Why Tactical Shooters Shoot Poorly At Tactical Shooting

I could personally careless about clover leafing or bullseye shooting in respect to the potential of leveling my smoke pipe on a scumbag. Combat effective accuracy has limited opportunity for educational exercise on the square range. Most Civilian and LEO gun fights take place between 3-7yds if you are not practicing at those distance and from a draw you are target shooting not training to carry a gun.


All shooting, as with any physical skill, comes down to fundamentals. The fundamentals are simple for even a novice to grasp (the reason so many unskilled shooters pretend they’re qualified to teach) but difficult to execute.

Simple group shooting, i.e., bullseye or “clover leafing”, is nothing more than an execution of fundamentals. Doing this untimed on a well-defined target purposely eliminates many variables to allow focus on core, basic skills. Improving these basic, fundamental skills will have direct carry over to any other task even after other important variables are thrown in.

A competent pistol marksman shooting a rack grade, factory issue service pistol (what a cop or soldier carries) shooting groups slow fire from a two handed, standing, unsupported position should be expecting centered four inch groups at 25 yards. This type of pistol will likely shoot 2.5-3 inch groups from machine rest at this distance. A four inch group standard indicates some fundamental marksmanship error but not much. Centered eight inch groups at 25 yards (or three inches at 10 yards) should be a minimum acceptable performance. There is twice as much error but the shooter is still performing well enough to have his pistol hit targets on demand.

I hear the tacticool people in the back whining already. Most civilian and LEO gun fights take place between 3-7yds. Why do I care about results at 25 yards?

Working on fundamentals at a bit of distance magnifies error. Alignment or trigger control error that would push the shot off a bullet width at 3 yards will be enough to miss the entire bull at 25. Being off a bullet width means the shots are still touching, giving the false appearance of a “good” group, but missing the entire 5.5-8 inch bull makes the error more apparent.

Yes, I know you would rather spray puss all over the barn door-sized silhouette a few feet in front of you and proclaim your tactical shooting ability. Interestingly, a number of tactically-minded shooters don’t bother with timers on close targets where time is a factor because “I can only shoot as fast as I can go” or something.

Here’s the thing. That error in fundamental skill that’s causing poor results during group shooting is not only magnified at distance, it’s also magnified at speed or when other variables/stress is added. An inability to perform basic fundamentals after purposely eliminating as many variables and stressors as possible indicates fundamental skills are flawed and should be improved. Additional variables and stressors will make the already-flawed execution of fundamentals even worse.

Here’s my challenge:

  1. Test yourself against your preferred metric of skill, however you choose to measure your skills. (If you haven’t bothered to find or devise such a metric, well, there’s your problem…)
  2. Study what precision-oriented shooters do and how they train. Think of it as cross training. It’s good to step out of your comfort zone and try something new once in a while. You don’t have to cease other training, just add this in. I suggest adding a bit a dedicated dry and live training at the beginning of your current dry and live sessions. I promise that starting your dry and live sessions with a little bit of controlled slow fire fundamentals won’t compromise your ability to fight terrorists, ninjas, pirates or zombies.
  3. Give yourself a goal to improve your slow fire, bullseye-type shooting and work on it until the goal is obtained. The B-6 target (50 yard slow fire) has an eight inch bull (8 ring) with 5.5 inch nine ring and 3.3 inch ten ring. Work on this at 25 yards at least until five round groups all in the black becomes easy, and preferably, until most shots are tens and none are out of the nine ring.
  4. With that accomplished, rework your gun handling, speed and tactical work. Then retest yourself on your original course.

Running the Small Arms Instructor Academy with the Army Reserve Marksmanship Program, we found that training 20 folks at a time, all already capable of “Expert” or better Army qualification, were able to enjoy 40-60% average improvement in fundamentals within 3-5 days of dedicated, one-on-one instruction with Team shooter-instructors. That is, actual skilled marksmen with formal marksmanship instructor backgrounds, not your typical Drill Sergeant or the like. Retesting these same personnel on various qualification, CQB and SRM courses saw a direct carry over. Improving basic fundamental skills made shooting everywhere else also improve.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. I dare you.

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