Engagement Distances

The April 2014 Rangemaster newsletter discusses engagement distances of private citizen self-defense incidents. You should read the whole article (it’s only a page long), but here’s a key take-home:

We have had over 60 student involved shootings. Of those, two incidents occurred at less than 3 yards. One involved intentional physical contact between the shooter and the offender, the other involved purely accidental contact. The vast majority of these shootings occurred at distances between 3 yards and 7 yards, with the bulk of those at 3 to 5 yards. So, we see that the typical self-defense shooting is well beyond arm’s-length and may be past the length of your car. The average American sedan is 16 feet long. That is approximately 5 yards. My Silverado pickup is a little over 18 feet long, or 6 yards. This is way beyond arm’s-length.

Another useful thing is a graph Tom made:

Now consider that. 92.1% of his student incidents were in the 3-7 yard range! That’s certainly not “arms length”.

Here’s another point to consider.

I was recently listening to a trainer/instructor giving some shooting advice. He said something to the effect of learning to shoot at 25 yards, because if you can do it there, you can do it at closer distances. I take some issue with that statement.

Now, I understand where he’s coming from, because generally speaking getting acceptable hits from 25 yards is a harder task than getting acceptable hits at 3 yards. And if you can do a harder version of a task, you can probably also do the easier version of the task. So I get what he’s after and I don’t totally disagree with him.

But here’s the thing.

It’s harder.

If I’m teaching someone to shoot, I am not going to set a target at 25 yards and expect them to hit it. No, I’m going to start them out at 3, 5, or 7 yards (depending what the range will let me do, the closer the better) because I want the student to succeed. If the first thing the student does is fail, that doesn’t bode well for their ego, nor their desire to keep coming back to learn (nor their perception of you as a teacher). If they can see “yeah, I can do this!”, then you slowly build up to a higher difficulty level. Build their confidence, build their skill and ability. This is how you teach, and how most people are receptive to teaching and learning.

It also brings me back to my discussions on minimum competency. If I need to get someone going with the minimum skillset that gives them the most payoff when weighed against the most likely circumstances and situations they could find themselves in, then I want to work them in that 0-5 yard, 0-7 yard, maybe out to 10 yards range. If the student’s goal is to learn how to use a pistol for self-defense, if the overwhelming majority of incidents happen in that 3-7 yard range, then at least at the onset the student should learn to function in that context and the teacher should verify that the student can function in that context!

Furthermore, it is a different skill to shoot at 25 yards (go read Brian Enos’ book).

While it’s unfortunate that Memphis is such a violent city (read another article in the 2014-04 Rangemaster newsletter about “Violent Crime Reporting”), it does provide us with a fair amount of data we can use to better understand self-defense incidents, what happens during them, and how good citizens can respond to them.  Yes, learn to shoot well at 25 yards, but start first at 5 yards.

(thanx to Tom Hogel for the graphic, and the inspiration to write this article).

6 thoughts on “Engagement Distances

  1. For the most part I agree with what you, and the other folks are saying. I have an advantage though in that I seldom ever train more than two people at the same time these days.
    Basically, for a person that is brand new, a real tyro. I start them at… Three feet! Working on form for the most part. This is all after all the safety etc. After that I pretty much follow the same format for basic target practice.
    Later on, after the student is comfortable I move on to what might be called “The Jim Grover School” type of training. Better known as practical gun fighting.

    Great post my friend, and I would love to see more like it.

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