When we address personal defense drills, among those that should be practiced often are drills that get the pistol up and on target quickly. The balance between speed and accuracy should favor accuracy. When you practice, keep the speed at the point where you are hitting the target.
Going fast and getting a miss isn’t tactical. Speed and smoothness will come with practice. Accuracy comes from successful application of the basic skills. The grasp, stance, trigger press, sight picture and sight alignment are important. Many shooters have mastered the technical aspects of shooting. The dynamics of shooting are another matter.
When speed and stress are introduced, shooters fall apart. For decades, some have advocated something called point shooting or instinctive shooting. Shooting isn’t instinctive. Shooting is a learned skill. Pointing the gun and not using the sights is a good way to send a bullet off target. In other words, bullets hitting the wrong person.
I will never be the trainer that has to tell a judge I taught a shooter not to aim and not to use their sights. This is reckless. On the other hand, you can aim the gun without the sights. This isn’t the contradiction it first seems.
The basics of shooting and presentation from concealed carry are important. The shooter must practice the draw from concealed carry. The presentation must include quickly and safely bringing the handgun from the holster with a firm solid grip and moving into the firing stance.
The pistol is pushed toward the target, the sights are aligned, and the trigger is pressed. However, there are times when the distance between you and the threat is so close that fully extending the arms might invite the threat to grab your handgun.
It is essential to get the pistol out and get a hit quickly. The support arm may be needed to protect the body and form a block while the strong-side hand grasps and fires the handgun.
Retention and Reliability
Let’s look at alternate aiming techniques. Some battles for your life occur at intimate or contact range. At this range or a range of a few feet, the handgun may be brought into action, shoved into the adversary’s body and fired.
The problem is if there isn’t sufficient offset, a self-loading pistol may jam after the first shot. Contact with the adversary’s body may affect the slide’s travel and jam the gun. Material blown back from the adversary, either clothing or blood, may interfere with the reciprocating slide.
This is why we practice the retention position, keeping the handgun tight into against the body, but offset enough that the slide doesn’t touch our own body.
Those armed with revolvers have fewer functional issues concerning contact with the adversary’s body or our own body.
Meat and Paper Drill
At slightly longer distances, an aiming index called Meat and Paper is an effective tactic. I’m not certain where this term was coined. The handgun is the meat, the target the paper. Remember, a firm grasp is necessary to get hits and control the firearm.
It is more important to use a firm grip when you are not using the sights. The gun cannot waver, and meat and paper is a good practice routine.
At very close range — say four yards maximum — the handgun is drawn and brought to bear. The pistol is silhouetted against the target. At this close range, the target is so large that it isn’t difficult to plant the handgun in the middle of the target. The important part of this aiming technique is that the handgun forms a solid square against the target.
You should not see the front of the slide or the flats of the slide, only the rear of the slide. The revolver cylinder is used in a like manner as an index.
The handgun is centered on the target. This allows a very rapid centering of the target in the center of mass of a threat. If the handgun is centered and a good bit of the paper is visible top, bottom and on each side, good center hits made be made with the meat and paper index.
If the handgun appears disproportionately larger in relation to the target, the range has increased to the point the sights should be used. This is an excellent short-range technique that allows fast shooting and solid hits, and you are aiming the gun. It isn’t point shooting.
Colonel Rex Applegate developed this technique. He credited the drill to famous gunfighter Wild Bill Hickock. Hickock specified in surviving journals that he did not ‘point shoot,’ but used ‘snap shooting.’
Hickock drew his handgun and thrust it at the target, looking directly at the target. When the front sight broke the plane between his eyes and the target, he fired. This drill proved deadly at moderate range, inside barrooms as an example.
When Hickock needed greater accuracy, he is known to have used both hands, and in one case he braced his revolver against a saddle pommel making a long shot.
Colonel Rex Applegate developed a drill in which the shooter takes a step forward, and as the strong side foot hits the ground, the pistol is thrust toward the threat. The handgun is fired as the front sight of the firearm breaks the plane between the shooters eyes and the target. At ranges of up to seven yards this is a fast and effective tactic.
Front Sight Focus
Another drill that has often been used operationally is to fire using only the front sight. This drill is limited in usefulness, perhaps seven yards, but is very fast. In dim light or when eyesight isn’t sufficient to allow a sharp aim, this drill works very well in speed shooting.
The front sight is raised slightly high and the front sight is placed on the lower body of the threat. Say, at belt-buckle level. Since the sight is held high, the bullets will strike higher than the front sights point of aim on the target.
Quickly taking aim with the front sight on the belt buckle will place shots into the center of the threat. This is a ‘down and dirty’ very fast drill that works well in combat shooting.
It should be remembered that when some drills were developed, handgun sights were often small and much less useful than the quality sights we have today. High-visibility sights and self-luminous iron sights are much more useful than the small GI sights of Applegate’s day.
We also know from examining firearms in museums, that old-time shooters modified their revolvers with special sights to increase accuracy. Tom Threepersons, a noteworthy western lawman, had a special tall and square front sight added to his single-action revolver. This means that he used his sights when possible.
It is well documented that Bat Masterson, a notable gunfighter who lived to old age, ordered his Colt revolvers with a front sight higher than standard.
We should always use our sights at ranges past a few yards. When we cannot bring the gun to eye level, keeping the arm in tight to the body, against the ribs, and maintaining a firm grasp gives us a reasonably accurate index. Meat and paper works well at room distance.
Practice using your sights quickly, but by the same token, don’t ignore proven short-range alternative aiming tactics.