Defensive Accuracy: Can You Keep Your Shots On an 8.5×11″ Piece of Paper?

GSL Defense Training Photo

So, do you have what it takes? Can you keep your rounds on a letter-sized piece of paper at 21 feet and less? If not, don’t feel badly about asking for help.

Why does the National Rifle Association define defensive accuracy as the ability to hit that 8.5×11″ piece of paper at room-length distances? Simple, really. First, blank paper is cheap. More importantly though, hold that piece of paper up to your chest. A hit anywhere on that paper will generally (dramatically) reduce the fighting efficiency of a bad guy. And often the will of an attacker to fight as well.

Of course, if you can’t keep your rounds on target, then you risk those downrange. And if you wound or kill an innocent with an errant round, your goose will be thoroughly cooked, civilly and possibly criminally unless you have a really good attorney and can demonstrate the shooting wasn’t negligent.

GSL Defense Training photo

While none of us will likely face down a hostage-taker, much less two, this target at about twelve feet makes shooters discern an innocent person from the bad girls. It also adds a little bit of pressure.

After all, it’s kind of embarrassing to shoot the hostage, especially when others are watching. The good news here is that, thanks to some beginner shooters under a little pressure, Mr. Hostage didn’t suffer long.

Now, standing on a square range under calm conditions, hitting that letter-sized target comes fairly easy for some. For others? Well, just go to any indoor (or outdoor) range and watch people shoot. You’ll soon see people struggling to hit a target the size of Sasquatch at room-length distances.

However, just because you can make those hits in calm conditions does not mean you’re ready to start shooting the gun (or knife) out of a bad guy’s hand. That’s Hollywood. But if you can work on your skills until you can reliably make those hits on a moving target while moving yourself (you are moving off the X when you engage, right?), then you’ll shoot far better than most.

Try it while shooting around barricades too.  Because if you’re fighting fair with someone trying to kill you, your tactics suck. Add in some time pressure – because bad people can cover 21 feet in less than 1.5 seconds reliably – and if your shooting still doesn’t fall apart, then you really are good to go.

But don’t stop there. Practice shooting from Position 2 or Position 3 of the draw stroke at six or nine feet.  Ladies, learn to make hits on that piece of paper from inside your purse. Or gents, if you carry a murse, ditto. Otherwise try it from a jacket pocket.

GSL Defense Training photo.

Let the bad guy get the surprise of his life if this is done correctly. Not sure if you can pull it off? Head on down to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army, pick up a few purses and try it at a range some time.  Guys, ditto on the windbreaker. Assuming your range will allow that sort of practice.

You’ll soon learn one of the big strong points of discretely-carried small-frame revolvers.

In the end, your (paper) targets will talk to you. And anyone else who knows how to listen to them. Can you keep your hits on that very inexpensive target?

GSL Defense Training photo

Anyone can do it.  Even a teenage girl.



  1. avatar Cloud says:

    Sure can. From a cold chamber, 9 one paper in 6 secs with one reload after 5 is my best.

    It’s called the 7-7 drill. Goal is at least 7 shots on a 8.5×11 sheet in 7 seconds or less. Start on a cold chamber with one reload after 5 shots.

  2. avatar cgray says:

    Dunno. Never been attacked by a piece of paper.

    1. avatar Nickel Plated says:

      Me neither. I only practice on live targets, for the most realistic training simulation.
      Cold range, hot range, it’s all a matter of perspective really.

    2. avatar Geoff “Guns. Lots of guns.” PR says:

      “Dunno. Never been attacked by a piece of paper.”

      Never been ‘served’ at an inconvenient time , eh? 😉

      1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

        Excellent! You win the Internetz today.

    3. avatar Someone says:

      I don’t know, they can give you paper cuts, something fierce!

  3. avatar James Banish says:

    The task seems easy enough. The simple fact that one must train like you fight. Shooting a still target is a far stretch from fighting under total deress. One possible training exercise one could do a some wind sprints of 20 to 30yards, then load the weapon. Then empty the magazine or cylinder at the target. This simulates stress situation.

    1. avatar John says:

      I recently did some practicing running and shooting at targets from about 30 yards with my AR with iron sights. Disappointing to say the least, but that is what practice is for.

    2. avatar John Boch says:

      Everyone’s gotta start somewhere!

    3. avatar strych9 says:

      If you don’t have the room for sprints hex bar squats will work. Jacks your heart rate and gets you shaking pretty good if you’re using a good amount of weight for your fitness level. Add in an immediate set of pushups and you’ve got a decent little workout that’s also a training aid and you can do it with a laser in the largest room in your house, even if it’s a raging blizzard outside.

  4. avatar billy-bob says:

    No, two in the heart, one in the head is at least legal sized.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Also known as “two in the pump, one in the junction box”. More formally known as the Mozambique Technique.

      Highly advised against by every professional instructor of every class I’ve ever taken. For some reason, this must be a popular topic, as it’s always asked and/or addressed in every group. Shooting someone twice in center mass and then again in the head may be interpreted by a hothead DA or prosecutor as your intent to kill for the sake of the thrill, and for the purpose of stopping the threat.

      Better to shoot twice in center mass, and train your sights on the head. Only continue to shoot *if* the perp still presents a threat. Otherwise, if he’s down and bleeding out from the two thoracic wounds, a head “kill shot” will be entirely unnecessary and will present you as the aggressor.

      1. avatar possum"they can take your badzooka,I hunt with landmynes," Fudd says:

        I thought the Mozambique was a shootz to the nutz, shootz to the head. , , , , , , and I’ve got a story on that , well two actually.

    2. avatar I Haz A Question says:


      “and NOT for the purpose of stopping the threat.”

  5. avatar former water walker says:

    I’m minute of bad guy(or gal!). Oh and center mass is usually bigger than 8.5 × 11″😏

    1. avatar SurfGW says:

      8.5×11 is only center mass on an elephant.
      People who set low standards for themselves are setting themselves up for either a dangerous situation in a self-defense scenario or legal trouble when adrenaline degrades their shooting accuracy more and a bystander is hurt.
      Practice, use a more accurate weapon, or have a defense plan that does not require shooting such as a bullet proof safe room.

      1. avatar I Haz A Question says:


        The thoracic cavity (center mass) on an average person is a little larger than 8.5″ x 11″. Standard profile targets show outlines of the ocular and thoracic area.

  6. avatar DaveDetroit says:

    The biggest mistake I see made at ranges is unskilled people firing way too fast. Their targets look like a shotgun’s pattern at distance.

    1. avatar Southerner says:

      In the South, a shotgun/choke/load that will not put the entire buckshot pattern inside a 10 inch circle at 25 yards isn’t worth taking out of the truck!

  7. avatar SurfGW says:

    That standard is too low and will lead to a lot of missed shots and endangered by-standers.
    The CQB / MOUT / SWAT standard is 2 shots to 6 inch chest circle followed by 1 shot to the 3 inch T box because it gets the job done with minimal risk to others (shooting someone in the lungs still allows a perp to be violent for a long time before expires).
    If you can’t make that reasonable standard with a handgun, then use a pistol caliber carbine with a red-dot which is much easier to become proficient with especially in low light.

    1. avatar Higgs says:

      It’s kind of hard to conceal carry a carbine.

      Just saying.

      1. avatar SurfGW says:

        Valid point. Mistook this thread as more focused on home defense than CCW.
        Haven’t given CCW much thought since it is practically zero chance where I live.

        1. avatar possum"they can take your badzooka I hunt with landmynes" Fudd says:

          You have the right to be armed, it’s in the Constitution.

    2. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Perhaps, but most of us are private citizens, not SWAT.

      BTW, one of my instructors told the class of something he personally witnessed. An off-duty SWAT officer was coincidentally paired up against a 60-year-old grandmother in a steel target shooting contest at the end of the day’s training. Everyone had been randomly paired up, and these two found themselves together. When it was their turn, the grandma presented her sidearm, took aim, and fired three rounds to hit the three targets. The SWAT officer had been trained by his department to put down any danger quickly by sending lead toward the target(s), which is exactly what he did for the contest.

      When the dust settled, Grannie fired 3 rounds and SWAT boy expended 48, and was on his fourth and final mag. Grannie won because she had hit all three targets before he did.

      1. avatar possum"they can take your badzooka,I hunt with landmynes" Fudd says:

        . She has to be good, she can’t pin them down and call in Artillery

  8. avatar BusyBeef says:

    I shoot hostages all the damned time during IDPA.

    That said, Ken Hackathorn says you’re aiming for something the size of a grapefruit – so I generally practice on a 4″ circle at 7 years (21 feet, your standard) and an 8″ circle at 10 yards.

  9. avatar Mark H. says:

    Many states use a TQ-15 Target for CCW qualification. The center box is 8″ x 10.
    Arizona is 7 of 10 in the center box, 5 rounds at five yards, 5 at ten.

  10. avatar Jay in Florida says:

    That’s all Ive used for targets the last 20 years. Copy machine rejects from work.

  11. avatar David Deplorable says:

    A piece of paper looks big, but if it’s moving and you’re moving, all the sudden it starts looking kind of smaller. Add in fear of getting shot and places like NYPD can only hit a man-sized target one and every six shots. Then again they got crappy triggers.

    1. avatar BusyBeef says:

      Yeah I don’t think anyone is going to be accurate with a New York trigger.

  12. avatar possum,"they can take your badzooka, I hunt with landmynes" Fudd says:

    Well I figured out the paradox of mass shootings, it didn’t start out that way but his first shot missed his legitimate target, then you’ve got all those witnesses

    1. avatar strych9 says:

      LOL. That’s fucked up.

      Still, I laughed which says something pretty awful about me.

  13. avatar Mad says:

    Either hand I also point and shoot from the hip been practicing for decades

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