Under Stress


Good grief! The article is due when? “Under stress” is dealing with something that causes worry or anxiety. I’m feeling the stress of inking this article (late) for our friends at American Handgunner. All the while, we have a record number of students again here at Gunsite Academy, risk mitigation, campus construction to the tune of about $2.5 million coming to a close, the 2024 Gunsite Training Calendar completion, all the normal administrative work of a CEO, selling our house in Prescott as we just completed construction of our new home at Gunsite and my 45th wedding anniversary is approaching. Stress? Don’t know what you mean.

In my prior life as a Jail Deputy, Patrol Deputy, SWAT guy, SWAT Commander, Firearms Instructor, candidate for Sheriff, Sheriff, husband, and dad, I experienced stress just as you do. Some manage it better than others. What’s the secret?

First and foremost, it really isn’t bourbon and cigars (or other pharmaceuticals or enhancers). Those are a nice retreat for relaxation, but not the answer. What I can offer is what I’ve picked up from learned mentors over the years that seems to have worked for me.

Mitigation Strategies

Planning as much as I can for events I can predict in the near and extended future seems to work for me. No one likes surprises, but they happen. If you have some idea of what’s coming up, it is less of a surprise and less of a stressor.

When others around me seem stressed about events, asking “Is anyone dead or anyone’s hair on fire?” The condition of your mind controls your readiness. Let’s keep the issues in perspective.

Paraphrasing Jeff Cooper in his Principles of Personal Defense book and in discussing his Color Code: Pre-planning or pre-thought of crisis behavior actions allows one to be in control.

Col. Dave Grossman (Ret.) in his books and lectures speaks of “Combat Breathing.” (Breathe in through your nose to a count of four. Hold it to a count of four. Exhale out through your mouth to a count of four. Pause for a count of four. Repeat as necessary.) I have used this in the back of the SWAT van heading into the breach and I’ve seen my guys do it as well. Struther Martin said as the “Captain” in Cool Hand Luke: “Luke, you’ve got to get your mind right.” (If you haven’t seen Cool Hand Luke, tear a corner off your Superman or Wonder Woman card.) Combat breathing helped me get my heart rate back to normal and most importantly back to clear thinking. If you can maintain your cool during a stressful event, it allows you to do what is necessary, including taking that precision shot if need be.


If we narrow this down to a potential fight, use the Color Code (White, Yellow, Orange and Red) to precondition your mind and readiness. There is less stress if you are not surprised and have preplanned things. How does one precondition the mind for possible events?

On patrol, after a traffic stop, my mind would think about what could have happened if things turned ugly. While standing in line at the local “stop and rob,” I ponder what is concealment and what is cover. Where are the exits? What options do I have should the place get robbed? Do you have a plan if you come home and find your place burglarized? Do you have a tornado or fire drill or home invasion plan? Do you drive defensively on the roadway, checking your mirrors and traffic? Poor planning leads to poor performance. You reduce your stress by pre-planning events so there is less surprise and decreased reaction time. Let the excitement come after the event has concluded.

We are not speaking of being paranoid or deluded. We simply recognize the world is not the place it once was, and we want to continue living in it unharmed.

What has worked for me during my 35-year LEO career and in my business career is similar to our “Make Ready” range command. Every day I “Make Ready.” Not by protecting my eyes and ears and checking my carry gun, (okay, I do that), but by mentally preparing myself for the day. Will this be “the day” when I face the demons?

We have a term at Gunsite: “Semper Gumby. Forever flexible.” If it is the day, I’ll not be surprised, and I will have some sort of a plan, execute it as best I can, and think on my feet. Don’t let the stress be the demon you face.

When the event is over, reports are submitted, the storm has passed, the fire is out, then it’s time for the bourbon and cigar.

Gunsite Academy is the world’s oldest and largest firearms training facility. Originally known as the American Pistol Institute, Gunsite Academy offers firearms training to elite military personnel, law enforcement officers and free citizens of the U.S. For more info: GunSite.com

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