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One of the Four Rules of Gun Safety: be sure of your target and what’s behind it. That’s relatively simple if you’re target shooting, especially if there are berms behind and to either side of your target. But in a real world defensive gun use (DGU), you don’t have the luxury of berms and that kind of scanning is practically impossible.

Given that DGUs are reactive (i.e. defensive), who has time to consider where a “stray” bullet will ultimately end up? You’re being attacked, adrenaline’s flowing and you’ve got tunnel vision on the perp(s). Your shooting skills have degraded and you’re trying to do anything to survive.

Just ask the New York City Police Department how hard it is to shoot a bad guy. NYPD officers have an 18 percent hit-to-miss ratio. And here’s the kicker: cops don’t get arrested, fired, fined, banned from firearms ownership for life and/or jailed for shooting an innocent bystander when fighting crime. John Q. Public faces all of the above, and then some.

It would be nice to think that you’d scan your environment before an attack. It would also be great if you could pause for a femtosecond or two to consider what surrounds your target in a defensive gun use, whether its people or dwellings. The better bet: concentrate on not missing.

There are a lot of ways not to reduce the chances of missing when shooting at someone who poses an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm. Practicing with your self-defense firearm is good, practicing with your gun in force-on-force training is even better. Much better.

I reckon the key recommendations here are A) don’t panic, emptying your gun and spraying bullets in the bad guy’s general direction, and B) know your limitations.

We can debate the value of “muscle memory” during a DGU — instinctively aiming and firing rather than [more] consciously doing so. Unquestionably, instinctive firing is faster than carefully considered fire. The problem we’re addressing here is accuracy. Is your instinctive firing accurate?

Again, realistic training will give you a good indication of your accuracy with your defensive handgun, even as it improves it. Just make sure you train to the point of failure (i.e. missing the target). That way you’ll know when/where your shooting degrades to the point of inadvisability.

Try to register your inability in your “lizard brain.”

Know your limitations. It will be some combination of distance, time, and number of rounds fired. If you’re not happy with those limitations, practice some more. Consider changing your weapon. But accept the fact that you can only do what you can do. No more. And maybe less.

And then, when push comes to shove, aim. Unless the bad guy is within bad breath distance, take the time to aim. Use your sights. Only shoot aimed rounds.

I understand that this advice seems facile. And way easier said than done. But you are responsible for every single bullet you fire. A miss can ruin your life as surely as being wounded by your attacker. Don’t be that guy.

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  1. Slow, aimed fire is the most accurate, but point shooting isn’t far behind and may be forced upon you by circumstances. Practice it!

    • Within reasonable ranges, point-shooting is a LOT easier than you might think. I encourage everyone to try it if they have not already done so.

      • This is a great reason to compete in IDPA or USPSA. I admit that my first few targets of most matches I am staring at the target (instead of my sights) and I am often surprised when two close holes show up in the middle of the A-zone. “Wow,” I say to myself, “that was awesome, but how about we start using our sights?” I’m glad I can point-shoot like that, though. To be good at it, though, you must PRACTICE it!!

  2. We used to play a paintball game that was essentially hostage rescue.

    My buddy’s dad own a farm with a house they used to live in on it but he’d built a bigger, better house so he let us do what we wanted with the old one. We also were allowed to use heavy equipment to edit this part of the farm.

    So, as teenagers we acquired some blowup dolls. Rules are simple: essentially there are none other than scoring rules. Team “Terrorist” takes a set number of blow up dolls and puts them in the house. They don’t have to be in the same place. Team “Counter-Terrorist” has to assault the house and rescue the hostages while “killing” as many terrorists as possible but objective 1 is to get the dolls out and to a vehicle that CT’s used to approach. The only hard and fast rule was that the terrorists couldn’t shoot the hostages intentionally but could use them for cover and if CT’s shot the hostages it cost points.

    Three things I learned from this game. Hostage rescue isn’t easy but shooting the hostages is, paint ball paint tastes like shit and one of the funniest things you’ll ever seen is a bunch of kids in paintball gear running like hell towards and old pickup truck carrying blowup dolls and screaming “Cover me!”.

    A bunch of parents loved to watch this. They drank beer and were completely entertained by our antics.

      • None of us were single. We all had long term girlfriends. If the parents worried about anything it was an unexpected grandkid rather than the dolls.

        The girls even played paintball with us. The way I found out about the taste of paint was when my girlfriend shot me in the face four or five times.

        • So your beer swilling parents watched you and your friends with these blow up dolls? That your girlfriends joined in doesn’t make it sound much more salutary;-)

        • Originally the idea was to use those mannequins you see in stores. Then we found out how expensive they were.

          The idea for using blow up dolls actually came from the property owner. You have to understand this guy’s sense of humor. He was a huge redneck but apparently a pretty damn good electrical engineer. He was well liked and although he was crude at times everyone who met him trusted that their kids were safe in his presence (which they were). When he met one of our friends for the first time he used what I later found out to be an old joke: “Hey, if we went camping and you woke up in the morning with your ass sore and covered in Vaseline, would you tell anyone?” If the person answers “no” (as our friend did) the joke teller then says “Great, let’s go camping!”.

          The guy was really smart but I swear, at some level he was stuck in junior high. Other parents wrote it off as his having been a Marine and therefore being a salty bastard.

          Either way, the point of the story is that those “hostages” got hit by a lot of “friendly” paint balls. Shooting in a higher-stress situation around innocent people takes enormous practice and concentration. Granted a paintball gun isn’t the most accurate tool ever created but the ranges inside a house aren’t very large either. You know those posters where the guy has a hostage and is pointing a gun at you? Those shots are hard when people are actually moving and shooting back. Even from very close ranges they’re a tough shot. Our “hostages” ate a “round” on a pretty regular basis even as we got much better at close quarters paint balling. It was actually surprisingly easy for the “hostage taker” to use one as cover and take down three or four “CT’s” without getting hit themselves.

          That game made us a hell of a lot better at capture the flag though.

  3. Also- aim small. I was amazed how poorly I was shooting in force on force until someone asked me I was aiming. “Well, at the bad guy,” “Well, you missed. Try aiming at the button on his shirt. Now you still missed, but he’s dead anyway.”

  4. Practiice aimed fire and your “point shooting” will usually be more accurate.

    I agree with “aim small” observation. Same with any missile weapon. Shooting an arrow at a box means you might hit the box. Aiming at a point on the box decreases group size and increases hit probability .

    People are always amazed when they miss a silhouette at 10 feet point ahooting. Most are more amazed when they begin to hit at 50 feet when using the sights.

  5. Its too bad that this advice is wrong. Well, kindof. Point/instinctive/reflexive shooting is most definitely faster and accurate enough at most defensive gun engagement distances.

    But its also something that should not be attempted until the fundamentals of trigger control and sight alighment/focus/picture are learned.

    This isn’t really a discussion about whether point shooting or aimed shooting is better in a defensive situation. The simple fact is that in an up close and personal encounter you WILL be focusing on the threat. So you might as well practice shooting while focusing on the threat.

    Perhaps the best defensive shooting class I have ever taken was Reflexive Shooting at the Sig academy. It was an epiphany. It transformed my shooting inside of 20 ft or so. It also translated into much faster shooting in steel matches as well as in IDPA.

    If you want to learn more, google the name Bob Taubert. If you want to learn even more, go to amazon and search on Rattenkrieg.

    So kids, beginner tip may be to aim. But pro tip should be to learn when and how to POINT.


    • I would agree that it is good to practice at some point shooting.

      I would ask which pros advocate major reliance on point shooting.

      My experience is that it is usually in an add for a “new and revolutionary” shooting course.

      At room distances sights are more accurate even if point shooting is “good enough” . At any distance over that, there is no contest in which is more effective.

  6. Use your sights. That doesn’t necessarily mean taking the time to get a perfect sight picture. At least, get the gun up in front of your face so that you can line up the entire frame with the target. Shooting from the hip, like in a western movie gun fight, is a sure way to miss unless the bad guy is so close that you can stick the muzzle in his gut before pulling the trigger.

    Practice dry firing until pulling the trigger smoothly no longer requires conscious thought. It isn’t enough to practice until you get it right. Practice until it takes an effort to get it wrong. Even when the bad guy is only a few feet away, jerking convulsively at the trigger will pull the gun far enough off target to completely miss him.

    NYC cops miss for two reasons. The major one is that they don’t practice enough. The other is that they are saddled with absurdly heavy triggers in a vain attempt avoid negligent discharges due to inadequate training.

  7. The other evening I walked out of my local grocery store and started looking for a safe direction to shoot. There wasn’t one. Any direction I shot either had people or cars as a target. If I was attacked it wouldn’t be safe anywhere, except into the bad guy, and I couldn’t miss without probably going to jail myself. Kind of scary.

    Which adds another rule. Look at the background around you before you get into a shooting situation.

  8. If you are going about armed and aiming is not instinctual for you when presenting your weapon, unload the firearm immediately, place it in a secure location and go out and buy a bat. You have no place near firearms.


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