Are you shooting too fast?

I have an upcoming article in American Handgunner asserting that many of us are training to shoot too fast.  Here’s a few of the key points:


Any decision to shoot in a defensive situation requires that we 1) see a potential threat, 2) assesses it, and then 3) shoot it or not. (I’m combining the first two steps of the OODA loop into “see” here.) Most training isn’t concerned with the “assess” part of the equation, and training without assessing is programming ourselves to skip this step…with potentially dire consequences.

Imagine a match in which there is no walk-through, you have no idea how many shoot targets there are nor how they will be indicated, no idea how many no-shoot targets exist, the physical environment you are going into isn’t known, the event takes place in low light, shoot and no-shoot targets both move erratically and change into one another with the slightest perceptible movement at lightning-fast-speeds, “targets” and colleagues are shouting often critical information at you that needs to be acted on immediately, and a missed shot is always a potential “no-shoot” shooting because you can’t see all the no-shoot targets. Oh, and a single round on a no-shoot target means you go to prison, or at best lose everything you own, all your future prospects, and very possibly your marriage. How’d you like to shoot that match?  Well, cops and armed citizens shoot these all-to-real “matches” every day. And there, in the real world, it often takes a good half-second to register what’s happening.

On a static square range I can’t assess what’s happening in front of my gun at faster than .33 splits (what I mean here by “assess” is forcing myself to see and register the shape and color of the target area before making the commitment to pull the trigger again).  Even this is an easier task than assessing a dynamic situation on the street is.

I’m told that LAPD SWAT, one of, if not the most, active tac teams in the country, had determined that less than 0.4 or .05 seconds between shots was too fast to assess what was happening in front of their guns in a truly dynamic situation.

There’s more in the article — look for it.

Finally: I’ll hit this point often and hard: if you carry a gun for self-defense, you have to know the law. Invest the money you’d spend on shaving a tenth of a second off your splits with Andrew Branca’s book or seminars — it’ll pay far greater dividends. Visit this link to learn more, and use the discount code “streetstandards” for a 10% discount.

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11 thoughts on “Are you shooting too fast?

  1. Great points!

    Steve Klein (“Deadeye Steve”) has a video discussing this further called Training Officers Better.

    Many of the assessment challenges you describe have been done in competitive events. Shoot/No-shoot and surprise courses were fixtures in practical competitions but many clubs don’t do this due to logistical problems, and the fact that the event director can no longer compete in a stage he/she sets up.

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    • John, I think we did a pretty good job of hitting a few sides of this argument below. But as to the video it is one big strawman argument.

      I think anyone at Force Science would agree that you can’t shoot so fast that you miss. But what Steve’s video implies is that a fast shooter that misses is the same as a fast shooter that shoots with a great amount of accuracy. If I can only get my hits at .5 second splits due to lack of skill, is it possible that I’m concentrating on shooting all that time to be accurate? In that case the poor shooter does not have extra time to assess any more than the fast shooter due to using all the mental focus to keep the rounds on target. So I am not going to stop shooting any sooner than the fast shooter for reason outside the static times given. And of course I disagree with Steve and agree with Force Science due to my below reasons.

      Steve makes a lot of assumptions that actually have no scientific bearing on the actual topic Force Science was testing. He is using faulty logic to give us arbitrary times. Or perhaps he agrees that an officer should slow down to whatever speed is needed to assure a deadly threat on every shot. If that is his belief then I would just respectfully disagree.

      Any times we use are anecdotal because we all have a different split time that we can accurately shoot under stress. Then we must add in the mental assessment time which is different for each person. Then we must add in the reaction time which is also different for each person. Just saying they should shoot a .5 split is arbitrary. The difference may be greater and it of course is cumulative depending on how many shots are fired. While accuracy helps with the later: fate and mental attitude of the suspect can have a large say. Again all this amounts to is giving the bad guy more of a chance to kill the good guy. I find that unacceptable.

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      • I don’t believe Mr. Klein is suggesting never training at a faster pace, only that it may be more beneficial to stress accuracy once a give rate of fire is reached. A shooter capable of consistently hitting a 4 inch target at 0.5 second splits is more skilled and better capable of assessment than a shooter only capable of 8 inches at the same pace and distance.

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      • John I was just commenting off of what Mr. Klein said on the video. I have no personal knowledge of what he believes on other subjects.

        He clearly was suggesting that a person should shoot at a certain rate which is slower than what was suggesting in their research. Unfortunately he was comparing apples and oranges there.

        As for increasing accuracy as well as speed that is definitely a balance that must be considered. It certainly isn’t all about speed. But that shouldn’t translate into not learning to shoot fast and accurate. Learning to shoot slower than one’s ability in order to be able to stop at any round is a recipe for disaster. Not only do I put myself in more danger but as an officer I would have to be concerned not only with not having my bullets go down range as a miss but I also have to end the gun fight quickly because even if the bad guys bullets miss me, they are going down range also.

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  2. I’m curious as to your thoughts on what and how you are seeing a change in the bad guy’s actions that may or may not make you stop shooting? For me, and per the FBI stats, most people in gunfights have a hard time using peripheral vision. If you believe this, I’m curious as to what you are seeing other than a small fraction of an inch in your selected target area?
    What I can see during drills and Force on Force is not what I am seeing in a gunfight. Many others have come to the same conclusion after being in a gunfight.
    Ultimately this leaves me with physically moving my head and eyes between shots to see (assess) what the bad guy is doing. I have a hard time asking someone to do that when they are being shot at. I don’t pretend that there are easy answers here. But this idea, as I think I understand it, sounds like it will end up like the old shoot two and assess.

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    • OneGun –

      I think you may be over thinking the problem. I’m not too concerned, with regard to armed citizens, with an attack by trained professionals who flank them multiple directions and have good tactics. Truth is, if these guys have it in for you, you’re screwed…plain and simple. My post was about assessing what’s going on in front of you and your muzzle. Has the BG dropped the weapon? Has he turned to flee?, etc. If you shoot after these events you become the aggressor and are in a world of hurt and regret. What I’m saying is to make sure the BG needs to be shot RIGHT NOW every time you pull the trigger. 0.17 or 0.20 splits are too fast to do that. So slow down on your subsequent shots and look before you shoot. And you will be able to look: if you are looking at the BG as you shoot, then you are already looking at him to assess; if you have the control to look at your sights then you should have the control to come off them to assess.

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      • Thanks for your reply. I wasn’t sure I was understanding you correctly. Apparently I was.
        I’m just not sure that coming off the sights/target to look, assess and then react by going back to the sight can be properly done in a half second. I believe you are looking at almost a second for most humans to conduct this operation properly. I can physically move my head or eyes that fast but there is now a physical pause while my mind interprets the input and then I have a reaction curve to get my eye back on target and continue to fire. While experts certainly do this faster than novices it still takes more than half a second to do properly. Of course we may agree to disagree on that.

        Another problem I have with this technique is the problem of coming back on target and firing again (if it is still necessary to continue shooting) that first shot. We as instructors know that the first shot after any break requires the student to use more control. We often see the first shot out of a holster, after a reload, after gaining cover, and now coming back on target after assessing go off target. Now every shot becomes this first shot in my estimation. I cringe at the level of training that we will NOT give our officers, our military or ourselves in order to overcome this deficit.
        I always ask instructors who advocate this if they are okay with slowing down the process knowing that with the difference between .3 and however long it takes to do properly multiplied by the number of rounds it takes to end the threat, a bullet might and eventually will hit the good guy? Adding even a second, or more if I’m correct, to the gunfight might not be the best practice for our officers, warriors or ourselves.

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  3. I don’t think that coming off the sights to the threat and back takes that long. In fact I usually have both in my field of focus unless it’s a very long shot. It’s just as matter of programming in the assessment time of something that should be in your field of vision anyway. If LAPD SWAT can advocate no faster that .45 or so, I think that .5 or .6 is trainable with a shooter who gives a damn (I realize that that does not include all or even most cops). Assessment before shooting is actually easy to train with falling plates; just wait to go to the next plate to until you see the plate you shot at fall, which is what Paul Howe advocates. Yes, you are slowing down a bit, but really, what’s the alternative? Are you suggesting that we shoot WITHOUT verifying an actual threat AT THAT MOMENT?

    Also, remember that even if the threat persists, a hit almost anywhere is going to get a reaction from the guy who’s been shot, and that reaction will (usually) buy you a good quarter of a second at least.

    Yes, all this is a risk balancing act. But remember that we are not in the business of shooting BGs, we are in the risk management business. Just because something is a secondary concern doesn’t mean it’s not a concern to be addressed and balanced.

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    • Ah I think that we have come to where we might disagree, thus giving us our different views. I know for a fact that during a shooting for ME, I can’t see the gun unless I am focusing on it. Meaning unless I am shooting at it. I can do as you suggest all day long on the range. And I believe that ability to soft focus is a great attribute to train for as it increases our situational awareness. But once the gunfight starts, I can’t do what you are suggesting. Due to the loss of peripheral vision I no longer have a soft focus as I did before the gunfight started. I can see a very small spot on the chest or a very small spot containing the weapon. I can’t see both unless they are one and the same target.

      Asking others who have been in gunfights led me to believe I was not alone. Looking at the FBI stats a vast majority of officers who were in shootings reported the tunnel vision. I had to physically move my head to see the gun and then back to the center mass. To this day it is an amazing thing. I was told about tunnel vision and did drills for it, but nothing prepared me for the inability to see more than one little spot. It was like looking through the cardboard tubes that come inside rolls of paper towels.

      What do I propose good guys do? Force Science has done a large amount of research on just this very topic. Because I can’t focus on two things at once under stress I have to severely slow down to watch the weapon and then center mass. For me it is not a matter of a fraction of a second. Once I have been placed in fear for severe bodily injury or death I train to switch from looking at the suspect’s weapon as my pistol comes up to center mass. I shoot until the threat is eliminated. And yes that means on some shootings it can be that the bad guy dropped the weapon and I fire one or two more rounds after that. I was able to see the person’s shirt move to my right as he fell and I stopped shooting. But that was all I could see. But if had dropped the pistol and stood still for a second or two, I would have continued to shoot him until he fell.

      That doesn’t mean I’ve become the aggressor. It means that science has shown just what we’ve been discussing. In the vast majority of shootings which occur rather quickly, the difference in this timing is small. But because we don’t walk around with high speed cameras on we still need to go through the thought process that we’ve been doing here. It is not hard to fathom that slowing down puts a person more at risk from the suspect’s weapon or bullets. And some of those good guys have taken bullets because they prolonged the fight by slowed down. So suggesting that we slow down is asking someone who is in fear for their life to put their life at further risk in order to placate those that don’t understand the science or don’t care about the science.

      While we never know what a jury will do, the vast majority of recent cases have sided with the officer due to our current topic and scientific research. It’s much the same as the, “how long does it take to stop shooting topic where someone was shot in the back”. We must take reaction time and the physiological changes that occur to most people into account. I know the courts do.

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  4. I can’t argue with anything you say, Bryan. What I was trying to do was to challenge the attitude that ever faster (accurate) shooting is the goal of “good” shooting (it is if you define “good” to mean time and score, but I define “good” as street relevant), that the guys and gals who spend lots of resources (time, money) in the pursuit of faster splits may actually be doing themselves a dis-service if they get into a shooting, and that we ought to at least train for assessment before every shot in the hopes that it may be helpful in a shooting, even if only a little in many cases (which I believe depends on many factors – something that I’ll post on later).

    Thanks for your intelligent and gentlemanly commentary!

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    • No, thank you for entertaining my questions. BTW, love the blog. I’m looking forward to your future post as you expand on the idea.

      Thanks again

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