In this post, I’m going to share my thoughts on what is probably one of the most contentious subjects in all of defensive handgun training… sighted fire vs. point shooting. In truth, this should be tackled as sighted fire AND point shooting, for the two are not as divorced as some would like to believe. While some may define point shooting as instinctive shooting from the hip, others view it as target focused shooting without strict reliance on seeing the sights. I hope the following will provide a clear definition of my understanding of the subject.
A lot of my early handgun instruction was based on Jeff Cooper’s Modern Technique, and for much of my shooting career, I was heavily invested in the dogma of “front sight, press.” I did not really see the point of point shooting (pun intended) and it had no place in my repertoire of skills (despite the fact that I had already been point shooting from retention in training!). Now, to be fair, Colonel Cooper is on record stating that the sights were merely supposed to be used to verify body mechanics, but his adherents have often seemed rather dogmatic and myopic in their approach to handgun training. (As an aside, I truly wish that I had known then what I know now when I had the honor of meeting Cooper.)
Nearly a decade later, I attended some training that began a radical (and continuing) evolution of my views on point shooting. I must credit an instructor from Suarez International (Dan Choi) for codifying a lot of what I understand as the fundamentals of point shooting… Point shooting has existed as a discipline since before the age of firearms. If you doubt this, think back to your youth when you had your first toy bow and arrow with no sights on it or a rudimentary slingshot made from a forked branch and a rubber band! Or turn away from your computer and point at something across the room with your index finger. Through the physiology of proprioception, you’ve known how to point shoot all of your life! In the annals of history, countless gunfighters are purported to have used the fundamentals of point shooting to survive violent confrontations. Further, debriefings after shootings will inevitably reveal that the shooter often does not remember seeing their sights! One persistent observation is that whether trained or not, when faced with a violent close range threat, we instinctively square our body to the threat and focus on it. That focus is what allows us to point shoot. The nuance here is that point shooting is still aimed fire dependent on proper body mechanics and visual input! Truly, on one level, it is simply hand-eye coordination. The sights are not always necessary, especially at close distances. And at close enough range, indeed, merely pointing the handgun at a threat is going to be sufficient to put rounds on target.
As I alluded to above, I have in the past trained quite a bit with an organization that espouses dynamic movement in conjunction with point shooting. Unfortunately, I have also found this training to be somewhat at odds with what I view as reality. I have learned to “get off the X” and I still view moving immediately and quickly off of the line of attack as a good response to ingrain through training. Unfortunately, many of the environments we find ourselves in on a daily basis may not be conducive to that. In particularly close quarter attacks, going to guns may not be immediately possible or even advisable. Further, I have found that dynamically moving off the line of attack while point shooting one handed has yielded mediocre accuracy, and it strikes me as a perishable skill that is counter to the surgical accuracy required to neutralize a threat with a handgun. In short, if you’re moving fast enough to avoid getting hit, then you’re probably also moving too fast to ensure adequate hits. The position of “point shoulder” with your firing arm extended laterally from the body with your visual focus aligned along the top of your arm through the sights towards the target probably allows the best compromise in this instance. Still, I would argue that the dichotomy of dynamic movement and accurate shooting do not intersect as cleanly as some might suggest. In fact, after some recent training, I would also argue that not only will you be more accurate with two hands on the gun, you may even be faster! You can still see where you’re moving laterally with peripheral vision and only a few yards of movement are actually required to move off the line of attack.
Allow me to belabor the above points a bit more… We learn by studying the fight or flight response and startle response that we are going to square to the threat and crouch. And truly, in force on force training, that is exactly what I did. But whether we look at the Modern Technique’s “stand and deliver” or dynamic movement off the line of attack to the oblique, both are in my opinion somewhat counter to this natural physiological response. In contrast, squaring to a threat allows us to point shoot from retention with accuracy at close range. As distance allows, pushing the pistol out to full extension with a two handed grip allows us to bring our sights to bear on a threat. The human eye is capable of amazing feats such as tracking the front sight through strings of fire and rapid shifts between focal points. Perhaps seeing the sights is not that great of a leap, especially when we make the decision to be accountable for every shot fired against a dynamic background and realize that high thoracic or facial shots are required to effectively stop a threat. If you instill using your sights into your procedural (unconscious) memory, then you will probably use your sights when you have to instinctively shoot at a threat for real. If the only thing you’ve committed to procedural memory is point shooting, then you may very well be just spraying bullets downrange when SHTF. In my mind, sighted fire is a far better ideal to aspire to.
I was fortunate enough to be able to train with Mike Pannone of CTT Solutions recently. (Check out a couple of AARs of his Covert Carry class here and here.) Taking that class made me reconsider many things that I have encountered in training… in large measure, I have almost returned full circle to my initial training with Tom Givens at Rangemaster in Memphis circa 1997. (For those that may not know, as of January 2015, 62 out of 65 of Tom Givens’ students have thus far prevailed and won gunfights! The three that didn’t “win” their confrontations were unarmed at the time. If I recall correctly, Givens teaches a quick side step while drawing and use of the sights with a two handed grip when possible.)
Now, I’ve never shot anybody, and I hope I never have to. But I acknowledge and prepare for the possibility because I carry a gun on a daily basis. So, with the caveat that I am forever a student with malleable opinions, here are my current conclusions on fighting with a pistol…
I believe that we will instinctively move towards what we perceive as safety when threatened, even if it’s behind us. Despite the fact that I backpedaled into a support column during a force on force class, I still believe that backwards movement is a natural and even likely outcome. Had I backed away correctly, with my center of gravity forward, I probably wouldn’t have hit my head and fallen. No matter which direction, move! Then shoot! Or move AND shoot! Repeat as necessary! However, you must also acknowledge that movement incurs a time penalty. Use movement to your advantage rather than to your detriment!
Squaring to the threat with movement allows for natural body mechanics to be employed to our advantage! Paraphrasing from Pannone’s class, squaring to the threat allows you to effectively point shoot from retention as the horizontal deviation of your shots is minimized. The vertical displacement is less important, as the centerline of the body provides for a lot of vital targets. Note that this is primarily a reactive technique meant for very close threats. Squaring up to take the hit in football is the typical example here, although I never played football, so I can’t quite relate… The other example is to look at how you square up and plant your body when you anticipate being shoved.
Weapon accessibility and a fast draw are absolutely vital. No matter which defensive gunfight we examine, those that didn’t have their guns or couldn’t reach their guns were typically the ones that lost.
Surgical accuracy is an important ideal, both from the standpoint of quickly and effectively neutralizing your target, as well as minimizing the threat to noninvolved parties. Train to always use your sights to increase your ability to make effective hits.
The conclusions above are my current opinions on point shooting, sighted fire, and shooting while moving in the context of a reactive gunfight. Much of the above may be merely moot semantics. I’m not going to tell you that shooting while moving isn’t possible, since I’ve successfully done it in training. I’m also not going to say that your sights are always necessary. What I will say is that training is invaluable, movement is a good thing, and that you should train to use your sights whenever possible. Invariably, when I have truly needed to make the shot count, slowing down and focusing on an adequate sight picture has yielded the desired results, even under time pressure. Indeed, misses are decidedly counterproductive to the desired result, whether in combat or in competition. Learn the fundamentals of marksmanship and learn to use your sights! You will probably need them to be truly effective with a pistol!
As always, comments are welcome and encouraged! Be polite, be professional, and start a conversation!