The importance of precise, well-aimed fire in a gunfight cannot, and should not, be underestimated. For anyone who picks up a firearm with the intent of “going in harm’s way,” that statement should really be pretty close to the forefront of their mind, throughout any training that they do, regardless of where they do that training, when they do that training, and with whom they do that training. If, after all, I’m in a gunfight with some dude 200 meters away, or 20 feet away, and I just point my weapon in the air, shout, “Allahu Akbar! Inshallah!” like some Mohammedan jihadist, and start blasting, counting on some divine will to guide my rounds where they need to go, I’m not likely to do much good in the pursuit of self-protection. The further away the opponent is, of course, the more critical the ability to aim and fire accurately becomes, because he becomes a relatively more difficult target to hit.
There is a line, famous in shooting circles, attributed to Wyatt Earp, and all too often parroted by others, with varying degrees of accuracy in the retelling, that says, “Speed is fine, but accuracy is final!” There is, in the opening sentence of this article, a great deal of recognition of the inherent truth of this statement. Performing a mag dump of 9mm or 5.56, is really of limited, questionable value (I can actually argue for the value, but it is still limited…); it’s of no value whatsoever though, if none of the rounds I fired even impact close enough to impact the target’s decision-making ability. Accuracy really is critical. Too often however, that statement becomes nothing more than a cliché, and an excuse for codgy old duffers to take their sweet time sighting in to take a shot.
The problem with a cliché, it has been said, is not that they’re untrue. The problem with a cliché is the nugget of truth inherent to the statement, that allows it to become a cliché, repeated ad nauseum, by sycophants who generally don’t realize that they don’t even understand the meaning behind the original statement. I get called to task, rather often, by readers and others, who have completed various training courses, for my ongoing training admonition that we should be practicing the ability to “shoot as fast as you are able to apply well-aimed fire.” Perhaps it is the “shoot fast” part that gets their knickers in a twist, but I just genuinely haven’t been able to figure it out.
Accuracy is Awesome!
At the basic level, any shot accurate enough to punch through the brainstem of a bad guy is definitely a final statement, and probably adequate to “elicit the desired response,” to a situation that warranted shooting him. The problem is, the real world likes to toss monkey wrenches in our plans.
If it takes you five seconds to manage that shot; to acquire a solid firing position, line up your sights, control your breathing, and then gently squeeze the trigger to a surprise break, with no disruption of the sight picture, it’s probably not going to be the “final answer” that you think it is.
Why not? Because, whether rifle or pistol, five seconds is long enough to dump nearly an entire magazine, accurately, at common combative ranges. You’re not going to get that five seconds of calm that you apparently need, in order to get the level of accuracy that you need to make that precision shot. That is the crux of the problem with the cliché. It’s not complete.
Fast is Fine, but Accuracy is Final… As Long as it Arrives On Time!
My statement for students, and myself, mirrors a related aphorism that comes to us courtesy of Marshal Earp; “Take your time…In a hurry.”
“Fast is fine, but accuracy is final…as long as it arrives on time.”
What is all too often overlooked is that the speed versus accuracy equation is a very, very relative issue. Is a shot that impacts you in the shoulder as lethal as a shot to the upper thoracic cavity or the cerebral cortex? No, of course not, unless you’re a simpering coward who believes that any gunshot is automatically lethal, as it blows you backwards through four concrete walls. What if we change the question slightly?
“Is a shot that impacts the shoulder as effective at keeping you from shooting me as a shot to the upper thoracic cavity or cerebral cortex?” Probably, at least in the immediate short-term. Gunshot wounds have a tendency to hurt, and pain tends to be distracting.
I may need to shoot you again, but if you’re not shooting at me effectively—by which we mean, making hits—because you got distracted by that Louisville Slugger shot to the shoulder, then I’ve got the time necessary to slow down and take that second shot.
On the other hand, it can obviously be said that, if you take the time to get a shot to the upper thoracic cavity or the cerebral cortex with the first shot, you won’t need to take that second shot, right? Let’s go back for a moment, and look at the previous example, to parse that concept. If you are taking the time to set up that head shot to the cerebral cortex, and I bust a round into your shoulder, or chest, or leg—or, well, pretty much any other portion of your body—is that, or is that not, going to affect your ability to aim and fire your precision head shot? Of course it is. So, what we really need to determine is, how accurate do we need to be? How fast do we need to be that accurate? How much of that accuracy can we maintain, at that speed?
In order to effectively discuss accuracy standards, we need to determine what type of weapon we’re discussing, carbine or pistol, and we need to determine what ranges we’re discussing.
With rifles, some trainers—a lot of trainers, actually—and the US Army, consider 4MOA to be adequate accuracy. That’s a pretty decent all-around metric, and it is one that has a lot of history in the US military. That allows you to hit a 19-inch wide e-type silhouette out to 500 meters, most of the time. That’s pretty solid, and beyond the ability of most “riflemen” in the US today. At 100 yards, that is roughly four inches. That definitely facilitates getting accurate hits, on a stationary target.
My personal standard—firing commercial, Lake City M855 “green tip” out of a mil-spec 1:7 twist, chrome-lined, 14.5” M4, so you know I’m not running some cool guy, super custom gun—is 2MOA or better. That theoretically allows me to get hits on the aforementioned e-type at 1000 yards (theoretically…while I’ve actually gotten consistent 1.5MOA groups out of my main carbine, that doesn’t take into account windage, knowing my holdovers for elevation, or accounting for the transonic effect of the round dropping back below supersonic speeds, which leads to all kinds of hinky behavior from the projectile). At realistic, common combative ranges, that’s way more than adequate.
It’s crucial though, to remember that we’re talking about pure marksmanship standards at this point. This is laying on a nice, groomed range, in a solid firing position, controlling my breathing, and taking my sweet time squeezing the trigger, because the target’s not moving, and it’s not shooting back at me. Accuracy after all, really is relative.
Here’s the thing though….so is speed, and the two are relative to necessity and ability, as well as to each other. I can shoot 2MOA or better with my carbine, taking 1-2 seconds per shot, whether I’m prone, squatting, kneeling, or standing. If I am willing to “broaden my horizons,” and accept a 4MOA group, I can put rounds downrange, from prone, squatting, or kneeling, at a rate-of-fire approaching 3-5 rounds per second. From the standing, I can easily do 8MOA at the 4-5 rounds per second rate-of-fire, and regularly manage to fire a sub-6MOA at five rounds per second, at 100 meters, from the prone, and standing, I can manage it 8-9 times out of ten. That is fast, and accurate, and it’s impressive, but it is nowhere near world-class. It is not a result of being genetically gifted, or spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on IPSC/IDPA race gun training. There are guys out there, in the public eye, and in the shadows, who can shoot that accurately, at an even faster rate of fire. My ability is simply a result of dedicated, steady yeoman-like practice.
When I teach, I successfully get students making solid hits on a C-zone steel target, at various ranges, in ridiculously fast times:
- Standing, from the ready, at 100 yards: <1:00 second
- Standing to prone, from the ready, at 200 yards: <3:00 second
- Standing to kneeling or squatting, from the ready, at 100-200: <2.50 seconds
(These are not all hyperfit, twenty-something Crossfit junkies. These are solid, middle-aged, professionals, willing to put in a little bit of effort.)
With a sidearm—in my case a 9mm Glock, either a G19 or a G17—we’re still looking at a mathematical range of possibilities for accuracy standards at speed. From a pure accuracy standpoint, the standards I set for myself, and that I drive students to achieve in coursework is to be able to shoot the proverbial “one-hole group” at any distance out to 30 feet, with no time limit. This is simple, pure marksmanship. Out to 25 yards, we are looking to keep everything inside of a 3×5 index card. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s the goal. Inside of the A-zone of an IPSC silhouette is certainly a 100% achievable goal at that distance. At 50 yards, we should be able to consistently hit a C-zone sized target.
When it comes to balancing that accuracy with speed, there are a lot of variables at play. Personally, I strive for, and typically maintain, a sub-1:00 second draw from concealment to first shot, to a 3×5 index card, out to 30 feet. For students in coursework, I expect them to be able to hit that 3×5 index card, out to 30 feet, every time, from a concealed drawstroke, in less than 1.25 seconds, by the end of a three day class. Typically, by the morning of Training Day Three, 80-90% of students are achieving it, with relative ease.
How Do We Achieve This?
The method I use to build this skill, at the basic level, is identical, whether we’re discussing clandestine carry pistol, or fighting carbine.
- We build the basic neural motor pathways, by lots of dry-fire and live-fire repetitions of the basic skill, without any time pressure.
- Once the skill seems to be getting drilled in, I will test each student individually, having them perform the basic drill as fast as they can, while still feeling absolutely confident that they can do it right. If they get it wrong, we do it again, slower. Once we have a time for students, we have a baseline time to improve from. If you don’t know where you’re at, you can’t navigate to where you want to go, right?
- In a class environment, we will start with the slowest time, and we will perform ten to twenty repetitions, dry-fire, at that time, minus one-tenth of a second. Once we’ve done the repetitions, and even the slowest student sees that he can go 1/10th of a second faster, we test it live-fire. Then, we go 1/10th of a second faster still, and repeat. By “forcing” the students to go faster, they get faster. If we find someone starts missing, from pushing too fast, we’ll stay at that time standard for some extra repetitions, until they are getting it.
Using this exact methodology, I’ve had complete novices manage to make C-zone hits in sub-1:00 second at 100, with a carbine, in less than four training hours. I’ve had students in my Clandestine Carry Pistol course, who had never drawn their weapon from concealment, getting hits on a 3×5 index card, at 30 feet, in less than 1.25 seconds, in less than a complete eight-hour training day.
The secret, as I understand it—and I’m no neuroscientist, so keep that in mind—is that by “forcing” ourselves to go faster, while maintaining our accuracy standard, we are actually “allowing” our brain to do what it is wired to do, which is train our nervous system to perform more efficiently.
Speed and accuracy are relative. Ultimately, for your combat-effective marksmanship training, you have to decide what is adequate accuracy for you, both for pure marksmanship, and marksmanship at speed, under stress. Then, you have to decide how fast you can achieve that level of accuracy. What I can tell you, with absolute certainty, is that, if your “pure marksmanship” standard of accuracy is 4MOA, you are not going to be able to pull off 2MOA, for a speed standard, under stress.
There are caveats to these considerations, of course. In the real-world, as opposed to the range, there are probably going to be non-combatants downrange. Suddenly, you’re going to have to slow down anyway, to ensure that a) the dude you’re shooting is actually a bad guy, and b) if you do miss the bad guy, your round isn’t going to go past him and center-punch somebody’s seven year old. If we’ve set ourselves up for success by shooting with extreme precision, at extreme speeds, in training, we make the ability to make those decisions and shots more realistic. The underlying rule needs to be, “Don’t shoot any faster than you’re able…but be able to shoot as fast as you need.”
At the end of the day, for me, snapping one-second shots at 100M, or drawing and firing at 10 meters, in sub-1:00 isn’t about the time recorded on the timer. It’s not about “how fast I am!” It is about building those neural pathways to be so efficient that I no longer have to think about them in order to execute the task correctly, and efficiently. It works, and it works well.