Balancing speed and accuracy is a critical skill in both competitive shooting and combat/defensive marksmanship. Too much accuracy usually means that you are probably shooting too slow, while too much speed usually means that you are not accurate enough.
This blog post DOES NOT constitute or form an instructor-student relationship between the author (me) and the reader (you). Online education can only supplement formal instruction, it cannot replace it. It is your responsibility to understand the firearm laws in your area and to follow the Firearms Safety Rules.
Shooting fast is exactly what it sounds like: the ability to discharge a firearm quickly. Shooting fast has two components, first shot speed and follow-up shot splits.
In the context of concealed carry, first shot speed is constrained by the time it takes to access, draw, and accurately fire the first shot. Training, type of holster, and cover garment will dictate how fast this can be accomplished.
Follow-up or subsequent shot speed (split times) will be determined by how quickly you can manipulate the trigger.
Shooting accurately is the ability to reliably place shots within a given region of a target. Accuracy will be determined by your training, skill, experience, target distance, target size, firearm used. External factors such as wind, elevation, and humidity affect accuracy for long range shooting, but the focus of this article will be limited to close range.
Shooting accurately should be learned second only to firearms safety. If you cannot shoot safely and accurately, then you have no business learning how to shoot fast or learning any of the other sexy shooting skills.
The NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting pistol qualification is a good benchmark for handgun accuracy. The ability to obtain a Level IV score or better should be the goal of anyone seeking to become proficient with a handgun.
For more information on developing the ability to shoot accurately, refer to the following articles:
Balancing Speed and Accuracy
Balancing Accuracy and Speed is the ability to shoot as fast as possible while also keeping your shots within an acceptable zone of accuracy. The acceptable zone of accuracy will be determined by target size. For example, the acceptable zone of accuracy for a head shot is much smaller with less forgiving room for error than that of the thoracic cavity. Distance and target exposure also factor in, as distance will linearly shrink the target size in half for every doubling of distance.
The figures below illustrate how speed and accuracy are competing skill sets, and how there exists an optimized balance between the two. This balance will be unique to each individual shooter and is based on training, skill, and equipment (equipment being the least important).
Ideally, your optimization of speed and accuracy would fall along the line labeled “Balance”. While it is possible to perform within the region marked “Possible,” this is not maximizing your ability. Furthermore, no one can perform in the region marked “Impossible”, since this would be the act of shooting more accurately and/or faster than you are capable.
The ability to optimize speed and accuracy along the “Balance” line is not something you should need to perform on a conscious level. Your training and experience should dictate how you will balance speed and accuracy for any given context.
The image below illustrates the optimization of speed and accuracy when speed is more important than accuracy. This could be in a defensive deadly force encounter when a really fast shot to the C-zone is better than a slower A-zone shot. Watching videos of defensive shootings reveals that being the first one to place rounds on the threat is extremely advantageous.
A smaller target area or longer distances may require a higher emphasis on accuracy than speed. The image below illustrates more emphasis on accuracy than speed, while still achieving a balance between the two.
Again, the ability to shoot fast requires fast and efficient manipulation of the trigger. However, each shot will induce recoil, causing your muzzle to rise, or “flip.” If you fail to manage recoil well, your first may be accurate but your subsequent shots will be inaccurate or slow.
Therefore, you must control recoil by gripping the firearm well and driving the sights back on target after each shot. As it relates to handguns, the key to a good grip is to place your hands as high as possible to reduce the distance between the bore axis and your grip. The distance between the top of your grip and the bore axis creates a moment. The longer the moment, the more recoil will be felt. Applying pressure at the bottom of the pistol grip can also mitigate the recoil by generating a moment in the opposite direction.
I created the animation below to help illustrate how forces and moments induce rotation. The first animation shows the effect of moving the point of rotation closer or further away from two equal forces (F). As you move the point of rotation away from one of the forces, the mechanical advantage for that force increases. This is commonly referred to as leverage.
The next animation applies these mechanical principles to handgun recoil. The force of recoil generally travels along the bore axis, which is located centerline of the barrel. The webbing between the index finger and thumb of your strong hand is the highest point of the grip and becomes the point of rotation. Your fingers (particularly your pinky and ring fingers) apply pressure at the base of the grip to counter the force of recoil.
You want to minimize the distance between the point of rotation and the bore axis (R). Then, you want to maximize the distance between the point of rotation and the lowest point you apply pressure on the front of the grip (G).
Note: there is nothing you can do to completely eliminate muzzle flip unless you place the firearm in a mechanical vice. The recoil impulse will always cause the muzzle to flip, but a proper grip can help minimize it, while also bringing your muzzle back down on target after the recoil.
Flash Sight Picture
Flash Sight Picture is a fancy name for a sight picture that is acquired very rapidly. There is no specified length of time for what constitutes a Flash Sight Picture, but it basically is the shortest amount of time needed to obtain a sight picture that is “good enough” for the given context.
The video below is my attempt to illustrate the concept of a Flash Sight Picture. After pressing play, you will be shown various sight pictures for about 0.15 seconds each. Try to determine what sight pictures will yield a hit within the A-zone (center circle) and which sight pictures would result in hits outside of the -0 zone.
The first, second, third, and sixth sight pictures would have placed shots inside the A-zone, while the fourth and fifth sight pictures would have resulted in shots in the -1 zone or -3 zone.
Training for Speed and Accuracy
As stated previously, you must first understand Firearms Safety, because as you speed up, you will need to be able to handle the firearm safely on a subconscious level. You should not need to cognitively process the position of your trigger finger, and the orientation of your firearm should remain in a safe direction at all times.
After Firearms Safety is engrained on a subconscious level, you must develop your ability to shoot accurately via the Fundamentals of Marksmanship. If you cannot shoot accurately and you begin to train for speed, then you are wasting your time.
Only after developing good Fundamentals, should you begin to add time constraints.
In the context of concealed carry, the bottleneck for speed is the time it takes you to draw your gun from concealment and fire an accurate shot. First, you must learn the proper mechanics of how to safely draw from concealment. You might get lucky by finding a YouTube video with good instruction on this topic, but it would be preferable to learn it in a course. The Draw-Stroke should be practiced slowly and deliberately for hundreds of repetitions, not until you get it right but until you can’t get it wrong.
As mentioned previously, splits are the times between each shot. Your first split will be the time it takes to take your second shot, your second split will be between your second and third shot, and so on. Decreasing your split times can be accomplished through good grip to mitigate muzzle flip and good trigger control to increase efficiency.
Using a metronome can be an effective means for speeding up your split times by developing trigger efficiency. I recommend this be done in Dry Fire, since the sound of the gunshot can make it difficult to hear the metronome, and because ammo isn’t cheap.
Simply download a metronome app on your smartphone and develop a training regimen that linearly increases the tempo. You can either press and release the trigger on each beat, or press on a beat and then release on the next beat.
As target size and distance varies, you will need to adjust the balance of speed and accuracy. The following target can help develop this skill. To complete the drill, stand 3 yards from the target and fire a set number of shots in each circle, starting from the large circle and finishing with the small circle.
You Should Miss In Training
It may sound counterintuitive, but you should occasionally miss in practice. This enables you to determine your individual limit in an environment with little penalty for failure (so long as you don’t miss in an unsafe manner).
Using the target above or any other target with accuracy zones, safely attempt to fire your first shot or follow-up shots quicker than you are comfortable. Again, this does not mean that you should be unsafe, but that you will fire before obtaining a perfect sight picture.
If during training, 100% of your shots are inside the A-zone, 0-zone, etc., then you are not pushing your limit. However, if more than 75% of your shots are misses, you are probably going too fast and need to place a higher emphasis on accuracy.
I’ll say it again, it is imperative that you practice this safely. Do not try to quickly draw from the holster until you can safely draw from the holster. Furthermore, your “misses” should still impact the paper or cardboard containing your target. For instance, if you are shooting an IPSC target, your shots should still impact the B and C zones.