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Someone defending their life with a gun has a lot to think about. In terms of shooting, accuracy and speed are The Big Two.  Simply stated, accuracy is the ability to hit your target. In terms of defensive gun use (DGU), accuracy is the ability to put a round into your target at a location that will diminish the attacker’s ability to continue his or her assault. Winging an attacker will not be as effective as a center mass hit to the chest. That said, accuracy is not the be all end all in defensive shooting . . .

In most fights, armed self-defenders don’t have the luxury of taking careful, precise aim and gently squeezing of the trigger. They need to make shots as accurately as possible as quickly as possible.

The “as possible” part of the program is devilishly difficult to define. There are dozens of variables that effect the speed and accuracy of a real world DGU, from the shooter’s situational awareness, to their skill at bringing their weapon to bear, to their marksmanship, to their personal biology and psychology.

Generally speaking, balancing speed and accuracy is the key to a successful armed self-defense. If you shoot too fast, you lose accuracy. If you concentrate too much on accuracy, you may shoot too slowly. Either way, you may lose your life or fail to protect a loved one.

This is where the term “combat accuracy” comes into play.

There is no exact standard for what constitutes combat accuracy. Most firearms instructors/practioners agree that an armed self-defender should be able to shoot a group size of about a hand: roughly eight inches between the shots that are farthest away from each other.

An armed self defender wants to hit an eight-inch circle—under pressure—at combat distance. Creating pressure for training is a problem for another post. Combat distance is generally considered anywhere from point-blank range to five yards out. (Theoretically, it can be MUCH greater.)

To train for combat accuracy, speed up or slow down your shooting until you can reliably make your eight-inch group. This is key: if your groups are tighter, you’re probably shooting too slowly. 

If you are shooting two-inch groups, speed up.  If you are shooting 12-inch groups, slow down. Once the group size has been achieved then work to improve your speed (if needed).

[Note: speeding-up your shooting doesn’t necessarily mean speeding-up your draw. Above anything else, your holster draw should always be smooth, precise and consistent.]

Why an eight-inch group? It’s sufficient accuracy to hit an attacker standing sideways as well as facing you directly. Also, group sizes tend to open up during stress. You don’t want to be practicing to a larger group size standard; you may not make your hits during an actual gunfight.

Why not a smaller group size? The more accurately we shoot, the more time we need, and time is not in abundance in a gun fight. Also, if your group tightens to the point that you’re hitting flesh that has already been destroyed, you’re not helping matters. Separating the wounds speeds-up the bleeding-out process; helping to incapacitate your attacker more quickly.

When practicing, make sure you shoot from various distances. When in close, you’ll be able to shoot much faster than from afar. The further you move from the target, the more slowly you’ll need to shoot.

If you’re shooting while moving backward, vary your pace accordingly. Shoot faster when you’re in close, slow down progressively as you retreat. The opposite is true as you move towards your target. Likewise, you may need to slow down when shooting from an odd position such as from behind cover, one-handed, shooting from your support hand, etc.

If you’re carrying a gun for self-defense, don’t practice like a marksman. Practice like a gunfighter.

[TTAG readers receive a 15% discount on David Kenik’s instructional DVDs by entering the letters TTAG in the coupon box during checkout.]

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  1. I’m with you Rabbi, our instructor told us that “SLOW IS SMOOTH AND SMOOTH IS FAST”. Everyone needs to achive a proper mix of all these skills in order to be effective when they really need to it.

  2. Combat accuracy is defined as the accuracy needed to accomplish your mission. In actual combat that is putting sufficient small arms fire on your adversary to drive him to ground so you can call in indirect fires and air power to defeat the threat. Inside of a 100 yards unaimed automatic weapons fire is the norm.

    As far as I am concerned the same rules apply to self defense. Since most personal threats will retreat even at the sight of a gun a hit anywhere on the attacker will do the job almost 100% of the time so for combat accuracy is the ability to place a round anywhere on the attacker. For the small set of attackers who will keep coming you have to hit them until they are down.

    • I think that is taking the argument too far to the extreme.

      The concept of a one shot stop is a myth. The hope that a hit anywhere will make an attacker run, is not unlike that hopey changing thing… ain’t gonna happen. LOTS and LOTS of stories of attackers taking multiple hits and does the die hard bunny thing.

      Best plan of action is to keep shooting (making good hits) until the threat stop. That stop can be down on the ground, our out the door. Either way keep shooting till the threat is gone.

      • I am not talking about a physical one stop shot. Most attackers are in the grab and go mode. Any stout resistance puts them on the run. If firearms are in play and they still attempt the attack if you hit them in a non-vital area and they can still get away they take off. Like all predators, muggers and rapists want an easy win. They are not looking for a “Thrilla in Manila” experience. Just remember that the perp does this for a living while we are simply amateurs.

        • Back in the day as one of the rare jobs a soldier had that often worked with SF K9 I got to spend some time training with 1st group, what ever the mission would have been I was never briefed and we never went hot. The first time I ever heard “amateurs train until they get it right professionals train until they get it wrong” was when these guys pushed the dog and I near our breaking point. The moral is train to an extreme you are unlikely to encounter. When it’s real when the targets move and shoot back is not the same as just show a gun and they will give up, having a gun dose not make you armed having the will and ability to use it is what makes you armed.

  3. Common sense as always, rabbi. Thank you.

    As for this: If you’re carrying a gun for self-defense, don’t practice like a marksman. Practice like a gunfighter.

    It’s damn near impossible to do so at most gun ranges, indoors or out. That’s the rub. We want to train for gunfighting and target shooting, but we can usually only train for the latter and pray that it carries over to the former.

    • Training for close range gunfighting is difficult. Even in our military, such expertise and training are reserved for very specialized troops.

      But the military has certain advantages. It’s immune from the Trial Lawyer Disease that gives private range owners night sweats about being sued out of their homes by the stupid and irresponsible.

      • Immunity from legal action you? You have got to be kidding. On today’s battlefield there always a JAG officer waiting around back at the CP to second guess you.

        • I think he meant in terms of training environment, your average private range owner probably doesn’t want the kind of liabilty involved with letting you train however you want. The military doesn’t face the same issues because they own the range/shoot house and they are in charge of the training.

          • I see you aren’t familiar with the UCMJ. The military has very strict rules about what happens on the range and holds senior NCOs and Officers to strict compliance standards.

            • The chaos and arbitrary behavior caused by the Trial Lawyer Disease != Responsibility Under UCMJ.

              The UCMJ can make punishments for range infractions quick and harsh. The legal system is slooooowwww and randomly lenient or harsh depending on moon phases (I think).

              That said, there’s a LOT of variation at military ranges depending on type of troops (and who’s in charge). Which is as it should be: Rangers’ Weapon Skills > Linguists’ Weapon Skills.

              • In the military the range is where soldiers gain firearms proficiency through practice leading to qualification. Combat skills are acquired through field exercises.

                All a civilian shooter learns at the range is proficiency with a firearm. Most of the tactical self defense advice I see on TTAC is extrapolated from LEO encounters. These examples have little to teach us because they occur under a radically different environment. When a bad guy gets into it with the police it comes down to a surrender or die engagement because the police will pursue to the end. The bad guys we might encounter know that we will not pursue them if they run so there is all the incentive to run if they have a safe line of retreat. That’s why most of the DGU we read about are simple brandishing.

    • Thanks Ralph. The answer to your quandary is to find another range. Harvard Sportsmans Club in Harvard Ma is one of the best in the state, if not the best, and there is no problem practicing defensive shooting, indoors or out. Lots of other clubs are the same way.

  4. My biggest concern about carrying and firing a gun in self-defense is the potential for missing the threat and hitting an innocent person.

    • Without a doubt! That’s where training and practice come into play. What about the bad guy? How many innocents will he kill with his untrained wild gunfire?

  5. Seconds Count. Misses Don’t.

    You can never be too fast or too accurate which is why I practice as much as I can whenever I can.

    A threat can easily overtake you, even 21 feet away. With most shooters, including bad guys, able to get several shots off in less than one second, the time it takes to draw and accurately place your first shot is critical.

    • Yes, Kirk, you CAN be both too fast or too accurate.

      If you are too accurate, you are taking too much time and destroying flesh that is already destroyed. You are shooting to fast if you are outshooting your capability.

      The group that I shot in the above video measured about 8 inches. Robert will post the pic soon. That;s 19 shots in 4 seconds from about 12 feet. I could have been much more accurate, but it would have taken lots more time. While I doubt that I can shoot much faster than that, without practice I would have shot a far larger group and that’s unacceptable

      • I think you missed what I was saying when I said “You cannot be too fast or too accurate”
        Accuracy-You are shooting fast in that video and making decent hits if all of your shots are in an 8″ circle. One thing to remember is that your groups size will probably double when you are put under stress. Four seconds is forever and you have not included your draw time which is probably another two seconds.
        Speed-Most people can get a shot off every .25 seconds so if the threat is not put down quickly then you can expect four bullets heading your way every second.
        The person who can make vital hits quickly AND accurately wins. Everyone needs to be as fast and as accurate as possible and never be happy with where they are today.

  6. What The Rabbi says is why I use blank 8.5X11 pieces of printer paper as targets in my CCW classes.

    I tell students that they need to just hit that sheet of paper. If they’re shooting little tiny groups, they need to speed up a lot.

    If they’re not hitting the paper with every shot, they need to slow down.

    Every hit is scored on the “yes or no” scale. It’s a hit or not.

    Good stuff.

  7. As many have already said, you cannot really practice real life defense situations at most gun ranges. However, many have IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) or IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation competitions and if possible you should attend even if you do poorly at first. I have also taken classes at Gunsite and brother has taken Magpul training classes.

    In many of these compititions and classes you at least do more than standing at a static target. A range has some benefits but nothing takes the place of simulations where your heart rate is elevated.

  8. Something tells me that a gunfight is going to be a lot like a non gunfight. If you are a fighter, and you have the gun handling skills, you will probably have a decent chance. Those who would not get into a fistfight would probably experience the same fear and failure to take action in a gunfight. Only an opinion.

  9. Jeff Cooper had it right 30+ years ago: DVC. Accuracy, speed, power. All 3 matter.
    Realistic training for self-defense needs to include all 3 factors. Anyone training for self-defense should own a shooting timer and use it, both in dry practice and in live fire training. The IDPA classifier is an excellent course of fire that can be used to assess a shooter’s speed and accuracy. A reasonable goal is 50% of the threshold score for “Master” level.

  10. I have many handguns, I buy ammo by the case twice a year at the gun show, I am that one guy with a handcart in the crowded isle. I mostly just shoot handgun both indoor static the biweekly pin or plate shoot and of course the open desert were I can shoot how I like. I take a shooting class about once a year while I am at it. I have gotten to point with just one gun the gun I now shoot almost to the exclusion of the rest of my collection my HK P7 European style. The wide sights, the generous weight, balance and soft shooting nature with conventional full power ammo, I shoot it like nothing else. I just got my own shot timer and at 21 feet shot a fist sized group at 0.20 shots per second for the full mag. I am lucky to get a double tap in 8 inches with my service weapon not shooting it that fast. Soon I will get 2 P7 M8s, why two? Because I can not afford three and last class I went to I had to watch others shoot while my gun cooled.

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