I went shooting with an old high school acquaintance. The guy’s a born marksman. His first time shooting the Performance Center Smith & Wesson 686, he stacked three shots on top of each other at ten yards. He compensated. The next one was to the left of the bull. The next one to the right of that. The last one hit dead center. And then we talked about and practiced self-defense shooting. “What do you do after the bad guy’s down?” he asked me. “Do you shoot him again?” Is he in your house? Where are you? Where are the kids? Is he holding a weapon? Have you scanned for other threats? Can you see? What’s your wife doing? How many bullets do you have left? Do you even know? It struck me that marksmanship is a relatively minor—if mission critical—part of armed self-defense. And if it is, the bad guy’s not going to stand still with his shoulders square onto you. So . . . how important is target practice anyway?

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11 Responses to Question of the Day: How Important is Marksmanship for Self-Defense?

  1. The ability to hit your target is of critical importance. If you know that you can hit a 6 inch circle every time at 25 yards, you won’t hesitate when you have to shoot. Since most shots are taken at much less difficult targets, you’ll have enough reserve skill left over to make you confident. If you see a target and question your ability to hit it, you won’t shoot when you should. Who’ll die because you didn’t train hard enough to be confident?

    • Hmm, I don’t know. I think in many ways the exact opposite is true.

      I mean I completely agree that you should train as much as possible. But the training shouldn’t make you more likely to shoot; rather it should make you much more aware of when to shoot.

      Luckily I have never been in a situation where I had to find out for myself, as in my many years of CC I only ever had to draw my weapon once, and it was enough to completely diffuse the situation but this isn’t about that. But my understanding from reading about real life incidents and talking to people who have been there, is that most people once they have decided to discharge their gun tend to do it too soon, most often to their detriment. In other words first you decide to fight or flight, then in most cases those who decided to fight and had a weapon started the fight right away. In some cases this was way too soon.

      Let me explain, with a fabricated extreme example. Bad Guy comes to Joe Guns house, and from the woods starts shooting rounds into the air and yelling for Joe to show himself. Joe first has to decide if he is going to fight or flight. Joe decides running is not an option here due to his family, so he goes to fight and grabs his handy sidearm and starts scanning the woods from an open window. Joe thinks he sees Bad Guy … So let’s break here and analyze. Now, I would propose that many people without training in high stress situations would at this point open fire on what they think is bad guy. This in my humble opinion is bad. What if it is your neighbor or sneaking up on bad guy? What if it is Bad Guy but he is behind a tree? What if it is just a bush? Obviously if it is neighbor, you are in a heap of trouble. In the other cases, you have now just successfully given Bad Guy exactly what he wants, your exact location. Bad Guy knows it is you and knows right where you are at this point (and you are probably blind from the muzzle flash) and so bad guy is about to fire on your position. You have successfully wasted ammo, temporarily handicapped yourself (remember the muzzle flash), and given away the tactical advantage of a concealed position. The right thing to do would have been to wait for Bad Guy to make the mistake, either by approaching the house and thus leaving the woods, or by firing another round into the air as he has already shown himself willing to do, or even by just giving up and leaving the area.

      I would think training would teach you this, or at least hope it would. But it takes more than just shooting paper targets from a stall in an indoor range once a week. You have to try firing at night (4th of July every year my neighbors and I do this, because we figure it won’t add any extra burden on the neighbors not involved) so you can realize just what your gun is going to do to your night vision. You also have to work on keeping the presence of mind in high stress situations to not just shoot at the first thing you see. Working on marksmanship does help though because it should give you an indication of if you are capable of hitting the target, and if not you are more often better of waiting for a better opportunity to hit the target than just tossing lead indiscriminately.

  2. You hit the nail on the head with, “.. marksmanship is a relatively minor—if mission critical—part of armed self-defense.” In those rare instances where you need to shoot, it is everything. Up until that point, avoidance, posturing, issuing commands, and taking the high ground are much more critical skills that should also be practiced. That is the difference between the narrow task of shooting/killing and the much broader task of protecting/defending.

  3. We can practice marksmanship or we can spray and pray. Personally, I figure that the Almighty has better things to do than guiding my shots, so I practice.

  4. If you can’t hit what you’re shooting at your screwed. Your first two shots are the most important because the badguy will be trying to avoid every shot after that. I’ve made it a habit to count every single shot so that habit will hopefully be embedded in my mind if I ever did have a shootout. I’ve seen many of the people at the range lose track of how many shots they’ve fired, and it’s easy to tell when they do because they squeeze the triggier and they seem surprised when nothing happens. Dirty Harry always knew how many shots he fired, but he enjoyed yanking the badguys chain by asking that now famous question.

    • I don’t count. I do know when my gun is empty though. The Glock .40 I shoot and my long gun both make sounds (or don’t make I should say) that I take as the empty queue. But that’s just me. Counting is a practice being worked on.

  5. As the saying goes, “You can’t miss fast enough to win a gunfight.” Avoidance, deterrence, and deescalation are arguably more important, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call marksmanship “relatively minor”. Remember that fine motor skills go out the window when the adrenaline kicks in, so you need to practice enough that hitting what you aim at is practically a reflex.

    • “Remember that fine motor skills go out the window when the adrenaline kicks in, so you need to practice enough that hitting what you aim at is practically a reflex.”

      Exactly. Train your muscle memory and even if your brain shuts down in a time of crisis your body will still move instinctively to help you.

  6. My “vote” goes to: “get skilled enough to consistently hit torso-sized targets out to 25 yards with your handgun, and mix in a good point shooting class every now and then.”

  7. If you want to improve your marksmanship skills, buy a .22 and plink for hour upon hour. Self defense is learned by plan, practice, practice, practice. Based on experience, when someone tries to pound in your front door, your mental capacity is primary to your ability to line up your target, squeeze the trigger between heartbeats and maintain a close group. Marksmanship is key, but mental preparedness will dictate how well you execute your marksmanship skills.

  8. A lot of successful defense stories that I read of involve one shot fired and it misses.

    More important than being able to hit your target is being able to not hit anyone else.

    Generally the threat will either leave or possibly approach closer making it easier to get a hit.

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