By Cliff Heseltine
I recently received an e-mail blast from another gun blog that shall remain un-named. It’s one that loves to end their posts with the supposed bona fides of their writers, the idea being that you should just accept what they’ve written as gospel because of the credentials of the author. The subject of that post is not really relevant, but this wasn’t the first time I had read one of these “authoritative” sources and just wondered, WTF? The concept, as presented, just seemed full of logical holes or conceptual errors . . .
Just for the record, I have had military training, served 6½ years as a medic and spent a good deal of time reading about this subject. But I’m not a certified trainer, ex-Special Forces, law enforcement, nor an “operator” by any stretch. What I am is a reasonably intelligent person who tends to look at things “experts” profess and consider them from a layman’s perspective as to their logic and utility. The point of this article is not to try to give you some sort of authoritative pronouncement on how you should think or train, but to promote the idea of considering alternate choices to some dogmas . . .
The concepts here are mine alone and my hope is that they will open a dialogue on the topic of discussing and dissecting training concepts rather than simply accepting them based on the supposed credentials of the trainer.
As a general example; in reading about firearms techniques and undergoing training, we constantly hear the refrain, “Always aim for center of mass!” This adage is especially emphasized in regards to pistols and almost every legitimate and credentialed instructor will use the same or similar silhouette. He or she will tell students how in a stress situation they may need to sacrifice precision and simply try to place their shots in the center of mass of their intended target, indicated by the “X” just slightly right of where the heart would be. Good hits to this six- or eight-inch diameter area are generally guaranteed to impact the heart or the major blood vessels or, with enough penetration, the spine.
They usually go on to explain how pistol calibers aren’t reliably effective and you have to expect to put multiple rounds on target and even then your opponent may not succumb immediately and may remain a significant threat. The size and power of the pistol caliber in question obviously changes that equation, but doesn’t ensure that even a solid hit will immediately stop any aggressive retaliation from a large assailant who may be under the effects of alcohol or stimulant drugs and almost certainly of adrenalin.
So other than actually increasing the odds of getting a hit somewhere on your target, what is the utility of aiming for the center of mass if it may not reliably stop the threat? Yes, I understand that good hits CoM will probably disable the threat eventually, but is “eventually” really the goal in a self-defense scenario? Isn’t the main consideration stopping the threat as quickly and efficiently as possible? No one is scoring you on points here, results are the only thing that matter.
So here’s what I contend – my opinion only – and I welcome discussion either pro or con:
Get off that damned “X”! Paper targets do not shoot back. Paper targets do not fall down. Paper targets do not scream or bleed or curse your mother. The “X” on the center of mass of that paper target is an ideal based on a statistical likelihood of hitting the guy somewhere if you aim at the center and miss. The “X” is the mathematical center of the stylized body mass of your opponent, NOT the ideal place to put a shot that will stop the threat. This is not, by the way, a caliber wars discussion since I’m pretty sure that a .45 ACP or a .357/.44 magnum center hit on the sternum will be extremely effective, but the point of usual training is that the “X” is ideal, but you will probably not hit it, regardless of the mouse gun or cannon you are carrying.
Since we know statistically that given prompt medical attention a significant percentage of pistol wounds to the body are not fatal, it would appear that the majority of Center of Mass shots hit lungs or the abdomen or other areas that are not immediately fatal or even incapacitating. With smaller calibers even hits directly on the heart may not stop a Bad Guy’s return fire for a minute or even longer before he bleeds out. The same applies for any of the major blood vessels running down in front of the spine. An overweight or heavily dressed target causing penetration issues only increases the problem.
My suggestion if you want to maximize the probability of an incapacitating shot is to move the “X” down from the sternum to just below the belly button.
It would seem to me that prompt incapacitation is more important than a kill shot, especially when kill shots are so notoriously difficult to accomplish and may not be immediately effective. I suggest to train to aim “Low Center” where there is still plenty of mass, but a whole lot more physiology that will be quickly incapacitating if hit by even a medium caliber pistol round.
For example, the lower abdomen contains organs that if hit would eventually cause the BG to bleed out. On the other hand, having worked as a medic, I can tell you that a solid hit to the pelvis or a hip joint will almost certainly put your opponent on the floor almost immediately, regardless of chemical performance enhancers or pain inhibiters. He cannot remain standing if the mechanics of the pelvis and hip are no longer intact. And any sort of hit to a man’s genital area will almost certainly divert his attention from offense to pure defense in a heartbeat.
If you hit low of your intended area the thighs contain the massive femurs without which a man cannot remain standing and a hit on the femoral artery will result in unconsciousness within minutes and death shortly thereafter if a tourniquet is not applied.
If you hit high you have the same effect as if you hit low on a Center of Mass aim point. Unless your bullet severs the spine an abdominal shot will be painful but not a guaranteed stop. The odds are good your BG will keep shooting, maybe even keep walking or running towards you.
So there’s my opinion. Aim at the guy’s balls. As a man I can tell you that even the toughest thug will find that VERY intimidating. Put your mental “X” just below his belly button. A hit in this 6-inch target area is likely to at the very least knock him to the floor in extreme pain, giving you a significant tactical advantage. A hit wide to either side and/or low will still have a high probability of hitting major bones or blood vessels that will stop the fight in short order.
If you know anything about anatomy at all you will see that a Low Center “X” gives you many more important targets from the center line and out 10 or 12 inches on either side, whereas with the Center Mass “X” contains only the heart, blood vessels to the heart, and the spine located in a small 6 to 8 inch target area and except for the deep penetration spine hit cannot promise to stop the attack.
It is imperative that we think about the training available rather than simply accept it as gospel. I welcome discussion of this idea and any critique you may have of other training concepts you have encountered.