Training Tip: Double Taps

Springfield Armory 1911 with a Shoot-n-See target

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.



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 (39)

  1. “Only government approved people should teach tactics? Really?” I agree with Mr. Washington above.

    I respect Mr. Campbell, I’m sure he’s a good trainer and he has a right to differing opinions on training from mine, but as a long time firearms trainer, a vet but NOT a Police Officer, his “Police or Military Only” advice spoiled the rest of the article for me. Here’s why.

    (1) It’s common knowledge that Police Officers have an average “Hit Rate” of 20% in combat. Why would I want to seek out individual trainers with a police background? So I could achieve a 20% “Hit Rate”?

    Police training often centers around the double tap. In my humble opinion, this is an obsolete technique. Good trainers these days teach “Shoot until the threat is stopped”. That may be 1 round, 2, 3 or 12. There is no time to stop after 2 rounds and evaluate the effect of your rounds on your assailant. The FBI says the average gunfight is over in 3 seconds.

    My entire military career was focused on rifles. Never shot a pistol one time. Military service didn’t make me an expert pistol shot.

    OK. Let the flames begin.

    1. I’d that what you took from this article? Really? Maybe you should go back and reread it.

    2. Trevor,

      That was my problem with the article as well. I have no problem with the other content, but the premise that double taps can only be taught correctly by law enforcement or military trainers is ridiculous and self-serving. I would not have had a problem if the author had claimed that many civilian trainers, in his experience, did not teach some methods correctly. Instead he attempted to look more authoritative by saying the group he belongs to (military and law enforcement) are the only ones capable of providing correct training. The author already has great credentials and would have had my respect – until making a comment that ONLY his group can provide valuable training. ALL training and ALL trainers should always be evaluated independently based on their merits. After all, if ALL military training was perfect, there would never be a need for change. The military has many times engaged civilians to train soldiers in methods developed by civilians.

    3. 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.

      That is what I said, not an absolute, but my recommendation.

      That is my comment and I stand by it. Some may teach basic marksmanship well. A person that has won contests would be a good choice. But when you are learning at a higher level and realize the enormity of what may take place—- you need someone that has walked the walk.

      This isn’t prejudice or radical but the same criteria that is set forth in emergency responder school or other professional classes.

      While basics are basics and we need many trained instructors to teach the fundamentals when it comes to higher level personal defense training choose one of those that have walked the walk. Gabriel Suarez, Massad Ayoob and Chuck Taylor come to mind.

      Bob Campbell

  2. I enjoyed the article and many of the comments, or at least the constructive ones. As asked in the article I start my practice with the LE qual set, then practice my CQC drills which includes double and triple taps. I move on out to controlled fire at 10-15 yds. I finish with another LE qual set. I practice 3X per month indoors in winter outdoors so I can move spring through fall (in Indiana). I carry an S&W M&P Perf Ctr Shield 9mm. Thanks for the interesting read.

  3. Thank you for the article. After learning basics our some of SOP were to master a 25 yd shot first. Slow technique shooting until we were shooting very very small groups. Static shooting that group size was checked with a baseball shooting 45acp and from the beginning we trained with what we would carry. We then picked up pace from double and triple tap, increased heart rate training, barrier and moving on foot, seated and in vehicles. Not matter what advances training we did we would end the day with distance. In order to hit your target at longer distance your technique becomes muscle memory and when it hits the fan training takes over. Thank you again for helping to make the citizens of this great country better marksmen

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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…

    1. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. Another drill to train with is shooting while moving. Especially training for active shooter situations. It’s fine and dandy when learning a new handgun or rifle too sit stationary and punch holes in paper.
    Having served 8 years in the US army with 2 combat tours, I’ve learned there’s weapons familiarization/qualifications, and then there’s combat training. Surviving combat means training for combat. Your intended target will most likely not stand there and wait for you to acquire a perfect stance, grip, sight picture, etc. You also don’t want to be just standing there, offering a stationary target.
    9 to 3 drills are great for this. Moving while shooting. Draw while moving, engaging and transitioning from 9-3,3-9. This will give good training for real world situations.

  15. It sure would be nice if those in charge of ranges would understand the importance of practicing double tap, since they tend to get annoyed at shots that are not a few seconds apart.

  16. The double tap is the right way to start training but then you have to add the planting shot. I was trained to double tap to the sternum ans single tap to the nose. Tap tap then splat. Tap,tap,,splat with the commas being the time interval. I was made to say tap,tap,,splat until I developed a mental rhythm that became muscle memory.

    1. I had heard Travis Haley say that you would never use the failure drill in a fight , that you would just put rounds into the body. And he has been in gun fights unlike must instructors , you probably shouldn’t train to shoot a set number of rounds.

  17. Back in the ‘olden’ days, going through police academy, the ‘double tap’ we were taught, for close range 5-10 yards was ‘head, heart’. Other times, other instructors, was taught the same. Later years working as a PMC, I mastered shooting directly into the mouth of an attacker, at close or long range, pistol or rifle, the distance being the determining factor. This shot cuts the brain-stem and has never failed to drop my target in his tracks. But, it takes practice, practice, practice and nerves of steel to line up this shot on a charging attacker. And at almost 70 yrs. old, my nerves aren’t quiet steely enough any more, at least I don’t think they are. Haven’t had to make this shot in a long while, except in practice.

  18. “By kidney you mean pelvic girdle?”

    Yes, thanks for the clarification. We also train with pistol held tight to the body for an up close & personal threat.

  19. I’m just surprised you are emphasizing double tap. We always train, two to the body, one to the head or kidney. (I prefer the head)

    1. We are training for the double tap. You are training for a failure to stop drill. Both are important but a big difference.
      By kidney you mean pelvic girdle?

      Thanks for reading.

  20. Looking at this I know what and how I practiced when competing and also when working on self defense skills and the two were different. In both cases no I didn’t have my hand on the pistol, I either in practicing for competition had them above my shoulders or when working on self defense had them at my side.

    For self defense as well as competition the sight picture started low as I was using a double action on the first one and I knew just how much that harder trigger pull was going to have that gun rise, so that the first one was in the chest center mass, from there I would ride the recoil up while keeping my weight into it to control when I wanted to have the second round impact into the center head of the target and I even practiced having someone tell me no shot on the way up to force me to bring the gun back into center mass for a second shot, so that I practiced this without knowing if the head shot would be available.

    Everything needs to be practiced controlled the same way everytime so that each time the trigger is pulled it is with a target identified even if you have to change that position on the target. You are absolutely right on recoil control and understanding the trigger is something that has to be both understood and practiced, I have worked with my wife many times on that when she was practicing for her license and since then.

    Good article

  21. While I don’t take issue with a lot of what was said in this article I think it missed a few important points. First off many people who are not overly well trained in all these techniques that you read about in various articles successfully defend themselves when attacked. The most important thing is the will to do what you have to do. The best example of training being useless in and by itself is to search “Vietnam veteran shoots police officer” where the officer was killed because he panicked despite all his training. Furthermore, if you read the Armed Citizen in the NRA magazines they have about 10 stories per issue of average gun owners successfully defending themselves and I bet most of them do very little regular shooting but when it came down to it, they did what had to be done.

    1. Dprato, you may have a point with this but then again, even a blind squirrel will eventually find a nut. Truth be told, it is probably 95% mental/ muscle memory and 5% luck that drops the target without the defender getting hurt during an actual surprise gun fight. You HAVE to practice A LOT to get that muscle memory; no other way.

      CAV Scout, just running to cover with full kit gets that heart pumping! Another way to work on the adrenaline flow during a fight, try doing 10-15 push-ups as fast as you can then stand, draw, aim, fire.

      Remember it’s all about hearts and minds; two in the heart and one in the mind!

    2. Well considering most folks are probably not former or present military/police there are a great many squirrels out there that successfully defend themselves and probably more because they have the will to do what needs to be done than any great amount of practice. Furthermore, applying the events in a military or a police situation is not exactly what the average person experiences in most cases. Many cases police and military are in a proactive situation and not necessarily a defensive situation or one that entails complete surprise because of the level of alertness you need to stay alive. I shoot quite a bit everything from small caliber to large caliber handguns and rifles and am a very decent shot at self defense ranges with those firearms. Most importantly however is I have the type of personality that does not tolerate being bullied or having someone try to be violent with me and I wouldn’t blink an eye to do what I need to do. If you notice on here almost everyone has a slightly different opinion or technique that they advocate in training. So I guess we are all correct when looking at it from our own perspective and experience.

  22. The “Double Tap” is even more complicated when you are an older shooter than Mr. Campbell has stated. As you get older, Presbyopia and progressive lenses require practice in fine tuning where you position the eyeglass lens and a split decision by you as to what you must focus you vision on. Is it the rear sight, the front sight or the target itself? Proper training says you should use the eyeball on the side from which you drew, but is it the better eyeball for the distance and should you switch eyeballs if the target is close up or not? There are even circumstances when you could be using reading glasses instead of progressive lens glasses and many folks carry indoor and outdoor (optimized for a fuller range) glasses so you must practice with each type of eyeglass that you may be using in an inopportune defense situation. Each decision has its place depending on the situation and must be extensively practiced and executed by reflex in case what we all want to avoid becomes unavoidable.

    Practice, it’s the only way to be prepared….before you take that shot(s) and after.

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