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Point Shooting (Must-Know Shootout Survival Skill)

LJ Bonham is a semi-subsistence hunter, hunting magazine editor, and firearms enthusiast who lives in the Rocky Mountains.


Why Learn Point Shooting?

Why would anyone in the 21st century need to master an arcane, early 20th century skill such as point shooting? Consider this scenario.

You are an innocent bystander caught up in a massive street demonstration/riot. A brick comes from nowhere. Smacked in the forehead, you regain consciousness on the pavement. Four young tough guys close in from across the dark street. They had hoped to knock their intended victim unconscious with the missile, but somehow your mind still sends signals through a grey, gauzy haze.

Time spent in various self-defense courses kicks in. One lone hand—the other rendered useless by a broken wrist suffered in the tumble to the ground—retrieves your legally concealed handgun. Blood clouds your eyes. The toughs are just shapes, shadows within shadows. Sweatshirt hoods pulled up, knives and a tire-iron clenched in fists, they advance.

You raise the gun, itself just another blur along with the tritium sights, useless at this most desperate moment. A far off corner in your mind wonders why the laser in the weapon’s grips hasn’t shone its bright dot on the all too close assailants. The police will later discover blood from your hand covered the lens.

An unsteady arm waivers. You can do no more than line up the gun as though pointing a finger and press the trigger. One by one, the men bent on making your last moments in this world a nightmare fall back, or to the ground. Without point shooting skills, you would have become a statistic, not a survivor.

When All Else Fails

The above account is fictional, but nonetheless possible. In such circumstances, all the modern handgun combative techniques and technology can become useless, but there is a way to prevail.

Long before tritium, laser, and holographic sights appeared on handguns. Long before firearms trainers such as Jeff Cooper and Jim Weaver taught everyone to use a handgun’s sights in a fight, people survived countless, close-quarters shootouts with a simple technique—point shooting.

Point shooting, sometimes called instinctive shooting, began as soon as handguns became practical weapons. By the 19th century, point shooting dominated combative pistol doctrine. Sight use belonged to the target shooting world, not life or death combat back then.

Modern, two-handed shooting skills are important, but shooters should also practice one-handed, instinctive techniques.

Modern, two-handed shooting skills are important, but shooters should also practice one-handed, instinctive techniques.

“Dangerous Dan”

In 1901 a sixteen year-old lad from Hertfordshire, England conned a recruiting officer about his age and joined the British Royal Marines. The lads name? William E. Fairbairn.

Fairbairn proved a tough customer. By 1907, he left the Marines to join the Shanghai Municipal Police. Shanghai back then made Dodge City and Mos Eisley seem tame, genteel communities. The Chinese underworld controlled the streets in this port city where sailors from around the world arrived each day on the make for a good time, or to move some contraband. It fell to the SMP to keep the lid on a boiling cauldron filled with smugglers, opium, intrigue, and the worst in human trafficking and degradation.

The wiry, level-headed former Marine never hesitated to mix it up with the city’s lowlifes. He soon discovered the force had two officer categories: tough and dead. This finishing school for street fighters taught him much, and during the 1920s, Fairbairn headed up the riot control squad.

By 1940, the war had come to Europe. Fairbairn returned to England. He had survived gun, knife, and fistfights (some say over 600). He put this experience to work training Britain’s newest fighting unit, the Commandos, where he earned the nickname, “Dangerous Dan.” Later in the war, he teamed up with another SMP vet and former Royal Army sniper, Eric Sykes. They co-authored the book on what is now called CQB, or Close Quarters Battle. Fairbairn later wrote several other books on hand-to-hand combat.

Fairbairn's pistol techniques were used in WW2 by British Commandos, American Rangers, the OSS, and SOE, among others.

Fairbairn's pistol techniques were used in WW2 by British Commandos, American Rangers, the OSS, and SOE, among others.

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Shooting to Live

In 1942, Fairbairn and Sykes published Shooting to Live. It would become the foundation text on defensive handgun shooting for almost half a century. Fairbairn advocated point shooting. Based on his extensive experience, most gun fights occurred fast, and once the shooting started, everybody around moved in different directions. A person had little, if any, time to get a proper sight picture.

Instead, Fairbairn and Sykes relied on basic human physiology. When a person raises their arm to shoulder height and points a finger at something, they align the outstretched finger with whatever their eye is focused upon at the time. A handgun becomes just another finger when it is pointed in a similar fashion. In this way, a gun’s muzzle is always aligned with a target regardless whether the sights are used or not.

In Fairbairn’s opinion, gunfights are so dynamic that even a skilled shooter is fortunate to score one or two hits on a human assailant’s center of mass. A fact born out time and again in news reports about police-involved shootouts. Trained, experienced officers often fire many rounds but score few hits, even when they are so close, they can almost smell a suspect's breath. Since the instinctive point technique doesn’t rely on a clear sight picture it becomes possible to hit a target under extreme stress in low light or limited visibility at close range.

Point shooting has been mischaracterized as a system that ignores sights altogether, which is not true. Fairbairn believed a shooter should still use a gun’s sights if circumstances provided sufficient time.

How to Point Shoot

It’s easy to learn point shooting’s fundamentals. Stand with your body squared up to a target, gun at arms-length by your side. Bend your knees until you are in a mild crouch, much like skiing. Keep the arm at full extension and centered with your torso, then raise it until it is at shoulder height and parallel to the ground. Let your free hand hover across your abdomen. This will help block low kicks and the hand is ready to reach out and grasp objects or an assailant.

The gun’s top should sit just below your line of sight and your eyes should remain focused on the target. You can perform a quick check to see if your gun is aligned. Shut your eyes for a few seconds then open them. The gun should still point right at the target. If not, adjust and re-test until it is correct.

With the basic alignment dialed in, repeat the exercise but bring the gun up as you enter the crouch. Practice without firing until it becomes smooth and instinctive. Once you’ve mastered the movements, then you can introduce live fire at targets. To align the gun from one target to another just pivot with the feet to square yourself up with the new target.

To improve weapon retention if the assailant is close, bend the gun arm a bit so the elbow is even with the hip. Although this may seem a little Old West, it is accurate enough inside five yards.

Image from a 1940s era USMC training manual shows the basic point shooting stance.

Image from a 1940s era USMC training manual shows the basic point shooting stance.

Traditional Point Shooting Techniques

The Gun’s Role

Fairbairn emphasized the fact a handgun must point naturally. Some guns point better than others and this can vary from person to person. It is vital you select a defensive handgun which points well in your hand. Don’t take someone else’s word for it. When you shop for a handgun, perform the eyes closed-eyes open test with each one to determine which points best for you.

Most revolvers, and any gun which uses the Luger’s grip angle such as Glocks, etc., are known as good pointers. These have been preferred by armed professionals for many years and they are a good place to start when you shop for a handgun.

The gun must also sit in your hand so it is aligned with your arm. Many double stack pistols have grips which are too fat for some shooters' hands and don't line up in the correct position. Test any weapon you plan to buy to ensure it fits your hand.

The P.08 Luger pistol has a natural point grip angle.

The P.08 Luger pistol has a natural point grip angle.

Medium frame, double-action revolvers, such as this S&W Model 19, are instinctive pointers.

Medium frame, double-action revolvers, such as this S&W Model 19, are instinctive pointers.

Point Shooting Advantages

  • Center of mass hits in poor visibility or low light
  • Shooter’s eyes stay focused on the target
  • Easier to lead moving targets
  • Becomes reflexive, muscle-memory skill
  • Doesn’t rely on a constant sight picture
  • Faster follow up shots
  • Uses the body’s natural movements and alignments
  • Easy to learn
  • Integrates well with two-handed isosceles stance techniques
  • Allows quick transition to sights if needed
  • Frees up supporting hand for other tasks (flashlight, baton, suspect control, supporting hand inoperative, etc.)

Point Shooting Disadvantages

  • Fully extended arm reduces weapon retention capability, especially at ultra-close range
  • Less accurate as range increases
  • Requires good pointing handgun for best results

Closing Thoughts

Point shooting is still an important combative arts technique. Used in the right circumstances, it has many advantages and few disadvantages. It has served armed professionals and citizens for over a century for good reason, it just works. It is a necessary compliment to other, more modern, shooting techniques, and anyone who legally carries a handgun should have it in their skill set.

© 2018 LJ Bonham

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