The Headshot

I had an interesting experience while taking a shooting class.  I was shooting a tactical exercise / shoot-house when I engaged a hostile target with a standard response and transitioned immediately to the head where I placed a nice shot between the eyes of the “bad guy”.  The instructor said “nice, but you executed the guy.”  The position at this school is to assess the threat between the standard response and the head shot.  If you don’t, they consider you executed the individual (I have been told they have changed their position).


(Nice article on the origin of the “failure drill” –


Let’s consider for a moment that any shot fired at another person is deadly force.  It need not even hit them to be considered an “attempt” to kill them.  Regardless of your intended target area, head, chest, pelvis, hand, it is deadly force.


Let’s assume for the sake of discussion you are confronted with deadly force by another person, (The exact verbiage varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but – deadly force is any force which could cause death or serious bodily injury to another person) there is no requirement you start with “center mass.”  Legally you could start with the head shot.  Let’s not start with “what if.” For the propose of this discussion we will stipulate you are justified in the use of your firearm.  If you are confronted with deadly force, you may use whatever means necessary to stop the individual(s).


Now it is not typical to teach starting with the head shot, that is a difficult shot in the best of circumstance.   Clint Smith says “shoot what is available, as long as it is available, and until something else become available.”  Let’s consider the first for a moment.  If all you have available is the head do you wait until you have the opportunity to start with the center mass?  I think not.  Let’s also consider the need for immediate incapacitation.   It is not news that handguns are lousy fight stoppers, only a Central Nervous System hit gives a high degree of reliability for “one shot stops.”


Don’t misunderstand my point, I’m not advocating “just shoot them in the face.”  I have been teaching firearms long enough to know most of our gun owners don’t posses the necessary degree of skill to reliably accomplish it.  I just want to emphasize if you are forced to defend yourself from a deadly threat, shooting the head shot is not considered “more deadly” then shooting them anywhere else.  If you may continue to use deadly force against your aggressor as long as they pose a deadly threat to you or someone else, then there is no need to take a break before administering a decisive shot.


I also think we should stop thinking of the headshot as a single shot.  It’s possible to strike the head and not stop the threat.  We (firearms instructors) for years have been teaching readiness for follow up shots to the body in case they don’t work.  We (victims of violent crime) should