Monday, December 7, 2015

The New Handgun Combatives Target: Shot placement is paramount!

“Its not important you hit something, its important that you hit something important! “    Ed Sanow

“ What handgun stopping power comes down to is where you hit them and how many times you hit them” Dr. Vincent DiMaio

“ Shoot tem until THEY think they’re dead. Your viewpoint does not matter. Also keep in mind they may not have read the same wound ballistic studies you have so they do not know what they are supposed to do.”    Dave Spaulding

My training company focuses on the “combative application of the handgun” which means shot placement trumps all else. Yes, speed cannot be ignored as the “typical” domestic handgun fight lasts just a few seconds, but what ends the fight is well placed shots into vital areas of the body. PERIOD!

We all know there are three primary mechanisms to stop an attacker with a pistol. The first is psychological incapacitation. In a nutshell the person has been shot so their brain tells them to go down. While this does happen more often than many believe you certainly cannot count on it to save your life! It also seems to affect more good guys than bad guys…not good…

Second is the violation of vital organs such as the brain or heart. We all know that a shot to the Abdullah (aka The Almond) at the top of the spinal cord is instantly fatal, but it is small and very hard to hit. The brain is covered with a hard helmet called the skull meaning rounds will need to hit the eye sockets, nose cavity or ear canals to have a better chance of hitting brain matter.  That said have you ever seen a person shot in the head that did not penetrate? I’ve seen it several times and the person struck does the same thing someone does when hit with a baseball and not wearing a helmet…they fall down. No guarantees, but incapacitation is incapacitation regardless of whether death is involved.  If the person goes down for whatever reason, I am good with it.  Thus, face shots…especially at close range…can still be effective even if penetration is not achieved.

Shots to the heart and spinal column can also be quite effective, though there are a number of documented cases of people being shot in the heart and remaining mobile for 20, 30, 40 seconds before succumbing to their wound.  It is called “ambulation after death” and it is due to blood and oxygen already in the brain. A lot of damage can be done in this short time span. The spinal column is at the back of the body and is more accessible to a shot to the back, which can be justified in court due to how fast a body can turn, but a frontal or side shot is more likely. 

The final method is blood loss, which as we all known can take a few minutes, but if it eventually stops the fight and it is all we have, it will have to do.  The heart and major blood vessels will be the target of this wounding mechanism.

Regardless of what you believe about handgun stopping power theories, bullet caliber/size/weight, velocity or any of the other related topics, the one thing most everyone agrees on is that shots to vital body parts is the best way to stop and fight and the more rounds delivered, the more likely this is to occur. This is why I spent a sizeable amount of time in my classes on shot placement and recoil control before moving on to tactics and techniques like movement, one hand manipulation, cover, etc. Stopping the threat before it can do you harm might be the ultimate tactic!  It will require solid shot placement…

In order to accomplish this essential skill, I spend a great deal of time shooting 3 x 5 cards in my classes.  A 3 x 5 card is about the same size as the heart and aorta and is likely the best focus region for handgun incapacitation as it is centered in the high chest.  I like to use a series of paste overs in my courses that emphasize the vital parts of the body along with 3 x 5 cards to get my students to “zero in” on the vital zones.  I have been working with Law Enforcement Targets ( over the last few months to develop a new target that will help me continue this emphasis in my classes.  It will replace the older HC Target as the new one better emphasizes the goals I am trying to accomplish in my courses.

The primary strike zone is a 6 x 10 rectangle high in the chest that follows the heart, aorta, major blood vessels and the spinal column vertically up the chest cavity.  While some will argue this strike zone is too narrow for a frontal shot, it is wise to keep in mind this same strike zone will be narrower if a side shot is required thus the narrow 6 inch strike zone can be used to represent these less optimal shots.

The strike zone can also include the head, if the shooter so chooses, as a headshot can be quite effective as previously discussed.  I have opted to include the entire head for the same reasons as IDPA…I think a shot anywhere to the noggin can be a fight stopper, especially at close range.  The eyes and nose are supplied to give the shooter an idea of where shots are best placed.

At the bottom of the target is a series of 3 x 5 cards that I use for various drills in my classes.  You will note there is a dotted 3 x 5 card around the heart in the chest cavity portion of the target to help emphasize what these 3 x 5 cards represent.  These cards also allow for more practice before target replacement or taping is required.  I am a big proponent of what Todd Green calls “negative taping” in which only misses are taped. By doing so, less time is spent taping and more time is spent shooting.

The targets are cut to fit over any USPSA or IDPA target so used targets can easily be made into new targets by applying a bf ot 3M Spray Adhesive.  The head cut also allows for shirts to be placed over the target for even greater emphasis on shot placement or enhanced realism.

The HCT-1A is available from LE Targets right now, though it will not be up on their web site for a few days.  Give this new target a try…I think you will like it! Thanks for checking in!


  1. Nice review of the basic shooting facts/

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