Winning the Fight by Getting Hits at Close Range

Sights of a pistol being pointed a zombie target at close range

Getting hits at close range in a battle with a felon is the single most likely gun fighting skill you will be called upon to execute. For those of us that have experienced such a battle, it is unforgettable. The action has been called the Tyranny of the Moment.

View down pistol sights at a target
At short range, you have to “get in a hurry” while aiming.

Your thought processes are controlled by gut wrenching fear. Having observed innumerable varieties of human evil, I am aware of the endless possibility of attack. Training gives us preparation and practice keeps us sharp. You will default to this training; you will not rise to the occasion.

When an assailant roughly the size of a tree bears down on you with weapon in hand, you may regret a lack of tactical repertoire. Mindset is important in both training and practice. I am not willing to allow a felon to usurp the prerogative of God and take my life.

Training and preparation are important, but the question of why we train must be answered before we fire the first shot on the range. Facing a serial killer afflicted with acute mental decomposition can lead to an autopsy report that is not to your liking—it may have your initials on it. That is motivation enough for most of us.

When facing an attacker who suffers from mild to moderate atrophy of the cerebellum as a result of drug use, your actions had best be smooth, deliberate, and immediate as a counter to violence. Almost all personal defense situations take place inside of 21 feet. First, understand the phases of the attack.

Remember: Every confrontation does not result in an engagement—the fight you avoid is the best one. Just the same we should be prepared and confident.

Phases of an Attack

  1. Attack
  2. Realization
  3. Identification
  4. Presentation
  5. Acquire target
  6. Engage

The attacker may be a predator. He has planned his actions and attacks accordingly. He may have been stalking the victim. He may choose to attack with stealth, and the attack will be more difficult to defend against.

The second type of attacker is known as the effective. He picks the victim on impulse or as a result of an opportunity. While he may have planned a burglary, he will rape if the opportunity is presented. He will murder to escape. His attack is often more wild and savage. The attack will come quickly. Realization you are under attack may come with the attack, or you may realize you are going to be attacked just before it comes, reversing one and two in my flexible table.

You may see only a movement in the shoulder, hand, or a blur of motion. You may not see the attack. Or you may see someone firing into a crowd—it may not be a personal attack. Either way you cannot let shock deter your response.

The presentation of the handgun from leather or concealment is triggered by the attack. The presentation must be smooth, positive, and lead to the firing stance and target acquisition. When confronted with a threat at close range, you must be able to quickly get past and around interference from clothing, and complete the draw.

Man pulling up his shirt tails
Moving the covering garment away should be an important part of your range drills.

Next is target acquisition. You cannot shove the gun in the direction of the threat and get a hit. The sights are aligned and on the target beginning at 5 yards. Inside of 3 yards, if the sights are not used, the handgun is superimposed over the target. At intimate range you may be shoving the pistol in the attacker’s body, but you’ll know where the bullet is going.

At short range the handgun is aimed but the aiming sequence may not be traditional. As an example, if the threat is stabbing at you with a knife, and you have the non dominant arm up to counter, the handgun will be fired from the retention position. Skill is needed to avoid firing and striking your own body.

The handgun and firing hand are locked solidly into a retention position close against the body. The slide must clear the body as it fires, the firing grip must be solid, and the firearm must be aligned with the target. This is accomplished by keeping the slide aligned with the assailant’s body. At intimate/contact range this works.

Brushing away the cover garment to draw a pistol from a concealed holster
Practice getting the pistol from the holster quickly by brushing the covering garment away.

Meat and Paper

Hitting the target at close range requires practice in the appropriate skills. For close range work, the best system I have found is meat and paper. I do not teach instinctive shooting or point shooting—except in the sense that we aim at very close range with a body index. For example, pointing the gun into a subject’s abdomen at contact range. At 3 to 12 feet, meat and paper works. The handgun is the meat and the paper is the threat.

The slide is superimposed over the threat’s body. The flats of the slide must not be visible. The top of the slide should not be visible. The handgun’s slide is surrounded by the paper of the target. This is aiming. (Do not aim for an area, but rather aim for a specific point on the target—area aiming produces misses.)

The slide is centered with plenty of paper on each side, and I repeat this because this is an important point. The upper slide or slabs on the side should not be visible when the pistol is properly aligned. Once you have practiced this technique, and understand the principles, meat and paper works well.

The Applegate method of point shooting
The Applegate point is a good technique for close range.

In practice, I fire from the retention position at intimate range and meat and paper at slightly longer range—a few feet.

Applegate Drill

The handgun is drawn as the eyes focus on the threat and identify the target. A flash sight picture is taken as the front sight of the handgun breaks the plane between the eyes and the target. The pistol is fired, and you have a hit. This drill is fast and offers good hit potential if the shooter has practiced. This drill was usually executed with one hand, but I have found that adding the support hand doesn’t limit speed and offers excellent speed for those that practice. Keep an open mind; try the Applegate a few times to see if it works for you.

For a variety of reasons, including poor light, the sights may not always visible. At close range, the front sight may be lifted to become silhouetted against the target. More precision is used in firing than in the meat and paper drill. The bullet will strike high because the sight is elevated. At about 10 to 12 feet, aim for the belt buckle and the bullets will strike the mid section with the front sight elevated. This is a fast, but accurate, technique. Practice with the personal handgun will determine the longest range at which this technique is viable.

Have you tried the Meat and Paper or Applegate Technique? What drills do you regularly practice? Share your answers in the comment section.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (23)

  1. The advise seems pretty valid, I appreciate the emphasis of finding what one is comfortable with, and to practice. But I must admit, what lead to the naming of “meat and paper”? Is it referring to wrapping meat in paper, so you put the meat in the middle? Just curious.

  2. Fellow likes to use the term felon alot. Not the correct word. Attacker, assailant, criminal, but not felon. That is a specific term, and does not apply. The attacker hasn’t necessarily been convicted of a felony before the encounter, and obviously has been sentenced for this one. I’ve known felons who were honest decent people, and plenty of scumbags who hadn’t been convicted. I ask that the author try not to single out a demographic for such one sided role play. My 2 cents.

  3. Practice at 7 yds or less is crucial to handling defensive situations. Proficiency in minute of bad guy accuracy at short range could very well save your life…PRACTICE!

  4. I personally practice putting the target out to 7 yards and then pushing the buttons to make the target do an auto return. Simulates an attacker running towards you and introduces some stress into the drill. Bringing it in to 5 yards is even more challenging. If your range allows holster drawing, try it and you will see what I mean !

  5. I concur, great article! I was taught over 15yrs ago to do LOTS of dry runs….no Ammo in gun, just unholster…..pull trigger from “the hip” or whatever I was dry running at the time……check surroundings…..reholster. That way when I stepped onto the range I just had to acclimate myself to recoil and flash. Dry runs provide you more time at the range to do ACTUAL shooting drills, like the Applegate Drill, so you spend less (holster, fire, reholster) on things you can practice at home. One last point: I found on YouTube, purely by accident, someone recording State Police officers (not gonna say which state out of respect) “qualifying” at the range and 9 out of 10 scored lower than the average civilian gun owner……to me that’s sad. Most of the guys had trouble UNHOLSTERING their weapons. One rather portly gentleman couldn’t clear his holster due to his massive um, stomach. I think Law Enforcement officers need to take recertification more seriously by actually practicing more (or at least save embarrassment by not letting anyone film it)!!!!

  6. good article

    everybody trains to shoot those small groups fast.

    It is difficult to retract to a keep-your-weapon
    type response.

    Certainly pays a survival dividend for some
    shooting from the hip
    and learn where they go.

  7. Literally some of the dumbest logic I have ever heard of. I use to work with the swat team they use to say the same thing that if your highest level of training is curling up in a ball in corner you would do that.

  8. Don’t see any reason to not use two hands—training otherwise will confuse the muscle memory that you already have built up—-two hands gives you natural position and the best chance of retaining your weapon–hh

  9. I usually keep my practice to the 0-7yd distance, I probably shoot more from the 3-5 yd and using either the point and shoot, or hip shooting, I figure those are my weakest areas, and probably the one I would use most in a self defense situation…

  10. Okay, let’s try that again.
    You write: “You cannot shove the gun in the direction of the threat and get a hit. ….. At intimate range you may be shoving the pistol in the attacker’s body”
    Umm, seems contradictory to me. Meanwhile I have taken point shooting courses and learned to get fast accurate hits without the sights. Famous NYPD instructor and survivor of numerous gunfights, Jim Cirillo (from whom I took numerous courses would tape over the rear sights of students and their speed would increase and groups shrink. He related to me in person and mentions it in at least one of his books that of the numerous Federal agents he helped debrief after gunfights, not one could recall seeing their sights. Once the target ceases to be a helpless sheet of paper or a steel gong and becomes a lethal threat, he said your brain will automatically focus on the threat and not your sight picture. He said that sight picture is fine for competition but not for self defense.I can’t teach that in my NRA classes but I do for private work.

    1. Hello David,

      Great points, I was also confused at the slight contradiction…..still don’t get the “meat and paper” thing but to each his own. I took the Active Shooter Response course at the Sig Academy in NH and had trained with the Federal Police for some time (I am NO expert by any means!) but thank you for the name drop. I have never heard of Jim Cirillo till now, but intend to research him. Always looking to better ourselves right? ; )

    1. First— The first comment was of course considering longer range work. The second was at very close contact range.

      I understood the NYCPD first drafted men to serve in the stake out squad that had served as instructors and competitors and have achieved good scores. It made sense.

      I think that the NRA focus on using the sights is a good one.

      While meta and paper works well for close range the sighs must be used at longer range.

  11. Good points, excellent description of situations and how to respond, thanks for sharing your experiences. Very nice word choice.
    Only one thing left, please illustrate or be more descriptive of the meat and paper concept, as I am a bit dense and didn’t understand.

    1. Greg
      Thanks for reading!

      Meat and paper— can be practiced with a triple checked unloaded firearm or even a fake gun or toy gun until you understand the concept. When aiming at very close range the target is so large that the handgun itself is used as the aiming reference. The top and sides of the pistol slide must not be visible. If they are then you are going to fire left or right or high. The perfectly centered square of the rear of the slide is positioned in the middle of the target with plenty of ‘paper’ around the ‘meat’, the handgun.

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