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Recently I coached a student whose shots were were hitting low on the target. This was much more than the result of a mechanical offset issue, so it got my attention fast. The reason he was shooting low may surprise you and it really ticks me off.

Broad shoulders

The student was taught to shoot that low by another instructor to hit below body armor. No, that’s not a joke. These weren’t even pelvic girdle shots; these were just shots to the abdomen intended to get the rounds under the armor.

The only good news here: the instructor gave a reason for teaching the students this technique. I can see how it may seem plausible to a novice student or new shooter. Again, let me be clear; it is not their fault. And it’s not a good idea.

Like a hot knife through butter

The shooting drills we were running that day involved M4/AR-15 type rifles firing within 25 yards. At that range your rounds are going to fly through soft body armor almost as if it isn’t there. There’s a chance, though, that they won’t penetrate plate armor.

While I acknowledge this fact, you then have to look at your anticipated adversary. The only demographic who consistently employs rifle-rated hard armor plates are good guys: the folks who wear armor for a living because it is their job. So why would an instructor teach low shooting to a student?

Is a “mobility kill” good enough?

Maybe bad guys would employ rifle-rated hard armor. And maybe a shot intentionally aimed low may miss the armor. The very best you could hope for is a mobility kill (disabling the bad guy).

But here’s a secret: that’s a pipe dream.

Aiming low for a mobility kill still requires you to aim. If you’re staring down an armed attacker employing hard armor and that’s the best you’ve got, you’re in a world of hurt.

I have to assume that’s the reason the instructor justified his tactics. They wanted their students to imagine facing down a domestic terrorist hell-bent on a mass killing spree. I get that, but you better bring more to the fight than a low aimed shot.

Rapid and repeated

Given that scenario, I still have problems with the shoot-low strategy. It doesn’t stop the fight. It merely limits the attacker’s movement. Even then, there are no guarantees.

Instead, the student should have been taught reduced targets; aiming for the brain and/or brain stem to produce an immediate incapacitation.

These new students or novice shooters aren’t good enough to make those hits under stress. Why would you waste their time, their resources and create a false sense of security?

Time should have been spent teaching students to deliver rapid, repeated rounds to the largest target zone available — until a better target zone becomes available.

The operative words there are rapid and repeated. Pushing to deliver effective fire as quickly as possible to neutralize the threat should always be the prime directive.

The responsibility for my student’s low shooting lies squarely on the instructor’s shoulders. The student trusted him to deliver realistic and effective instruction. Bottom line here as elsewhere in life: be careful who you trust.

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  1. Should have taught him to shoot him in the foot. Works almost all of the time in cartoons and leaves the bad guy hopping around shouting “OW!”

  2. No reason to shoot BG low. Shoot him/her high, thats where the important shit is. Also thats how to stop BG more quickly!

      • None….. but i know a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life who have shot a lot of people. The universal consensus seems to be that gunfights are fast and the window of opportunity to shoot a person is limited. Center mass, center mass, center mass….. you will never hit center mass (unless they are really close or you are ambushing them), but you are more likely to hit them somewhere. And any hit seems to be preferable to no hits…. or so I’ve been told… i know a lot of people who missed too, and they seem to agree with the people who hit.

      • How many badguys have YOU shot?

        Or, how many anatomy courses have you taken? I can tell you with 100% certainty that a person’s heart & lungs are NOT below their rib cage, and that the 2nd quickest way to end a 2-legged threat is a heart/lung shot. Combining those 2 facts (not opinions, facts) leads me to believe that upper-body shots are probably going to be better than lower-body shots.

        Caveat: There may be some merit to the idea of shooting an armored assailant in the pelvis, as long as the head is not a better option. If you knock out there structural support and drop them to the ground, you can then make highly detrimental cross-body shots into them. If they fall head towards you, you can take shots at their head and their heart & lungs will be directly behind their head. If they fall showing you their side, you can slip rounds in there between the armor plates and definitely hit both lungs per bullet and maybe the heart as well.

        • +1 … Sunshine_Shooter gets it.

          If you absolutely KNOW that your attacker is wearing a ballistic vest and an armor plate, it makes no sense at all to shoot at the armor plate. Shoot below the armor plate and then light him/her up when he/she falls down since their armor plate is totally ineffective when they are lying down. Note that it is exceedingly difficult for the attacker to continue to fight effectively when a gunshot wound to the abdomen or pelvic girdle just dropped him/her to the ground.

          If you have no idea whether your attacker has an armor plate and want to address that possibility, then you implement Mozambique drills or a double-tap to the chest with a quick follow-up to the abdomen/pelvic girdle.

    • There are times when shooting low is a good idea. If the bad guy has a contact weapon, for example, shooting the pelvis is more likely to drop him immediately due to physical incapacitation (i.e. mechanical disruption of bones and muscle needed for movement) than chest wounds.

      Sure, a head shot is good (assuming the round doesn’t bounce off, which also happens) but it’s also a difficult shot.

  3. In the State Corrections Dept. it was 2 to the head, 3 to the chest and move on. And when asked where we aimed, stick to “I aimed to stop the action.” Nobody who stuck to that answer was ever charged.

    • That concept has very little application outside of full auto. Since most civilians will never use a full auto weapon in defense (or at all), that is a moot point.

  4. I see a coin.
    It has two sides.

    I can understand the concept both instructors are trying to advance.
    I would like to know the backgrounds of both instructors; but most likely never will.

    Personally, I was taught: “…to take what is given”, “When in a dog fight… fight like a dog”, “…above all else, put emotion aside, don’t take it personal, and do what you have to do to survive. Everything (action) is on the table.”, and really, most importantly, avoid conflict if you can.
    Guidance that has served me well.

    Kinda reminds me of “Shane”…

    • Agreed.

      As a commander of mine once said, if what you did worked, you did right. If it didn’t work, you failed. The point being, in a fight, you use whatever you can to win. You don’t go into a fight looking for a loss or a stalemate. If either of those are your goal, you have likely lost already because your opponent is dead set on taking you out. If you have to fight dirty to win, then that is what you should do.

    • “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 tidbit I learned when I was 7, has got me through a lot of bad-looking things; school fights with bullies, Army training, 2 trips downrange, one marriage, etc.

      • LoL
        “…thru… one marriage…”

        I told ya: When yer in a dog fight… yadda yadda yadda


  5. Shooting around armor would really only become useful if the guvmint became the baddies, which is not beyond the realm of possibilities.

  6. “But here’s a secret: that’s a pipe dream.”
    The voice of reason and experience raises its ugly head. Thank you.

  7. I do think shooting low has its place – like when the enemy is behind a barricade and shooting from it. If you miss high your shot goes into the expanse. If your shot goes low it might blow through the barricade . . . or . . . and this sounds like BS but it happens . . . bullets do bounce. I have hit my target more than once by way of an unintended bounce shot off of dirt or wood.

    “The operative words there are rapid and repeated. Pushing to deliver effective fire as quickly as possible to neutralize the threat should always be the prime directive.”

    This can work to defeat body armor as well as successive shots can compromise the armor. That and blunt force trama is a *itch 🙂

  8. Mostly a good read, but I can quibble with this part:
    “The only demographic who consistently employs rifle-rated hard armor plates are good guys: the folks who wear armor for a living because it is their job.”

    If I’m aiming a firearm at somebody, one of the following must be true:
    1. He’s the Bad Guy.
    2. I’m the BG.

    If I’m in a gunfight with a BG, the source of his paychecks is of zero relevance in determining whether he’s a BG or not.

  9. The only place I’ve ever heard the aim low(er) concept from was in the army. At 300m I was taught to aim for the stomach, as when you include the groin/hips on up the shoulders that makes the biggest target at that distance. Also, for machine guns with the idea of walking rounds into the target, again, for long range. But I have also been told aiming for the goin area when facing an adversary with body armor, but typical the army training for that was the “two the chest one to the face” Mozambique drill.

  10. In one of his brief YouTube videos, Clint Smith advises his students to “shoot them in the crotch.” He points out that your muzzle will pass over that target on the way up to where you can see your sights. Might as well take the shot as it does. He also points out that soft armor will defeat handgun bullets. Finally, he regards the crotch shot as merely the first in however many it takes to put down the assailant.

    • ^^^ This. Just saw this the other day. Shoot em anywhere it takes to stop and neutralize the threat.

      I can see no reason to be ‘ticked off’ because not everyone teaches the same concepts – the instructor should have some thicker skin.

  11. I now carry a PMR 30 , have for several years now , for three main reasons I won’t go into here , but ever since , I have obviously centered my defensive training around this gun . This involves , because it is a rim fire tool and because of the method of loading this particular magazine , extensive training on ftf or fte problems and magazine change drills , which I have actually not found to be a problem with any of my 3 PMR 30’s but I drill them anyway . This is a very reliable pistol if you do not limp wrist it . I have changed my defensive drills over to primary head shots , four head four torso , in that order . I believe one needs to consider their carry weapon or the tool being used in each situation . Four years I was strictly trained upper torso when I carried my 357 , Then when I went to my P-85 9mm I changed it up three torso two head . It does make a difference . As far as defensive training with any of my rifles , I stopped this years ago . I now practice long range with a few rifles and the rest just get an occasional dusting .

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