The concept of instinctive or reflex shooting has long been debated by many of the world’s top instructors. With the evolution of assisted aiming devices like laser grips, there has been a new spark of debate amongst those who teach firearms for self defense. But the differences are never put aside and nobody ever looks at the reality of the situation.
Instinctive shooting is basically a person’s ability to imagine and estimate a line from the center of the muzzle to the point of impact. You can go to a quick draw match and watch guys do it all day long, but the practicality of it when you are in a self defense situation is far understated by most instructors. With most self defense encounters happening within 2 and a half to 3 yards, you may not have the ability to come to full extension or even get a good sight picture.
Everybody has seen the old cowboy movies where the hero draws, shoots from the hip and hits his target 50 yards away. Or the ones where the hero draws and guns down 6 people so fast that they don’t even get to draw their gun. But real life says that unless you are a SASS super shooter, that is not likely going to happen. You are more likely to hit some innocent bystanders and get yourself into a whole world of trouble. So that begs the question “Is instinctive shooting useful for self defense?”
The truth is that instinctive shooting does have it’s place. As some shooters have visual impairments, poor equilibrium, and “Wobble” while holding a pistol, instinctive shooting can be the best option for them. But many instructors spend little or no time allowing students to adapt this technique to work for them. Many courses like the NRA’s Personal Protection Outside the Home course will have a student spend a little time firing from the hip with their hand placed firmly on their chest. But that is not always enough to get the job done.
Properly aligning your sights on your target is by far the most accurate way to shoot, and the smaller number of rounds you send down range the more effective you are. There is no denying any of these facts. When it comes to self defense there is a need to be fast and accurate, so if you have the chance to align your sights you should do just that.
The trick to sighted shooting for self defense is the same as it is for instinctive shooting. Timing is that key. However, unlike instinctive shooting you need to be able to identify the point in time when your attacker will have made the decision to force you to defend yourself as opposed to the point when your side arm is aimed correctly. This can be tough to do when many states have laws that require you to wait until you are being physically attacked before you can even use the threat of force.
In addition the use of laser aiming devises can take up a lot of the gap in what is involved in gaining an appropriate sight picture. But there is a significant problem with that also for many shooters.
That problem is the fact that you have to take your attention from what your attacker is doing to focus on where the little dot is placed before you press the trigger. Also, if the good laser devises are roughly $250.00 each, then you add an extra cost to the use of that firearm. Not to mention batteries and having to get one for each gun you carry, if they even make them for your side arm.
So what is the best solution and the most realistic way to train on the use of a firearm? How do you know what works best for you? What is going to fit your abilities well enough to allow you to defend and survive? Are laser grips worth the money? Is instinctive shooting worth the arguments? Who is right and who is wrong?
This is where it pays to have an experienced instructor handy. Many shooters believe they have the ability to recognize their flaws and work around them, but the best thing to do by far is to have someone who can point out your flaws to you. Almost all shooters, including instructors, fall into habits that they believe are the “Perfect Way” to shoot. Unfortunately, these habits become so engrained into our training that they become reflex, and having a spare set of eyes that can identify problems will allow shooters to break those habits.
In self defense you fall into a “Fight or Flight” frame of mind, and your mind automatically runs on the minimum amount of information. Normally this forces someone to be a reflex shooter, and if you have not spent a great deal of time training for exactly that circumstance, your body will default to the next closest thing. Your mind will naturally fail to acquire a proper sight picture, and your body will naturally follow suit. And in the event that you cannot get a full extension, you have trained to do so, you will go into panic mode and your mind will automatically react without conscious thought. This is, of course, dependant on the amount of time you have to defend yourself.
This is again based on a natural human reaction to a given situation. The closer you train to the actual reaction that your body will have, the better prepared you will be if you ever have to defend yourself. Following the advice of instructors that tell you that you should flinch prior to drawing your side arm is a good practice. It can teach your muscles that there are certain types of reactions that go together. It will also teach your mind that when you feel that you are in real danger, it can default to self defense.
No matter if you have time for a well aimed shot, or you have to take an instinctive shot, it is important to make sure that when you practice, your technique adapts to you and not the other way around. You should also divide your time between three basic types of shooting. Instinctive, Semi- Aimed, and Aimed. Each one has its own intricacies, but it is still important to make sure you can do all three. Remember that you will not always have a perfect sight picture, so it is important to also train yourself to shoot the gun in positions other than a perfect 90 degree angle. Shooting to the side, or even slightly behind you in practice can also help prepare you for the possibility of having to take an imperfect shot.
With all of this information it can be hard to see what you do and don’t need to do. So to simplify, there are benefits to instinctive, semi-sighted, and sighted shooting. So it is important to adapt to shooting all three. A good instructor can help you with all of these things. And while there are video’s out there that can tell you all about some instructors views, there is really no replacement for having someone there with you to help you with the parts that you may miss while you are practicing.