Basic Breaching for the common man Part II (Ballistic & Windows)

Another awesome article.

Basic Breaching for the common man Part II (Ballistic & Windows).

In the second part of this series on breaching we will discuss the ever popular “Ballistic” or Shotgun breach, as well as some techniques for breaching windows. If you happen to miss part one please take the time to have a look at it as well.

Ballistic breaching

This is the technique that everyone is always so keen to learn about, because let’s be honest it’s damn sexy and just plain cool to shoot open a door with a shotgun. But we need to understand that ballistic breaching is not without hazards and thus is a technique where its risk to benefit must be weighed heavily. Let’s start by looking at some of the potential risks and relative benefits of this technique.

1)   Over penetration – This is something that depending on the situation is going to potentially have a profound impact. Specifically if there are friendlies or non-combatants on the other side of the door. However this is a risk that by technique and munition selection can be mitigated but not eliminated.

2)   Secondary fragmentation – What I’m talking about here is fragmentation to the breacher or other team members from the use of improper technique or just bad luck. It has been known to happen and although it is rarely serious even a minor injury could have a negative impact on the rest of the fight. Eye Pro, Eye Pro, Eye Pro!!….Seriously you need to wear it when breaching.

3)   Accidental discharge – I know it seems odd to point out specifically here as it is a risk with any weapon, however history has shown that this is more common with breaching guns then with other weapons systems. This is 100% a training and attention to detail issue, but never the less it happens, especially when breachers are transitioning between the shotgun and another weapon system.

4)   Gunfire – (I have this one straddling the line between risk & benefit) As soon as you fire that first breaching shot everyone and their mother knows you are there. This isn’t always a big deal, but it is something that needs to be considered. A second part to this is that breaching shots are still gunshots and can often escalate the entire situation if everyone doesn’t know that it was a breaching shot. This is sort of a double edge sword as well since this can often have somewhat of a “shock and awe” effect on the target or it can have the opposite effect and make them fight harder from the get go.

5)   Speed – Remember in part one were we talked about the 12 second breach window? Well when successful, ballistic breaching is very fast compared to most manual techniques.

6)   Ease – When we look comparatively at the amount of physical effort required to perform a manual breach vs. a ballistic breach; the shotgun is a lot easier.

7)   Weight & space – Where this is less of an issue to many in Law Enforcement, as they are not often conducting long infil and exfil movements to and from their targets. However for those of us in the military this is always in the forefront of our minds. It is also important to consider when there is potential to need to breach multiple doors on the target. It can be very cumbersome and sometimes impractical depending on manpower to carry heavier manual tools like a ram from room to room. Whereas the shotgun and several shells is pretty easy to carry along.

Shotguns and Accessories

Honestly virtually any shotgun will do, although a .410 would be a bit anemic for this application. But what I really want you to understand is that you don’t need to have a short barreled pistol grip shotgun. Although as a matter of convenience and mobility they are favorable.

Additionally you don’t need to have a muzzle standoff device; I pretty much hate those things. Once you have banged the sharp freaking teeth into your flesh enough times you learn to just remove them. As a matter of fact I have never personally seen a shotgun barrel explode from the muzzle being pressed into the door. Could it happen? Sure, but I have never seen it. Great marketing though…. and I freely admit they do look Bad Ass. In the end your basic tactical shotgun can be utilized for breaching just fine.Button light

A light can be quite useful to illuminate your target area. I’m not talking about the brighter than the sun tactical light either. What I like is a lower power blue LED button light simply taped to the forend; this gives enough light to work and yet not so much as to telegraph our position or blind me with the “backsplash”.



There are a few choices when it comes to munition selection for breaching, each having pluses and minuses.

  • Frangible breaching rounds – These come in several varieties from slugs to buckshot. With all of them having the benefit of transferring maximum energy into the problem and them disintegrating and thus reducing the risks of over penetration. However they are not something extremely common outside of Mil/LE organizations. Nor are they optimal for anti-personnel applications.
  • Buckshot – Yes normal standard issue lead buckshot. In this context being that we are talking about breaching for the common man, this would be my go to munition. For the simple fact that it is what is going to always be there.
  • Slugs – Standard 1 oz. lead slugs; again these have the advantage of being available and they can punch thru a heavy locking mechanism with authority. But the disadvantage of being very penetrating while retaining all of its mass. So if given the choice I would select lead buckshot over lead slugs in most situations.

In the end since we are talBreaching roundsking about in extremis situations in this series you will likely use whatever you have and virtually all of the aforementioned munitions are going to be employed similarly for breaching.






The Basic technique is pretty simple….To begin with I try whenever possible to avoid standing directly in front of the door while breaching. I say “try” because depending on the architecture this isn’t always possible. I know guys who teach to stand at an angle in front of the door with the shotgun in the shoulder. But I find this to be an unnecessary risk to the breacher in the event of pre-breach compromise. Just like we talked about with manual breaching security for the breacher is critical. However as the breacher at least while conducting a ballistic breach you have a firearm in hand.

1)   Place the muzzle of the shotgun into contact with the door halfway between the lock and the frame. (not over the door handle itself)

Ballistic wood
**For wooden doors a 45 degree angle down and towards the door frame works well and can help  to again mitigate some of the risk of over penetration. This also attacks both the lock and the door frame.

Ballistic metal
**For metal doors firing straight into the door and angled slightly down towards the floor prevents the metal from the door and frame twisting together and becoming fused.

The downward angle does two things; it reduces some of the over penetration risk and also gives space for the muzzle gasses to escape (thus no stand-off device)

2)   Fire 1-2 shots – Standard Army doctrine says two rounds per lock. Having said that I typically use my best judgment on whether to use one round or two. Admittedly this has burned me a few times where I fired one shot thought it was good and the follow-up mule kick didn’t open the door. This causes two things it slows the momentum of the assault and is pretty embarrassing. So when in doubt go for two. Once the shots are fired EMPLOY THE SAFETY.

3)   Kick the door – This forcefully delivered kick gets the door open and clear of any hanging debris. I prefer a back (mule) kick because it is a very strong kick even in confined spaces and it moves me in my direction of travel out of the way of the rest of the team entering so that I can transition my weapon and assume my position at the rear of the flow into the room.

Ballistic kick

HingesBallistic hinge

Sometimes there is benefit in attacking the hinges along with or in lieu of the locks. The principles remain very much the same although I always hit every hinge with two rounds. The most challenging part of targeting the hinges is estimating where they are located on an inward opening door. Typically they are positioned 8-10” from the top and bottom of the door and at around 36” for the center hinge.











Windows are another very  easy entry and egress point. Let’s face it most of them are made of glass and are easily broken. Unfortunately standard non-safety glass is also really sharp! So we need to not only break the window but get most of the glass out of the way. The way that we are going to do this is with a technique called a

“Break & Rake” so named because that is precisely what we are going to do; break the glass and then rake the frame clear.

Before we get too deeply into the weeds though let’s back-up a little and talk about some different types of windows and glass.

There are tons of different styles of windows and many types of glass as well.


Standard monolithic plate glass –this is the stuff that is most common in older residential structures the nice thing about it is that it is easy to break, the bad thing is it is sharp as hell when it does.

Insulated double plate glass – This is the type of windows being installed in most of the newer structures. Still pretty easy to break but understand that there is twice as much glass, and make sure you break both sheets before raking.

Tempered safety glass – This is the type of glass that when hit HARD! disintegrates into thousands of little squares. This is often found in commercial structures with glass doors, and large windows. The great thing about this type of glass is that it breaks pretty harmlessly into small pieces and has a low cut hazard. Unfortunately it is a bit tougher to break and requires point focused energy to do it. A spring loaded center punch works like magic on it.

Laminated Safety glass – Similar to the glass in your car windscreen, it is made of two sheets of glass with a polymer layer between them. This is not extremely common in buildings but it is out there. Along the same lines are new window films that are very tough. These types of windows a best broken around the edges with an axe (tomahawk) or broken thoroughly and then cut out with a sharp knife.

Wire mesh glass – This is the stuff found in many “secure” industrial buildings. And is made similar to laminated safety glass except that rather than a polymer liner between the two layers it is a steel wire mesh. This is also a pain in the neck to breach quickly; I have found that an axe or tomahawk works pretty well.

Plexiglas – Plaxiglas is sometimes found in structures and depending on how it is set into the frame can be quite difficult to breach. Generally it needs to be attacked with “The Irons” and pried out like an outward opening door. Not fast at all…..

So now that we have talked about some of the common types of glass let’s look at the windows. Firstly when we select a window as a breach or egress point we want to make sure that we select one that is large enough to get though quickly with whatever kit we happen to be wearing. That may mean breaking two windows along with the center span divider. **Don’t underestimate the strength of some of those center span dividers and use “P” for plenty in the force department.**  Additionally if the window is large and made of multiple small panes then you will need to break out the spanners, this can be simple or hard depending on what they are made of.

We also want to ensure that we select a window that we can easily reach, the ideal being one that is low enough to the ground to allow the assaulters to step into the room. Having to actually climb in through a window is both slow and hazardous. Sometimes if possible setting something on the ground to serve as a platform can be very helpful. Or if an upper window is selected then it would need to be accessed either by abseiling or with assault ladders however that is out of the realm of this article.

The Break & Rake

There are many tools or items that can be pressed into service to conduct a break & rake, I’ve seen guys successfully use the muzzle and barrel of their rifle, baseball bats, standard crowbars, or for an egress breach a chair can be used, and again the modified wrecking bar from part 1 works quite well. Cut resistant gloves and EYE PRO!! are essential pieces of safety equipment.

1)   Stand to the side of the window and grip the breacher bar firmly utilizing as much of its length as possible. Target the upper corner of the window with the most focused point of your tool. We attack the upper portion first so as to prevent large pieces of glass from falling onto us while clearing the bottom and by striking the corner it is actually easier to break safety glass than when striking the center due to flexing of the window. *TIP: Be aggressive! Everyone will laugh at you if you can’t even break a window*


2)   Once the initial break has been made, rotate the tool around the edge of the window frame to clear the remaining glass. If the window is made of several smaller panes then you will need to clear the spanners from them as well.

Break&rake 1

3)   For double casement (top and bottom) windows it may be necessary to clear each window individually and then breakout the center span.

Break&rake 2

Break&rake 3

**If there are curtains or blinds present, hook them with the end of the tool and rip them clear, if they can’t be ripped clear then hold them out of the way with the tool while the rest of the team makes entry.

That is brief look at just some of the techniques used to conduct a ballistic or a window breach. So keep in mind something Sonny Puzikas likes to say “There is more than one way to skin cat..”

Stand by for part III where we will talk about breaching of perimeter barriers such as fences and walls, as well as some “soft” entry techniques.


Sua Sponte is the nom de guerre of an active US Military serviceman who has spent many years in various assignents within the Special Operations comunity. And is the author of two titles availble from One Source Tactical

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Posted in Home Defense

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