K5 target

The other day I did something I haven’t done a long time: I shot my everyday carry gun. OMG did I suck! My target looked like swiss cheese. So I went back to basics. I loaded a single round at a time, brought the target in to five yards, turned the paper to the blank side, concentrated on my form and breathing, and tried to stack my rounds on top of each other. I eventually succeeded, shooting slowfire.

desantis blue logo no back 4 smallAnd that, my friends, is the key to accuracy. Slowing down. Focusing. Which is relatively easy (though not easy per se) at a gun range…shooting at a glacial pace. Out in the real world, in the middle of a life-or-death situation with an adrenaline dump turning fingers to flippers, not so much. Which is why it’s almost always best to aim for center mass. And stay calm. If you can . . .

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem If offers a complete list of requirements to be “a man.” But it’s the first one that concerns us here: keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs.” How do you do that in a defensive gun use? Three considerations . . .

1. Genetics

Fight, flight or freeze. I believe we’re genetically wired with a predisposition towards one of these reactions in a life-or-death situation. I’m not sure practice can change that instinctive pattern. And if it can, how much of an improvement it creates.

2. Force-on-force

Other than actual combat, force-on-force training is the best stress innoculation available to armed Americans. If familiarizes you with your physical and emotional reactions and gives you a realistic idea of your gunfighting skills under duress. And improves them.

3. Mental training

As a former hypnotist with ten year’s practical experience, I have a pretty good understanding of the subconscious mind. While I’m not a big believer in self-hypnosis, I’m familiar with the benefits of visualization. I do it whenever I enter a new environment, checking out my potential responses to danger.

What’s your take on this? How do you perform under high stress? Do you do anything to improve or at least maintain that performance?

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61 Responses to DeSantis Gunhide Question of the Day: How Do You Keep Your Head When All About You Are Losing Theirs?

  1. The SSRI I take seems to limit the amount of fear (or any other emotion) I feel. I spun out on an icy expressway in my tiny little car last winter and had two semis swerve to each side of me and my heart rate hardly went up. It also helped keep me calm sailing a small boat in tropical storm conditions, even as I kept having things on the boat break or otherwise fail. I am not recommending SSRIs for anything but rather just answering the question.

  2. On the first I believe genetics has very little to do with it. Response it trained. In the military, specifically boot camp, you are torn down and rebuilt to do what your commanded to regardless of your flight or fight instinct. As for force on force training, it is good to have it, but not essential. I also think the third, the mental aspect, is also more a part of my response to your first posit.

    • Ask Dick Winters about Genetics and his desperate need for “killers” in the the 101st.

      Training is a requirement, but genetics makes some men better than others.

      • There’s no doubt that genetics helps. However, I also believe that response is trained. There was a video by LindyBeige on youtube going over combat statistics. Evidently, in WWII, only about 3% or so of front line troops shot at specific enemies. Only about 40% of people shot in the enemy’s general direction. In order to overcome this, the military designed new trainings to overcome people’s natural tendency to not harm a fellow human being. In the Persian Gulf War, something like 97% of troops actually shot at people.

        After looking over British Victoria Cross recipients, there was one common factor among the vast majority of the VC recipients, they were the oldest brother of their family. He believes that these people have had responsibility to look over their younger siblings all their lives and this normal behavior also became the norm in their new military unit. Seeing their surrogate siblings being cut down, they would rush into action to save them, resulting in heroics worthy of their awards.

        • LindyBeige’s (Lloyd’s) stuff is great. I also liked that video he produced covering research Marshall had ordered regarding firing rates in combat. It’s nice that he’s sponsored now.

          A great book on this is “On Killing” by COL Dave Grossman. Highly recommend both that book and his book “On Combat”.

      • Agreed. Jesse Owens put the lie to hitlers master race bs before the first shots of that war were fired.

        Genetics is probably more important on a case by case study than as a group thing.

      • Genetic potential matters. Whether one puts it to use is a completely separate kettle of fish.

        Geneticists know this, and have for decades. The info is readily available, but there is no way in hell any one would publish in a major journal, nor would a journal touch it with a ten-foot pole. Read the white papers, go to the conferences.

        Training will not make someone of average intellect ever able to do particle physics, it will never make a short-legged person into a world-class marathon runner, it will never turn average people into top-of-the-field competitive weightlifters, shooters, be fighter pilots, or any other dozens of physical/intellectual activities that your genetics play a deciding part in whether you’re “ok”, or actually good.

        What’s important is that people aren’t ever prevented from pursuing whatever, solely because of their genetic tendencies. There are golfers of all flavors, there’s still a few token whites and and Asian or two in the NBA, occasionally a white person wins a marathon, there are blacks in STM fields (‘Education’ doesn’t count – they’d give a PhD to a rabbit if it paid the tuition), the list of exceptions goes on. But the fact remains, the average is still the average for a reason, the way we’re hardwired.

        The problem is at this point many in society will try to make the inherent genetic differences of ability into something they aren’t – and that’s why the world of science is desperately avoiding publicly acknowledging it.

  3. Good reminder that none of us are above training.
    And that training is only as effective when it is practiced through repetition to build muscle memory and it must be kept current.
    Shooting skill is perishable and has a short half life.

    • I don’t know about that. I went 10 years without firing a rifle over 50M. Last year I went to a friend’s 4th of July party, picked up a rifle I’d never even seen, two shots to hit a tennis ball-sized binary at 300M. Used Mosins I’d never fired, beer can with iron sights at 100M, 3 for 3. My fellow shooters also were decades away from even annual practice, they did similar.

      I’m no Jerry Miculek. I shot a lot as a kid, but that was almost 4 decades ago. Pistol in a defensive situation? Sure, practice, practice, practice. Rifle for a carefully chosen target? If you throw me the rifle and it’s accurately sighted in, I’ll be fine hitting minute of anything realistic within the limits of the weapon, the optics, and the surroundings. Most folks that are shooters will. That I’ve ever met anyway.

  4. I have no idea how I’m wired… nor do I have much force on force experience(1 DGU situation a number of years ago).

    In the moment, I was strangely calm, and aware of the every detail of the environment around me. Its amazing how fast your brain can evaluate things under those circumstances. , 20 minutes later, I was a mess of tremors trying not to vomit(coming down from addrenilin?).

    It was an awful experience, and I’m doing my part the best I can to help make sure it never happens again. I sure don’t want it to.

    • After it’s over the shakes are something I expect. Exhausted and shivering like a dog shitting a peach pit.

      But while it’s happening. I’ve been described by people that were there as being “machine like”.

      • Have you considered my blog idea further Cali-Zim? Daily stories about race and DGU’s and all around bad-azzery.

        • Potato, have you considered getting help before it’s too late? The only bad ass around here is that voice in your mind. And just like adam lanza you keep listening to it and it will not end well. Trolling is a recognised sign of mental illness.

          matt or totenglocke? or one and the same?

    • Thanks for that honest feedback on your personal DGU experience. I think anyone who carries wonders how they will react if their time comes.

  5. It is quite simple.
    If you would keep your head
    When others around you are losing theirs,
    Then you must be the one
    Who holds the axe.

  6. Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.

  7. Shooting skills do need a regular checkup. No substitute for range time, but I also find dry fire to be very valuable for reminding myself about grip, trigger control, stance, etc.

    When time or budget don’t allow for more formal “hands on” training opportunities, visualization can prove very helpful. I often do this, running through scenarios in my mind during quiet times (the “what ifs” of a carjacking, parking lot confrontation, etc) so that if some day things do go south, there will be parts of my brain that feel as if they have already been through that situation. And that includes thinking about my reactions and next steps if I get sucker punched, or shot, or stabbed. Already having visualized taking that hit and moving on to an aggressive response to stop the threat, or assessing your best chance for escape, might help avoid the “holy crap I’m shot” freeze that could be disastrous.

  8. I don’t get all bent out of shape until the doing is done. I once put out a man whose clothes, hair and skin was on fire. I really didn’t remember much about it after, but I was told that I did all the right things. During another “challenge,” I was completely controlled. Hours afterwards, when the adrenaline was flushed out, I wasn’t nervous but I was ravenously hungry. I inhaled two large pizzas with everything and chugged a couple of six packs.

    I think that my instinct is to take control during action situations and I like to attack. I’m not so composed in situations where control is impossible, like when my (ex) wife needed surgery.

    • During bad stuff I’ve always just kind of gone on auto pilot. If I’m responding to a bad situation I get a little butterflies on the way there, but once I arrive or if it breaks out in front of me I don’t feel any emotion really, just do what has to be done. Like you, a lot of times I don’t even remember doing it, but judging by the result it turned out ok.

      Afterwards, I get really tired and slightly loopy, and like you said, hungry as crap. I’ll take that over panic any day though.

      • It seem that you and I have very similar wiring. You reminded me of how tired and “loopy” I felt after some, uh, exciting episodes. I felt like I had no blood sugar at all. It was weird.

        I know that some guys have no emotional reaction before, during or after an event — but then they can be stricken with PTSD, sometimes months or years later.

        I think we’re lucky.

    • This is, IME, a profoundly personal thing.

      Personally I nothing really bothers me. Violence, blood and guts… whatever it just is what it is. Just like rolling in BJJ or sparring in Karate my brain just kind of shuts off and I do what I do without really thinking about it. Instead of tunnel vision I see more than usual and can recall extremely fine detail afterwords. Some might say it’s a Zen state.

      When it’s over I pretty much return to normal but I’m thirsty and want a liter or so of water. No shaking, nothing. If anything, what bothers me about some of the stuff I’ve seen and done, is that it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s like I look at the reactions of others and think I’m not quite right because I don’t have that reaction. Instead I’m quite clinical about it, especially when describing it. This has led to numerous people remarking that I’m an uncaring asshole.

      • Welcome to the uncaring assholes club. I get that a lot, even when I’m helping out to the best of my ability.
        This poem is toughest at the end. “yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.”. That’s really difficult, esp. if you are at black belt level in a room full of light belts. Almost anything you say or do will either be idolized, or taken as showing off…
        But the controlling of the emotions and the “adrenaline dump” must start with controlling the body. Without that, there is nothing. Breathe slowly and correctly, from the diaphragm, and in through the nose, out through the mouth. Once one’s breathing is under control, one will find that their body and mind are also.
        Its too bad that so very few are interested in learning the technique. Most seem to prefer to think of it as impossible, thus no need for any effort in that direction…

      • I never watch the Humane Society ads, too depressing. I have crawled into the cab of an overturned semi, torniquetted an arterial bleed from a motorcycle accident, gone into a burning building for someone, prevented a girl from drowning in a lake, had someone holding a gun from 0-4″ of my cranium 3 times, and some other stuff. I have been fortunate enough to lead an interesting life, as the Chinese curse says….

        So what? The logic and rational thing kick in for me. It’s a problem, that needs to be solved right now. Which I find an interesting challenge. Afterward, meh. I feel good that I solved a problem that most other folks couldn’t because they’d freak out. Perhaps that’s my mental reward.

  9. I just keep it. I certainly wasn’t cool and calm when I was a kid.
    I guess knowing “shite happens” helps. Also having stints as an entertainer/outside sales and an antique dealer helps. Improvisation helps. I wouldn’t overcomplicate or “zen” it up…

  10. I find that a little auto-hypnosis works wonders. I personally am a big fan of Kipling so he features heavily in switching my brain from “day to day” to “combat mode”. It’s a lot easier to train in with some sort of feedback device. When I first learned the trick, I was hooked up to an EKG and EEG. It’s amazing how precisely you can learn to control your autonomic processes when you have real time feedback as to what is going on with your body. In all honesty, even a simple heart rate monitor is often enough to get you some measure of control over your fight or flight instincts.

    My uncle claims that he can actually will himself to get an adrenaline dump under the right circumstances. I’m nowhere near that good since I haven’t practiced in over a decade, but most of the focusing techniques are difficult to completely forget.

  11. I believe three factors are paramount for an effective response to a stressful situation:
    (1) training
    (2) ability (having effective methods and tools)
    (3) stress inoculation (as Mr. Farago stated)

    If you have not trained, you will greatly increase your stress level trying to process the situation and decide what to do. If you have already trained, you already know what to do (for the most part) … that decreases your stress level.

    If you have ability — effective skills, methods, and tools — you will be a lot more calm and confident and you will not have to figure out how to improvise with what is on hand … which reduces your stress level.

    Finally, even though those previous factors have minimized your stress level, it is still going to be high. Training through stressful situations helps inoculate you to stress.

    What are some “stress inoculation” activities? Force-on-force with firearms and simunitions of course. Martial Arts sparring. And hunting for medium/big game or dangerous game. (Everyone that I have ever heard from works through a very large adrenaline dump when lining up their sights and pulling the trigger on a deer, bear, elk, or moose — especially if that critter is a trophy or coming for you.) I can imagine that some sports, especially contact sports, probably help with stress inoculation as well.

    All I can tell you is that I have a very cool head when I am unfortunate enough to be in a dicey situation. I believe that is a result of all of the above.

  12. Every week, 50 downrange with my EDC (P290RS). I can put them all in the bulls eye at 10 yards and no worse than the 9-ring at 25 (slow fire).

    I would like to get some defensive handgun training (shooting and moving) above what I had in the NRA PPOTH course. Can’t seem to find any range close to me that would host that type of training.

    I’ll probably go to Gunsite sometime in the next couple of years.

    • Mad Max,

      How close is the nearest state or national forest to your home? All you have to do is identify a somewhat secluded spot and set up your own simple training area.

      As for targets, purchase some inexpensive 1×2 lumber (in 8 foot lengths) for $1.50 each, sharpen the end with a hatchet, and plant them in the dirt to hold the targets of your choosing. Then you can practice moving and shooting at your own pace. (Make sure you bring extra 1x2s in case you make a lot “spinal cord” shots [direct hits to your 1x2s supporting your targets]).

      Even if you had to drive four hours each way, you could still make it a one day trip (8 hours driving and 8 hours of practice for a 16 hour day) for next to nothing in cost.

      • Or just go with my favorite target, a pack of the smallest size white foam cups. Just throw them out downwind, and shoot the bottom edge to make it bounce in the air. Its quite visual and satisfying, and each bounce takes it further and further away, until one cannot bounce it any more.
        Then, later, one can work on bouncing it, left, right, straight up, etc. Its totally possible to call the bounce, and even to try putting in a makeshift ‘basket’, etc. When a good one takes it well up, one will find him/her self tracking it, and soon will find himself shooting it out of the air….

  13. In 1982 I had to shoot a man to save my life. http://www.thepriceofliberty.org/?page_id=846
    At that point I had no training, no range time and only a .410 single shotgun. I survived. I wouldn’t want to go through that again for anything, but I train and practice daily just in case it happens.

    A few years after that, I was working as an ER triage nurse. That was great training for dealing with emergency, scary situations. And yes indeed, visualization of potential problems and what you might do to respond is terrific training. I encourage my students to do that in dry fire exercises, as well as when on the range or out and about.

    Coping with an emergency, the adrenalin dump, the instantaneous decisions that must be made… There are several things that must work together here, and training is only one of them.

    You must have already made up your mind that YOUR life is important enough to defend, valuable to yourself, not just others. Without this, you will likely spend too much time in the middle of the event trying to make up your mind.

    • ” If he had continued to attack after I’d foolishly shot over his head, he would probably have killed me. It is highly unlikely I’d have had time to reload anyway.”

      Never forget that a single barrel shotgun, even just a .410, makes a very good club, esp against a blinded attacker. Even empty, its still quite a fair weapon…

  14. I think everyone freaks out a little. Trained or not. It’s the speed of recovery that makes the difference.
    Being able to assess the situation. The quicker the better.
    Having the training and the tools to deal with the situation.
    And this is for everyday life. Driving, working, or whatever. I work in a profession where deadlines are constant. Get overwhelmed and prioritize. Take care of the most important things first then work our way down.

  15. I like this guideline for speed and combat shooting accuracy at your expected combat range (perhaps 10 feet): you should shoot as fast as you can while still keeping all of your hits inside of an 8 inch circle.

    If you hit outside that circle, you are probably shooting too fast and need to slow down. If all of your shots are in a tiny group, you are shooting too slow and need to shoot faster.

    The more you practice, the faster you will be able to shoot and keep all of your hits in the 8 inch circle.

    Of course you would have to adjust slightly one way or another to suit your particular preferences.

  16. Maybe I’m just f**ked in the head but I actually enjoy intense and dangerous situations, ever since I was a kid. Tornado warning? I honestly get excited. Hurricane comming? I look forward to the chaos that will disrupt my tame life. Power goes out? I cross my fingers and say “carrington event.” I don’t know why, maybe I’m an adrenaline junky but I don’t really have a desire to do any insane stunts.

  17. This is another reason I prefer a revolver. I don’t shoot a handgun for a year or longer. This has happened do to a number of factors. I finally get back to the range and I shoot a revolver as good as ever. A semi I have to relearn.

    None of my semis are even in the rotation for self defense for this reason, amongst others.

  18. Several times in my life during emergency scenarios I’ve noticed this phenomenon where, under severe stress, my brain switches into high gear like its refresh rate quadruples. When that happens I get this sensation like everything is happening in slow motion and I have all the time in the world to think out how I should react, plot my response, and execute it. Also, when this happens, I feel completely empty of emotion. I just recognize a threat, plot a solution, and resolve the situation without thought of fear or anything that might distract me from working through the problem. Pain itself also seems to be pushed out of my mind if I get injured. I can notice an injury objectively and can react to it, so maybe the pain is there, but there is usually no emotion attached to the stimulus that registers it in my mind as pain or suffering. The emotions, fear, pain, or suffering I didn’t feel during the emergency later roll over me in waves several hours later when the adrenaline has worn off, sometimes much later, when I finally get a chance to sit down, take some deep intentional breaths, and start recalling and rationalizing what took place.

    It doesn’t happen every time. Sometimes I have failed to recognize an emergency until it was already over. Other times, if I have enough time to rationalize a situation before it occurs, (i.e., if I overthink it) the effect of this phenomenon seems less pronounced. It seems to happen when something happens suddenly enough that I don’t have time to think about how I should respond ahead of time.

    I don’t know if this is a result of genetics, psychology, divine intervention, or if it is a trained response I’ve developed from many of my formative years horses (as well as heavy machinery and other livestock), which are prone to sudden, unexpected, irrational bouts of panic, while you’re on them, and which require a calm measured response to bring them under control without horse or rider getting hurt. I have noticed that the response does transfer over into other areas though, including evasive driving maneuvers, and shooting. There have been some times, while hunting and guiding hunts, where things didn’t go as planned and I found myself in situations where I need to “shoot and shoot right now!” When that’s happened I’ve noticed an oddly frequent ability too place a shot where I need it to go where I would otherwise have been unable to make the shot if it was something I’d planned on doing (such as difficult shots on moving game). I would dismiss those situations as one-off if it weren’t for the fact that they have happened so many times.

    The most notable feature of these phenomena for me is the absolute absence of emotion. I still retain my rational abilities to make value and moral determinations in order to help come up with good solutions, there just isn’t anything there panicking and distracting me from what I need to do.

  19. The other day I did something I haven’t done a long time: I shot my everyday carry gun.

    And your everyday carry gun is…?

    • Wilson Combat. At least that’s what it was last time he posted a pocket dump.

      I remember because plenty of people gave him shit for it, and the Mercedes key fob.

      And by plenty of people, I mean me.

  20. As a former hypnotist with ten year’s practical experience, I have a pretty good understanding of the subconscious mind.

    Whaaaaaaaaaaaat??

    • How else do you think he could afford that Ferrari?

      “You’re felling very happy and relaxed… Your hypnotist deserves a thousand dollar (or Pound or Rand or whatever) tip…”

  21. I was taught at an early age to breathe. ….my dad reinforced it and I used it in boxing and stupid dangerous stuff I did. As an adult, I was in two DGUs with a year *wrong place at the wrong time, and the only conscious thought I had was breathe. Obviously I survived.

    Uncle Sugar sent me to bad places. The only time I thought, “oh shit, we are in trouble” the next thought was breathe. We made it out and while we had casualties, that “breathe” moment gave me clarity to devise a plan and for me and my men to carry it out.

    Training is huge. Most of my guys told me afterwards they knew we were screwed, but none hesitated when I have orders even though the sh*t was flying.

    Self hypnosis -my mom is allergic to novacaine…for 70 years she has used self hypnosis for all of her dentist visits including a couple of root canals….it works for her….

  22. Genetics without proper training will not help you. Also continued training will help you since criminals mostly prey on older victims.
    I normally go to the range once a week.

  23. Fear is natural, it’s how you react in spite of it. Other than that, we are on our own. Training as a civilian in civilian tactics can not hurt. A killer does not care who gets killed, as a defender of life, you must. You may not save them all, but you save all you can.

  24. Play Doom 2016.

    No, seriously.

    High intensity games are a lot like force on force training, in that they have you processing and reacting to a lot of information quickly.

    While it lacks the physical training that other, previously mentioned methods provide, the mental training is easily on par.

  25. I like your list of genetics, force-on-force and mental training (visualization). I would add a few more. I was a Naval Aviator we had training emergency reactions down to a science. In my life, I have also dealt with emergencies quickly and well.

    I also commend to everyone Rory Miler’s excellent book, “Meditations on Violence.” He is a career corrections officer who says for the first years of his career had to cope with a “fight a day” with violent felons. He is also a senior black belt in Japanese Jujitsu. The book is about the difference between martial arts training real fighting. But I think his ideas apply to armed self defense also and he does discuss that some in the book.

    So I would add to your list:
    4. Understand that especially for males, the first instant of a real fight will send a surge of adrenaline into your system that will temporarily render all your fancy techniques useless. Practice very simple first reactions. No fine motor skills. No complicated moves. For firearms, I think that is draw, point and shoot. No “low ready” etc. KISS. Once you get past the adrenaline surge, you can use your fancy training. One tip from Miller: Scream! It may unnerve the opponent and attract attention and it will definitely burn off the adrenaline.
    5. “Over-train” on the simple reactions in #4. Don’t just train until you can do it right. Train until you ca’t do it wrong. Train with distractions. Have someone randomly scream at you or shove you while you are practicing. (Safety first, though!) Recite the Gettysburg address while you are practicing. Whatever. Do something that messes up your simple first reaction until it no longer messes you up. Then find something else distracting.
    6. Do things that keep your senses sharp. It’s something different for everyone. I no longer fly like I did in the Navy, but I ride a motorcycle. It keeps me sharp. It puts me in close-to-emergency situations all the time. You could play paintball. You could sky-dive. You could learn sword-fencing. There is something about putting yourself on the edge that helps you react to any emergency.
    7. Get the emotions out of it. At the moment of truth, don’t let fear, or blaming yourself for being in the situation, or even hate against the opponent be in your mind. It’s a situation. You are handling it with no hesitation. Meditate on that reaction.

  26. Lose your mind, if it doesn’t come back to you, it was never yours to begin with………

    In a time of darkness, the blind man is the best guide.

    In a time of insanity, look to the madman to guide you……

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