Can You Threat-Focus Shoot?

By Michael Mills
Posted in #Skills
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Can You Threat-Focus Shoot?

January 14th, 2021

4:49 runtime

You can pick out the right gun. You can select the best holster in the world. You can practice your draw thousands of times and be able to put hits on target consistently. But, what can you do to take your self-defense skills to the next level?

Threat-focused shooting
Are your self-defense skills refined as much as they can be? Can you make the shot you need to, when you need to?

The question is, can you teach an old or young dog new tricks? The simple answer is “yes.” After thousands of draws and rounds with iron sights, is moving to a target/threat focus on a pistol natural? For most people I talk to, the initial answer is “no.”

However, in my experience, most people seem to like it better right away. One might ask themselves how is the transition not natural, but we like it better? Let’s see if we can figure that out. For me, I have been practicing this a lot with my XD-M Elite Tactical OSP pistol.

Springfield Armory XD-M Elite Tactical OSP with Streamlight TLR-1 HL
An optics-ready pistol like this XD-M Elite Tactical OSP from Springfield Armory makes switching to red dots on your handgun a breeze.

Stop Staring at Me

When we shoot, our eyes are shifting focus — even if we do not realize it. Remember, the firearms safety rules state that we must be aware of our target, back stop and beyond. But how is this possible if we are hard focused on the front sight?

Sight-focused sight picture
This is a “dot-focused” sight picture, where you are seeing your aiming point more than your target.

It’s rather obvious we are shifting focus from one object to another completing target assessments. Ask yourself, when using a red dot on a rifle, is it almost unnatural to focus on the sight/dot rather than the target? The fact is, we focus differently on a pistol than a rifle when equipped with a reflex sight initially, because we have trained our body two different ways.

While you might have all the right gear, having the skills to employ it is just as important.

Can I Retrain My Eyes?

Yes, but the speed at which you do this is completely up to you by how much time you put into it. In reality, you do not need to go to the range to begin working on this. In fact, I would suggest lots of dry fire and focus transitions before any trips to the range to save frustration and ammo. Here are a few tips that may help this transition.

XD-M Elite Tactical OSP 9mm by Springfield Armory
XD-M Elite Tactical OSP, topped off with a Holosun red dot and fitted out with a Streamlight TLR-1 HL.
  • During dry or live fire, when you are focused on the target look for the smallest detail to lock onto while bringing your optic into view. Maybe a number or the X? The “aim small, miss small” approach will also help you lock onto the target instead of the glowing dot or reticle.
  • Stop using your optic at maximum brightness. This will likely cause you to stare at the insanely bright reticle or dot rather than the target. Think about using more medium settings.
  • After getting the hang of target/threat focus, practice transitions on smaller targets with dry fire at home. Use your kid’s G.I. Joe figures or something small that you can make quick focal changes onto, then transition your pistol over to the new target, while remaining hard target focused.
  • Stop staring for too long. If you endlessly have your optic up and you keep bouncing back and forth from target to dot, give your eyes a break and start over. Do ready-up drills and lengthen the time you hold on target only after you can keep your eyes target-focused with ease.
Once you have practiced at home with a lot of dry fire, it’s time to move out to the range.

When Will I Be Ready?

This is different for everyone and it will take time and training to become proficient. Do it from your home for free then move it to the range to maximize your ammo savings.

Threat-focused sight picture
Here, you are seeing a “threat-focused” sight picture where the focus is on the target rather than the dot.

So, keep up your training, practice the right way to get the most of out of it, and work on changing your focus to the threat/target. If you’re ready to make the transition from irons to optics on your pistol, I think you can really wring out some serious additional performance.

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

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Michael Mills

Michael Mills

Michael Mills created as a way to help spread good information, shed positive light on the gun community and to have fun. He has always loved teaching and helping others, especially when it comes to gun rights. This passion was further ingrained during his service in U.S. Army Special Operations, and he is a Use of Force Instructor, Defensive Tactics instructor, DEA Firearms Instructor and Police Academy instructor. He also has 15 years of law enforcement experience from patrol to supervision.

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