Point shooting versus sighted fire: Why the debate?

When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

Editor’s Note: Last time I wrote a PoliceOne column on a controversial topic (yeah, that one) I got hammered with comments and critical emails. That was so much fun, I’ve decided to do it again (I’m told sarcasm is tough to pull off in written word, so please be advised: that was sarcasm). Anyway, let’s start the year off with a “bang!” and address the matter of “point shooting versus sighted fire.” Please add your thoughts below, but as always, let’s keep our commentary professional, productive, and on-point.

My favorite news item from this week is the one about the recently-widowed, 18-year-old mother of a three-month-old boy — the one who shot an intruder dead when he kicked down her door. I’ve done my share of “when/then” thinking about a similar situation going down at my house, and I firmly believe I’d have similar results. I believe this because I practice, practice, practice. Frequent readers of this space know that I do my level best to improve my skills through the various training venues I attend, dry fire exercises (as well as repetitions with my ‘Blue Gun’), and finally with practice by myself at the range. When I’m at my local range — or any range, really — with a smattering of skill levels represented up and down the line, it’s abundantly clear to me that my shooting skills are “average” — certainly not “bad” but sadly, also not “excellent.” I’ll never win any ISPC shooting competition, but I’m definitely good enough to “solve the problem” should it ever come to that.

That young lady in Oklahoma was simultaneously armed with a handgun and a shotgun (my kind of gal!), and although I’m not presently aware of which firearm she used to solve the problem, I’ve got a hunch it was the long gun. I’ve also got a hunch she didn’t acquire a perfect sight picture. No way to know, but that’d be my guess. Door comes flying in, and “boom!” One dead bad guy, another bad guy who thought better of attempting entry — he turned himself in.

I get a pretty big kick out of the feverish intransigence a small segment of folks have over the issue of “point shooting versus sighted fire.” Why not both? After all, when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Nearly all of my range time (maybe 90 percent) is devoted to sighted fire, but I also do some reps point shooting. Some of this is by necessity — when performing a “shot from retention” exercise or for firing on a target within “bad-breath range” for example — but I also will purposefully “aim” from the seven-yard line by ensuring excellent body alignment, stance, and my best possible trigger control.

During my most recent range training exercises, the challenge was to get accurate, threat-stopping shots on target as quickly as possible from within the confined space of a compact car.  I did this training using sighted fire.
During my most recent range training exercises, the challenge was to get accurate, threat-stopping shots on target as quickly as possible from within the confined space of a compact car. I did this training using sighted fire. (PoliceOne Image)

Police1 Columnists Sound Off
The criticism I’ve heard (more than once) is that I’m confusing my muscle memory. But given the 90/10 percentages I devote to the two “philosophies,” I think I’m good to go. Regardless, I’m always looking to learn from people who know way, way more than I do — I frequently joke that I could take all my firearms knowledge, put it in a tall drinking glass, and still have room for a delicious adult beverage — so a while back I asked my friends Ken Hardesty, Dick Fairburn, and Lance Eldridge to send me a couple quick thoughts on the matter of “point shooting versus sighted fire.” Let’s get to it.

“The best answer I’ve heard when speaking of sighted fire versus point shooting is, use your sights when you need to,” Ken Hardesty began. “Up close and personal, obviously the user won’t have the time or the ability to use sighted fire. Beyond that, I’m an advocate of sighted fire. As a police officer, I must be able to call my shots. If I can’t explain where I intended the rounds to impact, and how I insured that would happen, I’m faced with a problem. The first question any plaintiff’s attorney will ask is, ‘how were you trained, and how do you train others?’ The answer is, ‘to focus on the front sight.’ Once again, at ‘FI card’ distance and in, sights are simply not an option for me. Outside of that, sighted fire is my choice and the way I train.”

“The point shooting crowd claims sighted fire is virtually impossible under close, combat conditions,” stated Dick Fairburn. “They always refer to someone’s ‘research’ which supposedly proves their point. I concede that the natural human response to a threat is to focus in on the threat, making it impossible to focus on the sights at the same time. Those who serve as Simunition role players for academies training new recruits quickly learn to wear at least heavy leather gloves (padded hockey gloves are even better) because the recruits will tunnel vision in on the threat (your gun in your hands), resulting in lots of painful Sims hits on your delicate fingers. However, as the trainees become conditioned through proper stress inoculation training, they become able to concentrate on their sights and land good, center-of-mass hits. Trainees who don’t initially focus on your hands will often shoot low during early scenarios ... my theory is they are lowering the gun to better “see” the threat, but again, they do better as they become conditioned to performing under stress.

“If you truly and fully believe Bruce Siddle’s theory that fine motor skills are impossible under high-stress conditions, we couldn’t produce effective fighter pilots. But, since we can train top performers to multi-task both fine and gross motor skills in a three-dimensional battle space at Mach Two with their hair on fire, the human machine can be conditioned to the stress, making any task possible,” Fairburn continued.

“At close range, at maximum speed, Jeff Cooper called the process a “flash” sight picture. Meaning, you simply need to “see” a fuzzy image somewhere on your target to get a hit ... probably not an X-ring hit, but a hit. As my eyes got old and bifocal glasses became necessary I better understood exactly what Cooper meant. A fuzzy, flash sight picture is all I can get unless I move my head around enough to find the sweet spot in the bifocals to get the front sight in focus, yet I fire my annual retired carry qual and USPSA matches just fine — a max distance of 15 yards. I have an eye appointment coming up and I understand they can now put a “front sight distance” bifocal spot in the upper left corner of my right lens, so I might regain my front sight focus ability in fast conditions. Another alternative I find acceptable is to look over my glasses, allowing my aging near-sighted eyes to have perfect focus on the REAR sight, improving my groups.

“The summary is — most trainers believe in a flash sight picture up close and more precise sighted fire at 15 yards and beyond. The small, but very vocal point shooting crowd will never agree, no matter what proof we offer. They claim that with enough practice you can become very good at point shooting and they are correct. But, with the same or even less training time, I can produce a more effective and well-rounded gunfighter using sighted fire,” Fairburn concluded.

Finally, these thoughts from Lance Eldridge. “I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. The real question should be can the officer hit the target with combat accuracy inside acceptable time parameters? If so it doesn’t matter if the officer “sights” or “points” the gun. If the qualification course is sufficient to measure basic gun handling then all is fine. Problem is that quals often fail to reflect the higher level of gun manipulation necessary to win the types of dynamic engagements cops find themselves fighting. However, if a qual is pretty basic, training must push all shooters well out of their comfort zones and get them to shoot as fast and accurately as possible...while moving.

“I encourage point shooting for deadly encounters inside 12-15 yards,” Eldridge continued. “When I teach the concept of point shooting I have officers stand around and point — with their fingers — at each other as quickly as possible and then ask if they believe they are pointing at their “target.” All agree they are. If the officer’s grip includes thumbs pointed forward and they have indexed correctly there’s little difference between pointing with their index finger and aiming the gun in a similar manner. The trick is making sure the trigger press / manipulation doesn’t move the barrel off the target. At this distance I believe the grip (wrists locked and high on the gun) and trigger manipulation are the most important.

“This doesn’t create perfect shot groups inside a quarter, but it’s sufficient for lethal combat engagements, especially if officers can sustain an acceptable rate of accurate fire, say three to five rounds in two seconds or less...while moving. I’ve also never been a fan of the two-to-the-body and one-to-the head approach as it doesn’t reflect real world situations. You continue to shoot until the threat stops. I also tell students — by the way, I’m a student each time we go to the range as well...learn things from each of the other officers every time — that if their body shots are accurate and sustained the head will come to them, though that’s probably a statement more appropriate on a closed range. What is the best number of rounds? Could be two rounds. Could be ten. You just don’t know until it happens, but have to be able to not only shoot accurately and quickly but assess the effect the rounds are having on the target at the same time. You can’t do that if you’re worried about sight picture and sight alignment. In training when asked how many rounds to shoot at a target in a particular scenario I always say that’s up to them. Three? Five? Whatever! Drives the head firearms guy nuts because of budget restrictions on ammo purchases. I’m of the mind that all quals should be no further out than 12-15 yards. I also would like to see officers moving all the time while firing,” Eldridge said.

“Sighted fire, I believe, is better suited for 12-15 yards and beyond, which can be covered in training, and should be. There’s a bit more time at the longer distance and accuracy may be important at these longer distances as well, especially given the types of possible scenarios. Here I believe sight picture, sight alignment, and trigger manipulation are the most important. What I’ve also found is that as I’ve aged I don’t do nearly as much sighted fire as I did when I was younger. My eyes don’t focus as quickly and I’ve tried to compensate with technology, i.e., the Express Sites, for example. I’ve now found myself doing some weird combination of both point and sighted fire at these longer distances so I can try and stay inside the time limits for qual.

“But again, so long as the officer is hitting the target with combat accuracy inside acceptable time parameters it shouldn’t matter. Instructors have to be intellectually flexible enough to accept that all shooters are different and cannot be coached into performing unnatural acts on the range. So, like you, I’ve never really understood the debate,” Eldridge concluded.

Police1 Members Speak Out
Please add your own thoughts in the area below, restricting commentary to that which is professional, productive, and on-point. I believe we can all do a lot of learning by exchanging ideas and engaging in conversation, both here in the online world and the next time we meet in person. For example, if you’re going to SHOT Show later this month, drop by the Police1 booth and leave me your phone number. Or just send me an email with your contact information. Perhaps we can continue this discussion over a cup of coffee, or after the sun goes down, over one of those abovementioned “cold adult beverages!”

Stay safe my friends. Here’s to a great 2012.

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