If you remember nothing else from this article, remember you don’t want to get shot in a gunfight. Getting shot statistically leads to dying, and most doctors recognize that dying is bad for your health.   So, all we need to do is figure out how not to get shot. This sounds simple, but we as armed citizens have been misled as to the true nature of gunfights, it’s causes, characteristics and the techniques we can use to prevail in such a conflict. This article will show you common characteristics, detailed statistics, and concrete information that will allow you to prevail should you ever find yourself in such a terrible situation.

The first way to win in a gunfight, is to not be involved in a gunfight. Unless you are in the military or a police officer, you’re not likely to initiate armed conflict. If you are one of those folks you’ll need to be patient, as I will get to you later in the article. For the rest of you, lets return to our original point, we must, as armed citizens, avoid putting ourselves in situations in which the only solution is a gun. Remember, a gun is a tool of last resort.

There have been numerous studies detailing the processes and methods in which criminals choose their victims. In this article by Psychology Today, researchers showed videos of people walking along a New York sidewalk to hardened criminals, rapists, murders and robbers. These criminals were able to reach a consensus on who to victimize fairly easily.  The psychologists believed that the criminals were picking up on body language cues that indicated to them that a person could be easily victimized. These cues include: not paying attention, lack of athleticism, awkward gait and inebriation. It’s also important to note that the criminals were not simply picking the smallest people. Their choices often times were independent of physical size. So what does this mean for us?

One, you should pay attention and stop staring at your phone while you’re walking around. If you must be in a dangerous area, walk confidently avoiding displays of submissiveness or displays of hostility. While avoiding these indicators will not guarantee you will not be victimized, they are likely to reduce your chances.   Ok then, what do we do if we can’t avoid a conflict?

If we are going to be involved in a gunfight, we need to identify what characteristics are common in most fights. This data comes from various sources, including case studies and police shooting data.

Encounters generally occur between 7-20 feet apart, in limited lighting conditions (either at night or in areas where there is not consistent light). For police officers in daylight conditions, hit rates are approximately 64%. During limited visibility conditions, it drops to 45%. These numbers are true for single officer on single suspect shootings. Often times, very low hit rates are reported, but these scenarios are often multiple officers shooting at a suspect with a long gun at considerable standoff, causing the drop in hit percentages. Each one on one engagement averaged 3.59 rounds fired. Now that we know the average ranges, we must delve into the average time it takes for a gunfight to occur.

Gun Fight Stats


This study took place at an active shooter conference attended by police officers, many of whom were SWAT officers, averaging 10 years experience on the job. They were required to respond to a call where there was one shooter, in ideal lighting conditions, 10 feet away.

Some shooters were holding the gun to their head and some, simply by their side. The shooter then attempted to shoot the officer from these positions. On average it took the shooter .38 seconds to shoot at the officer and it took .39 seconds for the officer to react and shoot back.

The suspects were individuals untrained with firearms.  The officer’s had their guns out and ready to shoot. Likewise, officers did not have to determine if the suspect was armed, nor did they have to draw their weapons, which would slow down this process considerably.

Officers were shot approximately 50% of the time and the shooter was shot 90%. Not great odds. We also know, from a previous article, that even if we do make hits on target faster than the suspect, they are not magically going to die with no further action on their part.

This leaves us in a bit of a pickle. I don’t know about you, but I’m not thrilled about getting shot 50% of the time. This brings us to the most important factor for surviving a gunfight. COVER.

A classic study conducted by the NYPD in the 1970’s, detailed various factors that affected survivability for their officers. They listed the presence of cover as a key factor increasing survivability in gunfights.

This is common sense. If you are behind something that can stop rounds, you are less likely to suffer from lead poisoning. Pro tip, car sheet metal will not stop bullets. You can shoot a handgun bullet through both car doors with no problem. The engine block is the best place to take cover, if a car is your only option.

So, we are safer behind cover, but how much safer? An interesting semi-scientific article, written by a firearms instructor Greg Ellifritz at Tactical Defense Institute in Southern Ohio, answered these very questions.

He had a group of advanced firearms students try three different conditions. One, where each student was given a .38 caliber revolver firing paintball rounds and told to engage flat footed in the open; the second, where both were moving and shooting; and lastly, both participants were able to seek cover behind a 55 gallon barrel. See chart.



You can see that standing still is very nearly suicide, with a 85% hit rate, matching the 90% rate discussed from the active shooter study above very closely. Don’t stand still. Moving and shooting with no cover resulted in roughly a 50% reduction in hits and 40% reduction in torso hits. Learn to move and shoot. Lastly, using cover resulted in a 26% hit rate, roughly 1/3 the standing rate, and a 6% torso hit rate. USE COVER. These numbers are much more palatable, especially considering that these were trained adversaries. Pro tip, most criminals aren’t marksman.

This matches my experience as well. Recently, I took a low light techniques course taught by Strategos. It was an amazing course for low light search techniques, but I believe it was even more valuable at teaching the proper use of cover and one-on-one shooting techniques.

In one of our training areas, they set up a barrier field with 4×8 sheets of plywood, acting as cover and concealment. There were probably 30 sheets at various angles in a 50 x 100 ft open area.   We were then given airsoft pistols and told to engage each other one-on-one and eventually in small groups. Let me say, when you are being shot at, you quickly learn that if you over penetrate your cover or fail to move from where you are once your adversary sees you, then you will be shot.

I also learned that shooting one handed, exposing as little as possible around cover, drastically decreased my chances of being shot in the torso. I had previously thought that leaning my torso out and maintaining a two handed grip wouldn’t increase my chances of being hit significantly. Boy was I wrong. Maintaining cover and backing off of it enough to maximize your vision and your physical coverage is key. By the end of the course, nearly all the officers had figured this out, which caused our matches to increase from roughly 30 sec in length to several minutes. Basically we were trying to shoot each other within that 6% area.

This type of force on force training is invaluable, as it allows you to learn, at a painful price, what works and what doesn’t. The chance to make mistakes is what ultimately allows you to speed up your responses in gunfights. You no longer have to think about what you do if you see someone hunkered down behind some cover. You know that you must maneuver on them, while maximizing your use of cover to do so. You know that every time you stay too close to cover you cannot see where your adversary is and so it becomes natural to back off your cover to maximize your vision. Now that we know what is likely to happen in a gunfight, how do we prepare ourselves for it?

The first area for improvement is making quicker decisions. The ability to recognize weapons and react appropriately takes a fair amount of time. A study by Tobin and Fackler, found the average human reaction time for 17 police officers to mentally justify firing their pistols during a simple decision-making scenario is 0.211 seconds. The same officers, in a complex scenario, took 0.895 seconds. This time is the reaction time only, or the mental time to send a signal to press the trigger. So, we can assume that approximately .5 seconds will be utilized to make the decision to shoot. Next, we must draw our weapon and engage the target, which most research shows will take 1.5 sec on average. This is two full seconds from event to bang.

Training to reduced that .5 sec decision making time will yield excellent results.   I think the simplest way to practice this is to make some “flashcards” on powerpoint. Basically, you paste photos of armed and unarmed people onto slides and play it through, allowing powerpoint to change the slides automatically. You then practice dry firing when an appropriate image pops up. It may seem nerdy, but it works. You very quickly get into the habit of looking at someone’s hands then face. The next order of business is to reduce the time it takes to draw and shoot.

This is mainly done through dry fire practice. Once I unload and safe my weapon, I always start a dry fire training session with slow efficient presentation drills. Working on smoothly deactivating my holster’s retention systems and presenting the pistol, while prepping the trigger so that the shot breaks once my sights have settled. Gradually, I work on pushing the speed until I start to make mistakes.

Next, I practice drawing while moving and shooting. These two drills alone, will give us ample work. I always try to aim for drawing and shooting from a stand still in less than a second and right around a second while moving. I feel that a realistic goal for placing rounds on target once a threat has been presented should be one second, or roughly 50% faster than average. See the video below.

Remember, we are not likely to be shooting at 25m but this is a very impressive display of skill.

We have gone over a lot of information so lets recap some of the more relevant points. The first method of winning a gunfight is avoiding it altogether. We should avoid areas, and body language, that increases our chances of being victimized. Next, we need to understand that most gunfights occur at relatively short ranges, under limited visibility. We will decrease our chances of being hit drastically by moving and using cover. Likewise, it will take an average person 2 seconds from the decision to engage to bang. With practice, we should be able reduce this to one second or less. The key is to practice, practice, practice. Do so under limited lighting conditions and always against a clock. Remember, there might be someone out there planning to make you a victim, as we speak. The question is, will you let them?

Written By: Jacob Jackson

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