SIG SAUER - Never Settle

Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn

One of the most interesting things that I continue of learn as I study real world shootings is the fact that the degree of difficulty is not particularly high. Most shootings/shootouts require pretty straight forward skills. Running, jumping, rolling and other antics that are popular in the movies rarely come into play for real. Most of the time, it’s just a simple matter of alignment and trigger press. Ranges are rarely more than 10 yards, as a rule more like 5 yards being pretty common. Lighting conditions will be low, but there is usually enough light to see your target and align the gun. The key is get through the Vision-Decision-Action process. Most of us make most of our decisions based upon what we ‘see’ aka the ‘threat’, next comes making a decision to react. And finally, we must act out the ‘action’ phase. For most people the decision phase is the most time consuming part of the equation. Most of us can visually recognize a problem is less than a second. If you have trained and practiced fighting skills, you know about how long it takes you to react and land a punch or kick, or present your weapon and fire an accurate shot, or two, or three. We practice until we have these skills down smooth and consistent.

What I cannot teach or prepare anyone for how long it takes them to make the ‘decision’ to react. One system often recommended is the practice of visualization, where you mentally think your way through an attack and plan your response. Not a bad plan, but it does not help much if you get locked into that, ” I can’t believe this is happening to me” syndrome. How much time should you use in the action phase of the equation. I like Jim Cirrillo’s answer, “take whatever time it takes to make the shot”.

In a shootout nobody will have to shout out ‘shoot faster’ to make you pull the trigger quicker. More likely the best advice is slow down and get good hits. Most people are reluctant to carry out an act that results in the death of another; once you have killed someone else in a self-defense situation, this taboo seems to diminish and more so with each similar event. Most street criminals have an advantage here based upon their experience with violence. You must accept the fact that life threatening events can happen to you. It is a dangerous world, always has been. Love thy brother sounds nice, but history tells us that this is pretty much a fantasy.

So, if you choose to arm yourself and learn to use a weapon, go about it in a rational manner. Seek good valid training, practice to achieve a degree of skill that gives you confidence, and most important remain aware of your surroundings. If someone threatens or starts calling you names, leave the scene quickly if you can. Don’t yell or get into a shouting contest. Don’t pull your gun and start waving it around. Do not assume that presenting a firearm with cause the problem to go away. Understand that if you do use your weapon, your life will change. Not just a little bit, but a lot for the near future.

Even though much of shooting competition requirements makes heavy demands on shooting skill, this is not reflective of real world actions. It is merely a requirement to make matches more demanding of the better shooters so they can be tested of their marksmanship skills. Don’t make your self defense skills reflective of what the requirements of a shooting match dictate. When was the last time you shot a match that reflected the events of real world encounters? Most provide scenarios, like 5 to 6 targets, sometimes even more. Running and reloading in the open toward the targets? Keep your training and practice real. Games are fine, but recognize what you are really preparing for. You are what you practice; don’t forget it.

– Ken Hackathorn

Old Guy With A Blaster

Ken Hackathorn has served as a US Army Special Forces Small Arms Instructor, Gunsite Instructor, and NRA Police Firearms Instructor. He is currently an FBI Certified Firearms Instructor, Certified Deputy Sheriff with Washington County SO, Ohio, and a SRT member and Special Response Team trainer. Ken has trained US Military Special Operations forces, Marine FAST and SOTG units and is a contract small arms trainer to FBI SWAT and HRT.

Ken has provided training to Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and been active in small arms training for the past 25 years. He has written firearms related material for Guns & Ammo, Combat Handguns, Soldier Of Fortune, and currently American Handgunner and contributed to at least six other gun/shooting journals. Ken was also a founding member of IPSC and IDPA.

To see Ken’s Training Class Schedule visit

Gunfighter Moment is a weekly feature brought to you by Alias Training & Security Services. Each week Alias brings us a different Trainer and in turn they offer SSD readers hard earned words of wisdom.

Tags: ,

9 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn

  1. Chris K. says:

    I agree train as you fight, but I’m absolutely for competition shooting. As stated, it trains your weapon performance at a very high level and does so under stress against other competitors. Tactics and tactical training are separate from this, just like PT is not the same as combat but you do it to prep for combat.

    • WorkingDog says:

      “Many of the civilian hobbyists were much better shots than he expected. In fact, they were more than good—some of them gave the special ops warrior a run for his money. ”There were guys in their eighties—barely held together at the seams—who were out-shooting me,” he recalls.’

      It was humbling experience—and an awakening for Satterlee.

      He explains that competitive shooting used to be modeled around military and law enforcement practices. But over time, philosophies—and methods—evolved. Competitive shooters began introducing new variables. […] Satterlee said that while civilian hobbyists and enthusiasts pioneered new training techniques, the military remained ‘stagnant.'”

  2. John Smith says:

    This is probably the least discussed yet most important training topic in the cognitive battlefield that is firearm instruction. While most trainers earnestly endeavor to produce a covey of Instructor Zeros (no offense) they fail to develop the “first trigger press”. That’s the one independent of the weapon you find in your hand- and in my opinion a much more complicated exercise.

    The first trigger press fires your response mechanisms that may involve the use of a firearm.

    Most of us have an asympathetic and innate method lodged in the deep complexes of our grey matter. The vital question is how acute the circumstance must be to remove the heavy blanket of experience and societal conditioning.

    As always, very insightful Ken. Thanks.

  3. Ed Hickey says:

    I believe the “beep” in shooting games prepares you for that real life “beep”. It should be natural to react.

    • mark says:

      It would be better to prepare for a visual trigger IMO, as few threats present themselves with an auditory signal.

      Training to respond to a rapid, furtive movement towards the waistline being the most likely.

      Combining realistic visual cues with stress inoculation is why force-on-force training is so important.

  4. Bill says:

    I would phrase that differently: it should be intentional to react. We need to be environmentally aware and perceive and act on cues that the untrained or unprepared may not perceive.

    I have a lot of issues with the concept of there being a taboo against morally, ethically and legally justifiable homicide, and the side effects that are supposed to come with it. I think we may have inadvertently trained a generation of cops that there is such a thing, and that they will undergo a horrible experience afterwards – at least that’s the theme on the lecture circuit.

    I’m waiting for someone to draw, fire 3, reload, fire 3, then unload and show clear when the ATM beeps to remind them to take their receipt 😉

    • Evets Steve says:

      Press “fast $60 from checking” and dry run through El Presidente before your cash comes out the slot. This does wonders for practical skills, as long as there’s a line behind you.

  5. ninjaben says:

    This is a great article, Boyd’s OODA loop plays a huge effect. He who decides to do violence first is often at a greater advantage than even marksmanship ability can over come. Trained / pre programmed responses can allow you to catch up and even disrupt an aggressors decision making cycle. I think scenario play with SIMs/combatives is great for this. Forces you to move, build space for effective pistol employment, ect.

    Like several other commentators, I disagree with the remarks about competitive shooting. Competitive shooting has made me more lethal and has saved my life/helped finish the fight in several gunfights. I have enough relative accuracy with speed that allows me to perform consistently well during CTEs and combat focused drills. This also works conversely. One of my teammates with solid combat trained fundamentals made master in IDPA during his first classifier and is a percentage point away from A class with minimal competitive experience. Matches are also a good place to get humbled. Getting humbled can lead to training methodology changes and progressive shooting programs.

    I also disagree with the focus on 10m and in ranges. While this may be a range for most shootings we need to train for the extremes as well. LAV recently talks about striving for 2-3 inch groups at 50m with pistol to allow for a 50% loss in accuracy while still making a head shot. That for me is a pretty elite standard and hard to set a unit training goal (either for military or law enforcement). For relative accuracy, I think soldiers and cops who may be responding to situations with just their side arms should look to do two rounds on BC zone steel consistently from 25m with conceal carry guns in 3-4 seconds, and look to push the range to 40-50m with larger or more purpose built pistols.

    • ninjaben says:

      Actually reread the LAV post. He states 2-3 inches at 25 yards for pistol which is more attainable than 50 yards.