Instinctive Shooting

Instinctive Shooting
Instinctive Shooting

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

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.

Sighted Shooting

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.

Real Life

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.

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On ‘instinctive’ shooting:

I have taught CCW for 16 years. Here is the best ‘self training system’ that works for me. Use of a mirror. Professional actors often practice a script from scenes before a mirror to perfect their presentation. I recommend this type of practice for training and preparation for a situation requiring you to draw and actually fire the weapon to my students.

Have a partner with you to double check that your pistol is in fact empty. Use a room that has a full length mirror and at least 15 ft of clear space in front of it. [more is better] When standing before the mirror and aiming at your reflection it is very easy to see if the muzzle is pointed directly at your center mass or off the left or right side and whether too low or high. Practice withdrawing from your usual carry position and dry firing at your reflection – without using your pistols sights.

You may find that the full extension of your arms is not necessary. You may discover that your body is more ‘comfortable’ with your arms in some other position. In a close quarter situation, say ten feet or less it may be iffy to fully extend your arms and place your weapon that much closer to the bad guy. Your extended reach may be about three feet, his will be about the same for a total of six feet – how fast could he cover the remaining four feet and deflect your weapon? Distance = time.

After a few practice shots taken when you decide to draw, ‘aim’ and fire tell your partner give you an unexpected prompt of a hand clap or verbal command. Upon hearing the clue from your partner, draw ‘aim’ and fire at your reflection. Assess the accuracy of your aim. Use the system to draw and fire from face to face situations and shooting from any other position and angle you choose. Remember, you’re not using your sights to get a ‘sight picture’. Hopefully you’ll get better and better at instinctively aiming your muzzle at your intended target’s center mass.

NOTE: At distances of 15 ft or less it is fairly easy to observe the full body reflection and still note the accuracy of the muzzle position without looking directly at the reflected muzzle. You’re observing the bad guy, not concentrating at any specific point on his body other than his center mass.

This system also works well to improve your skills when using your sights to more quickly obtain a good sight picture.

Zip Zap

Great idea! Realistic close up training at zero cost!
I guess I should have “snap caps” to dry fire my Kimber 1911. Kimber says that it is not good to snap on an empty chamber a lot. Some old timers tell me that it doesn’t hurt the gun at all.


Dry firing can hurt rim fires over time but it shouldn’t hurt center fire pistols like your Kimber.


You bring up an excellent point on hearing protection. During the live fire qualification section of my CCW classes I ask the class to volunteer to listen to one round fired without their ear protection in place. Usually the live fire drills are at an enclosed range so this is close [not the same – but close] to what a shot within a building would sound like. I do this for the exact same reason you describe. Most students have never heard a report within a building with ‘naked’ ears and are totally surprised at the volume of noise and extent of hearing loss – after just one round.

You are also correct in that a weapon pointed close to your general position does sound differently. I was about age 15 and had an experience while hunting with my Dad that I’ll never forget. [and that was 61 years ago] We were squirrel hunting with a dog and had finished for the day. While walking out of the woods with Dad about 8 or 10 feet in front, when he side stepped a bush. The barrel of his Winchester 97, a 12 gauge pump shotgun, bumped a Pine tree and the shotgun fired – almost in my face. The noise was horrific and both of us very, I’ll call it – ‘upset’. He swore the safety was on and I believe him. The gun was sent to the factory and the safety was found defective!

Always remember, the safety on a gun is a mechanical device and mechanical devices can fail!


Now that’s “pucker factor”! I am glad you were and are alright!


Also shoot lots and lots of rounds in all different positions at a u-shaped “big berm” range until you are completely comfortable with your weapon of choice and then stick to it. Do all kinds of drills that can simulate the real thing. Shoot some rounds without hearing protection. Yes, not too many but you need to be familiar with shooting your firearm without hearing protection. Big difference and you won’t have hearing protection on when the sh** goes down. Another drill is have someone fire a shotgun downrange (safely on line with you to your right or left) as your signal to draw and fire. I am not at all advising or recommending for anyone to damage their hearing, however a shotgun blast nearby w/o hearing protection is a good simulation of a “rattling” surprise signal to draw and fire.

Great training to do is also run a “running biathalon”. Run with your holstered sidearm something like half a mile at least then without catching your breath, go to the firing line, draw and shoot. A whole different experience when your breathing and heart rate are way up. The “running biathalon” is great for forcing you to instinct shoot or become better at “semi-aimed” shooting. Have competitions combining run times and shooting scores. Even if you aren’t the fastest runner you could still win with a better shooting score.

Also, no way to simulate or prepare for this safely, but hearing guns fired at you sounds a lot different than guns being fired beside you.


If it’s outdoors it’s not bad up to .50cal., I wouldn’t use any noise protection.


Like the article!

A couple of pointers based on some of the responses.

1. Dry fire is great but without a laser sight of some sort even a mirror may be “off” slightly unless your ok with just “guestimating” if your accurate.

For those who can afford the purchase or can find one to rent I recommend a SIRT Pistol as it is perfect for dry fire training with accuracy on whether you “hit” your intended target.

Ability to practice magazine reloads, work on accuracy, same weight and feel as a glock (designed after one) with mags that you can vary the weight from 9mm/40/45.

You can also use it to do conditioning based drills doing an actual workout while working on balance and firing, obstacle course firing etc.

2. Instead of running a half mile you can easily simulate “high stress” situations by doing various conditioning drills but for those without fitness equipment around you can try:

– Burpees
– Wind Sprints
– Skip rope
– shadow boxing

…basically anything that brings the heart rate up to mimic an extremely elevated heart rate (that is where it will be in condition black with a real life or death confrontation and heart rate above 140bpm).

I prefer being seated on the ground with a medicine ball that has a rope and flinging it side to side furiously fast and then working on shooting from standing, prone, kneeling positions as I am not only raising my heart rate but fatiguing my arms which will help add the “shaky hand” element.

3. I do not mean to offend anyone but sight picture/sight alignment is great if your teaching a specific NRA Class (I am NRA Certified) or are a Sport Shooting Activist/Competitor.

However, in a reality based combat situation (or as some mentioned “when s%@! hits the fan) there is no time for sight alignment as almost any situation of this nature is Close Quarter Combat.

If your potential attacker is more than 7 yards away in most states you like have enough time to run and evade the situation.

If your drawing your firearm it is usually WELL within 7 yards…more like 7-10 feet and at that point bringing your firearm fully extended is either:

– not going to happen as an average person can cover 30 feet in a few seconds
– not effective if the attacker also has a firearm as they will begin shooting once they see you going for yours and already have it out…which is why you saw them as a threat.

– possible for it to be deflected or for you to be disarmed “IF” your attacker is trained in being able to do so

Simply put isosceles, weaver position(s) are great for range and showing off that you can hit a 50 yard target with your pistol but useless in most cases for self defense and here is why.

Across the US Nation the National HIT average is 18-20% in regards to LEO actually hitting the intended target (meaning the bad guy shooting at them) within close ranges of approximately 5-20feet.

Now albeit there are some civilians who happen to be better trained then some LEO but not many in terms of CQC.

At the range…everyone is a “superstar” but we are not talking about target shooting here we are talking about what happens in live confrontations.

The fact that the statistics are so incredibly low for LEO as a National HIT average is proof that the current stances are not exactly working in our favor when in a real life situation.

I mean seriously…when “s#$! hits the fan” its not usually at a comfortable distance much less situation where your “target shooting” skills from 20 yards at a paper target come in handy.

Remember 30 feet can be covered in a few brief seconds much less being caught off guard is the case most of the time as most bad guys are not stupid to give you the drop on them when surprise is their key weapon of choice next to the shiny 9MM pointed at you.

IF LEO who are trained have such a low average when their best day is “super star at the range” but complete “holy crap does he have an ivisible sheild” when it gets dirty what makes you think Joe Citizen is going to be any better “IF” they don’t train for it?

Again, train how to fight and fight how you train is necessary!

There are many on here that will have opinions on CQC firearm training so all are welcome to post but I really wish if not anything else that civilians and leo alike where to have access and TOLD how to fight in CQC formats that will work.

I am taking it upon myself to become a CQC Instructor by taking an instructor course of the C.A.R. System by Paul Castle himself.

Is it pricey…heck yeah I am not going to lie that my house payment is slightly cheaper but for $1000 I am going to learn how to “Instruct” this course to others so finding an instructor to “learn” the system (as its not just a mere stance) is likely to be 10x cheaper.

Practice makes perfect and I know I won’t regret learning this so that I can then share with others an aggressive and useful CQC format that has “practical” application in most self defense situations we would find ourselves in.

If you don’t agree that C.A.R. works…that is fine but please find something that is SPECIFIC TO CQC training as your attacker is likely to be within 7ft not 7 yards from you!



Oh and no I do not work for anybody but myself and yes it was meant to be informative and a shameless plug by letting you know to email me if you would like either training in SIRT/CAR Systems* or if you wish to get a coupon code for a discount to buy a SIRT Pistol.

…please guys it was meant to be informative and we ALL have our “this is best opinions” but remember that I said to use whatever system of CQC you feel you like best.

If you happen to want more info email me and we can go from there so we keep the forums/article posts on topic.



After having shot bulls eye for 3 years with the Army MTU I became a police officer. I realized that I’d never have time for sight alignment, proper trigger pull etc… At the police academy range, off to one side they had a single square steel plate welded to a post. I then started practicing point and shoot and have never looked back. An older detective had told me that when you point your finger at an object, if you hold your hand steady and look down your arm, hand and finger you’ll see that your finger is pointing to where you were looking. My .45 auto became an extension of my finger/hand. Out to 15 yards almost (90%) of my shots are in the 10 ring of a silhouette target. I can mount an orange next to a cantaloupe and hit the orange almost every time and not hit the cantaloupe. I do practice all the time. When I cant get to range I dry fire at home/office while sitting in chair. Of the few people I have trained they are as proficient as their practice allows. I also shot where I look while bird hunting.