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 (36)

  • Kafir1911

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    Good info and really on target as far as the double tap goes. I firmly believe in the Triple Tap. Do the double and if the target is not down or gong down the third to the head. The double may work but as many will tell you they could be heart shots and the bad guy can function long enough to hurt you. Two to the center mass and the next one in the throat or center of his head.

    Reply

  • Dave

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    The potential threat is still there until you disconnect the brain stem from the rest of the body. People that have been mortally shot can still squeeze of rounds and detonate explosives. Just watch the footage from the Turkey Airport terrorist attack. The official put the bad guy on the ground with a couple(?) of shots however the terrorist detonated his vest and killed the official. The planting shot exists for a reason.

    Reply

  • Jason szostak

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    Great article, but when I go to the shooting ranges an have tried to double tap the owners or co workers always end up either telling I’m not allowed to double tap or threaten to kick out the people who try the double tap… I live in Illinois an we really don’t have many outdoor shooting ranges so most of my time is spent indoors at mega sports an rinks, even if you ask we are only allowed 1 shot at a time.. i understand if I was unloading the trigger as fast as possible to get removed from the range.. if anyone lives around me can you please leave a reply with some outdoor ranges near me.. thanks

    Reply

  • Jay Hammond

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    Great article. I’ve been an instructor for a many years (LE and Military included) and cringe when I see the tacticool guys at the range wasting ammunition and spraying lead everywhere. Fast makes no difference if it isn’t controlled, and is downright dangerous in a defensive situation.

    You should also be on the “listen” for squib loads whenever practicing controlled doubles or multiple fast shots. One bad reload – or factory cartridge – can certainly ruin your day. I’ve seen this happen. I’ve actually recently had squib loads from factory ammunition and have never had a factory squib in the past. Manufacturers are pushing out ammo fast, and I’m sure quality control does suffer. Be careful.

    I’ve always said to be wary of that old guy that practices CAS type shooting – he is just as capable of putting two shots, on target, as fast as most of the tacticool operator wannabes – with a single action revolver. Slow down, practice often, build speed.

    Again, great article. There have been many times at the range I wanted to walk up to the spray-and-pray guys and tell them the truth…

    Reply

    • Bob Campbell

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      Very good comments, much appreciated. I favor a big bore hit or two closely spaced over a group of small bore hits any day–

      I like the balance of the SAA .45 and often carry a 4 3/4 inch .45 when hiking or travelling outdoors— it just feels right

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply

  • JiminGA

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    I can’t disagree with the author but would like to offer my slant. I carry a Glock 17, and like all Glocks, it has a two stage trigger after the first round is fired. Releasing the trigger only to the reset point greatly reduces the trigger pull, making the second shot more accurate. I also use this feature for “triple taps” (two to the chest and one to the head) and normally get less than 2″ groups at 7.5 yards. Not bad for a geezer with only one good eye.

    Reply

  • Mac

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    Interesting read. I enjoy the writing style as well, making your point without a hint of sugar coating. As I read this, my first thought was, this guy must be a cop or someone who typically shoots from the controlling side or an altercation. Starting with hand on firearm or weapon already drawn. I would tend to disagree with most of it, if you’re not starting in control. Most self defense incidents not involving cops, tends to be a surprise. your adrenaline going from 0 to 100 in milliseconds. No time for that Weaver stance, perfect grip, controlled breathing, target standing still or reacquiring the target. More than likely you’re moving and so aren’t they. But I’m sure there are stupid bad guys that may stand there.

    Learn to point shoot, (credit to Fairbairn, Sykes, and Applegate). Learn to point shoot while moving, don’t use a head-on Weaver stance, it presents a bigger target, and you likely won’t have the benefit of a vest. Learn to point shoot with one hand, left and right, since one arm may be injured. You “may” have both hands available, but you’ll always have at least one. If you don’t you’re dead anyway. So ALWAYS practice worst case scenario. Point shoot moving left, right, forward, back, hitting the ground, etc. A good way to practice is run a couple of miles, do push-ups till you can’t do anymore, then practice, while you have uncontrolled breathing and your arms are shaking like your adrenaline just went through the roof.

    In addition, Cops, security, etc normally carry full size quickly accessible firearms, most civilians don’t, they’re too big, heavy and harder to conceal. Personal opinion, 1911, best handgun ever designed (I own half a dozen, including 2 Les Baer’s) but I don’t carry one everyday, I carry a Glock 30S, so that’s what I practice with. Practice with what you carry. That includes the gun and ammo. Don’t practice with 230 gr FMJ at 900 fps when you intend to carry 165gr +P Corbon Pow’rBalls at 1200 fps. Your muscle memory will be useless after the first shot.

    If you’re practicing self defense, you’re almost never going to shot while you gun is still, it’s gonna be moving.

    Double taps, Mozambique, etc always work great in the movies, but if you’re not already controlling the situation, handgun drawn, if first shot doesn’t hit center mass, then you’d better be practice shooting wounded or dead.

    Reply

    • Michael

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      Right on Mac! I was telling a friend of mine some things of what you were saying last night. I showed this friend of not only the gun(s) I carry, but a few others things too. This friend said that was to many things, that in a given situation I would not know what to use. And I replied that I would know what to use and exactly how to use it because I practice all the time. And you recommending running and doing push ups etc. Is excellent advice, I have done this too, playing out scenarios in case for some reason I had to use something rather than my gun(s) and use something else or shoot in uncomfortable situations, trying to cover many things that could happen. Plus if you cannot be at the range that day you can dry fire too, or practice other weapons at home. I do understand dry firing is not going to be the real thinng, but there’s many things you can still practice, like drawing your gun etc. I liked what you said in regards to using the same grain you would use in any given situatuion, though that can be very expensive, so I would practice with that, but still use cheaper plinking bullets for continued practice. So appreciate you mentioning all of this, and in will now bring my usual carry ammo now too. Excellent advice. This article is great advice too.

      Reply

  • MARTY TRASK

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    20 yrs us navy service, always taught to shoot center mass. double tap, controlled pair, hammer……practice, practice, practice. do it correctly and you will shoot better. you want to turn it into muscle memory. that way when you have to defend yourself this will be a aid to you in survival.

    Reply

  • Mark

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    I don’t agree with one aspect of this article. The view that only military or police training holds value is silly. There are many times when the police and military have brought in civilians to teach them techiques that were developed outside of those organizations. I believe that all training should be analysed based on its own merit. I do agree that the ultimate crucible for any training is how it stands up in armed conflict and that both military and police are most likely to have amassed this knowledge, however, theirs is not the ONLY valuable training worth having. I have certainly met my fair share of military and police personnel who shoot poorly when they are not under stress. Painting ALL training outside these circles as merely the musings of couch commandos is foolish and disingenuous. Anytime someone relates to training in absolute terms …..Ye must ALWAYS USE SIGHTED FIRE..
    .YE MUST ALWAYS USE FLASH SIGHT PICTURE…YE MUST ONLY POINT SHOOT….I tend to begin questioning the source. Remember your vaunted “police training” once included things like extreme ridgidity in training ” Thou shalt FIRE a double tap and reholster after each double tap. It also included aspects like the FBI tilt and many other techniques that have fallen into disuse over time as they were replaced by better methods. Most of the time this evolution was from lessons learned by police and military but some also came from the civilian side. I guess it just irks me when a writer pulls the macho crap that ONLY his way is best.

    Reply

  • Mark

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    As an LE instructor we do several drills of this nature to promote speed and accuracy. Some things to think about when doing these drills if I am hitting the target with very tight groups then I should be picking up the pace until accuracy suffers then I encourage shooters to slow down a little to tighten things up again. With repetition the speed will come. Mix things up with magazine changes, malfunction drills, or add another target. Have the shooters scan to ensure that ther is no longer a threat before they return the gun to the holster you are stopping a threat with heavy clothing or body armor two rounds may not be enough

    Reply

    • Bob Campbell

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      Good points!
      Thanks for reading.

      Reply

  • Ira Cotton

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    I train at Front Sight where the double tap is taught correctly, I believe. Both shots are to the thorassic cavity and each shot requires a sight picture. We are taught that head shots are required if the double tap fails to remove the threat.

    Reply

    • Bob Campbell

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      Front sight enjoys an excellent reputation~

      Thanks for reading.

      Reply

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