Target Shooting and Unrealistic Expectations

A friend sent me this photo today. He was shooting a Glock 21 .45 ACP standing-unsupported at 25 yards and commented he needed to work on this. Yes he does; we all need to work on getting good hits and it’s a never-ending process. But as I told him, if you aren’t a bullseye competition shooter this is a perfectly respectable target.

It’s difficult if not impossible to train too much, and a good variety of training, different drills etc. is important. But basic putting-holes-in-the-paper skill matters and is often the easiest way for a lot of us to get some practice in.

The conventional wisdom is that under extreme duress your group-size will increase by 75%, and as a rule of thumb this isn’t totally invalid. Anecdotal evidence has shown that if you shoot some form of action-pistol shooting competition your group may expand less, maybe dramatically less. This is because you are used to functioning with your pistol under duress; maybe not as stressful as a lethal-force incident but having some familiarity with shooting under stress seems to be very helpful. Personally I typically shot better in matches than I did at a less structured shooting session.

If this was in competition this target would be appallingly bad. For rapid-fire with a snubby I’m not unhappy at all. It’s all relative.

Target practice allows you to focus on the essentials- sight-picture, trigger-control, breathing etc. You will fight as you train, so training all of these things to the point they are automatic will stand you in good stead if the excrement hits the rotary impeller.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth I trained to pick up the front sight as I raised the gun to eye-level. Thousands of reps with my duty pistol, somewhat less with my back-up/off-duty gun. On a couple of particularly high pucker-factor occasions I realized I had drawn my weapon when the sight picture intruded into my field of view. My body did what I trained to do while my mind was busy with things like situational awareness and keeping track of the other participants.

Same principle applies to simple target-shooting. If you’re trained to do it right then under stress you’re more apt do it right, or at least right enough. Yes, of course target shooting alone is not comprehensive training but it is a useful part of comprehensive training. Also shooting at different distances should not be neglected. The odds that you will need to engage someone at 25 yards in a civilian self-defense shooting are incredibly small. But if you can hit at 25 yards you can hit at 7-yards and closer.

25 yards with a mouse-gun? You might be surprised. If this were center-torso I reckon this would be downright discouraging.

One thing I hear a lot of is, “It’s just for table-top distances.” In most civilian self-defense shootings that’ll do, but if you don’t practice you may well find yourself missing at tabletop distance. It’s happened, and more than you might think.

I don’t recommend tiny .22 or .25 ACP guns for self-defense, but in some environments it might be the best you can do. The thing is the smaller and weaker the caliber the better you need to be with it too make it work. You need to practice and you need to shoot the gun at targets to build basic skills. This is true whether your tiny gun is your great-grandpa’s Colt Vest-Pocket .25 or a brand-spanking new Ruger LCP.

We are always saying ‘and gun is better than no gun.’ Similarly any useful training is better than no training. If the best you can do is dry-fire, manual-of-arms and target shooting do that. If you can run drills do that. If you can shoot competitively do that too, and don’t let some Neo-Fudd tell you it’s useless because you can’t afford to do every tactical shooting course under the sun on a constant basis. We can’t all be ‘lifestyle shooters’ and we don’t need to be.

25-yards, and you can bet I can’t do that every single time!

One thing to remember: a target is a snapshot in time, and we all have good and bad days. If you have a bad day at the range, or the class, match or whatever just remind yourself of this and soldier on. It’s all a learning experience and skill is an ongoing process, not a destination.

Stay safe and take care,

Michael Tinker Pearce, 25 March 2023

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