The Importance of the First Shot

The NSSF‘s January 2012 edition of “Pull The Trigger” features a video by champion pistol shooter Doug Koenig on “The All-Important First Shot”

This is true. There’s no more important shot than your first shot. If you need another tenth of a second to ensure a good hit? Take that tenth of a second. As the old say goes, “you can’t miss fast enough”. Or as I prefer to say, you can’t afford unacceptable hits; slow down and get acceptable hits. Accept nothing else.

Tom Givens made me realize there’s more than one first shot. We tend to consider the “first shot” to be the shot fired at the start of the string, or the initial shot fired after we walked up to the firing line. But realize any shot other than an immediately subsequent shot is a first shot. So you draw and shoot? That’s a first shot. While shooting there’s a malfunction that you have to clear; when you come back on target, that’s also a first shot. It’s also a first shot when you come back up after performing a reload.

What’s the most important shot? The first shot.

What’s shot you’re most likely to screw up? The first shot.

The screw up will tend to happen because we’ll get in a hurry. This will be most evident on “subsquent first shots”, like after a reload or malfunction. We know we’re down, we need to get back to business quickly, and so we’ll rush and blow the first shot. You must make a conscious decision to slow down. It doesn’t mean move at a glacial pace, but if you have to take 0.2 seconds to verify a sight picture and ensure a smooth trigger press, then do so. Again, we don’t want unacceptable hits.

An acceptable first shot is of paramount importance in a self-defense context. That first shot may be the one that saves your life. Yes it must be fast, but more so it must be accurate. Do the math. On paper, taking that extra 0.2 seconds to ensure an acceptable hit may seem like too much time — every millisecond matters, right? But what if you didn’t take that 0.2 seconds and had an unacceptable hit? Now you’ll have to shoot again, and that will take more time. In making that second shot, your shooting scenario may have changed (e.g. bad guy moved because they realized incoming lead has the right-of-way) which forces your OODA loop to reset and now you take even more time to get re-situated and get that second shot off. And what of the first unacceptable hit? if it hit grandma, that’s going to be far more costly than the 0.2 seconds.

Yes speed matters, but speed without accuracy is worthless. You should shoot (only) as fast as you can get acceptable hits. In practice, use a timer and find out how fast you actually can shoot to get acceptable hits. Take a drill, any drill (KR Training’s “3 Seconds or Less” is a good one). Or since we’re talking first shots, just start with the gun in the holster, concealment garment if applicable, and work on the drawing and firing off a single shot. Shoot it with no timer, no par times, just shoot it at your own pace that enables you to get a clean 100% score. Make sure you can repeat that clean performance on-demand. The next step is to use a timer to for a starting beep and to record shot times, but no ending “par time” beep — leave it open-ended. You want a starting tone, and by recording your shots you can look at the last time and see how long it took you to shoot that string/drill. You want to see how long it takes you to cleanly shoot the string/drill, but with no time pressures. This will establish your “shooting it cleanly” par time. Once you have that established, now you can put a stop tone/par time on the timer and work to shoot the drill before the closing buzzer. Then next time, drop the par time by some amount, maybe 0.2 seconds. Try again. Incrementally lowering the par time, pushing yourself a little more until you can be faster AND accurate.

Your first shot is your most important shot. Make it count.

One thought on “The Importance of the First Shot

  1. Great post HSOI. I look at it, as far as the training, much along the lines of a kata. Start slow, make sure that everything is performed to the best of your ability. Then repeat and so on. Learning the needed actions correctly, the first time, is just so much easier than having to re-learn. Much safer too!

    Recently picked up a Kel Tek P11, and a 1911A1. I am looking forward to learning them both inside and out.

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