Category Archives: marksmanship

Using Negative Targets

The Top 5 Missed Shots in Handgun Shooting

  1. The first shot.
  2. The last shot.
  3. The first shot after reducing a stoppage (which includes a reload).
  4. The shot after an Unintentional Discharge (it’s missed because it’s not fired).
  5. The first shot after the transition to another target.

The first shot is easily the most missed shot of all. Walking rounds into the target is a very common exercise. However, as Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his 1893 book Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail :

No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.

If the gun isn’t indexed into the eye-target line with adequate precision, relative to the distance involved, the first shot is likely to miss. Brian Enos called the necessary personal characteristic “visual patience.” Get the gun adequately aligned prior to pressing the trigger.

The last shot is often missed due to lack of follow-through. There always needs to be one more sight picture than rounds fired. Follow-through may be the least understood of all the Fundamentals of Pistol Shooting.

A stoppage is any unintended interruption in the cycle of operation. Whether that’s a malfunction or simply running out of ammo is irrelevant. Any stoppage reduction is a complex motor skill. That means a combination of gross and fine motor skills. Once the stoppage is reduced, we need to transition back into the fine motor skill only (trigger manipulation) mode before we fire the next shot.

After an Unintentional Discharge, the next shot is frequently not fired at all, which is why it’s missed. Periodically, a POlice dashcam or badgecam will record an officer firing one shot, then clearly displaying some type of startle response, and then immediately reholstering. That means it was an Unintentional Discharge, even if shooting was Justifiable under the circumstances. In competition, shooters will occasionally have a UD and then look at the pistol in a dumbfounded way. If they’re not Disqualified by the Range Officer, they will eventually get back to shooting but it’s often several seconds later.

Transitioning from one target to another and then making a good hit with the first shot is difficult. Very few people ever practice it, which increases the difficulty. It’s a sacrilegious view, but my observation is that when someone who isn’t a highly experienced and capable shooter (GM, M, A, Expert) moves their eyes to another target ahead of the sights, the first shot is going to be a miss. If the target is in an unexpected location, this is even more true.

Understanding the Top 5 Missed Shots makes them easier to avoid and shoot gooder.

The following isn’t related to the 5, but it’s an interesting comment from a previous post on my blog.

If you can’t be bothered to expend fifteen minutes a week in dry practice, two extra magazines on your person are most likely meaningless.

Surgical Speed Shooting Summit 2022 – An Overview

Twenty-one years ago, Andy Stanford researched and wrote the book Surgical Speed Shooting about combat shooting technique. He began teaching classes based on what his research had found. A number of people in the industry, myself included, became part of a group Andy formed to spread his knowledge.

Fast forward to June 2022. Andy organized a four day event, the Surgical Speed Shooting Summit, to further update what he learned subsequent to writing his book. The event was held at the classroom and range of Tactical Response in Western Tennessee. The purpose of the Summit was not only to update Surgical Speed Shooting but also to bring together a group of some of the top trainers in the industry, many of whom were not SSS related, to add their expertise to the knowledgebase. The final group of instructors was:

  • John Holschen
  • John Hearne
  • Greg Ellifritz
  • Michael Green
  • Claude Werner
  • Michael DeBethencourt
  • Allan McBee
  • John Johnston
  • Karl Rehn
  • Don Redl
  • Lee Weems
  • Melody Lauer

The first day started with a half day update of what Andy has gleaned about combat pistol shooting since the book’s publication. For the second half of the day, the group went to the range to shoot a few drills and see some targets Andy has developed for Surefire

Day Two was spent at the Tactical Response classroom with each trainer giving a presentation of his or her own choosing. The topics all related to personal defense but did not have to be specifically on Surgical Speed Shooting.

On the third day, 47 students arrived at the Tactical Response range to begin training with the 12 instructors who had been divided into three different groups of four instructors each. The students were divided into equal sized groups based on an initial skill evaluation by shooting one of the Surefire drills. The student groups received 2 hours of training each by each instructor group. The instructors divided their two hour time frames among themselves to that the students received 12 total short blocks of instruction.

The final day’s range activities for the students were similar to the third day’s but the instructor groups were reorganized and the instructors had the option to present different material than they had on the previous day.

Finally, everyone returned to the Tactical Response classroom for a wrap-up of the Summit’s events. The instructors and students invidually gave examples of two things that they had personally taken away from the Summit’s training and presentations. As each person gave their take-aways, they were presented with a certificate testifying to their attendance at this historic event.

More about each day’s activities in the next few posts.

Why we shoot pistols one-handed

A very interesting article is available on the NRA Sporting Sports USA website. There are some relevant historical details about the development of pistol technique in it.

U.S. Cavalry troops were required to shoot dismounted on the Army Target “L”. Even though they carried sabers and carbines, revolvers and pistols were the primary arms of the cavalry. Just as foretop men aloft in the rigging during the days of sail was [sic] admonished, “One hand for yourself and one for the ship,” so it was with the cavalryman, one hand for the horse and one for the pistol and that is why conventional pistol shooting is a one handed affair. After qualifying on foot, troops were required to repeat the course of fire while on their horse.

Photo credit: National Rifle Association

The Army Target “L” was pretty big, six feet tall and four feet wide. A five-inch aiming black, worth ten points was surrounded by seven concentric circles at intervals of 8.5 inches, 12 inches, 15.5 inches, 19 inches, 22.5 inches, 26 inches, and 46 inches and of descending value nine through three points. Any hits on the remainder of the frame were worth two points. On the left side were large numbers, five through two, from top to bottom, and six through nine on the right for scoring purposes.

Army L target minus the 46 inch 3 point ring (B-22)

The influence of the US Army Cavalry on the use of the handgun in our country cannot be underestimated, although mostly forgotten a century later. The Cavalry was the branch of the Army that led the development effort for the 1911 pistol. Cavalry doctrine of that time is the reason the 1911 has a spur hammer, manual safety, and grip safety. Those are details for another time, though. Teaser: the 1911 was NOT designed to be carried ‘cocked and locked,’ contrary to popular opinion.

Why I Like to Measure Things


Why do I like to measure things? Because until I do, I don’t really know what’s inside.

I dislike soupy oatmeal. Although I followed the package instructions, it still turned out like soup. When I used the package measurement, it didn’t. Measuring the actual amount of water from the package’s marker doesn’t hold as much water as it says and which the directions specify. One half a cup is quite a bit less than two-thirds of a cup.

What does soupy oatmeal have to do with personal protection? How would we know whether we’re “good shooters” unless we measure our own level of competency?

There has been debate within the training community for a long time about standards of competency. Those arguments will probably never be settled. One possible starting point could be the level of marksmanship necessary to pass the NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting Course. To pass the Course, a shooter needs to be able to make five hits inside a 4 inch circle four times at 10 feet, no time limit.

The NRA doesn’t require that a shooter make the standard in four consecutive attempts. Someone keeping or carrying a pistol for personal protection probably should consider being able to do it every single time. Shooting the BOPS test would at least give you an idea of where your competency is. Here is a target for you to use.

My Fundamentals of Pistol Shooting Tier is $1 a month on Patreon. The kickoff post, Dry Practice Circle Drill, is available to the public without subscribing.

Friday Fundamentals

To kick off my new Fundamentals of Pistol Shooting Tier on Patreon, I’ve chosen to use the Dry Practice Circle Drill.

The kickoff post is available to the public without subscribing.

I’m excited to offer this Tier so that for $1 a month people can learn how to shoot better than this and it won’t take years to do.

Commence Firing – The Big Picture


“Since the earliest days in American history, marksmanship has played a vital role in the growth and development of our country. The rifle was essential to those pioneers who marched westward, often the means of survival. Marksmanship continues to be fundamental right down to this day. Weapons change, tactics change but being able to hit the mark has never lost its importance.  Sometimes it means the difference between life and death. From colonial days, marksmanship has been an American tradition. The right to bear arms was one of the basic freedoms demanded by the Continental Army and rifles and the spirit of the man who manned them were decisive factors in our country’s initial fight for independence.”

Fundamentals of Pistol Shooting (Part 7)


My friend and colleague Brian Hill of The Complete Combatant has a unique perspective on one of the decision-making aspects of the Fundamentals. It was touched on in Part 1 of this series He has generously contributed the following post to expand and explain his viewpoint.

The Three Choices

The act of drawing from concealment to the first shot is the essential skill for the armed citizen, whether we are practicing, competing, or protecting ourselves. To improve the probability of success, the action requires a “recognition primed decision,” to use Gary Klein’s phrase. There are only three possible courses of action for the shooter once the decision to shoot has been reached. The need for a mental model which is conducive to quick decisions can be explained as follows.


If the shooter can perform a clean draw, align the sights or index the pistol relative to the target, then the decision should be primed that the pattern is correct and to execute the process of shooting. This decision will be compressed to a short period of time; therefore, the intuition will recognize the correctness with feedback from both vision and feel. This observation will be based on the feeling of fluidity and efficiency of the movement with a visual confirmation of alignment allowing the pattern to be recognized as “good enough” relative to the size of the target. The shooter is not using a comparative analysis but a recognition of previous successes.

2-Correct and then shoot

Often pressure or lack of skill will alter this process; therefore, the shooter will have to correct either the physical index or visual alignment of the sight and target, or both. The pattern will be recognized as not “good enough,” and a correction will be applied. This correction cost the shooter a quarter of a second to make a correction which is much faster than firing another shot which may be no better than the previous one. Of course, the other possibility is looking to the target for indication of success or failure, and the minimum amount of time for this type of correction is .75 to 1.5 seconds. The more we practice the correct pattern, the faster the recognition primed decision happens. Experts gain an advantage in processing speed and a significant probability of making the right decision sooner, hence the need for practice.

3-Assess new information

Finally, as the shooter commits to the shooting process, something changes, the target disappears, changes, or stops needing to be engaged; therefore, the shooter needs to assess a possible new course of action, such as stopping the process of shooting, going to a ready position and taking the finger off the trigger, or moving away. Using the previous two steps, if there is not a “good enough” solution and no correction can be made, requires the shooter to reevaluate the situation. If there is any doubt then the answer is no, and the shooter needs to adjust or stop.

Shooting happens in highly compressed time periods, but the properly prepared mind will be able to perform efficiently and consistently. The key is repeated exposure to both success and failure, allowing the priming of the process. Practice with this style of immediate feedback will allow progress rapidly and is the key to competency under pressure.

The Complete Combatant

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

–Marcus Aurelius

In addition to the alignment process of the pistol to the target Brian mentions, the smoothness of the trigger press necessary will influence the success of the shot. Shooters are often victims of “urgency bias” with regard to trigger press. This is akin to the common human tendency to feel “I have to do something NOW.” Urgency bias can lead to “El Snatcho” and can negate the alignment of the pistol with the target. So, the necessary smoothness is also a decision that the shooter must make. What will suffice at two yards will probably not lead to good results at 10 yards. It is also a recognition primed decision that is only learned through practice.

The final part of the series will focus on the most important, consequential, and least practiced aspect of the Fundamentals, DON’T SHOOT/SHOOT.

Part I

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Tactical Professor books (all PDF)

Purchase of any book includes Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make.

Strategies, Tactics, and Options for Personal Protection presentation at Rangemaster Tactical Conference

Fundamentals of Pistol Shooting (Part 6)


How do we know we’re doing the Fundamental of Pistol Shooting correctly? That’s where Standards and measurement come in. The term ‘Standards’ is intimidating to many people so if it makes you more comfortable, say ‘baseline’ instead.

The most important thing is to have a Standard, any standard. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, there’s no road that will get you there.” Even the gurus of 20th Century ‘point shooting,’ Fairbairn and Sykes, had standards their officers had to meet.

Another aspect of the situation is that Standards introduce pressure. Pressure brings about failures, both human and mechanical. The book Holloway’s Raiders has an excellent example of a pistol that worked fine at the range but malfunctioned when the officer got into a gunfight. The gun was no different, it was how the officer handled it under the pressure of a gunfight that changed the pistol’s performance. Chuck Haggard and I have both observed that malfunctions are far more common in POlice gunfights than is generally acknowledged. This phenomenon is well documented in the LAPD Categorical Use of Force reports.

When shooters enter competitions, it’s very common for malfunctions in their pistols to show up. “I don’t understand it, my gun never malfunctions when I practice but here I’m having a lot of problems” is a frequent comment by new competitors. Consequently, the Standard you choose is less important than simply having one, and the pressure it brings about, in the first place.

The most relevant shooting task for those who want a CCW is to pass the Qualification Course, if their State requires one. Millions of people who obtain Licenses to Carry have had to qualify with their pistol to get the license. Only a few thousand, a tiny fraction, will ever fire a pistol for Personal Protection.

A Qualification Course example

Experienced shooters often tell new shooters “It’s easy; blah, blah, blah” with regard to shooting a Qualification. No, it’s not. For someone who’s never fired a pistol before, it’s a daunting task. Most people have not taken any test at all, even one on pen and paper, since high school. Testing of any kind is a process that is usually hated and feared. Add in the presence of a deadly weapon and the test becomes a huge psychological obstacle.

Time is an aspect of any deadly force encounter. The saying “There are no timers in a gunfight” is foolish. The most important timer, your life clock, is running the whole time. It can be stopped if you don’t react in time. One POlice who was involved in an extended gunfight said to himself, “Hey, I need to slow down and aim better.” What he meant was ‘I need to apply the Fundamentals, shoot better, and start neutralizing my opponent with bullets.’ He came to realize the concept that time matters.

If you don’t take the time do it something right in the first place, how are you going to get the time to do it over?

My mother

Until the invention of electronic timers, there was no way to accurately time individual shots. Timers didn’t exist in the Fairbairn/Sykes/Applegate era, only stopwatches. And yet, even Shooting to Live mentions that an observer with a stopwatch can be a tremendous aid to improving performance.

Pick a Standard, any standard, and see how well you can meet it. If your State requires a Qualification Course, that’s a good place to start. If not, pick some Standard, they’re readily available on the Internet, and use that. Then, over time, improve your performance against the Standard. For instance, using 100% as your goal on the Qualification instead of the minimum passing score. You’ll be better prepared if you do have to defend yourself and you’ll feel more confident in general.

The final two parts of this series will feature guest articles about the Decisions aspect of the Fundamentals paradigm.

Part I

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Tactical Professor books (all PDF)

Purchase of any book includes Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make.

Strategies, Tactics, and Options for Personal Protection presentation at Rangemaster Tactical Conference

Fundamentals of Pistol Shooting (Part 5)


The fourth Fundamental of Pistol Shooting is:

Follow Through

Following through can be tricky in more ways than one, even grammatically. The noun form of the word has a hyphen, while the verb form does not.

follow-through (noun)

  1. : the part of the stroke following the striking of a ball
  2. : the act or an instance of following through

follow through (verb)

  1. : to continue a stroke or motion to the end of its arc
  2. : to press on in an activity or process especially to a conclusion

Follow-through is one of the most ignored aspects of shooting well. As the verb definition implies, following through means continuing to keep the gun on target until the shot is concluded. The shot is not concluded until the bullet has left the barrel. Therein lies the issue with not following through. Shooters will frequently move the gun, or themselves, before the bullet has left the barrel. Sometimes the lack of follow-through occurs even before the shot is fired.

The way lack of follow-through occurs can take three forms. Shooters will lift their heads, drop the gun, or pull the gun back close to the body immediately after the gun fires. This is driven by several different motivations.

  1. The desire to see where the bullet hit. That desire is why shooters lift their heads.
  2. They’ve been told to ‘scan and assess’ without being told that scan and assess comes after following through. This is the usual motivation for dropping the gun and is noticeably prevalent during NRA Personal Protection training.
  3. They’ve been taught that after firing their rounds, they have to immediately make ready for physical combat with an aggressor. Preparation for physical contact is the reason for pulling the gun back to the body.

None of these three actions accomplish what they are intended to. They are all counter-productive to both good marksmanship and to their original intent.

In defensive shooting, hits on an adversary are rarely visible the moment after the shot is fired, so lifting the head in an attempt to see the hits accomplishes nothing. When practicing, unless some kind of reactive target is being used, a shooter can’t usually tell where the round has hit on a paper target anyway. This is especially true if the previous hits on the target haven’t been pasted or taped and the target looks like Swiss cheese.

Scan and assess actually should occur in the reverse order, i.e., assess and scan. First, we want to assess the efficacy of our shooting on the initial threat and second, scan for additional threats. Assessment is properly done by looking through the sights to see if the opponent is still continuing the fight. If so, then additional and immediate sighted gunfire is the appropriate response. Note that during the assessment, the trigger finger is still going to be in the trigger guard and on the trigger, ready to instantly fire again, if necessary. Once the assessment determines that the attacker has been “neutralized with bullets,” then the finger comes out of the trigger guard, the pistol is lowered, and a scan for other threats begins.

The desire by an criminal to close with a defender through a hail of bullets is a figbar of the imagination of certain segments of the training community. As the saying goes, “once the bullets start flying, everyone starts moving.” To which should be added, “away from the source of the bullets.” Assuming the fight is continuing, more accuracy will be required as the distance increases. This accuracy refinement is unlikely to be achieved by using a two handed version of the Fairbairn-Sykes “Quarter-hip” position.

A way to practice your follow-through is to count ‘one thousand’ after each shot prior to making any movement such as moving the gun, your head, or taking your finger off the trigger. Also be sure you’re keeping your eyes open during and after the shot. Blinking the eyes at the moment of ignition is far more common than most people know. Either a video camera or a partner to your side can help detect blinking.

There is a good article about how to develop follow-through on the NRA’s website.

The next Part will cover standards and measurement.

Part I

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Tactical Professor books (all PDF)

Purchase of any book includes Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make.

STOPP Presentation at Rangemaster Tactical Conference

The direct purchase link for the STOPP Presentation is: