Effective Practice For Concealed Carry Self Defense


Effective self defense with a handgun involves reality based training and practice.

It needs to be practiced into ‘muscle memory’ to the extent that if and when the MOMENT arrives to use lethal force, that you will react swiftly and effectively to save your life or other innocent lives.

Here is the #1 myth about successful training for concealed carry:


Concealed Carry Myth #1

Because I am effective at the range, shooting and hitting targets, I will be effective when shooting a violent attacker on the street.

Here’s the problem with that…

There is a big difference between accuracy while shooting a target on the range and accuracy while under the sudden stress of a violent encounter – a gunfight.

Because most people train the wrong way, it may be next to impossible to successfully stop a bad guy during an actual attack.

Here’s the wrong way to train for concealed-carry self-defense:

You’re holding your handgun.
You acquire the grip that you’re used to.
You sight and aim at the target.
You shoot at the target.
After your shot, you may take renewed aim at the target.
You shoot again.
You might plink a few more times and then check your shot placement.
Repeat, take a break, etc..

I’m not suggesting that practicing good target placement is the wrong thing to do, but what I am suggesting is that the typical plinking behavior at the range is NOT the best way to practice for real-world self-defense situations and will not lead to the right ‘muscle memory’ behavior during a real world attack.

Do you know why? Because during a real world violent, sudden attack and ‘gunfight’, the situation will be so very different that your traditional target practice training will be of little or no help. That’s because your body will be rushed, dumped and drenched with adrenaline – which will drastically affect (hinder) your advanced motor skills, and your performance.

You might not even be able to pull your gun out of its holster. You might freeze. Your hands might be shaking so badly that every single shot goes wildly astray.

So, how should you train for self defense?
When you receive a dose of adrenaline, your body’s actions will rely on muscle memory. You will be thrown to ‘autopilot’. If you do not have the right muscle memory, you will lose the fight. Muscle memory requires repetitive practice.

If your muscle memory is that of plinking targets at the range, this will NOT match the violent situation that you are now in…

Instead, you should practice for real-world self-defense. Here are a few ideas…

Note: Some of this may seem graphic and squeamish, but it needs to be said. The reason that you are carrying your handgun is for a last resort violent encounter – which itself is brutal and likely deadly. Do not ignore this reality. Train for it.

1. You must not count on the power of the handgun to drop an attacker with a single well placed shot. Statistically only 7% of single handgun shot wounds are fatal.

2. You must practice shooting highly concentrated rapid and accurate shots onto the attackers center mass.

3. In a real world violent gunfight you must shoot at center mass (only the head if you’re close enough) and CONTINUE FIRING until the attack is ended. Do not stop. The decision to engage has passed, and it’s now ‘you’ or ‘him’.

4. Your practice sessions should be concentrating on this rapid fire action. Your real world objective is to end the fight as quickly as possible.

5. When shooting rapid fire, your magazine will quickly empty. Have you practiced changing magazines while simulating an attack scenario – enough so that it has become muscle memory? While most attacks are over within seconds, it is vital to instill the muscle memory of changing out a magazine…

6. How many people practice drawing their handgun from its holster? VERY IMPORTANT part of muscle memory!

The point is this… training for a real world violent attack / gunfight is about ending the attack as quickly as possible. Once the decision has been made to use deadly force, your self defense NEEDS TO BE overwhelmingly violent to end the fight (with you still alive). Muscle memory will take over under the extreme stress of the moment (seconds) of engagement. If that muscle memory is ‘wrong’, then you might not come out alive…

There are all sorts of ways to train. But keeping it simple and practicing ALL of the ‘real world’ moves (draw, rapid fire to center mass, rapid magazine changes) will instill the ‘autopilot’ that might save your life.

The Armed American’s Complete Concealed Carry Guide to Effective Self-Defense


  1. Ok, this is wayyyyy to weird. I just did my 2 hour Re-Up class for my 4 year CCW last night, this topic was the exact conversation lasting almost another hour after the “official” class.

    We all very much agreed, once the “action” starts, your body goes into basic “shut-down” because of the adrenaline. All of the effects are amazing. If you get into a “gun fight”, as a VERY LAST OPTION, you had better have muscle memory, or your going to be toast, period.


    PS; going to the range and plunking does little good if you freeze and cannot move when the time comes.

    1. “as a VERY LAST OPTION, you had better have muscle memory, or your going to be toast, period.”

      Yes indeed. And I wonder how many of those who do carry concealed, will actually be able to function and function effectively during the adrenaline rush…

      I suspect that a majority of people simply ‘feel safe’ because of the fact that they’re carrying, but the cold hard reality is that it won’t make much difference if one’s reaction during the extreme seconds of brutality is either ‘freeze’ (because of ‘lack’ of muscle memory in this regard) or incorrect muscle memory…

      1. @ Ken & EVERYONE

        I believe your correct there, “people simply ‘feel safe’ because of the fact that they’re carrying”. Or a lot of people get that I’m a tough-guy/macho dude because I have a firearm on my hip. I see that a lot, of course that’s the same group that need the sights mounted on the side of the firearm when they hold it sideways…. HAHAHA The grip goes down, the slide is at the TOP, sheeeeesh

        Seriously though, carrying deadly force had better be taken very, Very, VERY seriously. If you pull that firearm you had better know what you’re doing before that “bad guy” takes it away from you and kills you and your family with YOUR gun.

        Serious professional training and “real” practice.

        I see hundreds of articles of everyone thinking the SHTF and one can go around shooting everything that moves, or Buy, Buy, Buy thousands and thousands of rounds of ammo, and having 50 guns. Ohhhh Please people, 95% of us can’t take on a single marksman at 500 yards, all alone 5-10-15 raiders at once. If you’re protecting yourself and family, HELL yes use that firearm, but you had BETTER know what you’re doing and not shoot, miss, and hit someone innocent (spouse/kids) that happen to be in the same room or behind a wall you did not see.

        There is a world of difference in shooting, and tossing lead “out there”.


        PS; Ok Ok, Rant over.

        1. That’s not a rant, it’s common sense ;)

          (sorry, no rant rating on this one)

        2. @ Ken

          What????? Not even a 1.1 on the Rant-O-Meter?????
          Dang it anyways….. HAHAHAHA

          Seriously, people had best see the “real truth” to CCW, and not just the fancy articles and advertisement.

          ****-> Dead is Dead and it last a very long time. <-****

          Great article Ken, you keep people thinking.

  2. I can’t legally CC, can’t even get a permit in our blue state…
    Hell, you can’t open carry nor even travel with ammo in the same case as the gun in this state.

    1. So, it’s ‘sticks and stones’ then? ;)

      (except for the bad guys who have guns anyway…)

      1. It just goes to show how they’re real core interest (end game) is to take your (our) guns from law-abiding citizens. Period. Either that, or they are mentally challenged with ‘logic’ (that criminals inherently do not obey gun laws).

  3. Great article Ken,
    I can still remember the first time I drew a pistol while apprehending a murder suspect. I had been through all the related L.E. training which teaches how to read different situations, shoot, don’t shoot situations, etc.

    Nothing in training is like the real life situations you may face. In training, the perps can’t kill, in real life they can. You must be able to go into auto mode when your life is threatened. LOTS of practice creates the muscle memory needed to react. I put between 500 to 1000 rounds a month downrange to maintain that muscle memory.

    It is hard to recreate an adrenaline dump so the best way I know is to do some running or exercising that really gets your heart rate up first, get your heart pounding like it will be in a real life situation. Another thing you say is more than one shot. TRUE! I always train with 3 shot bursts. Eventually your sights will become secondary, muscle memory kicks in and pointing and shooting can become as natural as pointing at something.

    That muscle memory must continually be trained though, if you don’t use it you will lose it.

    If you can’t afford to shoot that much, make a one time investment in something like a Laser Light pistol and target. You can still draw, acquire the target and pull the trigger just like with the real thing. Another advantage to the Laser Light system is you can set it up in different places in your home to simulate defending your home from home invaders.

  4. I will probably be perceived as a wet blanket today but here goes. My personal belief is that the average person who gets a cc and a piece when the time comes, the chips are down won’t be able to pull the trigger, the bad guy will shoot them instead, these people would be better off not to carry and rely on diplomacy to save their lives.

    Personally, I’m am well prepared with defensive weapons on our farm but maybe the grey-man concept when going into more populated areas works best for me. The average gang goes out in numbers I might get one but what about the other four.

    1. For certain, rule #1 is situational awareness and avoidance. A gunfight is the absolute last resort self-defense mechanism, and there are many, many preemptive and logical ways to steer clear of a bad situation before it escalates to ‘life and death’.

      The article above begins after the hypothetical decision has already been made that it’s time for lethal force, and therefore one should enter that time-period of critical seconds with an intent to decisively and rapidly end the conflict – with you alive…

      And I agree that many are not prepared for such an encounter (which partially motivated this article ;) )

      Practice and train the right way and with the right mindset…

  5. Just thought I would throw this in:

    In actual police shoot-outs, it’s estimated that 1 out of 9 rounds expended (by the cop) actually hit the intended target.

    Today’s police training teaches exactly what you stated, Ken; keep firing until the threat is no longer a threat. People unfamiliar with firearms are continually questioning, “Why did you have to shoot him so many times?”

    ‘Because Your Life Depends On It!’

    1. The ‘gentle giant’ took 6 hits before he decided to break off his attack. He changed his mind when the round went through the top of his head. You can bet Mr. Wilson was using top shelf ammo.

    2. Just this last week in Sydney Australia, a police woman was confronted with a knife wielding lunatic.

      She pulled her Glock and put out three rounds. Every round missed the assailant and instead took out three aged women pensioners behind him.

      One woman being in her eighties, the others in the late sixties and seventies.
      So far they have survived.

      There is footage of this incident.

      Shortly after a male policeman pout one shot into the assailant. It took a minute or two before he went down.

      The woman police officer obviously should not have been in charge of a firearm. Shocking training and she panicked in the face of adversity.

      The male officer should have put the assailant away instead of waiting for him to go down.

      A Politically Correct police force at it’s worst.

  6. Years ago, in the 70s, in Miami, I was a Detective. Back then the standard detective sidearm was either a 5-shot SW Chiefs Special, or a 6-shot Colt Detective Special. Mine was the S&W.

    In a close quarters gunfight in a small apartment, the Perp and I exchanged fire. Later, I was asked, “Why did you shoot him 5 times?”

    I replied, “Because that’s all I had!”

    I distinctly remember clicking on an empty cylinder several times after the shooting stopped.

    1. Hombre Great response, remember mid 90s in Colorado Springs, Co., two patrol Officers (one a male training officer and a female rookie ) stopped a robbery suspect in the middle of town mid afternoon.

      The perp fired one round from a 22 pistol at the officers they returned fire for over a minute at a distance of approx 1 car length both carried semi auto pistols and at least two additional mags they fired approx. 60 rounds none of which hit the perp, but he was so scared he wet his britches and fell on the pavement, surrendering.

      Both officers were put on suspension, never heard the final outcome….but this is more to truth of what happens during a firefight.

  7. Just discovered that since I don’t have a job, I can’t do much prepping at all.

    I think I should focus on learning how to shoot & other ways to defend myself.
    Seems to be taking a long time finding a home in the Mtns. that I can afford.

    Never been in a situation where I had to defend myself. So not sure I would freeze up. How can someone learn NOT to freeze up?

    1. @ honeymom

      I believe that is the point, everyone and I do mean everyone (except movie Rambo) freezes up to some extent.

      Muscle memory is the key, See Hombre’s post “I distinctly remember clicking on an empty cylinder several times after the shooting stopped.” That is a part of Adrenalin, He knew he had 5 shots, but kept pulling the trigger, the brain freezes and Instinct for survival takes over.

      “Learn to NOT freeze up”? Not going to happen, even the best trained soldiers and LEO’s freeze at times, just a fact of life. The key is to react CORRECTLY without upper level thinking (do this, do that, do the other), Hence Muscle Memory. BTW, not something you want to practice, not thinking I mean.

      Situational awareness is the key….. Know what to expect, know your surroundings, stay as far from danger as you can, and react properly before you have the “gun fight” in your face.


  8. If you can’t figure out that the brim of the hat faces forwards or keep your pants up, how can you possibly manage proper gun handling ? Actually, it would be to your advantage to face off with an idiot who learned everything they don’t know from movies and TV.

    1. @ BAM BAM

      There is a very funny/interesting Video out there (don’t remember the name) that has an Expert Marksman demonstrating shooting/grip techniques, and the accuracy of each. He even demonstrates the “South of the Boarder” at about 1/5 as accurate as the good old free style two handed grip…. He also shows the proper way to hold up your pants :-) :-) Funny as heck, I need to find that and post it….


  9. There are defensive shooting classes that you can take to help.

    If and when you start shooting, you probably won’t be standing still or shouldn’t be. Gotta practice shooting while moving and shooting from behind and around stuff. If you are crouching behind a car you don’t want to be right up against it because then you have to expose too much to stand up and shoot. If you are back 3-5 ft then you can see over it better. Same way with shooting around a corner.

    Try it and see how much different it is. Play the ‘what if’ game and put yourself in several situations and see what works best.

    1. That’s great advice regarding the 3-5′. Big difference on ‘exposure’ vs. sight lines. Thanks for mentioning it for everyone…

  10. When my wife first started carrying, she expressed doubt about being able to kill someone. I decided to take that decision away from her. Her first two rounds were rat shot, the next four hollow points. The reasoning was if she fired the first two non-fatal rounds, and the assailant continued aggressive behavior, he’d made the decision for her.

    Since then she’s reconciled with the fact that if she feels it necessary to pull the gun in the first place, it’s a deadly situation.

    When we practice it’s “point & shoot”. One handed, two handed, whatever. You’re not always going to be in a position where two hands are practical. My particular problem is being right eye dominant, but left handed. Learning to accurately point without closing my right eye for sighting is something that’s taken many sessions to overcome.

  11. In my opinion, most people who get a CC do so with the subconscious expectation that they’ll never need to use it. They train as if they’ll never have to use it, carry (if they do) with the expectation that it’s a useless appendage.

    I know several people who got CC but never have and never will own a gun–they got it to support the 2nd amendment, and nothing else. If people honestly thought they would use the gun, they would train more consciously. Rather the way some people have a few cans of freeze-dried food and a case of water but consider themselves fully prepared.

  12. Just a couple of ideas: activeselfprotection.com, handguncombatives.com, full30.com. Sig Sauer Academy. NRA instructors. If you want to really up your training there is readyman.com and centermassgroup.com I realize that many will have their favorites which haven`t been listed.

  13. Over the years I have taught firearm safety, and combat shooting to many groups and one on one situations.

    My favorite way to get people to understand that shooting at a target while relaxed versus shooting in a “stress’ situation was to have the class watch the difference by doing a simple test shooting at a target from a normal stance while relaxed then, if outdoors have them walk quickly a short distance away from the shooting position return and allow them 4 seconds to pick up their firearm and fire three shots downrange.

    The results were ‘eye opening’ they were lucky to get a shot on target……….after doing this for a ‘length’ of time they were able to overcome and greatly improve the results. Point being practice the real time situation not the target range mystic beliefs……it might make your day, not the perps.

  14. Good advice all around.

    Exercise before practice is something I have tried. And it definitely affected my pattern, so it’s something I added to my routine.

    Laser grips help. And I use a 4 burst because of the 8 round clip. I have a competition quick load grip, And practice blind folded.

    But with all these nothing replaces actually using your firearm on a regular basis.

  15. IPSC or IDPA is a good way to practice under stress and develop muscle memory. I realize its not real life… But close.

  16. I have been in several encounters as a uniform patrol officer for a number of years. I carried a revolver when I started. Ended my career carrying a 40 S&W autoloader. I hesitated the first time I fired. By my fourth and last involvement, I remember being much faster. I no longer hesitated and I knew I would be looking for a new job as I was bagging my weapon as evidence for my supervisor.

    I today’s political climate, I do not think most officers would have a career after their first shooting. My old mentor cops told me after my first shooting that I would probably come through it OK though I had a choice of a long uneventful career with no additional shootings or I could have a short, exciting career by volunteering for tactical squad. I chose the latter and ended up in 2 more shootings in process of raiding meth labs with warrant squads or tactical team duties. I was good with small arms and I did the right thing at the time.

    Not everybody is able to keep their head in the midst of a real fight. I was able to and it led to some private security work after I left sworn duty. Even though I did not panic then, I was still not able to: keep count of the number of rounds that I fired during each engagement. Remember everything that took place during the fight. My goal was not to survive, it never entered my mind. My goal was to put the other person down and stop him now. One time, I was returning fire on muzzle flashes at night. I do not remember being scared or mad. I reacted without thought.

    I took firearms training very seriously. I knew each day that today could be that day I engage in a shooting. During those days, I have had to relocate several times, had groups of people after me or post a bounty of $5000 on my head or my badge. It was not a lot of fun. I was single with no children.

    Many on this site know I shoot/used to shoot competitively. I still shoot to relax and enjoy myself on the Trap Range on Sunday mornings, varmint hunting etc. I know this is not combat training. IT IS FUN.

    Combat training is not fun. It is work. I practice shooting my 9 mm Kahr one handed bilaterally.(both right and left handed.) I do the same with the 38 special Ruger LCR. I try to hit an 8 inch circle at 10 yards after picking up the gun from the bench rapidly. For this work, if I am expecting trouble, I generally carry my shotgun in the car or truck. Sometimes I had a rifle but my patrol unit has ALWAYS had a pump shotgun.

    Practice can hurt by instilling bad habits but I always had confidence when I pulled the shotgun from the lectro-lock. The felons could see that in the way I handled the weapon. So, How would you feel drawing against a police officer that knocks down 24 of 25 on the trap range every Sunday morning?

    Do not practice out of fear. I shoot because it is fun!(…well, I also hate golf.) Practice? Yes, but have some fun also.

    1. Any tips on training with the off hand? Maybe videos or a video course? I have never been around anything or anyone that had much to say on that. I believe it would be a valuable skill to have, I even carry cant forward in a position where I can reach the gun left handed. However, I doubt I could hit anything left handed beyond 5 yards. Maybe not that far.

  17. Just finished a personal protection class that emphasized the very same rules. Well done Ken.

  18. Defensive pistol shooting is something that you can train using a .22 emulator in an indoor range.
    Whatever your carry weapon, get a 22 version or conversion. It doesn’t have to be the exact model, as long as the controls and feel are OK
    Like any professional grade training in anything, you should introduce advances one step at a time. Practice slow and smooth and later add speed. All advanced scenarios are built on basic skills which should be practiced separately until you can do them safely and automatically.

    You should work up to scenarios such as low light level, close range, unexpected or moving targets, combatant and non-c targets, mis-feeds (ie deliberatly misloaded magazines). Use walk-throughs, non-shooting weapon presentation, blank or non-lethal firing emulator, then draw and fire on hostiles.
    Once you have worked up to advanced scenarios, you should start off the scenario in a state on stress which you can induce by hard exercise, hooding, being walked backwards downstairs, being tripped unexpectedly onto a thick mat or mattress, being given conflicting instructions, unexpected blank firing. Take care not to injure less-athletic people during stress induction.
    For home defence, you should have some scenarios based on sleeping in a (camp) bed with weapon placed as it would be.

    Once you have worked up to stress-induced familiar scenarios, a range manager can create a surprise scenario for others to shoot. It doesn’t have to be a complex multi-room “operator” style scenario. Keep it simple.
    You don’t need expensive facilities but you do need a lot of freedom and imagination in how you use them. Safety is always paramount.

  19. May I reproduce this article and include it in students packets? I teach both the NRA Personal Protection inside the Home and Outside the Home. PPITH is the required CPL course here in Michigan. Many soon to be CPL holders shudder when I merely suggest they are about to learn unsighted firing. Your article reinforces my instruction of working with what the body does intuitively. Speaking from experience: “you will naturally focus on the treat(s) trying to kill or harm you and not your sights!”
    Grip, stance and sighting will be a matter of convenience, not firmly planted or sighted in nor held as in target shooting. Very good insight into the adrenaline factor. Most (myself included) will throw up and/or lose control of bladder and/or sphincter during or after an armed encounter.

    Additionally: please reinforce and pass along, do not talk to law enforcement in the immediate aftermath. Tunnel vision, time dilation and auditory exclusion will scatter the timeline of events in your memory. Talk to attorney first!

    Excellent article!

    1. @Tacticool, thanks for the comment. I would be happy to know that this artcle is contributing towards your training materials there in Michigan.

  20. Year 2022 update: Firing a handgun off-hand/weak hand in addition to strong hand was something brought up by FBI training academy since the FBI also gathers statistics on shootings from all over the US. Hence, Special Agents going through Quantico had to train and qualify with a reduced score expectations using their weak hand. Decades later, I came to know and met up with a lot of former officers that were injured in line of duty. I myself, had a broken collarbone that took months to heal with reduced strength and a sling to be worn for months as I healed up. This knowledge drives me to practice with handgun using single hand on strong and weak side. Firearms and tactical instructors are teaching/training officers to dump or drop their duty belt from behind cover in order to access additional magazines and racking a round in the chamber with only one good arm. In real fights, everybody gets injured. There is no time out and there is no such thing as cheating. See what I mean about training for CCW and surviving a gunfight is hard work and not a lot of fun? I practiced a lot more when I was working private security.

Comments are closed.