center mass target
Courtesy Action Targets
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When you’re shooting at someone to eliminate an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm, do what the police do: aim center mass. Never mind what you may see in the movies or the bleating of antis who suggest you should only “shoot to wound.”

Aim at the threat’s body to stop the threat.

center mass vital organs
By BruceBlausOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Specifically, that big area in the middle. A body’s center of mass is really somewhere in the upper stomach area. Where you really want to aim is the center of the chest area as in the target at the top. Still, that’s commonly referred to as center mass, so we’ll go with that.

The thinking is simple enough: the bigger the target the better your chance of hitting it. At the same time, all of the perp’s vital organs are conveniently located in the upper middle are of his or her body.

You’re far more likely to stop a threat if you hit the bad guy’s oxygen and circulation engines (the lungs and the heart). Which is all well and good if the bad guy is facing you head on.

But what if he’s sideways to you?

action target center mass side view
Courtesy Action Target

Same thing. Aim for the middle. In fact, you’re well-advised to get yourself some of these “side-on” targets; gun ranges generally don’t stock them.

Some gun gurus recommend aiming for the pelvic girdle (that bit below center mass just below the stomach). They usually add the caveat that you should do so when the bad guy is right on top of you. At which point shooting any part of their body is a very good idea.

Back in the day, before the widespread adoption of semi-automatic pistols, instructors used to talk about shooting a revolver to “zip up” the bad guy (that’s got nothing to do with hoodies). They advised armed self-defenders start shooting at the bad guy’s pelvis and keep firing. As the gun’s muzzle rises, follow-up shots will rise too, moving from pelvis to center mass.

But that’s a lot of thinking and aiming for a tense, adrenaline-filled life-or-death scenario. Don’t over-think it. Just aim for center mass.

Shooting a bad guy isn’t easy. You’re moving — you are moving, right? — the bad guy’s moving and your stress level is pegged at Chernobyl levels.

While cops tend to get a mulligan (or dozen) when rounds go astray, you don’t. Every bullet you fire comes with a lawyer attached (as they say). You need every round to hit the bad guy, and none not to. 

So move, shoot, aim at the bad guy’s center mass and hope for the best. Remember: people don’t fall over and die when you shoot them like they do on TV. Keep shooting — center mass — until the threat stops. And try hard not to miss.

That said, if your attacker is wearing body armor or you really, really want to stop them dead in their tracks, go for a head shot. Realizing that the only way to raise the odds of that working is to get close. Gruesome as it sounds, gruesome as it will be, a contact shot is best.

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  1. WRONG. Proper aiming point is center of AVAILABLE mass. The “big area in the middle” may not be available.

    This is yet another example of why shooters should get professional training instead of relying on internet postings.

    • I’d love to be able to afford the cost, in time and money, for a professional course.

      That said, your assertion sounds like a shameless plug for yourself in some form.

      I appreciate the free opportunity of this discussion. Perhaps you would take the time to write your own article?

      • How the H is it a shameless plug for myself when I didn’t use my name?

        In your mind, anyone that offers valuable information is shameless and it plugging a business? Wow, get a grip.

        • Just another example of over reaction. There are so many marketers selling ridiculous B. S. these days that many just assume that everyone is lying and cheating in order to get access to their wallet. I think that’s why he used the words; “in some form”. He recognizes that you’re anonymous and thus cannot be selling anything… yet.
          He probably figures that after you finish fault finding with this article, a sales pitch will be forthcoming. I doubt that that is the case, but I can see his point. In a world where Elon Musk just finished wasting billions of dollars of Taxpayer’s money on a “hyperloop”, that managed to achieve half the speed of smell before being canceled, a project that everyone with even the most basic knowledge of physics knew was not possible (just search: “thunderfoot hyperloop” on Youtube to see why), similar to the famous crowd funded green solar panels that perished within weeks, the breathe underwater Jedi snorkel that was just two bicycle handgrips, the “Water Seer” project, and all the rest of the virtually endless list of scams, in such a world, can we really blame Mr. Rogers for an excess of caution?

        • “can we really blame Mr. Rogers for an excess of caution?”

          Yes, we can and should. Same goes for your ridiculous comment.

          I used to post here using my name, but I spent so much time defending my statements and thus my reputation, against stupid replies, that I no longer use my name. I now make my point and rarely make counterpoints.

          Armed self-defense is much more complicated than it seems on the surface. Much of what is posted on the internet is wrong. Formal training is needed to find out what is right.

        • Yes, I am going to open a training business in the future and use anonymous postings that I made as advertising. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

          Sign up for my training classes! You can read all about my training theory on my TTAG postings under the name, “D” !!!!!!

        • The form of plug was unsubstantiated proficiency. Tearing someone down to feed your ego. Regardless whether you’re anonymous or not, you get a feeling of superiority from the post.

          The responses on virtually all of TTAG’s articles are flush with them. Certainly not just yours.

          Discussing this topic is valuable – I think your contribution diluted it.

        • Tom:
          “A wise man speaks because he has something to say; a fool because he has to say something.” -Plato
          So, did you have something factual to say, to actually add to the discussion, Tom? I mean other than: “I don’t like what you said”. I think you are capable of realizing that that adds little or nothing.
          Care to articulate WHY you feel the way that you do? Or is having reasons to justify your beliefs just too difficult?

        • Mr. Rogers:
          Don’t let Plato’s fools into your conscientiousness. People typing LO over and over and over again are just so infantile that it’s beneath mention.
          But the subject IS important. Like all internet, the trolls are a problem, and all one can do is ignore them. And sometimes… poke a little fun at their childishness. 🙂
          So, on to more serious matters. Formal training IS good, but far from necessary. I only attended ONE formal class in my entire life, but I lucked into a great one. Gunsight Raven back in the early ’80s when it was just the Steel Raven atop the gate. Jeff Cooper was an unknown at that time, I just lucked into hearing about it as I was living in Phoenix for the winter at that time.
          Cooper passed on so much great information that I was unable to comprehend it all (and I started shooting at age 6), but he sold me a VHS tape (they had them in beta too, this was wayyyy back…), and I’ve watched it probably twenty times over the decades. And yet I still learn from it, even after all these years.
          Someone put it on youtube, titled “Jeff Cooper’s handgun fundamentals”. Don’t let the word “fundamentals” fool you into thinking it’s all basic info, there are very advanced concepts in there, that just go over one’s head until it’s ready to accept them. That’s how I still continue to learn from Mr. Cooper’s tape, even long after his death.
          The Youtube version is even worse in quality than my 30 year old tape, and that is very bad indeed. But the words are still there, the knowledge is still there for the taking, and now it’s even free! What’s not to love?


    • And your assertion of “center of available mass” is equally WRONG!

      The VAST majority of civilian defensive encounters will be (or at least start) with the Bad Guy(s) standing fully exposed. Under such circumstances the “center of available mass” would be a low gut shot while the preferred target area should be center chest.

      But, of course, “center of AVAILABLE mass” was the big teaching point of the course you attended so it became your mantra for correcting everyone else.

      Bottom line: nearly everything taught in most “defensive” pistol classes is inappropriate in at least SOME circumstances, and much of it is inappropriate in most realistic scenarios because move civilian defensive encounters are at distances WELL UNDER three yards (often under three FEET)

      • “center of AVAILABLE mass” was the big teaching point of the course you attended so it became your mantra for correcting everyone else.

        That’s exactly what I was thinking

    • D: and, yet, most non-LE defensive shootings are done by people with little or no training and they fair better than with most LE UoFs. Care to comment?

      (N.B. I have taken 15 or so defensive handgun classes including MAG40. I have the means and opportunities to train and I still don’t know how well I would do in a real deal.)

    • Ever been in a close quarters fire fight?……most training goes out the window with the first rush of adrenaline, what remains is pure instinct….tunnel vision is real and time does slow down(not really), unless your a highly trained special operator, and have a dozen or so close encounters in your resume, most people will shoot at what they see or don’t see, arms, legs..etc…center of mass! that would be most desired.

    • The knees or crotch will, indeed, stop a threat just as quickly as a hit in
      CM. A hell of a lot harder target though. But certainly an option to keep in the front of one’s mind if a CM fails. If a solid hit in CM fails, I’d think “body armor” and go for a head or crotch shot instead. I don’t care how good one’s knee pads might be, they aren’t going to stop a bullet, not even a .22LR.
      Remember the LA shootout bank robbers with the improvised armor and converted AKs a couple decades back? The ones who took multiple hits from the LAPD without effect, so they just kept on shooting at center mass for ages (pro tip: if something isn’t working, try something else…), and were only finally brought down by a single lucky (or unlucky…), hit in the knee?
      Why wouldn’t they try that right away, when they noticed CM hits being ineffective? Probably because they never thought of it.

      • deleted, No point in trying to make sense of that.

        The LA robbers that you mentioned were not wearing vests, they were wearing Kevlar head to toe

      • one high-powered rifle equipped with a scope could have ended that LA shootout quickly…but none was available…they actually had to go to a nearby gun shop to find one…

    • Billy Bob,
      I agree, except I plan on just shooting the gun out of their hand and waiting for the cops to arrive.

  2. if you aim to wound, you are leaving yourself open to support the worthless bastard for the rest of his worthless life. our legal eagle ambulance chasing lawyers can turn the perp into a little angel that was only there to look. if you are threatened with bodily harm ,shoot to kill,never to wound .

    • Robert Powell,

      In case you are not aware, self-defense laws throughout our nation rarely (if ever) provide legal cover to a righteous defender who “shot to kill”.

      Instead, self-defense laws throughout our nation almost always (and quite possibly always) provide legal cover to a righteous defender who “shot to stop the threat”. Whether or not the attacker survives is on the attacker, not the defender.

      Note that a “righteous defender” is legally justified to use deadly force, which means the defender faced a credible, imminent threat of great bodily harm or death.

      Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. The above is my opinion and not legal advice. Consult an attorney to review self-defense laws in your jurisdiction.

    • I think the only instance you could ever get away with a coup de grace shot would be if it was a mass shooter.

      • Not even then. If the attack ceased, attacker is off limits. He needs to wait for his turn on the Old Sparky.

    • Its like Tuco says, “when its time to shoot…..shoot! But when LEO show up its “I feared for my life”…

  3. Unless your the unfortunate one being shot at you should have a reasonable amount of time to take a precise shot/s at the target. Another reason more should carry should you be that unfortunate one someone else can save the day.

  4. If you hunt big game you know there isn’t a one kind of shot to take down an animal. No matter what folks say you have to assess the situation FIRST. There was a reason the Navy SEAL shot OBL in the head. There are good reasons to shot into the pelvic girdle, thoracic shots or CNS shots. There are reasons to and situations to “skip” shots into the BG, like shooting from under a car. Not all gun fights are at 7 yards. Not all gunfights are two men facing squarely each other. You need to have a set of index cards innyour mind with scenarios and actions.

    • Found info this in a search:
      “It is estimated to cost $350,000 to $500,000 to train a single Navy SEAL. To keep a single Navy SEAL operational and deploy able overseas it costs some where around $1,000,000 per year.”

      Which for me boils it down not only to the SEAL shot OBL in the head because he should, but also because he could. In the dark, in night vision, after a helicopter crash and a gun fight. All the training and all that experience, those guys are impressive!

      Much as I hope it never happens if I have to I’m aiming for the center of the big nasty shape that’s attacking me.

      • Guess you never hunted bear or watched bad breath distance videos. Tell me how you will shoot center mass when BG is behind you with arm around your neck ? Or when you are on ground with broken jaw and BG is stradling you ? Or BG is holding your kid in front of his chest ?

        Think, train, repeat.

    • “Assess”?……In a real world gun fight! at 10 feet!…Son, the time to “Assess” is long gone…

    • one semi-automatic rifle made all the difference in that disaster that became the FBI Miami shootout…despite the numerical advantage……

  5. Yup shoot center & often…interestingly most crime reports mention the badguy being dissauded after being shot once. And quite often by someone with NO training.

  6. I agree with the Bid D,

    Constantly training to shoot center mass anymore is setting yourself up for a locked in strategy that may not play out.
    A lot of todays shooters have armor, etc.

    A better use of training time is to constantly mix up placed shots, you don’t want instincts to mag dump center mass on a vest in a panic.

    • “A lot of todays shooters have armor, etc.”

      No. They do not.

      The comments here seem to be intentionally overthinking very simple things like the meaning of the 4 rules and shooting center mass.

      Everybody get a grip – this is not a 400-level executive protection class led by Seal team 6, it’s a freaking website for people of all skill levels to use as a starting point.

    • Seems that going for CM(center of available mass) at the onset is the best plan. If that doesn’t work, then move on to other available areas. Trying at the time of a bad event to “think” about all the areas(knee, elbow, crotch etc) and then chose one may get you hurt while you are thinking. Play it smart and do the best you can with the gear and time you have to respond. Simply put, aim for the biggest part of the BG you can see at the time while allowing his body position to dictate the target area. Hence, center of available mass!!
      See D I am not against the term, I just don’t think the author was amiss in his article.

  7. Training is great, but, most likely Mr Badguy is not a Navy Seal and has less training than you, so there is that and nobody usually mentions it.

  8. “…….Some gun gurus recommend aiming for the pelvic girdle (that bit below center mass just below the stomach). They usually add the caveat that you should do so when the bad guy is right on top of you. At which point shooting any part of their body is a very good idea……….”

    In the class I took with Massad Ayoob he demonstrated, dependent on distance, that shooting center mass can hide the bad guys hands. That is your pistol and hands block out some of the picture. To aim below center mass and shoot pelvic girdle.

    Situational Dependant of course.

    • Was that for cop training by any chance? I don’t think any self defender should be bothered with keeping an eye on the hands once they get to the point of having to use lethal force to stop the threat.

      • Not cop training, was MAG20 class.

        It showed a couple of things. Having a gun pointing at center-mass sometimes does not allow you to see what bad guy is doing with their hands.

        A DGU that shows bad guy had nothing in his hands points to a different kind of courtroom defense tactic.

        The demonstration included him with empty hands and with him having his knife.

        Within 7 or 8 feet, and at center mass, I never saw the knife until I lowered my point of aim down a bit. Well within 21 feet.

        Lower shot placement can avoid the rib cage and reach the spine easier and/or pelvic breakage will stop an attacker.

        No one wants to get shot… one especially wants to get shot in their junk.

        I changed my range practice to include this.

        • “Within 7 or 8 feet, and at center mass, I never saw the knife until I lowered my point of aim down a bit”

          Just to be clear, you were training to point a gun at someone who was standing in front of you when you had not positively identified a weapon?

          Why were you pointing a gun at them? What deadly threat had they posed and how did you identify that threat without the ability to see their hands?

          Gun drawn and pointed is not an interview position.

        • “.>>.Just to be clear, you were training to point a gun at someone who was standing in front of you when you had not positively identified a weapon?
          Why were you pointing a gun at them? What deadly threat had they posed and how did you identify that threat without the ability to see their hands?

          Do you mean similar to someone saying I have a gun, give me your money or I will shoot you?
          Do you wait until you see the gun? or assume he’s telling the truth and you react?
          When you react and shoot that someone center mass and discover all he was reaching for was a black cell phone after the fact…what is your next course of action?

          I get that “Center Mass’ is dogma for many, but it’s not all B/W every time, in every situation.

          some interesting reading in 3 parts.

        • Thanks jwtaylor, that’s exactly what I was failing to get at in my earlier comment.

    • Valid point. Man is a tool using creature and seeing the Perp’s hands is a big part of the shot/no shot decision.

    • I didn’t think my opinion of MA could fall any further. What good does the pelvic girdle do? You aren’t going to shatter the pelvis with a handgun. That’s a myth. The best you’ll do is poke a hole in it. Hitting the hip joint would disable that leg, but it’s around 1″ around and near the periphery. If he has a gun, he’d still be able to fight from the ground. Femurals are there, but I’d challenge you to hit them on purpose, assuming you can even tell where they are.
      The physiological ways to stop someone are blood flow, CNS, or mechanical. Handguns need the bullet to touch tissue to destroy it. The upper chest has heart, lungs, major veins and arteries, and the spine. In addition, it doesn’t move around a lot and is relatively big. Hitting a leg bone is an aimed shot, not hitting a pie plate or A zone in a gun game, and it’s probably moving. A head shot is usually effective, but it’s a 3×5-ish area on a moving target, so it better be close or aimed.

      • “…I didn’t think my opinion of MA could fall any further. What good does the pelvic girdle do?…”

        Makes the person you are shooting stop doing what their doing, at least long enough for the shooter to get some distance from the situation.

        Heck, if the attacker is close enough, as in arms length, it might be the only shot that can be made.

      • “I didn’t think my opinion of MA could fall any further”

        My opinion of Mas is very high, but if this is actually what he’s teaching I would need to rethink that. Somehow I doubt this was what any of Mas’ courses was actually trying to show. It’s more likely that the OP misunderstood.

  9. “While cops tend to get a mulligan (or dozen) when rounds go astray, you don’t.”

    Maybe in NY. I’m in LE and we’re told the same thing, your the one responsible for every round fired, and each round has a lawyer attached to it.

  10. As has been inferred, the variables are infinite.

    My cheap-@ss self prefers to utilize our local USPSA for my attempts to train. I don’t care about my score so much as the opportunity it gives me to move and shoot in a safe environment. I use my carry weapon. I make it a point NOT to try to memorize the courses,as it makes it that much more instinctive.

    In an actual I intend to shoot the first viable target until the threat is gone. Will this equate to me surviving an attack? Hopefully but nothing is guaranteed.

    • some of the best shots I have made..[with a pistol]..were instinctive, snap shots that I made without thinking…like stepping on a snake, for example…not sure how you train for that…

  11. Once you start putting things in motion it becomes evident that the most important paramater for a pistol round is velocity. The faster the round the higher the hit probability against a moving target. That is why I moved to 9mm a couple of years ago and now that I load up with 155g 10mm Hornady Custom I am back to carrying my 10mm

    • At 1000fps, a target 25 feet away will be hit in 25 milliseconds (1/40th of a second). For the target to move an inch laterally, that’s 40 inches/second, or 2 3 mph. At 1500fps, it’s 17 milliseconds (~1/60th), or 3.3 mph to move an inch. That’s the difference of a slow walk to an average walk (moving perpendicular to you). Sprinting directly at you has minimal effect, unless you’re targeting arms and legs. You can directly scale up to your desired combat accuracy.
      From a wounding perspective, it depends on bullet construction, but faster/lighter bullets tend not to penetrate as deeply and do less damage.

      • You can do math. I am impressed. /Sarc.

        If both you and the target are moving then your pointing error is going to be large. The difference between 1300fps and 1000fps can be the difference between a miss and a hit or difference between a stop and a continuation of the attack. By stop I mean the threat ends not that he is thrown back 100 ft movie style.

        And where I love there are non human threats that move faster than 3.3 mph

  12. Not a recommendation but, if the assailant is (very) close, aim for the head. Even a successful center mass shot(s) will take time to disable the assailant.

    Head shots also would work if the assailant is wearing body armor.

  13. You know, I frequently get ready to post a constructive comment about the article, to share a thought or ask a question, then I read the other comments with people making mindless jokes or getting into pi$$ing contests with each other and I figure, “What’s the point?”

  14. Getting shot hurts no matter where you get hit. I never heard a casualty complain they preferred a bullet over shrapnel or vice versa.
    Get that first hit and go from there. A hit to the pelvic girdle will slow them down so one can do a Mozambique.

  15. The way you said “you are moving right ” makiit sound like you are advocating moving . Real gunfighters like Erp and the late great Bill Jordan ( no second place winner) learned from experience that moving slowed down your reaction time , made hitting harder and introduced possibility of tripping or being off balance . Stand planted and use ALL of your energy and concentration on proper draw and fire tecneques . Professional trainers say you need to practice moving and shooting ,for military action or shtf complete take over situations maybe so but in most self-defense situations there will be no place to go and sparse adiquate cover to get behind . Let the bearded hero in cargo pants and dark glasses magdump while running and ducking in the real world it’s the firstist with the mostist that walks away .

  16. Ever stub your big toe, hard? Debilitating isn’t it. So, I’m a hit the big toe advocate. Yeah, it may damage your flooring.

  17. Center of mass is most desireable….but when all the training goes out the widow with the first rush of adrenaline, even an arm or leg will do…

  18. no aim for the throat area. even with body armor the concussion will kill them.

    drop them hard and fast guaranteed


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