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By James England via

Recently we got a Facebook message from an avid reader who wanted to know our reasoning behind the idea of always aiming for center mass. The reader said that one of his relatives didn’t understand why limb shots or head shots wouldn’t be preferable to a center mass shot. The rationale is understandable — the potential concealed carrier is looking to not take life and simply incapacitate his target . . .

That’s great.  That’s exactly why we shoot center mass.

Along the medial line (also called the midline) of the human body, we see the main components of a person’s central nervous system, respiratory, digestive, and cardiovascular system. The core pieces — the heartlungsspineliver, and kidneys are all placed directly to the left or right of that midline.

We’ve included a graphic to help illustrate this.


In a defensive situation, if you can aim for the middle of the target, you have the greatest chance of the bullet landing somewhere in vicinity of these systems.  Any direct hit to the heart, lungs, liver, or spine will likely result in the target being seriously incapacitated or killed.

That supports the idea that self-defense may involve the use of deadly force.  If you’re not prepared to use deadly force to protect yourself, a firearm isn’t going to be helpful.

Center Mass Shot Placement Versus Limb Or Head

The area we’ve highlighted on the anatomy model is for reference of scale. The surface area of that target is larger than the exposed surface area of an arm, leg, or even a head. That means there’s more space for a bullet to strike. Firing for center mass allows for inaccuracy. If the shooter’s hand is shaking or the shooter is firing from an unsupported position, straying from the medial line by up to three inches on either side will still result in a critical impact.

If you took that same line and traced it down the middle of an arm or leg, it’s possible that a shot that’s off center by up to three inches will be a complete miss.

Center Mass Does Not Mean Immediate Stop

Unfortunately, one bullet doesn’t guarantee success. When shot, the human body immediately seizes and stops due to a precipitous drop in blood pressure, cardiac arrest, and/or severe damage to the spinal column/central nervous system. But this takes some measurable amount greater than zero seconds. This is also why we aim center mass — we never anticipate one bullet will result in immediate cessation of hostilities. That said, if one round appears to incapacitate your opponent, you are obliged to cease hostilities.

Severing the central nervous system by gunshot wound causes nerves to no longer coordinate movement in the rest of the body. In more extreme cases, it can result in organs no longer able to communicate and the brain being shut off from the rest of the body. If the body cannot communicate, it stops working.

Gunshot wounds that penetrate cardiac tissue or the arteries leading into the heart will cause it to stop pumping blood. This is perhaps the most severe and immediate injury a person can sustain outside of a clean headshot through the top of the spinal cord. Death usually follows immediately unless extremely skilled medical personnel are on stand-by — and even then it’s a long shot.

Shots that result in a large displacement of bodily tissues within this center mass area can lead to a sharp drop in blood pressure. When blood pressure drops suddenly, a hostile target will lose consciousness. If not treated quickly, death will likely occur within minutes.

Lastly, if the respiratory system is struck by bullets, the person cannot breathe. Divorced from oxygen, the body is running off of whatever oxygen remains in its blood supply. When oxygen levels drop, a number of very sharp, precipitous chemical reactions occur in the blood stream and the person loses consciousness.

Vital organs like the liver and kidneys don’t have the near-instantaneous results typically found in shots registered into the spinal column and heart but they will definitely incapacitate your foe in short order. If left untreated, those injuries will be fatal in the near-term.

The Unpleasant Business Of Defensive Gun Use

Detailing this information isn’t meant to gross out anyone or make them feel overly confident. It’s meant as a reality check to the rationale of aiming for center mass. It’s also why we stress the importance of responsible gun use for concealed carriers. There is a lot of responsibility in your hands when you carry a firearm every day. That responsibility ought be measured and metered against the knowledge that there’s no such thing as an idle shot.

A well-placed center mass shot has the greatest chance of incapacitating an attacker. It’s always our hope that no one need lose his life in a gunfight. If anyone does, though, let it be the bad guy and not yourself.

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  1. Center Mass of what’s showing. If your enemy doesn’t present more than an ear, you aim for center mass of ear.

      • Most people have a hard time understanding the difference between cover and concealment. A good chunk of them are under the mistaken impression that interior walls stop handgun rounds or at least degrade their performance in a significant way.

      • Presents. If behind something concealing where position is unknown, then I use x-ray vision to locate center mass.

        Center mass of what’s showing is how they taught us in Iraq. PID.

  2. Simpler answer: 1) Hitting a moving target under stress is very difficult so aiming at the largest possible target increases your odds of disabling the perpetrator. 2) Aiming at the largest and thickest target reduces the change of a shoot thru or miss hitting someone or something unintended.

    • I think #2 there is very important. While police can miss as much as it takes and cause property and personal damage and death against innocent bystanders and not suffer civil or criminal repercussions, a private citizen cannot. I’m liable for wherever that bullet goes. If I miss because I’m aiming at a tiny, moving target like an arm or knee or something and hit somebody or something else, I’m liable for the damage. Even if I aim center mass and hit center mass on a 100% valid, obvious threat (e.g. an active shooter taking people out) but the bullet passes through and hits an innocent person, I could be liable for that. Frankly, if a civil lawsuit by the innocent person or his/her family came of that sort of incident, I believe I’d lose that lawsuit. And circling back to the police officer thing, they may not have the same level of liability but for many reasons they obviously don’t want to hit things they didn’t mean to hit.

      So… we aim for center mass because it provides the largest fudge factor, which means best chance of success as well as lowest chance of collateral damage. And I have selected what I believe is the best ammunition that is fully capable of stopping a threat but also highly unlikely to overpenetrate.

  3. Center chest, not center mass.

    Center mass puts the round near the diaphragm.

    Put them between the nipples, that’s the sweet spot.

    • If they would just stand still and pose!!! Unfortunately, they may tend to bob and weave, dodge and jink, and the best you can do is to aim CENTER MASS, and hope you put a hole in something which is important to them. You might be drunk. You may have taken a hit or 3. Your wife might be being raped slightly off-target. You may be firing .22 short instead of .464 or whatever. The only answer which is ALWAYS right, is center mass. Put a hole in that sucker. Tiny, huge, in his fingertip or through his eye, a HOLE! We always talk about those on horrendous drugs or whatever, fine. Maybe that one time in 10,000 the jackass will go on and kill you. The other 9999 times he will fold, and your family will be safe. But this paranoia is, well, paranoia!

      • It’s not a head shot, nor is it a shot from 300 yards…

        I’m talking about moving your aim up 3-4 inches on the torso.

        It will increase the possibly of missing, but only a little bit in one direction.

        With limited rounds and a pistol caliber, I’ll take my chances aiming for the more vital structures.

        • A major, but rarely mentioned, reason for aiming for COM, is that it stays more still than more peripheral parts. It takes much less effort get a body to rotate around COM, than to move COM itself. In a highly dynamic situation, that alone may well be reason enough to aim for COM, it’s concentration of vitals serving merely as a convenient bonus.

          As an extreme example, even if the vitals of an airplane propeller were located at one of the tips, you’d still want to aim for it’s COM if you wanted to incapacitate it. Assuming the propeller is moving, of course. Assassinating sleeping people is still better done by aiming between the eye sockets. Or, at least that’s what I’ve been told 🙂

        • Up against the ever more typical American, 600lbs of lard and a hard vacuum cranium; aiming for Center of Mass, could easily have you aim around knee level……..

  4. Anyone who talks about shooting someone in a limb is probably someone who has never had to shoot accurately and under pressure. They should be taken to a range, had to do some exercise (sprinting, for example) and then told to shoot a human target (not a silhouette) and see if they can hit his funny bone.

    • An easy drill for this is a wrist shot on one of those zombie swinging cleaver targets. Super hard, even from very close. Gradually move down the arm until you find a spot they CAN hit, then step back a bit and repeat. At just 10 feet, most people will already understand how stupid the notion truly is.

      • This is a good example of just how wrong the anti-gun premise of limited magazines really is. In a crisis you need as many rounds available for your own defense as possible.

        • The probability increase of incapacitating someone, from n available rounds to n+1, starts tapering off pretty hard a some point. The more accurate you are, the earlier that point is. Which is why a small, lightweight gun carried 90% of the time, is likely better protection than a minigun occasionally dragged out of the closet. I’m assuming you’re not NYPD, of course…..

          Moral of the story is NOT to ban magazines of any kind, but rather to train with an emphasis on accuracy rather than speed, if training time is limited.

    • This became very apparent to me the first time I shot IDPA and had quite a few misses and FTNs. And that was just under the pressure of “the clock”.

  5. People who ask that seem to be under the impression that there are magic spots on the human body that can take a bullet with no chance of causing death, which is more Hollywood bullshit. Even the shoulder, Hollywood’s go-to “flesh wound” area, has a large brachial artery running through it that can bleed out in less than a minute if pierced. There’s no such thing as shooting to wound, and like Dan said: if you’re not willing to take a life to protect your own, then don’t carry a firearm. Q.E.D.

      • Unless the survival rate was 100%, I don’t see how that undermines my point in the slightest. You use a gun to stop a threat, and there is an unavoidable possibility of ending a life when you do. Even devices like mace and stun guns are called “less-lethal” for a reason.

        Any time you successfully defend yourself, there’s a chance your attacker won’t survive. If someone doesn’t want to take that chance, then they should forgo self-defense completely and wear a T-shirt that says “Please no crime, thank you!”

        • The handgun “flesh wound” is not really a myth… This is especially true of hits to the extremities with no skeletal damage. You’re going to hate life, but a field dressing and some pain killers later, you’re going to be at least partially combat effective. This is especially true when people use sub-par calibers (like .22LR) or ball ammo. You’d be surprised how many places on your body will accept a 9mm hole without disabling you.

        • I responded to a shooting a few weeks ago. Dude took one to the sternum, I was able to stop the bleeding and thought he was going to be ok. When the paramedics got there they said his lungs sounded weak. The bullet had fragmented and tore up his lungs, and he died shortly after.

          While handgun rounds aren’t as deadly as rifles, they’re still nothing to sneeze at

      • I hear that a lot and it is probably true where I am; literally minutes away from two of the world”s best hospitals. However, if you go 30 miles out of town in the wrong direction you will find out that handgun rounds are quite lethal and caliber matters.

    • A shot that severs the femoral artery may be the most lethal non CNS or heart hit on the body.

  6. Most people (especially antis) are under the impression that a handgun is a magic death ray. Those of us who have experience in the subject know that even with a good hit, a lot of factors go into how quickly an attacker is disabled by the hit.

    – Caliber selection
    – Bullet type (actually more important than caliber as a good .380 HP will cause a larger wound track than .45 ACP ball)
    – Range
    – Attacker clothing (can cause bad hollow points to not expand or, in some cases, can greatly reduce the penetration)

    My personal policy is that if a person is advancing on me with a weapon, I keep shooting until that weapon is no longer in their hand or they are obviously out of the fight.

    Fun fact, hitting both kidneys is 100% fatal. But even that does not guarantee an immediate stop.

      • Quite a bit of trauma medicine training. Losing both kidneys will cause damage to major arteries that are impossible to close in the field. (Too deep, too many, and too much volume.) The only way you’d survive is if you had a surgical suite and a trauma team in the next room. The only thing more 100% guaranteed in the torso is a direct hit directly to the aorta or the heart itself.

        • There’s a difference between lethal and disabling. A wound can be lethal, but not immediately disabling or immediately disabling but not lethal. (A good example of the latter is a hit to your hip joint, good luck doing anything with a shattered pelvis.) The kidney example is practically guaranteed to kill you even with (realistic) top shelf medical attention. It is not guaranteed to immediately disable you because the blood loss still takes a finite amount of time.

          In self defense scenarios, we try to aim for immediately disabling over lethal. I don’t care if my attacker dies, but I really care if he’s on the ground writhing in pain rather than using his dead man’s 10 seconds to kill me.

        • The fuel inlet to a carburetor is slightly more complex. Attached to the fuel pipe there’s a kind of mini fuel tank called a float-feed chamber (a little tank with a float and valve inside it). As the chamber feeds fuel to the carburetor, the fuel level sinks, and the float falls with it. When the float drops below a certain level, it opens a valve allowing fuel into the chamber to refill it from the main gas tank. Once the chamber is full, the float rises, closes the valve, and the fuel feed switches off again. (The float-feed chamber works a bit like a toilet, with the float effectively doing the same job as the ballcock—the valve that helps a toilet refill with just the right amount of water after you flush. What do car engines and toilets have in common? More than you might have thought!)

    • I hope no one believes your dangerously incorrect terminal ballistics. It’s been known for at least three decades now that penetration is the most important factor in handgun rounds. Hollow point decrease penetration to dangerous levels, especially when you consider that gel tests do not take into account skin (which counts for 4″ of gel) or bone. If you look at autopsy results from real world shootings you will see the most of the time HPs fail to even exit limbs, which means that a person standing in a fighting stance will have their center mass vital areas covered by their arms, which if your using HPs are as good as a shield.

      Don’t be fooled by the marketing or pretty pictures of expansion, what you want most out of a defensive handgun bullet is a wound channel that can reach deep into the body to reach vital organs and shatter load bearing bone structure. Big holes look good in a piece of paper but humans are three dimensional. What you need is a deep hole that fully penetrates the target.

      • So you’re going to claim that the IWBA standards are “marketing hype”? Really? You do realize that the reason the FBI standards specify a minimum of 12″ of penetration is precisely to take into account for the variables you mentioned? Last time I checked, very few humans were a foot thick.

        • “Last time I checked, very few humans were a foot thick.”

          Have you not seen some of the people in this country? I’ve seen some people that are close to two feet thick, today.

        • 12″ is the MINIMUM standard. Its the FBI data itself that I am referencing. They say repeatedly that penetration is the most important factor.

          You don’t think people are a foot thick? Lets do a simple experiment. Stand infront of a mirror and take up a weaver shooting stance (aka, a natural fighting stance, body a 45 degrees, one leg back arms up infront of torso) Now look at your arms. They aren’t flat out, they are angled, so is your chest. A bullet headed for your heart doesn’t just have to go through 4-6″ of fore arm, it has to go through it at an angle. That is EASILY 12″

          But wait, it gets worse. Its well established that a layer of skin counts for 4″ of gel penetration. If you get hit in the arm, (an arm that most likely going to be infront of your center of mass) with one of your 12″ HP’s You loses 4″ going in, 4″ going through the muscle (if your have skinny arms, it could be a lot more) and then 4″ going out. Thats your 12″ RIGHT THERE and the bullet hasn’t even reached your chest.

          And then there is the real world. I was shot in the hip with a 146 grain +p Hydrashok and it only penetrated 5″ 8″ would have hit my femoral artery and killed me.

          I can’t stress this enough. No matter how good the marketing and how scary expanded hollowpoints look the real world truth is that ANYTHING that limits penetration is limiting your bullets ability to do its job.

        • Aerindel… I’m sorry bro, but a single data point does not negate decades of research. The reality is that the FBI uses that standard for a good reason. The bullets that pass that test have been shown to be effective. By your logic, we should all carry 454 Casull revolvers or go home.

          There is, however, one undeniable fact. Hardball is worse than a good equivalent hollow point. If we can’t agree on that, then I don’t see how we can even begin to have a discussion.

          Oh, and the 12″ is a minimum with an 18″ maximum. Again, ballistics gel is not tissue. It is a simmulant designed to approximate the composite nature of the human body. 12″ just happens to be the minimum depth reached by bullets that had been proven effective in the field. You seem to forget that they didn’t start with the gel and pick bullets. They picked known good bullets, then used the gel as a comparative benchmark.

        • There definitely are some chunkies out there, but let’s keep in mind the subset of the population we’re talking about. You have to look at your own circumstances to assess your risks.

          If your most likely assailant is the proverbial young, strung out, crack/meth head, then he’s probably not very hefty. If, on the other hand, your 50 year old, 325 lb. ex-husband is stalking you, then that’s a different matter.

          High level statistics are useful only insofar as they reflect your situation. The further removed your reality is, the less applicable they are.

          • “I hear people on my YouTube channel all the time making comments like “my heart is only 4″ deep, why would I want a bullet that goes more than 8 or 9 inches?” This gives a pretty good example — not all shots are going to be front-on at an unobstructed sternum! Some will. Some won’t. Some will go into the chest and do nothing. Some might enter through the side, through an arm or shoulder. Some might need to bounce off some ribs before hitting something substantial. You don’t know. But the experts do — there are many good reasons why the leading experts in the field of terminal ballistics put the bare minimum acceptable penetration depth at 12″ of travel!”


        • neiowa

          It’s not actually an FBI driven spec. The IWBA is an independent body that did research and published standards that were then adapted by law enforcement.

      • “If you look at autopsy results “

        I’ve been to a bunch of shooting autopsies…from .22 LR to 12 ga buckshot point blank.

        Also done a fair bit of hunting and looking at wound results from high power rifle rounds (various ranges, etc).

        About the only conclusion I can draw based on my own experience is that over 90% of what I read on the Internet on the subject of “terminal ballistics” is some combination of Geezer Science and pure bullsnot.

        The Internet does make for entertaining reading, but as a source of “information,” one has to be VERY careful about reading online.

        As far as I can tell, if a newb wants GOOD information on bullet performance and the like, the best source is the hunting rags up to about the 1960’s or maybe early 70’s. Those guys were out there experimenting and observing real tissue damage, and though some my criticize their methodologies as “not standardized” or whatever other nonsense, the conclusions they’ve draw have stood the test of time.

        Lots of later articles were good too. I remember some excellent handgun hunting articles came out shortly after the Black Talons hit the market and a lot of folks were claiming they were “gimmicks.” (The Black Talons were among the first rapid expanding hollow point design to hit the public market, and lots of folks tried to claim they were NOTHING but ordinary hollow points with some gimmicky features).

        Since a subset of such quality hunting articles have been handgun hunters, some translate well, in my opinion, to handgun SD issues. So, in my opinion, if a bullet design/type out of my chosen handgun calibers have tested, proven HUNTING reputations out to 50+ yards, I conclude they are probably “good enough” for SD.

        That’s just me though. The proof lies not in theoretical debates but on proven examples of tissue destruction. The rest is little more than marketing.

        • I basically agree. This is why no hunter chooses bullets based on expansion over penetration and every hunter knows that exit wounds are where most of the blood loss happens.

          But an important distinction needs to be made between handgun rounds and rifle rounds. The type of explosive fragmentation and hydrostatic shock effects that make fully penetrating rifle soft points so deadly in deer (I shot two yesterday with a .308 that died within 30 seconds) do not exist in most handguns. The only wounding mechanism you can count on in handgun is crushing damage to tissue by actual bullet contact.

          Which means the bullet has to go deep enough to reach vital anatomy. With a rifle you can get both full penetration and expansion, with handguns you can only have one.

        • Which is precisely why I specifically mentioned handgun hunting.

          I prefer handgun rounds with a proven track record at hunting…favoring that test far more over gel testing.

          Gel testing allows two bullets to be compared against each other within the realm of the test and on-paper standards. And yes, some of the modern gel tests have tried to roughly calibrate themselves to ‘real world tissue damage.’

          However, it’s still an artificial test. And, if a given round is known to perform very well on game in real world hunting applications…why does not really matter so much to me (though it is fun to discuss)…I don’t really much care what the gel testing shows.

          This is the sad part to me…thousands upon thousands of words typed on the ‘Net each year arguing this feature vs that one, this design bit vs that one, when all the while…real results are right in front of us and go largely ignored.

          It is a puzzle.

          And by the way, the Black Talon was a hollow point that penetrated very well on game up to and including big horn sheep…from 9-freaking-millimeter even out to about 75 yds (if memory serves…I’ve fuzzy on remembering the range).

          As do Hornady XTP’s. That’s my go-to bullet for hand loads in both 9mm and .357 Mag. I’ve seen XTP’s wreak pure destruction from .44 Mag.

          There are other handgun hunting bullets that are “just as good” and with I can’t stand the claims of “just use this…it’s the best.” Point is…if it works on deer or bigger game animals at 50+ yards, it’s a good bullet.

        • JR–You don’t hunt with a 3″ barrel pocket pistol, do you? That would make a difference, yes? Or no?

        • “JR–You don’t hunt with a 3″ barrel pocket pistol, do you? That would make a difference, yes? Or no?”

          No, sir, I don’t. My 6″ .357 Mag is my hunting handgun, but would not be above hunting with my EDC 9mm either, provided I could get close enough. Your point is partly why I carry a full frame pistol with a 4.5″ (or so) barrel.

          I think this is a good role the gel testing fulfills. Say a round performs well in hunting scenarios out of longer barrels. Testing THAT round for comparison in different test scenarios is more meaningful, I think, than even comparing round-to-round.

          It’s a good point, but does not take away from the “baseline” data real world hunting performs provides.

      • Which is why no one going to Africa after a buffalo wants anything but a solid bullet(FMJ). Even in a .375 H&H and up, its all about wound channel and shot placement. If that’s the rule on large dangerous game, I see no reason why humans(the most dangerous species around) qualify for a different set of rules.

        • By that logic M995 should be superior to M855 which should be superior to Mk262. In the real world, humans are not water buffalo.

      • Hollow points were designed primarily to reduce the risk collateral casualties from over penetration and not necessarily to increase lethality. They may or may not penetrate sufficiently to hit vital organs. The trend toward shorter barrels and lighter calibers degrades both expansion and penetration. That is why I rank barrel length as the most important attribute of a handgun even for pistols of the same caliber. The longer the barrel the more likely that you will get both full expansion and sufficiently deep penetration from a wide variety of cartridges.

        • “That is why I rank barrel length as the most important attribute of a handgun even for pistols of the same caliber.”

          It certainly makes more sense to debate the merits and shortcomings of barrel length than to get panties constantly twisted over one caliber vs another.

          As stated above, this is one reason I prefer a full frame, full size pistol for EDC. Insofar as “firepower” is concerned, within my chosen EDC caliber, I want the most bang for the buck, so to speak.

        • Years ago I decided to go with a 10 round .45 with a 230 grain HP for the “flying ashtray” effect. I was mildly disturbed to later find out that CorBon et al recommended a much lighter bullet for my short barrel design, such as 185 grain HP. Basically I ended up with a .45 that was more like a .40 S&W.

          • nah. go back to 230gr hardball/hardcast. blow holes through everything for 600feet. better to be alive to talk about over-penetration and collateral damage. otherwise, if you are already at .40 effectiveness, drop on down to 9mil, and a faster bullet.

  7. Great write up.

    My only change would be to use a more general description like “people who carry firearms”. Not all POTG concealed carry, many open carry.

    • I know, it’s really tiring how even 2a supporters think that conceal carrying like some kind of assassin or criminal is the only way to carry a gun.

      • You do realize that a large portion of us have no choice? Right? I would open carry if I could (it would let me pack my favorite SIG comfortably, if nothing else), but where I live, that would land me in the slammer.

        • I guess serge… Illinois sucks. I think there ARE lots of variables. Google “terminal ballistics as viewed from the morgue”. A real-life cop/medical examiner thinks bigger is better. And gel doesn’t take into account bones(or skulls). Yeah I know bullets are better(the 9mm crowd) but so is every other caliber.

        • As pwrserge noted in another comment, the FBI gel tests very specifically DO take bones, etc. into account.

  8. I hate the term “CENTER OF MASS” because it sounds too much like the center-of-gravity (which is actually is right around your waist).

    And since some schools of shooting call for shooting at the pelvic girdle, CoM could actually be very confusing.

    Centerline of torso would be more informative.

  9. For those who are curious (or disbelieving) about the power of handguns, the recent video of an Israeli civilian trying to stop an attacker with a clever should be informative. Not only did one shot not stop the attacker, the attacker acknowledged the hit, then continued the attack. This happened several times, including the attacker dropping after a shot, then getting back up, again (shooter shot and evaluated after each shot…boo).

    • But but but I can’t carry my shotgun concealed! Dang I guess I’ll just have to depend on my puny handgun. And nothing written convinces me I shouldn’t carry the largest caliber I can handle…

      • Boy, oh boy. The point is/was that handguns do not reliably neutralize a bad guy intent on killing someone. People can take multiple rounds, and keep going (as the video showed…no, I have no info on the type/calibre of the gun). There was no intent to discourage anyone from carrying (however they can manage) a S&W .500 hand canon. The discussion is about where to hit a bad guy, the comment was intended to demonstrate to those with no experience that the idea a “wounding” hit would be effective is pure folly.

        • In that example the shooter made one critical mistake. They assessed after every shot. I asses after every magazine. (My range gets annoyed at me when I train to do mag dumps.) 1-2 9mm kurz hollow points might not put you down. Eight really should if I did my job.

          • Yep. Evaluating after every shot was a huge mistake and just may have allowed the encounter to last longer than it should. Shoot ’til the threat stops, meaning doesn’t keep moving in a threatening manner. I know a first-time shooter (not a ganger) might be hoping that a bullet hit will discourage an attacker, or not quite understand that one hit is not a reliable fight-stopper. It is good that here on the blog so many people talk about and push for threat-end response.

  10. I’ve noticed during Simunition training that a lot of our cops shoot low – even at close range. Sometimes the “Oh, shit!” reaction takes over and guys look well over the top of their sights. Our role player was pretty accurate and could get head shots and center mass shots. Then again it’s just shooting wax rounds and much of the stress isn’t there.

    I think most shooters will naturally go for center mass anyways since that seems to be where most people train. I’d be much happier if cops were as accurate during DGU’s as taxpayers. Then again, cops being less accurate and responsible with their shootings – overall, anyways – than taxpayers makes one of the best arguments against gun control.

    • Actually good advice. A center mass hit might kill the attacker, but a shattered pelvis most certainly WILL stop them.

      • Break someone’s pelvis and they are going down. Period. The pelvic girdle is where your spine and legs come together. You cannot stand if it’s broken. And, it is one of the most painful injuries you can receive.

  11. While the idea of aiming center mass is good, the problems with it are many. First, this nomenclature gives the wrong idea. Center mass teaches people to aim for the center of the trunk and while stomach shots are painful and will lead to a slow painful death, they are not effective at stopping the threat. The best description for the desired impact area is high thoracic. As indicated by the article, there are no immediate stops center mass, the best that can be done is a heart/major artery shot. This of course is smaller than the brain and also its location within the chest cavity must be considered. The brain is correctly in this article refered to as the best way to achieve an instant stop. If the brain contains the off switch for the violent criminal and our goal is for him/her to cease the violent behavior, why would it be advised to do shoot anything short of the best option?
    If the subject is moving or behind concealment in such a way that the head is no longer available then high thoracic is the best option at that time and as such should be taken.
    If you combine the best chest hit box (high thoracic) the neck and the head you have a very nice verticle rectangle with almost as much surface area as your described “center mass” and much better chance for a sucessful and expedient stop.
    All of this is predicated of course on the option to pick our shots which sometimes is a luxury we are not afforded.

    • Small movements of a small target (head/neck/ears) can create greater miss rate. Small movements of a large target (torso) leave much more target area available for contact. Taking into account all the dynamic problems with shooting while under threat/fire, multi-rounds at the larger target seem to offer the best option for damage to the target. I would speculate, if you can hit a moving head, you can hit a moving hand/gun combination (near approximation of the size of a head). Why not attempt to shoot the weapon from the assailant’s hand? My combat training was center mass in order to maximize the chance of a hit. One torso hit might not do the trick, but zero head hits doesn’t offer much either. If the defender is also on the move, the chances of a head shot grow to less than zero.

      But if one can consistently make head shots under combat conditions, hooray ! Good on ya’ mate. Stay thirsty, my friend.

      • While fairly similar in size, the hand being at the end of the arm with all its range of motion is a much more difficult shot than the head which has much more limited motion. I do understand that aiming at the chest provides a higher chance for a hit, even if it misses critical organs. The problem I see is that “center mass’ is a very poor target. High thoracic/heart is a much better descriptor and a better thing to go for. Another issue I see is claiming that center mass is always the best. Center mass should be a fall back from the best choice which if available is clearly the head. I agree that it can be difficult to get headshots, but if you always train to make the second best shot (or even a worse one) you may be incapable of making the best shot when needed.
        Not trying to offend anyone I simply think “conventional wisdom” can be misleading or even dangerous in this particular realm under certain circumstances.

        • Center mass. Watch other people on a square range (or even one of the special ops pretender schools). What is the spread of hits on a target paper? The vast majority of gun owners do not have time or facility to train to a level that would be required to reliably hit the thoracic area. So, the recommendation to move focus to a smaller target area might be a good one for a select group, the mass of gun owners (who probably don’t practice at all), would be best served trying to keep bullets in the torso (which would include the thoracic). If you look at all the shootings over pick-a-period, it might be that the number of non-hits is a large portion of shots fired (especially for LEO). A further support for the idea that aimpoint should be the largest area visible.

  12. Interesting discussion with lots of good information to think over. I always practice shooting at “Center Mass”, or roughly at the Sternum. I regard limb and head shots as way too risky for missing or creating collateral damage.

    I used to shoot with an older gent who was a veteran of the Wehrmacht. His advice for pistol defense was always to aim for the torso, roughly the sternum, and discharge three aimed rounds as rapidly as you could. This tactic accounts for movement, angle and should clear arms in the way etc, allowing one round to strike the torso, maybe two, then evaluate. He said that if you hadn’t hit your adversary with a pistol shot after three rounds, you should probably get the hell out of there.

  13. Random thoughts:

    1. The debate over center mass torso v sternum v exposed body part v concealment assumes the one shot stop. Multiple rapid aimed shots are the key to winning the fight.

    2. While pelvic fractures are not pleasant, what evidence is there that a shot to the pelvis will actually cause it to shatter? And even if, the shooter’s brain and gun hand are still functional, until it eventually bleeds out.

    3. I had a patient once that was shot through the chest, entrance wound over the heart, exit wound left mid back. Firearm was a S&W .357 4″ revolver loaded with .38 JHPs. A reasonable person would assume it was time to plan a funeral. Oddly, her vital signs were… normal. Yet she remained unresponsive, or so we thought. Half way to the ED I yelled into her ear, “What’s your name?!” She immediately opened her eyes and answered me! We later found out that the round had struck a rib and rode / tracked completely around the chest cavity without ever entering it. Bizarre.

      • Exactly. I think magazine capacity is probably best. Maybe don’t carry a .22 but raining bullets down on them is probably the safest way given all the variables and less than ideal caliber/barrel length. Unless your last name is Miculek and you can carry and shoot a hand cannon fast and accurately, you just need to keep putting bullets into them and hoping that they’ll hit something vital.

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