Training Tip: Double Taps

By Bob Campbell published on in How To, Safety and Training

Among the most misunderstood tactics in personal defense is the double tap. More than half of those practicing defense shooting execute the double tap incorrectly. Worse yet, it is most often taught incorrectly.

Springfield Armory 1911 with a Shoot-n-See target

As you practice, you will notice a wider dispersal with the greater speed you attempt—keep the shots centered.

Those without training will be hapless in many defensive situations. It is best to receive instructions from an instructor with extensive police or military experience. Simply attending a lot of schools doesn’t prepare someone to teach life and death matters. Only those that have walked the walk may teach tactics and strategy well.

Experience must be alloyed with training. That being said, most of your practice will be solo no matter how well trained you are. A three-day training course is a great start—providing the instructor is capable. Remember, personal defense skills are perishable and you must keep the practice up.

The double tap drill is considered by most to be two shots delivered to the target as quickly as possible. The double tap is an excellent tactic for maximizing wound potential. But the advantage of the double tap is evident only if the double tap is properly delivered. First, realize that the double tap isn’t a flurry of shots. Two shots are delivered as quickly as you are able to acquire the sights after recoil and fire again. This means that each shot is a deliberate shot that is controlled. A controlled pair, as an example, is a bit slower than the double tap and delivered at longer range—7 to 10 yards—and with greater care in precision.

Young man shooting a 1911 pistol with a spent case in the air

At longer range a controlled pair is executed with less speed but greater accuracy.

The double tap is sometimes confused with the hammer. The hammer is delivered at absolute short, even contact, range. The handgun is drawn and thrust at the opponent, who may have a knife in your chest, and two shots are fired as quickly as possible. If attempted past intimate range, the second shot of the hammer might well miss the entire body.

By the same token, the controlled pair may be too slow for use at very close range. The carefully measured double tap is used at the most common personal defense ranges (three to seven yards). The shooter determines the speed of the double. How fast are you able to fire two shots, the second striking within four inches of the first? That is your limiting speed. A miss is inexcusable.

The double tap is versatile and should be practiced first—before the controlled pair or the hammer. The hammer can be dangerous to the shooter if they have not mastered recoil control. It should be considered a short-range tactic. I have seen shooters deliver a double tap on target with one bullet hole in the belt and another in the neck and deem it good. This isn’t good.

Bob Campbell shooting a 1911 pistol from a retention position

The only time the author doesn’t aim with the sights is when he is firing from a retention position, but body aiming is involved.

Neither was a controlled shot where each hit the target by chance. This isn’t acceptable morally or legally. The shooter began on the line with the hand on the pistol, shifted the pistol in the holster a few times, and then drew and fired the double tap on command of the whistle. I see this comedic pantomime often. They telegraph their intention to all concerned and then draw and render an 18-inch group on the target three to five yards away. Practice avoids such foolishness.

A fine drill to hone skills and build control is the Bill Drill, developed by famed shooter Bill Wilson. In this drill, the student draws and fires his handgun as quickly as possible at a man-sized target at seven yards. Six shots are fired as quickly as the student can control the handgun. Speed and accuracy will build with the proper application of fundamentals and this drill.

A few words on speed, calling the shot is the mark of a trained shooter. Anyone can shoot, but aiming each shot no matter how fast your fire is the development of a marksman. Of course, you can shoot faster than you can aim, but never shoot so fast you cannot aim each shot. If you fire so quickly during range work that you are not in control of each shot, you may fire too quickly for real during a defensive situation—in fact, I guarantee you will.

You will fire too fast, and you will panic when the fight is real. Getting the sight picture for every shot doesn’t mean the sight picture will be perfect as if you were addressing a 25-yard bullseye, but it means the sight picture is adequate for the range and the target. This may mean aiming using meat and paper, in which the slide of the pistol is superimposed over the target as an aiming point. It may mean that you are using the front sight placed on the opponent’s belt buckle as an aiming point. The pistol’s sights are used to afford a rough but adequate sight picture on the target at 3-5 yards. A sharper sight picture is demanded at longer range. When you have mastered these sighting styles, you will be prepared to shoot accurately and to use the double tap.

Action shot of a pistol being fired showing the shell casing as it is ejected

The double tap is executed at short range and should be practiced often.

When firing the double tap, fire once and control the handgun as it recoils. Allow the trigger to reset. As the handgun comes back on target, the trigger resets and you are ready to fire again. Fire the second shot as soon as you have the sight picture.

Control the handgun and use deliberate, but very fast, shots when executing the double tap. Moving fast means mastering the trigger action. If you jerk the trigger, you will invite tension into the muscles. A smooth press is a relaxed press. The trigger jerk incites tremors. A smooth trigger press must always be achieved, or accuracy will suffer.

The prep, as we take up slack on the trigger for longer-range fire, cannot be used at short range or when executing the double tap. We must quickly press the trigger. The trigger press is quick but smooth. Allow reset and roll on with speed. The double tap must be practiced often to master. To master the double tap, draw and get the sights on target quickly. As soon as you have the proper sight picture and sight alignment, fire, recover, and fire again. Practice hard, use the correct technique, and the double tap will be a viable tactic.

Do you practice double taps? What other drill would you recommend for defensive shooting? Share your answers in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (31)

  • CAV scout

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    Another drill to train with is shooting while moving. Especially training for active shooter situations. It’s fine and dandy when learning a new handgun or rifle too sit stationary and punch holes in paper.
    Having served 8 years in the US army with 2 combat tours, I’ve learned there’s weapons familiarization/qualifications, and then there’s combat training. Surviving combat means training for combat. Your intended target will most likely not stand there and wait for you to acquire a perfect stance, grip, sight picture, etc. You also don’t want to be just standing there, offering a stationary target.
    9 to 3 drills are great for this. Moving while shooting. Draw while moving, engaging and transitioning from 9-3,3-9. This will give good training for real world situations.

    Reply

  • g

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    It sure would be nice if those in charge of ranges would understand the importance of practicing double tap, since they tend to get annoyed at shots that are not a few seconds apart.

    Reply

  • Dave

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    The double tap is the right way to start training but then you have to add the planting shot. I was trained to double tap to the sternum ans single tap to the nose. Tap tap then splat. Tap,tap,,splat with the commas being the time interval. I was made to say tap,tap,,splat until I developed a mental rhythm that became muscle memory.

    Reply

    • Reed

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      I had heard Travis Haley say that you would never use the failure drill in a fight , that you would just put rounds into the body. And he has been in gun fights unlike must instructors , you probably shouldn’t train to shoot a set number of rounds.

      Reply

  • Dark Angel

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    Back in the ‘olden’ days, going through police academy, the ‘double tap’ we were taught, for close range 5-10 yards was ‘head, heart’. Other times, other instructors, was taught the same. Later years working as a PMC, I mastered shooting directly into the mouth of an attacker, at close or long range, pistol or rifle, the distance being the determining factor. This shot cuts the brain-stem and has never failed to drop my target in his tracks. But, it takes practice, practice, practice and nerves of steel to line up this shot on a charging attacker. And at almost 70 yrs. old, my nerves aren’t quiet steely enough any more, at least I don’t think they are. Haven’t had to make this shot in a long while, except in practice.

    Reply

  • gwdean

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    “By kidney you mean pelvic girdle?”

    Yes, thanks for the clarification. We also train with pistol held tight to the body for an up close & personal threat.

    Reply

  • Bob

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    Excellent points

    Thanks for reading!

    Reply

  • gwdean

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    I’m just surprised you are emphasizing double tap. We always train, two to the body, one to the head or kidney. (I prefer the head)

    Reply

    • rkc

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      We are training for the double tap. You are training for a failure to stop drill. Both are important but a big difference.
      By kidney you mean pelvic girdle?

      Thanks for reading.

      Reply

  • Shawn

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    Looking at this I know what and how I practiced when competing and also when working on self defense skills and the two were different. In both cases no I didn’t have my hand on the pistol, I either in practicing for competition had them above my shoulders or when working on self defense had them at my side.

    For self defense as well as competition the sight picture started low as I was using a double action on the first one and I knew just how much that harder trigger pull was going to have that gun rise, so that the first one was in the chest center mass, from there I would ride the recoil up while keeping my weight into it to control when I wanted to have the second round impact into the center head of the target and I even practiced having someone tell me no shot on the way up to force me to bring the gun back into center mass for a second shot, so that I practiced this without knowing if the head shot would be available.

    Everything needs to be practiced controlled the same way everytime so that each time the trigger is pulled it is with a target identified even if you have to change that position on the target. You are absolutely right on recoil control and understanding the trigger is something that has to be both understood and practiced, I have worked with my wife many times on that when she was practicing for her license and since then.

    Good article

    Reply

  • dprato

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    While I don’t take issue with a lot of what was said in this article I think it missed a few important points. First off many people who are not overly well trained in all these techniques that you read about in various articles successfully defend themselves when attacked. The most important thing is the will to do what you have to do. The best example of training being useless in and by itself is to search “Vietnam veteran shoots police officer” where the officer was killed because he panicked despite all his training. Furthermore, if you read the Armed Citizen in the NRA magazines they have about 10 stories per issue of average gun owners successfully defending themselves and I bet most of them do very little regular shooting but when it came down to it, they did what had to be done.

    Reply

    • DaggerS2

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      Dprato, you may have a point with this but then again, even a blind squirrel will eventually find a nut. Truth be told, it is probably 95% mental/ muscle memory and 5% luck that drops the target without the defender getting hurt during an actual surprise gun fight. You HAVE to practice A LOT to get that muscle memory; no other way.

      CAV Scout, just running to cover with full kit gets that heart pumping! Another way to work on the adrenaline flow during a fight, try doing 10-15 push-ups as fast as you can then stand, draw, aim, fire.

      Remember it’s all about hearts and minds; two in the heart and one in the mind!

      Reply

    • dprato

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      Well considering most folks are probably not former or present military/police there are a great many squirrels out there that successfully defend themselves and probably more because they have the will to do what needs to be done than any great amount of practice. Furthermore, applying the events in a military or a police situation is not exactly what the average person experiences in most cases. Many cases police and military are in a proactive situation and not necessarily a defensive situation or one that entails complete surprise because of the level of alertness you need to stay alive. I shoot quite a bit everything from small caliber to large caliber handguns and rifles and am a very decent shot at self defense ranges with those firearms. Most importantly however is I have the type of personality that does not tolerate being bullied or having someone try to be violent with me and I wouldn’t blink an eye to do what I need to do. If you notice on here almost everyone has a slightly different opinion or technique that they advocate in training. So I guess we are all correct when looking at it from our own perspective and experience.

      Reply

  • DarthVaderMentor

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    The “Double Tap” is even more complicated when you are an older shooter than Mr. Campbell has stated. As you get older, Presbyopia and progressive lenses require practice in fine tuning where you position the eyeglass lens and a split decision by you as to what you must focus you vision on. Is it the rear sight, the front sight or the target itself? Proper training says you should use the eyeball on the side from which you drew, but is it the better eyeball for the distance and should you switch eyeballs if the target is close up or not? There are even circumstances when you could be using reading glasses instead of progressive lens glasses and many folks carry indoor and outdoor (optimized for a fuller range) glasses so you must practice with each type of eyeglass that you may be using in an inopportune defense situation. Each decision has its place depending on the situation and must be extensively practiced and executed by reflex in case what we all want to avoid becomes unavoidable.

    Practice, it’s the only way to be prepared….before you take that shot(s) and after.

    Reply

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