CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Stress Shooting: Honing Accuracy To A Razor’s Edge

What if I told you that there is a way to turbo-charge your shooting skills while using less ammunition than you may be accustomed to? Sound too good to be true?

Way back when I was a brand new sniper for a very large state agency, I had the distinct and humbling honor to speak with the world’s foremost authority on sniping. My sniper instructor had attended a sniper school called White Feather, Inc. in Virginia Beach, VA, and he put me in touch with the owner of the school. None other than Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II.

Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II

Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II. Image source: The Virginian-Pilot.

Gunny Hathcock is a legend in the sniping community, having racked up 93 confirmed kills in Viet Nam, along with a few hundred probable kills that were not confirmed. For a long time, he held the longest recorded kill in history, 2,500 yards, using a Browning .50 caliber machine gun with a special scope. For more on the Gunny’s exploits, I recommend the book Marine Sniper by Charles Henderson.

The Gunny was kind enough to give me about a half-hour of his time on the telephone, and words cannot convey how honored and humbled I was.

We talked training and philosophy at length. The man was so humble, and yet an ultimate authority at the same time; I’ve never spoken to someone exuding such extremes on both ends of the spectrum before or since. When I thanked him for doing such an amazing job for our country, he simply replied, “I was just doing my job.” That was it, he would not acknowledge accolades.

One of the things that he told me has stuck with me, and will forever.

“When you go to the range, don’t go just to put rounds downrange. You train as if life hangs in the balance of every single shot. Because it very well could. Train, train, train!”

In closing our conversation, he wished me well, I thanked him, and he said, “Don’t let those hamburgers getcha!” That made me smile. You don’t understand that last line? Well, you’ll have to read the book. And when you pick that book up, you will curse me, because you will not be able to put it down until you finish it. But you’ll love the book, I guarantee it.

I’ll be upfront that I’m not God’s gift to sniping. I was very good, but there were guys who were better. But I could hang with the best of them, and the reason for that was because the sniper schools I completed used the curriculum that was taught at Gunny Hathcock’s school.

Before sniper school, I thought I was a pretty damn good shot. In fact, I knew it! I’d grown up spending the majority of my free time as a kid in the woods (just like the Gunny). Over summer vacation, I would wear out a BB gun every summer, shooting dragonflies around the pond at my boyhood house, going through a box of 7,500 BBs in a week.

At sniper school, I found out how to be a lot better. And I’m going to share that secret with you right now. Stress shooting. Yes, it’s that simple. You practice stress shooting.

What the hell is it, and how do you do it?

Hold your horses, I’m getting to that!

As part of our sniper qualification, our Stress Shot consisted of the following drill: We ran about 500 yards in full gear, stopping at our spot on the firing line where we jogged in place until a whistle blew. At the whistle, we had 30 seconds to hit the deck, load our rifle, and send one bullet directly into the No Reflex Zone of our target. That’s it.

After that run, your heart is pumping, you are breathing very heavily. And you find yourself trying to keep the crosshairs of that scope on a very tiny part of the anatomy. The No-Reflex Zone is the medulla oblongata, our target. When it is hit, the body shuts down as though a switch is thrown. If the bad guy is holding a gun to a hostage’s head, he drops and does not pull the trigger. Tactical Neutralization, we called it. The No-Reflex Zone is about a two-inch band in which the eyes are centered. Anything outside of that zone was considered a miss, even if the subject would have been killed because the goblin would have potentially been able to kill a hostage. As the vast majority of our shooting was geared toward hostage rescue, we could not afford to miss.

In those 30 seconds that we had to prepare and fire our rifles, we had to get our heart rate and breathing under control, which developed a laser-like focus. The Gunny wasn’t telling me what equipment to choose or what brand of rifle or ammo to buy, because anyone can figure that out in a short time. No, he was telling me to train my mind!

Push ups elevate heart rate for stress shooting.

Pushups are also useful for raising the heart rate and causing arm fatigue, forcing the shooter to work through the discomfort and developing focus. I’m a staunch advocate for training in the gear that I will fight in, and in 95+ degree heat, this is my fighting attire!

Get into “The Bubble”

Sure, it’s important to get intimately familiar with your rifle, scope, and other gear. You need to do that. But you have to look beyond the gear, to your mind. Once you break through and beyond the physical, you will reach new mental heights and that will translate into confidence, which is vital. You will carry yourself differently once you realize that you can break what you once imagined were limits. This doesn’t only apply to shooting — it carries over to so many other aspects of our lives. The purpose of this entire article is to get you to shift your perception, which opens up new possibilities and horizons.

After that run, the crosshairs would actually jump around on the target with each beat of our heart. I personally would force myself to breathe very deeply for about 15 seconds or so to get my heart rate down to a manageable level. As I did so, I got into what the Gunny referred to as “The Bubble”, where nothing else in the world existed aside from that target that I was about to successfully engage. Nothing was going to stop me, not the wind, not my pounding heart or heaving lungs. I was going to kill that target, and there was just no way around it.

Regulate breathing stress shooting

To deal with the raised heart rate, you will need to breathe deeply for several seconds, oxygenating your system and developing that focus. Get into your bubble where nothing can affect you.

In a real shooting situation where you are defending your life, your heart will race, your breathing will skyrocket, things will go into slow motion. The Stress Shooting will simulate the effects of shooting under real-world stress. You will learn how to fight through your fatigue and still perform.

After practicing Stress Shooting repeatedly, we came to realize something; taking “normal” shots had become extremely easy! Stress Shooting was so difficult that we had developed a level of focus that we had never dreamed of before training.

“Alright”, you’re saying, “But I’m not a sniper, how does all of this apply to me???”

Well, the same Stress Shooting techniques that help snipers can help anyone at the range to fire any weapon better. I don’t care if it’s a pistol, rifle, shotgun, airgun, archery, even a slingshot…you can improve.

Improve shooting skills by practicing stress shooting.

Stress shooting is helpful whether you’re shooting rifle, pistol, shotgun, archery, airgun…anything that throws a projectile! Remember, it’s quality, not quantity. Train, train, train!

Excell with Less

Hear the good news – you don’t have to run 500 yards (unless you want to) to train. Just do enough to get your heart rate and breathing up appreciably. For some, dropping down and doing 10 or 20 pushups or situps would do the trick. Do a short sprint. Whatever works for you, do that, and then return to the firing line, load your weapon, and get to work. The important point is to get out of your comfort zone! We tend to stay in that comfort zone, it’s human nature. But staying there defines our limitations.

But wait – there’s more!!

You can accomplish this training using a bare minimum of ammunition. And these days with ammunition being in short supply, this is a very Good Thing. If you do five Stress Shots in one training session, you’ve just improved yourself. Imagine going to the shooting range and shooting only a handful of rounds and leaving with the satisfaction that you just significantly improved your abilities.

The idea is quality over quantity.

Take your time and do it right. Remember, we’re not putting rounds down range just to say we shot. We are improving our accuracy and focus. Don’t expect perfection right away, it may take time as you bring your mind and body more in line with each other.

Notice I haven’t listed any specific shooting drills here; it’s not the aim (no pun intended) of this article. If you’re shooting a pistol, maybe you would staple a 3×5 card to a target and make that your target. Do calisthenics or sprint and engage your target with one round at first. Then, after you get the hang of it, you can add more shots and more targets and work up to a routine.

Improve shooting skills with stress shooting. Train in various positions to get out of comfort zone.

Train in various shooting positions, not just the ones that you’re most comfortable in. Getting out of your comfort zone makes you a more accomplished and rounded shooter.

Basically, you’re only limited by your imagination here. By increasing the quality of your training, you can reduce the quantity of ammunition that you expend. As such, you can even increase the frequency of your range visits and still not go broke buying ammo. The point is, this is more of a philosophical concept to grasp than a physical one. Once you understand the concept, the physical aspect is easier to sort out.

Push Yourself to Do Better

There were also some other methods that we used to improve our focus and concentration.

One of these was that an instructor or team member would approach us while we were waiting to receive clearance to fire on a target, and just as we were about to get authorization to fire, they would begin pouring a thin stream of ice water onto our body. Anything that caused distraction or discomfort was the order of the day. This helped us get into “The Bubble” that Gunny Hathcock would preach about so reverently.

Other variations included utilizing loud noises as we were engaging targets. A very loud stereo blasting such things as obnoxious music or recordings of sirens next to our head. Gunfire next to us was another good way to get used to operating in loud environments. At night, they’d put flashing lights out on the range to distract us and make it more difficult. Sometimes smoke grenades were used.

A typical tactical exercise involved maintaining radio contact with other units and guiding a hostage rescue team toward a target. We had to maintain surveillance on the target so that we could tell the team when it was safe to move and what the bad people were doing at the time. All this while estimating range, adjusting scope settings, reporting what we were seeing to controlling units (how many bad guys, good guys, hostages, etc.). We looked at such details as how the hinges on doors were positioned so that the team would know if the doors opened inward or outward. What the construction of the building was so they’d know the tools they’d need for breaching. It was something like riding a unicycle while juggling running chainsaws.

Tactical exercises are not something that we can typically replicate on our shooting ranges, but it does illustrate the focus required to function in the real world.

When you get comfortable with a certain size target, reduce it to make training more difficult. Always push yourself to do better.

Trained sniper in ghillie suit - stress shooting.

The ultimate stress shooter – a trained sniper!

If there is a more effective way to improve your shooting skills, I am not aware of it. This method has been and continues to be used by the top warriors in the world. It works, pure and simple. It is not new, and I wish I could take credit for inventing it, but I can’t, as it’s been in use since before I was ever in the game.

We are training to think and solve problems with a weapon, that is our ultimate mission of the training. And remember… don’t let the hamburgers getcha!

Jim Davis: Read more of his articles.

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Jim Davis, author at The Mag Life Blog.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Home defense magazines: reloading at home

While some internet tough guys pretend they’re ‘Ministers of death, praying for war’, the reality of having to use a firearm for home defense is a grim and terrifying one. Making the decision to defend one’s home and loved ones with lethal force seems like an obvious choice for many gun owners, but it isn’t so cut and dry for everyone. Not just with regard to the implements necessary but also with the willingness and determination to use them. This is as critical to a solid home invasion defense plan as is a reliable self-defense gun and what we’ll refer to as “home defense magazines”.

Personally, I couldn’t live with myself if I had the chance to stop any terrible harm befalling my family – and while that may be the most ethical choice for me, it’s one gun owners shouldn’t take lightly. Taking a human life, no matter how justified, takes a toll on our souls, or for you more agnostic readers, on our psyche.

Though the cost of saving the lives of you and your family may be more material.

An elite team of guards standing by to respond to a home invasion

Very, very few of us have an elite team of trained shooters standing by to act as a home security system. It’s up to us.

Note: This article originally ran in 2016.

Even if you’ve steeled yourself to the idea of that, courts are full of easily influenced jurors and blood-thirsty prosecutors, though the extent of which greatly depends on your home state – Texas, for instance, is a different world compared to California when it comes to gun- and personal defense laws. Also, even if you’re found innocent, even if you were forced to use violence during hour home invasion defense, unscrupulous family members of your assailant will go after every cent you’ve ever earned.

Once a shooter has made the choice to at least consider the use of deadly force, they must fully commit if they truly care about the outcome.

Think of it like the meek drivers who slowly attempt to merge into fast-moving traffic before getting slammed by a semi. While their milquetoast mentality buys them a few moments more on this Earth, their reluctance to take the initiative ultimately leads to disaster.

Does that mean shooters should pounce at the thought of engaging in a firefight with every mysterious sound they hear in their homes? Not at all – it means being prepared both physically and mentally are equally as important.

When you awake at three in the morning to the sound of your daughter screaming in fright and the icy sound of shattering windows, it’s too late to ponder the moral quandary of having to shoot a man.

These are just a few considerations for defense (or what ought to be considerations).

If you’re wondering what on Earth that has to do with picking a magazine, it’s all related. Though for me, I believe I would be remiss to not mention the cold, hard realities of any event that might lead to the use of deadly force, home invasion, or otherwise. That said, part of being prepared for dangerous situations at home is having good, reliable equipment.

If a shooter is worried about their equipment not performing, they aren’t 100 percent focused on the task at hand. This is true for competition, target shooting or home defense; though each requires a unique approach and solution.

As I mentioned in my AR15 magazine guide, extended magazines are great for competition use, but their ungainly weight and added length/bulk make them a poor choice for navigating the tight hallways of a residential home.

The key to picking the perfect home defense magazine is to set out certain practical ideals for the magazine and choose a solution that meets or exceeds as many of those metrics as possible. For this guide, I’m going to use my own metrics, but I’ll present them in such a format that they can be tailored for other shooters.

The five areas I use to narrow down my selection are reliability, durability capacity size, and weight.

“But Jim, you forgot price!”

I didn’t forget the price. I intentionally excluded it.

When picking any product that could potentially save your (or someone you love’s) life, cost should be the least influential aspect. After all, would you skimp on a life jacket or seat belt for your child because it was a hundred bucks more than you budgeted for?

(Don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question)

Home Invasion Defense

Attributes of perfect home defense magazines

Keep this in mind as you read this. We’re linking to some of the magazines we sell from the Warehouse side. That’s what we do — we sell magazines. A vested interest in capitalism our part doesn’t change the truth of what we’re saying. Do some research. Perform some due diligence. We encourage you to make your own informed decision about what to buy: we’d just prefer you buy it here.


So we’ll start with reliability. This is an important concept for basically every firearm decision you ever make, save for collectors, and such. An auto-loading firearm is an expensive, awkward, single-shot piece of junk if its magazines aren’t feeding correctly.

The best way to determine which magazine runs best in your given firearm is to test dozens of variations and eliminate them based on your personally experienced failures while minimizing as many variables as possible. So shooters should load the same ammunition they intend to use in a home defense scenario. Also, be sure to clean the gun between tests.

This is prohibitively expensive for most shooters, so I normally suggest narrowing down your selection to three examples: what the military uses, (if a military uses the gun) what competition shooters use and what the factory ships the gun with.

For example, we’ll use the AR-15.

The US Military issues their rifles with STANAG aluminum magazines, but soldiers often purchase polymer Magpul PMAGS, making both of these an acceptable solution. On the competition side, Magpul and Lancer L5 Warfighter magazines rule the day. As for factory magazines, most tactical rifles today ship with Magpul PMAGS for two reasons: they work, and they’re inexpensive. [Edit due to republication: obviously this has changed somewhat since this was first written, but the example remains sound.]

So we’ve got our selection to USGI Aluminum 30-round magazines, Magpul PMAGs and Lancer Systems L5AWM mags.


Further narrowing down the selection process, let’s take the next metric into consideration – durability. My personal favorite test for this is as simple as it is effective: a drop test.

Get somewhere high enough to drop your fully-loaded magazines approximately ten feet onto concrete. (Note: do not throw them, you want to let gravity determine their velocity, not your arm strength)

Inspect each magazine for anything other than cosmetic damage, and discard any with cracks.

For me, this resulted in the elimination of the USGI aluminum magazine, whose body deformed and prevented the magazine from fitting any magazine wells. The Magpul magazine regurgitated about a half dozen rounds and showed minor scuffing, while the Lancer lost a single cartridge and scrapped its baseplate.

Since these magazines will reside at my bedside, this test was sufficient to determine their ability to withstand abuse. If I were going to deploy somewhere with mechanized infantry, I’d like to test how well these mags tolerate being run over by heavy vehicles. The point here is to always tailor your test to the target environment, and make sure not to go overboard. Be realistic and be practical.

If my favorite magazine melts inside a hot oven or stops .50 BMG rounds, that doesn’t invalidate an otherwise completely reliable performance.

Also, after these durability tests, be sure to use a fresh example for home defense: there’s no sense in taking chances on an invisible crack or hairline fracture. Though you should obviously run your unsullied version through your chosen home defense firearm a few times just in case.

Capacity and Size

With reliability and durability out of the way, it’s time to address capacity and the directly-related issue of size. For the foreseeable future, the larger the magazine, the more rounds it holds…at least until we manage to capture tiny black holes to provide endless streams of ammunition.

As such, picking an ultra-capacious magazine tends to have diminishing returns; especially if the host firearm has a sizable magazine well like the AR15. More on that in a moment.

For now, I take a page from the Roman architectural playbook and subscribe to a golden ratio of magazine-to-rifle size.  Unlike the Roman ratio, mine is a nice easy whole number – one.

I try to make the magazine extend no further than the lowest handing portion of the firearm itself – this obviously doesn’t apply to tube-fed firearms. For guns like the traditional-stocked Ruger Mini-14, this is a little tricky as the stock only extends downward far enough to accommodate a 10-round magazine.  But, extending past that isn’t as big of a concern since the Mini has such a low profile.

For the more prolific AR15, I try to pick magazines that don’t extend past the pistol grip if possible. I do this because it makes shooting from either a prone or supported position much easier. From the prone, this means not having to balance the rifle on its magazine. For shooting supported or from cover, it’s one less protrusion to get snagged while manipulating the rifle.

Keeping your defensive tool compact means making it more maneuverable in close quarters and tight hallways. It also makes you more mobile. Another contributing factor to this is the weight.

Reloading with good home defense magazines is a better plan than dual wielding.

Reloading with good home defense magazines is a better plan than dual-wielding. Doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a home invasion or you’re at a competition.


One can subscribe to my ratio theory and still have a tremendously capacious magazine – just look at KCI’s double drum mag. It barely protrudes down past the pistol grip and holds a whopping 100 rounds of 5.56mm ammo.

It’s made of plastic, yet it weighs a freakin’ ton because it holds a ton of ammunition. This is fine if you’re not concerned with moving around with your firearm. So shooters who either don’t have children or family members residing in their homes (or visiting) when a home invasion occurs can pick as high a capacity magazine as their budget or local laws permit.

But if there is even a small chance you’ll be forced to venture out from your bedroom to rescue children or elderly relatives, this weight can be a curse. Manipulating a long arm indoors is already pretty difficult. Add extra bulk and weight and the logistics of flipping light switches and turning doorknobs while one-handing a fully-loaded carbine becomes daunting.

This advice, like most I give, is situational and carries a caveat. Ideally, when dealing with an armed home invader, shooters should take a defensive position in their bedroom facing the only means of egress. Then, call 911, explain that someone is in your house, you’re armed, and are currently in fear of your life.

Most importantly, nothing in your house that isn’t alive is worth dying for – if you can help it at all, stay put. It’s always easier to defend than attack.


You might also like our series on home defense weapons.

Or, find all home defense articles we’ve published.

Jim is a freelance writer for dozens of firearm publications, the host of the YouTube channel Burst Review and the youngest author to write a cover story for Shotgun News in its 86-years of operation. Jim loves anything that goes, ‘boom’ but particularly enjoys military firearms from the Cold War and WW2. When he’s not slinging lead downrange he can be round hiking in the mountains with his wife Kim and their vicious attack dog, Peanut.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

A Dry Fire Magazine? Train at Home

One of the things I spend the most time on at the annual NRA Annual Meeting is scouring the exhibit halls for new and innovative products. This year, I ran across a previous acquaintance. I had forgotten about this Dry Fire Mag until we crossed paths again in the midst of 81,000 of my closest friends at the recent Indy NRA meeting and expo. It’s a dry-fire practice aid that falls squarely into the “Why didn’t I think of that?” category, and it’s arguably a simpler and more efficient solution than a dry fire pistol.

I tell every shooter I work with that a few minutes a day of dry-fire practice is the single most effective thing that can do to improve their shooting skills. How many adopt that practice, even occasionally? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s about the same percentage as people who floss their teeth daily and following the wash-rinse-repeat instructions on hair shampoo.

The problem with dry fire

One reason that dry-fire practice is about as interesting as watching C-SPAN on mute is that it requires artificial gun manipulation if you use a semi-automatic pistol. After all, the whole point of dry-fire practice is to work on the trigger press repeatedly. Each time you press the trigger on a semi-auto, you have to reset the trigger and striker so you can do it again. That requires at least a partial slide rack. Worse yet, if you have a magazine inserted, you have to be careful not to rack too far or else you’ll have the release the slide, too.

There are three problems with these slide racks between shots. First, it’s a pain. Second, you can’t practice multiple shot scenarios, not even two in a row. Third, it arguably develops what tacti-ninjas call “training scars.” Those are training habits that result from doing something in practice you would never do in real life. While I don’t know of a real-world case, it’s conceivable that in the heat of the moment, a frequent dry-fire racker might start racking the slide after every shot. Whatever you think about reason number 3, the first two are enough to warrant finding a better way.

This article originally ran in 2019. It has been updated and republished.

Dry Fire Mag

The Dry Fire Mag works by intercepting the trigger bar with its own spring system to provide resistance and reset. This allows the user to train with an actual EDC weapon, vs. a “dry fire pistol” like NLT’s SIRT gun. 

One solution: Dry Fire Mag

Enter the Dry Fire Mag. This nifty invention replaces the magazine in your Glock or Smith & Wesson M&P with this one and you can press your trigger until you become Max Michel or Julie Golob. It works by housing a spring assembly that intercepts the trigger bar on the way back. In fact, it doesn’t even require the slide to be in place to operate. Obviously, you wouldn’t practice that way, but the point is that the system doesn’t use the firing pin, so no wear and tear there. You can also adjust the Dry Fire Mag to match whatever the pull weight is on your current trigger.

It’s a nifty solution for safe and at-home practice.

Dry-Fire Magazine Edit

September 2020

There are options to the Dryfire Magazine. Though they remain popular, not everyone is impressed with the idea (citing the danger of negligent discharge). One of the most obvious alternatives is the SIRT gun, which has been a staple in many a “training arsenal” for years and is certainly worth looking at. There are others, as well. MantisX can be used with your phone, the LASR program will run on your laptop, the Glock E-Trainer allows you to drop the trigger without having to rack the slide for reset, the Coolfire Trainer Laser Recoil System has received interesting reviews, Airsoft guns for training are readily available (though often reviled, it’s a good tool), and there are always good ole’ snap caps. Jacob Paulsen wrote an article about some of these and other options on

Looking for additional perspective on the Dry Fire Mag? Read about it on 8541 Tactical or Justified Defensive Concepts.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t use the Dry Fire Mag. Just know there are options. Some of those are listed below.

Note: some of the links below are derived from various affiliate programs. Should you purchase something using one of the provided links GunMag Warehouse will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Find the Dryfire Mag: They even have an Amazon store. On IG, @the_original_dryfiremag, and on FB

• Next Level Training/SIRT:;, on Amazon, Instagram @nltsirt, on Facebook

• MantisX:, on Amazon, eBay, on Instagram #MantisX, and on Facebook

• Glock E-Trainer:, on Etsy, eBay, and on Facebook

• Airsoft Guns/AEX:, on Instagram @aexairsoftextreme, and on Facebook

Tom McHale is a committed learning junkie always seeking a new subject victim. As a lifelong student of whatever grabs his attention on any particular day, he thrives on beating rabbit trails into submission. In between his time as a high-tech marketing executive, restaurant owner, and hamster cosmetology practitioner, he’s published seven books and nearly 1,500 articles about guns, shooting, and the American way.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Shoot gooder: 3 ways to aim a pistol

Aiming a handgun has a lot with where you put your focus. In the Skills and Gunhandling video below, Shaw demonstrates how to aim a handgun using three different methods. Each method has its advantages, so it’s worth it to learn about all three. The actual name of the video is 3 ways to use your sights. Most of us have been taught how to aim a pistol using the usual “accepted” way of accurately acquiring the sights by focusing on the front sight blade before putting accurate rounds downrange. As you’ll see, however, there are a couple of other ways. 

This article is from October 2019.

How to Aim a Pistol

1. Hard Sight Focus.

Focus on the front sight. That’s how most of us are taught. We’ll talk about that briefly, then discuss a couple of other methods.

how to aim a pistol, hard front sight focus

Chances are if you’re reading this, you know the drill. Focus hard on the front sight blade, center it in the rear notch with an equal amount of space to either, and flush across the top — then take that sight alignment, focus hard on the front sight, superimpose it over where you want to hit, and press the shot.

how to aim a pistol and shoot accurately

This is not a hard front sight focus – but it is a viable option for shooting accurately under certain circumstances.

2. Hard target focus.

A hard target focus doesn’t really involve the sights at all. It depends on skill level and training and is very situational (range, backdrop, etc. – which really is any shooting, but it’s even more critical here). Aiming a handgun with this method involves, as the name implies, a hard focus on the desired target area. Though the sights are not directly referenced in this shooting style, body alignment and weapon position in relation to the target are important.

how to aim a pistol, hard target focus

Aiming a handgun. Soft front sights, soft rear sights, but aligned and superimposed over the target area - it works well, particularly for those who have corrected vision.

Aiming a handgun with soft front and rear sights that are aligned and superimposed over the target area works well, particularly for those who have corrected vision.

3. Target Focus with Soft Front Sight

This final method for how to aim a handgun is particularly effective for shooters wearing progressive (not transition) lenses, bifocals, trifocals, or the like. It does not involve a hard focus on the front sight, but rather is an alignment of soft front and soft rear sights, superimposed over the target before pressing the shot (i.e. aligning a blurry front sight instead of a blurry rear sight). This means you’re effectively using the front and rear sights much like you would a red dot sight.

Aiming a pistol, target focus with soft front sight.

Watch the Video, and Subscribe to GunMag TV!

Up Next: Aiming a Handgun with Bifocals and Trifocals

how to aim a pistol, aiming a handgun with bifocals, trifocals, and transition lenses.

Reminder from the beancounters: If you’re looking to make a change (or upgrade) your firearm, we have several varieties of pistol sights available at GunMag Warehouse.


GunMag TV

GunMag Warehouse is developing a badass YouTube channel. Take a minute and check it out.

GunMag TV: the GunMag Warehouse YouTube channel

Josey Wells is a former military man who spent most of his career assigned to 11th Special Forces Group and JTF-6 (including a little work with Coronet Nighthawk in its final days and a couple of OEF-CCA missions), moving on to a civilian billet around the time JTF-6 transitioned to JTF North. He is an intemperate gambler who enjoys shooting 2-Gun Action matches (though he never seems to win any). Formerly a SOF team leader with the Triarii, Wells currently works “GFC Violent Persuasion Services” serving as an advisor to an SMU south of the US-Mexico border, and lets us use his name for some of our basic news posts because “Admin” is boring. Like many other fictional characters, the Missouri native is capable of frequent and improbable feats of valor.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Media Mayhem—Can shotguns hit two targets with one shot?

Movie Madness is all about finding the truth behind tropes regarding guns, gear, knives, tactics, and more from the world of fiction. We explore tropes from video games, movies, tv, and whatever other media comes our way. In our first edition of the truth about tropes, we are going to look at an old video game shooter myth about shotguns. This one goes all the way back to Doom. It’s spread since then, and notably, landing multiple hits with one shotgun blast has been a popular enough trope to become an achievement in Doom 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and The Last of Us. 

Doom video game, origin of the trope that you can make multiple hits with one shotgun blast.

We all know that shotguns work through the spread of the pellets from an individual shotshell. Pellet accountability is a big thing in home defense and the tactical use of shotguns. A single stray pellet can kill an innocent person, and that is why patterning, careful shot placement, and training are critical in shotgun deployment.

Doom video game. Can you successfully blast your shotgun once to hit two man-sized targets in a defensive situation? 

The question is, can you use a shotgun to purposefully hit two man-sized targets in a defensive situation? 

How practical is it, and what load and range is it effective at? 

If it is possible, is it practical? 

Our goal is to find out. 

Shotguns, Ammo, and Test Parameters 

For this experiment, I am using my favorite Benelli M4 shotgun. It’s loaded down with a cylinder bore choke, and the barrel is 18.5 inches long. The M4 is an all-around excellent shotgun for tactical use, and it typically finds its way into the hands of everyone from SWAT cops to SAS commandos. It’s a favorite of first-person shooters and an all-around sexy shotgun. 

Benelli M4 shotgun

Ammo wise, I am using nothing but buckshot, and I have a range backpack full of buckshot to experiment with. For this test, I’m using 00, 0, No 1, and No 4 buckshot loads from various brands. I’m using VTAC targets and placing them side by side. My plan is to measure each group after each shot to find out just how wide a spread you can get so we could see the effective range of spread each load has. This allows me to measure just how far the targets can be apart and still be affected by the blast. 

shotgun test with 00, 0, No 1, and No 4 buckshot. Ammo for shotguns

Science Time 

Science was not my favorite subject. To be fair, none of them were my favorite. That’s why I joined the Marines instead of the Air Force. However, I’m going to attempt an experiment that doesn’t involve crayons. I have my ammo, my gun, and my target. All that’s left to discuss is range. 

In video games, shotguns can hit two or three bad guys from all of two feet away. In real life, a shotgun doesn’t spread that far that fast. I’m going to start at 25 yards, and after firing one round of each load, I’ll move forward 5 yards. My point of aim will be sitting right between each target. This will be a single round elimination. 

VTAC targets

The testing criteria is simple. Fire one shot, unload, show clear, then go downrange to mark and measure where the pellets land. If a load fails to spread far enough to hit each target, it will be eliminated and will not be tested at the next yard line. 

Let’s get to it.

The 25 Yard Line

Number 4 

Number 4 was an impressive load at 25 yards and landed pellets on both targets in an impressive way. This includes several shots to the head and torso. The spread was a mighty 23 inches from left to the right. 

ammo for shotguns Federal ammunition 12-gauge 2 3/4 inch buckshot No. 4 used in test to see if you can hit two targets with one shot using a shotgun.

Number 1 

The Number 1 buckshot load hit each target with authority but didn’t strike the vital zones nearly as much as the number 4 at this range. The total spread was 20 inches left to right. 


Single Aught or 0, buckshot loads worked at this range, but only four pellets hit the two targets, and none landed in the vital zone. The spread was 16 inches total. 

25-yard test results using four different buckshot loads. Can you hit two targets firing a shotgun only once?


Double Aught or 00, buckshot failed and only hit the between the targets and the right target. 

The 20 Yard Line

Number 4

Number 4 again succeeded in hitting both targets with hits in the vital zones. The spread was 13 inches. 

buckshot pattern test at 20-yards. Can you hit two targets with one shot?

Number 1

The number 1 load worked the best at twenty yards with two more pellets in the vital zones than number 4. The spread was 15 inches. 


The load failed to spread to both targets, with pellets hitting the left target and the center. 

ammo for shotguns Remington Buckshot 12-gauge 2 3/4 inch 0BK. Can you hit two targets with one shot? Shotgun test.

The 15 Yard Line

Number 4

The Number 4 load at 15 yards spread to both targets but scored no vital hits and spread 10 inches. 

Can you hit 2 targets with one shot? 15 yard shotgun pattern.

Number 1

The Number 1 load hit each target at 15 yards but scored no vital hits with a spread of 11 inches. 

Ammo for shotguns Winchester SuperX 12-gauge No.1 Buckshot used in shotgun test: can you hit two man-sized targets with one shot?

The 10 Yard Line 

At ten yards, neither the Number 1 or Number 4 load spread between each target. 

No 1 and No 4 buckshot pattern at ten yards, did not hit two targets with one shot.

Shotguns, Spread, and Tropes

The conclusion is simple, yes it works, but not to the effect that video games show. At 25 and 20 yards, shotguns could theoretically hit two bad guys with one load. The thing is, the bad guys have to be sitting close with little room between them. Your best bet is two guys down a 25-yard long hallway coming at you standing side by side which is an unlikely scenario. However, even if you have that scenario, is it more efficient than just firing twice? Is it practical? 

Buckshot 9P/00 12 gauge shotshells used in test to see if it's possible to hit two man-sized targets with one shot of shotguns.

I think it’s evident that no, it’s not a practical technique worth training for. The only vital hits were scored at 20 and 25 yards, and when it worked at closer ranges, the shots were mostly in the arms and shoulders of the targets. 

Shot pattern in test to see if its possible to hit two targets with one shot of shotguns .

Interestingly enough, the United States military experimented with an interesting choke during the Vietnam war. It’s known as a duckbill choke, and the idea is to change the spread from vertical to horizontal and increase the chance of landing an effective hit on moving targets or even multiple targets. 

It does spread the shot more horizontally, but practical use and testing showed the intended effect didn’t open the spread up enough to be useful. 

How Could It Work? 

We need bigger shotguns! Loaded with bigger shells! Something like a four gauge could be an efficient weapon at dispersing enough shot to hit multiple targets in an efficient way. However, that kind of weapon would need to be tripod-mounted and possibly crew-served. The more I talk about it, the more I like it. 

benelli shotguns

Oh Benelli you beautiful Minx – Courtesy Taran Tactical

Anyway, back on the subject. The tactic of scoring two or even more hits with a shotgun is far from practical, but it is possible with the right load and at the right range. 

Buy your shotgun magazines at the Warehouse!

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Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner, a lifelong firearms enthusiast, and now a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is the world’s Okayest firearm’s instructor.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Weapon Light Use: Canopy Light vs. Direct Light

The picture above is one of two posted by Matt Jacques of Victory First on his social media. Accompanying that image was the quote “Canopy lighting vs. direct lighting when discussed as a searching technique.” (The other image is below.) It goes on to address an aspect of high ready vs. low ready: one that has to do with the best use of a WML, i.e. a weapon-mounted light.

He made two main points:

• Opens up the “high gun vs. low gun” conversation. If you subscribe to “low gun”, when will you practice working rooms with light?

• You have to be proficient in a room with provided light and applied light. 

weapon light use: direct lighting (high ready vs low ready differences)

High ready vs. low ready when it comes to applying your weapon light. [This is Surefire Scout weapon light on an LWRCI ICA5 carbine, fed by a Magpul PMAG + MagPod, used to clear a residence after a bump in the night. Further details below.

Well…that limited explanation is the instructional equivalent of physical activities that lead to unfortunate shades of blue. In fact, it opens up more questions than it answers (which was probably the point). 

I reached out to MJ for some additional clarification. Read on to get your learn on.

quickscope snap shots

Read more snap shots!

Q: What is canopy lighting?

A: “Canopy” lighting can be referred to as any of the following: Umbrella / Canopy / Bouncing.  Whatever you call it, it all basically uses the power of your white light against the white ceiling of the room you are in (when speaking specifically on residential structures that primarily have white ceilings).

This technique allows more blooming of your light and gives a better, more natural casting of the light, and allows you to see more. You take in more optical information more quickly instead of merely looking where the pointed light is. That’s what traditionally happens when folks use direct lighting.  


Q. What is direct lighting?

Direct lighting is where you are simply using all of the light and physically pointing it directly at an area or object. This is obviously what happens when you are addressing a threat or are deliberately searching a dark, specific area (outdoors, a basement stairwell, long unlit hallway, or the like).


Q. What is canopy lighting used for?

Canopy lighting is primarily used to take in as much information very quickly inside a room where you haven’t identified a specific threat that needs to be addressed.  It allows you to enter a room, bounce the light off of the ceiling and observe more of the general space and any obvious people who are in the room. 

You should be using a threat index of 1, bodies; 2, doors; and 3, hides. Canopy (or umbrella lighting) gives you the quickest optical advantage to identify those first two concerns very quickly. 


Q: What is direct lighting used for?

Direct lighting is to fill a void space to ensure you can see as much as possible when you cannot use canopy lighting (think outside searching, dark spaces/voids, etc.). It is also used to address a specific threat.

It’s accomplished when you use all of your light directly on a threat or a smaller area. It is also used by depressing the muzzle slightly towards the ground to see as much as possible without obstructing any of your ability to see (any weapons and both hands, plus the surrounding area).

Someone using the direct lighting method should be aware that they are not only potentially violating a cardinal rule of firearms safety (pointing a weapon at something you do not intend to kill), but could also be violating the law – in many states, at least – by brandishing a weapon.

There are all sorts of “What Ifs” and “What About” scenarios that are not in that category, but that’s for another discussion.


Q: Why are you going “high gun” (high ready) here in that first picture?

High gun gives me the ability to utilize the ceiling for canopy lighting, In the two pictures, it is apparent that using high gun to accomplish canopy lighting is giving me more immediate information about the room than would have directly entering the room and driving direct lighting into a corner.


Q: Does canopy and direct light, and high ready vs low light, apply to both rifles and pistols?

Both canopy and direct lighting can be sued with a handgun or a rifle. And with a light-equipped shotgun. If you use a scattergun for home defense, you still need to ID your target, just like you do with a long gun or handgun. 

With the handgun, the two lighting techniques apply to both a weapon-mounted flashlight and a handheld light for searching. This goes back to direct lighting for outdoors or hides, dark places, and addressing threats.

Also, the same principles apply to a handheld flashlight by itself if you’re not in a threat environment, i.e. just moving or searching. The canopy method is going to provide a greater ability to receive and process information than the direct method, but the direct method remains more effective when driving into deep places, corners, etc. 


Q: Isn’t high ready unsafe?

High gun is only “unsafe” if you’re not taught the pros and cons of both high and low gun. As long as I am aware of what or who is above or below me as I wield the carbine or handgun, they are safe. Both positions have valuable benefits, for both weapons.


Q: When would you not go high ready?

I would not go high ready if that position muzzled something or could potentially cause harm to something I did not want to threaten. For instance, if I am searching outside of my house and I am moving towards it, I may not want to work from high gun because there are bedrooms on a second floor.  I also may not want to work from the high gun if I the presence of any substrates on the ground could be used to assist in the lighting of an area.


Q: Is it okay to go “low gun” (low ready)?

It is ok to use low gun or high gun. When it comes to high ready vs. low ready, there are scenarios that can be laid out for either being efficient, safe, and effective.


Q: When would you not go low gun?

I may not use low gun if I need to drive the gun over a barrier/cover or another person. This could be team movement or working over/past a ballistic shield or another piece of cover or concealment. Similar situations could occur with “friendlies” in a home defense or other situations.


Q: Tell me about the rifle in that picture.

LWRCI ICA5 carbine

Suppressed LWRCI ICA5 carbine, equipped with Aimpoint CompM5, Surefire Scout light, Surefire SOCOM Mini suppressor, B.E. Meyers MAWL-DA laser, True North Concepts Gripstop, and Blue Force Gear sling. The weapon is using a Magpul PMAG with Magpod stabilizing base plate, loaded with Federal Premium 62gr bonded 5.56mm ammunition. Read more about or take a low light training class from Victory First:


Find weapon lights at GunMag Warehouse.

David Reeder’s Wu Tang name is Lucky Prophet. He is a retired AF veteran, former Peace Officer, and current Tier 2.5 writer-operator. Over the course of his career, he has worked a variety of military and lE billets, served as an Observer-Controller at the National Homeland Security Training Center, a MOUT instructor, and an MTT tracking instructor – all of which sounds much cooler than it really was. Although he only updates his website once in a very great while, he can absolutely be relied upon to post to social media (@reederwrites) at least once a month. -Ish.

CategoriesSkills and Gunhandling

Working the Tactical Light with Travis Haley

What do you do when you need to engage a target at night or in another low-light setting? There are many schools of thought about how to engage a light source — either weapon-mounted or stand-alone — but either way, you need a light and need to know how to use it. 

engage targets in low light with tactical light.

Engaging targets in a low-light situation requires unique skills and practice using the light and weapon in conjunction to both illuminate your target and hide your own position so the enemy can’t use that knowledge to shoot back accurately.

In the videos below, Travis Haley takes us through three effective uses of weapon-mounted lights and handheld lights in various tactical situations.

Applications of White Light

Often we find ourselves engaging in a gunfight in dark or low light conditions because crime happens all times of day and night. How do you effectively deploy a handheld light to help you find your target? Travis takes us through the basics with a few principles that apply following his saying “Time in the light is time as a target.”

Key takeaways

•Consider what you look like from the threat’s viewpoint.

•Be like a firefly – it appears and the next thing you know it’s somewhere else.

•Use the light as you search through the environment at random heights and different spaces.

Handheld Light Practice

What are the various ways you can hold and operate a hand-held light while operating a weapon? Travis shows various techniques using range drills.

Key takeaways:

•Never leave home without a handheld flashlight — even if you have a weapon-mounted light.

•It can be used as either back up or primary depending on the situation.

•Travis demonstrated three techniques: the Roger’s SureFire, Harry’s but modified for box stance, and Neck Index. Be sure to pay special attention to keeping the flashlight pinned against your cheek so the light, eyes, and gun all move together.

Light Discipline

So you have a light in a lowlight situation and need to see your target. When do you turn it on and off? When should you work the light vs working the shadows?

Travis Haley takes us through situations where the light should come on and come off based on movement, cover, and action required to win the fight. Remember that it’s a combat light, not a utility light to just turn on and compromise yourself everywhere. So you don’t want to let your light become a target. Like Travis says, “You gotta turn that thing off, man.”

Key takeaways

•Light goes off during reloads and location changes so the enemy doesn’t see what you’re doing and where you went.

•Use a momentary-on light so you can quickly and easily operate the on/off switch with your support hand and maintain your firing grip on the gun.

When you’re done watching the videos, check out our selection of handgun and rifle mags and accessories.

Travis Haley with tactical light

Whatever grip you choose, be sure you can manipulate both the light and your weapon effectively.

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David Workman is an avid gun guy, a contributing writer to several major gun publications, and the author of Absolute Authority. A logophile since way back, Workman is a quickdraw punslinger and NRA RSO and Certified Pistol Instructor. He helps train new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as practicable. “Real-world shootouts don’t happen at a box range.”

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