The myth of “Point” or “Instinctive” shooting

I got a great question/comment on Facebook today and I wanted to share it, and my response, with you…


I talked some with Stephen…he has real world experience stopping lethal force threats with a pistol.  But he had 10s of thousands of rounds of practice ammo provided for him that allowed him to develop the ability to shoot…it wasn’t something he was born being able to do.

The fact is that there are 4 major reasons why your ability to shoot a pistol accurately has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to point.

It’s a myth.

It’s a false belief system that many use to justify not practicing, but one that will bite them in the butt if they ever have to perform with a pistol in a high stress situation.

But there are solid, proven ways to either use your sights subconsciously (faster than consciously) or to line up your sights with your intended target without having to use your eyes.

It’s important to note that there are a couple of definitions of “instinctive.”

“Instinctive” can mean that you’re born with the skill or “instinctive” can simply mean that you’re executing a skill subconsciously.

It is not possible to shoot a pistol at a high level under stress with inborn ability.

It absolutely IS possible to shoot a pistol at a high level under stress subconsciously after a high volume of deliberate practice.

Here is my response to Stephen:

I understand why you might think that, but it’s a common myth that pointing your finger has anything to do with shooting a pistol accurately.

This is a really important thing to understand, and there are 4 major reasons why “instinctive/inborn,” or “point” shooting is a myth.  They are vertical offset, horizontal offset from an inconsistent grip, isometric tension and trigger finger isolation, and recoil management.

First, please do me a favor…hold an unloaded pistol in your left hand, gripping the slide, with the muzzle pointed away from you in a safe direction.

Now pick a target with a safe backstop and point at it with your right index finger.

Without moving your index finger at all, open your grip and put your unloaded pistol into your hand, and re-grip it.

Again, without moving your index finger at all, look where the sights of your pistol are pointed.

A proper grip on your pistol will have your finger pointing higher than the barrel when you’re indexing and lower than the barrel when you’re finger is on the trigger.

This means that if you use your “instinctive/inborn” finger pointing to aim a pistol, your shots will consistently sail over the top of whatever you want to shoot.

Your finger and the barrel should never be parallel while shooting.  If they are, it means that the webbing of your hand between your thumb and index finger aren’t as high as they should be on the backstrap of the pistol and you’re going to experience many times more felt recoil than you should.

Second, even if your vertical alignment is correct, gripping the gun is not “instinctive/inborn” and just a few degrees of rotation will cause misses on man-sized targets at ranges as close as 10-20 feet.  (This is the hand-eye coordination issue he mentioned)

Third, even if your vertical alignment of the muzzle is parallel with your finger and your grip is perfect, holding isometric tension with 3 fingers and your thumb while pressing your index finger straight back without disturbing the sights…knowing that the end result will be an explosion 18” from your face, is not an “instinctive/inborn” behavior.  It’s learned.

And, fourth, since almost no threat is stopped in a timely manner by a single pistol round, you’re going to need to have a grip that automatically brings your sights back into perfect alignment for subsequent shots…again, this is something that’s not “instinctive/inborn.”  It’s developed through deliberate practice.

In short, there is no such thing as instinctive/inborn shooting as it’s popularly understood.  Nobody is born with the ability to shoot a pistol well, and it’s not something that you can learn in a day and expect to use with any success in the future unless you do continual deliberate practice…and that’s kind of the opposite of “instinctive/inborn.”

A parallel example would be throwing a football.  Some people pick hand-eye activities faster than others, but nobody can consistently stand in the pocket while being blitzed from multiple directions and hit a receiver 30 yards down field who’s being double covered based on “instinct” alone.  It takes lots and lots of deliberate practice.

There IS such a thing as being able to put fast, accurate rounds on target without visually lining up the sights and focusing on the front sight, but that’s the result of a highly developed cybernetic loop and has absolutely nothing to do with “instinct.”

There IS a straight forward process to develop this ability through deliberate practice on your sighted shooting…

  1. Practice your grip until it is exactly the way you want it and exactly the same, every time.
  2. Practice your presentation so that your sights automatically come up into perfect alignment between your dominant eye and your intended target every time. At some point, you’ll transition from using your eyes to line up your sights to simply using your eyes to verify sight alignment.Once you know, from repeated validation, that your sights are going to be lined up with your intended target, you can put fast, accurate rounds on target…even in situations where your eyes aren’t able to shift focus to the front sight.

This is not “instinctive/inborn” shooting or “point” shooting…it’s simply the natural result of doing deliberate practice and building high quality muscle memory.

Back to the cybernetic loop…a cybernetic loop is a feedback and reaction loop.  In the case of shooting, your eyes, arms, and hands are continually assessing and adjusting alignment of the gun with your intended target from the time the gun leaves the holster until you are done shooting.

It involves coordination between your visual system, vestibular system (inner ear), proprioceptive system (where you are in space), and the major and supporting muscles of the arms & hands and even the muscles of the eye.

In a self-defense situation, all of this coordination/action has to happen instantly, automatically, reflexively, as a conditioned response.  There’s no time to think through the process like you can when you’re shooting paper or plinking.

And the absolute best way to develop your grip, extension, trigger press, and visual skills necessary to be able to put fast, accurate rounds on target in a high stress situation is the 21 Day Alpha Shooter at-home study course.  It costs less than a single trip to the range, it’s more effective than just doing live fire practice, and you can find out more about it right now by going >HERE<

Questions?  Comments?  Please share them below.


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  • Greg P

    Reply Reply July 9, 2020

    I”m not sure that you understand the concept of instinctive fire. This concept comes from the book Kill Or Get Killed originally written in 1976 by Lieutenant Colonel Rex Applegate, USA (Ret), and used by the US Marine Corps and later adopted by the newly formed Delta Force as the basis for close-in combat shooting. Chapter five, Combat Use Of The Hand Gun, deals with instinctive fire: essentially it takes into consideration the physiological reactions of a stressful life-or-death situation and the inherent inaccuracies of grip and pistol design, thus allowing the shooter to compensate for those stress-induced and inherent inaccuracies, including those you have mentioned in your article, Instinctive fire has nothing to do with inherent ability but rather teaches the shooter to fire instinctively under extreme duress.

    Many individuals who learn to target shoot focusing on the front sight, including military and law enforcement, not to mention the average shooter, cannot hit anything in a combat situation because the natural reaction is to focus on the threat not the sight picture. That is why a LEO or soldier who may have a tight shot grouping on the range can still fail to hit a deadly opponent in a gunfight. The concept of instinctive fire teaches the shooter to focus on the target, which is where the eyes will be drawn in a high-stress situation, as opposed to the sight picture. That way, in combat, the shooter, who will instinctively be looking at the target, will now effectively engage the target because all of the training intersects precisely with the real world situation. The shooter, now focused on the target not the sight picture, will have instinctively engaged the target.

    Effectively learned and trained on, instinctive fire effectively compensates for and trains through the inherent inaccuracies of the chosen firearm, the shooter’s grip, and the unavoidable physiological responses of a high-stress situation. Instinctive fire requires more practice, not less. However, the results make John Wick look like an ammeter (and he’s fictional). SFOD operators do not dink around with sight pictures when clearing a room – before they have slapped the trigger the second time on the double tap, they already know where the rounds are headed and are searching for the next target. Incidentally, focusing on targets not the sight picture allows the shooter to process acquired target data; are you aiming at a hostile or a friendly? If you want to shoot accurately in a high-stress environment, you will learn the principles of instinctive fire, including how to slap the trigger; if you want to to shoot extremely tight shot groups on a paper target, then sight picture and squeezing the trigger are what you should focus on – it all depends on your desired results.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply July 9, 2020

      Thanks for your comment. I’m incredibly familiar with it and teach unsighted shooting…in it’s proper context. Instinctive shooting is horribly misunderstood and I spend a tremendous amount of time fixing training scars created by improperly taught instinctive shooting. The training was cutting edge for Applegate’s time…when sights were minimal or non-existent…but just as ammo and defensive pistol design has improved dramatically in the last several decades, so has technique and our ability to collect and analyze information from shootings/shooters across the country and around the globe.

      I agree that many who learn to target shoot focusing on the front sight can’t hit anything in combat. I also know that many who learn to shoot instinctively can not hit anything in combat either…and regularly completely miss paper targets at IDPA and USPSA matches. Furthermore, a typical member of the military is not proficient with a pistol and a typical law enforcement officer shoots 100 rounds per year or less. As Force Science showed, (and I share at ) officers are trained in such a way in the academy that they lose the vast majority of their ability to perform at a high level within weeks of graduating the academy (unless they do frequent sustainment training)

      The fact is, there is nothing instinctive about shooting, unless we redefine the word instinctive. It is a complex motor skill that is highly perishable and involves precise integration between the visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems that most shooters don’t know they need and don’t have without effort. I cover this in depth in the presentation.

      Done correctly, unsighted shooting is a natural byproduct of sighted shooting and sighted shooting must be taught first and continually trained in order to be able to revert to using the sights in situations under stress where unsighted shooting isn’t getting the job done.

      I understand your last sentence in light of traditional teaching & training methods, but the limitations that you referred to are no longer accurate or applicable with a training model that is focused on the neurology of training complex motor skills that you want to be able to use at a high level under extreme stress. (That is why current and former Tier 1 operators & instructors come to me when they want to break through plateaus.) Sighted shooting, unsighted shooting, slapping the trigger, tight groups, high stress performance, and high speed all go together…they are not either/ors anymore. When a shooter trains with an either/or mentality, they severely limit their potential, but when they’re all trained together, the results are better than what you mentioned in a fraction of the time that it used to take.

      I strongly encourage you to check out the 2 presentations. I can tell that you’re a serious shooter and our neurological approach combined with what you already know has the potential to help you make some very fast jumps in performance that just aren’t possible with traditional training methods.

  • Ken Callaway

    Reply Reply March 24, 2017

    I am retired and now a full time 68 year old minister on social security only, which is a low income. My son is a Texas Ranger, PLUS he is on their SWAT team. I can still out shoot him dove hunting with a 20ga. while he shoots a 12ga, but can’t touch him with a pistol or AR because of his extensive training! With that being said, he teaches a bunch of rich guys from time to time but doesn’t take me because he knows that shooting a pistol WAS never my thing, SO I am practicing with everything y’all send out that is free like you did today and I just want to thank you! I practice as much as I can with my (EMPTY) concealed Sig 9mm for close range self defense, but I sold my golf cart and used the funds to buy a (again) a 9mm M&P “Performance Center” and put a Red Dot that I can also use the factory sights as well, like my son fixed me up with my AR. I’m telling you this because I want to go with him and not be a big time nervous-novice, so again thank you for the free stuff!! Just thought you would like to know one of your “free-loaders”!?!

    • Ox

      Reply Reply March 24, 2017

      Hey Ken, sounds like we’re family 🙂 I’m sending you an email…stay frosty and thanks for doing what you do and evidently being a great dad.

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