Skip to main content

Shooting on the Edges

Shooting on the Edges

In a fight, your adversary won't present you with an ideal target.

While competitions and most shooting courses reward center-mass shots, the ability to be able to hit just a portion of a threat—an arm, a leg—can be critical to prevailing in a gunfight.

In using a handgun in self-defense, every instructor of any worth teaches that your goal is to be able to fire, on demand, a well-placed--most times high-center-chest--hit. We collectively practice developing, and then maintaining, this ability.

Handgun competitions are built around how well a competitor does this. This ability is then often coupled with tactical considerations of concealment, cover and movement.

Little if any thought or effort, though, is devoted to learning to "shoot what you can see when you can see it," so to speak. In fact, all the competitions penalize the shooter for firing what is, correctly by the rules, a poor shot.

However, a problem can arise when forced to defend yourself because threats do not conveniently present themselves as a full-value, broadside target. But because all your training, practice and competition has habituated you to always attempt to position yourself to get a good hit, you will most likely do this instinctively when engaging a real adversary.

The "cure" for this problem, luckily, is not all that complex. Recognizing that what you are doing in one application is incorrect for the other is almost the solution in and of itself. To reinforce this, practicing shooting at a humanoid target's extremities--its "edges," if you will--can further imprint this difference.

I suggest using realistic human silhouette targets, if possible, to better imprint in your mind what you'll see in a real encounter.


You can position the target behind a sheet of opaque material to further enhance this visual imprinting. You can also blade your target so you can only see and shoot a small portion of it. The only downsides are some long bullet tears on the target and shot-up target supports. (Be sure to use wood, not metal, clips.)

If you want further testing of this skill, you can do so (to some extent) in an International Defensive Pistol Association shooting contest, where using cover is included in many of the courses of fire. Just decide you are going to go through the course of fire using as much cover as you can, not the minimum allowable without penalty.

The applicable rules requires that the contestant have 100 percent of the lower torso and 50 percent or more of the upper torso behind cover while shooting or reloading. There is no rule against using more cover if you choose. Your final score may suffer, since scoring is time-based, but the idea is to learn and test a skill--not win a match.

Obviously, you can't deliberately shoot target extremities in a match, though, as doing so can well ruin both targets and their supports. You won't get to finish the match or be invited back.

What I've found for myself is if I start the match with the intent of shooting stages in the most tactical manner and do this a few times, it becomes much more reflexive and my final score is not all that much lower. So if you can convince yourself to do this, rather than try to win, you are well on your way to having better skills in a real encounter.

Which brings us back to the advice in the beginning of this column: Shoot what you can see when you can see it. Which means any limb or portion of the body that is visible (and a proven threat, of course). You can then move to shoot more of the threat or not, but you have delivered the first blow.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Federal's new.30 Super Carry pistol cartridge offers the equivalent of 9mm Luger performance with recoil and muzzle blast comparable with 9mm. Here's a first look.

First Look: Federal .30 Super Carry Pistol Cartridge

Scott Rupp and Richard Nance correct some common shooting advice.

Bad Shooting Advice

Rich Nance shows us a drill that helps with target transition and accuracy.

Skills Drills - 3 Second Headshot

It is important to train in various shooting positions. Rich shows us some kneeling positions here.

Shooting from Kneeling

Scott Rupp highlights the Taurus GX4.

Taurus GX4

Richard Nance shows off this easy to carry flashlight from Streamlight.

Streamlight Wedge

In early 2021, Taurus introduced the GX4, its entry into the micro-compact concealed carry pistol market. Now the company has added red-dot sight capability with the new T.O.R.O. (Taurus Optic Ready Option) version.

First Look: Taurus GX4 T.O.R.O. Optics-Ready Micro-Compact 9mm Pistol

Widely known for their duty retention holsters, Safariland is bringing the security and safety of their LE products to the civilian world with the 575 GLS holster.

Safariland Holsters

Smith & Wesson has expanded their M&P Shield Plus pistol line to include a 3.1-inch optics-ready slide option. Scott Rupp, editor of Handguns, is with Matt Spafford, of Smith & Wesson, to check out this "sweet spot" optics-ready concealed-carry pistol.
Concealed Carry

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Plus Pistol Series Expanded with Optics-Ready Versions

Handguns Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Handguns App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Handguns stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Handguns subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now