This article was originally written for PoliceOne.com.
In any discussion of lethal force shooting, the subject of head shots is one that needs to be addressed thoroughly. I would like to offer some insights and drills for officers and other personnel who are interested in this important topic.
While we know that hits to the central nervous system (CNS) result in more or less instant incapacitation of subjects, there are multiple challenges with targeting this area: it can be a fleeting target, there is a high probability of a miss under real world conditions, and you must be able to account for the rounds fired if you miss your target.
What scenarios might require such a challenging shot? Here are three possibilities:
To make a direct hit to the CNS in any of these scenarios you must be aware of multiple variables that could affect your point of impact:
Your ability to rapidly analyze these variables in a close quarter scenario will have a large impact on your ability to make a precise head shot. For this reason your training should put you in situations where face time restraints and non-ideal conditions. Try using the following to make your practices more realistic: tight time limits, realistic scoring zones, miss penalties, different lighting conditions, stationary and moving platforms, realistic cover and awkward positions, and artificial light.
The following are some of the drills I recommend and use in training students. Perform these drills using a standard IPSC target with a three or four inch circle of paper inside the head of the target; this is your aiming point. You will need an electronic timer for the following drills–stop watches or turning targets will not suffice.
This should get you warmed up. Now let's start putting together some more dynamic drills.
The fact that you can hit the head on a target out to fifteen yards is a good start. Now, if possible, use a swinger target that induces movement from side to side. Have it gently swing while you place head shots on it.
Score these movement drills by dividing the points scored by the time taken to complete the exercise. This will result in a decimal fraction which we call a comstock factor. Divide each officer's score by the highest factor in your department or area. This will give each officer a percentage of the best score shot.
Most front sight posts are too big when they come from the factory. A front sight of around .090 to .100 will give you a much better picture on the head out to 15 yards. Richard Heinie makes a nice one on his "straight eight" sights.
If trigger pull is too heavy, it is difficult to isolate the trigger finger at speed. Additionally, firing a rapid, precise first shot in double-action requires a great deal of work to master. This may make a good case for getting the lighter 3.5 connectors for Glocks or authorizing 1911-style single action autos. If that is not allowed, consider teaching rapid thumb cocking of the double action to get a better quality shot.
Head shots are generally "finishing shots." They are difficult to hit at speed and the chance of a miss is relatively high for the average officer who doesn't practice on a regular basis. Go for the sure hits first unless a head shot is your only option.
If the distance is too great, the lighting poor, or you have no other choice, consider using pelvic girdle shots to break the subject down and then apply a head shot. This is particularly applicable for a rapidly moving subject, i.e. a suicide bomber trying to get close to a crowd to detonate himself. Keep in mind that using a handgun to take a head shot on a moving target past ten yards is dicey for anyone but a high level expert.
Stay safe all!
Ron Avery, Co-Founder
Tactical Performance Center