know their area of responsibility because they will be responsible for watching that area for enemy activity. The pointman is not the only one looking for the enemy because an enemy patrol can stumble into the center of a patrol, and a point man can miss an enemy ambush.
There are three types of ready positions that a pro can use. One is the pro holds the weapon near his right shoulder and pointing down toward his left foot (but not AT his left foot) so he can bring it up, into his shoulder, quickly and fire accurately. Another ready position is to have the butt stock in or near the right arm pit and the weapon pointing off to the right of the right foot. Again this allows the shooter to bring his weapon up quickly into an accurate firing position. One variation of the first method, is the weapon is not brought into the shoulder but is placed near it against the chest, below the firer’s eye. This helps with accuracy and the shooter is trained to fire with both eyes open. The third method is to have the butt stock near the hip and the muzzle up near eye level. The trooper would then be looking over the muzzle and wherever he looked he would be looking over the muzzle. When he sights a target the muzzle juts forward at the enemy and the buttstock comes out and into the shooter’s shoulder. This method is best for urban combat because the shooter will most likely be firing over something and the muzzle is already over the object to be firing over. The disadvantage is the muzzle sticks out and can tip off the enemy if he see’s the muzzle coming around the corner, also the shooter is likely to fire high initially and it is always better to fire low (because of ricochets).
The first method is the best because it is quick, efficient and during long patrols, the easiest to maintain. The second method can be awkward for long periods of time. Another important factor when carrying a weapon in the ready is the finger is completely OFF the trigger. The other hand, holding the rifle, has the trigger finger pointing down the barrel. This helps because all the shooter has to do is point at his target with his finger and so will the barrel, this is a very helpful method because it is more natural for a person to point his finger at something than to point a weapon.
Professionals are also trained to point their weapon wherever they are looking. This makes accurate fire quicker, if you are looking at your squad leader, however, this is not a good thing.
In a potential firefight the weapons is kept in the shoulder and aimed slightly down (and the finger OFF the trigger) until a target is spotted and then the muzzle comes up, the thumb engages the safety (if not done already), and the finger pulls the trigger. It is usually better to bring the weapon up to the target instead of down because the shooter will be more likely to shoot low, remember ricochets can kill or scare the enemy, rounds passing by overhead are much less intimidating.
It may seem strange that a lot of emphasis is placed on keeping the finger off the trigger until the enemy is actually identified. This is to prevent friendly fire. It doesn’t take long to move the finger to the trigger and it gives the shooter a chance to identify his target. Someone who is scared may shoot movement before he can identify it, that fraction of a second might help him avoid shooting a friend. Also, if the shooter falls and his finger is on the trigger, he is very likely to accidentally fire and possibly injure himself or others. When getting up to move closer to the enemy the shooter takes his finger off the trigger for this reason.
An amateur on the other hand is likely to sling his rifle or carry it over his shoulder like a stick. He might even use it as a walking stick. He will aim it wherever simply because he has little or no respect for what it can do. A pro will NEVER aim his weapon at a friend, even accidentally, or put his hand over the muzzle, unlike an amateur who might do something stupid like use it to scratch his nose. When the firing starts an amateur will waste precious time changing his weapon from the carry to the fire position.
Also, while on patrol, a pro will try to keep a low profile, be as quiet as possible and move from cover to cover, always assuming the enemy is watching him and preparing to fire. Amateurs believe they are superior to the enemy and their superior skills or ideology will allow them to defeat the enemy, (or the are simply lazy). Amateurs will also take the easiest route, simply because they have not been fired at by the enemy in a while and are probably getting tired. This is what discipline is about. A highly disciplined warrior will do everything ‘by the book’ even when he is tired or believes contact with the enemy is unlikely. An amateur makes excuses for poor discipline, the pro may not like doing things by the book but does it anyway. A fire fight never really begins when a person expects it, now matter how keyed up a person is and that first shot fired is almost always a shocker. The transition from surprise to action is the difference between professionals and amateurs. An amateur will waste time trying to figure things out, a pro will be operating on instinct and training.
Something else that can has more importance in a real battle than a ‘Hollywood’ battle is ammunition. Firearms are hungry beasts and a magazine can be emptied rapidly. Machine guns are even worse. For example, the specs on an M249 squad automatic weapon say it can fire seven hundred and fifty rounds a minute, a belt of ammunition for it only has two hundred rounds. This does not take into consideration that after so many rounds the barrel will turn cherry red and literally begin to melt.
Sooner than later, the combatants are going to have to reload and when they do they will be vulnerable to a quick rush by the enemy. Professionals are trained to reload behind cover where the enemy can’t take his time and shoot them. One method used by pros is the last couple rounds in a magazine are tracer rounds. When he fires a couple tracers he knows he is almost empty. Keeping count of ammunition expended is not practical. When a person realizes he is about to run out of ammo he can always change magazines early. This keeps one round in the chamber of the weapon (for one emergency) and he doesn’t have to chamber another round. Revolvers are the worst when it comes to reloading. Several FBI agents were butchered in Florida when they had to reload their revolvers and their enemy attacked.