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Targeting with a Handgun

The discussion of what to aim for comes up regularly in our classes. I like this subject because it gives us the opportunity to talk about how the human body operates.

The Determined Threat

I remind folks that handguns are poor fight stoppers. They are convenient and the price for this convenience is the difficulty in stopping a determined threat. There are lots of reasons a threat would be determined. Some within their control and others not so much. If you are facing a determined threat you will need to engage the largest target zone available with rapid, repeated and solid hits. Your objective is to deliver a sufficient volume of accurate fire to stop the threat. Another major consideration is to remember the bad guy gets a say in the outcome. This choice makes your job both challenging and unpredictable. It is hard to know the really determined threats from those who are not fully determined in the onset of the critical incident and who voluntarily oblige.

Types of Stops

It is helpful if the student understands the various types of stops available with firearms. We also need to have some basic understanding of anatomy. The goal of our actions is to disrupt or destroy the body’s vital life processes. Those would be the body’s ability to generate oxygenated blood, the body’s ability to transport oxygenated blood and the central nervous system. These vital life processes can thus be categorized as the heart, the lungs, major blood carrying vessels, the spine and the brain. The types of stops are immediate, rapid, destructive and physiological.


An immediate incapacitation occurs when the central nervous system is stuck and usually this occurs with shots to the head or spine. Think of immediate as if you are turning off a light switch. The response will be that quick. I have only scene this occur once and it was somewhat cheating since the round was fired from a sub-machine gun. Rapid incapacitation occurs when the heart, lungs and major blood carrying vessels are struck. When blood volume loss reaches a certain level oxygenated blood fails to make it the brain it turns off. Now rapid is a bit of a misnomer because it could take 10-15 seconds or more for sufficient blood volume loss to occur. These are the two primary types of stops we are training for with handguns, it is more likely achieveable over instant. The principle reason will be rapid represents the largest target zone available, specifically the upper thoracic region.


The other two types of stops differ somewhat in they do not necessarily equal a cessation to hostilities. Destructive trauma means the suspect has been struck in not vital regions and while blood loss is occurring their bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles have been destroyed or partially destroyed to the point they are no longer functional. They may still be a determined adversary, but they lack the ability somewhat due to the destructive trauma. Psychological stop are the scary ones. In these cases, the suspect has made the choice to stop fighting either temporarily or permanently. They are either afraid of injury or received sufficient injury to change their mind and stop fighting.


Most roads lead to immediate or rapid incapacitation when training. We are either training for chest or face shots because these are the most likely regions that will deliver the response we are looking for; a cessation to hostilities. The problem as I mentioned earlier is the bad guy has a say, meaning they often don’t present the clean shots we train on in classes and practice. Not to mention they may be mobile or even using cover. Regardless of the orientation of the threat, the vital target zones are usually accessible. With sufficient penetration depth such as achieved from most defense rounds you want to consider the two primary target zones as three-dimensional objects.

Blindfolded Globe

Think of the chest region as an 8″ globe in the high chest. Try to imagine it in this fashion so no matter what direction the threat is facing you will always aim for the center of the globe. The face shot is somewhat similar, think of a 4″ wide bandana that covers the eyes, nose and mouth. No matter what direction the face is oriented always aim for the center of the bandana. These techniques will give you a better chance of delivering effective rounds on target with a higher probability of generating a stop.

Humans are tough organism and can sustain quite a bit of damage. Your training should be designed around the worse case scenario a determined threat who may not cooperate, care or react to your response.

Author: Jeff Gonzales