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The Forgotten Third Component

From John Mosby’s “Mountain Guerilla Blog” the other day: 

“… there are really only TWO fundamentals to hitting what you are trying to hit, when firing a gun: you need a valid sight picture (including sight alignment), and you need to be able to break the trigger, without disturbing that sight picture [trigger control].”

Those of you who know me know that I disagree with this simplification. I don’t disagree with it because I think sight picture and trigger control aren’t fundamentals of handgun shooting, because they manifestly are.  What I disagree with is the idea that they are the only fundamentals. 

Look: I learned pistol fundamentals the old school way. I joined a rifle & pistol club, joined the National Match pistol league, bought a .22 rimfire target pistol, and learned how to shoot Bullseye. The man who taught me almost everything I needed to know about pistol shooting was a senior member of that club named Joe Galica. Joe was a retired Navy man, a CPO, and he had been on the Navy Pistol Team for most of his military career. Joe was a phenomenal pistol shooter, even then, years after his retirement from competition, but that’s not the point; the point was that Joe taught me about sight picture and trigger control, and I did my level best to learn them from him. 

“Pistol shooting is easy,” Joe would say, puffing on his corncob pipe at the bar after each match. “You only need to master two things: sight picture and trigger control.” 

Ha, ha, ha. Easy my ass. I shot thousands and thousands of rounds of Eley .22 Long Rifle target ammo trying to master those fundamentals, and I can’t say that I ever gained true mastery. Sure, I became a pretty consistent 285-290 score National Match shooter, but that’s not mastery. Mastery is beoming a consistent 299-300 score shooter, and I simply didn’t have the talent and coordination to be that guy. But I must admit I got pretty good. 

The problem with Joe’s simplification–like Mosby’s simplification, as quoted above–is that in National Match target shooting, the place you want your bullets to go is clearly defined. It’s the little white X in the middle of the 10-ring. Everybody knows it, so nobody talks about it, and we all proceed as if knowing where you want your bullets to go is a non-issue. Which is fine when you’re shooting paper targets, or steel plates, or anything else that doesn’t live and breathe. 

But when your target lives and breathes and moves, and presents itself at different angles and elevations, like a deer or a buffalo, knowing where to put your bullets suddenly is no longer a non-issue… you have to know where the bullets need to go to kill the animal so you can take him home and eat him. Or, in the case of a buffalo, or other dangerous game, you need to know where the bullets go so the animal doesn’t kill you.

The latter case matters even more when your target isn’t an animal, but a human being who is intent on killing you. If you don’t put your bullets into his vital target anatomy so as to bring about rapid incapacitation, he may well continue or accelerate his felonious actions to as to incapacitate you with extreme prejudice. 

Just because we aren’t shooting at a Bullseye target when we are in a gunfight doesn’t mean that we don’t need to know where the bullets need to go. Yes, it’s more complicated than shooting black and white circles on a buff piece of paper. But it’s not rocket science, anyone can learn it if they take the trouble to learn.

So my version of Mosby’s axiom would go something like this:  There are THREE  fundamentals to hitting what you are trying to hit, when firing a gun: 1) you need to know WHAT you are trying to hit, and where it is in the body of your opponent from any angle of presentation, 2) you need a valid sight picture (including sight alignment), and 3) you need to be able to break the trigger, without disturbing that sight picture.

Point Number One is what Tactical Anatomy Systems’ Shooting With Xray Vision class is all about. You need to know where to shoot the bad guy to bring the armed encounter to a rapid conclusion. You must incapacitate your opponent before he incapacitates you. 

Now, I’ve had people argue against my position. I even once had an instructor–a very hi-speed, lo-drag, way-cool “operator”–contradict me in his range class at a national firearms trainer conference. Erik’s position was that he didn’t care about his opponent’s anatomy, he was just going to shoot the “center of mass” of whatever part of his opponent was visible. Mind you, he was teaching a combat carbine class, and I will concede that precision shot placement is somewhat less critical when you’re firing rifle rounds through a select-fire carbine. The energy of a 5.56mm or 7.62mm rifle round is measured in the thousands of foot-pounds, whereas pistol rounds’ energy is measured in hundreds. The need for precision shooting with a handgun is much, much more immediate than with a rifle. 

SXRV was and is intended to be taken primarily as a pistol class. It was developed to meet the needs of tactical and defensive shooters, police and non-sworn civilians, not military operators or riflemen. 

So let’s be clear. If you’re carrying a pistol for personal protection, you need to be able to perform all 3 fundamentals of pistol shooting to an acceptable standard, at any time, in any place, with little or no notice prior to the event. You’ll also probably need to be able to do a whole bunch of other things, like draw your weapon quickly and cleanly, and after you successfully neutralize the threat, you’ll need to know how to deal with the aftermath. 

You can learn 2 of the 3 fundamentals by taking a basic pistol class, but mastering them will take thousands and thousands of rounds. If you’re serious about defending yourself and your family, you have an obligation to shoot all of those rounds, and keep shooting them as long as you intend to continue in this mindset. 

But to learn the third fundamental, you’ll need to learn the SXRV curriculum. You can learn it from my book, or from someone who’s taken my class, but don’t just assume you “know” where to shoot your opponent. I’m amazed at the anatomic “knowledge” many of my students think they have before they take SXRV. 

Now, once you’ve got the 3 fundamentals under your belt, let me reiterate my position from a previous blog entry: you need to take some gunfighting classes (try Thunder Ranch or Tom Givens, among many others), and you need to take some Aftermath classes (nobody does this better than Massad Ayoob in his MAG-40 class).

Train the way you expect to fight, for you will surely fight the way you have trained.