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Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn

After kicking around the shooting business for the past 35 years or so, I have noted a few trends. Most are for the better, and today’s modern ‘gunner’ has benefited from both training and small arms designs. Today’s gunners shoot more rounds in practice and training than those of past generations even dreamed of. The demand for and supply system for ammo in the USA exceeds anything we could have dreamed of 40 or 50 years ago. Go to most shooting ranges in the US today and look at the amounts of spent .223/5.56, 7.62X39, 9X19mm, 40S&W, and .45acp brass littering the ground. Most gun club/shooting ranges are having record memberships. Gun sales have been off the chart for the past few years (much thanks to the current anti-gun administration).

We now have extremely wide spread exposure of guns and shooting events on both the internet and TV. Action shooting competition is popular beyond belief. While traditional bullseye and high power rifle events are still going strong, they have been surpassed by the newer games of IPSC/USPSA, IDPA, Cowboy and the latest craze of three-gun.

If there is one disturbing trend that I see is the obsession of ‘speed and accuracy’. What it should be is ‘accuracy & speed’. The mindset of today’s competition gunner is often totally overshadowed by the time element versus the accuracy requirements. Now, I get the part about going fast being great fun. Sadly, I see the speed part of the equation overwhelming the accuracy requirements.

I don’t see this trend changing much for a couple of reasons. First, is that most of the current group of ‘action style shooters’ love runnin’ and gunnin’. Second, by placing a heavy reward for fast times vs accuracy, you can place well often times with less than stellar accuracy. Many of the very best top level shooters have managed to achieve skill at shooting accurately and quickly, unfortunately many of the other competitors have developed the fast part of the skill set, but skipped the accuracy part. I fear that anytime you reward the speed over the accuracy element, marksmanship takes it on the chin.

The other annoying habit I see is the near obsession of action shooters to want to make ‘sight checks’ prior to shooting a drill or practice session. This is the process where the shooter draws his sidearm or mounts his long gun to get a sight picture on the target or targets prior to actually shooting. For lack of a better term they want to do a rehearsal of the skill or test they are about to do. Since we do not get a chance to do this in the ‘Real World’, I’m not so sure that it is really a good practice. Just my view.

In classes, before a shooter runs a skill test, I am often asked “Can I check my sights?”, meaning they want to the do the above aiming in exercise. My answer is always “NO!”; they were on the gun the last time you looked at them weren’t they? This seems to disturb them a bit. Like most things in life, they’ll get over it. The other practice that gets me is the obsessive ‘press check’ of the pistol or carbine when they prepare to shoot a drill or stage. If you loaded before you placed in in your holster or before you put the safety on the carbine; they don’t secretly unload themselves before you fire it again. Stop doing these stupid moves. Man up and act like a professional gun handler. ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED. Treat them accordingly, and once you load it, learn to trust the fact that it is ready to go bang; don’t keep fingering it doing ‘press checks’.

Enjoy the benefits of these shooting games, but beware of those practices that do nothing for you except to mimic
the big boys simply because they look cool.

– 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 aliastraining.com.

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.

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42 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Ken Hackathorn

  1. joe_momma says:

    Here’s my two cents which is highly over priced. Action shooting and tactical or whatever shooting are not in the same category, except being firearms related. Action shooting is a sport, activity, competition, etc that just so happens to be centered around guns. Being a sport, the goal is to win the event. If that means speed will get you more or better points than accuracy then that’s what the competitor must do to win. Just look at the guns, gear, etc. guns are lightened to the point of possibly disintegration if using stock ammo, mag wells that you’d fall into if you tripped, magnets in belt to stick mags on, bike shorts, cleats, etc. The goal is to win the competition. Not combat. To treat a uspsa stage with a tactical mindset means your break all the rules and be DQ’d. While I do think that action shooting can benefit tactical/practical shooting applications and add another avenue of sharpening and testing ones skills, it must be recognized that it is a sport first and foremost and not some crucible of evaluating ones preparedness or training for combat.

    checking sights, dry runs, etc, again, this is a competition. So just as a batter takes swings before setting in place and showing he’s ready for pitch, or a golfer doing the same before scooting up the T, or a basketball player at the foul line rehearsing his shots. Pretty different when compared to a sport…

    Press checking, you got me there! But it looks so cool!

    I was reminded of this story reading this post. LOL

    • Chris K. says:

      Exactly, it’s like PT – how often do you workout in full battle rattle compared to just a T-shirt and shorts? That’s not “combat” either but absolutely improves combat performance. USPSA and the like are about shooting performance, use them as way to enhance combat performance.

      • joe_momma says:

        That is one way that some of the competitors do look at it, and it works for them. That’s me. I use it as a means to test my fundamentals in a different environment. The challenges are different that when we train as an agency or during some sort of defensive or combative type class. Same how powerhouse athlete take ballet or go swimming etc. However, many of the top level competition shooters approach it as a sport, and that’s it.

    • Paul J says:

      Yes, but the bad habits that Mr. Hackathorns pointed out are also done in tactical shooting. Myself, I’ve got the bad habit to take a sight picture after loading my pistol/rifle and sometime just before the drill begins.

  2. Rob Garrett says:

    Wisdom is best shared in simple terms! Having known Ken for years, and having trained with him, it is this clear and timeless insight that makes him one of the best instructors of our time.

    Thanks again my friend for bringing us back to the basics.


  3. Disco says:

    You’re either gonna win or you ain’t

    • BillC says:

      Which in gaming in Speed. Do they hit the targets, yes. But the main metric in these sports happen to be speed. Speed is easier to quantify than hits, hits being that most hit the target and it can be difficult to measure hit spread from multiple shooters and different distances. Imagine having to measure the hits precisely from the plethora of shooters on different ranges and targets in a 3 Gun match, rather than just a zone on a target.

      • Orvar says:

        Well no, the main metric is both speed and accuracy. Speed alone won’t win, I see plenty of competitive shooters who burn through stages hosing everything with bullets and generally going way past their skill level for that speed, and those guys can be found in the bottom of the results.

  4. Rosco says:

    As usual, TDL Ken is spot on. Lots of equipment and techniques that were developed in the pursuit of winning competitions have made their way into the tactical/defensive shooting realm. That’s great and that’s real progress, but we must keep in mind what we’re trying to accomplish in each arena.

  5. Jon F says:

    I agree that Competition is a good way to build the mechanical skills of shooting. Sights, trigger control, reloads, draw strokes, and the like are at a premium in competition. I agree also that you cant treat competition like training. treat it for what it is, a game, and incredibly fun game that takes an INSANE amount of time and effort to become a master of, but its a game. Take what you can from it, and be sure to mentally separate what you do for a game and what you want to do in a real situation.

    I slightly disagree with the notion that speed is much more important than accuracy in competition. The majority of my experiance is in USPSA (the Gamey fast one) as opposed to IDPA. Even in the fast paced world of USPSA, you cant miss fast enough to win. A zone hits need to be at least 90-95% of your hits. anything else shouldnt really be anything other than a Charlie or Delta. For the uninitiated, C’s and D’s are still body hits on a human size target, just not in a center zone. Misses will in fact kill your stage. Taking multiple misses before knocking down steel is a stage killer if theres decent heat at your match. Accuracy is extremely important. Granted you’ll have your bullet hose shooters, but they arent winning jack and/or shit.

    When Max Michele won the last World shoot, it was like a 3 point difference between him and the 2nd place guy. Thats the difference between shooting an Alpha or a Charlie, on ONE target, out of the HUNDREDS they shot over a like, 6 day competition…

    All that being said, I have the upmost respect for Ken and he has more time on a gun than I have alive.

    • Orvar says:

      Pretty much what I came to say. In IPSC/USPSA speed alone won’t get you anywhere, I’d even say that generally speaking accuracy and getting good hits will get you further than than going fast and dropping points. To master the competitive shooting games you’ll need insane accuracy at breakneck speeds.

  6. bulldog76 says:

    Wyatt Earp said it best speed is nice but accuracy is king

  7. PJ says:

    I did some somewhat informal USPSA-type shooting a while back. I noticed that despite assurances to the contrary, shooting faster and sacrificing accuracy led to better scores. Granted that was still hitting the target, but outside the A zone. I’m sure at the higher levels you can’t miss and stay competitive, but with more mid-level shooters it seemed like speed overcomes lapses in accuracy.

    It got me think about a better scoring system. I’ve been leaning towards just using score with time as the tie-breaker. But I don’t think a system where any miss would take you out of the running would be too popular.

  8. BillC says:

    This would have been a good piece, but it has a disconnect.
    It starts off complaining that shooting games place speed over accuracy, which is a valid point. Should shooting SPORTS value accuracy over speed? Who knows, it’s a game? Author calls this priority in a GAME “disturbing”. Is it? Everybody knows 3 gun and Cowboy Action is a SPORT and ENTERTAINMENT.

    Then it separates into completely different tangent that muddles the first argument. “For lack of a better term they want to do a rehearsal of the skill or test they are about to do. Since we do not get a chance to do this in the ‘Real World’, I’m not so sure that it is really a good practice.”

    Again, valid point. However it’s not “Real World”, it’s a GAME. Author notes how it then filters to his classes and training. Valid point, but to blast it because it’s annoying because students request it in training because it’s common practice in gaming is moot. This is where the author settles his real gripe, because he’s annoyed his students in a gun fighting class want to do what the gamers do. Get over it, that’s why they are in your class. To be corrected and taught. Now where is LAV to rip me a new one?

    • SSD says:

      The issue with gun games is that many who play them don’t understand that fighting with a gun is a different animal.

      • mark says:

        I’d really like to see a Force on Force competition developed for that reason.

      • joe_momma says:

        True, but it also seems that separation is a two way street as well, that many who understand fighting with a gun and playing a game are different animals too. Like I said, they really are contrasting practices, mind sets, theories, etc. The differences are for more staggering than the similarities. The similarity beings using a gun. But beyond that….

      • Mike Mike says:

        I fail to understand people who want to dismiss competition shooting. The day you can show me a way to have people shoot back at me while I practice to make it more “real” and I wont get hurt Imall ears. The ONLY way to get accurate and become faster is to “do it” faster and work on the accuracy. Fighter pilots don’t actually shoot at each other in training. They play games. Same with any other fighting skill. Its another way to practice ones skill and get better. There is a reason McNamara and Proctor got into completion shooting. To make their guys better. They both have admitted that they and their people were way behind competition guys when it came to skill level. Keep knocking competition shooting, stay at yoursame skill level, we will continue to push the envelope and get better. You can sit there with your stagnant ideology and talk about how you would do it better.

    • PJ says:

      You correctly identify that there’s a difference between real world shooting and shooting games. The problem is that the games hold themselves out as more than sports or games. They claim to focus on real world shooting. Just look at the names: International DEFENSIVE Pistol Association, International PRACTICAL Shooting Confederation, United States PRACTICAL Shooting Association. If these organizations are supposed to promote practical/defensive shooting them the rules for the games should reflect practical/defensive shooting.
      There’s nothing inherently wrong with speed shooting games. There is something wrong with speed shooting games claiming to mimics real world shooting. It’s deceptive.

      • joe_momma says:

        I don’t think practical is indicative of gun fighting. If going off names alone, that the World Series? Claiming to be a world baseball championship

        • PJ says:

          Are you saying that these sports DON’T claim to be self-defense based? I’ve never heard anyone claim that.

          • Orvar says:

            I can’t speak for USPSA, but IPSC goes to great lengths to establish itself as a sport and actively tries to absolve it self from any claims to “defensive” shooting.

            • joe_momma says:

              I have never been to a match or been around any shooters involved in action shooting who contribute it to being a defensive training tool or scenario based event. It’s a game, it’s a sport, and takes playing the sport to win. There’s was a stage at one even that was 5 steel targets same distance, in a straight line across. Mags and gun on table and mandatory reload. But no mention of when reload. So in the spirit of the game, guys were loading and reloading before firing at all or load fire all five and reload with one on the berm. Again, game. It may have started with a defensive or combative type mindset (I don’t know) but it is definitely not such today.

            • PJ says:

              Are aware of IPSC’s history? And USPCA’s since its the U.S. region? Jeff Cooper was founding president. It was created to provide scenario based practice of self defense techniques and equipment in a competitive environment to help induce stress. That’s why “practical” is in the name and why they use silhouette targets.

              If they really want to separate themselves from defensive or practical shooting they’d change the name and quit using silhouette targets.

  9. Brian says:

    I have seen more than a few USPSA shooters who rock with their super tricked out race guns, fall completely flat when handed a carry or production gun and a blind stage. Heck, I only know one or two places in the country that ever so blind stages anyway. At what point are some of these games become an excuse to waste money for bragging rights than practicing for weapon proficiency?

    • joe_momma says:

      Again, it’s a game. No different that guys who have $400,000 drag cats to go a straight line but can drive in traffic for shit. There both cars right? Same as comparing the two the author did. They both use guns right?

  10. ninjaben says:

    I issue at hand here is that people don’t want to be humbled. You have the “tactical” guy that can’t figure out how he is in the bottom of the pack at a local gun game match even though he has been “training” for a decade, and conversely you have an overweight guy with a $5k race gun that thinks by running competitions he is ready to hit linear targets.

    Here are my observations for what they are worth:
    1. I shoot competitions. Every SOF guy I have seen that shoots competitions is usually one of the top shooters in his organization. Every solid tactically trained shooter should make A (maybe high B) or master class within his first year of shooting matches. One of my teammates shot Master on his first IDPA classifier. He still needs to be talked through what to do on every stage because he is relatively new to the sport.
    2. The top shooters in the games and tactically, still shoot in the high nineties on a 10 shot 25 meter bull. Which is good enough by anyone’s standard. In fact, from what I have seen most tactical training courses rarely have students rehash there targets often enough.
    3. Competition training may have some bad habits, but it has some good as well. For example dry fire training is a staple of the shooting sports. (time on trigger, is time on trigger) I also disagree to some degree with author on checking sights. I do this every time I leave the wire or experience an environmental change. Also I think he like many tactical and game shooters misunderstands that it is speed AND accuracy, your speed changes so that you can get good hits. (Though I get what the author is saying on guys who just try to shoot fast without the ability to back it up) Go to 3:00 at the link. Its an all steel stage (steel is great at making a time a great assessor of relative accuracy. The shooter adjust his shooting speed based on the difficulty of the shot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DL6cHRfJh4U

    When it comes to the real world, in the end it doesn’t matter if you train by playing a game or by running drills. Understand your operational environment and tailor your training to give you the skills you need to survive. And keep learning and discussing with an open mind.

  11. Perry says:

    He’s wrong about the press checks. When you are under no pressure, do both a press check and a mag seating check. It costs you nothing, and can reveal a prior oversight that can be costly. Don’t believe me? Ask Frank Proctor.

    • Kango says:

      I’ve seen plenty of people go on the line and not have a round in the chamber or empty mag and empty chamber. Simple press check would have caught it.

  12. P7 says:

    Don’t even get started on gamers immediately downloading their guns immediately after a drill is run. The “cold range” mentality that gamers instill in their “athletes” is borderline negligent.

  13. Joe says:

    “Gun sales have been off the chart for the past few years (much thanks to the current anti-gun administration).”

    I think this logic is Bullshit. Gun sales have been off the chart because of fear. An entire industry of panic inducing fear-mongers accused the current administration of being anti-gun for years with no evidence. It’s manufactured fear, not reality that broke records and caused shortages. While some Dems have made moves, Obama wouldn’t even endorse any of the legislation in his first six years. In the 2012 debates with Mitt, he pointed out it wasn’t ARs and AKs that are killing people, “it’s cheap handguns” getting into the hands of criminals. Some in various depts have floated idea bubbles (62gr ban, etc.), and they were shot down. The NRA is a huge Lobby doing better than ever before thanks to the fear of the “black Kenyan socialist” (also all lies).
    I think Obama deserves a damn lifetime achievement award from the NRA for selling more guns and ammo than any other American in history. 😉
    Don’t get me wrong–he wants better background checks and closed personal sale loopholes; but so do the majority of Americans (even NRA members). Only after Aurora and Sandy Hook did he mention “assault” weapons, but he hasn’t pushed anything, leaving it up to the states–sadly CO had a vast majority vote for 10rd capacity limits. It sucks, but most support states rights over the federal govt when it comes to things they like, and vice versa if it’s things they don’t like. Look at the CRAZY response to our own military (who we should trust and support!) doing a big exercise!!! That stupidly is the same record-breaking stupidity that broke gun sale records.
    But I made $800 profit from 22 PMAGs, so I’m not complaining. I’ll profit off of idiots all day long. They sent my family to Disney for 3 days. And I got $200 since Ebola didn’t kill at least 25 Americans by 2/1/2015. So I’m fine with all the fear and lies. Keep ’em coming!!

    • P.S. – “current administration” is slightly more inclusive than just “Obama”.

      If you have not seen a political push for anti-gun legislation across the board… I don’t know what to tell you.

    • Bloke_from_ohio says:

      Perception is reality man. The current administration is less than supportive of gun rights or is at least perceived to be so by large segments of the population that cares about such things. Not only that, but the Democratic base is largely seen as pro gun control. Many of the previous legislative attempts at gun control have cone from the party of the donkey.

      As for the profitability of said panics, progressives have time and time again proved to be fantastic gun salesmen. Both sides of the debate use fear. The anti gun folks tries to get people afraid of guns and gun owners in general to justify banning weapons or otherwise restricting them. The pro gun folks use the same arguments about crazies with guns cominng to kill your kids to justify things like expanded concealed carry rights and the like. What ultimately happens one way or the other is more guns get sold. I like capitalism and I like guns, so the arrangement is okay with me.

    • Ranger Rick says:

      “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
      Rahm Emanuel

      That “The Current Administration” has been unsuccessful in passing new gun control measures is not based upon a lack of desire, but rather the political support to do so. Whether it has been Sandy Hook or Treyvon Martin, the crisis” is seen as the opportunity. Two things kept have kept AW ban legislation from passing during the last six years, the NRA and Harry Reid. Reid knew it would be the kiss of death for him to
      support that type of legislation.

      As for panic buyers and horders you have a valid point and the Jade Helm wackos need to go back to the clinic for reevaluation.

      But I remember Fast and Furious and that was a fully Administration supported operation with lots of gun control legislative potential.

  14. Joe says:

    “Their drills were like bloodless battles, and thier battles like bloody drills”.

    I personally believe that copius quantities of dry fire, backed with significant amounts of live fire, followed by random “realistic” scenario force on force training is one of the best recipes for obtaining supremacy in an armed, violent confrontation. Good breakdown Ken, keep people’s reality check meters.

  15. Ed Hickey says:

    The only thing I double check are my magazines in my spare holders. Once or twice I forgot to top them off. Step up the to the line and “Load & make ready”. I know the round is chambered. Sometimes at IDPA practice we stay hot but I know I’m “HOT” & you do not forget that. I can see where doing a press check is good if you forget that your hot or are unsure.

  16. Orvar says:

    This “gamer vs. tactical” thing is old as hell and never gets anywhere.

    To say that accuracy is unimportant in IPSC/USPSA is indicative of only one thing – not having tried it. If you want to win matches you need to be accurate and you need to be fast, it’s close to impossible to outrun bad hits. To be honest, I see more guys placing speed over accuracy in the “tactical” realm than I do in the competitive.

    I also hear it touted over and over again that competitive shooters see them selves as tactical gods but I’ve never once actually met one who thought that. Most serious sports shooters just want to get better at their sport.

    IPSC/USPSA is not combat training and it never will be, and the days of both organizations claiming to be that are long gone. What the practical shooting sports will do however is teach you to shoot very accurately at great speed under pressure.

    • SC says:

      You might want to check your history and realize that Ken was one of the FOUNDERS of IPSC… He’s tried it.

      • joe_momma says:

        And it’s come a LLOOONNNGG way since then. It’s it’s own sport now. It’s it’s own industry. It may have started as one thing but has developed into something else. Perhaps it’s started as a way to improve on the tactical mindset and training by providing opportunities, but once it became a game, then it took off. Winning is the goal of a game and so the competitors started finding ways to increase their odds and chances. So it morphed to a full on sport.

  17. jim d says:

    I’m getting tired of instructors complaining about competition because it’s “not real”, who then only run flat range classes shooting paper and steel.

    If your after more “realistic training”, then where is the scenario based FOF training where your opponent gets a vote in the outcome?

    Shooting The Test, the Snake Drill, the El Pres, 1 reload 2, etc.. all of which the author runs in his classes, are nothing different than competition… just simpler and faster than running a competitive stage. They’re not real either, they’re just exercises there to develop a particular skill with a gun.

    I’ve yet to see any opposition based training from anyone who vocally decries competition.

    If someone thinks that taking a few pistol classes where you shoot at paper targets exclusively, that you’re more prepared to win gunfights than a guy who runs around and solves competitive stages with a gun in their hand… I would strongly disagree. Neither are sufficient, but avoiding competition and the skill development it offers isn’t going to do anyone any good, either.

    • joe_momma says:

      But the paper range is so much mor dynamic cause there’s a couple vtac barricades, and plate carriers, and velcro, and lights, and multicam, and beards. There’s so much yelling and testosterone that’s it’s more practical. And don’t forget the rounds count. Dumping three mags in a drill is crucial.

    • PJ says:

      The complaints seems to be less about competitions and more about gamer-isms invading defensive training. He even says at the end to enjoy games but to avoid bad habits.

      In fact one of the big complaints is that competitions don’t involve “solving” stages because gamers insist on “sight checking” stages and drills first, getting a dry run to figure the stage out.