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In many ways, competition shooting techniques aren’t applicable to defensive gun use. For example, I find the distinct lack of “no shoot” targets deeply worrying. I believe a defensive shooter should re-assess their situation between drawing their firearm and pulling the trigger. With their finger off the trigger. It’s a debatable point. Some gun guys reckon if the gun’s coming out it’s hammer time. Period. But one thing we can all agree on: if the bad guy needs shooting, center mass your target. Which most people don’t, for all kinds of reasons . . .

Did you know that New York City cops have a hit rate of 17%? It’s entirely possible that your average Joe (or gangbanger) is a better marksman than the Boys in Blue when push comes to shove

Anyway, let’s lump all the psychological, tactical and physiological reasons defensive shooters miss their target under the heading “stress.” And work from the principle that “spray and pray” is the worst possible armed self-defense technique. Or, if you prefer, rapid point shooting without aiming.

S&P is, of course, wildly inaccurate and ineffective fire. UNLESS you’re standing VERY close to the bad guy. Which may well account for the superior lethality of many non-police DGUs (Defensive Gun Uses).

In any case, concentrating on the first shot is the best way to avoid this dangerous (for bystanders as well as shooters) adrenalin-fueled panic response. All you need to do: tell yourself that only the first shot is the only one that counts.

WHAT? Any member of our Armed Intelligentsia will tell you that this “one shot stop” idea is utter rubbish (Mike the Limey in particular).

Stopping a threat with a single bullet—even if it’s a notoriously lethal round like the .357 Magnum—is a highly improbable occurrence. Most humans need a lot of shooting before they’ll croak. You’re best advised to keep shooting until the threat stops. And even then, it takes a while for the bad guy to bleed out.

BUT if you believe that the first shot is the only one that counts, and program yourself to take your time to deliver it effectively, you’re more likely to deliver it effectively. Start as you mean to finish. It’s amazing what a single well-placed bullet can do.

I made this discovery as a D-List celebrity in the UK when I was invited on a Jay Leno-like chat show. I figured if I could walk to the couch in a calm, relaxed way, I could stay relaxed throughout the entire [three-minute] interview. Those first few steps were the key to what came afterwards.

On the other side of the equation, if your first steps are hurried, if that initial defensive shot is wild, you’re far more likely to continue to blow it. I MISSED! HOLY S4it! I MISSED! HE’S GOING TO KILL ME! The recoil and noise and panic are bound to put you in a negative feedback loop. The next rounds will be equally wild or wilder. And then . . . that’s it. Time’s up. No more bullets for you boyo.

If you slow down, draw your weapon and make sure your first shot hits the target, your confidence will increase. You’ll know that you’re taking effective action, and can continue to do so. Or stop shooting, as needs be.

Remember: time is slowing down in a DGU. You have WAY more time than you think you have. You CAN do this. Concentrate on your initial shot is the best way to make sure that all your shots are accurate—at a time when accuracy is likely to be the difference between life and death.

If I can get that first shot on target, I’ll be OK. If it’s a lie, it’s a damned good one.

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52 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Make the First Shot Count

  1. Personally when I’m shooting if I miss a shot I’m pretty much guaranteed to have it affect the rest of my shoots. I can imagine a similar effect in a defensive shooting.

    One principle the should guide shooters is that you cannot miss fast enough. I can miss the target 10,000 times a second but the guy who hit it with his only shot is still doing a lot better than I am. Hits count.

  2. Very good article.

    A point that was not made is about the ammo you carry around with you in your gun. I bought myself a 45. magnum revolver for just this reason.

    I like to keep my first two chambers loaded with PDX1 – 410.cal, that way if I do have to “pray & spray” I am much more likely to get some serious hits.

    I have shot quite a few of these very powerful rounds at different distances, indoors & outdoors and I must tell you that up close and personal these rounds have an awesome effect and good penetration. I have been able to to keep a 6″ grouping at 50 yards.

    These rounds have four 40. cal slugs stacked on top of 17 bee bees. within 10 feet I have been able to completely penetrate 1/2″ CDX plywood with only the bee bees getting stuck in the wood. At 50′ none would penetrate but still hitting center mass with 6″ groups and bee bee strikes few and far between.

    My 3rd 4th and 5th rounds are 45. cal longcolts, hollowpoints anywhere between 200 and 255 grains. I have never had any issues shooting these and the revolver handles these rounds like you were shooting 22’s.

    My 6th and last round is how this gun got it’s magnum handle. It is a 454 casull hollowpoint at 300 grain. If you have never fired one of these moose stopping rounds I strongly advise you to try them the next time you are at a range where you can rent guns.

    My everyday carry is a 45. raging judge magnum and I have fed right around 700 rounds through it and have had zero problems with mis-fires, ammo feed, or
    dry firing. I have tried every other handgun caliber out there and I chosse this one for it’s strength, durability, versitility in ammo loads, and the outright fear and awe this gun produces everytime it is fired.

      • You are the first and ONLY person that I have met that does not have something bad to say about these 410. rounds.

        Everyone else either tells me to go buy a real shotgun or it is a waste of money.
        Not one of the detractors have ever bothered to fire them or test them as I have in several different conditions and with different materials.

        I don’t care what your packing, if you do NOT know what the penetrating power of the bullets you are firing is, then you are risking your life on chance at the worst possible time to do so IMO.

        I do agree that your mind is the best weapon of all and problem solving, running gunfight senarioes, dry-fires, and muscle movement training are all critical skills to pratice as often as possible.

    • The .410-PDX ammo has proven to be an inefficient round with inadequate penetration & velocity (not just a “mythical” stopping-power guestimation) at anything over 9-10 yards (I’ll try to find the article). I would love to see a link or picture of your 6″ grouping at 50-yards. Not that I’m overly skeptical, but I’ve seen well-seasoned revolver shooters unable to hit an 8″ target at 25-yards consistently with the Judge shooting centerfire ammo (nevermind the PDX ammo!).

      The ability to chamber a .410-ga round requires the cylinder to be much longer than a 45LC (not a “magnum”, although an effective round nonetheless) or .454 Casull would normally require. This means the rounds are essentially rattling down the cylinder before finally hitting the rifling, resulting in diminshed velocity and accuracy.

      If you must carry a large revolver, you’d be better off carrying a .44-Magnum loaded with some hot .44SPL JSP or JHP ammo. The .410/.45 revolvers are best used for “snake defense” or range toys.

      • Next time I go to my outdoor I range I will take pictures, thank you that is excellent advice for the skeptical judge haters out there.

        I still have a good supply of shoot-n-see targets and the outdoor gunclub range I just joined has pre-measured sand-stop bullet traps so i will take a picture of that as well for verification.

        I am not working for the PDX1 ammo company and I get nothing for doing this other than the satisfaction of KNOWING what my gun & I am capable of doing.

        • For the record, I’m not a Judge hater – if I lived in the Southeast where snakes were a big problem, I’d probably have one around the house.

          In reality, that is all those shotgun-revolvers are good for. Even with PDX or 00-buck ammo, any defensive shooting at a distance greater than 10-yards isn’t effective (I use that term loosely, but still). Show me one ballistics gelatin test where the results were positive and I can guarantee that the tests were done at less than 10-feet. Granted, most DGU’s occur at “friendly” distances, but one could certainly do better than the .410 for defensive use (even with fancy, well-marketed ammo).

          Here are some resources – http://theboxotruth.com/docs/bot41.htm

          http://theboxotruth.com/docs/bot53.htm

          I don’t care what you use/carry, I was just sharing information. I hope neither of us ever have to use what we EDC.

        • I read your website and it’s arguments are weak at best.

          #1. it is NOT the revolver I was speaking about, I was talking about the Raging Judge Magnum not the regular judge.

          #2. The raging judge magnum takes the 3″ 410. PDX1 witch your guy did not even test fire!

          #3 he used cheap lead slugs and then trashed ALL 45. longcolt rounds for poor expansion and penetration without telling us what grain bullet he fired.

          #4 he cut down a 3″ shell by hand to use for a test?!? pretty lame.

          #5 the raging judge magnum gets the MAGNUM title because this gun can fire 454 casull rounds at 300 grains.

          #6 try shooting these rounds and then tell me how under-powered and only good for snakes my gun is.

  3. Accuracy first. In the end, it still boils down to hitting your target.

    Target discretion. Shot placement. Follow through.

    Personally, I dislike any kind of round that disperses.

    With a shotgun, yes… backed up by a pistol.

  4. Hmmm, in competition I find that my first shot is almost always an A zone hit. I’ve also found that when I hit D zone (or worse) that I can’t remember seeing the front sight on the target. The only time I don’t aim is on the super close range targets (3 feet or less), on those I punch the gun out and count holes in the A zone until I have enough and then move on.

    On reflection this could be one of those competition habits that will get you killed. You probably won’t be able to get good hit feedback when the target is wearing clothes. Hopefully I never end up in a gun fight where there are fifteen plus targets to neutralize.

    • “You probably won’t be able to get good hit feedback when the target is wearing clothes.”

      Your sight’s should give you all the feedback you need. Learning to call your shots is essential to take the guess work out of shooting.

    • “You probably won’t be able to get good hit feedback when the target is wearing clothes. “

      As they say when shooting plates in the army here: “Targets will fall when hit”. 😉

    • From the New York Times story “A Hail of Bullets” December 9, 2007:

      New York City police statistics show that simply hitting a target, let alone hitting it in a specific spot, is a difficult challenge. In 2006, in cases where police officers intentionally fired a gun at a person, they discharged 364 bullets and hit their target 103 times, for a hit rate of 28.3 percent, according to the department’s Firearms Discharge Report. The police shot and killed 13 people last year.

      In 2005, officers fired 472 times in the same circumstances, hitting their mark 82 times, for a 17.4 percent hit rate. They shot and killed nine people that year.

      If you want to know more about recent police shootings in The Big Apple, feast your eyes on this statistical analysis of 2010 from The New York Times.

      Here’s a link to the original, official report. Go to page eight: shots fired per incident. Also, check out page 33: 62% of officers who create a negligent discharge faced no disciplinary action (with another 29% “pending”).

      And providing factual substantiation for assertions isn’t feeding the trolls. It’s making the case.

    • I’ve shot next to several police officers from mulitple departments and I easily believe the 17% statistic. They weren’t ALL that bad a shot, but the majority of the ones I saw were well below what a layman like me might call acceptable. One reason I saw was that they tend to practice at 7 yards and shoot as fast as they possibly can (spray & pray). At 7 yards, I could empty my pistol and cover the hole with a half dollar (my eyes were MUCH better back in the day) but it might take me 10 seconds to fire off what they did in 2 seconds.

      • Doesn’t it depend on the shooting situation? At the range, at a fairly short distance, anybody can shoot well, percentage wise. But, in the field, with adrenalin pumping, it would naturally go way down.

        Maybe 17% is normal for a combat situation.

        • A recent article in the Mar/Apr 2012 issue of American Handgunner magazine highlighted the Unified Police dept of Salt Lake, Utah, and their training, their weapons and calibers used. They claim a 72% hit ratio in the field. Their officers have to qualify 4 times a year, and the dept ammo budget is approx. $170,000. So to answer your question, nope, 17% hits out in the real world would not be normal or good. Now this dept in Utah only has about 800 armed officers total from the P.D., the sherrif’s dept and from corrections, but they serve to protect over 1 million people. New York City has many thousands of police officers, so maybe the shear size difference between the 2 depts. is the reason. With 800, it’s fairly easy to weed out the unqualified, with 35 or 40 thousand, it’s probably a minor miracle to just each officer on a range once a year.
          OR
          Maybe NYC PD just doesn’t care about having the best possible training. I don’t know thw answer.

      • The 17% figure doesn’t surprise me, though even under stress I would expect to do better myself.
        I get to shoot handgun only during my two or three visits to the US each year, with four or five range sessions & maybe a Practical Pistol match thrown in each time – perhaps 1,000 rounds total handgun a year.
        I was surprised to find I often outscore some of the serving LEO’s who take part in the matches & them the ones who actually shoot more than the minimum qualification requirement too.

    • I have read several reports of cops having something like a 1 out of 7 or 1 out of 10 hit rate. The crooks have a 1 in 15 hit rate. Usually the distance is rather close as well.

  5. Our CCW instructor told us to make your first shot count, because the BG won’t being standing still for your follow up shots.

  6. Learn to point shoot.

    In a real emergency you might not be able to “find” your sights. Check out the sights on a WW2 1911. They’re smaller than the sights on a modern 642. Why? Because the fighters knew that they couldn’t use sights in close up, dire emergency situations where the pistol was most likely to be deployed. That’s not only a quirk of the 1911. A German soldier could put a WW2 Lugar pistol on target practically with his eyes closed. The sights were used at distance.

    Sights are for precision shooting, when there is time to calculate a shot or several shots. Self defense is more like CQC, when life is on the line and a response needs to be immediate. A wise shooter would practice both.

  7. Here’s the thing. It’s hard to hit a target when you are moving, the
    BG(s) are moving, and everyone is carrying deadly weapons.
    Armchair commandos are NOT practicing that at the range.

    Fire paintballs or Sim rounds against someone equally armed,
    and if you hit above 50%, you’re a professional liar or a defense
    attorney (or both).

  8. If you are involved in a DGU you have my deepest sympathy and wishes for a good result, cause no matter what, you are going to be a mess. I’ve said it before, there are aces and every other pilot. If you are an ace, you will be okay, probably. Train, prepare, practice, and be lucky, about the best shot that most of us (me too) will have.

  9. So is this an argument against a DA/SA automatic, since people tend not to practice the DA pull very much?

    Or does the DA/SA give you a psychological edge? You know in the back of your mind that the second shot will be easier, so your less likely to panic if the first one misses?

    • I don’t think trigger pull is much of an issue—unless it is. So I guess this is an argument against DA/SA, as the first shot needs to be the most accurate. Except for all the rest.

        • I’ve heard that is how to get to Carnegie Hall….. Wouldn’t that be wonderful place to have a shooting competition? Fans behind us, the firing line in the orchestra pit and the backstop on center stage? Ahhh, but I degress too far…

      • DA/SA allows for safe carry without a safety, and a light stroke for follow-up shots. To me, those light follow-up shots are an advantage over DAO, and keep in mind that my EDC is a DAO pistol. Still, Tom is correct. Practice. Then practice some more.

  10. I’ve been target shooting for over 60 years (mostly rifle rather than handgun, though). I was dubious about point shooting. In one of the training courses I took, the instructors insisted that I try point shooting for one of the exercises. To my great surprise, it worked very well. At close range (under 7 yards), I was able to get center-of-mass hits without using the sights. Yes, I still try to get a flash sight picture when I shoot, but I’m satisfied that under the appropriate circumstances, point shooting is a viable approach to hitting the target. Just take your time and get it right.

  11. “Any member of our Armed Intelligentsia will tell you that this “one shot stop” idea is utter rubbish (Mike the Limey in particular).”

    NOW what did I do? 🙂

    One shot might do the job BUT who wants to wait & see if that first COM hit worked?
    Not me.
    I’d want another two or three good hits to make sure the threat was removed – & NOT just because I like 9mms…….

    • Jeff Cooper said something to the effect that anyone worth shooting is worth shooting at least twice, hence the “double tap”.

  12. A big bore revolver can be a might slower to operate unless you train some, but there’s something to be said for a caliber like .454 Casull which will turn cover into concealment, amputate hands or feet, turn someone’s arms or legs inside out, AND BASICALLY TURN THE WHOLE SILOUETTE INTO A K-5 GAME ENDER SHOT.

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