Why “point shooting” doesn’t/does work…

I get into frequent discussions with shooters and instructors on the merits of sighted shooting vs. point shooting.

Now, to be clear, I teach that there’s a time for both and teach a blended approach that let’s shooters seamlessly and effortlessly switch back and forth, but this isn’t something you can just decide you’re going to do…it takes deliberate practice.

The big argument against sighted shooting is that it’s too slow…which can be largely, but not completely mitigated with vision training.  Besides retention issues and the fact that you probably can’t get a sight picture on a threat within 3-6 feet, it’s a basic law of physics that it’s quicker to shoot when your gun is on the way out to full extension than waiting until it’s at full extension.

The big argument against point shooting is that it’s not accurate or predictable enough.

But, at the same time, countless instructors claim—and demonstrate–that point shooting IS accurate and predictable by shooting shotgun shells, 9mm brass, and coins out of the air–all without using their sights.

And thousands of students have taken point shooting classes and shot like rock stars by the end of the class.

So…what’s going on?  Why is there any debate or disagreement?

Try this little experiment with me…

Most people have had a pointer finger attached since birth, and feel pretty darn confident in their ability to point.

So, right now, pick switch on the wall, a screw/nail head, a book on a bookshelf, hinge on a door, or something else 10-20 feet away that you can point at.

Try the drill both standing and sitting and see if there’s a difference…a lot of times, people will do better sitting than standing, because of the added challenge of balance.

With your hands by your side or in front of your chest, slowly extend your shooting arm/finger out so that you’re pointing at and covering the switch/object you picked.  (your finger will be between your dominant eye and the switch/object.  Your non-dominant eye will still be able to see the switch/object.)

Repeat this 3-5 times until you are confident you could do it with your eyes shut or with the lights off.

Now, with your hands by your side or in front of your chest, shut your eyes, extend and point where you think the switch is.  Open your eyes.

Are you dead-on?  Then you have a much better than average chance of making first hits on target with point shooting, but keep in mind that with this drill, you’re aligning 1 point (the end of your finger) with the target and with a firearm, you’re aligning 2 points (the front and back of the slide) with the target.

Are you high/low/right/left?  Then you’d probably miss in that same direction if you tried making a cold shot with point shooting.

Are you off a lot?  That’s part of why people regularly shoot 2, 5, or more shots at attackers who are only feet away and miss with every round.

How’s that even possible?

When you’re pointing in a low stress situation with your eyes open, your brain is constantly adjusting and correcting as you extend your arm.

Your brain is getting immediate feedback of where you’re pointing and your brain self-corrects on the fly…like a servo.

The same thing happens when you practice dry fire with a laser, live fire against a dirt berm or on a target where you can see where you hit.

It’s called a cybernetic loop.  (cybernetics is a fancy–but not new–word for a self-correcting loop.  The concept has been around since Plato, Ampre and comes from the Greek word kubernetes…which is a name for a self-correcting rudder on a ship.)

When shooting, your brain sees where you’re hitting, and makes minor adjustments between shots to get you on target—creating a self-correcting loop.

This also serves to calibrate and synchronize your visual system, your balance/vestibular system, and your proprioceptive system…or your brain’s awareness of where your body is in space.  When they’re all working together, point shooting is natural, easy, and it’s normal to think that everyone should be able to do it.

It usually doesn’t take too many reps to get dialed in…and then the gun seems to aim itself.

When it’s working, it’s F A S T, accurate, and pretty amazing.  There’s a tendency to think that if you can do it at the end of a range session, you’ll be able to do it on-demand with a first shot when lives depend on it.

The problem is, it’s an incredibly perishable skill.

In a point shooting class, shooters will oftentimes have to “warm up” again after lunch and at the beginning of each day to be accurate again.

But, by the end of each day, performance levels are oftentimes unbelievable and confidence levels are through the roof.

The problem comes in with shooting situations where you don’t get to warm up first…or when you aren’t putting 40,000, 50,000 or more rounds downrange per year and constantly refining the skill.

Or when you can’t see where your hits are going…like in a self-defense situation…and can’t take advantage of that self-correction process.

Or when you need to make a precision shot…like a hostage situation, or someone behind partial cover, or a distant target.

If your visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems are all working together at that moment in time, then you’ll get your hits.

If not, you are probably looking at ineffective hits or misses.

So, when you see some youtoober saying that you don’t need to aim and then demonstrating THEIR ability to point shoot…take it with a grain of salt.  Don’t use it as an excuse for not training.

What’s happening is that, when you start pushing speed with sighted shooting, your sights are going to naturally start being in alignment with the target sooner in the shooting process and you get “point shooting” as a bonus skill.

For someone shooting every day or a few times a week, they’re going to get better at point shooting regardless of whether they practice sighted shooting or point shooting.

And it’s going to seem like point shooting is natural…but that’s only because of the reps they did in advance…not because of some natural ability to point.

As my friend and fellow instructor, Dusty Solomon has exhaustively tested and written about, if you start with point shooting…because of the fact that it’s easier for the brain to do…it’s very hard to switch from point shooting to sighted shooting.  The brain is going to want to default to the method that takes less effort…even if it results in more misses, so it’s vital that you start with sighted shooting.

Now, there are several techniques that I teach for integrating point and sighted shooting in Draw Stroke Mastery and  Praxis that will cut the overall amount of time you need to practice, but here’s one to keep in mind:

When you’re practicing…if you decide to point shoot…begin disciplining yourself to either transition to sighted fire for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th shot OR make sure to get a sight picture before you bring your pistol back in from full extension.

So, the way this sometimes plays out is like this…if the backstop and situation (lack of no-shoot targets) make point shooting a viable option and you’ve decided that you’re going to point shoot to get a round on target faster, discipline yourself to try to get a sight picture for the 2nd shot.  If you don’t get it by the 2nd shot, get it by the 3rd shot.  If you are done shooting before your eyes catch up, let your eyes catch up and get a sight picture before coming back to high-ready and reholstering.

But what are your thoughts?

What is your preferred method of shooting?  If you do both, how do you integrate and switch between the two?  Share your thoughts & questions by commenting below:

 

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5 Comments

  • Arne

    Reply Reply August 17, 2019

    This explains why one instructor says that Point Shooting is what you to do to get time to get to your sights. Just like you pointed out, this instructor shows point shooting ability as a bonus to the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship.

  • Brian Sandman

    Reply Reply August 16, 2019

    At Camp X in Oshawa -Ontario Point Shooting was taught.
    My father graduated from there while serving active duty with the LARDG as a Gunnery Sgt.

    At the Smith & Wesson Academy (Instructor School) we had Charles Smith (Retired FBI Weapons Supervisor) train us in Point Shooting. Many specific corrective actions are left out in Modern renditions of Point Shooting that allow for continued accurate Fire and impact zones.
    The worst one is the failure to triangulate the elbow with the bodies
    centerline. Yes I had a problem with the shot placement until Charles smith gave me advice on how-to use the triangulation and proper extension of the weapon into your peripheral vision to align the muzzle and provide adjustment feedback to your brain.

    Point Shooting works when based on the practical demonstration plus understanding of the body mechanics. I enjoyed reading your article
    yet could show you the proper technique so the placement works every time.

    It would be amazing to show this in person for a understanding of the original method taught. I know for some reason this is taught via hands-on word of mouth.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply August 16, 2019

      Thank you for sharing, Brian. I’ve been fortunate to train with some incredible point shooters and I use and teach point shooting when appropriate. When I’m making 1 second hits from the holster, I use the sights, but when I’m shooting faster than .9, I point shoot my first shot and use the sights for the 2nd and subsequent shots. This time cutoff varies depending on the shooter…but it’s critical to identify it before spending too much time point shooting. You don’t have to identify it by time nearly as much as you need to identify it by feel & urgency and one of the best feedback tools for this is doing force-on-force training where you get immediate, tangible feedback on the balance of speed & accuracy.

      Keep in mind that if point shooting isn’t learned and practiced in it’s proper place in relation to sighted shooting, all sorts of problems and gaps in performance pop up.

      Remember…if you practice sighted shooting correctly, you’ll get point shooting skills as an added benefit. If you focus on point shooting, though, you won’t be able to manufacture the ability to use the sights under stress.

      But, I agree, I would enjoy seeing your method.

  • Michael

    Reply Reply August 16, 2019

    Single hand shooting is what I think you as the author are talking about,right? Sight alignment is important on a running target if he/she/it is shouting back and you hopefully are partially in cover if not you gotta do what you got to do,in the open, when,you want to make it count, with other objects,that are in the background,you do not want to destroy and of course,as the target gets farther away,then the science of a shrinking target or vanishing point takes over the Opportunity to make that shot count.Point shooting is very reliable when you are at least 10 to 7 and 5 and 3 yard’ where most CCW laws to qualify are taught in a defense class,where most 1 on 1 conflict begins.The old saying is seconds count as time goes by.In my learning experiences with a lot of video shooting scenarios,on dvd and online it’s tenths of second on the trigger,So pull it out and point at center mass to stop the threat,it can be to the bowl to the heart/chest and if the target is still moving,then you have time to use both hands,then the last shot should be with sight alignment,to the head

    • Ox

      Reply Reply August 16, 2019

      Point shooting can be done with one or two hands.

      I do have to take issue with your statement that point shooting is very reliable at 5, 7, and 10 yards out. Law enforcement shooting statistics for the last 20+ years prove otherwise, as well as numerous studies. It CAN be correct, but it takes thousands of rounds of practice per month to make it a reality…and then, in a real world situation, if you miss…how do you know and how do you correct if you haven’t trained yourself to transition to the sights?

      As to speed…for most shooters, the speed that you WANT to make up by point shooting is lost with inefficiencies in their draw stroke, slow threat identification, a lag in response time, and 1 or more misses before a first hit is finally made. And all of those take WAY more time than the time that it takes to use your sights.

      You see, for many, point shooting is a crutch to justify practicing less often…in reality it requires you to practice MORE often. And when people use point shooting to justify practicing less, other problems creep in…like getting caught up in cover, a bad grip, mashing the trigger, and flinching.

      So, if you want to be really good at point shooting…effective in life & death situations…I’d suggest that you spend the time to dial in your sighted shooting.

      And, again…if situations warrant, maybe you do need to point shoot your first shot or two, but you want to discipline yourself to create the time and space necessary to transition to getting a sight picture…even if it’s just a followup sight picture.

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