One of the subjects that is studiously avoided in most of the magazine articles I have read over the years is bullet placement on the human that is attacking you. I understand why this is so (it is a very depressing subject), but I also believe that it is something we need to stop dancing around and discuss. So here it is, straight and honest.
When you draw your gun with the intention of using it on an attacker you are not being attacked by a paper target. You are not counting score to see if you qualified. You are shooting a person for the very good reason that he or she is trying to take your life. If your life is not in danger you should not be shooting (and for the purpose of this article we will specify that "grievous bodily injury" is life threatening and justifies your responding with your handgun). And while we are on the subject, it is not necessary that the person attacking you be armed with a firearm. A knife, baseball bat, pool cue, crow bar, ax, shovel, hammer, nail gun, or any one of a few hundred other implements, including what we in the Border Patrol used to call a BFR, a Big Freakin Rock, can be a deadly weapon in the hands of a person with the will and desire to kill you (An officer friend of mine was killed a good many years ago by three wanted criminals he stopped for a traffic violation. He was beaten to death with a rock). In fact, if you are a small woman, an invalid, or elderly, a strong 6-foot man is a deadly weapon, even if he has no tools or weapons at all. He can kill you just as dead with his bare hands. I would have no compunction shooting a 220-pound, 25 year old thug if I he was attacking me. I am 60 years old and in no condition to win a fistfight or wrestling match with a muscular young man. So if you and I ever have a tussle, remember that.
Now, where to shoot him...
Most police agencies teach the tactic of always shooting two (2) shots to "center mass." This is termed a "double-tap," and that is as good a term as any. Two shots placed in the area of the solar plexus, or the center of the chest, with a gun of sufficient power, is usually enough to stop most bad guys. This is what you should practice. Draw the gun, fire two shots that are intended to strike in the heart/lung area, and then assess the situation to see if your attacker needs more shooting, or if there are other threats present. If you are using a small caliber, such as a .32 or .380 (and sometimes even with a large caliber), the first two may not do the job. If not, continue until the threat is neutralized. If it takes the whole magazine then give him the whole magazine, or more.
There is, also, the occasional brute that simply does not feel pain. This may be because he is just plain mad clear through, it may be because he is stoned out of his mind on some kind of drug, it doesnt really matter. Just keep in mind that he is out there somewhere and that he may be looking for you, so you need a Plan-B.
Do not, ever, fire your two shots center mass and holster your gun. That is a great way to end up a fatal statistic. Instead, draw your weapon, fire the two shots, then keep the gun on the assailant. Wait (by wait I mean about a millisecond) to see if he really is disabled, then, if he is, look around to see if there are other dangers lurking in the shadows, not all bad guys operate alone, they are like wolves and often run in packs.
Note: Well have more on this aspect of the self-defense scenario later, so dont write me nasty-grams telling me about tunnel vision, how we should be aware of our surroundings, and so forth. I know. Well get there. There is only so much you can cover properly in a short magazine article.
If the bad guy is still on his feet after the first two shots, you have a couple of options. I know of at least two agencies that are now teaching two-to-the-chest, one-to-the-head techniques. This is done because the bad guy may be wearing body armor. This could apply in your case, also. I recommend that you practice firing two shots center mass, and then hesitate to assess the situation. If the attacker is still coming, go with the two- to-the-chest, one to-the-head tactic. If he is still coming, you have a serious problem. At that point, as I said above, you should continue firing until the gun runs dry or the bad guy runs out of steam. He may kill me with my own handgun, but if so hell have to beat me to death with it, because it will be empty when he gets it.
Another thing to remember is that a person with a shattered pelvis or hip is going to go down. I cannot recommend aiming for the pelvis, but either is a disabling wound, should that be the only option you have. It will also stop a person with a knife or some other blunt or edged weapon who has to get into contact range to do you damage. However, I know of no agency or academy that teaches their trainees such tactics It is strictly a target-of-opportunity technique, something to keep in the back of your mind.
Do not ever try to pull the movie stunt of shooting the gun out of his hand, or shooting him in the shoulder. These things do not work in real life. Every shot you fire should be aimed at a vital area; one that has the best possible chance of stopping that bad guy in his tracks. And, again, let me say that stopping him, not killing him, is the purpose of shooting him.
I hate the term deadly force. It is, unfortunately, very descriptive of what often happens, but the killing of another human should never be the purpose, the desire, or the intent of the defensive shooter. Pray that you never have to take a life, but practice like it is going to happen tomorrow. And make up your mind right now if you are going to pull the trigger, because you will not have time to think about it when the time comes.
In self defense shooting, your assailant will not have a round bulls-eye target pinned to his chest. Use a silouette target for practice, like this clever "zombie" edition from Birchwood Casey.
Which brings us to targets. If you carry a handgun for self-defense, do not do your practice on bulls-eye targets. If you ever have to draw that gun with the intent of shooting a person, that person will not have a nice, round bulls-eye pinned to his chest, but will have a chest, arms, legs, and a face with eyes. Buy a good supply of man-shaped silhouette targets and use them for your practice. It does not matter what kind of silhouette it is as long as it is in the shape of a man. It matters not at all if it has scoring rings, because you are not shooting for score. The best are probably the kind that have a photograph of a bad guy on the front, so that you get used to shooting at a person with a face. Birchwood Casey is producing some really neat "Zombie Targets," that will allow you to shoot at a target with a face without getting the heebie-jeebies, as you might if shooting at a too real target.
Well, thats about it. As my old game warden buddy used to say: "If you have to shoot im, shoot im with a big gun, shoot im where hes biggest, and keep shootin until he quits comin."
Tactical Training Tips
MANY GUN OWNERS are great marksmen, but there is a difference between being able to pull off a great shot at a static range and defending your life in a defensive situation. This is why I encourage gun owners who keep firearms for self defense to train differently than simply "going to the range."
To begin with, the shooter should consider stance. In a defensive situation you might not be able to take the traditional shooting stance. In fact you might not even be able to have a stable two-handed grip. If you are being attacked there is possibility that you may barely clear your pistol from your holster when your assailant is already upon you. So instead of shooting at a comfortable distance square to a paper target try shooting from a different and even awkward positions. For example, the retention position is firing at a target about 1-3 yards with your support hand shielding your head, pistol drawn at chest level and tucked around your armpit held close to the body yet at an angle where the slide will still be allowed to reciprocate upon firing. Practice firing a few rounds, until you learn where your pistol should be pointed. This is somewhat easier of course because you are only a few feet away, yet you should train your muscles where they need to be pointed since you cannot use your sights.
Retention Position Firing - Using your support hand as you block an attack and firing with the pistol tucked in by your chest. Dustins range has ground level targets, at a traditional range the pistol would be pointed higher. Photo: Dustin Ellermann
Next you should practice shooting on the move, your attacker would love for you to stand still like you practice on the range, so you need to practice creating distance, finding cover, firing and reloading while moving. While I was participating in an FBI shooting simulator they actually had a remote fired mounted airsoft gun that would fire at you forcing you to move and find cover while you returned fire.
running reload - Moving to cover while shooting and reloading is a far better tactic than the traditional target shooting stance. Photo: Dustin Ellermann
Proper weapon manipulation will also give you a fighting advantage. Ive seen some beginners shoot who only want to know how to fire the pistol. They cant load mags, are unable to work the slide, and need the gun handed to them loaded with the safety off to accomplish the task. This is terrible training. I spent an hour with a beginner one day who called me the next week asking for some extra training. A prowler was outside her house, she eventually grabbed her pistol and flashlight and secured the area only to return to her room and realize she hadnt loaded the magazine into the pistol. Marksmanship is worthless without a working firearm. You should drill the proper loading, unloading, safety manipulation, holstering, presentation and malfunction clearing every time you hit the range to train for defensive situations. This also extends to training in different environments and using accessories such as flashlights and lasers or even gloves in colder weather.
There are several great drills to include in your training, but the following are ones I use consistently:
Ball and Dummy Drill - load a few magazines but mix in "dummy rounds" (or snap caps, these can be purchased at most shooting/reloading resellers) then mix up the magazines, load up and start sending rounds downrange. Eventually you will encounter a dummy round and treat it as a malfunction performing a "tap and rack" drill. Tap the bottom of the magazine to ensure proper seating, then clear out the dummy round by racking the slide and continue firing. Too many times in "target practice" shooters come across a malfunction and everything shuts down to diagnose the problem; this habit can get you killed in a gunfight. Instead - clear that pistol and get back in the fight. Furthermore, use of this drill will also diagnose your trigger press because jerking of the trigger will be much more evident when not disguised in recoil.
Target Acquisition Drill - Air up several balloons of various colors and sizes, then have a partner call out one or two colors and you must shoot the balloons in that order. You can make this more difficult by twisting the tips of the balloons together and adding a shoot/no shoot element into the scenario.
Reload Drill - With all the high capacity semi-automatic pistols on the market, the reloading skill seems to fade. One way I try to keep my reloading sharp is by only loading about 5 rounds into my magazines at times. Purchase and wear a solid magazine holder along with your holster, and force reloads into your practice. And of course dont just stick with 5 rounds, vary the round count, mix up your mags and let it take you by surprise when you need to reload.
Defensive shooting training differs greatly from the traditional target shooting. But these tactics must be used with the utmost safety and common sense. Most ranges wont let you practice with half of the skills I suggested here. But there are alternatives like dry fire and even airsoft guns to get a solid sense of the tactics. Stay safe and shoot straight.