In any kind of time-sensitive shooting, but especially when shooting to live in a lethal force encounter, accuracy and speed must both exist in measure enough to pass the bar. It is not good enough to be able to split hairs. It is not good enough to be blindingly fast from the holster to the target. You have to do both.
Some years back now the pursuit of scorching speed was derided among serious practitioners of the gun as the lesser attribute. “You can’t miss fast enough to win.” “Only hits count.” “One well-aimed shot…”
All aphorisms that persist today, and undoubtedly all true. But all things in life are cyclical, and in this age only virtuosos of velocity are adjudged Instagram-worthy of recognition and emulation.
In the mean time, emphasis on accuracy and personal accountability for every round fired has fallen to the wayside, mandates once though imperative now handwaved away with excuses like “combat accurate,” “good enough,” and “hitting first is all that matters.”
This has indoctrinated a new generation of shooters with the idea that sloppy shooting is both okay and acceptable for achieving a good outcome in a defensive shooting. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Importance of Accuracy
For civilians, especially, who need to utilize a firearm in self-defense, accuracy is paramount, and not just for reasons of efficacy in dispatching the critter who decided to hurt or kill you or yours. Every, single round you fire, no matter the circumstances, no matter your condition and no matter the actions of the bad guy must be and will be accounted for.
I mean to say plainly that every last round you fire will come to rest somewhere inside something. You are responsible for that outcome. I also mean that, in all but the most ludicrously remote circumstances, your actions will be examined, questioned and dissected in a court of law and then weighed by people who are anything but your peers.
If you should miss and hit someone or something that did not need hitting, you will surely pay for it now. If you hit who needed hitting but hit poorly and so had to fire successively more follow-on shots, that may present both tactical and legal problems.
Do not take the preceding sentence as any kind of assertion that a single, two or more perfectly aimed rounds may be enough to halt the actions of a scumbag. Sometimes people just take a lot of shooting, even good shooting, but there is no arguing with the probabilities: better shots on target usually means fewer shots are required and a faster end to hostilities.
The average environment a civilian defensive encounter occurs in- your home, business or a public space- means that accuracy on demand is crucial for keeping your rounds where they need to be and not burning a hole through an innocent bystander down the street or through the storefront of a coffee shop.
You must be able to deliver this accuracy even in such an extreme as a life-or-death struggle! Your future- physical, financial and emotional- depends on getting a good outcome in all phases of a self-defense encounter.
A high degree of accuracy is a must in order to do so.
Outrunning Your Headlights
Before you pounce on your keyboard and take me to task in the comments for daring to espouse such a thing (especially in light of my very own irascible, previous writings on the importance of speed), hold your horses: I am not decrying the pursuit of speed in combat or any other kind of shooting. Speed is certainly important, and has been the deciding factor in many battles great and small for millennia.
But I am advocating that we pump the brakes a little bit and assess our training and practice regimens in totality. As I alluded to above in the opening, the Cult of Split Times is very real, and when its tenets are adopted by those who have not been read in by senior acolytes, the outcomes are less than desirable.
The acme of skill lately (with a handgun) is seen as achieving consistent sub- .25 or even .20 second splits (time between shots delivered to a target) and while this is a good benchmark for gunhandling ability, it fails to address one very real and mostly “baked-in” limitation of the gun and shooter system: the shooter’s perception and reaction time!
By way of an example: let’s say you have to draw and shoot an assailant in certainly justified self-defense. You have practiced and trained long and hard for just such an event, and on this fateful day you draw and start plowing rounds into the dirtbag with frightful speed. You touch off five rounds in a little more than a second.
Just one problem, hotshot: he dropped like a string-cut puppet after the third bullet, and the other two did not go where you aimed, which was between his nipples. The fourth struck the now falling badguy neatly through his left eye (his head occupying the space where his chest was just a second ago) and the fifth was a clean miss, flying through the space vacated by your quickly departing attacker.
Conjecture? Fantasy? Not at all: this is the stone-cold reality staring back at you. Considering that it takes time, if only fractions of a second, for you to perceive and process incoming signals gathered by your senses (sight, sound, etc.) and takes further time, again fractions of a second, to react to that stimuli, you have essentially a “processing gap” where, once you have committed to executing an action (say one that happens in a fraction of a second, like pressing a trigger) you may, very literally, shoot faster than you can alter course in response to a changing situation.
This assumes that conditions are ideal, which they obviously are not since you are in this bad scrape in the first place. Add in stress, the auditory and visual assault of a discharging firearm, pain, exertion and a preoccupation with your sights (if you are doing it right) and it is entirely possible to miss or react slowly to visual or auditory signals that indicate reassessment or an entirely new course of action is needed in light of your previous action.
Fast-forward to the end of this fracas: you are now accountable for the miss, wherever it landed, but also are going to face significant scrutiny in court over the headshot after you already planted three rounds in your attacker’s heart and aortic junction. Was it a coup de grace? Did you just want to kill him? You can see where that is going.
Yes, in a perfect world justifiable lethal force is justifiable, full stop, and it should not matter where or how many times you shot your criminal assailant, but you have my uttermost assurances that you do not want to endure the tender ministrations of the U.S. legal system when your fate hangs in the balance.
These things are messy. Juries are idiotic, biased or fickle. Prosecutors of such cases are rarely scrupulous. You must, must, articulate the how and why of every, single round you fire. While tremendous precision and extreme speed can coexist on a static training range, that same level of speed (shot tempo) in a live defensive shooting may not be the best course of action, or even be irresponsible.
Accuracy is Mandatory for Problem-Solving
You’d be terribly mistaken to assume that your defensive shooting, if it occurs in kinder times or in the middle of a nightmare shitshow during a major crisis, will be a gun range-standard affair: you filling in a lone target, standing broadside to you with no cover, one that does not move or resist you in any meaningful way. You shoot, you win, done deal.
No, in the real world and a real event you will be dealing with myriad other variables, including living breathing “no-shoots” that you might actually care about in the foreground, near your attacker and beyond your attacker, possibly infringing on your firing line.
There is a very real chance that you will be required to place your rounds on target to end a threat with surgical or near surgical levels of accuracy. This could mean threading the needle between innocents or even a family member.
This is no time for anything but complete confidence in your ability to place a bullet right there, cold bore and on demand. Nothing else will do when the problem must be solved accordingly. If you lack the requisite capability, you have two choices: hope for the best and take the shot, or don’t.
Maybe a better shot will present itself and maybe another one won’t. Our bad guy still gets a say in the proceedings. Will he perpetrate whatever evil he has in mind or will he hold off just because you are armed? Only one way to find out.
Precision Targeting Gets Results
You may not be facing such a dire situation as a hostage rescue shot or a cramped and claustrophobic line of fire between innocents, but you might have to simply take a low-percentage shot, meaning one that is just plain difficult.
Your target could be far away (even if all you have is a handgun) or behind cover. The tactical situation might be one where a headshot is your first and best option to prevent further harm or death.
A headshot is thought of by laymen and neophyte shooters as a great achievement under all conditions but the human head is a pretty ample target at close to medium range if you are skilled. Our desired outcome when trying to sink a headshot is achieving an instantaneous stop or at least a very fast and debilitating one.
This is most readily done by getting bullets into the cranial vault housing the brain and especially by striking the medulla oblongata located centrally and low in the brain near the top of the spine. The rub is that headshots are not all created equal.
Handgun bullets are particularly notorious for glancing off of the frontal glacis of the skull, striking and skimming around the skull under the skin or just failing to penetrate the skull. It’s true. It is a rare day indeed where even one of these marginal hits has no effect, but they are not acceptable when we need a badguy stopped PDQ. Understanding human anatomy and having the accuracy chops to capitalize on that knowledge increases our chances of scoring the hit we need- from the front, we aim between the eyes. A quartering frontal shot means we target the orbital itself. A shot just above the ear is best from the side. And so on.
Our actual goal is not “shoot them in the head.” Our goal is to hit the MO, and that is a small and well protected target indeed. You have heard the saying “aim small, miss small.” It is a good one, but to miss small you must be able to shoot really well!
Make Accuracy Great Again
The next time you head to the range for practice or off to a class for continuing education, make a conscious decision to emphasize accuracy in all that you do. Once more, I am not saying you need to shoot so slowly and deliberately that we can time your splits with a sundial but I am encouraging you to make conscious, deliberate accountability of each and every shot a part of your procedurals from here on. You must also hold yourself accountable to high accuracy standards on drills, close range rapid-fire evolutions.
This starts with strict attention to your sight package. I know what I said: I mean the moment-to-moment interplay of front sight, rear sight (or reticle) and target while you are moving the trigger toward a discharge. You should be able to call, and should be calling, every shot. If you know a shot went bad at the break, assess why that happened and smooth it out. This is more art than science. There is no refinement too small, no tweak to insignificant in the pursuit of better practical accuracy.
If you have been an inveterate speed demon in your shooting career up to this point, but your targets all look like victims of a shotgun attack, you should change your program. Start slow with modest time restraints, or even no time restrain on a drill. Shoot for maximum accuracy as quickly as you are able, not the reverse. As your proficiency increases start tightening the par times to keep your reflexes sharp.
Any drill can be shot as-is with a stricter accuracy standard or modified to bias it toward accuracy. Some, like the ever-gentle and popular dot-torture are excellent basic drills for accountability and verification of good accuracy fundamentals.
Simple exercises that will pay dividends when developing accuracy are switching out standard targets for small versions or decreasing the threshold between good, marginal and unacceptable hit zones.
The Secret to Atom-Splitting Accuracy
But by far the drill that will pay the bills when it comes to building real-life no-fooling accuracy is about as elemental as shooting practice will get: 25 yard bullseye practice.
Yep. That’s it. I have yet to meet a shooter who could ream out the 10 ring consistently and on demand at 25 yards who was not an absolute monster of a shooter in all other ways. 25 yards used to be a modest shot with a pistol. But as standards have slackened, excuses have piled up and rationalizing solipsism rules this wasted modern era, 25 yards is seen as a far shot indeed. When I was a lad, you weren’t worth spit as a pistol shooter if you could not consistently shoot a handgun out to 50 yards.
If you get good, real good, at shooting accurately that far away, a funny thing will happen: shots that are closer will become easy. Shots at normal and statistically probable defensive distances will become trivial. It is a borderline superpower, and one that any shooter can develop if only you will put your ego back in the box and commit to doing the hard thing.
Actually, it really isn’t that hard: shooting at distance, assuming you are already reasonably proficient and skilled, is much like a muscle. If you have not exercised it in a while, it gets weak, droopy and noodly. But once you start pumping iron (lead?) it will come back faster than you think, and then you’ll wonder why you ever thought it was hard in the first place.
Once you get bored with being so damn good at 25 yards, you can push the envelope farther. Try going with an even smaller target (you might finally be justified in buying that match-grade aftermarket barrel), push the distance back even farther or start working the same drill with your shooting-hand and support-hand only. Either of the latter variations will prove to be a major challenge and if you can master that I promise the sky is the limit for you.
Being able to reliably, consistently and quickly hit an assailant with accurate fire is essential capability for every civilian gun carrier and prepper. The current attitude of excusing lackluster shooting as acceptable is one that may potentially lead to a negative outcome.
If you rely on a firearm for self-defense in any capacity, you must work hard to ensure you are placing rounds with precision in all conditions. Nothing else is tactically or ethically acceptable. If you have emphasized speed and volume of fire to the detriment of practical accuracy, start taking steps to correct that today.
Looking for some actionable shooting tips? Check out our other article here. And don’t forget to pin this for later on your Pinterest board!