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Columns : In My Sights

Missing the Mark

Bad guys don’t stand still at a known distance like paper targets; train accordingly.

November 01, 2008  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author


Every once in awhile, I am reminded of the many principles of performance I advocate so adamantly in my seminars. Usually these reminders come in the form of a particular failure on my part. Using my knowledge, I am quickly able to explain why I failed and what motor learning principle I failed to attend to. I do this while assuming a thoughtful, humble, and superior smile, leaving listeners thinking, Why, he might have failed badly, but he sure did it smartly.

So we come to today's lesson. Recently on a Whitetail Deer hunt I was stalking a likely little hot spot I had scouted earlier. I was armed with the finest bow money could buy, the best super carbon arrows with broadheads that kill like cobra venom, and a sighting system that would make a Marine sniper jealous.

Suddenly, my prey appeared on the narrow trail ahead, and stopped and stared at my really cool camouflage hunting clothes, giving me a perfect shot. I put the 20-yard pin over the deer's heart and sent my instant death of an arrow flying downrange. With giddy anticipation I watched the arrow race toward the heart, sink slowly, and pass under the critter and smash into the rocks behind. Damn, a $30 miss!

I was stunned to discover upon pacing the distance that the deer had been at least 35 yards away. Of course, the equipment we have is only as good as the operator. I see patrol officers with more things attached to their firearms than a member of Delta Force and I often wonder if they have done their repetitions? But here is the thing; the repetitions have to be the right kind, as close to the way the skill is used on the street as possible.

Motor scientists break down skills in lots of ways, and one of them is whether a skill is "open" or "closed." An open skill is usually reactive and without sidelines or timelines, while closed skills are those used for darts or bowling. All of our skills can be put on that continuum, but sometimes we train for an open activity, like an armed confrontation or hunting a deer, by doing repetitions in a closed activity.

My repetitions with my bow are done on a range where I know the distances and my sight is set for each of them. When I hunt I usually sit in a stand where I take my rangefinder out and get my surroundings "framed" for distance references: That tree is 20 yards away, that rock 30, etc. The Whitetail I missed wasn't next to anything I had premeasured, leaving my estimate to be based on a guess affected by a slight rush of adrenaline.

I know why I missed and you do, too, but you make sure you do your repetitions properly….Just like I am going to start doing with my bow.

If you are always on a range with yardage marked and you're standing in a perfect stance out in the open, stop it! Get behind cover and shoot in other non-traditional positions like sitting, or crouching, or even lying on your back. Shoot targets that look like people and set it up so you have to react and not pace yourself. In other words, start practicing like you are going to have to play.

One more thing; we live in the day of the cool gizmo for everything we do. We are putting stuff on our belts and in our cars that all require some level of training and I wonder if we are getting in our repetitions and if we are doing them the right way. We are going to have to perform these skills in an "open" setting; no starter pistol will go off, but the shot of a pistol may start your reactions, so you have to be ready.

My miss cost me a pretty penny, sure, but yours has everything riding on it.

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' "Street Survival" seminar.

Tags: Firearms Training, Off-Duty Life


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