Getting a Head

| December 4, 2015 | 5 Comments

Shooting pistols at longer ranges isn’t new. Shooting assailants in the head with a pistol is also not new. The “Mozambique Drill” (two shots to the body, one to the head) was still being taught when I started my fight-focused training.

As time went on, head shots fell out of vogue. There was a lot of focus on “center mass shooting,” especially as point shooting became more popular and skilled instructors were demonstrating the viability of point shooting techniques.

More and more footage of shootings has emerged. Center mass shooting is no longer in favor. Today, most instructors teach four rounds bursts along the central nervous system.

Recent terrorist and active shooter events are leading some instructors to evolve once more. There is a movement to teach head shots — or at least, increase the priority of making head shots. The Paris attackers wore bomb vests, and the disgruntled TV reporter who murdered his co-worker on live television was rumored to be wearing body armor.

It is important that you can transition from CNS shots to brain stem / head shots in the case of a hostage drill, armored assailant, or attacker with a bomb.

It is very important that you can make pistol shots at longer distances. In analyzing the blast radius of TATP-based bomb vests like the ones used in Paris, the minimum “safe” distance was approximately 25 yards away.

Course curriculum is now combining long range pistol shooting and headshots.

This is a good and noble endeavor. However, doing this requires a lot of practice, discipline, and time. Specialized tools, such as match grade barrels, red dot sights like the Trijicon RMR, and upgraded triggers make this easier, but in my experience the vast majority of students I see in fight focused training classes don’t possess this sort of equipment.

I’ve used my RMR-equipped Glock 19 and Glock 26 pistols several times in carbine classes. At 40 yards, the “head” of the steel targets we use in class are completely occluded by the dot. At 70 yards (the furthest I’ve hit targets while under stressful training) the majority of the target is obstructed by the dot.

My speed at shooting at this distance is very slow. This is partially due to my inexperience, but partially because we’re using a handgun to shoot at long distances. Shooting fundamentals must be on point, and I find that if my concentration or confidence wavers at all my accuracy suffers. In watching other students make these shots — especially those with iron sights — the speed from decision to fire to sight acquisition to trigger press is very, very long. I do not expect a shooter to stand still long enough to allow for this kind of careful measures.

Here’s a gentleman with a very high degree of accuracy shooting his Glock 19 at 100 yards.


Here’s my buddy DrZ, whom I met at Rangemaster. He does nifty things like shooting playing cards in half by the edge:

Search YouTube for the many, many videos of other people hitting similar targets at 100 yards (and farther!).

Obviously, this is possible, but what do all of these videos have in common? Speed to shot.

50 yard pistol shot

I grabbed this still from one of my training videos to illustrate another point. I’m shooting at the right-most target, 50 yards away. Granted, I am shooting 1-handed, but look at the recoil and how far the muzzle is off target from my point of aim.

Additionally, we’re taught over and over again that handgun rounds are not effective. We are taught to shoot in four round bursts. We are taught to shoot for the spine, because shooting the lungs or even the heart is not enough to guarantee a stop. The hostage rescue drill demands two shots to the head, because we can’t be confident that the first round will penetrate the nose, skull, and hit the medula oblongata.

So, if four rounds is our bare minimum for body shots at 10 yards or less, why do we think that a single shot to the head from 70+ yards away is going to stop someone?

I’m not saying that hitting someone at 100 yards with a pistol is impossible. I’m also not suggesting that hitting someone in the head at 100 yards is impossible.

However, I suggest that the level of training and discipline to hit a moving, motivated assailant in the head at 100 yards multiple times in order to be effective is beyond what we should reasonably expect the typical fight-focused training student to accomplish.

SBR and PDW are better suited for the specific situation of making head shots at longer ranges. The additional points of contact means the time to shot is shorter. Recoil is more easily mitigated for follow up shots. Typically we see better ballistics out of SBR and PDW.

People who do not want to carry a PDW often state there isn’t enough time to deploy a bag carried weapon. I am not sure if this is still true as ranges increase.

Next season I am going to do a timed test. Deploy a bag-carried PDW and score two hits from rifle caliber PDW (four from a pistol caliber PDW) versus four from an RMR equipped handgun that is already in hand.

We should know how to make longer range shots with a handgun. We need to be confident with whatever tools we have at our disposal. I just want you to consider that the best tool for the job may not be a handgun, and it may take less effort and commitment to employ other tools.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

5 Comments on "Getting a Head"

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  1. Martin Luther says:

    The “test” is intriguing. Sure, having a gun in the hand would be faster than from the bag initially. But, once deployed the sbr would be faster put rounds on target and more accurate. Or would it??? We’ll wait and see. I think you addressed the tactics of deployment for the sbr in another post: Engaging the close, immediate threat with a pistol and deploying the sbr from cover. I think it also helps with the pistol to use some sort of supported shooting position for distance shots.

  2. Jim Molnar says:

    When you speak of the RMR dot covering the target what model do you use or what is the MOA of the dot?

    • Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd says:

      It’s the RMR RM07, which is 6.5 MOA.

      The 7 is the most recommended RMR, although if I were to build a pistol exclusively for long distance shooting I would choose the smaller dot.

  3. CR Williams says:

    I have an 8 MOA dot on a Glock which allowed me to make head-sized groups at 50 yards standing unsupported. This was when I was taking my time and I haven’t tried it again for some time. I also agree with Martin Luther about using a support or supported position when you can when setting up the shot.

  4. Biggfoot44 says:

    Focusing your training and practicing on “fight focused” and CQB distances is a good thing, and has stastical probably on its side. BUT crosstraining in other firearm disciplines has value. In IHMSA or NRA Field Pistol, these types of shots would be laughably simple.

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