Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Aiming or Point Shooting?

There has been some discussion over the last month about point shooting or using the sights when shooting a handgun. The discussion has been mostly along the lines of should you use one, or the other, or one method sometimes, and something different at other times. I should mention up front that I am not a highly trained and paid firearms instructor, and I have never been mistaken for Todd Jarrett, Max Michel, or Dave Sevigny at a match, nor is that likely ever to happen. I do shoot a lot though, and I've spent a lot of time over the last few years watching the pros shoot, trying to figure out what they do and how they manage to do it so quickly.

One of the first things I noticed is that most of the top shooters have excellent eye sight. There's not too much you can do about that if your eye sight sucks though, except correct things as best you can.

Another thing I've noticed is that the pros don't miss very often in matches, and when they do, their pickup shot is almost instantaneous. That tells me they are using their sights, since they can tell their misses, "Call their shots", at the time they pull the trigger, rather than waiting to hear or see the result of their shot. It's just about impossible to do that without some sort of a sight picture to go by.

But if they are using their sights, how do they manage to shoot so quickly? I don't know for sure, and I suspect some of them may not know for sure either, but here's what I think they are doing. It's actually fairly simple to describe, but actually doing it is another story entirely. To make it work, it takes tens of thousands of rounds of practice every season. First, they are ignoring the sights completely leading up to the shot, as they can get on, or very close to on target by point shooting, or more accurately, "Point Aiming".

Here's the part that separates the pros from the rest of us. Just before taking the shot, they verify their aim with an instantaneous sight picture to ascertain that they are where they think they are, and if they are not, adjust until the sight picture is proper, then fire the shot. Since tempo is a significant part of speed shooting, holding the shot for that fraction of a second is really hard. Your body says "Shoot Now!" and your instantaneous sight picture says "Don't Shoot Yet!". For most of us the "Shoot Now" usually wins, and we miss the shot! That's where practice comes in, and learning to look for that instantaneous "Sight Picture Verification", and more importantly, learning not to ignore it and shoot anyway.

One of the things I like about true Steel Challenge competition is that each stage, or target layout, has something in it that challenges one specific aspect of fast and accurate shooting. Smoke & Hope, specifically challenges you to not forget to use your sights for that sight picture verification. There are four large plates close in, two on the left and two on the right. The stop plate is much smaller, and much farther away. A good point shooter can hit the first four quickly, but will often miss the stop plate since he will fail to switch back to using the sights for the last shot. Shooting that way also requires two sighting techniques, and changing from one to the other after the fourth plate.

On the other hand, using the point aim/quick verify/shoot method allows you to use the same technique for all five shots. With practice, LOTS of practice, the instantaneous verification can be as fast as straight point shooting on a stage like Smoke & Hope, as all you are looking for is to see that there's some "White" on the other side of your sights!

As I've said in previous posts, though, 95% or more of successful handgun shooting boils down to trigger control. A While back I was watching a shooter shooting with a Crimson Trace laser sight. I could see the laser dot on the plate just before the shot was fired, but his shots would often miss the plate. In pulling the trigger he was pulling the gun off the target. Without good trigger control it doesn't matter what other techniques you use. The top shooters all have incredible trigger control, and winning or losing boils down to the remaining elements.

The next time you see one of the pros running Smoke & Hope in sub two seconds and making it look easy, remember you are watching someone who has practiced that specific stage thousands and thousands of times. Not just shot it thousands of times, but "Practiced" it thousands of times. There IS a difference between just shooting and practicing, and that's a good topic for some other time!

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At Friday, October 23, 2009 4:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good explanation! This is the system described by Jeff Cooper and named by Mas Ayoob as a "Flash Sight Picture". As you pointed out, most of the work of aligning the pistol to the target is done through muscle memory with a few microsecond flash of the sights to confirm proper alignment at the end. The key, as noted, is that if you don't have the self discipline to hold the trigger break until the sight picture becomes correct, then this technique will not work for you.


At Friday, October 23, 2009 7:46:00 PM, Blogger Rob said...

This is a great writeup, and was super interesting. Thanks!

At Tuesday, February 15, 2011 12:50:00 PM, Anonymous John Veit said...

Low-tec aiming aid 4 fast, automatic, and accurate aiming
at close quarters.

My latest video.

The aiming aid is patented, but individuals are welcome to add one to their personal gun/s at their own risk and expense. I have the patent, so I can say that. US 6023874

Ditto for Police Agencies.
A link to info on how to do that.


With the new flat sided mini's (S&W Bodyguard,Walther PPS, Beretta PX4, Sig P290), the device could be a big help in insuring fast, mechanical, and correct sight alignment, and fast and accurate target engagement even though the mini's are very short.

Of course, if there are sights on the gun, and if circumstances allow for their use, the sights should be used.

Also, if the light is bad, or the situation is a dynamic one, or if the sights are dark and the target is dressed in black and you are at close quarters, you still will have a viable SD option at your disposal.

Consider the aiming aid to be a Sight Shooting assistant, not a device to thwart it.

A couple of magazines and three or four targets at 15 feet +/-, can prove that to be the case.


Even the NRA, recognizes the need for shooting options in real-life violent encounters.

In Chapter 6 - of the NRA's guide to the basics of personal protection in the home that was published in 2000, we find that "...real-life violent encounters occur at very close range, often in reduced-light conditions, and are over in a matter of seconds. One study of Police shootings in a major urban area showed that the majority of encounters took place after dark, at 3 yards or less, in less than 3 seconds, and involved the firing of an average of three shots."

It goes on to say: "Often, either the assailant or the defender - or both - are moving rapidly during the encounter. Such conditions do not permit the careful alignment of the sights on a specific aiming point on the target." 


These links are to 3 no nonsense articles by Mike Rayburn who has 30+ years of experience in the law enforcement field. They provide solid background info. on and support for using Point Shooting in Close Quarters life threat situations.
Point Shooting vs. Aimed Shooting
Liability Issues With Point Shooting
The Trigger Control Fallacy


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