Armed Self Defense: 3 Must-Have Gunfighting Skills

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As we pointed out in Three Things Every Concealed Carrier Should Always Carrya gun, a comfortable holster and a phone are the basic tools you need for daily concealed carry. Sort those out and you’re off to a very good start.

As for “gun fighting skills,” once again, this article is aimed at newbies. People who need some help and guidance breaking into the world of armed self-defense. If you’ve already mastered these skills, please share the following advice with beginners.

The first rule is that using your firearm should always be the very last resort. But if you can’t avoid it, here are three must-have techniques to work on and master if you find yourself in a situation in which you have to use your gun defensively.

Draw your gun quickly and efficiently

Estimates of defensive gun uses (DGUs) vary. The CDC helpfully narrows it down to between 60,000 and 2.5 million, depending on who’s doing the counting.

NOTE: that is not the number of shootings per year. In the vast majority of cases, an armed good guy brings his or her firearm to bear on the bad guy(s). The perp(s) thinks better of their plans for assault, rape, or robbery, and they leave.

No matter what happens in a DGU, you have to be prepared to shoot someone — if it comes to that — who poses an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm. That’s the message a pointed gun sends, and it can be very effective. To appear prepared — to be prepared — you have to get your gun from wherever you carry it to a firing position quickly and efficiently.

This is a simple matter of practice. Start at home. Wearing your normal concealment clothes and your everyday carry system (gun and holster), unload your gun, put the ammo in another room, then return and safety-check your gun again. Find a safe direction to aim your gun (think: what would happen if you accidentally fired a round?). If there isn’t one (if, say, you live in an apartment), find someplace else.

Then draw from concealment. Do not “dry fire” your gun. Keep your finger off the trigger. Just draw your gun and aim at a specific target — a spot on the wall — about three yards away.

Make sure your grip’s good from start to finish and the target’s in your sights. As you change your clothes for the weather, practice your draw with whatever you wear in the real world including jackets and gloves.

Start slowly. Don’t rush. Gradually increase your speed. The goal is perfect, smooth technique, not speed. Speed will comes naturally.

Then you can practice drawing at a gun range (ask if they allow it first…some don’t) wearing your concealment clothes. Begin with an unloaded gun, keeping your finger off the trigger. Draw, aim, and re-holster (slowly). Eventually graduate to draw and dry fire practice.

Then — slowly — practice with a loaded gun (not at home). Vary between firing and not firing. This is critical: you do not want to train yourself to fire your gun every time you draw your gun from concealment.

In post-defensive gun use interviews, many armed self-defenders say they have no idea how their gun got into their hands. If you practice drawing from concealment, not only will you be fast and efficient, you’ll also have a good firing grip and your sights will be on target, naturally and automatically. That’s a big, possibly even life-saving advantage.


Imagine someone’s rushing towards you from about ten yards away, holding a knife. Could you draw your gun from concealment before they stab you? Do you want to wait and find out?

You need to move out of the way as quickly as possible and then draw your gun, if you can. If you need to. If you and/or your loved ones can move quickly away from a threat you may not need your gun.

Whether you end up shooting to stop a lethal threat or not, moving is more important than shooting. Gun or no gun, if you’re standing still, you’re a sitting duck. This can’t be emphasized enough. Moving equals life. Standing still equals death. It can be that simple. And the sooner you start moving, the better your chances of survival.

Of course, this whole moving thing raises some important questions. Moving to . . . where? (See below.) If I’m moving before or as I’m shooting, don’t I have to practice moving and shooting? And don’t I have to practice drawing from concealment while I’m moving? Yes, yes and yes. Which raises some very difficult, not-to-say controversial training issues.

Controversial as in training for armed self-defense at a traditional or “square” gun range. Any time you practice shooting without moving you’re training yourself to shoot without moving. If that becomes instinctive that’s what you’ll probably do in a DGU. Either that or you’ll try to move and draw and shoot and not be very good at it.

Find a range or take a concealed carry class where you can move and draw and shoot. It’s better to practice your draw at home and move and shoot twice a year than it is to shoot at a piece of paper at a square range once a week (should that be your choice).

If you’re practicing alone, again, start slowly. There’s no rush, no need to think of a gunfight as a wild west shootout. If push comes to shove, adrenaline will naturally speed-up your technique.

Alternatively and at the same time, apply this movement to your at-home drawing-from-concealment practice. Draw and move. Every. Single. Time. Even if it’s just a single step in either direction, associate drawing your gun with moving away from where you started. “Get off the X” as the gun gurus say. That will save your life.

Another idea: participate in competitions like IDPA matches. You don’t have to be in it to win it. Not only is it fun, it’s excellent practice for learning to draw, move and shoot, all at the same time.

Move to cover and/or concealment

When the S hits the F in a DGU, you don’t want to be someplace where the bad guy can reach out and touch you; with a bullet, an edged weapon, a blunt instrument, his head, fist, feet or elbows. To avoid death or grievous bodily harm, you want to move away from the threat and get behind cover or concealment as soon as humanly possible.

Cover means a place behind an object that can stop bullets: cement or brick walls, a car’s engine block, trees, the sides of ditches, etc. Concealment means a place where the bad guy or guys can’t see you: cars, trees, clothing racks, doors, desks, closets, etc. Cover is best, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Proximity is all. The quicker you get out of the way and/or hidden, perhaps bringing/keeping your gun into the fight at the same time, the better.

That said, you may be with unarmed innocents when the you-know-what gets real. Not only do you have to move away from the threat, they do too. That may not be possible.

In that case, you have to physically grab or push your compadres towards safety. In some cases, that could be away from you (your gun is a bad guy and bullet magnet). Either that or leave the friendlies, forget about cover or concealment and move towards the threat.

Gun ranges are not the real world. They lack the variety of real-life objects and obstacles that can afford an armed self-defender cover or concealment. Equally, we often journey into places with minimal or no concealment or cover, such as a rock concert or your home (the refrigerator is probably the only object in your house that might stop a bullet). Other than force-on-force training facilities, you’re left with mental practice.

In other words, you have to think about cover and concealment, preferably before you need it. Whenever you enter a new space, whether cruising through it or hanging out, look around. Where’s cover (the kind that stops bullets)? Where’s concealment (the kind that hides you from the bad guys)? And, yes, where are the exits? That’s all. Just ID them. And continue on with your life.

There are lots of other important gunfighting techniques that can save your life, from clearing a stoppage (the gun doesn’t work) to clearing a room. All of them are fun and useful to learn. All of them could save your life. But the three gunfighting skills above — draw, move and find cover/concealment — are a firm foundation for armed self-defense and, hopefully, a stepping stone to further education.

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  1. One thing I’ve found most people don’t think about is the mental preparation to actually take a life. Many years ago when I was considering getting a carry permit I read a story about a person that was at a mall when he heard shots. After helping get folks out the back he went to the store front and drew his weapon. He then froze, giving the shooter time to put 2 x rounds on him. He survived. When asked why he froze he replied, “I saw my son.” It wasn’t his son, but someone that reminded him of his son. The mental aspect of shooting another human cannot be taken for granted.

  2. A simple and inexpensive supplement to your practice (especially moving-and-shooting): buy an inexpensive AirSoft handgun for practice outdoors in your own back yard. AirSoft is a plastic BB standard and there are several realistic AirSoft handguns available.

    The beauty of an AirSoft handgun is that you can practice moving, drawing, and shooting in your own yard nearly as often as you like–and there is no significant danger if you shoot yourself or someone else. (Those plastic BBs hurt A LOT when they hit bare skin at close range and could conceivably destroy your eyesight if they hit your eyes [so wear googles when practicing] but they will NOT otherwise seriously injure nor kill anyone.) You can even set up obstacles to navigate or use for cover/concealment in your yard if you like as well as human-realistic targets.

    There are two potential down sides to using AirSoft for training. First, most AirSoft handguns will not generate realistic recoil. Second, the least expensive AirSoft handguns will only fire one BB at a time–requiring you to cycle the slide before shooting again. In case it isn’t obvious, learning to shoot without recoil or learning to rack the slide on your handgun after every shot could instill some VERY bad habits.

  3. The point to the typical indoor gun range is to function test the gun and to get the gun owner honing certain skills like trigger control, stance, tightening groups so that you don’t miss, and overcoming recoil. Its just a step on the path.

  4. I made a vest out of pip-e bomz, “WE’RE BOTH GOING TO HELL” painted on it.
    Haven’t been robbed yet.
    Gunms ? I dont need no steenking gunms.

  5. self/home defense usually needs one of four options

    Option 1. fire – maneuver – cover – escape
    Option 2. cover – fire – repeat as necessary
    Option 3. fire – advance – fire – repeat as necessary
    Option 4. escape and keep running – sometimes possible without harm, usually not – go to option 1 or option 2 or option 3

    According to Kleck’s “Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America” – the leading authority on the subject:

    1. Any form of resistance, except with firearm, carries with it an injury rate of 52%.

    2. Resistance with a firearm carries with it the risk of injury of 17%, but use of a firearm early in an encounter carries with it a risk of injury of 6%.

    Overall, in Kleck, you have a minimum of a 25% chance of being injured if you comply, but you are 4 time less likely to be injured if you have your firearm and are prepared to use it.

    Take away summary: compliance may still result in injury (which includes death), resistance without a firearm carries a 52% chance of injury (which includes death), resistance with a firearm lowers chance of injury (which includes death) to 17%, resistance with a firearm early in the encounter further lowers risk of injury (which includes death) to 6%

    If you are armed are you willing to gamble that you are not in the 25%?
    if you are not armed are you willing to gamble that you are not in the 52%?

    Compliance or not, resistance or not – is not a decision one needs to make. The answer is already provided, non-compliance via firearms resistance offers the best chance of less injury (and greater chance of survival).

    note: resistance also includes trying to escape.

    • .40 cal Booger,

      Thus, if a violent criminal attacks you, the simple fact of the matter is:

      Immediately deploy a firearm in effective self-defense and you have a 94% chance of not sustaining any physical injuries.

      — or —

      Comply and you have a 75% chance of not sustaining any physical injuries.

      • you have a minimum of a 25% chance of being injured if you comply, not a 75% chance of not sustaining any physical injuries if you comply. You have 25% – 100 % chance of being injured if you comply.

    • And in case it is not totally obvious: staying keenly aware of the people around you and actively improving your self-defense situation for a potential attack before it actually starts significantly reduces your odds of physical injury even further.

      Case in point:
      I was about to unlock my car door in an empty parking lot and noticed a lone man meandering in my general direction. He was wearing a COVID mask and a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up and had both hands in his sweatshirt pockets. (Hint: it was warm outside and there was no temperature-related reason to have your hands in pockets.) I halted the process of unlocking my car door and focused on him. He saw my intense stare and immediately started a bee-line for me at a quick pace. He asked me for something two times as he closed the distance and I replied with a loud and very unfriendly, “no,” both times. He was still coming, about 40 feet away, when I moved around my car, turned to a “bladed” stance, and moved my hand to my hip ready to draw my handgun. He IMMEDIATELY changed direction, mumbled something that included “sorry”, and eventually disappeared back from whence he came.

      I am 98% confident that his intention was armed robbery. Thanks to my keen awareness and actions very early in the encounter, I virtually eliminated any possibility of physical injury. As many people have said, “The only fight that you are guaranteed to win is the fight that never happens.” Stay alert and stay alive.

      • DGU early in the encounter can work wonders, it can be preemptive and that can include simply showing the intent to use your gun if necessary. It happens many times a day all across the U.S. and only about 1% of the incidents make it into police reporting. But basically thousands of gun owners all across the country every day literally save a life and prevent a crime by simply being armed.

      • uncommon:
        I forgot how many times this kind of shit happened to me in the big bad ‘Naked City’. Of course, that’s because I got paid to do it. And your experience here proves how good you can get at the absolute all important gun-fighting ability of all time…FOCUSED AWARENESS of your environment.
        Over the years, though, I switched from doing ‘Rooster posturing’ which worked well enough in most cases back then but now to more intense proactive priority AVOIDANCE action if I even catch a whiff of something like this. Because these days the rate of increase in really lethally dangerous psychos out there surpasses the ones that might be intimidated by displaying fearlessness or direct physical consequences. And most people wouldn’t believe how common it is to have a potential bad actor or more prowling almost everywhere these days. So In my humble, but very experienced opinion, Too many of these characters would instantly jump off violently and start capping if you went into condition yellow or orange or whatever else that silly shit they teach wants you to do if they saw you get into a defensive stance and reach back like you’re going to pull a gun. And you certainly don’t want to encourage their approach by fucking talking to them? Unless it’s an imminent close confrontation and you are doing a ‘distraction audible’ to gain a split-second jump-off in the action v. reaction play out.

        Besides getting into the strong unbreakable habit of situational awareness scanning which must be learned and practiced like everything else no matter where you are or what you’re doing. You have to think about your ‘victimization profile’ potential. In an Insane Asylum like Chicago, for instance, in many areas there’s a lot of roving carjacking teams who use the shock ambush technique as you’re getting in or out of the car just to snatch the car itself, not wasting time even robbing you personally. So your victim potential rates are higher in areas that fascilitate these attacks, like gas stations or parking lots where you linger at your unlocked vehicle loading groceries or filling your tank.

        This is very difficult to avoid and defend against unless you spotted it coming beforehand as you did so well. The only thing I would have done differently after spotting him on a vector toward me instead of standing there is first tried quickly to jog away for some distance gain on a flanking angle. If he moved to track on me then I’d discreetly get my gun out in hand but keeping it down or in my hand out of sight in my jacket pocket. Because now he’s confirmed to be stalking me so I’m definitely in serious fear for my life. And I wouldn’t have to worry about wasting time trying to quick draw from a hip holster if he decided to sprint and jump me. These kinds of punks also get pretty fast on the draw from their hoody pockets because the gun is already in hand. And don’t think they do not practice their criminal and gang-banging skills. Many of them do. Moreso than most cc people.

        My thing was not standing around waiting patiently for the approach because quick draw showdown O.K Coral gunfights are only for the movies. In these types of potential criminal street violence encounters either you, or your assailant, are usually either on the various degrees of the defensive or offensive. In any form of ‘hand to hand’ combat the advantage is mostly with a strong offense. But this dynamic can reverse instantaneously.
        The trick is to learn how to master the constant passive offensive mode while being in a technical act of ‘self-defense’. Moving targets are always harder to acquire. And this move might discourage him from following me, And then if it did get down and dirty. My self-defense action could not be challenged with the second or third question the lawsuit attorney or prosecutor will always ask in court. “If you spotted him suspiciously coming at you in advance, and ascertained a need to be ready with your firearm, why didn’t you just try to get away instead? Did you prefer the ‘deadly force’ method of protecting yourself???”

        But remember all off gunslinging practice stuff is a waste of time for most people unless unless you’re a cop or military who gets PAID to take the risk of entering dangerous on purpose. While professionals also have a ‘discretionary’ option in kinds of approaches to ‘engagement’s, They can’t rely on total situational avoidance, LIKE WE CAN.

        The first thing to practice in gunfighting is situational awareness. Start now with your last-minute Holiday shopping. Before you get out of your car or as you approach it to leave, forget about gluing your texting eyes to your cell phone to ask your wife or mom for instructions on what else to buy, do a dedicated 360 degree look around for anything that seems suspicious. It should only takle a few seconds once you get the hang of it.

        Because if you do see ‘something funny’, it probably isn’t a joke. Getting into a habit of situational awareness wherever you are will be more of a benefit than anything else.

  6. Moving and going to cover could be a terrible idea. If you’re with your spouse, child, or grandchild, abandoning your charge to move or seek cover could get them hurt. You might be able to fire after the damage has been done, but is that the outcome you want?

    • @Anymouse

      “Moving and going to cover could be a terrible idea. If you’re with your spouse, child, or grandchild, abandoning your charge to move or seek cover could get them hurt. “

      well duh! I wasn’t talking about cover just for you and “abandoning your charge”. I thought it was obvious, but I’ll say it – if you have someone that’s there you need to protect, going for cover means taking them with you so they too can partake of the cover.

  7. Sorry, I’m an old fart with a walker and my wife is in a wheelchair. Can’t move and shoot or get under cover. Any suggestions?

  8. Rule number 1: Get the fuck off the X
    Rule number 2: Hide behind something that stops bullets (or at least breaks line of sight)
    Rule number 3: Shoot the fuck back

  9. You do you, I’ll do me. I decided loo-o-ong ago, if I draw my gun I intend to fire as soon as I get on target. If I do not fire it will be because of a very high speed surrender, or, if I’m on the street instead of at home, because the offender’s back is receding rapidly before the hammer falls. Practicing drawing and not firing us totally worthless to me, I am too old and slow to deliberately slow down my response to attack.

  10. Good thing the piece went to the lawyers first. Always happy to see the Safety Sallys treat gun owners like they were morons. It’s almost as if they are following the Left’s script in guns —morons need to have a magazine in the *other* room—just to be safe.

  11. During defensive drivers courses I’ve taken, They always tell you; “always have an out”. While driving be looking to see where you would go if someone crossed the median in front of you right now. or a pileup happened out ahead.

    Same thing with day to day living. Always be scanning your surroundings for traps, dead ends, restricted movement. The Marines say; always have a plan to kill everyone you meet. Well don’t go that far but have a plan to get to concealment or cover. How to get there whether it’s not really good cover. Can you get out of there and still be behinds cover? That’ sort of thinking plus having your head on a swivel. And don’t forget to look up. Deer always forget to look up. Which is why tree stands are so popular.

  12. These techniques are worth learning for beginners especially nowadays where crime has become so common. According to my Personal injury lawyer Bilox, every other teenager must have gunfighting and self-defense skills, and it should be a part of the curriculum in all the institutions.

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