As in many other things in life, we all know what we are talking about when we are discussing how to shoot fast and accurately, but when we try to use words to describe it, the meaning sometimes doesn’t quite get across. This causes a great deal of confusion in many students. In this article, I want to tackle the slippery beast that is combat marksmanship. In other words, being able to hit as quickly and as accurately as the tactical situation calls for.
There are two extremes in this subject. On one side of the house, you have those who say they are point shooters. They say they never use the sights at all and that the eyes do nothing else but look at the target. The other side, their philosophical opponents say that point shooting is silly and that only by focusing exclusively on the sights will you ever get any hits in combat. Who is right?
As a rule of thumb, your visual verification (point of visual focus) must be smaller than the intended target.
I want to say first of all that I learned to use the sights at the feet of the masters. I am one of the fortunate few to have trained with Jeff Cooper in the old days, and was a firm believer that only by using a clear front sight focus in all cases would we ever be able to hit anything at all. As we progress in the study of the art, we realize if we maintain an open mind, that things are not as black and white as the gun magazines, or the shooting schools would have us believe. Let’s examine what actually happens in a situation where we are firing a shot against a human adversary.
Regardless of whether you intend to utilize the sights or not, the first thing that happens is physical alignment of the pistol on target. This is simply getting the gun to point physically in the right direction without need for any visual verification of the alignment. Truly, we can align the pistol even while blindfolded! Our visual focus is originally on the source of the threat, our adversary. This alignment (some would call it aiming, others pointing) is purely physical. I often do a demonstration in training where I face a target blind-folded at 3 yards. On the signal, I draw and shoot. Usual results – two center hits in the upper chest area of the photo target; the result on pure biomechanical shooting. I have not, nor could I possibly use the sights to do this. This is reliance on pure physical alignment.
If the adversary/target is very close, visual verification via sights is not needed as the alignment of handgun muzzle on target already exists. A shot fired here will hit its intended target unless the shooter does something to move the pistol off target with his grip or his trigger press.
Nevertheless, even those who advocate ignoring the sights, extend the pistol out toward the target and keep it within the visual field we call peripheral vision. At the very least, even if one is not specifically looking for it, the silhouette of the hands will be seen super-imposed on the chest of the target/adversary. This IS a sort of visual verification, although not specifically via the sights.
Physical alignment occurs as fast as we can bring up the gun to point onto the target. As soon as we reach physical alignment, we automatically begin to zoom in our visual focus as needed to make the shot. As the pistol stops on target, the visual focus is on the adversary, and the shooter’s hands may be seen peripherally. If the distances are close, this is enough.
As the distance or difficulty of the shot increases, the more time we allow for the visual focus to verify and refine the alignment. Physical alignment is a function of grip and upper body posture. It is possible to obtain physical alignment with one hand only, but much easier and positive by using both hands.
Think of a bipod and a monopod. Which of the two makes a rifle most steady? The bipod of course as it has two contact points not just one. Similarly by putting both hands and arms into play, you will be able to “triangulate” on the target much faster and positive.
Grip has a great deal to do with this alignment. If you have a poorly developed grip on your pistol no amount of sighting, aiming or pointing will get you hits in combat time frames. Through experiments, we’ve found that keeping the thumbs pointed toward the target greatly helps to point the weapon in the right direction. Many competitors use a thumbs forward grip, and the gurus of point shooting, such as Fairbairn and Sykes, advocated a thumb forward grip!
Here is the Visual Verification Of Existing Alignment in order of occurrence, and in order to make the shot – moving from one extreme to the other – as I’ve seen it (No pun intended).
- On the target (Physical Alignment Only – Peripherally Aware of Hand Location), but visual focus is on the threat.
- Visual focus on the desired point of impact. (Physical Alignment Only – Peripherally Aware of Hand Location on a specific point on the target)
- On the silhouette of your hands and gun (Peripherally aware of the target’s location, but still not “on the sights”)
- On the general location of the sights (flash sight picture – with peripherally awareness of the target’s location).
- On the front sight with less focus on the rear. (Peripherally aware of the target’s location)
- On the very top edge of the front sight (perfect sight picture – pure marksmanship).
The visual verification is increasingly refined by using smaller and smaller points of reference as the milliseconds pass in physical alignment before the actual shot is fired, from the silhouette of the hands to the very top edge of the front sight. The more visual verification you receive, the more you are able to refine the physical alignment, from “close enough” to “right on the spot”. This visual verification and physical refinement continues AS the shot is fired. The idea is to eventually have the visual focus arrive at the very top edge of the front sight, and to keep that visual focus as the pistol moves off target slightly in recoil. The trick is that you may not wait for that perfection for a particular shot.
Now, here is the million-dollar question: When do you actually shoot? When do you stop looking and start pressing the trigger? The answer is not some secret gem. Quite simply, based on your training and time on the range, you will be able to read exactly how much visual verification and refinement of alignment as the trigger is pressed you need to make each particular shot. Simply put, when you see what YOU need to see, you shoot.
As a rule of thumb, your visual verification (point of visual focus) must be smaller than the intended target. Remember that this occurs is with an already existing physical alignment of the pistol on target regardless of stance, grip or anything else.
Where does POINTING end and AIMING begin?
Where does AIMING end and SIGHTING begin?
Is the object of the drill to use a specific shooting style or to hit your adversary in the least time possible and best spot available? Don’t over analyze this.
Learn to see what you need to see to get the hits and don’t worry about calling it anything.
The minute you try to classify it as pointing or sighting, you’ve lost the idea.
Oh, one more thing.
If the enemy (We don’t have to call ‘em “targets” anymore do we) is within contact distance, then your physical alignment may be compromised since you cannot use your usual grip/body platform for aligning the muzzle onto the desired impact point.
This is no big loss since the target is so close you could hit him with a wad of chewing tobacco, and you may even have physical contact with him already. Any shots here are to be considered preparatory in nature to buy time/space in order to reach a distance interval where fully extended physical alignment may be reached.
And don’t get so fixed on the “Two Hits per Customer” notion. I practiced this for many years, but it is neither essential, nor wise. The rule on the number of shots is this “Ammo is cheap and (your) Life is Precious — So Be Generous”.
SEE WHAT YOU NEED TO SEE AND DON’T WORRY WHAT TO CALL IT.
Shoot your adversary to the ground, stay alive and don’t freeze your mind by trying to label it.
[ Gabe Suarez is an internationally recognized trainer and lecturer in the field of civilian personal defense. He has written over a dozen books and taught courses in several countries. His web site is at: http://www.suarezinternational.com ]