Trigger Time TV: The Truth about Shot Placement

Some sage shooting advice is sound in theory, but in practice it may not hold water. When it comes to shot placement, there’s a lot of advice out there, but little evidence. Do your aim for the head, or not? When shooting at center mass, is it better to aim for the heart and lungs or the pelvis? Answers to these questions are often contradictory, leaving you unsure what the truth it. That’s where John “Shrek” McPhee comes in.

McPhee, also known as “The Sheriff of Baghdad”, served a in the U.S. Army Special Operations for over 20 years until his retirement from the service in 2011. He has since started his own company, SOB Tactical, focused on training civilians, law enforcement, and military operators. Over the course of his long combat career, he’s seen a lot of people get shot. Listen to the Sheriff of Baghdad as he explains shot placement and his preferred method of taking down targets:

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16 Comments On This Article

  1. can definitely understand the argument, just seems like trying to hit a target that’s only about an inch wide that you can’t see wouldn’t be the best practice for someone with limited experience.

  2. This doesn’t really change conventional wisdom. Shoot center of mass or head, and keep shooting until the threat is neutralized. In the process, you have a good chance at taking out the neural strip (brain & spinal cord).

  3. This info makes sense for really well trained shooters, but Average Joes who may get into a life/death scenario (and even pros at a certain level) won’t be able to make the mental transition smoothly from shooting on the range to a real time scenario, to wit if you think your heart is pumping and the adrenaline is flowing on the range or at a match when people are watching, just wait until you’re in an actual shooting situation with a real suspect who has a gun pointing in his hand… it’s a different ball game entirely, and this is why range training should press home both a quick response AND dead-on accuracy. I would also suggest forcing the issue by extending the distance between good guy and bad guy, we are all great at 7 yards but the hit ratio (and the time required to achieve it) increases exponentially the farther away the target is, i.e., the spinal chord line is very doable up close but at 20 yards center mass might be the goal for most shooters under pressure. This is a great video with excellent points made.

  4. In combat who has the time or composure to aim at the spine, head or whatever. Everything is happening so fast that you just point and shoot at multiple targets most of the time.

    • Professionals train a lot, they do so until they are machines. They don’t have to think they just do it, they have the composure. Average troops do not train that much and they are not as technically proficient, like the difference between a high school football team and a NFL one. SOF is the NFL, an 11B is like a highschool player., Rangers might be college, that’s how I look at it.

  5. I completely agree that the head is becoming the target of choice. Drugged up psychos, terrorist, and body armor, are reasons to be very willing to make a head shot. That being said, I don’t know if DAs, and juries would see it that way, or simply decide you were out to kill, instead of stop.
    A problem with shooting the pelvic area, is you may put the threat down, but in the civilian world, in many states, a survivor can sue you for everything you own.
    Questions to consider.

  6. Combat is different than self-defense, & home-defense, the same thing is that you are in a gunfight other than that you have a lot of differences. In combat it’s the same kill or be killed but there is little oversight from the legal departments of the government. In most all cases an assailant does not have body armor attacking you. Also no matter how much training you have unless you have been in a firefight or combat you are not prepared for it, you have unresolved issues. Are you prepared to kill? So many people cannot realistically answer that. Can you handle the adrenaline dump? It’s a surreal experience for some and they freeze or run even. How tall are you and how tall is your attacker? You do not want to be shooting up at someone, the bullets are going who knows where, there will be misses. A pelvic shot works well, the rounds are going into a place with the least chance of hitting other people, the ground. The bottom line is shoot until the threat is over, know your local laws and what is behind your target, adjust accordingly. Even a head shot might not stop the attack. Practice, learn, practice some more for different scenarios, learn some more, repeat.

  7. While this advice makes a lot of sense, it doesn’t take into account that a lot of bad guys won’t be standing looking at you frontally. A lot of shots will be from the side or at an angle.

  8. The upper body has all the vital organs and is “easiest” to hit in a high stress situation. The point is to get as many shots on target as possible to stop the threat.

  9. For what its worth….my ol’ gramps was 1920’s deputy and had at least 11 shootouts in and around Neosho, Missouri, mostly with Capone-era gangsters. I asked him where he aimed with his WW1 1911 .45 ACP, and he said if he had the chance, “2 inches down from his damned bellybutton.”
    I asked him why and he said it always put them down long enough to walk over and put another “in his g-d-damned head.”

  10. The awkward reality is that “shot placement” is yot mythology. Yeah, sure, we do our best to shoot the best places but the fact is that very few people, even combat hardened vets, are able to reliably “place” a shot. Take a look at the chart of shits that hit Michael Brown as he charged a police officer who was shooting him at essentially point blank range with a Sig .40 S&W (let’s just not use this as an opportunity to rehash the shooting itself and focus for a minute on combat marksmanship). An experienced police officer facing a perp who wasn’t shooting back at him still panicked and pushed his shots to the far left of the center of mass. He hit Brown maybe ten times and not a one was disabling until Brown lowered his head forcthr tackle and the cop made a lucky shot to the top of his head. So, regardless of all the range-rat fairy tales youhear or read, know that you just shoot center mass until the perp makes contact at which point you push the barrel in his mouth and keep shooting. THAT’s how it’s really done.

  11. Shooting center mass will always be the best option -or- the largest visible portion of the target due to cover and whatnot. The method described in the video applies best to a target that is squared up to you, if the target is bladed/sideways/other angle other than head on then the spine won’t be in the centerline of the target. Now the whole thing about even making a fatal hit on the target, or even a non-fatal hit that the target will “always” continue to fight for “x” amount of minutes is highly subjective. The human condition is so varied that one individual can continue to fight after a heart shot while another will go into shock from a gut hit. To say everyone will continue the fight isn’t correct, but I can understand to treat the threat as the most dangerous as possible at all times, but it’s smart to take things as they come. Lastly, paper targets typically don’t move…humans do & vary their distance, so shot placement changes all the time and waiting for the “perfect” shot to present itself could prove fatal. Sometimes the best shot to take is the one that’s available at that moment.

    • You are correct…people move. In a battle, most of what you may see is just the head, the rest of the body is behind cover.
      I like to pick a breezy day, blow up some balloons about the size of a head, and tie them on a string to the trees and bushes. They move around so randomly, they are hard to hit at 20 yards. But you can hit them. The only bad thing is they are not shooting back, so we have plenty of chances. It gives us the practice to hit a small moving target though.

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