Sighted vs. Reflexive (unsighted) Fire – Part 2

Sighted vs. Reflexive (unsighted) Fire – Part 2
Sighted vs. Reflexive (unsighted) Fire – Part 2
Sighted vs. Reflexive (unsighted) Fire – Part 2
Sighted vs. Reflexive (unsighted) Fire – Part 2

This is the second and final post in a series covering the topic of sighted fire vs. reflexive fire.

Before I get into the meat of this final post, I would like to take a brief moment to thank all those USA Carry members who took time out of their busy schedules to comment on the first part of the article. I appreciate the level of input and decorum with which the first was received. Your comments and stories are much appreciated, and I hope that this post answers any lingering questions.

Having said the above, I apologize in advance for the length of this article, as I had originally intended for this post to be in three parts… but with the feedback from my last article, I thought perhaps that completing the article at this point could help tie things up nicely.

Now on with it…

In the first part of this series, we addressed the ongoing controversy over sighted vs. reactive fire, and how we at Pulse O2DA believe that the controversy is unnecessary because the two techniques in question are simply the obverse and reverse of the same coin.

I then set the parameters for my argument – I wanted to contain the discussion to the combative arena, where a fighter needs to have a balance of speed and accuracy in order to win a no-holds-barred high-stress fight for life.

In this final installment, I am going to attempt to do three things

  1. I am going to conclude my argument by addressing what happens to our bodies natural response during high stress events like gunfights,
  2. I am going to explain how the previously addressed concepts are relevant to you the fighter during a no-holds-barred fight for life, and finally
  3. I am going to be giving some advice and provide some links to free materials on how to safely practice both techniques at home in order to skyrocket your skills at the shortest possible time and at the lowest possible cost to you.

While I am sure that many of the readers of this forum know of the Sympathetic Nervous Systems (SNS) role in a fight for life, I believe it is appropriate that we quickly review its function and how it relates to us as fighters during a high stress lethal force encounter.

The SNS is one of the three parts of the autonomic nervous system, and the SNS’s function during high stress events is to mobilize the body’s nervous system for either a fight or flight.

I am sure we can all agree that a gunfight can accurately be categorized as a high-stress event, and high-stress events contain two main factors, which are composed of other influencing components. Once triggered, and depending on to what degree they are activated, these factors will cause either a higher or lower perception of stress experienced by the shooter during the high stress event. This perception will in turn determine the level of Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) response the fighter receives.

The two main factors and their influencing components are:

  1. High stress conditions, which are influenced by:
    • your perception of death or serious bodily injury – the greater the perception serious injury or death the greater the activation (inward focus)
    • the degree of confidence you have in your techniques and abilities (real skills) – the less confident you are, the greater the activation
    • the degree that the threat is a new or familiar experience (orientation) – the less familiar you are, the greater the activation
  2. Minimal time to select a correct response (condition black), which is influenced by:
    • the proximity of the threat – the closer the threat, the more danger we will naturally perceive
      • statistically speaking, most lost gunfights* take place within close proximity (under 21 feet), in low light conditions, and are over rather quickly.

The activation of the SNS is not necessarily bad news, and at the lower end of an SNS activation there are benefits for the fighter, which is what combat psychologists call performance arousal, and this performance arousal occurs when your heart rate is between approximately 115 – 145 beats per minute (BPM). During this performance arousal we are reaching our optimal combat performance levels for complex motor skills, as well as visual and cognitive reaction times.

That’s the good news. Yet, as we described previously; most things in life have give and take. That is to say that when you gain something as a benefit, at the same time you will probably lose something in the process. In the combative field we call this fact of life the principle of duality.

In this case, the benefit of performance arousal comes at the price of losing both fine motor skills, such as fine trigger control, at the low end of the performance arousal curve (around 115 BPM) and losing complex motor skills near the upper end of the performance arousal (around 145 BPM).

While fine motor skills are out of the picture for any life or death struggle, the good news is that if we can keep ourselves below 145 BPM (which is entirely possible with correct training) we will still have optimal combat performance levels for complex motor skills, improved visual and cognitive reaction times, as well as the ability to think with our forebrain – which is very important during a fight for life.

However, without proper training it is very easy and quite natural for the fighter to reach the higher end SNS response (about 145 BPM to 220+ BPM) which also causes such a large adrenaline dump that it can lead to audio and visual exclusion (tunnel vision) among other things such as combat stress induced short term memory loss.

Furthermore, the effects of a higher end SNS response is not only detrimental to complex motor skills, we also begin to think with our mid-brain at around 175 BPM. Which is to say, we don’t actually think well at all at the higher level of SNS activation, and a lack of ability to think well is bad news for good decision-making when you need such abilities the most.

Compound the above issues with the reality that your eyes will open wide due to the natural reaction to stress called “lid-lift” as well as the fact that you will most likely be focusing on the threat, and you will find yourself hard pressed to even reference, let alone use, your sights during a close in lethal force encounter.

Remember, most lost gunfights take place at close range; that close range coincides with the distances where we naturally reach a higher state of SNS response when faced with a close in threat.

So to roughly summarize: the closer and more scary the threat is, combined with the novelty of the experience and the less confident you are with your ability to handle the threat, the more you will involuntarily activate a higher level SNS response. The SNS response in turn dumps more and more survival chemicals into the body in order to prep you for fight or flight.

As you can surmise, all of these factors feed off each other, and begin a downward psychological spiral if not controlled at some point.

Does this mean that it’s impossible to use your sights under the stress of a close in gunfight if you reach a higher SNS reaction? Unfortunately yes, it does… and that’s not my opinion, this is what a preponderance of the evidence proves. We can choose to ignore this reality, but doing so won’t make it any less true.

Does this mean that we can’t learn how to control the SNS response and then use our sights during a lethal force encounter? No, but it is as unlikely as it is unnecessary, because in order to be able to do so with any degree of reliability under the stress of a lethal force encounter requires the proper kind of training.

Why do I say it’s unlikely? Because no range drills with inert targets (even with automated target systems) can give you the kind of high stress training and real life experiences (orientation) needed to learn how to fight under the heart thumping and adrenalin dumping stress associated with a lethal force encounter.

So if no standard range training will allow you to learn this skill, what will?

Only Reality Based Training (RBT) will do this for you. RBT pits you against real humans, using painful (yet non-lethal) munitions, in carefully scripted high-quality and realistic training scenarios that come as close as possible to the real thing. The key element is training to such a degree of realism that you would feel the same emotions one normally would in a no-holds-barred fight for life.

Why? Because you only gain true and valuable experience by getting as close to reality as you can; anything short of true reality training will leave you short in combat, and that’s one place you can not afford to be found lacking in the ability to control yourself.

In later articles I will dive much deeper into the priceless benefits that RBT imparts, for now, I will simply state that there is no substitute, as learning to deal with real life scenarios, which contain dynamic, and hostile adversaries intent on closing the distance and doing you harm, is the only way you will gain the life experience and practical skills you need to decisively win in a lethal force encounter.

I also mentioned that using sighted fire under the stress of a close in lethal fight for life is unnecessary.

I say this because in as little as two days almost anyone can easily master the technique of reflexive fire – even the more technical failure to stop drills – from zero out to about 5-yards and beyond. This is significant, because by knowing you can shoot rapidly and accurately out to 5-yards and beyond, you are helping to mitigate two of the four high stress influencing factors we spoke of earlier. This is no small matter, considering the fact that most lost gunfights happen within those distances where speed and practical accuracy are of the essence.

Think about it, if you have the confidence in knowing you can quickly, reliably, and effectively eliminate any threat that pops up at adrenalin dumping close range distances, then you are lessening your perception of death or serious bodily injury by being more confident in your techniques and abilities; thereby mitigating the factors that feed into the two main components mentioned earlier. This confidence and ability in turn pays off by achieving a much lower SNS response.

This is something we see all the time during our RBT training. Often our clients start the course fairly intimidated by their adversaries on day one, but as they see the techniques work and gain confidence in their ability to effectively deal with lethal threats; those circumstances that initially caused them concern (along with higher SNS reactions) on day one, become easily manageable by day two and three.

People say that you can lessen the SNS response by catching the precursors of a potential attack and therefore gear up for it mentally – and they are absolutely correct. You can indeed train to be more observant and potentially spot an ambush/fight before it happens to you.

Never the less, this is a hard thing to do because realistically the bad guy knows that his odds of achieving a successful attack are greatly enhanced the closer he can get to you before springing his trap.

My point here is that while you should train to identify, and properly react to, any kind of a violence precursor, you shouldn’t bet your life on being able to see every attack before it develops, because the odds are that you will probably be surprised if the attack is even marginally well planed and executed. Because of this likelihood, you don’t want to be caught short simply because you didn’t have the easily acquired skills you need at your disposal in order to quickly, confidently, and effectively deal with the situation at hand.

So because of physiological as well as psychological reasons, it behooves all of us who are serious about winning a fight for life, to learn and master reflexive fire out to around 7-yards and further.

Now let’s look at the flip side of the coin.

While the strength of reflexive fire is combat speed and practical accuracy at around 7-yards, its weakness is combat accuracy out much further than 10 to 15-yards.

If you are a proficient reflexive shooter who regularly practices out to let’s say, 7-yards, and one day you are faced with a couple of bad guys trying to kill you from at about 25-yards away. How much would you be willing to bet that you will not run out of rounds before you stop the bad guys with your unsighted fire?

If you are honest, you would probably admit that you wouldn’t want to bet a lot of money on it. And, just as importantly, we need to ask where those rounds which were fired but didn’t hit their mark, went.

My point here is that this isn’t a “one is better than the other” proposition, and you are best served by learning and becoming proficient with both techniques.

Let’s face it; sighted fire is better for getting your hits and extending your survivability at distances where the SNS response is lower because of your training, when you have purchased yourself both time and distance with your mental/situational awareness.


Reflexive fire is better for your survivability when you have achieved a higher SNS reaction to those close in situations where you receive a larger adrenaline dump, and achieving any kind of sight picture with sight alignment or a flash sight picture, is both unlikely and unnecessary.

Our advice is simply this: It would be prudent and practical to practice both techniques because it is in your best interest to be proficient with both techniques.

Remember this isn’t an either/or proposition, and much like in the Mixed Martial Arts arena, those who couldn’t progress to a mix of multiple disciplines of martial arts were left behind. So to will you place yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t practice both.

Having stated my case for both techniques, I would like to offer a few tips on how to best practice both techniques at a minimal expense to you in both time and money.

Lets begin with the reflexive fire –

When learning to shoot reflexively, you really need visual feedback; therefore it is beneficial to actually put some type of projectile down range in order to see the impacts. Having this visual aid allows you to adjust accordingly while you are shooting in order to build the required hand and eye coordination needed.

Getting visual feedback used to mean a lot of time and ammo at the range. However, the great news is that you no longer need to go to a live fire range to get quality and realistic training that your standard dry practice can’t give you. Today you have the option of quality airsoft guns or laser training devices (such as those manufactured by Next Level Training) that are manufactured out of polymers, steel, or a combination of both.

Additionally, todays electronic and gas reciprocating airsoft guns have come a very long way from what they were just a few short years ago. The new models of airsoft firearms are affordable, and they look, feel, and function close enough to the real thing that they are true training assets, making them much more of a necessity than a nicety.

On the practicality side, the odds are that because you can get quality range time in – without leaving home – with less hassle of packing your equipment and the associated travel time, you are much more likely to practice… well, you will certainly have fewer excuses.

As an additional benefit, if you are in a situation where you can’t get to the range (like during a deployment) where range time is unpractical, you can still keep your skills razor sharp. In short, there really isn’t a good excuse any more. I know; I have used these training tools for many deployments myself.

Even if you could afford to visit the range every day, I would still recommend these aids to you because they tame the recoil sufficiently to allow you to achieve a working understanding of your body mechanics during shooting, therefore you will get the trigger press that dry practice provides as well as sending rounds down range in the same manner you would in live fire.

Today’s airsoft guns are manufactured as realistic looking and feeling handguns, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns. As a matter of fact, they mimic the real thing so closely that you can use them with all of your current equipment. Yes, that’s right, you can use your tactical lights, holsters, slings, magazine pouches and even your optics. You would be surprised just how good these replicate the real thing.

An additional benefit is that they are inexpensive to shoot and will allow you to train to your hearts content in any private residence where the walls are not paper thin. Even the most expensive airsoft will pay for itself in a matter of months in comparison to what you will save in ammunition, gas, driving time, and range fees.

When you purchase your airsoft supplies, make sure you are using a quality target that will safely capture airsoft projectiles, and that are about the size of a hand-span, such as those sold at most airsoft distributors.

In my opinion airsoft are the perfect bridge to fully integrate your dry practice and live practice into one complete program. With this new technology, and a solid training program (dry, Non-Lethal Training Firearms or “NLTF”, and live) you can experience progress unlike anything our predecessors ever had the opportunity to acquire. Long live capitalism for giving us the opportunity to get to where we are today.

Does this mean that you should forsake your dry practice for the realism and convenience of NLTF? Certainly not. Again, just like any technique these types of practices all have their advantages as well as disadvantages.

Could you forgo the NLTF training altogether? Yes you can, but your progress will be slower without it, and if you substitute live fire for NLTF you will find that the expense in ammunition, driving time, range fees, targets, cleaning time and products, and wear and tear on your gun would have been better invested in NLTF training.

Additionally, you need to consider that most live fire ranges do not let you move on the range. Yet at home you can set up your dry practice area any way you like, and you can practice moving in any direction you like.

Does this mean that you should now forego your live fire in lieu of NLTF range practice? No, of course not. But you can start cutting back.

Your dry fire will improve your gun handling skills, your NLTF range practice will improve your speed and accuracy with both unsighted and sighted fire (out to 15-yards for even the handgun airsoft NLTF), and your live fire time should be used only to verify what your dry and NLTF has done for you.

One HUGE word of warning here, if you do plan on dry practicing and/or augmenting your dry practice with airsoft NLTF, ensure you do so safely, and that you abide by a set standard of safety guidelines in your practice. We have Dry-Practice Guidelines found in both our Strategic Manual, as well as available as a free download here. In short, do it right and safely, or don’t do it at all.

Obviously the first step in mastering anything is proper practice, so whether it’s dry practice, using NLTF devices such as airsoft, or live fire training drills, ensure you are practicing correctly so you aren’t ingraining bad habits which you will need to identify later, reprogram, and then retrain to the correct standard.

Begin to improve your reflexive fire by starting in close, using the same presentation and firing grip that you normally would, at about one yard from your target.

The only real difference you should notice is that you are looking at your adversary (target) for feedback, instead of your sights. This will translate to real life, where you should be watching your adversary for the reactions you desire to see him manifest.

Your stance, grip and presentation should remain the same (don’t worry about learning to shoot from the hip or a James Bond stance), no need to start improvising just yet, keep it simple and natural.

Present to the target and extend your arms out towards the target the same way you do with sighted fire; place your trigger finger on the trigger taking up the slack, press the trigger to the rear smoothly with one trigger press and observe where your first shot impacts, then adjust your grip so that your next shot ends up closer to the center of the target, repeat above. Once you have a few good shots in the center where you want them, conduct your scanning and assessing (Contact Drills) before you re-holster. Think about what you just learned and repeat the presentation/extension, placement/pressing, observing, and adjusting of your shots.

Once you are confident you are hitting the center reliably, begin to focus on keeping the same form while shooting faster and more accurately from the holster, while disregarding your sights and focusing on the target (for feedback).

Once you are comfortable coming out of the holster and you are getting your hits, begin incorporating a shot timer to know exactly how you are progressing.

You will find that you will get better results by learning to point towards your target with your thumbs, this is what we call “thumb indexing” or thumb pointing, which is a natural byproduct of a good grip.

Master that initial distance at about a yard and then take one step further back. Work to master your speed and accuracy that new distance. Continue to work one step back every time you feel you have mastered a certain distance.

As you move back you will notice that at some point your reflexive fire starts to miss it’s mark, and that’s okay. You need to work the distance where it begins to fall apart in order to get better further back. Once this happens, slow down just a bit and see if you can’t pull it back in, and once you do, start applying more speed. When you find your maximum distance, relax, and simply start switching to your combative sighted fire technique. You can pick up the reflexive fire again later in your practice if you so chose.

If you would like some tips on combative sighted fire, follow this link, scroll down to the fourth training resource entitled “EXTREME ACCURACY FOR
COMBATIVE SIGHTED FIRE” and download a free copy of our 20-page guide to effective combative fire.

Once you have worked your combative sighted fire in the same manner as you worked your reflexive fire (working on speed and accuracy). Once you have maxed out your distance and speed, start to move closer again, picking up speed as you get closer.

Safely press the envelope of combative fire by pressing for more speed, and then switch over to the reflexive fire when you know you can get better hits more quickly by utilizing reflexive fire than you can by combative sighted fire. By doing this you will be improving both skills during the same practice period.

Soon you will know your limitation and where you need to improve each technique and at what distances you can rely upon each technique. Make improving each technique a part of your training goals.

As usual, if you have questions, feel free to contact us.

Until next time, stay frosty,

– Silent Bob

* We say “lost gunfights” because the statistics that are gathered by the Department of Justice and FBI are amassed from those gunfights in which officers lose the fight.

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Ron Danielowski is the Chief Instructor and a founder of Pulse O2DA Firearms Training Inc. Ron has 25 years experience training thousands of civilians, soldiers, sailors, marines, and law enforcement officers. As a multi-agency accredited instructor, he has organized, developed, implemented, and overseen training for numerous federal agencies such as the Department of Energy, Federal Air Marshals, and the Department of State. He has worked extensively in both Afghanistan and Iraq in support of America’s military and federal agencies. Ron started his instructing career in the Marine Corps, both as a coach and a Primary Marksmanship Instructor. Ron is a Distinguished Marksman, member of the “President’s Hundred” winner of the Marine Infantry Team Trophy Match, and numerous other awards for shooting excellence. Ron has worked with some of the finest operators and combative instructors in the world, and it is his experience that provides the foundation for the Pulse O2DA training process. Ron can be reached at, followed at Twitter “silent__bob” (double underscore), or feel free to like us at Pulse O2DA on Facebook.
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Bob Moore

Wow!  Great article!

SilentBob AtPulse

 Thanks for the complement Bob.


Great article.  I now have a reason to get the realistic airsoft gun I have been wanting (I might better wait for father’s day though ).

SilentBob AtPulse

Thank you for the kind words Cato35. Fathers Day is just around the corner, I hope you get what you want.

– SB


When I went through our city’s civilian police academy, part of the program involved spending time in the shoot/no shoot simulator – one heck of a cool simulator!  Anyway, they emphasized reflexive shooting.

SilentBob AtPulse


Thanks for the comment, and I am glad you had an opportunity to shoot reflexively.

– SB


Great article. My son has extensive use of air soft guns, I guess it is time for me to obtain copies of my CCW firearms to train with. I can see how air soft mixed with dry fire would help to create the ideal training to prepare for live fire drills.

We are fortunate to live in the national forest and have outdoor shooting areas not far from home so shooting drills with movement have always been available and limited only by the imagination.

SilentBob AtPulse

 Hello paulcucura,

Thank you for the complement, and yes, it seems that you do need to catch up to your son, at least in this area.

Best of luck, and enjoy your training.

– SB

Ben Kraft

Interesting article. Being a member of a bridge engineering unit in the military we don’t get much instruction on overcoming short range engagements. However, the majority of what I have heard for close engagements (within 15 meters) is that you essentially follow your finger (aka point and shoot.) The importance of being able to practice reacting to a situation in order to remember any sort of technique is vastly important. The only issue I have with training using air soft is the lack of recoil. 

SilentBob AtPulse

 Hello Ben,

I can empathize. As you well know, few people in the military receive the training that they need. This is unfortunate, because as you are no doubt aware, quality training really doesn’t take that long to achieve, and is much more productive than the way the military trains.  As the old maxim states: The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military is getting the old ideas out.

Your assessment from the airsoft is valid, there is a lack of significant recoil.

However, I believe that in this circumstance (augmenting ones dry practice with airsoft) I see the general lack of recoil as a benefit to the shooter, because he can now launch projectiles down range – which will allow him to confirm that his basic mechanics are solid, while getting feedback from the rounds down range.

Additionally, airsoft will allow some recoil – enough to reset the trigger – and this lack of strong recoil will allow one to spot any errors in one’s grip and general control of the firearm. As you are probably aware Ben, being able to spot for oneself one’s strengths and deficiencies is something that is lacking with live fire because of the significant recoil that accompanies the shot.

Having said that, I want to once again clarify that the airsoft is meant as a means to augment dry practice secessions – where without airsoft practice, one will receive neither any slide reciprocation, any recoil, nor a  trigger reset). Airsoft is not meant to replace dry practice nor live fire… but it is a way to quickly and dramatically skyrocket your shooting skills.

Kind regards,

– SB


I  am a police firearms instructor and certified in many other NRA instructorships. I teach point shooting and shooting from the hip from the 3 yard line to the 7 yard line.  I agree with your article.  I refer to “puccer effect” at these distances since they will happen in the blink of an eye and reaction time is a fraction of a second.  I also teach this to my Defensive Pistol Shooting class also.  Keep up the good work.

SilentBob AtPulse

 Thank you Stephengallo648 for the work that you do and the kind words.

– SB