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Slow Down and Get Hits

slow down get hits

The subject of personal defense shooting and marksmanship (aka “getting hits”) draws many opinions and comments. Whether or not the individual is qualified, they are willing to share their wisdom.

The problem is, there are a lot of instructors that have been to many schools, but have no practical experience. They have never met a problem face-to-face. The result? Students that are not properly trained for what they are likely to face.

As a bad example, I recently saw a video of a shooter standing on the line, hand on the pistol, ready for the whistle. He adjusted his holstered handgun several times. When the whistle blew, he drew and hosed the target down as quickly as possible.

Use the logic ladder. Speed is needed when you run your hand to the handgun, grasp the handgun, draw and get on target. But you do not need to fire so quickly you miss. The speed that is most important is getting the handgun out of concealment and onto the target.

The first shot is the most important one. If you do not get your man down with the first two or three shots, your battle is probably over. As Bat Masterson said, “speed is good, but accuracy is final.” Or something similar.

There is a necessary balance between accuracy, speed and power. Sometimes you need to slow down to get a hit. Misses don’t count. Let’s look at the best means of accomplishing the goal, which is surviving a critical incident.

combat accuracy - target
Gettinghits: this is excellent combat accuracy when coupled with speed.

The Planning

You have to be realistic. Whatever form the likely nightmare takes (each incident is individual), the skills needed to survive are a constant. The knowledge needed is scarce among fellow humans.

There are those who have seen quite a bit of this type of action and many speak with an impersonal interest tinged with amusement for those that do not quite get it. There is a kind of abstract pleasure in the application of logic to a problem.

Don’t let your planning be a discordant clash of the improbable against the unlikely—effect without cause, action without motivation and a lack of planning.

Accuracy, Control
This shooter has put three spent cases in the air. That’s good control, but accuracy comes first.

The Stance

Handguns are more difficult to shoot well than a rifle. The sight radius is short and the two-hand hold isn’t as secure as the three-point lock on the rifle. Just the same, if the sights are properly lined up and the trigger is pressed without disturbing the sights, you will hit your mark.

Few of us will shoot right up to the handgun’s potential, but in slow fire, some of us will be able to achieve this goal. The goal is achieved by mastering the stance, grip, sight picture and sight alignment and trigger press. The stance doesn’t come as naturally to some as to others.

If you are a trained boxer or martial artist, the stance is easily learned. You are squared to the target with both hands firmly holding the handgun. The hips are slightly angled toward the target and the strong-side foot slightly forward, with the support side foot slightly to the rear.

The isosceles or Weaver stance doesn’t matter as much as getting a strong platform. The shoulders lean forward slightly. It is important to keep weight behind the handgun to control muzzle flip and fight recoil when getting hits.

It isn’t always realized, but the more the muzzle flips, the harder we tend to jerk the trigger for the next shot—whether we actually flinch from recoil or not. A stance that has the feet planted properly and the shoulders forward is a great aid in controlling recoil.

shooting tips - grip
The grip and stance are vital for getting hits, no matter if the handgun is a full-size model or a compact.

The Grip

The grip is sometimes the subject of great discussion. One authority, a fine offhand shot, remarked that the best choice was to “let the gun fly in recoil” and then start all over. This doesn’t work for personal defense.

A good way to find the best grip is to keep the thumb high, but curled over the grip and down to grasp the handgun as tightly as possible until the hand trembles. Then back off just slightly. It doesn’t hurt accuracy if the hand trembles a bit as long as the handgun is grasped tightly.

The support hand wraps around the gun hand and the forefinger of the support hand presses up on the trigger guard. It is important that you affirm this grip when the handgun is in the holster.

Shoot the elbow to the rear, bring the hand up from under the handgun and affirm the grip. If you draw too soon and attempt to readjust the grip as you come on target, you are going to be very slow and inaccurate. Affirm the grip even if it takes a tenth of a second longer.

The handgun will recoil, but you must have a firm grip and control the handgun if you want to get hits.

High Grip: Get Hits
Get a good high grip on the handgun to assure good control (and hits).

The Hold

It is important to move the web of the hand high on the grip. This keeps the handgun oriented toward the target properly and helps control muzzle flip. The lower on the grip, the more the leverage for the muzzle to rise.

The more movement in the handgun, the more likely the grip will loosen. You need to be properly lined on the trigger for good control and leverage if you want to get hits.

The finger brings the trigger straight to the rear with a single-action automatic, while the trigger sweeps down from above with a double-action first-shot handgun. The revolver is similar, with the trigger finger moving to manipulate the trigger.

When your hand is in the proper position, the finger will be pressed against the face of the trigger and the hand will be high on the grip tang. The flesh will also be pressed in a wave in the web of the hand.

There are times when the student’s fingers holding the handgun flex as the trigger is pressed, as they may try to move in sympathetic action. This won’t happen if the support hands are already exerting maximum pressure.

A note of caution: if the self-loading pistol isn’t properly grasped, it will not properly cycle. If there is give in the grip, then the action won’t properly function. By the same token, if the grip isn’t strong enough, a revolver will be more difficult to operate with trigger action as well.

Forget any type of lighter style of grip. Get a hard grip on the handgun and keep the grip that way. In a personal defense situation, you will not fire enough rounds to become tired and your grip will be so hard that the hand may tremble. That’s fine.

When you get the trigger pad set on the trigger face, you must have good contact. Not simply pointing the finger. Lay the fingerprint on the trigger!

Short Range - Get Hits
Firing at short range with a one-hand grip is especially challenging when attempting to get hits.

The Sights

So, you have affirmed the grip on the handgun as you draw and the handgun is held properly. You are presenting the handgun to the target and the stance gives you a stable firing platform. Now you must focus on the sights. The sight picture is the location of the sights on the target.

The typical handgun aiming point is placed just over the front sight post. This is the six-o-clock hold. Sight alignment is the actual alignment of the sights. This means the front sight is centered in the rear notch.

The actual sight picture demanded in personal defense is to focus on the front sight. The target will be blurred and so will the rear sight (to an extent). The front sight is placed on the target and is properly lined between the rear post.

Sight alignment is vital, and so is the sight picture. Do not aim for the whole target, but rather aim for a small finite area on the target. You have the stance and the grip under control and you are working on the sights.

Bright Front Sight - Get Hits
It is an advantage to have a bright front sight.

The Reset

Now we come to what may be the most difficult part of controlling the handgun. If you jerk the trigger or fail to control the trigger properly, the shot will be many inches off even at a modest distance. Begin your practice at five to seven yards and work for consistency.

The grip is solid and the trigger finger is on the face of the trigger. The trigger is pressed straight to the rear. Don’t jerk the trigger. You have plenty of time; go smoothly, but then go faster! The trigger is pressed to the rear and the striker or hammer breaks against the sear.

There are some that say we need a surprise break. An accomplished shooter will know exactly when the trigger is breaking. When the trigger breaks, the handgun fires and the trigger resets.

When you are doing speed shooting, many recommend that the shooter “ride” the trigger during reset, rather than allowing the trigger to completely return to reset. This is fine if the goal is simply firing a lot of shots quickly.

The problem occurs when the shooter does not actually allow the trigger to reset because he is riding the trigger, and then he must make a conscious decision to release the trigger and allow it to reset. Perhaps it is best to allow a complete reset with each trigger press.

Jeffrey Custom Leather Holster
The author drawing his backup from a Jeffrey Custom Leather holster.

Conclusion

It is important to practice the stance, grip, sight picture and sight alignment, as well as the trigger action. Use a triple-checked, unloaded handgun and practice pressing the trigger in dry fire.

Be certain that you aim for a spot on the wall that will stop a bullet (just in case you make a mistake). Develop a proper shooting stance. Slow down on hosing the target down. Practice speed from concealed carry, getting on the target quickly and aligning the sight.

Practice the trigger break. You will find that your accuracy will improve greatly. You may not be hosing the target down, but then again, targets are not threats. A threat moves and reacts. Practice drawing and getting hits.

What are your tips for slowing down and getting hits? Or do you prefer a different approach? Let us know in the comments below.

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 (7)

  1. When dry-firing a striker gun (Glocks and similar), you literally CANNOT go fast, because the trigger only works once. Don’t get into the bad habit of racking the slide after each trigger pull, as that trains you to dump half your ammo on the ground, while shifting your grip every shot. Treat this mechanical circumstance as a reminder that the ideal case (other than avoiding the fight), is to draw and fire one fight-ending shot. You have to imagine the trigger resetting under your finger. I reload right before holstering, so that resets the slide for the next cycle. Dummy rounds are useful so that you don’t have to keep unlocking the slide on each reload.

  2. From the notebook of Lazarus Long:
    Get your first shot off quick. It will put your opponent off-balance, and give you time to make your second shot count.

  3. Lots of good info here, but something doesn’t seem quite right about this: “strong-side foot slightly forward, with the support side foot slightly to the rear.” I’m assuming that “strong-side” refers to the same side as the firing hand and that this is in reference to a two-handed grip. Am I missing something? Thanks.

  4. Excellent, excellent article. I really enjoyed it. As for your Bat Masterson quote, it’s actually from Wyatt Earp, and it goes:

    “Fast is fine, but accuracy is final.”

    ― Wyatt Earp

  5. Great article and Great tips. I agree that slowing down is key to accuracy. I’d rather one or two hits where they’ll do the most good, than 12 that are all over the target. Too much emphasis on throwing as much lead downrange as fast as you can for my taste.

  6. Great article offering excellent information. My experience with handguns began at age 6. I got to shoot my Dad’s 5 shot breaktop .38 spcl revolver and his .32 ACP Colt selfloader. At age 7 I got to fire his WWII “momento” 9mm Lufer and his 1911. When I was 11 my Dad traded some of his handguns for a S&W Model 29 with a 4″ barrel. I learned about recoil and how to adjust to it. It made me a better shooter. My 1967 Model 29 has an 8 3/8″ barrel. Not at really very concealable but in a shoulder rig is not really noticeable under my leatger jacket. Extremely accurate that extra sight radius extends my viable iron sight range to 100 yards. Because I practice often (reloader) my speed shooting with this hand connon on target is well above average. The upside of the extra firward weight plus a great porting job on the barrel helps too. By far my chpice of handgun is the Model 29 but it’s really more for hunting. I can shoot fairly quickly but with a well placed round, it only takes 1 to get the job done.

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