The limitations of point shooting

If you pay attention to gun stuff on the web, every now and then you’ll encounter a debate about “point” shooting. The exact definition of “point” shooting varies considerably depending on who is talking about it so discussing things can get sticky as people argue about completely different pictures of what’s happening in their heads. For our purposes I’ll define “point” shooting as any form of shooting that does not involve deliberate use of a weapon’s sights.

The human being is a remarkable entity capable of adapting to perform complex tasks requiring mental calculation and physical manipulation of objects or machinery with incredible precision. Let me illustrate:

That’s Ayrton Senna, one of the legends of Formula 1 racing, driving a Honda NSX around the Suzuka circuit in Japan. The video footage shows Senna operating the throttle, clutch, brakes, and steering of the car (sometimes using all three pedals at the same time with only two feet) at speeds so high they’re not even visible on the speedometer. As one of the people who helped refine the handling and performance of the NSX, he had lots of seat time in the car in addition to having spent the majority of his life (Senna started racing as a young teenager) racing them. In all of that practice he had gained the ability to make seemingly instantaneous mental calculations and physical manipulations to keep the car under control. Several times in the video you see him snap the steering wheel to the right even though he’s in a left-hand turn. He’s correcting an oversteer condition that, if not corrected, would spin the car.

Shooting requires a similar blend of mental calculation and physical manipulation that, with practice, can be refined to a high level. Someone who spends time seriously working on their presentation to a typical shilouette target will eventually reach the point where they could draw and fire a shot blindfolded and still hit the target just due to learning the body mechanics of a proper draw. Some point shooting systems try to capitalize on this, teaching a set of body mechanic dependent movements to index on a target…to wit:

At about the 4:30 mark in the old FBI training film above they cover some point shooting techniques that depend on body mechanics and positioning to aim the gun. That looks pretty good in the video, but note a few things – the shooter is stationary, the target is stationary, and the target is also huge. There are other “point” shooting techniques which involve bringing the handgun up into the line of sight much like you would do if you were pointing your finger at something. These tend to be more easily learned and more accurate than the techniques that rely on body mechanics, but they also tend to have the same limitations. They are often demonstrated from static positions on fairly large static targets with abundant light.

“Point” shooting demonstrations wouldn’t look nearly as good if it was dark and both the shooter and intended target were moving. Yes, yes…a number of very serious people back in the day taught point shooting for combat application. They did so for a few crucial reasons:

  • Equipment – Look at the sights on a 1911 manufactured in 1941. They are difficult to use in perfect conditions and utterly useless in low light.
  • Training – most of the people toting handguns back in the day didn’t have an abundance of time or resources for training and a “point” shooting system could be taught quickly enough to get them a shot at hitting a man-sized target somewhere at speed.
  • Lack of alternatives – Given the limitations of equipment and that the only other training of the day was centered around bullseye drills conducted at a pace much slower than gunfights tended to happen at, anything that taught speed and violence of action with a handgun was to be greatly preferred.

In other words, they used it back in the day because it was the best they could come up with given the constraints they had to work under. Today we don’t have the same constraints. Rex Applegate didn’t have the benefit of tritium sights, lasers, or red dot optics. We do…so while the very concept of sighted fire in low light was impossible in Rex’s day it’s something absolutely possible in ours.

Point shooting is a limited technique. In some circumstances it may be the best that one can do, but most of us aren’t forced to be in those circumstances. So why not use something more precise, more efficient, and that has proven to deliver better results under stress? Why not use the sights? Note that people who do this stuff seriously at the highest level from LAPD’s D platoon to Super-Squaders like Jerry Miculeck and Rob Leatham uses their sights…perhaps because they get a better result that way.

So will you if you use the sights. It doesn’t take anything away from those hard dudes from way back when to acknowledge that we have better equipment and training today than they did. They accomplished a lot despite those limitations so my hat’s off…but I don’t want to be stuck with their shooting techniques any more than I want to be stuck with their medical or communications technology. We have better options now…so let’s use them.




  1. If you have to make shots at any distance I agree with you, but many top shooters will still point shoot targets that are very close, as it’s slightly faster than obtaining a sight picture. If I’m shooting a wide open target at 3 feet, I’m not going to pay attention to the sights. My gun is in the same position as normal and I could use the sights if needed, but I skip the eye race from target to front sight. There might be a flash of sight awareness somewhere, but it’s not focused, it’s like a sanity check. It’s something I use it rarely, but it’s not a bad option to have.

    I agree with you though, Point shooting is not something you want to build your shooting skill set around. To me it was something that came naturally after learning how to shoot properly with sights and shot calling, and not something you even need to practice. It just sort of happens as required.

    1. The gist though is that if you practice sighted fire, if you need to point shoot a wide open 3 yard squirter target you’ll be able to do it effortlessly. If all you practice is point shooting, you’ll get crushed by a partial/no-shoot target at 15 yards.

  2. um no one has time to use sights in a real time-is-life self defense situation. trying to aim will get you killed on the street.

    1. Forgetting to tie your shoes will get you killed on the street. Nice troll attempt.

      Good article Tim. People need to train towards perfection if they want to build their skill level. If you only ever train at failure or imperfection, you will only ever be good at imperfection. It would be like Ayrton Senna having practiced failing to use the brakes and intentionally driving off the track, slamming into K rails….just because of the possibility of that ever occurring. Or Michael Jordan intentionally failing at freethrows in practice, so he could get used to it in case he ever threw one. Totally illogical. Train to kick ass, and you will kick ass and work through it for the best result, even when you do have failures.

  3. Under a certain distance, depending on amount of practice, point shooting is far faster than using sights and obviously preferable on a two way range. I remember a rifle paint ball duel . we both came around the two corners at exactly the same time. Using the same system I tought deploying soldiers to use out to 15yards, I drilled my opponent directly in the sternum and his rifle was still coming up to his eyes. that verified point shooting for me. my pistol students are able to hold a centered pie plate at 3 yards shooting three shots as fast as they can from the ready. in the real world life- death scenario at close in ranges one isn’t going to “breathe in, breath out, focus and pullllllll”

  4. Yep. If I can run a clean FAST drill at 15 yards in under 5 seconds, I could absolutely burn down a target that’s three yards away. Possibly with my eyes closed. If I can fill the A, C and D zones of a USPSA target with holes at 3 yards, that doesn’t mean I can run a clean FAST drill at 7 yards in 8 seconds….something to think about.

  5. Lordy, Lordy…

    Point shooting is a valuable skill, but so is sighted shooting. The problem with most point shooters is that they focus solely on the pointing, since sighted shooting takes much longer to master, and they mislead themselves with “two way range” mythology. Just because a majority of defensive shootings happen up close, does not mean that they all will.

  6. One thing not mentioned are the vast improvements in training and techniques. A 1941 era M-1911 is mentioned. I have a 1940 ish US Army training manual. The handgun technique is, by today’s standards is ludicrous. Bent wrist and elbow. No wonder back in the day they thought a 45acp a wrist breaker.

  7. There is a video of Bob Vogel and Taran Butler competing while shooting head plates. Bob Vogel shoots traditional two hand and Taran Butler shoots from the hip. It is an interesting video. I grant that Taran Butler has no doubt spent countless hours shooting in a more traditional manner, but he still shows that point shooting is a very viable technique for defense. Those that point shoot only are viewing the shooting world from only one side and I believe they are missiong out all the other great aspects of shooting. That is however, their prerogative.

  8. I agree with Caleb on this point — practice sighted shooting and point-shooting at close range will benefit. Point-shooting — I guess you’d say using a body index for the shot — works just fine within its limits. My cohost on THE BEST DEFENSE, Michael Janich, worked with Col. Rex Applegate on point-shooting, and the famous old spy was probably point-shooting’s biggest proponent (and had the Real World experience to back it up). We have talked about point-shooting on TBD, but usually within the context of the necessity of firing before the shooter’s arm reaches full extension and accesses the sights. Essentially, it’s an expansion of “firing from a retention position.” Here’s the ultimate point-shooting technique:

  9. In the FBI video, did anyone count how many time the FBI gut muzzled his right leg while drawing.

    Crouching does make you a smaller target, which is good, but you aren’t moving and you are where the shooter is probably aiming. NOT GOOD if you can move.

    Using airsoft, you can start to move and draw and not muzzle your leg when moving left which logic says gains you distance and easier right hand shooting on the move.

  10. A human adult at three yards is 600 minutes of angle (ten full degrees) wide.

    A human adult seven yards away is 271 minutes of angle (4.5 degrees) wide.

    Obtaining sufficient alignment to hit such targets is usually not the problem, even without using sights.

    Getting the human to avoid flinching, yanking, jerking, pushing, pulling, leaning, heeling or negatively reacting to the gun while shooting, especially when shooting fast and/or under pressure, is the problem.

  11. If your target is from 0 to 12 feet away, touching distances, you’d better shoot from retention, if you’ve ever been taught how….else you’re dead.

    As for the FBI Crouch forget it.

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