One of the arguments against practicing to shoot one-hole groups is that you won’t have time to do this under stress.

That’s a fine argument, but it’s one-dimensional and conflicts with the very training that teaches it.

Oftentimes, the same training that teaches that 8-inch groups in sterile training conditions are adequate also teaches that you should fire two rounds to center-of-mass and, if that doesn’t stop the threat, to shoot one round to the head.

The problem is movement, stress, speed, and unstable shooting positions will cause your shot groups in a surprise self-defense situation to be at least twice as big as your groups in practice.

If you’re training to an acceptable standard of 8-inch groups in sterile conditions, it’s fair to expect that your groups in an extreme stress situation will be 16 inches or more. The average skull is 6-7 inches wide. How likely do you think it is that you’ll hit your intended target? Will you get lucky and have any misses lodge harmlessly in a stud in a wall or might the bullet hit something more important?

If only it was that simple.

Let’s say that your first two shots to the body hit their mark (nationwide law enforcement hit averages are 15%-25%, so it could easily take 10 or more rounds to get your “two hits to the body” if you’re practicing 8-inch groups).

The only reason you’d shift your aim from the body to the head is if the first two hits didn’t stop the threat. There’s a pretty good chance that if two hits didn’t stop him, he’s either drugged, drunk, or deranged.

Think about that for a second. Shooting two & one drills, failure drills, or Mozambiques on paper is one thing, but if it really happens, it’s because someone who is a lethal threat to you just absorbed two rounds to the chest without stopping. That would be an “oh crap” moment. Are they wearing body armor? Are they a zombie? Did you even hit them?

There are numerous cases of people taking multiple shots to the head and staying in the fight:

  • Shots to the sinus cavity deflecting down through the jaw.
  • Shots hitting the jaw and deflecting.
  • Shots (particularly .40 caliber) deflecting off of the brow/forehead.
  • Shots hitting the head, scalping around the head, and continuing on at the back of the head. (I’ve read of multiple instances of this and personally touched the holes in the helmet and scars on the head of Dr. Kunkel from Weeping Water, Nebraska)
  • Shots to parts of the brain that aren’t critical at that time due to the attacker’s mental state.

It means that your shot to the head doesn’t just need to hit the head, it needs to hit the brain. And maybe not even just the brain, but the medulla oblongata, which is about the size of a walnut, or another critical part of the brain that will cause a drugged, drunk, or deranged attacker who’s already been shot twice to actually stop being a threat.

All of a sudden, the ability to shoot 8-inch groups in sterile practice conditions doesn’t quite cut it.

The root of the problem has three parts:

First, a handgun is a horrible tool for quickly stopping a lethal-force threat. The bullet moves too slow and it’s more unstable to aim than a rifle. In fact, most defensive handgun calibers are illegal for hunting deer — because they’re so ineffective.

But they’re still the most effective self-defense tool that most people can carry on an everyday basis.

Second, 8-inch groups are not created equal. There’s a world of difference between being able to shoot 8-inch groups standing flat footed on a well-lit range and shooting 8-inch groups in low light, while moving, with a moving attacker who’s shooting back at you with sim rounds — only one of those two 8-inch groups will carry over to the real world. The more sterile the conditions, the tighter groups you better be able to shoot.

Third, shooting is emotional and as your emotions increase, your group size will increase.

One of the reasons why it’s important to be able to shoot one-hole groups is that it forces you to master patience and control your emotions, and a lot of problems that shooters have are the result of a lack of patience and emotions driving the shooting process. Let me explain…

A lot of the time, pie-shaped groups straight down from where you’re aiming are the result of anticipatory flinch. Regardless of how tough and macho you are, your brain “fears” the recoil or “fears” losing control and tries to push the muzzle down at the exact instant that the shot is released. Low, pie-shaped groups are proof that this doesn’t work.

There are a lot of times when you start squeezing the trigger, but the shot doesn’t happen fast enough for your brain. It wants the hit of dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin — the sweet reward that happens when the shot goes off. And, in the case of a self-defense shooting, it wants the emotional discomfort from the cortisol to stop.

Add to that, if you’re holding your breath, your sight picture will start to get blurry.

Add more to it, you start focusing on the target rather than your sights and you realize how much you’re wobbling around…and that the wobble is increasing.

Finally, your brain can’t handle the suspense anymore and makes the trigger finger jerk and finish the job…throwing your shots to the left (if you’re a right-handed shooter).

Shooting one-hole groups is proof-positive that you can control your emotions and patience when shooting. And the more you practice the discipline of controlling your emotions and patience, the better you get at it.

The better you get at it, the more likely that you’ll be able to control your emotions and patience under the extreme stress of a surprise attack and shoot fast, tight groups…even at speed, while moving and from unstable positions.

It doesn’t mean that you need to try to shoot one-hole groups under stress…or that you will be able to, even if you try. But if you shoot half as well in combat as you do in practice, I’d think you’d want to practice shooting as precisely as possible in practice.

So, what’s the best way to get both speed and precision?

Work both ends of the equation…start with the ability to pile round after round on top of one another…and then push the speed. On the other end of the equation, practice running the trigger as quickly as you can with a bigger target, and then tighten up your groups.