An LE Perspective on “Spreading Your Hits” On Paper Targets

I’m part of a professional firearms instructor group on Facebook and I want to share with you one of the conversations we had over the weekend…

The original post was, “Recently talking with other cops–some who instruct–over the idiotic comments some department firearms instructors STILL say and have said over the years.

The one that sticks out the most?

“If you’re hitting the same place, you’re shooting too slow. You need to hit multiple places to speed up the blood loss”.

Haha! How about you just can’t shoot…we will all benefit if you stop a fellow instructor from saying this. And if you say it…fix yourself immediately!”

The following is my reply…

The tolerance of and encouragement of loose groups in sterile conditions is one of the most damaging training scars in firearms training today.

Second is the thought that all training for tactical applications should be tactical…that is not correct. Tactical training should be built on top of solid fundamentals.

Slow fire, close, 1 hole groups in sterile conditions are a basic assessment on whether a shooter can line up the muzzle and run the trigger without disturbing muzzle alignment. Those are 2 skills that carry over to EVERY shooting pursuit.

The problem is that most shooters overestimate their ability. I have run a test with over 1,000 shooters who carry regularly…not just gun owners, but shooters who carry regularly, either professionally or personally. LE and OGA instructors who I work with have done the same.

We have them stand 6-10 feet from a paper target and try to shoot a 5 round, 1″ group with no flyers. Easy, right? Maybe a basic test of whether someone should even own a gun?

About 10% of shooters who carry regularly (including instructors) can do it…with no stress, movement, time constraints, or any other issues. This means that the other 90% have a fundamental flaw in their ability to line up the muzzle and press the trigger…one that will more than likely be greater under stress.

Why?

First off, because a lot of instructors are under constraints that make it incredibly difficult to get a line of 20 shooters dialed in. A standard of an 8″ group allows them to move on to other material that they have to cover in an overly-compressed schedule.

Second, because when shooters see people bad-mouthing the ability to line up the sights and press the trigger correctly (tight groups), they use it as an excuse to hold themselves to a lower standard than they should.

Third, doing fast and cool stuff is more fun. Many people want to play with their boom stick…not do the actual work that will make them better. Along with that, classes that promise the ability to shoot tight groups don’t fill up as fast as classes that promise an action-hero experience.

The fact is, a shooter who owns a firearm for self-defense needs to be able to deliver rounds where they want them to go.

In slow, sterile, close conditions, 8″ groups should not be acceptable unless the shooter has a medical condition that causes it. (again, because it shows a fundamental problem with muzzle alignment and trigger press). When the time limitations of a class get in the way of remedial work, the instructor needs to give the student a road map to follow (on their own time…that they may or may not follow) to get up to speed.

BUT, add in other conditions like speed, lighting, decision making, movement, surprise, force-on-force, etc. and 8″ groups may be rock-star level performance…performance that’s built on the fundamentals of muzzle alignment and trigger press. (in video analysis of force on force and bodycam footage, JUST the movement of an attacker will spread the hits, even if the rounds go through the exact same trajectory…we know this intuitively because we know it’s easier to hit a moving torso than a moving head)

In other words, context matters…but at the end of the day, when you simplify the context, a shooter should be able to drive nails at close distances as an assessment of basic fundamentals.

What about speed and precision?

When a shooter can shoot tight groups at slow speed, it’s a conscious skill that they can think their way through. Access to the parts of the brain that drive conscious motor skills are limited under stress, so the next thing is to move muzzle alignment and trigger press to the subconscious.

One of the easiest ways to test/assess this is by adding time restrictions. What I’ve found is that if you force someone to shoot faster-than-1-second-splits and maintain precision, the conscious mind gets overwhelmed by about the 3rd-5th round and you get a peek into subconscious performance levels.

This is not a “tactical” drill, but fundamentals that fall apart with this drill also fall apart in competition and force-on-force with boring predictability. In other words, the sterile drill has tactical applications.

Once a shooter has muzzle alignment and trigger press dialed in at a subconscious level (it is surprisingly quick with proper training), then it’s straight forward to speed up and stretch it out. It’s not difficult to shoot 5-10 round 1″ groups at 15 feet with .4-.5 splits with a stock pistol using full power ammo.  And, again, the chaos of the situation and the movement of your attacker will spread your hits.

It’s absolutely vital to remember that only 10% of shooters who carry have muzzle alignment and trigger press dialed in good enough to shoot a 1″ group at 6-10 feet.

The irony is that most shooters believe they’re in that 10%.

But there’s no excuse not to be in that 10%.

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If you HAVE gone through it, then it’s time to up-your-game.

Traditional training that relies on lots of reps of the same few drills has been repeatedly proven ineffective for quick, effective skill building.  Traditional training guarantees that it will take you longer and cost you more to improve than what is necessary.

If you want to improve quickly, you need novelty, fun, and variety.

Which is at the core of our Praxis Dynamic Gunfighter training.  It will not only hard-wire the fundamentals, but it will quickly take you from applying the fundamentals in sterile, flat-footed conditions to being able to apply the fundamentals on the move and at odd angles like what you’ll encounter in a real-world situation.  This is training that can’t be done at most ranges, but you can do it at home INCREDIBLY effectively by following this proven roadmap.  Learn more by clicking >HERE<

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6 Comments

  • TIMOTHY MCDANIEL

    Reply Reply June 25, 2020

    Good stuff, and while I totally agree, I will say especially at anything from 10 ft to contact range, that I want to get lead into them!!! center Mass is great spine/ocular / center Mass, is great but I’d rather hit him in the pinky toe than not get lead into him at all. I’m not advocating spray-and-pray whatsoever but there is some benefit to the getting lead into them before the grapple starts line of reasoning. By the way I love your stuff

    • Ox

      Reply Reply June 25, 2020

      Thanks, Tim. I stole this from someone, but the first metal into meat generally wins.

      Interestingly enough, we can see this play out more with multiple attackers than with single attackers.

      If we look at large numbers of police shootings, it normally takes FEWER hits per attacker to stop the threat when there are multiple attackers than when there is only 1.

      The reason is time.

      In a 1 attacker situation, the shoot-assess-shoot cycle is uninterrupted and there’s not a whole lot of time for the hit to have an impact. The fastest visible effect is a CNS hit and when the string is cut, it takes about .2 seconds for the top of the skull to drop to the level of the tip of the nose–that’s pretty quick.

      So, it’s common to have made hits 2, 3, and 4 before the effects of hit 1 can be seen.

      With multiple attackers, it’s much more common to see LE shoot each attacker once or twice, move to the other threat and engage it once or twice, and be able to see enough of a visible change in threat level in the first attacker by the time focus gets back there that additional rounds aren’t necessary. More time has passed and the brain has time to process the first hit(s).

      This obviously doesn’t happen all of the time and follows the general rule that 90% of threats will stop at the sight of a firearm. 90% of the remaining will stop when the first shot is fired, regardless of the effectiveness. The remaining 1% is who we train for and they break all the rules, averages, and ideas of what “normal” should be.

  • David Harwood

    Reply Reply June 7, 2020

    “You need to hit multiple places to speed up the blood loss.”

    If you CAN put 4 rapid-fire shots thru 1 hole in a piece of paper – put your shots exactly where you want them – great. But is that the best way to stop an attack? I would bet that 4 shots at the corners of a 3 inch square (visualized on the attacker’s chest) will cause 2 or 3 times the internal bleeding caused by 4 shots in the same place. Spreading the hits is NOT a stupid idea – as long as it’s INTENTIONAL, and the entire expanded group is in the lethal zone.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply June 7, 2020

      Excellent, excellent question, David.

      My training is based on what happens in actual gunfights, as well as a considerable amount of time seeing how bullets perform on animals…not just water or gelatin.

      1. In a real world attack, your attacker will be moving and you will be experiencing visual perception delay. The simple movement of your attacker will get you the spread that you’re looking for. TRYING to spread your hits is much more likely to result in ineffective hits and misses.

      2. With paper or gelatin, the idea of spreading your hits makes sense, because the wound path is typically consistent from shot to shot. In the real world, this doesn’t happen. We’re not interested in where the bullet enters our target…we’re interested in what it does once it’s inside. We aim 3 dimensionally…not 2 dimensionally. 2 rounds that impact a real-world threat within 1 inch of each other may have very different internal performance based on how they expand and what they hit. 6″ in, they may be 6″ apart with what appears to be a single entry hole.

      3. We teach that to stop a threat quickly, you aim 3 dimensionally at the spinal cord, even with the armpit. Because of where the spinal cord is located in the spine, this works from every orientation. Going back to #1 and #2, the threat will be rotating/moving between hits and subsequent shots fired at the exact same target are incredibly unlikely to go through the exact same entry point or create the same wound channel…even if they do happen to have the same entry point.

      Finally…speed, in and of itself will spread your hits. If you can shoot a sub-inch group with .4 splits, speeding up to .25 or .2 splits will probably open your group up to 4-6″ without TRYING to spread your hits.

      I hope that helps. Please let me know if that brings up any other questions.

  • Wes

    Reply Reply May 19, 2020

    Your comments about the 10% who can hit a 1″ square from 10′ is on point. I start all my live fire training with this drill and it is amazing that “experienced” shooters are all over the place. It is an eye opener for the shooter and gives me an idea on what fundamental techniques need tweaking. Your teaching and explanations are very useful for all shooters and instructors.

  • ROBERT

    Reply Reply May 19, 2020

    The premise of “blood loss” is ridiculous. The point of the hits being too close together was that center of mass is what is critical, and shooting faster gets more hits within that area; the effect of the hits spreading out is a result of shooting faster (getting more hits on target.) – or, “precision hits take longer” — So, if I can get 5 hits hitting a target the size of a quarter in 10 seconds, maybe I can get 8-10 hits in the same time within a 6 inch circle. Then with practice, my hits get closer together. Now I can again speed up and maybe eventually get 20 or 30 shots inside a 6 inch circle with a magazine change included. INTENTIONALLY SPREADING OUT MY HITS IS TOTALLY RIDICULOUS. [Besides, by intentionally spreading out my shots will eventually cause total MISSES — thereby wasting shots and potentially hitting some thing or some one who was unintended.
    (Something else to consider: If you INTENTIONALLY spread out your hits, you are probably shooting even slower, just to spread them out!)

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