Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Personal Defense Dynamics: Competitive Shooters vs. Defensive Shooters

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By Ed Santos, The Shooting Channel

They say timing is everything. Today, I agree. As I was deciding what to write about for this week when I received a DTI Quip from one of my most respected mentors John Farnam. John wrote about a recent rifle course he taught which was made up of defensive minded shooters and shooters from the competitive sport shooting world.   I have also witnessed in my defensive classes many of the issues and or traits that John discussed. So, topic for this column dilemma…SOLVED!

Let me first make it clear that I do believe there are many positives to be gained by participating in shooting sports. You have the shear thrill of the competition, increased interaction with your equipment, shooting under some level of stress and shooting scenarios out of your control just to mention a few. The focus of my comments today will be directed more to the negative elements that we need to be aware of.

As more and more competitive shooters become interested in defensive shooting I have noticed the ability to hit the target ratio go up among my classes. You might say, “That’s a good thing.” Not necessarily.  I believe with all my being that your ability to manipulate your firearm and understand the dynamics of a lethal encounter is critical to your ability to win the fight.

As an example, sport shooters will often immediately drop their firearm after shooting to evaluate the success or failure of their shot placement (score). This very bad technique in a real gunfight could get you killed. Oh in a real fight I would never do that you say… I say yes you will. You will fight as you train. Let’s look at just a few of the things wrong with this behavior.

Taking the defensive shooting rifle stance.

Taking the defensive shooting rifle stance.

First of all when the firearm is lowered to look at your shot placement, you are most often standing still, looking at the target and not following the target (attacker) to the ground or looking for additional threats, you are more than likely emotionally starting to relax and not at the peak of your mental game. Worst yet you have probably moved your trigger finger to the index position before you have confirmed that the attacker is truly neutralized.

Training must incorporate real world possibilities or we are training to fail. When we teach or train under repetitive courses of fire we start to form bad habits. These habits lead to an inability of the student to be flexible. Lethal encounters are dynamic, chaotic, quick, often in diminished light, and never predictable.

We never know what to expect from any lethal encounter and it’s absolutely unrealistic to think that we should. Some of the ways I incorporate realistic performance training is through the manipulations we teach and require in all circumstances. For instance, I had a patron contact me in my office informing me there was “a crazy guy” shooting in the lane next to her. Her interpretation that this guy was “crazy” was due to the fact that after shooting his target he brought the gun close in to his body and looked in all directions before holstering.

Realistic training must also not allow for the standard response to a threat of 2 rounds. The two round response is not acceptable. In our defensive classes we use terms that are sometimes confusing with respect to rounds fired at the target. These terms will differ between instructors but for the most part they are widely accepted or at least understood. Below is an attempt to clarify the most often used round count terms.
I immediately went to investigate. What I found was one of my most advanced students doing as he has been trained. He was shooting his target, following it to the ground, making sure it was neutralized, then coming to the compressed high ready, doing a 360 degree scan, tactically reloading and then reluctantly re-holstering.

  • Standard Response – Two shots on target
  • Non Standard Response – Any number of shots (shooter choice) between 3 and 9 shots
  • Double Tap – One shot picture and two rounds fired quickly
  • Controlled Pair – Two shots fired with a good sight picture established for each shot

We also need to practice the things we don’t do well. This takes discipline. We always like to feel good about ourselves or more specifically our performance. This often leads to a lack of support hand shooting, moving while shooting, and one handed manipulation practice. These areas are normally challenging to a lot of us…so we don’t practice them.

The reverse should be the case. We need to incorporate them into our training. In a recent Blog about my training classes by an unknown student, the student wrote, “Great class, but if you take a class from Ed Santos, you better know how to shoot with your support hand.” I did not see this as a criticism, but as a complement.

We must not fear failure in training. This is the only way we will identify our weaknesses and gain the insight to adjust our training practices to allow for the greatest potential for the ultimate victory. John Farnam has said many times, “We train to impress our enemies not our friends.” I believe that too often the opposite is the case.

Train hard, train with a purpose, train realistically, and push yourself…then the real learning takes place.

Be Safe……


Thanks to Ed and the Shooting Channel team for this post. Take a moment to visit The Shooting Channel online – click here to visit.

Ed Santos is author of the books “Rule the Night Win the Fight” published 2008 and his latest “Low-Light Combatives” published 2013. He is the Owner/Founder of Center Target Sports, Inc. and Tactical Services Group. He teaches advanced firearm skills and Low-light training around the world and can be reached at