forum home > articles home
Self-defense Shooting at Distance
Important Element of Practice or a Waste of One's Time?

An editorial by Mark Freburg


On our forum message board we were discussing using special glasses for shooting, and I brought up the fact that we probably wouldn't have those glasses on when we were going about our business and found ourselves in a self-defense situation.
  This lead to a forum member's comments regarding the distances at which we might engage in self-defense.  He wrote on our message board the following:

"I can't speak for...others, but if the GREAT GURU of defensive shooting is to be believed, I won't be making 25-50 yard head shots if I need to defend myself.

Granted, I don't practice as much as many here do, but I don't do too badly at "social distances" (7 yds) with regular glasses..."

I thought his comments evidenced a belief shared by so many shooters that commentary on the topic of distances was in order.

There is a large gap between making 25-50 yard head shots and "doing fine" at "social distances" of seven yards.  People frequently ignore this gap.  This is a common reply to questions like the one I posed, so you are in a large company, but it's like the line about "the .25 in your pocket being better than .45 at home on the dresser." I've always responded to that with "yes, but the .45 on your person is far better than the .25, so why would you even bring up the other comparison?" No sense comparing a small stupid act with a large stupid act when they both qualify as stupid acts. What's the point?  This comparison is the same sort of reductio ad absurdum.

So to everyone who conceives of every possible self-defense shot as being close-in, stop doing it. There is a lot of real estate between SEVEN yards and TWENTY-FIVE YARDS. Additionally, there is a HUGE amount of accuracy difference between being able to reliably nick a rib at seven yards and being able to reliably strike the ocular-cranial cavity at 25 yards and beyond...and are we even talking about a moving target when we discuss our close-in shooting abilities?

I'm in no way attempting to pick on anyone. Nor am I setting myself up as a marksman, as I am not. What I am saying, however, is that I believe many shooters have bought into the myth that reliably hitting "center mass" of a stationary, facing target at seven yards and closer is "good enough." (And even a measured seven yards is further than one might think--most guys I see on the range, especially indoors, like to shoot at about seven FEET.)

Why do we persist at this?

I think it's because of one or more of the following:

  • self-defense shooting is rare--most cops are never involved in a shooting during their entire career, much less armed citizens, so a lack of real world experience allows all kinds of theories to spawn among those who speculate about what it's like--or base it on very limited input.
  • our personal lack of involvement with real life, gun-related violence, especially once we achieve some seniority in our lives, tends to makes us complacent, and comfortable with the theories that have always seemed to serve us well. Of course they've never been tested.
  • We as humans tend to migrate into "think-alike groups," others who share our viewpoint.  (Conservative or liberals, believers or agnostics, fans of this team or the other team, etc.)  Once we've banded together with a bunch of others who also think hitting center mass at seven yards is all one needs to be able to do, that belief achieves a level of spiritual truth. Anyone who says otherwise is all kinds of wrong.
  • Newton's law. A body at rest tends to stay at rest until acted upon by some outside force.  If you have never been faced with a self-defense shot at 37 yards you will likely never practice for it.  (And, yeah, I've found the brain is somewhat similar in that Newton-y aspect. Wink)

What should we be doing?

Actually we don't need a whole new routine. We should continue to shoot a close range a lot--but not all the time. We need to shoot at varied distances, and we should shoot out to twenty-five yards regularly.  We should test ourselves and our handguns out to fifty. Shoot more rounds closer in, fewer rounds further out, but do shoot further out, and know the distances at which you're shooting so you will have some sense of it on the street. (Either shoot on a known distance range or bring a long tape measure. I carry a couple of lengths of thin rope--thick twine--of measured lengths in my "everything else" bag. One is seven yards and one is twenty-five yards long. I also carry a tape measure.)

There are a couple reasons for this. First, you need to see where your normally-sighted in defense gun(s) strike a target at extended range, even out to fifty yards. The odds of shooting at fifty? Very slim of course, but tell me the downside of knowing your gun's POI in relation to its POA at that distance, and any distance up to that range? There is none. And you will learn what holdovers--IF ANY--you need to make to hit a target at these various ranges.  (Even if you have adjustable sights you can't touch them during a gunfight.)  

I can think of circumstances where you might simply want to keep attackers at a distance, and if you can "dust their tail feathers" at fifty yards, you will have made a serious point with them. Obviously that is not likely something that comes up in "normal" self-defense--but how is being involved in a situation where another person(s) is trying to KILL you ever normal? I suggest that it is about as abnormal a condition of which a human mind can conceive. Thus everything one reads in hobby gun magazines where the hobby gun writer tells you about the average gun fight with "usually" this and "usually" that a serious load of garden fertilizer.

If you want to get a better idea of gunfights are like, start looking at film of real gunfights.  The easiest way is to cozy up to a police officer who is involved in training, but there are other many ways to view these--that's a topic for another day, but they are even to be found on TV news, documentaries, etc.--though never the variety and quantity that you'll find in law enforcement training.  I only spent a short time in law enforcement, but seeing film of shootings opened my eyes early.  Once you've digested the sheer variety involved in gunfights, to include the distances at which people shoot, you will be enlightened.  Not necessarily more physically prepared, because no gunfights are alike, but at least more mentally prepared. 

And you might come to the conclusion that you may have bought into a myth about gunfights always occurring at very close range.  Do they often?  Statistically, yes they do.  Do they always?  No they do not.  And anyone who bases any aspect of his life on a statistic is setting himself up to be one.  Food for thought? 9Apr13

Uploaded: 4/9/2013