Sunday, January 16, 2011


“You can't miss fast enough to win the fight. It doesn't matter how big a gun you have if you can't hit the target.” Jeff Cooper.

No matter which authoritative source you reference, each can, and will, provide a complicated formula for some very basic ideas. These are as follows. If you are unfortunate enough to become involved in a situation in which you must use deadly force to save your life, you will have to draw a weapon, powerful enough to stop the threat confronting you. You will have to draw that weapon swiftly, fire that weapon quickly and accurately for whatever number of shots are necessary to put your attacker(s) down and out of the fight.

"The fight will not be the way you want it to be. The fight will be the way it is. YOU must be flexible enough to adapt." -- Unknown

And, to make the situation even more challenging, statistics on such incidents compiled over years by the FBI suggest that the average duration of these incidents is about seven seconds. And no matter how you cut it, that’s not a lot of time. In fact, research has shown that its about how long it takes the average adult male to run twenty-one feet.

Over the years, instructors and trainers have sought to distill various tactics, techniques and practices that, when taken together and applied correctly, give the defensive shooter the best chance of performing those tasks listed above correctly and survive the encounter.

For example, the NRA, in outlining its pronouncements on “Basic Defensive Shooting Skills”, includes the skills of aiming, breath control, hold control, trigger control and follow through.

In contrast, the U.S. Army, in its basic manual, “Combat Training with Pistols, M9 and M11", emphasizes the use of hand-and-eye coordination, flash sight picture, quick-fire point shooting, and quick-fire sighting.

Mas Ayoob (Massad Ayoob Group) a well-known and respected combat handgun expert and trainer, breaks these same principles down in this fashion. “Effective combat marksmanship requires: 1) Strong stance. 2) High hand grasp. 3) Hard grip. 4) Front sight. 5) Smooth rearward roll of the trigger.”

Each of these knowledgeable sources is expressing some common concepts in sightly different ways. Basic gun handling skills, learned, mastered, and practiced over, and over become instinctive. In the electric atmosphere of a self-defense encounter, you do not have time to go through a step by step, methodical, by the book response. It has to become automatic, it has to be accurate, and it has to happen fast.

All these experts, and dozens more besides, emphasize certain aspects of the manipulation of the handgun as critical to the successful response to an armed self-defense encounter. At the same time, those who truly know what they are talking about recognize that the combat scenario is not static, but fluid. It requires adaption. Of the recognized primary handgun shooting elements, (stance, grip, sighting, smooth trigger pull, follow through) you may not have the time, or physical ability to adopt all of them in a given situation.

However, using them to build a base of experience creates a number of advantages including muscle memory which aids in developing and honing an instinctive response, confidence in your ability to operate your firearm accurately and quickly under stress, and hand-eye coordination, so critical in the “flash sighting” or “point and shoot” situations.

So, these basics are, (1) your stance, the physical positioning of your body, which allows you to utilize a natural point of aim, to absorb recoil, and the ability to move while shooting. (2) the way you grip your handgun, vital to accuracy, smooth trigger pull and follow through. (3) sighting, not the sort used in precision target shooting, but the sighting that time and speed will allow in a given self-defense situation. (4) trigger pull. it has to be powerful enough to fire the weapon. It has to be smooth enough so that you do not yank your handgun off target. It has to be fast enough to trigger the shots necessary to stop an attacker with multiple hits and put him/her out of the fight.

What about breath control? Breathing is an autonomic bodily function. You breath while asleep, despite the fact that you are not aware of doing it. You will not be conscious of breathing during a fight for your life. Breath control is useful for Olympic marksmen, engaged in precision shooting. In a self-defense combat situation, you will not have time to worry about it, or think about it.

So, of these important factors, which are most critical? Those things that might operate to take the muzzle of your handgun off a target you desperately need to stop.

Sighting and trigger pull. The rest make you a better shot. But, no matter how you stand, kneel or roll on the ground, no matter how you hold your handgun, if you put repeated solid hits in the center mass of an attacker, you will put him,/her down, if shooting that individual is capable of putting them down at all.


If you can, using a strong stance provides the most solid, effective base for your fire on the target. There are numerous variations, numerous names, Isoceles, Weaver, Modified Weaver, Stressfire. Each of these make use of common physiological principles. Strength, balance, weapon support. Keeping the feet spread apart, both from a forward-backward perspective, and laterally. Knees slightly bent instead of locked, allowing the legs to be used as shock absorbers and to facilitate rapid movement. Examine an online video demonstrating the Israeli Defense Forces Instructional on “Instinctive Shooting” .

But what good is a well-practiced Modified Weaver stance, if you have to go flat on the your belly to makes use of available cover?  What good is freezing in the Israeli Instinctive shooting stance if you are shooting while backing away from an onrushing attacker trying to ram a knife through your heart, or cut your throat?

Standing, moving, kneeling prone, barricade. Practice them all. You won’t pick the fight. The fight will pick you. And, if you cannot adapt your positioning to the circumstances, you are at grave risk for serious injury or death. Relying upon one shooting stance when the environment requires another you have not practiced shooting from, on a regular basis is a very bad idea.

Grip -

A proper grip on the handgun should provide the shooter with a natural point of aim or consistent indexing of the handgun, and effective management of both vertical recoil (muzzle flip) and horizontal recoil upon discharge.

The one-handed grip used for off-hand precision target shooting is fine for competition target shooting. It is not of much use when confronting an armed assailant intent upon taking your life.

The two-handed grip, properly applied, fulfills both of these important functions. Sometimes referred to as the Leatham-Enos grip, this technique was developed in the early 1980s by competitive shooters Rob Leatham and Brian Enos. In this grip, the pistol is completely enveloped by the hands. The strong-side (or “grip”) hand rides high and tight into the backstrap, and the inside of the support-side thumb fills the gap on the frame of the pistol. The support-side wrist and thumb are pointed straight alongside the bore toward the target. Some shooters lock the wrist forward and lock the support-side elbow while bending the strong-side elbow (reverse Weaver), as this provides a consistent physical index.

Some common mistakes, usually as a result of mimicking what viewers see in the movies, include some grip styles that cannot provide the support required for the combat shooter. These include the wrist support grip, which cannot provide the support necessary to limit vertical recoil and get the sights back on target quickly for follow up shots.

The teacup grip is often seen being used in the movies, with the grip hand sitting in the palm of the "other" hand.  It provides no support at all, allowing the wrist to flex, and from this position, controlling vertical recoil is virtually impossible.

The third common mistake is referred to as the finger forward grip where the index finger of the wrap hand is wrapped around the front of that niftyily contoured trigger guard.  Looks okay, and the way that the triggerguards are designed on numerous modern handguns, it appears to be appropriate. However, it prevents the shooter from getting a firm, strong grip on the handgun. The weakened grip makes the handgun harder to control during recoil.


Combat sighting is in some respects, a simple process. Marty Hayes, owner of the Firearms Academy of Seattle says it this way. "Your sights must aligned with the target at the moment the hammer falls."

There a two well-accepted methods for ensuring this alignment in a stress-filled situation. Flashsighting, and point sighting or point shooting.

Flashsighting - Using this technique, the shooter raises the handgun to the standard shooting position; focusing exclusively on the front sight, and when the front sight is somewhere in between the rear sights, on the rough center of the target, the shooter fires. It doesn't matter where on the target the front sight is positioned; at three to seven yards even the worst flash sighting picture accomplishes hits within an area the size of a piece of typing paper.

Point shooting - also called threat focused shooting, is a method of shooting a firearm that relies on a shooter's instinctive reactions to quickly engage close targets.

The shooter employs a two-handed grip, extending the firearm straight forward, but below eye level with the eye focused directly on center mass. The technique is intended for use in life-threatening situations where the use of sight shooting cannot be employed due to lack of time to use the gun's sights, low-light conditions, or because of the body's natural reaction to close quarters threats which prevent meeting the marksmanship requirements of sight shooting.

Point shooting attempts to harness the innate ability to point at the target in such a way that the shooter can use that ability to hit targets with a firearm. This may be done in a variety of ways which differ depending upon the method used. The one thing that point shooting methods have in common is that they do not rely on the sights, and they strive to increase the shooter's ability to hit targets at short range under the less than ideal conditions expected in close quarters life threatening situations.

Trigger Pull - Pulling the trigger should be the only motion involved in firing the weapon. It must be smooth and precise. Pulling the trigger should not effect (i.e. move in any way) any part of the gun other than the trigger. Sloppy or inconsistent trigger pull will cause more inaccuracy than any other aspect of shooting. When pulling the trigger, you should use the pad of the finger and pull the trigger straight back. Pulling at an angle, even slightly, can change the point of aim prior to firing. Dry firing (i.e. pulling the trigger without a live round in the chamber) is beyond a doubt the best exercise for increasing shooter accuracy.

This should be practiced repeatedly, until the shooter can squeeze the trigger without moving the gun at all. The firing pins on many weapons can be damaged by dry firing, so the shooter should shop at gun stores for plastic dummy rounds that will protect the firing pin while dry firing the weapon.

The key here is familiarization to master the basics and then practice, practice, practice. Deadly combat marksman do not stay that way long, in the absence of regular practice.

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