Self-Defense Ranges: What Is Truly "Practical"?

By David Tong

For around fifty or sixty years there has been a quote attributed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In short, it states that the majority of all self-defense encounters occur within seven yards.

Many people have taken this to heart by training at seven yards, or farther out. This may be non-conducive to surviving a gunfight, in my view. Recent statistics indicate that the vast majority of self-defense situations occur within seven feet. That should give many of us pause.

I think that shooting tight five round groups, slow-fire, at a bull's-eye target at 25 yards from a solid rest is a great way to check the mechanical accuracy of a handgun. I do not think it is good preparation for a typical self-defense situation.

For example, there is the often stated "21 foot rule," which is alleged to apply to uniformed police officers. Here is a quote published by the Force Science Institute:

"Originating from research by Salt Lake City trainer Dennis Tueller and popularized by the Street Survival Seminar and the seminal instructional video 'Surviving Edged Weapons,' the rule states that in the time it takes the average officer to recognize a threat, draw his sidearm and fire two rounds at center mass, an average subject charging at the officer with a knife or other cutting or stabbing weapon can cover a distance of 21 feet."

Here is another quoted figure that gives me pause: it takes an average adult only 3-1/2 seconds to close a gap while running at you with a knife (or other contact weapon) from 25 yards. Two things come to mind.

First, one had better practice drawing one's handgun with reliable alacrity. Practice by drawing and dry firing at home, first ensuring that your handgun is empty, of course. (SureStrike Laser Ammo can be a valuable training tool for this. -Editor.) Second, one had best be able to place one or two good center-of-mass upper torso hits on target under three seconds from the time it takes to place your hand on your handgun, draw it and aim or (if the assailant is very close) point shoot.

There are a lot of people, who are excellent technical shooters, who believe that they do not need to practice this sort of thing. They think their excellent slow-fire marksmanship skills will carry the day.

I am not one of those people. I used to participate in International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) and International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) matches, which help train you to shoot rapidly and accurately from your holster. I found this to be worthwhile practice. A lot of folks consider these to be "games," with no practical benefit, but I disagree.

Another statistic bandied about is also rather telling. Most gun battles are over in three to six seconds, with less than five total rounds fired by both combatants. Your fine sight picture, trigger squeeze and stance may not carry the day, especially if you are not practicing in a relevant manner.

What we have seen in recent weeks (I am writing in December, 2015) more than suggests that no matter where or what you may be, a city dweller, government worker, college student, or farmer, violence may come your way. A perfect example of this happened a month ago.

A man attempted to steal gasoline from several cars located where my father-in-law lives, which is in a rural area outside of city limits. My father-in-law heard dogs barking like mad, so he dressed quickly and wore his pistol outside.

He surprised a male dressed in a black hoodie, who said his car was out of gas and he was looking for some. (This at at 2:00 AM.) The would-be perp had managed to bypass a 14,000 volt electric fence used to keep cattle off the road and was standing there with a gas can in one hand and a machete (!) in the other. He was roughly twenty yards from my father-in-law.

"Poppa" swept back his heavy shirt to reveal his .40-caliber Smith & Wesson Model 4006 automatic, worn in a leather pancake holster. The trespasser decided, then and there, that discretion was the better part of valor. He dropped both the can and the blade and ran away; end of problem. The pistol was not drawn and no shots fired. Fuel had been inexplicably disappearing from parked cars for several months.

Maybe the thief thought he could steal some gas and leave quickly, without a trace. Leave quickly he did, so apparently his car was not as empty as he claimed.

My father-in-law called the Sheriff's Department and they were glad things were handled in this fashion. He got a free gas can and a machete, too. Preparation is a lovely thing, yes? As the Nike advertising tag line says, "Just Do It."

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Copyright 2016 by David Tong and/or All rights reserved.