Once I had a student ask me what he needed to work on to be a good shooter. Naturally, I gave him the standard, front sight focus and trigger finger discipline answer. Drilling down on things there are only two things a shooter must do to hit the target. Remain focused on the front sight and move the trigger to the rear without moving the muzzle. I then asked him what type of shooting he wanted to do. After some hesitation, he said, target shooting and some plinking. He then added, “oh yeah, I want to be able to defend my family if necessary.” Wow! Way to bury the lead there guy.
The type of shooting you are doing matters, and self defense shooting is a completely different world. Once we drilled down to what he was really asking, I altered my answer to the five physical skills anyone must master if they are serious about self defense. Those are: Communicate, Move, Shoot, Reload and Clear a Malfunction.
Communicate seems obvious, but so few seem willing to do it. I am referring to the need not only to communicate with those around you, but more importantly to communicate with your would be attacker. The bad guy has a preset plan in mind. You are supposed to do certain things. When you don’t, you interrupt his decision making process and he has to react rather than act. Essentially you try to get him caught up in between decision and action. A harsh, loud and dominating verbal challenge, such as “Stop, Leave me Alone,” will likely buy you time to move yourself and your loved ones while drawing your weapon. Post shooting communication with things like “Is anybody hurt, Call 911, I’m a Good Guy,” are equally important.
Move. Get out of his line of sight. The bad guy is most likely experiencing the same physical effects caused by the encounter as you are. The difference is that his heart rate has been up longer and he has developed “prey focus.” If you move out of his line of sight, even for only a half of a second, you buy yourself a tactical advantage in time. Your attacker will have to reacquire you and will once again, be facing and error 404/file not found syndrome. Unless he has a lot of experience and training as a robber, what you are doing will come at him as a surprise. Use that to your advantage so that by the time he finds you again and makes a new decision all he sees is muzzle flash.
Shooting is the easy part. Unless you are highly trained, it is not likely you will ever see your front sight. Many of us will be so target focused that we will just point shoot our way through it. If you are one of those cool blooded and experienced gunfighters, you will probably still focus on the threat. Our basic instinct is to focus on the threat. Ten thousand years of evolution and it is still around. We probably aren’t going to change it anytime soon. Accept that you will be target/threat focused and train to hit that way. The new mini red dot sights are a blessing when it comes to this.
Regardless of the method you choose, learn to deliver effective shots rapidly and learn to move them around the target. Self defense ammunition is expensive. Make each dollar count and share the love with multiple wound channels. Two rounds in the same hole is not nearly as effective as 2-3 rounds 4 inches apart in the “A” zone. Get your money’s worth out of those shots. Train to deliver multiple shots quickly and accurately.
It is important to note that Communicate, Move and Shoot are parallel processes. That is to say they all are done at the same time. With practice you can easily master this. Any hesitation or lag time will cost you the advantage you are trying to gain. Once committed, you must act without hesitation.
Since we tend to equate trigger press with survival and no one is so good that they can keep an accurate count of shots fired every time, reloading becomes very important. If you are looking at a slide locked to the rear, you must instantaneously know what to do. This requires training and practice. There are several methods for a slide lock reload. Choose one that works for you and train it until you cannot do it wrong. Equally important are tactical reloads, aka., reloads with retention. Knowing when to use this type is important, but knowing how and being able to do it without taking your eyes off of the bad guy(s) is critical to survival. Pick a type that suits you and train it until you are smooth and flawless.
Clearing malfunctions. Flawless operation of any machine is a naive expectation. Therefore we must plan for failures and expect to have to fix them under stress. Now if your solution for a malfunction is to toss it aside and grab your BUG, then make sure you train to do just that. Not set it down gently or pocket it, toss it aside and get on to the next gun. However, if your plan is to smack, rack and assess then you must train for this. Use dummy rounds and train until it happens without thought. Equally important is recognizing that not all malfunctions are cleared this way. Take the time to set up a double feed and work your way through it. Most importantly, have a plan for catastrophic failures. Will you run away making use of cover and concealment or will you simply stand there? Mastering malfunctions means mastering your escape and evasion plans as well. We have a term for those poor souls who stand still in a gunfight. That term is “the deceased.”
Regardless of the weapon type, make or caliber, you must master these five basic fundamentals of self defense shooting. If you can not Communicate, Move, Shoot, Reload and Clear a Malfunction at anytime under any circumstances, whether it be a shotgun, carbine, rifle or pistol, you have no business moving on to the more complicated skills.