“What’s the single most effective thing you can do to improve your chances in a gunfight?”

That question was put to me by a reader this weekend.  He asked, “There are so many different opinions out there for a defensive weapon:  this or that caliber, or cartridge, or firearm, or technique, or whatever.  Is there any one thing I should look to master before worrying about the others?  Is there any single element that can make the difference between life and death, if I ever need it the hard way?”

Why, yes.  Yes, there is.  It’s basic marksmanship.

  • No matter what super-dooper, felon-stopper, magnum-blaster ammunition you carry, unless you can put it into an attacker’s vital zones and shut him down, he’s going to hurt or kill you or your loved ones.
  • No matter what plastic-fantastic, space-cowboy-zapper death-dealing firearm you’re toting, unless you can bring its whiz-bang features to bear against an enemy, it won’t do you any good (except to make you look technologically sexy, and I doubt your corpse or your surviving family members [if any] will care about that).
  • No matter how gung-ho, super-fit, extreme-martial-artist your physical capabilities may be;  no matter whether you can sprint a hundred meters in Olympic-record time while simultaneously dodging speeding bullets;  no matter whether you can bench-press three hundred pounds while operating a machine-gun with your toes;  unless you can put down aimed, effective fire on your opponent, his return fire is going to turn your superhero body into a colander.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article titled ‘.22LR as a defensive round‘.  It remains one of my most popular and most-searched articles on the subject of defensive shooting.  In it I outlined a very low-cost and extremely effective training technique that anyone can apply to almost any weapon.  If you read that article, and follow the training it advises, I guarantee that your combat effectiveness will be multiplied several times over, even if you do nothing else to improve your chances.  Weapon and ammunition selection can follow, and of course you’ll need to practice to achieve similar results with a harder-kicking, less easily controlled firearm.  Nevertheless, the basic principle of getting effective rounds on target remains the key to successful self-defense.

Remember, too, that accuracy with a firearm is a perishable skill.  It’s not one you’ll retain unless you keep in training.  Start with basic ‘bullseye’ target shooting and/or competition, by all means, and progress through the training methods I outlined in my earlier article;  but don’t rest on your laurels once you achieve marksmanship nirvana.  You’ll have to stay in practice.  I reckon you should be shooting at least a hundred rounds a month with your BB handgun to do that;  and if you’ve upgraded to a suitable defensive weapon, plan on shooting 100-200 rounds every three months as an absolute minimum with it.  I prefer a practical minimum of 50-100 rounds every month, but I realize not everyone can afford that much time or that much ammunition.  That’s why ongoing practice with a BB gun is a very inexpensive, ultra-affordable and extremely important way to keep your skills current.  You can do that in your back yard, or in your garage, or even (using Airsoft guns) in your living-room without risking damage to your furniture or fittings.

Practice, practice, and more practice.  It’s indispensable – and it really does make a difference.  There’s a lot more to defensive shooting than just marksmanship, but in the absence of accuracy, none of it matters worth a damn.



  1. And practice in a disciplined, organized fashion with a goal- don't just put random holes in paper. Start a training log and record the results.
    There's lots of really good drills available for free online, some that don't even require ammo.

    Too many people will buy a new gun when they should get a case of ammo or take a class.

  2. It's being able to perform under pressure. I'm a fairly good shot, certainly good enough for self-defense purposes. The first time I shot under pressure I couldn't hit a thing.

  3. Isn't this as the Marines teach – bullets hitting people? In lieu of pray and spray?

    Makes sense to me…


  4. 1. Stay out of a gun fight by not going to places where criminals hang out. Stay out of neighborhoods where racial diversity is more than 10-15%. Don't use recreational drugs or be around people who do.

    2. Bring a gun. If you don't habitually carry a gun, it won't matter how good you are with it. You won't have it when you need it.

    3. Lawyer up. Be prepared for the fight after the gun fight. you can win a gunfight, only to lose your liberty and property to the state.

  5. "What's the single most effective thing you can do to improve your chances in a gunfight?"

    Not be there in first place? -sg-

  6. Just like the answer (in an old joke) to the tourist who asks a cab-driver, "Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?" – Answer he gets is, "Practice, practice and more practice"…

    Good advice – and valuable info on practicing well and effectively.

    Thanks very much, once again, and keep on truckin'…


    J. S. Bridges

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