Accuracy is something of a chimera: a mythical beast made from many parts. To be a really accurate shooter, you have to master your grip, stance, breathing and trigger control. You need excellent eyesight and top-notch hand-eye coordination. You have to have Zen-like affinity with your weapon, whose behavior varies according to its design, age, state of tune and the cartridge inserted therein. You have to be able to read—and adapt to—environmental conditions. A firm grasp of mathematics and ballistic theory doesn’t go amiss either (unless it makes you over-think your shot). And you need practice (i.e. money). And after all that, you still might suck . . .

As my father used to say, there’s no substitute for good genetics. A naturally talented shooter can pick up just about any gun and shoot tiny groups at ridiculous distances. And?

Being a naturally talented shooter is a bit like being well-hung. It’s nice and all, but, well, let’s just say that the old expression “it ain’t the meat it’s the motion” wasn’t created by size-challenged men.

In the same sense, I reckon a natural ability to shoot accurately isn’t as important as your ability to shoot under pressure. I’ve seen extremely accurate shooters fold from the simple stress of a friendly competition. Put them in a life-or-death situation, and I wouldn’t count on them for suppressing fire, never mind a take-down shot. I’ve also seen lousy shots who raised their game to Olympian heights the second it was game-on.

Of course, there are some lucky bastards who are both accurate and calm under pressure. And experienced. Who practice. A lot. I call these people “instructors”. Or, if you will, good instructors. I learn as much watching them shoot as shooting under their instruction.

As for accuracy, I’m reasonably confident I can remove my XD(m) 45 from my holster in short order and hit center mass on a human-sized target at distances up to about 20 feet whilst moving rapidly through a hostile environment.

I can land several shots in rapid succession AND know to save a few cartridges for exigent circumstances. Or decide NOT to shoot. Given enough time, I can shoot center mass at twice that distance with reasonable reliability.

I’m not a competition shooter. So that’s as accurate as I need to be. You?

24 Responses to Question of the Day: How Accurate Do You Need to Be?

  1. IMO – If you carry, you need to be able to hit what you’re aiming at. IE: “Minute of Bad Guy.” At what range? Well, that’s a different story, and more subjective. My personal feeling is that at 15 yards with a carry-gun, every shot should hit your target (notice: “hit” your target doesn’t mean A-zone only, just hit it.)

    Then again, if you’re aiming at a quarter.. you should be able to hit a quarter..

  2. I agree, for your average shooter carrying a firearm for personal protection, minute of bad guy is plenty accurate.

  3. RE minute of bad guy, that’s so true and so overlooked. You read hundreds of pistol “reviews” that get lost deep, deep in the thickets of accuracy navel-gazing territory.

    The fact is, just about any pistol you’ll buy is capable of more accuracy with average ammunition than the guy buying it. This even applies to little mouse guns like, for instance, a P3AT. When used right, by a shooter who has trained with it and uses good technique, it’ll be MORE than accurate enough to within a half a minute of bad guy. Which, after all, is all you really need out of a gun like that.

    • “Minute of Bad Guy” is simple – Hitting a man-size silhouette target ie: a “bad guy,” at a realistic shooting distance. Operating under the assumption that in a use of deadly force type scenario, you should be accurate enough to hit the target you’re aiming at (bad guy).

      It’s a play on the term “minute of angle” which refers to accuracy over distance that I believe Foghorn has explained in previous posts, and RF has posted a video about here http://thetruthaboutguns.com/2011/03/robert-farago/minutes-of-angle-explained/

      His / their explanation is great. For a not-so-great explanation, here’s a wiki entry – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minute_of_Angle

      • Thanks for the info Ben!

        However, that’s essentially answering the question “How accurate do I need to be?” by saying “Accurate enough to hit what you’re aiming at.”

        • “However, that’s essentially answering the question ‘How accurate do I need to be?’ by saying ‘Accurate enough to hit what you’re aiming at.'”

          That’s exactly the point :-). So many get lost in the weeds of “blowing out the 10 ring,” executing the perfect [gasp!.. here comes some non-PC terminology, MikeB to the rescue?!?] “Mozambique Triple-Tap,” etc. etc. that they lose sight of the (very well phrased) question above. – “How accurate do you NEED to be” (emphasis added).

          A carrying citizen who can’t hit the broad side of a barn at 15 feet does no-one any favors if they start shooting at something; in fact, like my high-school History teacher pointed out when facing Iraqi Artillery during Gulf War I, “it may have been better to be standing where they were aiming.”

          Be accurate enough that you will know (generally) where each shot with land. If one knows they can’t hit a man-sized target past 15 yards, then one has no business shooting at said target beyond that distance (except when practising to become a better marksman).

  4. Just had this conversation with a friend at work. It is one of those it depends on what the goal is answer. If you are a competitive shooter it means every shot in the ten ring at 100 yards. If you are hunting it is good enough to bring down your target with a single shot and that translates into a CEP of 3″ at 250 yards for a white tailed deer to 1″ for a coon 30′ away up in a tree limb. In a self defense situation the accuracy required is just hit the guy at whatever distance you engage him. He will turn tail and run if he can. In infantry combat you have to be accurate enough to make the guy go to ground at 250 yards and to disable him inside 100 yards.

    And Robert let me know how accurate you are when it’s for real and not on the range. I suck on the range but I have a 90+% kill rate on coons (you can never be 100%) and have pretty good single shot on a deer. I am a career REMF, although I do have 1 month of combat pay that passed through my bank account, so I have no idea how well I would do in a self defense or combat situation.

    • Roger that. Or not, I hope. I thought the article made it clear that it’s my best guess. No one can no for real until it is.

      • Those that I know who are experienced tell me that if you are an ace if you hit your target 30% of the time when it’s for real..

        • The 30% stat is definitely “ace” material (no sarcasm, I’m being serious). Adrenaline does funny things. [I do not claim to be one of those “experienced,” simply agreeing with the statement.]

          Here’s some outdated data supporting the “30%” thinking – http://www.nyclu.org/node/1756 . 2008 NY Civil Liberties Union Analysis of NYPD reported shootings involving officer’s discharge of a weapon.

          Their (relevant) findings summarized (copy / pasted) –

          > “The average number of bullets fired by each officer involved in a shooting remained about the same over those 11 years even with a switch to guns that hold more bullets — as did officers’ accuracy, roughly 34 percent. This figure is known in police parlance as the “hit ratio.” “

  5. An instructor once told our class about the rule of “3’s” (according to the FBI) in defensive shootings… 3 seconds, 3 feet, 3 rounds… a lot of defensive shootings are over in 3 seconds, at a range of 3 feet, with 3 rounds fired by the victim.

    Yeah, I can be that accurate.

    “Minute of Bad Guy.” I like it. 🙂 Well said.

  6. In an SD situation, if you’re consistently able to put lead into bad guy body when your life is on the line, that’s accurate enough. In a street mugging or rape attempt, that usually means at point blank range (I’ve never heard of a long-distance rape). In a home invasion, typically that means the length of the longest sight-line in your home. In other circumstances, the longest shot a defender will have to make is the shortest distance required to safely run away. Everything else is marksmanship.

    • Here here, Ralph! I second your post, and hereby move to establish it as the (un)official definition of “Minute of Bad Guy.” .. Do we have a TTAG dictionary yet??

      Minute of Bad Guy – [min-it uhv bad ghay] phrase, colloquial. a) The distance at which one is able to consistently put lead into bad guy body when one’s life is on the line. b) The minimum shooting-accuracy qualification for one who carries a firearm. c) The maximum distance at which one who responsibly carries a firearm will attempt use of force, the threshold between “fight” and “flight.” d) The definition and Internet posting which will surface in my future as I run for political office, be misconstrued and misrepresented, then be used to brand me as an insensitive, right-wing, radical nut-job.

  7. I’ve always believed that I need to be as accurate as the situation calls for, which could mean anything from center of mass to a small, moving, partially occluded target. The fact is that we don’t know what kind of situation we might be in when we suddenly have to use our firearm in self defense, so if all a person has ever trained for is “center of mass”, then they’re not going to be able to make a tight shot if that’s what is needed. Here’s a direct quote from Larry Vickers on the subject:

    The hope is that if you strive for a high degree of accuracy in your training that when your accuracy suffers in a gunfight, it will still be enough to get the job done. This approach has been used with great effectiveness in Tier One special operations units for years. I am a product of that school of thought, and I have trained a great many of these soldiers with that approach uppermost in my mind.

    Since Larry is former Special Forces and has tremendous civilian shooting accomplishments on top of everything he did in the military, I’d accept that his definition of accuracy is the one to go with.

  8. I am not sure how to read this. It appears contradictory. Is he talking about realistic training? (Train the way you fight. Fight the way you train) or is he talking about striving for the ten ring because when you are pumped up on adrenaline your CEP is going to increase. I think he is talking about realistic training.

    The definition of proper training varries from mission to mission. SOF guys are often fightening in a make every shot count environment while an infantryman is trying to pin down his opponent as far away as possible and then call down indirect fire on him because Mortars/Artilliery are the real killers on the battlefield. Police and citizens engaging in self defense are more like SOF then infantry in their accuracy requirements.

    Small game and medium game hunters are like target shooters except the “ten ring” is the area where the shot brings down the animal. Even so the adrenaline is often pumping and that shot can be pretty hard to make. If you are hunting grizzly or Kodiak bears then its a combination of target shooting and self defense because if you miss the lethal area you get eaten.

    • What he’s saying is that under stress your accuracy will degrade. His solution for that is to train to be a more accurate shooter, because if you’re a very accurate shooter, when your accuracy degrades it won’t be as bad as the guy who’s only ever trained to shoot “minute of badguy”.

  9. I own a mosin nagant military surplus rifle .30 cal. One of my main reasons for buying this rifle, (other than price – $89.95), was for home defense. I also enjoy target shooting, and plan to try it out someday for deer hunting. When choosing a gun for home defense, I wanted the most powerfull gun I could afford to buy. Assuming my first shot is a hit, (preferably center mass), I want my target DOWN!, or at least out of the game, so to speak. I’m comfortable with the gun, and reasonably accurate with it, even though I only shoot at an indoor range, at paper targets, at 25 yards. If I miss my target with the mosin, maybe just the BOOM from this gun will scare someone enough to run for the hills! I feel the most important thing about gun defense is shooting a gun you’re comfortable and familiar with, and practice, practice, practice.

  10. My rifles need to shoot 1” or better three shot groups @ 100 yds and my pistols need to shoot 4” or better @ 25 yds. I’ve never grouped any of my shotguns but judging by how I crush Pheasant roosters, anyone within 40 yds would get dropped like a sack of potatoes.

  11. Glenn, I hope you don’t live in a partment, because over penetration would be a given with the M-N. Also, keep your hearing protection with the rifle so you can don it when picking up the gun. I have not shot a M-N in the house, but I have no doubt that after doing so tinnitus would be about all you could hear afterwards. You don’t say what model, but the only one I know of that doesn’t come with a bayonet is the M38. A bayonet charge may be the best way to use it for HD.

    • Overpenetration is only a concern, if I miss my target. In a life or death situation involving myself and/or my family, I want the biggest gun I can comfortably handle and shoot reasonably well. Temporary hearing loss? – I’ll accept that if it means saving an innocent life.

  12. Ive always said to myself. “At least I can hit the paper”. I use a 12×12 sized piece of paper for my practice shooting.
    Regardless of the gun if it is one of my carry guns. At 10 yards or so. I can hit paper 100% of the time. In rapid or double tap mode.
    Im no sharp shooter but Im fairly confident. And proficient enough. With any of my 380s through 45s. I can under stress hit paper. I honestly don’t remember the last time with a defense gun Ive shot at 25 yards. In a self defense situation. I don’t believe there would be for me a justifiable reason to take a shot at that distance. Not saying it cant happen just dont feel it ever will.
    Now with my 22 target pistols. 25 yards is nothing. Most of my 22 pistol shooting is at 75 – 100 yards
    On any given day. 2-4 inch groups all day long dependent on the gun used. I end the day by shooting at 410 shot guns shells on the fence post. If anyone cares my main 22s are a Ruger 6 inch slabside with a Tasco red dot. My most accurate handgun period is a 45 year old Model 41 S&W with a 7.5 inch compensated barrel and a Tasco red dot.

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