Instinct Combat Shooting: Tricks That Pay Off When It Counts

Instinct combat shooting: The act of operating a handgun by focusing on the target and instinctively coordinating the hand and mind to cause the handgun to discharge at a time and point that ensures interception of the target with the projectile.

Causing a bullet to impact the target where you intend is akin to throwing a baseball, dart, bean bag or other similar eye/hand/mind events. These challenges can be overcome when instinct and practice are combined.

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The technique–the trick–is to not only look at the target, but to look at the smallest part of the target, while devoting full concentration just before and during release of the shot/throw. This focus on the target is more than a visual knowledge of the target; it is total attention to the target-within-a-target. You don’t have to stare at the target, only see it and focus on a small portion of it while the body/hand is moving to point of fire.

In the stay-alive world, if you see the perp (target) advance toward you with deadly intent, you’ll most likely be looking at him with your undivided attention. That isn’t enough. Having decided to engage in a close-quarter firefight, you should–while in the process of going from that point of decision to battery––focus on a small point (e.g., button, stain, shirt pattern). This intensity of vision and concentration at the instant just before firing will allow your natural mental powers to coordinate the hand and trigger finger to cause the firearm to discharge at the most opportune moment.

All of this needs to happen in a very small timeframe–that is, just short of simultaneous. You must:

  1. See the target;
  2. Decide to shoot;
  3. Start the gun moving toward battery (the point where the gun is at its shooting position–usually when the support hand contacts the shooting hand);
  4. Focus on a small target-within-the-target; and
  5. Pull the trigger at the instant the firearm reaches battery.

Some might call this intense focus tunnel-vision. It is. Though tunnel-vision has been projected as a no-no, it’s mandatory during the brief moment when you transition from deciding to shoot to the completion of that shot(s). Of course, you have to be aware of additional threats and the background (innocents), but only before the decision to shoot. Once the time frame of decide-to-shoot to completion-of-the-shot(s) has begun, full concentration–oblivious to all else–is required. This timeframe, during which you are engaged in tunnel-vision, lasts milliseconds. Perhaps, World Champion race car driver, Phil Hill said it best, in a 1962 interview with Car and Driver: ″True concentration is not aware of itself.″

How It Works
Many articles, columns and books have espoused the virtues of ″watching the front sight″ while engaged in combat shooting. If these reports are studied closely, it becomes evident that the writers are, in almost all cases, relating to shooting contests at inanimate targets. During real life-death scenarios, survivors seldom have the luxury of taking their eyes off of the threat to focus (adjust point of aim) on the front sight much less seek a perfect sight picture.

Shooting for score/time during a close-quarter combat match is recreation, where the danger lies in forming negative survival skills/habits. Shooting to survive should be a self-mandate. Practice what you need to survive and save the fun stuff for your retirement years. I suggest that during close-quarter police-style matches, the sights be taped (covered) on all competitors’ handguns. In addition, aerial targets (paintball, Simunition or pellet/BB gun) should be included in the contests.

Timing, as they say, is everything. And in instinct shooting nothing could be more critical.

This is the hard part. You can have all the basics down pat, be an expert at mechanical exercises, stare intently at a pinpoint on the target, and still ignore the body/mind instinctive reflexes. Having the timing as second-nature will allow hits on non-prearranged targets from non–standard body positions.

It’s not only about staring at the target or even the target-within-the-target. It’s also about timing (e.g., a series of motions and actions where the mind’s computer, from visual input, instructs the arm and trigger finger when and how to act). The mind computes much faster than the body can react. Thus, it isn’t necessary to stare or spend more than an instant focusing on the target-within-the-target. This is especially important if the target is moving. To be successful during a close-quarter firefight, you must be conditioned to instinctively override your default sighting.

The human brain has an uncanny ability to adjust trigger pull, arm motion/angle and other related tactics, all without consciously thinking about it. That’s why it’s possible to hit a moving target, even with a handgun. As the eyes follow the target, the mind almost instantly computes and directs the course and speed of the firearm as it moves toward the focal point, giving the trigger finger the command to act at the instant of battery.

From another perspective, if the mind is forced (ingrained teaching) to focus and adjust for a sight picture, it takes more time and throws the timing off.

Another part of timing is firing the shot at the instant the gun comes to battery. If you’ve identified the target, decided to fire, focused on a pinpoint, but then wait even an instant longer, you’ll have a greater chance of a miss.

This is due to the body’s inability to react to the mind’s change of plan in a timely manner. If the brain is instinctively conditioned to shoot when the gun reaches battery, but you consciously override this function, you won’t be able to readjust to the added conditions. This is because the gun is always moving.

Skeet and bird hunters who shoot instinctively practice this technique. On the clay bird or hunting field, a shot-gunner shoots the instant his gun contacts his shoulder and cheek, his body moving with the target. His eyes have locked on to the bottom edge of the target or head of the bird while the gun comes to battery.
Flash sight picture, front-sight only or aimed fire defeats real-time instinct shooting. Body parts can’t react at the speed of the mind. Trying to focus on a mechanical sight, look at the target and then make a decision to adjust or not adjust the alignment takes time. In nanoseconds:

  1. Your eyes have picked the target-within-the-target;
  2. Your firearm is moving toward battery; and
  3. Your mind is coordinating the exact instant to send the message to pull the trigger.

Therefore, if the eyes send an additional message to realign/confirm the sight picture, the timing will be off. Although it might only take a split second, that split second could cause a miss.

Everyday, as part of my exercise routine, I practice instinct combat shooting, albeit, sans a handgun. With my hands in the chest ready defensive position, I begin by scanning the room. When I locate a target, I start my simulated draw while focusing on a target-within-the-target and pull-the-trigger as my hands come together at battery.

On the range (I live on a 125-acre farm), I toss wood blocks out in front of me and, using a handgun, try to hit them while they’re airborne. Great challenge!  Note: If you have room to try this be sure your misses and deflected hits don’t go over/around the backstop.

Just like making a pitch or shooting a basket, shooting-to-survive requires conditioned reflexes that are best accomplished by practice, commitment and familiarity with the task. However, to successfully and instinctively place your strikes/baskets/shots, the player must be conditioned to trust his or her instincts. Instinct combat shooting is not trick shooting; it’s practicing the ″tricks.”

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