Combat Accuracy Vs. Precision

One of the arguments against practicing to shoot one hole groups is that you won’t have time to do this under stress.

That’s a fine argument, but it’s one dimensional, and conflicts with the very training that teaches it.

Oftentimes, the same training that teaches that 8” groups in sterile training conditions are adequate teach that you should fire 2 rounds to center-of-mass and, if that doesn’t stop the threat, to shoot one round to the head.

The problem is, movement, stress, speed, and unstable shooting positions will cause your shot groups in a surprise self-defense situation to be AT LEAST twice as big as your groups in practice.

If you’re training to an acceptable standard of 8” groups in sterile conditions, it’s fair to expect that your groups in an extreme stress situation will be 16” or more. The average skull is 6-7” wide. How likely do you think it is that you’ll hit your intended target? Will you get lucky and have any misses lodge harmlessly in a stud in a wall or might the bullet hit something more important?

If only it was that simple.

Let’s say that your first 2 shots to the body hit their mark (Nationwide law enforcement hit averages are 15%-25%, so it could easily take 10 or more rounds to get your “2 hits to the body” if you’re practicing 8” groups).

The only reason you’d shift your aim from the body to the head is if the first 2 hits didn’t stop the threat. There’s a pretty good chance that if 2 hits didn’t stop him, he’s either drugged, drunk, or deranged.

Think about that for a second. Shooting 2 & 1 drills, failure drills, or Mozambiques on paper is one thing, but if it really happens, it’s because someone who is a lethal threat to you just absorbed 2 rounds to the chest without stopping. That would be an “Oh crap” moment. Are they wearing body armor? Are they a zombie? Did you even hit them?

There are numerous cases of people taking multiple shots to the head and staying in the fight:

-Shots to the sinus cavity deflecting down through the jaw.
-Shots hitting the jaw and deflecting.
-Shots (particularly .40 caliber) deflecting off of the brow/forehead.
-Shots hitting the head, scalping around the head, and continuing on at the back of the head.  (I’ve read of multiple instances of this and personally touched the holes in the helmet and scars on the head of Dr. Kunkel from Weeping Water, NE)
-Shots to parts of the brain that aren’t critical at that time due to the attacker’s mental state.

It means that your shot to the head doesn’t JUST need to hit the head, it needs to hit the brain. And maybe not even JUST the brain, but the medulla oblongata, which is about the size of a walnut, or another critical part of the brain that will cause a drugged, drunk, or deranged attacker who’s already been shot twice to actually stop being a threat.

All of a sudden, the ability to shoot 8” groups in sterile practice conditions doesn’t quite cut it.

The root of the problem has 3 parts:

First, a handgun is a HORRIBLE tool for quickly stopping a lethal force threat. The bullet moves too slow and it’s more unstable to aim than a rifle. In fact, most defensive handgun calibers are illegal for hunting deer—because they’re so ineffective.

But they’re still the most effective self-defense tool that most people can carry on an everyday basis.

Second, 8″ groups are not created equal.  There’s a world of difference between being able to shoot 8″ groups standing flat footed on a well-lit range and shooting 8″ groups in low light, while moving, with a moving attacker who’s shooting back at you with sim rounds–Only one of those 2 8″ groups will carry over to the real world.  The more sterile the conditions, the tighter groups you better be able to shoot.

Third, shooting is emotional and as your emotions increase, your group size will increase.

One of the reasons why it’s important to be able to shoot one hole groups is that it forces you to master patience and control your emotions, and a lot of problems that shooters have are the result of a lack of patience and emotions driving the shooting process. Let me explain…

A lot of the time, pie shaped groups straight down from where you’re aiming are the result of anticipatory flinch. Regardless of how tough and macho you are, your brain “fears” the recoil or “fears” losing control and tries to push the muzzle down at the exact instant that the shot is released. Low, pie shaped groups are proof that this doesn’t work.

There are a lot of times when you start squeezing the trigger, but the shot doesn’t happen fast enough for your brain. It WANTS the hit of dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin—the sweet reward that happens when the shot goes off. And, in the case of a self-defense shooting, it wants the emotional discomfort from the cortisol to stop.

Add to that, if you’re holding your breath, your sight picture will start to get blurry.

Add more to it, you start focusing on the target rather than your sights and you realize how much you’re wobbling around…and that the wobble is increasing.

Finally, your brain can’t handle the suspense anymore and makes the trigger finger jerk and finish the job…throwing your shots to the left (if you’re a right handed shooter).

Shooting one hole groups is proof positive that you CAN control your emotions and patience when shooting. And the more you practice the discipline of controlling your emotions and patience, the better you get at it.

And the better you get at it, the more likely that you’ll be able to control your emotions and patience under the extreme stress of a surprise attack and shoot fast, tight groups…even at speed, while moving and from unstable positions.

It doesn’t mean that you need to try to shoot 1 hole groups under stress…or that you will be able to, even if you try.  But if you shoot half as well in combat as you do in practice, I’d think you’d want to practice shooting as precisely as possible in practice.

So, what’s the best way to get BOTH speed and precision?

Work both ends of the equation…start with the ability to pile round after round on top of one another…and then push the speed.  On the other end of the equation, practice running the trigger as quickly as you can with a bigger target, and then tighten up your groups.

And >THIS< is one of the best training tools available to make both happen in record time.  If you own a gun for self-defense, you really need to check it out today.



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  • Ranger Rick

    Reply Reply June 20, 2019

    I really have enjoyed this article and the comments. I too have gone to classes where 2 to the chest and 1 to the brain is still taught. Our department is filling up with young Tier 1 troopers and they share the new high speed / skill sets training. A few of us old guys are loosing motor skills and clear eye sight. I use to shoot competition and I thought I was good. WRONG on all levels. Today, I carry several extra mags to insure I have the ability to engage the threat and stay in the game until the threat has been removed.
    I appreciate all you folks have shared with me today. I only have a few more months and I make my final call. You all stay safe out there.
    Ranger Rick
    North Idaho

  • Larry Crocker

    Reply Reply June 9, 2016

    Thanks, OX, I had been taught it was the cerebellum since it also controls motor movement. As you have said many times, shot placement with a handgun is very important, as the rounds are not like those of a rifle. Appreciate your work, skill and service. Thanks.

  • Herman

    Reply Reply June 8, 2016

    Great article. I am a firearms instructor using a simulator with SIRT pistols. I introduce my clients to the double tap and one so they have a frame of reference when they hear the concept. Then I tell them to forget it! Using much the same argument you use. Then we move to two shots to the xyphoid and come to compressed ready. If the treat is still up, we put two to the pelvic girdle. I show over and over again, in action simulate scenarios, how easy it is to miss a human when under stress. I could go on but you get the idea,

  • Larry Crocker

    Reply Reply June 7, 2016

    No matter how many emails I get, I always read yours! Thanks so much for your time and commitment to helping all of us become better. I am a retired dentist and have completely studied human anatomy twice; once as an undergraduate student – by systems, and again as a dental student – by region. If I read you right, it sounded like there were two “off switches” in the brain; one you mention (the medulla oblongata), and one you did not mention by name but referred to as “another critical part of the brain”. Would you mind sharing the name of that second part? I am a perpetual student and would very much like to know. Thanks again for all you are doing. Blessings on you and yours.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply June 7, 2016

      Thank you Larry…I really appreciate that.

      Yes, the one I mentioned is the medulla oblongata. A lot of people know what that is, thanks to Adam Sandler in Waterboy…but I didn’t want to lose people because I was trying to sound smart 🙂

      The “other” part is the midbrain since it connects the rest of the brain to motor neurons, but some shooters with more experience and expertise than me question whether it is as effective as the medulla oblongata.

  • David O

    Reply Reply November 19, 2015

    I enjoyed this article and agree with it for the most part, but did want to make some observations:

    I was taught to double tap 24 years ago at basic POST acedemy and taught the 2 to the chest 1 to the head drill 20 years ago by police and private instructors.

    Firearms training has evolved a lot since then though. In the last 15 years or so police and private instructors have taught to shoot and keep shooting until you’ve stopped the threat if justified.

    The pelvic girdle is the preferred target area if several shots to the center of mass seemingly have no effect as it’s a lot larger than the head (making it easier to hit).

    Head shots, actually central nervous system (CNS) shots are taught as the least preferred target area as a general rule in pistol training I’ve had, but if a CNS shot is needed, nothing else will do.

    Shooting on the move wasn’t taught 20+ years ago and the Weaver Stance or “Modern Technique” was king. That has also changed as shooting on the move is commonly taught and practiced in police and competitive circles and the Weaver has been replaced by the “Modified Weaver” and Isosceles or some variation of it. How one grips a pistol has evolved as well.

    Targets too have evolved in that time. The larger than most people B-27 with the x ring in the center of the target has been replaced by the FBI “Q” target with the Q in the center of the chest in many police agencies for qualification.

    There’s a benefit to both types of shooting and both should be taught and practiced.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply November 19, 2015

      Thanks, David.

  • Daryl

    Reply Reply November 16, 2015

    Great article. Trevor. I’ve met your type on many occasions. Pedantic. Accusatory. Disrespectful. Know-it-all attitude. Sounds like my teen age grandson when I attempt to show him something he feels he should know how to do without help. A little insecure, are we? The article touches on some serious problems most of us will encounter under serious stress,-i.e, we’re not prepared for this because we do not have, or more correctly, take the time to train like Ox is suggesting. I do believe that all of the above will happen under stress, and this is important for us lay persons to at least become familiar with these visceral reactions. I definitely would not like to have you in a class I was taking as you would disrupt the rest of us from learning as you attempt to over shadow the instructor with your superior knowledge. Write a book, or find another way to draw attention. This is serious stuff.

  • Marcus Pickett

    Reply Reply November 14, 2015

    I like to shoot with the lights out too. The thought that attacks happen in low- light situations has me going to the range shooting under conditions that might just roll over into settings that mirror an attack. I dry- fire in low- light situations. Target practice under stress in a stall. All of the take aways for shooting, I want. It helps to want to be out on an outdoor range. Fat chance for many of us. We will be attacked at our cars, or driveways, or at the front doors. Practice hard. Practice safe. 1,2,6, or 8″ groups will only put us in an urgency to make messes. That is how most CCW owners live. Never the right moment, nor the right time. Just a hail to violence. Unprovoked violence, at however many yards, or however type of previous training or preparedness.

  • Trevor

    Reply Reply November 13, 2015

    I like a lot of your articles. This one however is filled with so many logical failures and false statements that I think you ought to scrap the article or consider a different approach.

    “Oftentimes, the same training that teaches that 8” groups in training are adequate teach that you should fire 2 rounds to center-of-mass and, if that doesn’t stop the threat, to shoot one round to the head.” Really? I don’t know any professional trainers that actually teach the two in one drill. It’s as stupid as the double tap. Sure if you want to murder people it will work, but how many actual recorded uses of it are there. I would say nearly zero. You are going to have to have a pause in high brain mode to switch from the body to the head in the misddle of an engagement. Not likely. Not to mention you are combining two unrelated things.

    The problem is, movement, stress, speed, and unstable shooting positions will cause your shot groups in a surprise self-defense situation to be AT LEAST twice as big as your groups in practice.- this is something I keep hearing you repeat. It is totally without merit and has not been studied. It’s folklore. Show me the study. Because some gun guru said it one time doesn’t mean that it is true or widely believed.

    Shooting one hole groups is proof that you can control patience and emotions when you are not being shot at only. You totally miss the massive contextual difference. Not even close. Any low level professor of motor learning will tell you that your statement involves an unrelated context and is therefore not valid to the discussion.

    “the better you can shoot a one hole group means you can better control your stress under a surprise attack?” You took it to another level with that one. Can you show me the study on that as well? Your comments are unsupported and not in compliance with the most basic well know. Concepts of motor learning, transfer, and specificity. Don’t even post this response. I would rather have you just take that horrible article down and re-write saying you need to practice both because you might need either one depending on the context of the gunfight.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply November 13, 2015

      Hey Trevor, thanks for taking the time to comment and I’d be happy to respond and fill in the gaps.

      1. Trainers from coast to coast are still teaching the failure drill/2 to the body, 1 to the head/Mozambique. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of shooters have been taught it at one time or another. I can argue both sides of the argument and understand your frustration with it, but what you and I think doesn’t change the fact that it’s widely taught. That’s not the point here. What’s important is to step back and think about what kind of a situation you’re in if you put 2 rounds on the body and the attacker is still a threat.

      2. As to groups being twice as big in a surprise shooting than in practice…I’m not sure how to respond to that. The reality is that for MOST shooters, their groups open up way more than 2x. 2x is believable, so that’s the number I use. I see this continually in force on force, timed drills, and competition and, honestly, you’re the first person I’ve ever heard say it was wrong. You’re not the first person to question it, but you’re the first person to take the next step and say it’s incorrect.

      The phenomenon DOES affect some shooters more than others. There’s a decrease in cognitive function in a surprise stress situation, but different people are affected differently by the same “stressful” event. Some shooters only train static and are inefficient when they add movement. Some shooters don’t have the fine stabilizing muscles of the shoulder and other joint developed to keep the gun steady during movement. Some people have un-synched visual and vestibular systems and aim differently when they are stationary vs. when they move. Some people always use their sights during practice, but don’t have neural pathways developed so that the gun always comes up in perfect alignment. When they bring the gun up in a stressful situation, don’t use the sights, and the sights aren’t aligned where they think they are, misses happen.

      These are just a few of the factors that cause groups to open up under stress compared to traditional range training…there’s a LOT more…light, noise, dynamics of the eye, lack of visual patience, lack of unconscious trigger finger isolation, etc.

      3. I completely understand your argument about controlling patience and emotion and your frustration with what I said. This isn’t about motor learning. It’s about the fact that if you’ve been shooting for any length of time, your body associates shooting with a cocktail of neuro transmitters and endorphins being released. Once your body expects them, it gets upset if it doesn’t get them. It releases cortisol. It’s a MINOR form of withdrawl. Being behind the curve in a fight also releases cortisol. The gun releasing the shot promises to stop the cortisol release, so it gets increasingly uncomfortable to do anything but mash the damn trigger with frantic urgency.

      Let me step aside for a second and approach it from a different direction…then I’ll bring it all together.

      There’s a test that scientists have been doing with kids since the late 60s and early 70s that I still use today. You give kids a marshmellow with the promise that if it’s in one piece at the end of a half hour, they’ll get 2. (or 3 or 5) When they see the marshmellow, they start getting excited anticipation. This quickly turns to cortisol when the neuro transmitters that the brain expects to be released by eating the marshmellow don’t come. Over the last 30+ years, scientists have found this test to be one of the best indicators of success in adulthood–the ability to defer gratification. The ability to ignore cortisol and do the right thing. It’s one of the basis for all special operations training…how much suck can you handle?

      Coming back around, this skill/ability can be developed and enhanced in 3 ways…

      1. The more time you spend in alpha brainwave state (calm, flow state, in the zone), the more resistant your mind is to releasing cortisol and over-releasing adrenaline when you encounter a situation that triggers an adrenal (adrenaline & cortisol) release.

      2. If you do stress inoculation in a way that gives you successful outcomes in increasingly stressful situations, your adrenals won’t over-respond as often.

      3. If you train your brain to be comfortable with cortisol AND lengthen the expected feedback loop between action and reward (delayed gratification) you will be able to perform at higher levels at high levels of stress. If you’ve done long distance underwater swimming or free diving, you’re familiar with this process.

      On your last paragraph…again, we’re talking about 2 different things. It’s not about motor learning as much as it is about emotional control and state control. BUT, emotional control and state control will improve both the speed at which you learn motor skills and how accurately you perform them under stress.

      3 places you can go to read more on what I’m talking about are,,

      I am posting your response. You asked valid questions and I’m glad you asked them rather than just sulking and going away mad. If I’m wrong or ineffective in communicating, I’d rather fix it than leave something incorrect out there for people to read.

      • Jess

        Reply Reply November 17, 2015

        1. Thanks for your blog! I learn so much from it and it’s always logical and well thought out.
        2. I was taught the 2 to chest, 1 to head idea. This is the first time I’ve heard it is questionable. Could you elaborate or direct me to a place where I can learn why it’s not wise? Thanks.

        • Ox

          Reply Reply November 17, 2015

          Hey Jess,

          It all depends on the dynamics of the situation. This is my personal thoughts and just food for thought. Don’t take it as what you should do.

          A lot of my tactics are based on personal experience with force on force and from feedback/after-action from people who’ve been in firefights. That causes some of my conclusions to be more complicated, because they’re situational.

          As an example, if someone was charging at me, I would keep trying to drill rounds through their chest with the goal of hitting their spine. (I visualize targets as if I have x-ray vision and aim for a specific point inside their body instead of aiming “center-mass”) I wouldn’t shoot 2, assess, and then transition to the head. Again, this is because a head shot isn’t an instant stop. Roughly half of the head is a bad target. Only 1/4 of the remaining half is a guaranteed instant stop. And, it’s moving.

          If I was behind cover (behind a car) and my attacker was stationary (with a gun on the other side of the car) and I got a reaction with the first 2 rounds, and he was temporarily dazed but still a threat, I might transition to the head.

          Is 2 to the body, 1 to the head bad? Absolutely not. It’s a proven technique to train. There’s no reason to stop practicing it. I’ve just found that there are situations where I’m better trying to drill 2-3 more shots through to the spine than take the time to transition and take a precision shot to the bridge of the nose.

          • Firewagon

            June 7, 2016

            Hey Ox, have not read what your thoughts might be about changing the “area of attack” from two to CM one to the head op, to possibly two to CM that fails, and going ‘lower’ to the hip/groin area for those next attempts. In other words, affect the attacker’s ‘mobile’ ability? Hip/groin area is also much larger than that walnut you refer to – and not nearly as protected as the head!

  • Bill

    Reply Reply November 13, 2015

    I always turn out the lights on the range when shooting pistols. More likely to need to shoot in limited light in an emergency.

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