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The Soulis Incident, and the Myth of Center Mass

This article from popped up on my Facebook feed this morning, and it struck me as important in more ways than one:

To summarize: bad guy in a car, cop decided he was a suspicious person and went to investigate; stuff went sideways, lots of shots were fired, cop was hit 3-4 times, bad guy was hit 22 (Twenty-Two) times with 40 caliber bullets and eventually succumbed.

For you coppers who follow my stuff, this may have some lessons for you in your continuing upgrade of your felony carstop/vehicle approach tactics, so look it over carefully. For everybody else, there are some terminal ballistics/effects lessons here that need to be understood.

First thing: the author of this piece, Brian McKenna, is a guy I’ve read before and I think he does a pretty good job. He’s a good writer and a former street cop with some real experience behind him.

Second thing, and to my mind, the most important thing: Brian uses terms like center chest and Center Mass like they are actually meaningful. Saying “Center Mass” sounds cool… it has the sound of the expert about it, I guess. But these terms are ANYthing but meaningful. They are not clearly defined, not clearly understood, and the result of this is that good people are getting injured and killed.

That’s right, I said it: if you persist in teaching your people to shoot “center mass”, YOU are contributing to a training scar that is going to get good cops/armed citizens KILLED.

I have multiple cases in my files that illlustrate this problem. Every one of my SXRV students for the past 10 years has seen my breakdown of the Pennsylvania OIS where the scumbag cop-ambusher absorbed nearly 22 police bullets (17 rounds of .223 and 5 rounds of 40 S&W) before he finally went down. So every one of my SXRV students knows that by shooting for Center Mass the coppers in that incident experienced a failure that resulted in the wounding and permanent disability of one of them, and could have led to their deaths. The FBI broke down the gunfight at the request of the Agency in question, and to no one’s surprise, they blamed the ammunition for the bad outcome of that fight. (The actual blame should have been placed squarely on the Agency’s firearms training program for failing to train their officers appropriately, but that would have been embarassing. It’s easier to blame ammo, since ammo doesn’t have feelings to get hurt or a career to get sidetracked.)

But it wasn’t bad ammo. The ammunition performed as it was designed to do, and the FBI proved this. It was bad shooting, which wasn’t the cops’ fault, because they had received faulty training. Despite the fact that Tactical Anatomy Systems and other trainers have been training cops on anatomically effective target acquisition for more than 20 years, the majority of cops and LE firearms instructors are still propagating the same old Center Mass bullshit.

And bullshit it is. Don’t believe me? Get you copy of Gray’s Anatomy out and look up Center Mass in the index. (What? It’s not there?!? How could that be?) Center Mass isn’t a place, or an anatomic structure, or a physiological zone of incapacitation. Center Mass is a bullshit police trainer term that means nothing more than “shoot them somewhere in the middle”. People use it to sound cool, like they know what they’re talking about, like they’re experts. It’s not just a bullshit term, folks: it’s a term better suited to use by posers than by actual trainers.

Here’s an interesting story: in my early years of teaching Tactical Anatomy, I would ask class members to write down their definition of Center Mass on a piece of paper and hand it in. I stopped doing it after a couple classes, because the results were predictable. No one could define Center Mass with any precision, and the average answer basically came down to “in the middle”.

Twenty years into this training business I am still amazed that people think it’s OK to just teach their students to shoot an armed opponent in this manner. “Oh, don’t worry about it, just shoot somewhere in the middle. You’ll be fine.” (Poser.)

If you were to walk into the bar in any hunting town in Zimbabwe or Mozambique, order up a Pimm’s with ginger, and then tell the assemblage of African dangerous game hunters that it’s OK to just shoot a Cape Buffalo “somewhere in the middle”, you’d be laughed out of the saloon, chum. DG hunters know that when you’re trying to kill something that could very easily kill you, it is essential that you put your bullets where that dangerous creature’s life depends: the heart/great vessels, the spine, or the brain. Failure to do so will not only fail to incapacitate the beast, it just might enrage him and cause an attack on your person that you very likely won’t survive.

Yet law enforcement trainers persist in telling cops that they can shoot an armed and dangerous felon–arguably the most dangerous of dangerous game on Earth–“anywhere in the middle” and expect a good outcome!!

How has this become acceptable practice? In fact, how does this not constitute malpractice? We are arming our police with deadly implements, teaching them the law of the application of those implements, then failing to teach them where their bullets need to be placed, with precision, in order to carry out their lawful duty in the most effective and efficient manner possible!

If YOU are a deadly force firearms instructor and you are doing this, I submit that you are committing malpractice. You are creating a training scar in your students that might get them killed.

I’ve had police firearms instructors tell me that teaching their people where to shoot the bad guy is ridiculous. “They’ll be so fired up in a gunfight, they’ll be lucky to hit the bad guy at all, so we teach them just to shoot Center Mass.”

Did it ever occur to one of these Neanderthal (no offense to Neanderthals, mind you) that this failure to teach precise target acquisition is precisely why their officers can’t hit the bad guy in an officer-involved shooting? Did they never hear the marksman’s axiom, “Aim small, miss small”?

Here’s what I think when I hear a firearms instructor use the term Center Mass: I think they are ignorant, and probably lazy.

Are you insulted by that? Too bad. Prove to yourself and to me that your umbrage is justified. Look at the OIS data, as I have; read the after action reviews, as I have. The evidence shows that officers who know where to shoot the bad guy are able to end the encounter faster and more effectively than those who simply try to hit the bad guy “in the middle”. Well-trained officers have a higher hit ratio, they stop the offender more effectively, and they are less likely to be shot or killed in the encounter than officers who are not so trained. The data don’t lie.

The first major metropolitan police department that adopted the SXRV program for their entire force did so nearly 20 years ago. They dropped the Center Mass nonsense and adopted 3D anatomic targeting as their standard. Their OIS hit ratio went from 20% to 94% in the first 2 years after the program was implemented, and remains above 90% to this day. More importantly to my mind, in that same 2 year period not one cop was hit by a felon’s bullet. And these numbers have been repeated in other police departments across America since then numerous times.

Here’s the deal, kids: Center Mass is a term that has been in the vocabulary of deadly force trainers waaaaaay too long. There is no excuse for continuing to use this term. “Center Mass” should never be uttered by a firearms instructor anywhere, any time, except to correct their students who come to class believing in the myth. There is far too much information out there proving that teaching our students to shoot this way is leading to bad outcomes in OIS’s and it’s getting good cops injured and killed. It should be as hated as the dreaded C-word or the N-word is in public conversations. It’s a useless concept, and the persistence by our instructors in using it needs to go away.

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Handguns for Bear Defense? Yep!

Well, the verdict is apparently in, and I for one am pleased to hear it. 

I have enjoyed a lifelong and mostly happy relationship with wild bears. I have watched them, studied them, and (occasionally) hunted them. For many years I held the belief that handguns were poorly suited tools for defense against bear attacks, based on the experience and advice of woodsmen and bear biologists who I considered more authoritative sources than I was myself. However, as early as the late 1970’s I began collecting anecdotes of hunters, campers, and other outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen who had successfully defended against bear attacks with handguns. By the time Stephen Herrero et al. came out with their report in 2012 supporting bear spray over firearms, however, my compilation of bear attack stories stood in stark opposition to Herrero’s findings. My studies and critical experience told me while Herrero’s findings confirmed that bear spray was and is effective in stopping some bear attacks, firearms were and are more effective than his study showed. 

I was still leaning toward preference for long guns as opposed to handguns for such purposes, but the lean had become a lot less acute over the years. Over the years, I had become enough of a convert that I had begun carrying a handgun while hunting in all places and at all times where legal to do so. I had in fact tested my own handguns on wild game, including small game as well as deer and hogs, and was satisfied that handguns are effective hunting tools.

In this article by journalist Dean Weingarten ( ) he and his colleagues have compiled a list of 73 bear attacks defended against by handguns. They found that 96% of these attacks were successfully defended, and in many cases the handguns/calibers were what I and many others would consider suboptimal. So at this point I must concede that I am convinced of the soundness of carrying a handgun for defense against attacks by bears and other North American predator species including wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions.

So, the question of if it is practical  to carry a handgun for bear defense has been answered, but this leaves other questions wide open. These questions should include: 1) what type and caliber of handgun is truly appropriate for such purposes, 2) what type of ammunition is best suited for this purpose, 3) how should the handgun be optimally carried, and 4) how should it actually be used if and when the bear scat hits the fan?

The following answers are only my opinion, and your views may vary. But keep in mind that my answers are based on a lifetime’s experience in hunting and shooting wild animals (including bears and other Dangerous Game), on almost 30 years of critical care medicine (which involves a lot of scientific study of anatomy and physiology), on nearly 30 years of study of the effectiveness of handguns in stopping violent human offenders by police, and on a strong basic education in mammalian anatomy and physiology.

1. Caliber Choice for Bear Defense

Bears are big animals. Using a little gun (or a small caliber) just doesn’t make sense. Your bullet(s) have to reach vital anatomic structures: the same principles that we espouse in Shooting With Xray Vision for human-on-human defensive situations. Which you will recall mean either the cardiovascular bundle (CVB) in the chest, or the central nervous system (CNS).

The CVB in quadrupeds, including bears, is a lot farther inside the body than it is in humans, who walk upright with our CVB’s front and center. Unlike humans, your bear bullet(s) have to get through a thick fur coat, through much thicker and tougher skin than human skin, and tunnel through the muscle, bone and connective tissues of the chest to get to the bear’s considerably bigger- and tougher-than-human heart and great vessels. Yes, you can kill a bear with a .22 bullet to the heart… but it might take several hours, and an aggressive bear can kill you in an attack lasting seconds to minutes. So if you do that math, you might want to select a firearm of sufficient caliber to get to the CVB with a tad more energy and destructive capability than a .22

Likewise, the brain of a bear is encased in a thicker bony cranium than the human brain is… and while a light handgun caliber might get in there with enough power to end the attack, it might not.

As such, I lean strongly toward a caliber heavy enough to be used for hunting of big game. These calibers start with the 357 Magnum and larger. To be specific, this would include the 40 S&W, 41 Magnum, 44 Special, 44 Magnum, 45 ACP, 45 Colt, and any of the big magnums from 454 Casull up to 500 Linebaugh. I do not endorse the 9mm cartridge for bear defense, even though the estimable Phil Shoemaker killed a brown bear with one a few years ago. You and I ain’t Phil, with his intimate knowledge of grizzly/brown bear anatomy, and his extensive experience stopping charges by wounded bears, and we shouldn’t pretend to be. Oh, and btw, Phil habitually carries a 458 Winchester Magnum rifle and a 44 Magnum revolver when guiding bear hunters, not a 9mm.


1A. Handgun Type

As you can see, I’m not one of those guys who thinks you need a huge thumper of a caliber to defend against bears/predators. I am a bit more picky on handgun type, however. 

Anyone who knows me from IDPA and USPSA competition knows that I am a revolver guy. No surprise, this holds true for my hunting and predator-defense choices, as well.  Specifically, a double-action (DA) revolver is in my considered opinion the best handgun platform for bear defense. 

Semiauto pistols are not a good option, for a couple of reasons. First, they tend to be designed to shoot light-for-caliber bullets. Second, semiauto pistols have a glaring deficiency in CQB situations (and if being mauled by a bear isn’t a CQB situation, I don’t know what is!): if the muzzle is pressed against the body of the intended target, the slide and barrel may be pushed out of battery, and the weapon will not fire. Folks often discount this issue, but I have numerous reports of exactly this happening in cop-on-felon CQB gunfights.

Single Action (SA) revolvers are often cited as a good choice for bear defense, and while I own and enjoy shooting and hunting with my SA revolvers, I disagree with this option. The SA handgun can only be fired if the hammer is manually cocked. Normally this is done with the thumb of the support hand, but it can also be done with the thumb of the dominant hand. Again, if you’re in a CQB situation with an angry bruin, your support hand is very likely going to be engaged in other activities (like keeping the bear’s jaws off your skull), so you can’t count on using it to cock the hammer. And if you use your firing hand thumb to cock the hammer, you’re relinquishing more than 50% of your grip strength to do so… which doesn’t sound to me like a good firearm-retention technique in the midst of a ground fight. 

Soooo… it comes down to the double-action (DA) revolver. The DA revolver does not have the shortfalls of the semiauto pistol or the SA revolver. You can press the muzzle against your adversary and fire without fear of coming out of battery and you can fire it one-handed with your fully functional grip strength. More than one successful bear-attack survivor has noted that it took several rounds to end the attack, and a DA revolver will reliably give you 6 rounds (or more, in the case of large capacity revolvers like the S&W 696). And DA revolvers are readily found chambered for big calibers such as the 44 Magnum and 45 Colt. If you step into the custom revolver venue, Ruger Redhawks have been chambered in powerhouse rounds like the 50 AE, 460 Rowland, and even the big 475 and 500 Linebaugh. Bowen Custom Handguns in particular makes beautiful and very functional big-bore DA revolvers using the Ruger Redhawk and Super Redhawk as the base gun, and I really need one… But Ruger’s Redhawk Alaskan model is a fine factory revolver in its own right, so you don’t need to fork out the big bucks for a custom revolver unless you really want to. 

Regardless of your choice of DA revolver, make sure you can use it effectively. Take into consideration the size, grip frame, and weight of your bear-defense wheelgun, because the variations possible are enormous. A Ruger Alaskan weighs 45 ounces empty, which means you’re toting nearly 4 pounds of metal once it’s loaded. That can weigh heavy on a small-framed person. Conversely, I’ve seen folks tout the ultralight S&W M329, a Scandium frame revolver chambered in 44 Magnum; while it’s a breeze to carry at 2 pounds fully loaded, I have found it painful to shoot due to the stout recoil impulse. If it’s too painful to shoot and practice with at the range, you’re not really going to be properly prepared to use it in a life-or-death situation.

Personally, I routinely carry a S&W M625 Mountain Gun chambered in 45 Colt or a M29 chambered in 44 Magnum when I’m hunting or backpacking in bear country. These are steel guns, with 4″ barrels, and even with heavy-recoiling loads they are very manageable in my hands. I am very confident that anyone who chooses something along these lines for bear defense is about as well-armed as can be.

2. Ammunition

The bullets you load in your handgun are also important.  You want deep penetration, which is best accomplished with a flat meplat FMJ bullet or a moderately hard cast bullet of heavy weight for caliber. In a 357 Magnum, this would anything from 148 to 180 grains. In a 44 Magnum, 240 gr or up. And so on. Bullet type? A Keith-style SWC bullet or a LBT profile bullet will suit: anything with a wide, flat meplat, to cause maximum tissue destruction. Roundnose bullets may penetrate well, but are less likely to do the necessary tissue damage to stop an actively attacking predator. 

Factory ammo versus handloads? Not much to argue about there, I’m afraid. They can all work. Buffalo Bore makes some great loads for virtually all major handgun calibers. I like my own handloads in my revolvers. I use LBT-type bullets for the most part, cast to a hardness of BHN 11-14, which is plenty hard enough for bear medicine, and loaded hot. My favorite 45 Colt loads for DA revolvers employ 265 gr LBT WFN bullets, with muzzle velocities in the 1000-1100 fps range. These loads will shoot crosswise through a deer’s chest or pelvis, will penetrate 14+ inches of ballistic gelatin, and will smash through 10+ 1″ pine boards. They are plenty for bear, but not so stout that they can’t be fired fast and accurately with one hand. In the 44 Magnum, a 240 gr bullet loaded to 1100-1200 fps serves the same purpose. In my 357 Magnums, a 158 gr WFN bullet at 1300 fps or 180 gr WFN at 1100 fps will get the job done. You get the idea.  Don’t discount good JHP bullets, either. A friend of mine who was responsible for “bear control” on paper company land for a number of years culled a large number of black bears with his 44 Magnum revolver and 240 gr Hornady XTP bullets. This bullet, among others, has a great reputation for deep penetration and reliable expansion.


As a final observation on caliber, let me be clear: you are not doing yourself any favors by carrying a handgun that is too powerful for you to shoot effectively. Your choice of caliber and handgun needs to be based on your ability to use it. If you can’t hit the vital organs of the CVB or CNS, your handgun is pretty much a useless noisemaker. Practice with your chosen gun and ammunition. You should be able to hit a 4-6″ circle 6 times out of 6 with one hand at a range of 4 yards, and an 8″ circle with a 2-hand hold 6/6 times at 10 yards, rapid fire. If you can’t do that reliably, you need to practice more.

 3. Optimal Carry Methods

Here’s the deal, kids: a gun in your backpack or at home is not going to help you in a bear attack. In my life’s experience backpacking and camping in the mountain west, I’ve learned that close bear encounters can usually be avoided. But when they do happen, they are almost always a surprise. In most cases you won’t have time to go back to your car to fetch your rifle, or shrug off your pack and dig into it to find your handgun. You’ll either have it right there, or you won’t have it at all. Carrying your handgun in an accessible location is of paramount importance.

I tend to carry my handguns most of the time on my belt, strongside hip. This works fine if all I’m toting is a rifle or a day pack. But if I’ve got a full pack on, or I’m weaing a longer coat in cold weather,  this doesn’t work very well. Under those conditions, I prefer a holster across my chest, such as the El Paso Saddlery Tanker holster. A chest rig allows rapid one-handed access almost as quickly as a belt holster. But keep in mind that your draw and even your firing cycle will be different if you’re wearing gloves. Some DA revolvers will bind up when the trigger comes forward, trapping glove material in the action. You don’t want that to happen in a bear attack. If you must wear gloves, wear tight gloves that will not bind, and for goodness sake practice with them at the range to be sure they don’t interfere with your gun’s functionality.

When you bed down at night, you might want to consider having a lanyard loop installed on the butt of your revolver, with a lanyard around your neck and shoulder so you can pull the gun to you in a hurry if it’s needed in the middle of the night. Same thing with your flashlight. If you can’t see it, it’s real hard to shoot it. 

4. Deploying the Defensive Handgun

So when it all comes down to it, how should you use your handgun in defense against a bear attack? Well, I can’t speak from experience: even though I’ve had a lot of encounters with bears in the mountain parks of Alberta and British Columbia, none have turned violent. However, I spent a lot of time learning about bears and bear behavior in my undergraduate years, and continued in those studies so that I could avoid the circumstances that would lead to a violent bear encounter… and I’m pretty sure that a number of my bear encounters could have been nasty if I had not used my knowledge of bear behavior to reduce the risks.

So my first advice to bear-naive persons is this: learn about bears and how to avoid pissing them off. There are a number of very good books in print that you can learn from, including Stephen Herrero’s Bear Attacks, and the very good bear attack series of books by Canadian bear expert Gary Shelton. 

My second set of recommendations is based on training I received as a young biology student, and on advice from Professional Hunters of dangerous game in Africa with whom I’ve hunted dangerous game.  Basically, it comes down to this: don’t shoot until you have to. Most bear charges are “bluff” charges, and if you stand your ground the animal will break off well before contact. By waiting to fire, you will reduce the odds that you will badly injure or kill an animal that is only trying to scare you off. By waiting, you also increase your odds of hitting the animal in its CVB or CNS (depending on your point of aim). If you wait until the charging animal is very close, your odds of making a lethal/stopping hit increase immensely. Once you’ve fired, follow it up: fire as rapidly as you can hit, aiming into the vitals, and keep firing until the bear is down for good. 

Is there a place or time for a warning shot? Well, according to some experts, there is. Firing a round into the dirt at the bear’s feet while he is still posturing or even walking toward you (but not yet charging) may discourage a curious or mildly pissed-off bear enough to end the encounter.  But once the bear has started to run at you, wasting a potentially life-saving bullet makes no sense. Put your sights on the bear’s heart or brain and track him in until you know you can hit his vitals, then hit him hard and repeatedly.

Bottom Line

 In the course of my 65 years on this rock called Earth, I have spent hundrds and hundreds of days and nights in wild country occupied by bears, including many nights under canvas or sleeping under the stars. I have cooked thousands of meals, gutted game and fish, and otherwise done things that most city folks have no knoledge of, and which put me and my companions at some degree of risk of bear attack. But I have never been actually attacked by a bear in all those years. I think this is important to consider when one considers the risks any outdoorsman faces in spending time in similar country. In reality, the risk is very, very small.

I have personally killed only 3 bears in my life, and in all 3 cases, I hunted those bears with the intention of killing them. All 3 were killed with a rifle. I don’t know that I will ever care to hunt a bear again, but if I do, it will likely be with a handgun. I have that degree of confidence in my ability with my revolvers, and in their effectiveness as bear-killing machines.

And in the meantime, I will continue to carry a handgun in bear country whenever I go there, confident that such tools–along with bear spray, and my knowledge of bear behavior–will keep me and mine from serious injury. Dean Weingarten’s study underlines the sensibility of this approach.

Thanks a bunch, Dean.  



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“Just Shoot ‘Em In The Face” … Let’s talk about this!!

A Facebook page I follow, Active Self Protection, recently reprinted an article about the very real need for American cops and armed citizens to get training for the evenuality of facing a homicide bomber (the media’s term, “suicide bomber” is erroneous… these people are first and foremost murderers, so let’s call a spade a spade!). 

This article quoted the estimable Gabe Suarez as saying, “Just shoot them in the face”. Oh, boy…

First thing: I don’t know for sure if Suarez actually said that. And on the face of it (pun intended), this isn’t necessarily bad advice. But if you dig deeper, you’ll come to the Second thing.

Second thing:  such advice, if taken literally at face value–which I am sure was not Gabe’s intention–could get good people killed. In all fairness to Suarez, utterances get taken out of context. I overheard a cop at a major metro PD ‘quoting’ me to another cop, “Ah, Doc says just shoot ’em in the back of the head.” Which I did actually say, but the all-important context was not communicated!

So let’s talk about the context in which “just shooting him in the face” makes some sense. 

Here’s the problem: the trigger for a homicide bomb is most often a very simple switch that can be actuated with very little effort. So if you do not knock out  the homicide bomber’s CNS completely and immediately, he can still detonate the bomb with his last dying breath, if need be. Which, if you’re within a reasonable pistol shot’s distance from him, means you’ll draw your last dying breath at about the same time as his. The lethal radius of a typical vest bomb is 30-50 meters. 

Here’s the solution: take out the homicide bomber’s brainstem. It’s that simple. 

The brainstem is a structure at the bottom of the brain and the top of the spinal cord that has many functions, one of which is regulating your level of consciousness and attention, and another of which is relaying the “orders” from the conscious brain to the muscles that carry those orders out.  The brainstem is literally where you live and breathe… the neurological elements of heart rate and breathing control originate here.

So if you take out homicide bomber’s brainstem with a well-placed bullet, you shut down all voluntary muscle control and all somatic reflexes. He (or she, let’s not forget that women do this stuff, too) will go limp. No twitching, no movement, no nothing. 

The problem is that the brainstem is really small, and it’s in the most protected location in the human head, which makes sense from an evolutionary/survival perspective. But it’s not easy to visualize its location if you haven’t gone to medical school to learn neuroanatomy. (Unless you’ve taken our Shooting With Xray Vision class, of course!)  And if you shoot the homicide bomber anywhere else in his/her head with your service caliber pistol, you will NOT neutralize the spinal reflexes and you may leave his/her voluntary actions intact as well… which means that bomb is going to explode. 

Keep in mind I’m talking about pistol bullets here. The relative low power/velocity of pistol bullets requires extreme targeting precision to take out the brainstem. A high-power/high-velocity rifle bullet such as a .308 or even a .223 causes such severe damage with virtually any shot into the cranium that the brainstem will probably be destroyed even if the bullet doesn’t hit it precisely. But note that I emphasize the word “probably”. This is not a situation where you want to be relying on “probably”. 

Also, keep in mind that there is a good reason that in our SXRV class we emphasize making the brainstem shot with pistols. If you are so unlucky as to stumble into the vicinity of a just-gone-active homicide bomber, you won’t have time to go fetch your fancy tactical carbine out of the safe box in your car’s trunk. You’ll have to use what you have on your person at the time. 

So, back to the statement in the title to this blog entry. Can we just casually shoot the homicide bomber in the face and call it good? By now, I expect you know the answer to that. 

To illustrate my point, I’ll give you a real life example: I once had a guy come into my ER who had been shot by police. Four times. All four police bullets (40 S&W caliber) hit this guy in the head, so that means he had taken four “head shots”, but was still actively fighting police and had actually returned fire after receiving these wounds. Two of those shots were in the so-called “T-zone”, as it is called by some internet gunfighting “experts”.  

This case illustrates the folly of thinking that any/all “head shots” are equal… there is a huge potential for variance in outcomes!  Again: if your pistol bullets do not transect the brainstem, your homicide bomber may still be able to kill you. 

Part of the problem with taking “head shots” is that the shape and structure of the bones of the human skull are designed (or have evolved, if you prefer) to very efficiently protect the brain. The density of the bones and the curvature of the surface work very well to deflect any missile that comes at the skull unless the angle of incidence is very close to perpendicular to the skull’s surface. Pistol bullets striking the human head at angles less than 65-75 degrees will penetrate the skin/scalp, but will often just glance off the hard, smooth bone of the skull, tunneling under the skin to exit several inches from the entry wound without penetrating the skull. This is well-documented in the trauma literature, and it’s exactly what happened with the guy I saw in my ER with 4 bullet holes in his noggin. 

The other part of the problem is that if you don’t know where the brainstem is, your chances of hitting it are really, really poor. Think about it: in frontal anatomic presentation, the human head has a target area of about 325-400 cm2. The brainstem has a target area of about 25 cm2. If you think you can hit the brainstem by randomly shooting the head, your chance of hitting it is about 6-7%. 

Even if we round up to be generous and say your odds are 10%, that means that your chances of being blown to smithereens by a homicide bomber in that scenario are 90%. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think those odds suck. I’d much rather KNOW where my bullet needs to go, and be close enough to the bomber to put my pistol bullet exactly there. And by the way, the “head box” of an IPSC target, or the “T-zone” on one of those photo targets that purport to portray human anatomy, will NOT help you place your bullets in the brainstem. The T-zone is a real thing when you’re talking about acne, but in terms of ballistics and neuroanatomy, not so much. 

If you want to know specifically how to target the brainstem, you can take a SXRV class from us (or one of our SXRV-trained firearms instuctors around the nation), or you can order the Tactical Anatomy Instructor Manual and figure it out from the exercises in the book. It’s not rocket science. You don’t have to be good at math to understand and use this knowledge. But you do need to get the best source information on the subject you can find, and the place to find it is here.

And by the way, you need to able to operate your pistol with a high degree of precision. I’ve written this before, and I’ll say it again:  to effectively utilize the Tactical Anatomy Systems targeting method, you must be an Expert Class shooter. As in able to put your bullets into a target 2.5 cm X 4 cm 100% of the time from whatever range you select (typically this range needs to be well inside 5 yards, and I’m being very serious here).

One. Hundred. Percent. Of. The. Time. Or in a real homicide bomber situation, you’ll get real dead real quick. 

Retired Evanston, IL, police chief Richard Eddington wrote this to me in an email a number of years ago: “The probability that American law enforcement personnel will encounter a homicide bomber is growing. The techniques taught in Tactical Anatomy become more urgent. This may be the only option to stop a bomber and minimize casualties. This includes law enforcement personnel who, in my estimation, will invariably be too close to a homicide bomber, especially in the initial contacts law enforcement has with this type of offender. Tactical Anatomy shooting techniques will be the only possibility for law enforcement officers to extricate themselves from this situation while minimizing casualties.”

Chief Eddington is a smart guy, and this prediction is close to coming true in the near future, in my opinion. Prepare yourself accordingly. 


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Fight Like A Girl? Please. Don’t.

Browsing through my Facebook feed this morning, I saw a video titled “Pay Attention To The Girl”. I’ll try to past the link here:

I like this video for a couple of reasons, not the least being the apparent meting out of justice by one person on behalf of another person who appears to be the victim of a violent attack. I made a few observations as I watched it: the Bad Guy who gets knocked down shows signs of being intoxicated; the female cashier strikes the Bad Guy 3 times, and she clearly knows how to throw a good punch; the Bad Guy falls backward after the 3rd punch and appears to strike the back of his head on the tile floor, which in my experience was likely the injury that “knocked him out”. 

In a similar vein, I saw a video a while back in which a slender female does a hoppity-hop and then lays a roundhouse kick to the side of a much taller man’s head, knocking him to the ground.  Here’s the link to that video:

Again, a small female appears to deliver retribution to a larger and aggressive male with supreme authority.  Experts analyzing the footage point to a number of features that suggest this video was staged, however, and I tend to agree with them. But the video went viral nonetheless, and I have heard several younger women crowing about how this video proves a woman who knows what she is doing can take a big man down. The fact that the guy was knocked out by his head striking the floor isn’t mentioned. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for women knowing how to fight. I taught my daughters the rudiments of self-defense tactics and techniques (as much as they were willing to learn, anyway) when they were teens. In firearms training past and present I routinely work with females who demonstrate real proficiency in their combative skillsets. 

But I worry that such demonstrations may make some women dangerously over-confident, and may lead to them making decisions in encounters with aggressors that could get them seriously hurt. 

If the aggressor in the first video hadn’t been drunk, or had been inclined to put up even a token defense, or hadn’t struck his head on the floor, the outcome may have been a whole lot different. The cashier may have ended up dead. If you have to stomach for it, do a Youtube search on men kicking women in the head to see the more common result. The plain fact is that women who engage with men in fights on even terms do not do well, even when they are in the same weight class. (For the sake of brevity, I won’t get into the reasons behind fighters being grouped according to their weight, but if you have any questions about how important that is, do some google-fu and get educated.)

Along those lines, I saw a clip on the Joe Rogan Youtube podcast discussing the very real differences between men an women when it comes to martial arts. Joe is a former MMA fighter, and whether you like him or not, he knows quite a bit about fighting with feet and fists. He points out the cold, hard reality that men aren’t just bigger than women, but their muscle and bone structures are markedly different from women. By way of illustration, he holds up his fists for the camera, and I have to say, those are some impressive-looking meathooks!  He goes on to say that his fists look like that because he was training his hands for striking from childhood onward, striking hard objects to toughen them up, working on the strength in his hands, and so forth. MMA fighters tend to do that sort of thing, but they’re not the only ones. Look at the hands–more important, feel the hands–of young men who grew up on farms and ranches, working with their hands. Hard labor makes tougher hands, and tougher muscles than any amount of time in a gym can do. 

Check out Joe’s Youtube clip here:

The plain fact, and I mean scientific fact, proven over and over again millions of times, is that on average men are bigger and stronger than women, they have more dense bones and muscle, they can exert more force per kilogram of body weight, they have a higher pain tolerance (yes, that’s been studied many times over, and childbirth notwithstanding, women aren’t able to absorb pain and keep going the way men can). Oh, and women have a higher susceptibilty to concussions than men, something I suspected for a long time in my sports medicine practice as a Concussion specialist, and which much research has now come out to prove.  (Here’s  link to start you off if you want to look into that whole thing: .)

Listen guys, I ain’t no misogynist. I’m a medical doctor with advanced degrees in biochemistry and endocrinology. I was steeped in the literature of the hormonal world for years, and I continue to follow this literature. I follow the science. Unfortunately, a whole lot of the Politically Correct world doesn’t. (Although they like to pound on the junk science of anthropogenic global warming as if that proves the opposite, but I digress here…)

Testosterone makes a huge difference between men and women. And it doesn’t start making that difference at puberty: it starts in utero, as the male fetus is being formed. The way boys and men make bones and muscles is literally different than the way girls and women do, and it’s becaue of testosterone. The way our brains develop is different because of testosterone. And so on, and so on.  Men behave differently than women because of testosterone. It’s the way we are made, and no amount of social science flabberjab is gonna change that. 

This makes men more resilient as fighters. It made our ancestors capable of fighting, hunting, and killing bigger, badder animals than ourselves.  Mastadons, cave bears, lions and tigers, all succumbed to our tools and our aggressive nature. I don’t call it good, but I don’t call it bad, either. It’s what happened. If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be here to write this, and you wouldn’t be here to read this. 

So taking the attitude that women can negate all of that biological difference by their attitude and skill set is quite simply insane. It defies logic, and it defies science. Yet people are doing it with increasing credulity, and I am stunned by this. 

Jennifer Garner made a movie recently about a bad-ass woman who takes on the entire LAPD and the Mexican Cartel called Peppermint. If you haven’t seen it, don’t bother. The fight scenes are awful, the plot ain’t much better, and every character is flawed, jaded, abused, and downright nasty from start to finish. The fight scenes will make anyone who’s done even an intro to Defensive Tactics cringe, they’re so bad, and the gunfights are beyond stupid. 

Nonetheless. I was in the ER one night a few weeks ago and overheard a few of the nurses discussing the movie, and how much they enjoyed it. They all actually believed that a woman could train to the point of being able to pull of the laughably improbable combatives Jennifer Garner displayed in this movie. I tried to gently persuade them that it wasn’t even remotely possible, but they remain convinced that women are becoming men’s equals in the warrior’s arts. 

I suppose this was inevitable. I suppose we will have to see some catastrophic defeats of American armed forces units, with large numbers of women killed and wounded, before this folly will finally be knocked off its Snowflake perch. I already see too many women with broken faces, heads, and limbs in my ER, but I am resigned to seeing more of them as “tough” women get their heads knocked in when they take on male aggressors using the skills they learned in the gym or dojo. 

I wish America would stop trying to make women into men with boobs. The narrative is a lie. The narrative is going to get some good women hurt, and hurt badly.