Concealed Carry

Meat & Paper Drills: Tips To Help You Aim Faster

Man firing a pistol with spent cartridge ejecting

When we address personal defense drills, among those that should be practiced often are drills that get the pistol up and on target quickly. The balance between speed and accuracy should favor accuracy. When you practice, keep the speed at the point where you are hitting the target.

Going fast and getting a miss isn’t tactical. Speed and smoothness will come with practice. Accuracy comes from successful application of the basic skills. The grasp, stance, trigger press, sight picture and sight alignment are important. Many shooters have mastered the technical aspects of shooting. The dynamics of shooting are another matter.

When speed and stress are introduced, shooters fall apart. For decades, some have advocated something called point shooting or instinctive shooting. Shooting isn’t instinctive. Shooting is a learned skill. Pointing the gun and not using the sights is a good way to send a bullet off target. In other words, bullets hitting the wrong person.

I will never be the trainer that has to tell a judge I taught a shooter not to aim and not to use their sights. This is reckless. On the other hand, you can aim the gun without the sights. This isn’t the contradiction it first seems.

pistol pointed at target to aim faster
This is a typical combat range. Firing quickly is essential.

Defensive Shooting

The basics of shooting and presentation from concealed carry are important. The shooter must practice the draw from concealed carry. The presentation must include quickly and safely bringing the handgun from the holster with a firm solid grip and moving into the firing stance.

The pistol is pushed toward the target, the sights are aligned, and the trigger is pressed. However, there are times when the distance between you and the threat is so close that fully extending the arms might invite the threat to grab your handgun.

All threats are not armed with a handgun. Some are armed with blunt weapons, such as a bat, or edged weapons, such as a large knife.

It is essential to get the pistol out and get a hit quickly. The support arm may be needed to protect the body and form a block while the strong-side hand grasps and fires the handgun.

man firing GLOCK 19 from retention
Firing from below eye level is useful only at very close range.

Retention and Reliability  

Let’s look at alternate aiming techniques. Some battles for your life occur at intimate or contact range. At this range or a range of a few feet, the handgun may be brought into action, shoved into the adversary’s body and fired.

The problem is if there isn’t sufficient offset, a self-loading pistol may jam after the first shot. Contact with the adversary’s body may affect the slide’s travel and jam the gun. Material blown back from the adversary, either clothing or blood, may interfere with the reciprocating slide.

This is why we practice the retention position, keeping the handgun tight into against the body, but offset enough that the slide doesn’t touch our own body.

Those armed with revolvers have fewer functional issues concerning contact with the adversary’s body or our own body.

revolver pointed at target
A revolver may be quickly indexed using the cylinder.

Meat and Paper Drill

At slightly longer distances, an aiming index called Meat and Paper is an effective tactic. I’m not certain where this term was coined. The handgun is the meat, the target the paper. Remember, a firm grasp is necessary to get hits and control the firearm.

It is more important to use a firm grip when you are not using the sights. The gun cannot waver, and meat and paper is a good practice routine.

At very close range — say four yards maximum — the handgun is drawn and brought to bear. The pistol is silhouetted against the target. At this close range, the target is so large that it isn’t difficult to plant the handgun in the middle of the target. The important part of this aiming technique is that the handgun forms a solid square against the target.

You should not see the front of the slide or the flats of the slide, only the rear of the slide. The revolver cylinder is used in a like manner as an index.

The handgun is centered on the target. This allows a very rapid centering of the target in the center of mass of a threat. If the handgun is centered and a good bit of the paper is visible top, bottom and on each side, good center hits made be made with the meat and paper index.

If the handgun appears disproportionately larger in relation to the target, the range has increased to the point the sights should be used. This is an excellent short-range technique that allows fast shooting and solid hits, and you are aiming the gun. It isn’t point shooting.

pistol pointing at target aim faster
This is an almost perfect close-range slide lineup, and the result was a hit between the eyes!

Applegate Stance

Colonel Rex Applegate developed this technique. He credited the drill to famous gunfighter Wild Bill Hickock. Hickock specified in surviving journals that he did not ‘point shoot,’ but used ‘snap shooting.’

Hickock drew his handgun and thrust it at the target, looking directly at the target. When the front sight broke the plane between his eyes and the target, he fired. This drill proved deadly at moderate range, inside barrooms as an example.

When Hickock needed greater accuracy, he is known to have used both hands, and in one case he braced his revolver against a saddle pommel making a long shot.

Colonel Rex Applegate developed a drill in which the shooter takes a step forward, and as the strong side foot hits the ground, the pistol is thrust toward the threat. The handgun is fired as the front sight of the firearm breaks the plane between the shooters eyes and the target. At ranges of up to seven yards this is a fast and effective tactic.

GLOCK pistol sights
An XS Sights express type setup is ideal for combat range personal defense.

Front Sight Focus

Another drill that has often been used operationally is to fire using only the front sight. This drill is limited in usefulness, perhaps seven yards, but is very fast. In dim light or when eyesight isn’t sufficient to allow a sharp aim, this drill works very well in speed shooting.

The front sight is raised slightly high and the front sight is placed on the lower body of the threat. Say, at belt-buckle level. Since the sight is held high, the bullets will strike higher than the front sights point of aim on the target.

Quickly taking aim with the front sight on the belt buckle will place shots into the center of the threat. This is a ‘down and dirty’ very fast drill that works well in combat shooting.

GLOCK pistol sights aim faster
XS Sights are a big improvement over traditional GI sights, allowing you to aim faster.

Sight Improvement

It should be remembered that when some drills were developed, handgun sights were often small and much less useful than the quality sights we have today. High-visibility sights and self-luminous iron sights are much more useful than the small GI sights of Applegate’s day.

We also know from examining firearms in museums, that old-time shooters modified their revolvers with special sights to increase accuracy. Tom Threepersons, a noteworthy western lawman, had a special tall and square front sight added to his single-action revolver. This means that he used his sights when possible.

It is well documented that Bat Masterson, a notable gunfighter who lived to old age, ordered his Colt revolvers with a front sight higher than standard.

We should always use our sights at ranges past a few yards. When we cannot bring the gun to eye level, keeping the arm in tight to the body, against the ribs, and maintaining a firm grasp gives us a reasonably accurate index. Meat and paper works well at room distance.

Practice using your sights quickly, but by the same token, don’t ignore proven short-range alternative aiming tactics.  

What do you practice to help you aim faster? Let us know 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 (5)

  1. I use a Crimson Trace laser grip. My sight tells me where the gun is pointed as soon as the gun clears leather, which I think of as a big advantage when speed is important. I don’t need to see the gun, and neither my gun nor my gun hand or hands ever block my view of the subject I intend to shoot. I know where the gun points when I swiftly move laterally, when I shoot from awkward positions, when I shoot with my weak hand, and when I shoot in low light. Iron sights seem nowhere near as useful for short range self defense.

  2. Jn the last email you posed the question, where are you. Well, you definitely caught my eye the lever action rifles. Have always enjoyed the lever styled rifles. So, now you know.

  3. I’m a relatively new gun owner. I’m enjoying going to the range. There was a time it was weekly so I could practice the skills needed for self defense and become familiar with my Sig Sauers. Bullet shortages stopped this for a while. I’ve read many of your skill instruments as well as others and they have helped tremendously. I have a recommendation for Handgun owners. Buy one of those hand squeeze devices and do a number of sets/reps daily or every other day, increasing the tension and sets/reps weekly to increase grip strength. Then do a maintenance program to keep the hands toned. Both hands. It works.

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