Instinct vs. Indexing: Close-Quarters Handgun Tactics

Relying on instinct during a lethal force encounter might save the time that saves your life


Chuck Klein | Monday, March 5, 2012

Just to keep abreast of the “industry,” I periodically change gun magazine subscriptions. After an absence of many years, I re-subscribed to American Handgunner (AH) and was surprised to read a columnist championing the old mantra of focus on the front sight. Sight pictures and focusing on only the front sight might be a great advantage (even preferable) at distances beyond close quarter combat (CQC) where accuracy trumps speed. But paying attention to anything other than the target is of negative value inside the CQC range.

Recently, I tendered my 2010 Law Officer article, “Instinct Combat Shooting: The Tricks” for reprint in AH. The editor, however, refused to consider anything outside their staid and old look-at-the-front-sight routine, regardless of distance. Oh well. They’re civilians and don’t understand the real-life factors of the instinct combat shooting (ICS) techniques with its inherent life-saving advantages.

I define ICS as “the act of operating a handgun by focusing on the target and instinctively coordinating the hand and mind to cause the handgun to discharge at a time and point that ensures interception of the target with the projectile.”

The editor of AH insisted that not only was I not really shooting instinctively by focusing on only the target, but was “indexing” my shots by actually bringing into my realm of shooting the front sight or at least the front portion (slide/barrel) of the handgun.
He went on to challenge me to have someone hold a piece of cardboard in front of me to block my view of the handgun. This editor then projected that if I experienced this blockage, I’d be unable to hit anything. He might be confusing hip-shooting with the tactic of instinctively firing a shot when the handgun comes into battery at or near eye level. Please note, I’ve been teaching, writing about and practicing what I preach for over 40 years.

Regardless of whether the front sight or front portion of the handgun is in my tunnel of vision, as long as I don’t expend any time trying to align these appendages with the target, there’s no impact. In other words, so what if the shooter can’t see his hand or anything else in his line of fire as long as he is focused on the intended point of impact?

Somehow, I must have failed to communicate to this editor the difference between ICS and use-of-sights shooting. I’ve never claimed—nor have other proponents (Rex Applegate, Fairbairn & Sykes, et al.)—that while focusing on the target the handgun, per se, is not in the peripheral vision of the shooter.

Of course it is, just like the entire target is. Instinct shooting is not just looking at the target, it’s looking at—focusing, intense focusing—on a small portion of the target, such as a button or dirt spot on the target or the center of  the “X” of a paper target if practicing on the range. When the handgun comes into battery (out in front and pointed toward the target), the mind should have conditioned the trigger finger to pull, pull, pull.

Making sure of a sight picture or “indexing” in CQC scenarios is just wasting time—time that might mean the difference between your life or his.

The significant difference between true instinct shooting and “indexing” is the focus is on the target—100% focus on the target. If the shooter is trying to consciously or even subconsciously line up a sight picture or even the barrel/slide of the firearm then time is being wasted.

As noted in aforementioned LawOfficer.com article, during the micro-short span of time when a police officer has decided to shoot and is in the actual act of doing so, a LEO’s concentration level should be at tunnel-vision level. To put it another way, all of the officer’s concentration should be on the intended point-of-impact and not conscious of barrel/slide or any other peripheral objects.

Taking the time, even if only a split second to “index”—align an object with the target—can mean the difference between life and death. For a civilian target shooter, the difference might only mean a few points of increased score. For a cop, it’s much more.

Some might call this intense focus tunnel-vision. It is. Although tunnel-vision has been projected as a no-no, it is mandatory during the brief moment when you transition from deciding to shoot to the completion of that shot(s). Of course, you have to be aware of additional threats and the background (innocents), but only before the decision to shoot.

Once the timeframe of decide-to-shoot  to completion-of-the-shot(s)  has begun, full concentration—oblivious to all else—is required. This timeframe during which you’re engaged in tunnel-vision is a matter of milliseconds. Perhaps, World Champion race car driver, Phil Hill said it best: “True concentration is not aware of itself.” (Car and Driver, November, 1962).

In the book Visual Behavior, Beverly Jones writes about “doing what we’re doing”: “One of the fundamentals of control theory, in fact the most basic concept, is the idea of feedback. When information is incorporated into what the system is controlling, then the system can continue to control, self-correct all the way. In order to satisfy a pre-set goal of a given temperature, the thermostat tells the furnace to turn on when the information ‘not warm enough’ enters the system and tells the furnace to turn off when ‘it’s just right’—when the desired temperature has been reached. In voluntary human behavior, vision provides critical feedback to all that we do. When that feedback loop is interrupted or only functions feebly, then the phenomenon of ‘doing what they’re doing’ shows up.”

Now interject this feedback concept to the milliseconds required from deciding-to-shoot to the trigger-reaching-its-terminal-position and the idea of trying to add feedback into the equation should be clear—it’s time consuming. If you’re a LEO facing a lethal force incident, this time could be deadly.

Self-correcting, when faced with a shoot-now situation, is not conducive to survival. If you’re trained to interrupt your decision to shoot by relying on visual feedback (sight/slide alignment) then time is lost. Just like the thermostat, if you’re conditioned (programed/trained) to “index” your sight picture—that’s what you will do even if it takes more than a few micro-seconds.

Target shooting, which most readers of civilian gun magazines train for, allows for attaining proper stance, target knowledge and other niceties that a LEO doesn’t have when faced with a scenario that might have never been encounter before. During LFIs, a law enforcement officer might be required to draw-on-the-drop, shoot from a lying down (as in knocked-down) position or any other imagined or unimagined condition. Shooters, civilian or LE, do as they are trained to do. If your training is to “index” before shooting and you are required to engage a future handcuffee from an unorthodox position or the perp is on the move, then you will seek to “index” your shot. If, on the other hand, your training is to look at where you want your bullet to strike, you will only need to squeeze your shot off – as your training mandates. 

If you see a potential cop-killer advance toward you with deadly intent, you’ll most likely be looking at him with your undivided attention. That’s not enough. Having decided to engage in a close-quarter firefight, you should – while in the process of going from that point of decision to battery –– focus on a small point (button, stain, shirt pattern). This intensity of vision and concentration—at the instant just before firing—will allow your natural mental powers to coordinate the hand and trigger finger to cause the firearm to discharge at the most opportune moment.

All of this needs to happen in a very small time frame, e.g., just short of  simultaneous.

One last look: It’s mid-watch, you’ve responded to an assault call to find a person lying on the ground who appears to be covered in blood. Exiting your shop amid a gaggle of on-lookers you quickly notice a man dressed in black approaching with what surely might be a knife in hand. The flashes of red and blue strobes bounce off the windows of store fronts and parked cars and there’s a lot of movement and noise. You draw your Glock. The distance linking you to this danger suddenly diminishes as the man in black leaps toward you—with what clearly is a knife in the thrust position. Your chances of surviving are significantly reduced if you’re training is to adjust the position of the front sight or “index” a black-framed pistol against a black target, at night, with confusing sounds and lighting. At the instant you decide to remove this lethal threat, you should be looking intently at the center of center mass—or even the human nature response of looking at the knife itself.

Many police officers and trainers read civilian gun magazines for their excellent coverage of the latest firearms. However, these magazines’ training tactics are not police oriented and LEO should keep this in mind when perusing them.

 (Note: I’ve referenced the terms “micro-seconds” and “milliseconds” a number of times in this article. These extremely short spans of time are best-case-conditions. If you are trained to add seek-a-sight-picture or “index” your shot it might take significantly longer under the real life stress of a CQC firefight.)

ICS is not for amateurs. It is a concept that requires goals, knowledge, basics of handgunnery and practice.
 




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Chuck KleinChuck Klein is the author of Instinct Combat Shooting: Defensive Handgunning for Police (now in its third edition) and other police and firearm related books and articles.

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