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Where to Shoot. Anatomical Targets. (Handgun and Rifle.)

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Where to shoot depends on the situation and our armament. It must be remembered that “All pistol bullets are puny.”

Where to Shoot. Anatomical Targets. (Handgun and Rifle.)

Where to shoot depends on the situation and our armament. It must be remembered that “All pistol bullets are puny.” They lack the power to put our attacker instantly down and out of the fight.
A high-power rifle has as much as ten times the kinetic energy of our pistols and a shotgun has the synergistic effect of nine .32 soft lead pellets hitting adjacent tissue simultaneously.
The only good attribute of the handgun is that it is easily portable so we are more likely to have it when we need it. Whereas a hit in the upper abdomen may suffice with a high-power rifle, it will not with our handgun calibers.

What should we expect to happen when we squeeze off our handgun round? Expect nothing to happen. Continue to concentrate. Sight Alignment/Good Press (Trigger Control) until you have lost your sight picture (he is down or has run away) or have run out of ammunition and are in the process of reloading.

This being understood, here are your aiming points.
Some instructors give three targets, others do not favor the pelvis and cite many failures to stop in this area. Also understand the need for precision in your shot placement that is summed up in the old hunter’s admonition: “If you shoot at the deer you will miss the deer. If you shoot at the deer’s chest you will hit the deer. If you shoot at the deer’s heart you will hit the chest. If you shoot at a small spot on the heart you will hit the heart.”

Or simply “aim small …miss small. 

Anatomical Aiming Points:

The Center of Mass. The center of the chest is where the heart and great vessels are located. They are bordered on both sides by the lungs, and the spinal column and spinal cord are directly behind.

Here our handgun bullets can punch holes in the “hydraulic system” of the body and deplete the blood supply. Eventually, the brain will be deprived of enough blood flow that the attacker will cease his hostilities. If we are very fortunate, the heart may go into a fibrillation state and cease to function as a pump so we may now expect him to lose consciousness in 4-7 seconds (if upright) or in up to 20-30 seconds if recumbent. If we are luckier still, our bullet will transverse the heart and strike the bony spinal column with enough force to cause a disruption of neurological function to the lower extremities (temporary or permanent) which will result in our attacker falling due to lack of muscular support.

In any shooting that depletes the blood supply of the attacker, note that the hydraulic forces will be partially returned as he goes from upright to recumbent and he may then resume his attack, just as was actually the case in a local PD shooting of a crazed attacker armed with a machete who got up twice after being hit and down!
Where to Shoot. Anatomical Targets. (Handgun and Rifle.)


Be prepared that he may not cease to be a threat to you just because he is down. Hits in this area with a high-power rifle tend to do more damage and therefore have greater effect than pistol bullets. Still, nothing we may carry will be 100% effective, so you must “stay in the fight.”

The Central Nervous System: The brain and brainstem. This is the “best” place to place our bullets and will give an instantaneous stop, but it is small, hard to hit and well armored behind bone that is resistant to easy penetration by pistol bullets and buckshot.

Therefore it is not our primary target and is used if it’s our only option because it is the only target available or our hits to the center of mass have no effect due to the attacker’s use of body armor. If forced to take this shot, think of “The Lone Ranger’s Mask” and put your bullets there with surgical precision. The forehead is notoriously good at stopping pistol bullets, as was the case in one of the the first gunshot victim I saw when he was shot at point-blank range in the center of his forehead with a 158 grain .38 Special round. The round skirted around the bone under the scalp and exited above the ear. He was discharged from the hospital the next day slightly shaken from the experience.

The face takes up much of the head and shots to the face are ineffective. The bullet must reach the brainstem or primitive brain to cause an instant stop. The brainstem is the size of your inverted thumb including the fleshy part into the palm. Its general location is at the base of the skull behind the eyes. Think in 3-D of the Lone Ranger’s mask and place your heavy pistol bullet there.

Hits that disrupt the spinal cord may cause an instantaneous denervation to the muscles supplied below it. Hits to the thoracic spine may affect the musculature to the legs and their collapse. If armed with a high-power rifle, hits to the upper brain itself will cause instant cessation of hostilities due to the hydrostatic shock and tremendous damage of these rounds to a fluid filled and encased organ.

The Bony Pelvis: This third target suggested by some instructors is not without controversy. It is used as a third option to the Center of Mass. It is easier to hit than the brainstem and the theory is that if the bony support of the pelvic girdle or the proximal hip is hit with enough force to fracture and disrupt it, the attacker will fall. They suggest that it may even be the target of choice in the case of a determined attacker armed with a knife at close range. The effects of bullets to this area may also vary depending upon the velocity of the round and structures it hits. For example, a 1400 fps round hitting the beer-distended bladder of a drunken homicidal attacker.  It is a good place for an initial “anchoring shot” on an attacker who is about to move as the pelvis moves later than the thorax.

Our primary target is the body midline in the upper third of the torso.

Where to Shoot. Anatomical Targets. (Handgun and Rifle.)

Additional data
Rifles provide power and thus change the nature of gsws that are normally seen in the civilian population where lower-velocity pistol wounds prevail.

Rifles provide power via their high-velocity projectiles.  Terms such as “temporary-stretch channel” now become relevant.  High-velocity projectiles (>2,000 fps) cause a temporary-stretch channel that causes shearing of blood vessels and other fluid-filled structures and adds significantly to the damage done by permanent wound channels alone.  Tissue destruction can be severe.  Variables such as terminal velocity, bullet construction (deformation and fragmentation,) tumbling, structures hit, etc. are all factors as to the severity of the wound.  Secondary missiles may be caused by striking and fragmenting bone, and each of these has the potential for further damage. The missile may transverse multiple body cavities and the rule for damage for a retained projectile is that the injuries will include one body cavity above and below the entry wound.

Rifle hits anywhere within the cranial vault (brain) are now effective, and hits to the thorax and abdomen are more likely to put the enemy down.  The aiming point for head shots with a rifle is anywhere inside of one-inch from the scalp, in the top-half of the head, above the level of the eyes.

Regardless of the mechanism of injury and whether it originates from a rifle or handgun bullet or shrapnel from a blast injury, the principles of treatment and our response to the Seven Life-Threatening Injuries remains the same.

Miscellaneous information:

In reviewing an article on syncope, I learned that it takes 4 to 7 seconds to lose consciousness when in a standing position after the heart stops.  This interval may be up to 20 to 30 seconds if lying down.  This allows us ample time to concentrate on Sight Alignment/Trigger Control and avenge our deaths!

Cooper TJ