Shooting and fighting with firearms is a mental process. In the average self-defense confrontation, the physical component of the fight isn’t usually that demanding. It’s what’s going on upstairs that makes the big difference. For example, when you first learn how to shoot it is a conscious process. You align the sights, focus on the front sight and smoothly press the trigger and score an accurate hit. Eventually, this sequence becomes a subconscious process. You think “fire,” pressing off the hit without consciously thinking about it. The key to applying this skill under stress is in trusting what you’ve learned. Confidence is essential to success; this is true of all your fighting skills.

Gaining Confidence in Shooting Skills

Confidence is a result of thinking and focusing on previous successes. The problem most people experience is that they will have nineteen good hits and one bad shot. They focus on the bad shot, get angry – that’s never productive – frustrated, and obsess on the one bad hit instead of the ninety-five percent of the shots that are good. Bad habits can be reinforced just as easily as good ones. Focus on the proper, efficient techniques and the success they produce.

After practice and repetition, you’ve learned how to shoot accurately. You also learn to trust your firearm and related gear. From that point on, especially under stress, you’ve got to trust your skills and equipment. Whenever I press the trigger I’m confident it will be a good hit. Are my hits always good?  No, sometimes I’m wrong, but in my mind, there’s never any doubt. Confidence doesn’t guarantee success, but it does get you a lot closer than the alternative.Gaining confidence on the range with the Springfield Armory Hellcat.

Confidence also allows you to be decisive. There is no time for hesitation or debate. Apply what you know, at a speed that provides predictable results, and you’ll be rewarded with success. Start questioning your ability and the sequence you’re executing will suffer, your timing will be off, and the threat will see this as a weakness. With confidence you do something “now,” a decisive action that buys you time to do something better.

I have confidence in my actions – say the ability to shoot accurately - but I don’t have confidence in how those bullets will affect the threat. That is out of my hands. But I do have a plan. I start by placing hits in the chest. When that doesn’t work I shift to plan “B,” the pelvis. The head-shot is another option. I always have a plan “B.” When plan “B” becomes plan “A” I come up with another plan “B.” If you can think one or two moves in advance you’re doing well. The only way to think about what comes next is to have confidence in your skills, knowing that at some point they will be productive.

Place a plank on the ground and walk across it. Raise the plank twenty feet off the ground and you begin to lose confidence. Your task is to develop confidence in your fighting skills through practice and constant mental reinforcement so when the time comes your performance will be effective and victory will follow.

Tiger McKee
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama.  He is the author of “The Book of Two Guns” - writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911 -  McKee’s new book, AR-15 Skills and Drills, is available off Shootrite’s website: