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I recently spoke to Top Shot‘s Mike Hughes about his Jake Zweig photo-realistic shooting targets. I wondered if Mike had any qualms about encouraging people to, you know, shoot Jake. “They should be looking at the target’s hands,” he said. Weaselly but true: that’s where the bad shit usually comes from. While a bad guy’s bare hands can certainly pose a lethal threat, if the perp is holding a weapon, it’s an excellent indication that you need to get your game face on and your armed defense ready. Now. That said, keeping your eyes hand-o-centric in a high stress situation isn’t as easy as it sounds . . .

For one thing, bad guys are good at being bad. In fact, they’re way better than you at weapons concealment. If they get caught with something sharp or ballistic, they’re going to jail. So they figure-out how to keep the tools of their trade on the DL. And they’re quick; they can bring a hidden weapon from “out of nowhere” in seconds.

For another, perps are pros at pre-attack chit chat. “Hey man, what’s up?” Or “Do you know what time it is?” They also know how to lure victims in with a smile. When packed-up, gangs sometimes send one member to engage the vic while the others circle around. All of which is designed (however subconsciously) to distract you from the source of the real tsuris: their hands.

To keep a BG’s hands in sight, you need to resist the natural urge to stare at his or her face(s). Strike that. You need to train yourself to look at their hands. Luckily, that’s easy enough. Just do it all the time. Whenever you look at someone, look at their hands first, then bring your eyes up to their face. Before long, it becomes natural. But don’t forget to raise your eyes.

There are plenty of examples of people who shot bad guys’ hands because their eyes fixated on the perp’s weapon. That might look way cool in a TV western, but it’s a lucky unlucky shot. When it comes to stopping / slowing a lethal threat, your best bet will always be center mass. Unless the BG’s wearing body armor, when head shots are the order or the day. Provided you can’t run like hell.

In the same way that drivers are taught don’t look at the tree when they’re in the middle of an unplanned off-road adventure, an armed self-defender who’s in it to win it should take their eyes off the weapon and look where they want the bullets to go. Our old friend—the “call it out” multiple target range drill—will serve you well. Look, think, breathe, aim, shoot.

To paraphrase the Talking Heads, before you’re up against it, take a look at those hands. And remember the refrain: all I want is to breathe. To keep breathing, watch for danger where it lives.

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  1. That. Was. Awesome! All he needs is one of those NAA belt buckles.

    In general people don’t tend to be observant of others or their surroundings. So while looking at hand is a good thing, what are some tips to becoming a better observer in general?

  2. My uncle shot a gun out of the hands of a robber without hurting the guy. Skill had nothing to do with it. My mom joked that it was a great shot considering his eyes were closed.

  3. Just focusing on the hands, as you point out, is not enough. MyBrotherTheCop(ret) tells of the time he and a female officer were checking on a man asleep in his car at a stop sign. He check the guys hands (clear) and went on to check for weapons in other locations before waking him up – and completely missed the fact the guy was naked as a jaybird. The female officer notice the guys condition and screamed. (She was a trainee, I suppose she got used to those things later on.)
    Turns out he’d left his boyfriends’ house after a little “play” and was driving home when he passed out.
    Focusing too much on one thing (or a small subset of things) can have you miss something that you may need to know…

  4. Funny how much motorcycle riding parallels self defense. Every riding instructor I’ve ever used has drilled home the mantra that people in cars are actively trying to kill you. The thing that totally changed my defensive driving tactic was to start watching tires as part of my scan. Picking up the movement of a rolling tire is much easier than looking at a bumper or other part of the car. Once you see the tire roll, pick your eyes up and evaluate your exit strategy.

    Excellent writeup RF. Great advice.

  5. Humans are conditioned to be single taskers. There is a show on Nat Geo called “Brain Games”. The show shows how the brain works and how we observe the real world around us.

    In one experiment, they took 12 people and had them watch a dance performance and they need to count how many times dancers jumped in and out of a circle. Not only did nobody get the answer correct, over half missed that a man in bear suit walked through the performance. Those who saw the bear, also had the lowest count on the number of times the dancers stepped in and out of the circle. Those with higher scores, did not see the bear.

    They had many, many more perception puzzles. The scarry one was when they reenacted a crime in front of people that they knew would be witnesses and also told the people that something was going to happen and to be aware, that basically all of the observers basically had a different story and only one person actually had some of the event correct but nobody was able to pick the actor who played the bad guy in the line up. Short term is also very flawed which is why it is critical when event happens to get the story as quick as possible.

    The end conclusion, multi-tasking is hard to do and if you are focusing on one thing you will miss something else.

  6. That’s pretty interesting.

    I’ve been trained to make eye contact with an opponent. The idea is that you can use your peripheral vision to watch his hands and feet. If you ever can’t see them, it means he’s close enough hit you- so move! That’s Isshn-Ryu, though, and involves a lot of practice, so I’m not sure whether it’s good advice for someone who hasn’t had fairly extensive training in the martial arts.

    Still, if we’re talking about a gunfight, we’re probably talking about a distance greater than arm’s length. The greater the distance, the easier it is to use your peripheral vision to watch both hands at once.

    Speaking of watching both hands at once, keep in mind that the bad guy can spread them six feet apart. Try to focus on both, and there’s a possibility that he’ll distract you with one while drawing a weapon with the other. Centering your vision on his head ensures that he can’t get either hand more than about three feet from where your eyes are pointed.

    It’s probably a bad idea to think in terms of focusing on or watching any one thing (at least, until it’s time to focus on the front sight). I suspect that if you think in terms of using your peripheral vision rather than focusing on a particular thing, you’re less likely to get tunnel vision.

    Does anyone around here shoot a handgun with both eyes open? I don’t mean point shooting- I mean using sights with your dominant eye, but without closing the other one.


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