Yes, I know, it’s one of the oldest debates in the gun world. But I raise this topic for completely selfish reasons. I need advice! Maybe one of you gurus can help me out.
We’ve already talked about size versus quantity, so now I’m confessing my dilemma with respect to speed versus accuracy. I first laid hands on a firearm (of any type whatsoever) in 2001. Since then, I’ve gotten much better with both accuracy and speed. However, about three years ago, after a years-long, fairly steep learning curve, I hit a ceiling. More specifically, I crashed into it with a reverberating thud. My accuracy is still improving day by day, but my rate of speed has come to a screeching halt.
I’m at a point where the length of time between shots is probably somewhere between a half-second and three-quarters of a second (okay, fine, I admit, it’s sometimes slower). We’re talking personal defense distances (maybe three to ten yards-ish). At that distance and that speed, I’m very satisfied with my level of accuracy. But I kid you not, whenever I push myself to go even a nanosecond faster, the follow-up shot feels frantic and uncontrolled, and predictably it goes straight to hell. And I’m talking from sternum to scrotum. Upper-center chest to outer-lower fat roll. I swear, it’s like magic. There’s a very distinct speed plateau beyond which I simply cannot follow through with an effective second shot. And I don’t think it has anything to do with sight alignment/picture. I think it’s all trigger control.
One trainer told me to reset during the recoil. When I do that with my factory G17, I get ADs. On the range that’s embarrassing; but on the street it means jail or bankruptcy or both. I know the range is the place to make mistakes. But whenever things go drastically wrong in a practice session, my confidence makes a B-line for the Mariana Trench, at which point I immediately revert back to my comfort zone (relatively slow speeds).
For example, last week I shot with a local league (vaguely IDPA-esque). I think there were maybe 12 or 15 participants, and we shot six stages. At the end of the night, I had zero points down. But I was still toward the bottom of the pack, due to slow times. The winner had four points down; and within the top five, some shooters had dropped as many as 11 points (albeit at lightning speeds). I got a lot of compliments on my accuracy, but I couldn’t help but think to myself, accuracy doesn’t mean sh*t if the bad guy has time to hack me to death before I can launch enough lead to stop him. On the other hand, honestly the thought of “accidentally” (negligently) paralyzing somebody’s kid down the street scares me even more than being mortally wounded myself.
Maybe the answer is as simple as practice, practice, practice. I totally get that with repetition comes familiarity, economy of motion, and speed. But I DO practice! And still, my speed hasn’t budged in three years. [Insert whiny pouty face here.] I’m worried now that I’ve really hit a wall, and no matter how much I practice I just can’t get past it. Any suggestions?
23 comments on “Speed vs. Accuracy”
Training is great, don’t get me wrong…and for anyone who shoots recreationally or in comp, speed is a critical element. But for the person who buys a handgun for personal protection, while the mechanics of shooting is important, it is awareness, mindset, and mental preparation that is critical.
Think of your “thug” post; really it was all about situational awareness and profiling individuals around you, sort of a mental background program just the same as when driving, or more critically as I have done for forty five years, riding a motorcycle. An almost subconscious plan for what action you might take for any given scenario…if the old blue-haired lady in the Cadillac comes over into my lane is there room on the paved shoulder for me or will I have to lay this thing down in the grass? Same as it should be with people and their firearms, except the blue-haired lady is the meth head that might try to carjack me at a light…if I am aware of him standing there waiting for his chance, if he comes at me can I get to my gun in time to get off two to center mass, and am I at least peripherally aware of the innocent people in the car next to me or on the sidewalk if the S does indeed HTF? Speed is good, but if I don’t have a plan for the situation at hand then being able to launch ten in six won’t mean shit.
And as to mindset; am I prepared to kill? Did I get at least enough range time to know that this little .380 will be like a bomb going off in my car, and to be prepared for the recoil so I don’t lose control before I reset for a second shot, or did the counter drone sell me this LCP because it’s cute and cheap and then his job is done?
I know that you are personally way past these considerations and are now teaching others how to use their firearms for personal protection, so they will consciously think of their lethal tool as something much more than a novelty accessory. But I know from having completed roughly 1000 transfers per year for 30 years as an FFL (both purchases and pawn redemptions) that many of them are not really mentally prepared at all. And it is those people who most need your help as students and who need to know that speed and even accuracy at the range is useless unless they also have their head ready for what they, God forbid, might have to do out in the real world.
Amen, amen, and amen!
JTC, good comment and I want to start off by saying I agree with what you are saying. I would just like to add a small refinement if that’s OK.
As you say, Awareness, Mindset, and Preparedness are critical. It has been my experience in training folks (even in my former capacity as a law enforcement use of force trainer) that all 3 of those components are also trained components.
For example… me telling someone they need to be aware does them no good. I need to teach them not only HOW to do that, but WHAT do be aware of. Fortunately we live in a golden age of information where we have tons of surveillance video etc to use as teaching aids to display body language, common criminal tactics, pre-attack cues etc. These attributes also need to be trained under stress (properly) in order to be available during a critical incident.
Additionally, I have found that training these attributes (mindset, awareness, preparedness… as well as effective decision making under the stress of a competitive / combative encounter) is much more easily accomplished if the mechanics of manipulating and using the firearm are trained to an unconscious competence level.
If drawing and obtaining an acceptable sight picture and putting rounds accurately on target at an acceptable speed is able to be handled subconsciously through proper repetition, it makes the tasks of maintaining good situational awareness and effective decision making under pressure much more accessible.
LOL, I was just about to go into a dissertation on Boyd (an obsession of mine) and the vital importance of “Orientation”, but I don’t want to make this longer than it is already getting. Tiffany is already not going to believe me that I don’t post much, because this is the third time on her blog already… more than I have done on every other blog I follow combined :-).
Basically, I wanted to say that I agree with you on the primacy of the mental aspects you mentioned, but I believe in a Both / And approach rather than an Either / Or approach. For example, even if you are situationally aware and have developed the mindset to willingly to drop the hammer if necessary, you are still way behind the curve if you don’t have the skills to pull it off effectively enough.
Good stuff. I have probably geeked out enough for this morning. Thank you for stimulating an interesting conversation!
Hey, Dennis H. — I’m honored that we’ve inspired a whopping three posts from you! Thanks for sharing your expertise! Hope you’ll post more soon! 🙂
0.75 splits seem pretty slow, even for a beginner. I suspect that a bad grip may be causing poor recovery from recoil. Have you had a more experienced shooter look at your grip when you are drawing and shooting on the clock? You might be starting with a bad grip when the gun comes up from the holster. Maybe have an instructor/coach examine your grip, get to where you can “feel” what the proper grip is, and then dry-practice drawing and getting the proper grip a few hundred times.
Wow, you have actual beginners shooting faster than that? Dang, I didn’t think I was THAT bad – LOL. When I’m coaching I usually encourage true beginners to take their time and not worry about speed at all.
But as for me, yep, I’ve had grip assessments. I’ve done all those exercises over the last 12 or 13 years, and I steadily improved for the first ten or so. Now I’m at the plateau. I was wondering if there’s a new strategy I could try. In addition to all the suggestions I’ve been getting here, maybe I just need to strengthen my hands too. 🙁
Something I haven’t seen other folks mention, but seems to be relevant, is the “plateau” concept in learning. I’ll pass it on in the words I first heard it, from George Leonard, in his book “Mastery:” Hope it helps!
“Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it…the upward spurts vary; the plateaus have their own dips and rises along the way…To take the master’s journey, you have to practice diligently, striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels of competence. But while doing so–and this is the inexorable–fact of the journey–you also have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.” (Mastery, p. 14-15).
Thanks, Tim! I’ve heard of this a lot in my academic teaching too.
It gladdened my heart to hear that familiar recitation of Louies repeted here. Its as good advise as possible. Another oft used line is smooth is fast, fast is smooth. Focus on technique and fundamentals and stop worrying about not getting any faster. I am fairly quick in weapons presentation and target engagements. I also recognize that an action is timelier then a reaction. In the real world you must prepare to react to hostile threats.
Thanks! I’ve gotten so much useful feedback on this post, both online and off. You guys are awesome!
after a years-long, fairly steep learning curve, I hit a ceiling
Same thing happens in every sport. You learn a lot fast because you’ve got a lot to learn.
Dropping your golf, bowling or shooting handicap is lot easier if you stink.
I’ll take accuracy if I have to make a choice between the two…good hits matter.
At close range the speed will come because you’re scared $#!+less. Make the hits count.
Thanks, KM! Wish me luck! 🙂
I frequently repeat the following comment to Appleseed students:
You can’t miss fast enough to win.
You only mention follow-up shot speed, which leads me to wonder if draw & reload are also problem areas? If so, double the recommendation for the SIRT, which allows practicing those movements at home, and makes it easier to do things like try to breakdown the steps and figure out where the time and energy is going – something like what Rifleslinger is doing for Bolt-work here:http://artoftherifleblog.com/the-complete-guide-to-bolt-manipulation-technique/2013/08/the-complete-guide-to-bolt-manipulation-technique.html
This kind of analysis is essential for finding flaws in your own technique, which you won’t be able to spot when doing live practice, because in live practice you (rightly) are concentrating on sights and accuracy. The other way to see your motions clearly is to film your live practice and then watch it afterwards in slow-mo.
In agreement with a couple of the previous comments, there is no substitute for working with a knowledgeable teacher. Whether it is conditioning, combatives, or shooting skills, I always keep regularly working with Coaches I respect in class settings as well as private instruction when I can afford the time and money (and what we can afford is relative…a quick example: When my partner were operating our last gym / school, we had one couple that complained about being unable to afford training with us. The thing is, they were able to afford Starbucks coffee to the tune of 10-15 dollars a day and a new X-Box during the same time period. Meanwhile, we had another boxing student that asked us if he could pay us over the course of the month because he worked for tips and never new what he was going to get from day to day. The second guy never was late and basically worked to train… we would have totally made an exception for him if he fell short due to his dedication and faithfulness, but he wouldn’t hear of a discount…sorry for the rabbit trail there… back on topic…)
Here are a couple of other guys you may consider training with (they can help you get faster, but place a premium on accuracy).
Larry Vickers – http://vickerstactical.com/
Pat McNamara – http://www.tmacsinc.com/
With that said, when you are practicing what you have learned from an instructor… here is an approach that works well for me that is modified for firearms training from a method my partner and I used to teach combatives as well as competitive boxers and martial artists.
You will need a shot timer. Establish your par time for the distance you are working on (3 – 10 yards from your post). Your par will be your fastest time you can make “A zone” hits at that range100% of the time. Set your shot timer up for randomized start (say within 5 seconds) and decrease your goal (par) time until you are making your A zone hits about 80% of the time. When you do a few runs at the new time with 100% hits, bump the par time down again. This keeps you working at the edge of your abilities and allows you to progress without being completely overwhelmed.
Training with Scott Reitz at ITTS (http://internationaltactical.com/) recently, they used a similar approach that worked well for me. We went back and forth between precision drills and competitive drills that put the skills we worked under the pressure of competing with another person. So, precision on paper… move to the steel and work the same skill against one of your classmates. Of course you could use a timer here too, but running against a friend is both fun and helpful. Then it was back to the paper. Same principal and it was effective. You quickly learned your limits because you didn’t have time to miss if that makes sense. If you did, it was going to take you longer to make it up than your partner was going to give you. We quickly found out how fast we could shoot accurately, but pushed to expand that boundary because we wanted to beat our friends.
Dry fire is extremely helpful and I also recommend the SIRT Mark mentioned above. Put the same sights on the SIRT us use on your Glock and it will be even better.
Looking forward to hearing how it goes for you 🙂
It is hard to get into detail in a short post. Hope this makes sense and helps at least a little 🙂
Here is my stream of conscious…
As you stated, this is a classic debate, but you really have to make well-placed hits to be successful, so accuracy has primacy. That said, decreasing time to defeat cover garments, time to first shot, and follow-up shots is vital to avoid the hacking to death scenario you mentioned. If you are already trying to work on split times, and not having any success, some individual level instruction is probably required. You may be able to work through it on your own, but it likely will be an inefficient process. If you go it alone, try some basic trigger manipulation drills in addition to whatever else you are doing. For these, don’t worry about accuracy, just try to work the trigger smoothly with increased speed. Then, try to work toward controlled pairs and triples to see if you can work through follow-up and recoil management without disrupting your ability to re-acquire an acceptable sight picture and sight alignment. Try to avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Less than perfect sight alignment is perfectly acceptable at close range. If most defensive shootings occur within 5 feet, and the vast majority occur within 21 feet, you will still obtain an adequate level of precision. I also recommend that you acquire a SIRT training pistol for practice (http://nextleveltraining.com/content/sirt-specifications). If you decide to obtain one (I highly recommend them), I should be able to dig up a discount code for you. The SIRT will provide you with the ability to practice away from the range, albeit without the effects of recoil, but I believe it provides tremendous benefit. Regarding grip, Bob Vogel gave me the best advice I have ever heard, and I have heard a bunch. It is tough to describe his approach in text, but if you search, you will be able to find video clips where he goes over it. I am not a fan of the firing hand death grip. You will get sympathetic contractions in the index finger, and it can make it difficult to operate the trigger quickly and smoothly.
Hope that helps in some small way.
Very helpful! Thanks so much! I’ve got some homework to do!
Here is a clip of Vogel’s grip advice. My hands are nowhere near the size of his, but his advice is still applicable.
I agree with Mike. The second quote is from Wyatt Earp and in its entirety says, “Fast is fine but accuracy is final. You must learn to be slow in a hurry.” That said, I advise students who are having trouble with double tap accuracy to check their grip and stance. A weak grip or stance allows the recoil to drift the pistol off the target. Make sure you have 360 degrees of pressure (some instructors say north, south, east, west) on the grip as tight as you can without tremble. A final thought: competition is all well and good but be comfortable with your ability and skill levels. Do not let the fact that there is some out there better than you discourage you. The fact is that there is always someone better. We just have to be better than the bad guy who is usually untrained and impaired. My money is on you in that situation!
Well thanks! I certainly hope you’re right!
I agree with Davis. My money would be on you in a crunch. Watch the tactics and movement of the top finishers at the next match you attend and ask yourself if you would do the same in a real situation. Even competitive shooters will tell you match tactics bear little resemblance to real world gunfights. Among the reasons most lawmen do poorly in action matches is that we approach it tactically, not as a game.
I would say that within reason, accuracy over speed. Lou Awerbuck would always admonish his students “Don’t shoot fast, shoot good!” In a match, missing a shot means losing points. In real life, a miss is the potential death of an innocent at worst and lawsuit at best. Not to mention that if a fight starts you only have the ammo you brought with you. Another old adage is “Speed is fast but accuracy is final.”
That said, there are instructors that can help improve speed, Todd Jarrett comes to mind.
Off to the Google I go…
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