This is a guest post from my friend Darryl Bolke. Darryl is currently writing a book about the history of formal firearms training throughout the 20th century. I’m very excited to read his book when he gets it on the market. Until then, follow Darryl’s writing at DB’s Shooting Adventures on Facebook.
I always get a laugh at Internet/Gun Shop counter pontification on techniques and procedures used in firearms training. This is where people parrot something and have absolutely no idea of the context or why things are done and the goals of training to make some of our responses work at a sub-conscious level. I have read with interest the last few days about this with the hammer pair, often called “the double tap”. We try to use exact terminology when describing things because it helps to truly define exactly what we are doing.
We work hard on a technique where a pair of shots are delivered to the high chest area and if this measure fails, then a single shot to the head is delivered. This is called a “Failure to stop” response and when training it is simply referred to a “Failure Drill”. We can break this down into components.
We are basically trying to hit two very similar size targets that are either in the upper chest or head. Both are essentially the size of a large orange or a small grapefruit and correspond well to the black area on a B8 repair center target, which is why we use them extensively. The acceptable target in the chest is often the first to attempt because it has more room for error if you miss the orange size vital area. You will likely have to shoot again, but at least your “miss” is contained in the target on a frontal facing target.
If the primary target is the head, misses on the more dynamic moving and harder to hit target end up endangering others by not being contained by the subject you are attempting to use lethal force solution on. Therefore, we generally go to the body first and save deliberate initial shots to the head for dire situations that require a true instantaneous cessation of action. The reward of an immediate stop comes with much greater risk to others in the event of a miss.
With that out of the way, let’s look at how we deliver that initial pair to the body. The first is a controlled pair. We maintain full control of both shots that have a front sight visual confirmation, a press of the trigger with the sight confirmed, follow through where we are also assessing the first shot and then a repeat of the initial process if a second shot is required.
This entire process happens rapidly and is often distance dependent for the speed in which it is delivered. The key is maintaining control of the process. The idea that you cannot see your sights is something we tell people based on their failures to hit. People miss at close ranges not because of the excuse “you can’t see your sights”, but because they didn’t visually confirm alignment on the threat.
If you look at both top level technical and competitive shooters, as well as highly successful gunfighters, they are all able to visually confirm sights at speeds that far exceed human reaction time and exceed assessment time for self-defense shooting. So, not visually verifying sights is a choice or a training failure and not some physical limitation. We can deliver a controlled pair, followed by a precision single head shot with absolute full control and well within assessment and reaction time speeds.
So, this brings us to the “Hammer Pair”. This is where two shots are fired with a single sight verification on the first shot and a combination of grip and recoil control are used to fire the second round at maximum speed and at the ranges where it is intended to be utilized. This distance envelope is from outside retention distance to about 10 or 12 feet and is very effective. We have lots of folks teach this as it is textbook Modern Technique of the Pistol stuff, but most have no idea of why we would teach a technique where we are not visually verifying the second shot of the pair and not using traditional follow through. Well, the answer is simple…cheating.
I will never forget my first rounds fired in the police academy in a situation that was the same as happened to my mentor and dear friend Pat Rogers more than a decade before in his academy 3000 miles away. We were both called “Cheaters”. We started in the academy shooting at 3 yards. I brought my S&W Model 15 .38 Special to eye level at great speed and visually verified the sights with a flash sight picture through the half of a rear sight (my issued gun was a wreck) in the rear and a red ramp front sight and pressed my shots. I shot faster than anyone else on the line who were point shooting from the hip and unlike everyone else, my rounds were tightly clustered right in the X ring of the B27 target.
I had been shooting competitively before the academy and was training with top level law enforcement and military special operations people, so this was not a difficult task. I was immediately confronted in a highly aggressive manner by an academy instructor about my shooting. I was caught off guard because he was mad! I said I was the fastest and most accurate out of the entire line of what was probably 40 shooters on the relay and did not understand what the problem was. He spit out the words that I will never forget…” You’re cheating”. I questioned how I was cheating and was berated for using my sights and bringing my gun to eye level.
I thought to myself that “well yeah, isn’t the idea to win?”, but could see I was digging myself into a ditch and simply apologized and shot from the hip to seven yards like everyone else for the duration of the academy. Unlike everyone else, I ditched this ineffective and ridiculous practice the second I graduated. This kind of unverified shooting outside of ranges where you must use body mechanics because of weapon retention concerns is one of the reasons law enforcement often has dismal performance in actual street shootings.
This brings us back to “cheating”. In a two-way lethal force encounter, I will do whatever I can to not be in second place and will cheat at every opportunity. If I can get to a hard low ready prior to the event kicking off, I will do so to take the draw out of the equation, thus, cheating on how we start.
In a very close-range affair where the odds are that an opponent even of low skill can hit, I need to be well ahead of the curve. By not using visual verification of the second shot to the body and cheating my follow through to the next target I can get to incapacitation of my opponent much faster. So, if instead of using traditional follow through of the controlled pair and other fundamentals based shooting (which is what we want to be using in a crisis) I can cheat my eyes to the head after the first shot for my assessment.
If the head is still there, which tells me I have a failure to stop, I am already picking an impact point and guiding my sights at speed to it. It is very much like top level sport shooters who do not need to use traditional follow through on targets. The highest-level sport shooters are already moving their eyes to the next target as the shot is broken on the previous target. This is because unlike a use of lethal force shooting, they do not need to make assessment and evaluation to be able to articulate why they are pressing the trigger on another target. However, this is part of the follow through actions that successful defensive shooters MUST do. Under our nation’s laws, you must be able to articulate why you fired each shot.
The speed of assessment is very different from the speed of trigger manipulation. This gets very lost in how people train. So, in a nutshell, if I can cheat my eyes to the head to do my assessment of whether another shot is needed, I am accomplishing two very important things, evaluation and assessment. Now my eyes can drive the sights to the exact place where the next shot must be to end the encounter as quickly as possible if the opponent has not been stopped with the initial (and less risky) body shots. To take the higher risk head shot and bad consequences of missing that shot, I absolutely must have that shot correctly sighted and tracked before I press that trigger.
Normally, I do not like to simply put this stuff out in the digital world. We believe that people should be taking classes from instructors who have a deep depth of knowledge that is experience based rather than theory based or simple parroting what they have heard with no understanding of context.
I am posting this because the precision application of a Hammer Pair to a Failure to Stop response ended a horrific incident with a deranged murderer in my old area where I was an officer. The officer that performed the surgical application of this was a friend, a partner and a very dedicated student of mine for many years. We debriefed this incident numerous times in detail. He was as dedicated a cop as I ever knew and took training very seriously. He wanted to ensure others learned from him. Passing this information on makes this hard earned knowledge valuable.
Tragically, the officer involved in the incident took his own life a couple years ago. It is a reminder that we need to be doing better at finding ways to better help those who deal with the worst of this world daily. I want to pass this knowledge on so others can hopefully gain knowledge and chase excellence and professionalism as hard as he did. I was contacted by a rookie policeman last night about this subject who is doing his best to gain as much quality instruction and knowledge as he can. The best thing I can do is let Jeff continue to help young ambitious officers to crush evil. Passing on this knowledge honors Jeff (RIP). I miss you brother.