Point Shooting, also called instinctive shooting and threat-focused aiming is a classic method of shooting a gun without using the sights in close-up, combat, tactical shooting in deadly force situations, according to several sources including Wikipedia and the NRA. Of course, aimed-fire shooting is a technique where front and rear sights are aligned vertically and horizontally to get target hits. Recognize that some differentiate between Point Shooting and Instinctive Shooting, with Instinctive Shooting accepted as a one-handed technique without extending the gun in front of the body and the gun is sometimes fired from the hip area. Below are some common questions and some considerations I regularly get in the classroom about shooting a handgun and Point Shooting in self-defense situations.
Should You Always Use the Sights on Your Handgun?
Wait just a second, guns are manufactured with iron sights so aren’t you suppose to use them and focus on the front sight? Of course, but for certain very close-quarters combat, rapidly-developing life-threatening emergency encounters, it may be appropriate to NOT use the sights. In very quickly emerging attack situations, it is often difficult to immediately and very effectively apply the several proper marksmanship fundamentals and techniques of sight alignment and sight picture, including front sight focus. You may have to shoot before you can attain proper sight alignment because the attack happens so quickly and at such a very close distance.
NOTE: I must quickly add that if you have the luxury of time, you should use the sights on your gun in most situations. So, I recommend training to the primary standard of properly using the handgun sights. Of course, learning to also use Point Shooting in very clearly-defined up-close combat shooting is necessary.
What is the Best Overall Shooting Technique to Use?
Well, this question has been debated since at least the 1800s. Speed versus accuracy. Of course, the goal in a deadly-force swift attack may be quick and accurate target acquisition without the use of sights. Some say Point Shooting is faster than aimed shooting, while others say just the opposite. And even Wyatt Earp supposedly said:
“Fast is fine, but accuracy is final. You must learn to be slow in a hurry.”
So both are important in a shooting technique and the situation matters.
Colonel Rex Applegate and William Fairbairn emphasized Point Shooting, while other experts in the 20th Century advocated aimed shooting. Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper’s modern technique method relies on aimed shooting with sights, in practically all situations.
Lt. Colonel Cooper said “… hitting your target is your main concern and the best way to hit is to use your sights, but circumstances do arise in which the need for speed is so great, and the range so short, that you must hit by pointing alone, without seeing your gun at all.” He said, “I can teach the average infantryman to stay on target at 10 yards using Point Shooting more easily than I can get him into that 25-yard bullseye using sights.” He recognized using Point Shooting at 10 yards and less.
After training WWII commandos in Point Shooting, Applegate focused on law enforcement Point Shooting training and concluded they were training their officers to pass marksmanship qualification courses and not to prevail in close-quarters spontaneous gunfights with a determined opponent. So, Applegate used his “House of Horrors” which was a combination of a shooting range and an obstacle course with pop-up targets, psychological challenges, and poor lighting for Point Shooting training, with all targets at distances up to 10 feet. He initially trained 500 shooters in his House of Horrors without previous handgun shooting experiences. The results for Point Shooters who did not use their sights under adverse conditions and rapidly challenging scenarios indicated that they had average hits on 10 out of 12 targets and stopped the threat.
The controversy continues between aimed shooting and Point Shooting. Rob Leathan, 6 times IPSC World Champion shooter, in his “Aiming is Useless” video says the shooter does not have to bring the gun to eye level and focus on the front sight, but can most importantly just press the trigger without moving the gun and without using the sights. He stresses that pressing the trigger without moving the gun and gripping the gun tight and hard are keys.
NOTE: Aimed Fire is the dominant and best overall, proven technique to use in most situations, depending upon situational factors and skills.
“Aimed fire is the best overall technique to use in most instances, as it is the surest way of making an accurate shot,” according to the NRA Guide to the Basics of Personal Protection Outside the Home, Chapter 23. However, several trained experts in bows, crossbows, rifles, pistols, revolvers, and other weapons use Point Shooting to improve general accuracy. And sometimes not for a good purpose, e.g. Dallas night club owner Jack Ruby used Point Shooting with his middle finger on the trigger to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald in a corridor of the Dallas police department on November 24, 1963.
Today, the Modern Technique using sights and developed by Lt Colonel Jeff Cooper, used by the Gunsite Academy, and taught worldwide, is the dominant standard.
What is the Usual Distance to Use Point Shooting?
This author trains and practices almost exclusively now with sights and front sight focus, but realizes the value of Point Shooting and quick threat focus in very close combat situations of usually 3, 4, and 5 yards or less and also trains and practices at those distances. Earlier I only used the Point Shooting method out to about 3 yards. It varies by how you practice, how often, and skill level. Point Shooting is generally used from 0 to 7 yards, but some shooters hit targets out to 10 yards or so with this method. I know that the expert Bill Jordan could hit targets easily out to 15 yards using Point Shooting. He was able to draw and hit a target center-mass in about 37/100ths of a second at this distance. But I cannot and 3 to 7 yards now is my effective range for Point Shooting, since I practice more with my sights. I have proven to myself that I am more accurate using my iron sights and front sight focus. Note that shooting with red dot sights requires you to find the dot and focus on the target to place the dot there. Some say that red dots are best used at longer distances beyond 10 yards, like with rifles. This is generally true for me.
NOTE: The major advantage of the Point Shooting method is the speed of presentation.
Different Point Shooting Methods
The one element that the different Point Shooting methods have in common is that they do not use the sights and focus on the shooter’s ability to quickly hit short-range targets under less-than-ideal conditions in life-threatening, close quarters. Recognize that in some situations you might even fire from the hip area and may not even use your sights at all. Distance has a lot to do with the method chosen and so does the immediacy of the threat and other situational variables.
The earlier Point Shooting method used the index finger placed along the side of the gun to aim or point the gun, while using the middle finger to press the trigger, e.g. Jack Ruby as mentioned above. Even the U.S. Army mentions this method in its early first instructional manual for the M1911 pistol.
The “Israeli Method” of Point Shooting was developed by the Israel Defense Forces for use in training personnel to use rifles, submachine guns, and handguns. In his book Brotherhood of Warriors Cohen discusses how Israel Defense Forces use it for close quarters battle and with accuracy. Training in rapid acquisition of sights is even taught in its later stages. A firm two-hand grip and a modified Isosceles stance with a slight crouch, while looking over the gun at the target seem to be key features of this method.
Some call Point Shooting “Hip Shooting,” but for me (and the NRA’s definition) that does not define it best. Hip shooting is mostly for fast-draw competitions and old fancy wild west exhibition shows, shooting quickly from the hip level immediately as the gun leaves the holster. In Point Shooting, the shooter shoots close to the body with the forearm(s) extended with the gun held just below eye level, usually shooting from the center of the chest area with the chin lined up with the back of the gun, not from the hip.
Do You Use One-Handed or Two-Handed Grip in Point Shooting
A shooter can Point Shoot using a one-handed or a two-handed grip and each has its pros and cons.
The one-handed technique is generally faster and it allows the weak/support hand to be free to fend off attacks by an arm’s length attacker, to use a flashlight, to hold an object, or to steady your balance. However, the two-handed grip allows greater recoil control, decreased arm and hand fatigue, and optimal handgun retention.
What are the Components of the Handgun Point Shooting Technique?
Recognize that if you regularly train and practice with your handgun and whatever shooting method and techniques used, you will develop a comfort and level of control and familiarity with your gun, which will be major advantages for Point Shooting, including accuracy. You will be comfortable and accurate in shooting because you will instinctively adapt to the gun’s weight and its specific features to help develop the necessary coordination and natural relationship with your eyes, hands, fingers, personal physical characteristics, and your brain from muscle memory.
Eye and Hand Coordination
Point Shooting involves eye and hand coordination, but probably not as much as aiming and sight alignment for most shooters. In Point Shooting, the eye focuses on the precise spot on the threat or target where the bullet needs to be placed. Some even say to pick a point of impact the exact same size as the bullet. Of course, much practice is required to get the shot to that exact spot.
Col Ben’s Point Shooting 10-Step Draw-from-Concealment Procedure
- Start by squarely facing the target with shoulders squared, with feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Keep knees slightly bent with feet perpendicular to the target and slightly bladed/canted, as desired.
- Both eyes should be focused exactly on the target spot where bullet impact is desired.
- Use the strong hand to sweep aside the covering garment to access the gun in the holster and grip the gun very tightly and high up on the backstrap.
TIP: Wrist and elbow should be locked.
- Support/weak hand should be approximately in the center of the chest area tightly against the chest, when drawing from the holster.
TIP: Do NOT sweep your hand with muzzle when presenting gun.
- Handgun is drawn from holster, rotated toward the target, and extended forward with gun and sights BELOW eye level. The shooter’s line of sight is ABOVE the sights of the handgun.
TIP: Index forearm of strong-arm against waist after drawing and before extending gun.
- Gun is fired when aligned with target, without use of sights.
TIP: Press the trigger straight back smoothly and continuously without moving the handgun.
- Gun hand(s), strong wrist, and strong arm are straight and aligned directly straight with the target.
TIP: One or two hands may be used to very firmly grip the gun as desired.
- Handgun should be brought straight to the center of the body at chest level BELOW eye level.
- Gun is positioned in the center of the body chest area, with gun at chin level and below eyes, and alignment with target can be easily seen in peripheral vision, without tilting gun.
TIP: Align your chin close to the top of the rear of the gun, keep you head upright, and look well over the top of the gun.
NOTE: SAFETY FIRST when practicing Point Shooting. Go slowly at first, steadily going through each step of the procedure.
Point Shooting without aligning the sights and without focusing on the front sight may be necessary in very close-up, surprise tactical, combat deadly-force situations. However, if you have the luxury of time, you should use the sights on your gun in most situations. Aimed Fire is the dominant and best overall, proven technique to use in most situations, depending upon situational factors. The major advantage of the Point Shooting method is speed of presentation. And remember that most self-defense encounters happen at 3 to 5 yards, so this method can be learned, practiced, and practically applied for most shooters.
The principles are simple and work. A shooter can Point Shoot using a one-handed or a two-handed grip and each has its pros and cons. By aligning the shooter’s body and gun with the target and not using the sights at very close distances, the gun is quickly and directly aimed at the threat and there can be speedy and accurate hits. When Point Shooting, remember to extend your arms, keep your line of sight above the sights, keep you head upright, and look over the top of the gun. Point Shooting involves a lot of eye and hand coordination and much practice, before using it in a life-or-death encounter. The eye focuses on the precise spot on the threat or target where the bullet needs to be placed. Some even say to pick a point of impact the exact same size as the bullet. Of course, much practice is required to get the shot to that same spot.
Beyond 7 to 10 yards or so, Point Shooting is not that accurate for most shooters and considerable practice is needed for accuracy. Be certain to follow and practice my 10-Step Point Shooting Procedure mentioned above. And recognize that Lt. Colonel Cooper’s Modern Technique of Aimed Firing with sights and focusing on the front sight is the standard because it works, allows for quick target acquisition, and is accurate at even longer distances. But, Point Shooting and not using the sights certainly have their place in certain, up-close tactical situations that require very quick hits on target. Mastering it through much practice may be the difference between life and death in very close combat-distance encounters.
Photos by Author.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2020 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.