During your initial pistol training, the emphasis was likely on accuracy. You were taught to bring the front sight or dot into the sharpest focus possible, allowing your target to blur. This method is still considered the best way to produce the most accurate shot. However, in real-world self-defense scenarios, accuracy can come at the cost of speed. When fractions of a second could mean the difference between life and death, it’s crucial to find a balance between accuracy and speed.

Fight or Fight Response in Self-Defense Shooting

In high-stress situations, the body’s natural response can significantly impact one’s ability to obtain a traditional sight picture. The body’s natural response is to focus on the perceived threat. This is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response, a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival.

When a threat is perceived, the hypothalamus at the base of your brain reacts. It sends nerve and hormone signals to your adrenal glands, which release an abundance of hormones. These hormones are nature’s way of preparing you to face danger and increase your chances of survival.

Target Shooting vs. Shooting to Survive

It’s important to distinguish between target shooting and shooting to survive. In target shooting, the focus is on precision and accuracy. However, in a survival situation, speed and efficiency are paramount. Survivors have reported using nothing more than their body position to aim the gun. Achieving this level of instinctive shooting often involves breaking away from traditional marksmanship training and becoming target-focused instead of sight-focused.

The Role of Optics in Target-Focused Shooting

One effective way to transition from sight-focused to target-focused shooting is to train with an optics-clad pistol that has an occluded or blocked-out sight window. While it might seem like a drill designed to develop point-shooting techniques, it’s actually not if you’re using optics. Your brain will still perceive a dot superimposed over your target, but only if you keep your eyes downrange. By maintaining your focus on the situation at hand, you’ll find that you can acquire your target faster and transition to the next target more efficiently.

The goal of occluding the optics is to help shooters remain target-focused, which guards against shifting your focus onto the dot when you should be looking for or at the target. It’s a popular training tool that can enhance your speed and efficiency in high-stress situations.


It should be noted that dot occlusion may not be effective if you have a condition known as strabismus, where the eyes do not properly align with each other when looking at an object. In the general population, the prevalence of strabismus is estimated to be between 2 to 5 percent, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). Some people with strabismus may still be able to use dot occlusion effectively, while others may struggle. It’s always best to consult with an eye care professional for personalized advice.

Occluding the Dot for On-Sight Shooting

You can use various materials to occlude your dot. Some suggest using a target paster, but these often leave behind a film, and removing one might require a solution that could damage the special coatings on your optic lens. Blue painter’s tape typically solves that problem, but sometimes can come off during the middle of a practice session.

Perhaps the best option is to modify a snap-on protective cover for your optics. If you’re not willing to permanently alter the cover that came with your optics, get another for this purpose. Use a pair of scissors to trim off the parts that cover the rear of the window and emitter, as both of these areas need to be clear for the drill to work.

Training Drills for Target-Focused Shooting

Begin with the presentation by gradually aligning your pistol’s optic with your target. Your dominant eye should focus on the dot, while your non-dominant eye focuses on the target. Ideally, your brain merges these two images. From here, you can practice various shooting drills.

Snap Drill: The classic snap drill is a great starting point for learning the basics of occluded shooting and getting on target. Start in the low- or high-ready, aim at the target and fire one round as fast as you can accurately.

Multiple Targets Drill: This drill involves setting up multiple targets and practicing transitioning from one target to another. The goal is to present the gun and get follow-up shots multiple times. This drill helps improve your speed and efficiency.

Reload Drills: These drills involve firing at a target, performing a reload and then continuing to fire. This helps improve your reloading speed and efficiency, which is crucial in high-stress situations.

Movement Drills: If your range allows it, incorporating movement into your drills can be very beneficial. This could involve moving to cover, shooting on the move, or transitioning between different shooting positions.

The goal of these drills is to help you remain target-focused, which can improve your speed and efficiency in high-stress situations. Always ensure safety while practicing these drills.

Mastering Speed, Efficiency and Accuracy in High-Stress Shooting Situations

While accuracy is important, it’s equally critical to develop speed and efficiency in high-stress situations. By shifting your focus from the sights to the target and training with optics, you can enhance your ability to respond quickly and effectively when it matters most. Remember, the goal is not just to hit the target but to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible. This is the essence of training.