Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Commentary - Head Shots


During virtually every IDPA match I shoot or training I have been to there is “the headshot”. My last training in the company of police officers occurred in February and was a “post certified” course in the state of Missouri. There was a hostage stage that involved movement from one point of cover to another and then engaging a threat holding a hostage. My first round tickled his ear – the other three centered in the triangle of nose and eye.

The target was a life sized image of a woman being held hostage by a man. A simulation of a recent story of a co-ed being held hostage by a male with a gun. The male then turned his weapon on a police officer – the officer engaged the male . . . . and killed both the assailant and the hostage. Not the ending anyone wants or expects. Both the officer and the family are devastated. No LEO expects to kill an innocent. No parent expects their child to be shot by a police officer. Yet – it happened.

How does this affect you – a citizen who has chosen to carry a weapon to protect yourself, your family and your friends? I see a couple of lessons here I’d like to explore.

The gravity of your choice: Carrying a weapon is a grave responsibility. You hold the ability to take a life in your hand – even the ability to take the “wrong” life. When you look yourself in the mirror each morning – do you really understand this?? I’m not trying to get you to change your mind – I want you to understand your choice completely and insure you work hard every day to live up to it.

Your skill set matters: I find I am truly resistant to the “4-hour quickies”. Yes – I understand Constitutional Carry. Yes – I agree these courses meet the requirement laid down by the state. But . . . . but . . . . as a shooter, as a person carrying a death-dealing weapon on their side or in their purse . . . . I believe you have a personal obligation (albeit NOT a legal one) to be fully familiar with your weapon and fully capable of using it to its fullest. To me that means you work with your weapon DAILY. Draws, dry firing, use of Airsoft look-a likes, us of tools such as the SIRT pistol and LaserLyte rounds. EVERY FRICKIN’ DAY!!

Live rounds down range: Yep, know ammo is scarce. Yep, know it’s expensive. Still, if you’re not putting a couple hundred rounds down range each month – your skill set is diminishing – NOT even maintaining an even keel. I have no answer to this particular issue – I simply believe you MUST SHOOT to maintain a skill set. Find a way to make this happen.

Spend money on human targets: When you work on hostage shots – you should see a face. A human face of a victim. You should see the human face of the attacker. In real life – both have lives. You intended to end one if need be. Move your training for personal defense to a higher level and understand the importance of shot placement, consistent hits and accurate “cold” shots. The mini-range I’ve built in my office for my SIRT pistols has two hostage targets. I take dozens of shots every day on both. I TAKE THE SHOT!

Be confident in your hostage shot – TAKE THE SHOT: The average width of the human head is around 6 inches. With lives in the balance, conversations over and a clear intent on the part of the hostage taker to either kill you or the hostage – take the shot. It should be one of thousands you have taken. Your range time should always include this scenario – always.

“I could never take a head shot – I’m just not good enough.” Then why the hell are you carrying a gun? It’s no different than a 6 inch spot on a chest. Do not allow yourself to “go there”. If you feel inadequate – hit the range, take a couple of courses, increase your dry fire. YOU are responsible for your training – stop limiting yourself.

It would be easy to allow an “out” here and say something comforting like “of course, there is always the chance that even with all that training, you might still shoot the hostage”. It would be easy to say . . . . but I won’t. If you draw, choose to engage a hostage taker with your shot . . . . there are no options, on “buts”, or “damns” . . . . there is only room for the hostage taker down – hard.

Push yourself. Accept only perfection. Every day. And, after all that, after the thousands of head shots . . . .

. . . take the shot, it may well be the victim’s only opportunity at life.


  1. In a hostage situation, the officer must be trained to presume that the hostage is dead for all practical purposes. Placing ANY value on the hostage is a mistake. It's not the human response but it's the only practical response that works. If you need to take a head shot and you hit the hostage, they're down and then you can focus on the hostage taker.

    In my opinion, that needs to underpin head shot training in hostage situations. Having BEEN in the shooter situation there, let me assure you that is the only acceptable way to train. The round you send downrange may not anticipate sudden movement or any of a number of variables that you may not be able to anticipate including wind movement between highrise buildings that changes impact point. And the shooter needs to be able to disregard a bad shot and take out the bad guy mechanically and with precision so that they can't hurt anyone else.

    It's not a pretty job.

    1. Thanks for the insight Larry. The point I was trying to make was that a person should train to the point of confidence that he can make the shot. I suspect you had no doubt you could make the shot. External input - the hostage moving, the hostage taker moving, wind, impact through glass plus a host of things that are outside of your control just need to be accepted as a possibility. But an individual training for the shot - that is within the capability of the individual. That's where I was headed with this post.

      As for the police officer - I do not see where he did anything wrong. It may well be the hostage or hostage taker moved at a critical moment.

      Yep, not a pretty job.

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  3. Good post and yes, using 'real' hostage targets are a good idea, however a lot of ranges are now restricting their use (PC police in action again)...

    1. PCitice seems to be all over in the shooting community. Fortunately I run the range I teach at . . . and I am many things but PC does not instantly come to mind!! :)