Stress Shoots: Preparing For Time-Is-Life

This post was originally published on 5 August 2013 on The Arms Guide.

Allow me to paint you a scenario. You’re a twenty something-year-old female. You’re walking home alone from the library, a half-mile walk through urban terrain. You notice somebody following you. You keep an eye on him. When you check on him next, you notice that he’s continued to follow you and has increased his pace. You turn around to confront him, but before you can say the words, he produces a switchblade and closes in on you. You’re a concealed carry permit holder and you have a pistol tucked in your waistband or in your purse. You draw it and try to aim, but your heart is pounding and your hands are trembling. You can’t get a good sight picture and the threat can sense your fear. Through all of that stress, are you going to be able to place two rounds at center mass, and stop the threat before he reaches blade-effective range?

Unfortunately, many people who carry concealed are incapable of operating under battle stress. Those of us who are current or prior military or law enforcement receive some training in how to keep our cool and focus in a time-is-life situation. In comparison, I have been to two CCL courses (one in Texas and one in Arizona) and the shooting portions of both were very simple, very calm, static shoots. Seeing how many people missed under relaxed conditions has highlighted how ill-prepared the average CCL applicant is. In the absence of regulation-mandated stress shoots, it is incumbent upon us to train harder for the worst case scenario.

As highlighted in the opening paragraph, fighting in a time-is-life situation is immensely different to static shooting on the range. By no means should one forego practicing the basics via static shooting on the grounds of, “Well, that guy at The Arms Guide said that I need to train for time-is-life, so I only need to focus on stress shooting!” Static shooting is important for developing fundamental marksmanship skills. However, training for the time-is-life is also critical, and often neglected.

When I was on active duty, we did a very basic type of stress shoot. We moved up to the firing line, and cadre members (non-commissioned officers) would invade our personal space and scream profanities at us in an attempt to make us nervous or throw us off of our game. I would “breathe out the stupid,” as I like to say, focus on my targets, and engage them one by one. The screaming cadre became background noise. Other variants used by military and LEOs  involve vigorous calisthenics prior to shooting to simulate movement to contact.

You do not have to train like an infantryman or an operator to be prepared for the time-is-life situation, however. While pitching the idea for this article to Destinee, she brought up a very valid point: “One could also pull out a shot timer, give themselves a certain set of conditions to be met once it goes off, and set the timer to go off at random.” Destinee is absolutely right. In fact, that would be perfect training for the scenario outlined in the introduction. At random, be forced to draw and fire two shots at center mass. I would encourage readers to go beyond that: draw, fire two, practice a reload, execute a failure-to-stop drill (fire the remaining rounds in your magazine), and practice immediate action (in civilian terms – clearing a weapons malfunction). If you can get to an outdoor range and practice moving and shooting, that’s even better. Learning to move and shoot under stress are also key self defense skills.

I’ve said this before: Train like you fight. You will not rise to the occasion in a time-is-life situation. You will, however, fall to your level of training. Stress shooting places you outside of your physical and mental comfort zone and forces you to perform. Practice makes proficient. So, get out to the range and place yourself outside of your comfort zone. It’s the only way you will develop as a shooter.

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