Focusing on the front sight and having the rear sight and target appear as a blur while shooting a pistol is something you have to train your brain to do. It is not natural. I have been training my brain to do this for years and I still have to think about it in order to do it correctly.
Constant dry fire practice can certainly make the effort second nature but even then you must still tell your brain to focus on the front sight. This works great at the range or in competition. In competition, those that win are the best at controlling their thought processes by not letting stress interfere with their performance. Only a special few people in this world posses that talent. That is why everyone is not a champion.
In a threatening situation, your brain is going to revert back to it’s normal mode of operation – self protection – and it will tell you to focus on whatever is bringing harm your way. You will naturally focus on the threat, not the front sight.
What does our brain tell us to focus on when under stress?
Although there are many accounts of the event, the gun fight at OK corral resulted in only a few shots killing or wounding the participants out of 31 total shots fired. This result was from men who were supposedly among the best with their weapons at that time.
This is because in the stress of the moment they forgot all of their training as the survival instinct took over. Practice does help one to improve performance at any task but for it to really kick in when the mind is under stress and being challenged, practice must be able to make a task second nature.
The correct practice must be consistent, and often enough to make the task happen in a certain way automatically without having to think. Like riding a bicycle.
When you started you had to really think about the task at hand. Now you can just jump on the bike and take off while thinking about other things like watching to make sure your lane is clear, where do I turn, etc. You no longer have to think about balance, pedaling, and steering.
So why fight what we know our natural tendency will be in highly stressful situations. We know we will be focused on the threat, so let’s learn to shoot as accurately as possible in that situation. Shooting at a target without the use of sights while focusing on the target is defined as instinctive or point shooting.
What is instinctive shooting?
It is the same instinctive movement you use to throw a baseball to someone, hit a baseball with a bat, hit a golf ball, tennis ball, or any number of other activities where no mechanical sights are used to accomplish the objective. After practicing, your mind takes over and tells you what to do. This is called instinct.
Why not do the same in pistol shooting when ranges are close and stress is high? Here is a great book from Amazon on the subject. What would it mean to your effectiveness if you had the ability to move while you were shooting, shoot from any position, and not have to worry about obtaining the perfect sight picture or focusing on the front sight? It would mean that your ability to keep yourself and others alive during a very tense self defense situation has increased immensely.
How to learn instinctive shooting
So how do you develop this skill with your pistol? The same as learning to hit that baseball or ride that bike when you were a kid. You find the right thoughts to focus on and you just do it until you get it. Then you do it until it becomes second nature.
The more you do it, the better you will become with it. Once you have it, you will always pretty much remember it so taking the time to do this is definitely worth it. One trick is to forget about your pistol and just focus your eyes, both eyes open, on the center of the target.
If you are shooting at a bulls eye, focus on the center dot and imagine your shot hitting dead center. If you are shooting at a golf ball, focus on 1 dimple on the golf ball. You get the idea. Aim small, shoot small.
Then practice pulling your pistol from your holster, obtaining a proper two hand grip, extending the pistol straight toward the target – never taking your focus from the target- and pressing the shot. This is repeated over and over at a very slow pace until you feel that you can do it safely.
Then, rinse, and repeat until it becomes second nature. Do it over and over and over until you begin to develop a good feel for where the shot will go. Use paper or cardboard targets. This is way too close for steel.
Pictured above are IDPA targets that can be taped and used over and over for this drill. They simulate a real threat that you might encounter an train you to instinctively go for center mass. You can mark your shots between round so you know where you are hitting. You must become comfortable at doing this without putting your finger inside the trigger guard until the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction.
Start slowly to ingrain the right thoughts into memory. Correct repetition is the key here. Do not try to get so fast that you shoot yourself in the leg. Speed is not the key. Accuracy is what you want to develop. Once you are comfortable with doing this with dry fire, you can then proceed to live fire practice.
Start at 3 to 5 yards. Draw a small dot on your target with a permanent marker. Practice drawing your pistol, obtaining a two hand grip and putting 1 shot as close as possible to the dot you drew. Once you can comfortably do this, do the same drill using your strong hand, then your support hand with a single hand grip.
Once you are confident with your ability at doing these drills and your results are very good, increase the distance and repeat the drill. Remember all of these shots are taken using no sights. Let your brain tell you where your pistol is aiming. You will begin to develop a feel for where your shot will go and will probably surprise yourself at how good you get after a few shots.
When you are really confident in your ability to put shots on target instinctively move on to the Bill Drill. Continue to shoot instinctively until you are at 7 yards or more. Getting to this level puts you in the upper class of all shooters if you can keep your shots within a tight group and means you are much better prepared for a real life self defense situation.
Most real life events occur at 7 yards or less. At this point you may want to try your hand at competition like an IDPA match. This type of competition is a lot of fun and is the best training I have found. Below is a video of what happens in these matches.
The above is just a short video of a shooter on one stage. There are multiple stages to a match that duplicate what you might face in a real life situation. Every stage is different and tries to challenge the skill of every shooter.
This type of practice really increases the steepness of your learning curve. The competitions are shot with stock pistols just like you purchase over the counter. Great training. See more about these matches at their website here.
When do we use the front sight?
Realize there is a point at which instinctive shooting becomes less reliable than using sights, especially with a pistol. For me, that distance is around 10 yards and beyond. At that distance I begin to lose my ability to group shots acceptably without the use of sights.
That is the distance for me and most people to return to focusing on the front sight. The best rule to use is if you see your front sight, use it, otherwise shoot instinctively. It seems every video you see or article you read on pistol shooting states that you should train to focus on the front sight and / or obtain a good sight picture in order to be accurate with a pistol.
I agree, if you are shooting for accuracy at the range or shooting your pistol at distances over 10 yards for fun. In fact my direction to people I am working with on this skill is to use your front sight when you can see it.
Knowing that we will be focused on our attacker in a real life self defense situation, you will not see it in this situation, you must use the instinctive skill. If there is 10 or more yards between you and your target you will naturally bring your pistol up to eye level and the front sight should jump out at you. If you see it, use it.
A self-defense situation can occur at a distance as close as one foot from your attacker. The average distance is 1 to 5 feet. If you take the time to acquire your front sight before firing, it could mean the end of your life. If you present your pistol at this distance, your attacker could quickly take it away from you. That is why “point” or “instinctive” shooting is another tool that needs to be added to your self defense tool box.
What are the best training aids?
This DVD set is a comprehensive work on the subject of instinctive shooting. It features Israeli special ops teams using the technique. The Israelis did not invent this method but definitely transformed it into a science. It is packed with information that will more than improve your effectiveness with this method.
There are plenty of videos on Youtube of guys displaying their skills at instinctive shooting. These guys are pros and know what they are doing. They are mostly shooting from 5 to 7 yards.
You may want to start much closer but up close, instinctive shooting is definitely a skill you should add to your self defense toolbox. Once you are comfortable with where your shots go on paper, graduate to tennis balls.
You will be surprised how fast you can learn to make them dance at a pretty fast shot rate. This will take your competition scores and shooting ability to the next level. A lot of practice can be done very cheaply with a 22 pistol.
I use my M&P 22 and my Ruger SR22 for this game. This allows you to shoot a lot which is what you need to really hone point shooting skills. Learn to move while practicing. Competition demands it.
You can’t just stand stationary in front of a target and take slow aim at the bulls eye. Practice walking while shooting, getting to cover, and shooting around things.
Pistols are a special breed of weapon that can be used to accomplish a multitude of tasks. From very short range to, YES, long range shooting, as your skill level develops with a pistol you will be shocked at what you can do with one.
They are easy to conceal and therefore fit into our daily lives. Much better than walking around with a rifle over your shoulder. This makes them a very good practical solution to self defense in our society. Instinctive shooting is one skill that really increases your effectiveness. Put as much time into practicing this skill as you do with using sights. You won’t be sorry.