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From reader Robert H.:

TTAG is full of statements like, “placement is key” and “find a caliber you’re comfortable with and practice.” Understanding that there is no end to the quest for perfection, what is commonly held to be the standards to be considered a good shooter? Let’s stick to handguns for this. Is it putting all your rounds inside a 1″ circle from 25 yards out? Is it hitting a man-sized target from seven yards out? Is there a different standard for rapid-fire vs. slow aimed shooting? In short, what should I be able to do with my preferred carry weapon in order to be considered a competent shot with it?

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  1. many ways to skin this cat, but my 2 cents:

    Level 0: Good safety practices. 4 rules etc.
    Level 1: Basic technical and operational knowledge of basic handgun configurations. Like know what DA, SA, revolvers, semi-autos, mag releases, safeties, slides and slide releases are. Basic cleaning and maintenance.
    Level 2: Basic shooting and aiming technique in theory. Like grip, stance, sighting.
    Level 3: Basic shooting and aiming proficiency. Like be able to group on a sheet of office paper at 15 yards, trigger control.
    Level 4: Basic practical shooting technique in theory. Safe draw, extend and bring to bear, practical aiming (front sight awareness).
    Level 5: Basic practical shooting proficiency. Execution of smooth safe drawing and shooting. Ability to group on a sheet of office paper at 4 and 7 yards.

    I’d consider all of that a path to “basic proficiency” and very shortly thereafter the addition of Level 6: movement and cover for practical shooting

    After that practice for clearing malfunctions, reloads, smoothness, speed, and group size on the practical side of things, and trigger, trigger, and more trigger on the accuracy/target side.


  2. Personally if I can put every round in a 8″ circle center of mass on a target at distances from 7′ out to about 50′ I consider that good. Anything over 50, unless someone is actually pointing a weapon at me or shooting at me, I should be able to get out of harms way.
    If not I can only do my best to protect myself and those with me.
    That being said when I target practice I shoot from various positions, such as behind a tree, prone, on my back, moving, etc. I use up a lot of ammo but reloading helps.
    Have 2 1911’s in .45acp, a .38spec revolver, a 9mm semi, a .25auto Mauser pistol, and a couple of single action .22lr/.22mag revolvers and try to get enough time and ammo stashed up where the girls and I can shoot them all.
    Our little girl is 11 and right now she is happy shooting the .22’s and the .25auto for now.
    Being able to hit the target/assailant in any place that stops or halts the attack w/out harm or danger to people around you or them should be good.
    I have a 4’x8 sheet of 1″ plywood that I put my targets on and I put an extra target on each side of my primary target, to represent bystanders/ innocents. Any round that even nicks the edge of the No Shoot Targets is no good. I will start over and figure out what I did wrong and try again.
    Practice makes perfect.

    • I agree with the shot placement. Anywhere in that 8″ range at those distances is going to stop someone. Waiting or aiming for better shots is a loss of turn in my opinion.

      I use hostage targets in much the same way you do. It just makes sense.

      • I do like the hostage targets but as much as we try to shoot the basic black silhouette targets save a small bit of change for ammo,etc.
        Just to add a little fun sometimes (girlfriend thinks I am nuts doing it) I will dig out a can of yellow spray paint and make some smiley faces on the targets.
        A dead center hit will get you extra dessert after dinner!!!
        Our little girl likes to shoot at these “bug targets” you can buy and she is pretty good with her .22 rifle and the .22 revolvers. I give her .15 cents for each bug she “kills”. Little squirt has a jar full of change!! LOL!!

  3. Simple answer to a simple question: Can you put a round on center mass in a tactical situation. For a civilian in a self defense situation that is inside of 30′. If you can do that you are competent.

    • I was planning on saying something like that but in so many more words. The readers should thank you from sparing them of my boredom lol

    • +1. Hitting your target doesn’t mean as much if you shoot yourself in the process. And no, the Die Harder movie doesn’t count…

  4. The definition of a “good shooter” depends on the mission. If a shooter can safely accomplish his or her mission, that’s a good shooter. If you can’t accomplish your mission safely, you’re not good enough.

    Is the ability to keep ten rounds in an 8″ group at seven yards good? Probably not, if the mission is to shoot a buck across a beanfield.

    • +1 each mission or condition has it’s own set of requirements. You might be a top shot with an air pistol on a range is totally different than a self defense situation. Safety is key regardless. Really you need to qualify the question within a subset, but reality is what ever your goal is, target, biathlon, practical, long distance shooting, 3 gun, each will be judged by peers.
      Any gun fight you walk away from is a good one.

  5. Best way to find out is to take a Force on Force class and see how you do. A competent shooter is so much more than simply being able to place rounds where you want them on a static range. Not only do you have to shoot accurately while under pressure, but you need to be aware of everything within 360 degrees. And you need to not miss when under pressure. And you need to be able to address gun malfunctions under fire. etc. etc.

  6. Don’s run walk crawl post above is great, but as far as testable criteria, these are the final standards we were graded against, as modified from one of the civilian trainers:

    From a bladed stance with both fists up and protecting your face:
    Draw and place two rounds anywhere into the vital zone of a silhouette at 7 yards, in 2.5 seconds or less. Be able to do this on any one of three identified targets placed within a 180 degree half circle, based on commands left, right, or front.

    From a bladed stance with hands at your sides, draw and put two rounds into the vital zone of a silhouette at 25 yards, in 5 seconds or less.

    Be able to perform both those tests while maintaining proper trigger discipline and muzzle control. Understand the basic functioning of your weapon, be able to maintain and operate your weapon with high proficiency, understand types of malfunctions and how best to clear them.

    Seems like a CCW version of that would simply be to add “draw from concealment” to either of those tests.

  7. I think safe handling of your gun trumps all other considerations. As far as accuracy goes the old timers that raised me had a simple test for hunting. Your chosen rifle fired off hand and unsupported for 3 rounds at 100 yards. If all three rounds hit a standard size paper plate that was as accurate as you needed. This was back home and most of our shots were at way less than 100 yards.

  8. I am gonna go out on a limb here, I think what you should be able to do with your firearm, is hit what you shoot at.

  9. What makes a competent shooter? This is a complex and multi-variable equation/question. If one looks to fundamentals, one can arrive at a reasonable answer that can be applied almost universally.

    Can the shooter pick up a random, unfamiliar firearm and within a couple of rounds deliver accurate and effective fire at any given range within the firearm’s capability? If yes, then they may well be a competent marksman. If no, then they need some work on the fundamentals.

    What are the fundamentals, you ask? Well, they include, but are not entirely limited to; the fundamental laws of physics, basic ballistics, the mechanics of the firearm in all of its different manifestations, concepts like lock time, wind drift and ballistic coefficients; physio/psycho parameters like report and recoil management; distraction mitigation and stress management; basics like sight picture, grip, stance, breath control, trigger squeeze, follow through; point of aim vs. point of impact; holds (over, under, center); range estimation and others.

    Are you capable of achieving a state of mind and spirit where you can effectively and consistently execute the various factors needed to deliver accurate fire in a stressful situation not of your choosing? If you’ve got all of the above wired up pretty tight then you may well be able to consider yourself a capable marksman.

    • This doesn’t strike you as just a bit too high a hurdle to clear? For example, how would anyone know if he is “capable of achieving a state of mind and spirit where you can effectively and consistently execute the various factors needed to deliver accurate fire in a stressful situation not of your choosing” until he’s been in one?

      If the standard of “competent shooter” means that one must have been in a life-threatening firefight, then I suspect most of TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia do not meet that standard.

      In fitness, the rough standard is “you should be able to bench your own bodyweight”. So there’s nothing like that in shooting then?

      I mean, this video ( talks about some “Seal Team 6 pistol standards”. That’s to be the equivalent of one of the most elite warriors on the face of the planet. That can’t be the minimum standard for competent civilians.

      I like russ’s testable standard: “From a bladed stance with both fists up and protecting your face: Draw and place two rounds anywhere into the vital zone of a silhouette at 7 yards, in 2.5 seconds or less. Be able to do this on any one of three identified targets placed within a 180 degree half circle, based on commands left, right, or front.”

      I suppose if you can group those two rounds less than X” apart, you’re elite; if you’re all over the place, but still in the vital zone, yer good enough; if you can’t, then you need more practice.

      So no consensus on that sort of thing? As in, “the average competent shooter should be able to do X; if you can’t, practice more”.

      • I reckon the average shooter should be able to put all his or her rounds on a piece of computer paper five yards out. And at least half of them on the paper while moving left, right, forwards or backwards.

  10. BTW, perfection is the enemy of the good. Good enough will usually, but not always, carry the day.

    Get good and strive to be better. Don’t obsess, know your limitations. Keep your head. Work through your fears and apprehensions. Stay focused. Believe in yourself and your capabilities. Despite the “Galaxy Quest” allusions; Never give up, never surrender. Never give so much as an inch. Always assess your options. Never be afraid to seek cover, be a good witness and live to fight another day. Always protect those that you hold most dear.

  11. Have a gun on you. Pull weapon without hurting yourself and others. If you do these two things (assuming you had to) then you will have probably taken out most of the trouble before you in that the BG may have been unarmed (no gun but with fists, knife, club, etc…) or armed but unwilling and will flee or surrender. Most criminal activity ends after threat of or actual brandishment. It is the small number after that where the advise above comes into play. You will want to smoothly and accurately shoot your way out of a gunfight which means towards cover while making the shooter stop by collecting holes on his body. An ugly affair.

  12. There’s no shortage of existing standards that shooters can use to measure their ability: the IDPA classifier, the FAST drill, qualification courses of fire for CHL courses, law enforcement and military, standards used by many different firearms schools, courses of fire in the NRA Personal Protection In the Home and Personal Protection Outside the Home courses.
    They measure speed, power and accuracy.

    A realistic baseline for the average person that actually wants to be well prepared for an armed confrontation is to be able to shoot at the 40-50% level on any IPSC or IDPA course of fire where 100% is what one of the top shooters can do. Getting to that level isn’t that hard to do, particularly now that so much good information is available online and there are so many schools and matches at which to learn how to do it. Most of the effort necessary to get to that level can be done for free, dry fire, at home. For decades, police academies and private sector schools have proven that the average person can get to that level in 40-60 hours of training and a couple thousand rounds downrange…if the time is spent following a structured program.

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