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DISPELLING MYTHS ABOUT: Instinct Combat Shooting

by Chuck Klein

Instinct combat shooting - shooting at point blank distances, sans sight alignment - has been an accepted practice among police trainers for over 25 years. Originally a radical theory, it was subject to much debate and even ridiculed by some.

Since that tenuous start the idea of forsaking sights during close quarter do-or-die scenarios has slowly and steadily taken root. Now, most police academies, world wide, teach INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING - sometimes called Point-Shooting.

The concept has been proven to be fundamentally sound by the test of time and acceptance and practice in some of the most noted police academies. Regardless, some old disparaging myths still exist about this life-saving technique.

INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING is defined as the act of operating a HANDGUN by focusing on the target, as opposed to the sights, and instinctively coordinating the hand and mind to cause the HANDGUN to discharge at a time and point that ensures interception of the projectile with the target.

Instinct shooting, per se, is not new. Shotgun shooters have utilized the method on moving targets almost since the first hand held weapons were invented. Rifle combatants had little need for sightless shooting due to the great distances usually associated with single projectile discharging long arms. However, in the mid 1960s the U.S. Army initiated a program to teach selected infantry troops how to shoot instinctively with the then relatively new M16. Most other instinct rifle shooting was limited to trick shot artists. With the exception of trick shooters such as the late and extraordinarily talented Elmer Keith, instinct shooting with a handgun, prior to the first book published on the subject in 1986, was not considered a feasible means of protecting ones life. The thinking at the time was that to shoot instinctively the weapon must be supported at two contact points, namely the shoulder and the cheek, plus be supported by both hands.


In the late 1960s and early 70s, with the help of the late and eminent Dr. Bruce Wolff, O.D., I began studying the notion that the contact points could be just finger placement on the weapons stocks. Early experiments utilizing the totally inadequate factory issue stocks of then state-of-the-art revolvers proved to be discouraging. However, when form fitting and hand filling custom grips were installed the results were very much in line with the hypothesis. Skeet and trap shooters have known since the beginning of the sport that a proper fitting stock is paramount to shot placement. Therefore, and in order to develop a natural pointing handgun, the stocks must also fit the shooter.

Vision is the reciprocal action between the eyes and the brain. Humans are born with sight, but vision is learned. We are also born with the ability to shoot instinctively, but to be able to HIT the target, instinctively, under combat conditions is a learned skill. The successful INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTER has learned how to correctly react to the brains interpretation of what the eyes see. The relationship of the eye to the hand cannot be over emphasized. Therefore, vision and proper hand placement on the stocks are tantamount to successful instinct shooting. Life and death conditions during a firefight are determined not only by split second action but by attention spans as well. In other words if ones attention must be consumed by concentrating on a sight picture then that time is lost for defensive purposes.

Sports play is almost exclusively a learned instinct where the eye/mind/hand-body must work together. One can instinctively throw a baseball, but to place the ball in the strike zone with some regularity, the instincts must be honed (learned) from the established training procedures, knowledge and practice. Sports such as tennis, baseball and racquet ball are all one-handed sports in as much as they require the independent use of one hand at a time, not unlike handgun shooting. Accomplished players know that to be successful they must look the ball (eyes on the moving target) into the racquet or glove. No sights are required to pitch a ball, only learned instincts. If the racquet or body movements are manipulated in the same way every time then the projectile will go to the same target every time. Substitute the word firearm for racquet or body movements and the same principle applies. Once you have learned how to hold the weapon, and where and HOW to look, all of your shots will be on target. But, just like these sports, it is difficult to teach yourself - expertise in the form of a coach or a book is required, especially if your life is dependent upon your abilities.


Even though focus-on-the-target shooting during close-in combat battles has been widely accepted by the police profession there are still a few castigators. Mostly these uneducated and misinformed critics have perpetuated a few myths that should be addressed.

Myth #1 FLASH SIGHT PICTURE. Recently espoused by some of the detractors trying to acknowledge the importance of INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING without actually saying that they now encourage any form of point shooting. Proponents of this ideology suggest that the shooter, as his gun comes up to the shooting position, should somehow, establish a sight picture in a flash. In other words they are saying that all that is required is a quick look at the sights and then bang the gun. Sounds good. Trouble is, what if the sights arent really in-line and the shooter must spend portions of seconds or even whole seconds looking for the correct sight picture? Or its dark and the sights cant be found at all? On the other hand, if the sights are in line when the gun comes into battery, then why should the shooter need to spend time looking for the sight picture in the first place? Those trained in INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING will already know that their sight picture is in line when the instant of ignition is required. Furthermore, how would the flash sight picture shooter handle a moving target? By lead and follow through? Come-on guys, this isnt Sunday afternoon at the trap and skeet field. Suffice it to say, that at point blank ranges ANY amount of time spent looking for sight pictures is time that your assailant can be putting to good use - against you.

Myth #2 LOOK AT THE FRONT SIGHT ONLY. Yeah, sure like what theyve been teaching you all along, the correct sight picture is one where BOTH the front and rear sight are in alignment, is all bunk. Make up your minds fellahs, either the shooter looks at BOTH sights or, no sights. First of all, if only the front sight is focused on, without regard to the rear sight, then it should be obvious to even a novice that the course of the shot could be in almost any direction except low. Most assuredly, the shot will be as high as the shooters natural reaction, in his haste to clearly see the blade, will tilt the weapon upward. Once again, time spent looking for your sights will be time that can be used against you, not to mention the fact that, under front sight only conditions, your shot will be wild.

Myth #3 PROPER SIGHT ALIGNMENT YIELDS GREATER ACCURACY. Okay, you got me there, but only at distances outside the, its you or me 20 foot combat range. Well, maybe I exaggerated a little. Even at 20 feet most shooters, under match (not combat) conditions could shoot tighter groups utilizing BOTH sights. But, were only talking about a few inches and if you are able to impress a five shot, four inch group on the chest of the perp, sans sights, as opposed to a two inch sighted group, Im sure the perp wont know the difference. However, if because you spent even a fraction of a second to line up your sights the perp shot you, then your two inch group never got out of the barrel! At closer distances time becomes even more essential and pin-point accuracy less meaningful.

The bottom line is that if you have enough time to find and align your sights then your attacker might have enough of an interval to get a shot or two off at you. Whenever you have sufficient duration for such niceties as searching for blades and notches then you have enough time to seek cover. INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING is for the times when there is no time!

INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING is not a panacea for all shooting conditions. It is a tool, the best tool, for close encounters of the heart stopping kind, both literally and figuratively. Should you find yourself in a life or death situation where gun play is imminent and the distances are close then you should know the techniques that the rest of the good guys have been doing all along. Again, this is only for close-in firefights when time is of the essence. For most instances involving greater distances the old standard of priorities hasnt changed: seek cover first then use your sights.

Chuck Klein, a member of ASLET, is a former police officer, NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, a Private Detective and author of over 300 articles, stories and 6 books . Currently he is the Firearms Editor for P.I. MAGAZINE, and Contributing Editor for GUNS & WEAPONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT magazine. He can be contacted through his web site:
Klein pioneered INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING in a copyrighted feature article for LAW & ORDER magazine (October, 1971). He later [1986] self-published the first edition of the book, INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING, Defensive Handgunning for Police, which sold out to police agencies all over America and in many foreign countries. With the volume increasing due to many departments and police academies issuing books to each officer/trainee, Klein sold the rights. The expanded second edition of this important work is still in print and available from:

PO Box 1307
Boulder CO 80306
Web site:
($12.00 + $4.00 P&H - $16.00 total).