Competitive Shooting

Speed and Accuracy: Accurate Aimed Fire Ends Fights

Sweeping away the cover garment

Like many instructors, I prefer a student with no prior experience. Hopefully they have done their homework and understand how to manipulate the handgun, and load and unload it safely. However, if they have picked up bad habits and continue to exhibit these bad habits, there is some difficulty encountered during the class. I have to avoid terms like getting the student up to speed, because sometimes I have to slow them down.

Bob Campbell in a two-handed combat stance, right profile
Accurate aimed fire ends fights.

The student will often fire too quickly and put a flurry of shots into the target. Some miss. If the first shot is a good hit, and this is rare, perhaps most of the remaining shots are not. This student often marvels at the ‘firepower’ of his or her handgun. I regard firepower as a military term related to a squad automatic rifle. A lot of poor hits with a minor caliber are not going to stop a determined adversary. Handguns are simply not that powerful.

The handgun is the weapon of opportunity carried with us at all times to take charge of a situation that threatens our lives or the safety of loved ones. I think that we have to look to the counter sniper or hunter who takes a single, well-placed shot, and makes a hit by taking his time in a hurry. Of course, personal defense is different and the reactive nature of the problem requires speed. However, speed is worthless without accuracy.

The problem is that accuracy is actually easier to teach than speed. The fundamentals of marksmanship are pretty standard and include the grip, stance, trigger press and sight picture. Speed is more difficult to teach and certainly isn’t something you learn in one class. Yet we stress speed and speed wins competitions.

Has anyone been killed by being too slow? Perhaps so, but the majority of mistakes that have gotten good folks killed are not about speed. They are about a presentation from concealed carry that is fumbled. It isn’t slow it simply isn’t executed properly. Other killers include the shooter failing to properly manipulate the handgun. They may grip the revolver improperly and heel the grip resulting in a high shot and the need to readjust the grip after each shot. Or they may hold the thumb behind the slide of a self-loader or fail to keep a locked wrist, causing the handgun to short cycle. Perhaps, they hesitate and do not draw the handgun when they should. All of these errors are deadly and are not necessarily speed errors.

Bob Campbell with handgun at the low ready
The hands meet after the draw is executed.

If you do not have a reasonable expectation of making the shot, you should not take it. This means that you must have a great deal of practice behind the gun. Many shooters do not understand the cadence of fire. The cadence of fire isn’t the rate of fire. I am pretty certain I could train a chimpanzee to pull a trigger quickly. Most shooters of average strength and dexterity can empty a 9mm self-loader into the target quickly and all of the shots will be at least on the paper but few will be X-ring hits.

The cadence of fire is set by how quickly you are able to recover the sights after you fire. The first shot is fired and then the handgun is recovered from recoil as the trigger resets. The sights are recovered and placed back on target. You regain the sight picture and fire again. That is the cadence of fire. Some shooters become faster than others. Some become both fast and accurate. The first shots matter the most and training and qualification seldom reflects this. How many of you practice drawing the handgun, getting a center hit, then reholstering and firing again, and repeating? This is a drill called the one-shot qualifier. It is one of the most important drills a professional will execute and practice often.

The most important background for skill at arms is absolute familiarity with the handgun. You must have practiced manipulation of the trigger, slide lock, and magazine release extensively until you cannot miss the controls. Dry fire is essential. Executing the draw from concealed carry should be done a minimum of 500 times before the handgun is worn concealed. As far as speed coming after smoothness, practice executing the drill with a minimum of motion.

Handgun selection is important. Unless you are in the service, you may choose among many handguns. The popular press seems never to have met a handgun it didn’t like, or which wasn’t reliable and accurate. There are disastrous choices. Not long ago, a round up of the most popular handguns included three out of four I would never recommend; yet they were the best sellers in America.

Bob Campbell in a two-handed combat stance, front
The hands push the firearm toward the target.

Choose the handgun carefully. Go to a shop and feel the grip. Be certain the grip isn’t too large to fit your hands. Be certain you are able to grip the handgun without resorting to a cocked grip called the H grip. The end of the finger should rest on the trigger with good purchase. As an example, the Glock 21 and Glock 20 are simply too large for my hands even in the SF version. So are a number of high-capacity .45 caliber handguns.

If your hands are larger, the accurate, reliable, and soft-kicking Glock handguns are a good choice. The Glock is a default choice, it is always reliable and compliments a trained shooter. I prefer the 1911 pistol, others prefer the SIG double action first shot system. There is no single best system, but only reliable handguns should be considered. The heft, balance, and handling of a handgun are important. While some types win competitions, personal defense means handling the pistol more than you fire it and carrying it more than you handle it.

Once you’ve chosen the pistol, the hard work begins. Basic marksmanship isn’t that difficult but it requires attention to detail. The stance is important. The body’s natural response to trouble is to crouch, we need to work with this and keep the body erect. The handgun is brought to the eyes; the eyes are not scrounged down to the pistol.

The handgun should be held in both hands in a solid hold and the grip should be affirmed on the draw. The handgun should be gripped as firmly as possible for control. The sights must be used. A flash sight picture is bringing the handgun to the point of aim quickly and taking the shot. The sight picture is good, confirmed, and fast. If the sights are not lined up do not fire. You will miss.

If it takes a little more time to line the sights up do so. It is pointless to waste a shot and then take time to control recoil and attempt to fire again. Make each shot count. The better the sight alignment the more accurate the shot. Accuracy stops an attack. Noise and peripheral hits do not. The trigger must be managed with accuracy balanced against urgency. The trigger must be pressed straight to the rear. The handgun fires and the trigger resets as you control recoil.


Anyone can shoot fast. Shooting accurately demands attention to detail. But shooting both fast and accurately requires a greater commitment.

What drills do you practice for speed and for accuracy. 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 (18)

  1. Its almost a stereo type you hear from either IDPA shooters or Bullseye shooters. Trying to convince themselves and everyone else that they can still be combat effective because handgun accuracy versus handgun speed win’s fights. The fact of the matter is that stand and deliver philosophy will not win a fight.

    It reminds me of drunks in bars arguing how they would beat some MMA fighter in a real street fight… They never consider outside of competition that MMA fighter might fight just as dirty as they would, with the advantage of honed skills, speed, and experience.

    The fact is tactics win fights, speed and accuracy are only part of the equation.

  2. Bob, I am going to save this article for reading again and again. I’ll also have the family read this too. Full of great advice and help.
    Thank you sir for a great article.

  3. One part if the drills I do is a single shot. Our “range”, is a huge cinder cone pit in the middle of USFS land , and is often unoccupied. I run up the side of the pit, run back down. Crouch by the truck or stand. Draw and fire one shot. Holster, repeat, in a series of three. I try to mix up what direction and stance.

  4. Bob, I’m disappointed in that when you mention suitable handguns you follow the popularity cycle and only call upon Sig for the SA/DA hammer fired option. I thought you liked CZ’s? I carry and compete with the P-01, it is as reliable and accurate but even better on follow-up shots than the Sig. I know you know what I’m talking about. 🙂

  5. I prefer Jeff Cooper’s recipe: Two quick shots center mass, followed with one well-aimed shot between the horns. Interestingly, when in the heat of battle (while on-duty), I realized that I’m not aware of actually using the sights for the two center mass shots. Rather, I quickly looked along the top of the slide (a 1911), pointing it at my intended target and hit it. A side note: I knew Jeff and shot with him a few times. He was an interesting person – to say the least.

  6. I carry a 1911 officers model in .45 acp. I practice a draw and fire from the hip, which is easy with the 1911 as it is such a natural pointer, bettered only (in my experience) by the Colt SAA, with the 1851 navy being the fastest. I practice at 21 feet and closer as that is a typical defensive shot.
    my results are excellent with a draw from concealment and a hit in well under a second. that being said, a second is a very long time in a gunfight. this is not a fast process to master, I have fired thousands and thousands of rounds practicing over the years. I have a .44 revolver that I occasionally carry. but I so far only have a 75% center of mass hit record with it, but I am well under my first thousand shots. drawing and firing with both speed and accuracy takes a lot of practice, and any weapon that is not a natural pointer (read Glock) will require even more practice to overcome the poor grip angle that makes the weapon shoot high until learn to draw for the groin (which gives me a chest hit).but practicing, and the real deal is very different, measured in adrenalin levels and serious fear. a master pistolero once said ( I think it was Elmer Kieth) the first shot wins a gunfight.

  7. My drills tend to be a combination of my military training, and some that aren’t. To me, in a real world scenario standing fully erect, two hands on your weapon, offers up quite a large target for your adversary. Although I do practice sometimes this way, I tend to work on firing on the move. Sometimes to the left, sometimes to my right, and sometimes firing to my rear. All with a single hand. This to me emulates a real world response to incoming fire. I’m going to want to move to cover as quickly as possible, while putting rounds on target as a deterrent to my adversary putting rounds on his, which would be me. I dont do any diving rolls, or other Hollywood style moves. I just move quickly, in a crouched position while trying to keep a side profile toward the target. This offers up the smallest target possible. I’m quite proficient at keeping rounds on a 10″ target from a variety of ever changing distances. Of course I am 61 and was a sniper in the service, so I’ve had quite a bit of practice. I’ve trained my wife, stepson, daughter, and granddaughters this way also. It also instills confidence and teaches weapon safety as well, as they ALWAYS keep the weapon pointed down range. I teach them to imagine a string tied from the target to the pistol, and have them turn and move while keeping the pistol always pointed at the target. Of course this drill is done in an unloaded condition. My advice to anyone who carries, concealed or otherwise, is to practice what you think would happen for real. NOT what happens in a controlled environment at a range. In fact I URGE all shooters to be as realistic as they can in their endeavors to be a safe, accurate and accomplished marksman.

    1. Great Advice! Hopefully, some of the younger, less-experienced shooters are paying attention.

    1. Thanks for the comments. You guys are great, good information. I hope you enjoyed the article. Those experienced than yourself may benefit. Keep up the good shooting!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.