Personal Defense: Do You Have the Skills Needed to Make the Shot?

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The past few years have seen dramatic increases in physical violence of every type. There’s also been an increase in attackers being stopped by regular people who carry a concealed firearm. Some of the shots they’ve made may seem miraculous…until you discover that they’ve practiced, sometimes in very similar scenarios to their actual defensive gun use.

That raises the question – can you make the shot when you really have to?

The defensive use of a firearm often occurs within short distances. Sometimes “bad breath,” arms-reach ranges. Engaging the threat from three or four yards isn’t that difficult, as long as the decision to fire is made in a timely fashion.

But your attacker may already have a physical hold on you. When was the last time you practiced drawing, then hammering hits into the target from a retention firing position?

firing shooting from retention range
Courtesy Crossbreed Holsters

Chances are high the threat will be moving. It’s rare that someone will stand still while you align your sights to squeeze off the shot.

That’s okay. Engaging moving targets is easier than most people think, but it takes some practice to become comfortable with the experience. It’s not something you want to try to learn on the fly in the middle of a defensive situation.

It’s possible that the threat is behind cover and the only part of the body exposed is the head. Effective head shots require placing a surgical shot in the proper location of the skull, as dictated by your angle of view.

sight alignment
Courtesy XS Sights

A six-inch group won’t cut it. You’ve got about a two- or three-inch square in which to place the hit. Plus, you’ll likely only get the opportunity to fire one round. Again, people don’t usually stand still while you shoot.

Hand and arm injuries are common in fights. You may be injured, but it’s still up to you to end the fight. That may be through avoidance and escape. It could be you have to fight with your pistol using your strong or support hand only.

Firing only with the strong hand isn’t that difficult. Shooting with just the support hand is altogether different. These techniques need to be practiced in advance, especially more precise shots and at firing at longer distances.

“Longer distances,” you say? While most threats happen at close ranges, there are situations where longer distance pistol shots have been necessary to end a threat. That should provide the reason to practice shooting at longer ranges.

That normally requires adjusting your point of aim. At seventy-five yards with most pistols, you aim about belt buckle height to get hits in the center of the chest. If the windage – left and right – isn’t properly adjusted you’ll have to compensate there, too.

Should your defensive situation require firing at an increased distance, it’s best to know your sights are zeroed, know where to aim, and have the fundamentals of marksmanship squared away.

You never know what it will take to end a threat. Worst-case scenario, you’re forced to fire your pistol. Knowing when to fire is very important. Knowing that you can make the shot is critical.

That confidence and the needed skills are the result of plenty of range time and practice. Recognizing when you shouldn’t press the trigger is equally important, if not more so. If you’re counting on luck to make the hit, you shouldn’t be pressing the trigger at all. Again, practice helps ensure that you’re up to the task, no matter what’s required.


Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy. He is the author of The Book of Two GunsAR-15 Skills and Drills, has a regular column in American Handgunner and makes some cool knives and custom revolvers. See or visit Shootrite’s Facebook page for other details.

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