Extend Toward the Threat

Posted on October 27, 2011 by


For the last two weeks, we’ve been looking at the fundamentals of combat shooting and how they differ from the fundamentals of target shooting. For the purposes of our training, we defined the fundamentals of combat shooting as:

  • Orient yourself toward the threat
  • Extend the handgun toward the threat
  • Press the trigger until the threat has stopped

Today, we want to examine the second fundamental: Extend the handgun toward the threat.

Notice, we don’t say “obtain a good sight picture”, “obtain a flash sight picture”, or “focus on the front sight.” These are popular training buzzwords, but the fact is that in combat you may not have the opportunity or the presence of mind to use your sights. What we consistently see from dashboard cameras and surveillance footage is that even armed professionals, when faced with a close and immediate threat, will default to pointing and shooting regardless of what they have rehearsed in training.

What this means for us, the average men on the street who do not have access to the same kind of training as most military and law enforcement officers, is that in a close-quarters confrontation we will probably not be using our sights. Taking time to find and align our sights could, if the threat is immediate enough, actually steal valuable reaction time.

Generally, there are two schools of thought on this subject: Those descending from Col.  Jeff Cooper and his Modern Technique, and those whose martial heritage ties back to Col. Rex Applegate and the other men (such as William Fairbairn) who taught and pioneered the concept of point shooting.

Cooper and his buddies (the “Bear Valley Gunslingers”) were responsible for developing what is now known as the Modern Technique of the pistol. The Modern Technique was developed in a competition environment and emphasized the Weaver stance (later supplanted by the isosceles), focusing on the front sight, the 1911 platform and the .45 ACP cartridge. Ultimately, Cooper made some important contributions to our defensive knowledge, as well as gun rights advocacy, but he was also wrong about a lot of things.

Cooperites will point to the overwhelming success of the Modern Technique in a competitive environment. Its detractors will point to the overwhelming lack of successful, documented shootings in which the fundamentals of the modern technique even came into play.

The pioneers of point-shooting developed their techniques as commandos in World War II, and later as secret service agents and police officers on the streets of Hong Kong. Point shooting has a long and venerable track record, though its true effectiveness is difficult to measure in competition, where there are significantly less targets shooting back.

Must shooters or shooting instructors, then, lean towards one or the other of these trends, with the Modern Technique having dominated shooting spheres for the last twenty or thirty years. In fact, the truth is somewhere between.

Sights are valuable tools. If there is time, as we are extending toward the threat, we should use them. But we should also be capable of shooting without them. This is intuitive shooting – having the ability due to your training and comfort level with the firearm to know when to slow down and use your sights and when you need to respond with overwhelming speed and violence.

The most important factor is distance. For defensive purposes, the greater the distance between you and a threat, the more time you have to react. This is where training comes in: You have to know at what distance you can shoot quickly and when you need to slow down and use the sights. There is no hard and fast answer to this question – as Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”