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Why aiming for center mass is important

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Hey everyone, I need some collective help, I had a discussion with someone who was saying that police need to be retrained to aim for the head or arms or legs and I tried explaining to them why that is impossible to do in a very tense and chaotic situation, so my question to all of you is,

Do you have any links to videos, website etc. Etc. That gives facts and details maybe even from police officers, about why aiming for center mass is important, I myself know why it is, because when you are in a situation where things are chaotic,

Your adrenaline is pumping its and you just don't have the time to aim for an arm or leg shot or your hands might be shaking and so because of all that your aim is not going to be very good to hit an arm or leg, I did try my best to explain this but their answer was "well then they need to train more to be better shots".

So if anyone has any help or advice please let me know so I can educate them on why aiming for center mass is important.

Edited by luke9511
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The purpose of shooting at someone is to make them stop what they are doing.  The head is a small, very mobile target and unless you hit a vital area it may not incapacitate your opponent.  Arms and legs...yea well, that is just stupid!  Center mass has the most probability of hitting something vital, though it too has limitations that would take too long here to discuss.  But for the most part your opponent will at least think twice about continuing his endeavours.

My training was always to put two in the chest and one to the head, but that was because we were trained to combat near-peers that may be wearing body armor.  Maybe the boys in blue need to be thinking the same way.

Edited by Omega
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Two thoughts

  • Dead people don't kill you or sue you.
  • You can only shoot someone if you are in imminent danger of death or grave bodily harm. If that's the case you need to stop them in their tracks. You ain't going to do that shooting them in the arm.
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^^ I wish I could Like that post twice.

It's also why most officers now carry less-than-lethal* weapons such as pepper spray, tasers, and batons. If they can't justify using lethal force, that's what those other tools on the Batbelt are for.


*Yeah, I know in certain cases those can be lethal too, but you get the point.

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Upon further review I think I might have misread the intent of the OP's friend's question....


So this question to Luke9511 , WHY exactly does your friend suggest they aim for arms legs and head? I apparently missed the head part and that does kind of change the dynamic. If he's willing to have them shoot for the head then his question is probably not coming from a "lets not hurt them" place. But not knowing WHY he is suggesting this course of action makes answering your question more difficult. 

There is a line of thinking that goes "the bad guys are likely to be wearing armor so we skip the thorax altogether and aim for pelvis or head to start with. That line of logic and the folks that are practicing that as "plan A" are NOT coming from the "police dealing with average street crimes pool". This is from folks who are more likely to A. be using long guns as primary weapons, B. to be engaging folks that are also armed with rifles and heavier weapons working in groups and B. engaging folks often with business affiliation with freelance pharmaceutical distribution from south of the US border. Another group that practices going straight to pelvis or head is one that guards political VIP types and for whom a major threat profile is armor wearing folks.  Again, not the average street cop concerns or mission profile. 

And frankly if your friend saw the overwhelming majority of cops shoot he'd probably change his mind and say "shoot at the biggest thing you can shoot at ...from as CLOSE to it as you can get....."


Edited by Cruel Hand Luke
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1 hour ago, Grayfox54 said:

If you shoot someone in the arm or leg, they're still capable of shooting you. 

Many times shooting center mass does not render some people helpless and that is why I would follow it up with a second round to make sure the person is not able to shoot me. Two rounds very quick will mean much less a possibility the bad guy will be able to fire back but still keep your eye on them till help arrives.....JMHO.

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On average, the hit rate in most police shootings is a little over 20%.  These are individuals in close proximity.  The average citizen will probably be lower given little to no training and the added stress.  Which brings up the point, where do the remaining 80% of the rounds impact?  One is responsible for every round fired, and for whatever it impacts is on you.  This makes sense to try and impact the largest area of the target.....center mass.

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That my friends is why we all need to train, train, train. It is okay to practice a few head shots, but they are only needed in certain situations where body armor on a bad guy dictates. My CC instructor back in Mississippi who was a deputy at the time said it best, stop the threat. If he was worth 1 round he danged sure is worth 2.  In a real life situation it is all over with in less than 20-30 seconds unless there are a lot of bad guys. And that is the reason to carry a spare mag and a spare gun.

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2 hours ago, Dirtshooter said:

That my friends is why we all need to train, train, train. It is okay to practice a few head shots, but they are only needed in certain situations where body armor on a bad guy dictates. My CC instructor back in Mississippi who was a deputy at the time said it best, stop the threat. If he was worth 1 round he danged sure is worth 2.  In a real life situation it is all over with in less than 20-30 seconds unless there are a lot of bad guys. And that is the reason to carry a spare mag and a spare gun.

My reason for two fast shots center mass. Two hits two different spots. double the damage and I do have a back up mag when I am out and toting which has not been for last 3+ months. To old to temp fate and ask to get sick. If I get sick with it, it's going to have to come to me! 

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13 hours ago, Dirtshooter said:

My CC instructor back in Mississippi who was a deputy at the time said it best, stop the threat. 

That’s how I was taught, back in the day. Make an armed assailant unable or unwilling to fire his weapon. Death is irrelevant.

Having the equipment to be able to do that is also important.

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I always practice hits in the triangle. That being from the nipples to the bridge of the nose.  Most vulnerable area, IMO. Agree with the shoot to stop the threat thing.  

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my question was, can anyone post any links to articles or video explaining why in a tense situation trying to aim for the head or limbs will end in failure rather than aiming for center mass

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10 hours ago, luke9511 said:

my question was, can anyone post any links to articles or video explaining why in a tense situation trying to aim for the head or limbs will end in failure rather than aiming for center mass

I can’t post an article or a video, but from personal; experience I can tell you your adrenaline will probably be through the roof. Your mind will be racing as you process what is happening. Are you seeing what you think you are seeing? Are you justified in what you are about to do? Do you have to think about unholstering and drawing your gun, or is it there already there in your hand?

Your mind is busy with other things than what you focus on at the range.

Is it dark? Can you hit his head? Can you even hit his body? What’s behind him? Are there other people around? Are they a threat?

Most people will stop what they are doing when you pull a gun. Almost all will stop when you fire a shot, whether you hit them or not. But some won’t.

Why are you shooting at an arm or leg? Are you not in immediate danger of death or great bodily harm?  Are they unarmed? A leg shot can be fatal. The arm shot you are trying for can be fatal when it misses its target and hits the heart.

Do your rounds have the ability to make him unwilling or unable to fire his weapon at you?

Shot placement is key…if you can do it in a shooting situation. If you have the ability to place a round in his head; do it. But you will likely be focused on just hitting him.

Officer Timothy Gramins was a master firearms instructor and a sniper on his department’s Tactical Intervention Unit. His story is one of the most bizarre shootouts you will ever hear of. He fired 33 rounds of .45ACP. 14 rounds hit the suspect, 6 were supposedly fatal shots he was hit in the heart, right lung, left lung, liver, diaphragm, and right kidney.

It wasn’t until he was able to prone out and carefully aim that he placed three rounds in the suspects head; ending the shoot-out. Why didn’t he do that in the beginning? Because he couldn’t; he was too busy.

42% of his rounds hit the suspect. I’d sure like to hear the conversation when one of the shot placement guys asks him why he missed so much. As they always do when someone else is in a shooting.

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8 hours ago, DaveTN said:


Officer Timothy Gramins was a master firearms instructor and a sniper on his department’s Tactical Intervention Unit. His story is one of the most bizarre shootouts you will ever hear of. He fired 33 rounds of .45ACP. 14 rounds hit the suspect, 6 were supposedly fatal shots he was hit in the heart, right lung, left lung, liver, diaphragm, and right kidney.

It wasn’t until he was able to prone out and carefully aim that he placed three rounds in the suspects head; ending the shoot-out. Why didn’t he do that in the beginning? Because he couldn’t; he was too busy.

42% of his rounds hit the suspect. I’d sure like to hear the conversation when one of the shot placement guys asks him why he missed so much. As they always do when someone else is in a shooting.

This shooting was from back in 2008 and I have referenced it a few time in class. I prefer to look at the Gramins shootout https://www.policeone.com/officer-shootings/articles/why-one-cop-carries-145-rounds-of-ammo-on-the-job-clGBbLYpnqqHxwMq/ as another instance of sometimes the bad guy is not a candy ass pansy who will run at the sight of your gun but sometimes will be a "card carrying bad ass" who you will have to disassemble internally to stop him. The folks who say that you don't NEED to be able to shoot well and that "any hit anywhere on him will probably stop him" should see from this that if Gramins were not a good enough shooter to score THREE head shots that he might not have survived. 

 If people want to fault his marksmanship they need to remember that he fired the initial 13 rounds through the windshield while he was actively being shot at and some other misses came from when he was trying to skip rounds under the car at his assailant.  I think his marksmanship was just fine based on the 3 head shots he scored once he was able to get out of the vehicle, get behind cover and get a good sight picture. 

And we need to remember that when some of us preach the need for marksmanship better than "minute of felon" this is why. The better you can shoot the better you can shoot no matter the circumstance. And when there is a degradation of ability due to stress you are still performing at a higher level than the less skilled shooter. If you start at the top of the mountain and fall 25% of the way down you are still 75% up the mountain. When you start at 25% of the way up and fall 25%  down you are in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the mountain. 

Edited by Cruel Hand Luke
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Here's a better "play by play " of the incident...... 



By Massad Ayoob

Situation: Backup is racing to help you as you shoot it out with a heavily armed bank robber, but you’re alone for now and running low on ammo.

Lesson: What’s on your person may be all you’ll have to fight with, so carry enough. Solid positions and aimed fire deliver fight-stopping hits … and knowing what you’re fighting for will make you fight harder.

August 25, 2008. It’s a sunny and beautiful late afternoon in Skokie, one of the separately incorporated communities surrounding the city of Chicago, Illinois. Of Skokie Police Department’s 124 officers, about 15 are patrolling on the street during the three-to-eleven shift. Inside the Crown Vic Police Interceptor squad car of Officer Tim Gramins, the dedicated ISPERN radio — the Illinois State Police Emergency Radio Network, reserved for serious emergencies — comes to life. A bank has been robbed in nearby Northbrook. The suspect is a black male, average size, driving a white Pontiac. A witness has reported a possible plate number, from a series tracked to the city of Chicago.

This puts Skokie in between. SPD units proceed to the Edens Expressway, I-94 South, hoping to interdict. Two Skokie units pull over a man and vehicle fitting the description but quickly determine he’s not the suspect they’re looking for. It is then Gramins spots a white Grand Prix, with a lone driver who fits the description.

They make eye contact with each other, and Gramins recognizes an expression he has seen many times. He calls it “the ‘Oh, boy, here’s the police’ look.” The man floors his accelerator with a sudden lane change, and the chase is on.

In Pursuit

Hitting his lights and siren, Gramins radios in his situation. He knows other units will be responding, but has no way to determine how soon backup will catch up with him, particularly in late rush hour traffic. The suspect veers his getaway car across three lanes of traffic to hit the Touhy Avenue exit east, and then bangs a right onto Skokie Boulevard. In the powerful CVPI, Gramins expertly remains on his tail. The chase swerves onto Estes Street after a block, through the intersection of Keating, then right on Kilpatrick.
And then, the fugitive springs the trap.


Here, in a quiet suburban neighborhood right out of a Leave It To Beaver rerun, Gramins sees his quarry slam on his brakes and come to an abrupt stop in the street. Action beats reaction: Gramins responds quickly but by the time his squad car has stopped it is only 15 feet behind the fugitive’s vehicle.

The white car’s door pops open and out comes the suspect. Gramins sees a silver-colored auto pistol in the man’s hand as it rises over the steering wheel, coming out the door, and swinging toward him. As this is happening, training and practice send Gramins’ left hand across his torso to swiftly release his seat belt, and his right hand to unholster his GLOCK 21 service pistol. But Ray Maddox, a 37-year-old Gangster Disciple gang member who has sworn to kill the next cop who stops him rather than go back behind bars, gets the first shots off.

Bam, bam, bam, bam! Gramins can hear and even count all four of them, can see Maddox running toward him firing one-handed. Now, though, the cop’s own gun is up in both hands and he fires right through the windshield, indexed on his target, tracking the gunman as he approaches the patrol car door, still shooting.

Incredibly — perhaps, for Gramins, even miraculously — both men now run out of ammunition and go simultaneously to slidelock.

Second Magazine

Both combatants react instantly to the change in the situation. Maddox spins around and runs back to the Pontiac. Gramins explodes out the driver’s door of the squad car, seeking to escape the trap his vehicle has become, and runs between the cars to the right. He’s reloading on the run, ejecting the spent magazine, slapping in a fresh one, and closing the slide. At approximately this time in the gun battle, he is able to radio in: the suspect is out of his vehicle, shots have been fired and he (Gramins) needs help.

The gunfire has captured the attention of the residents on this quiet street. A 12-year-old boy skateboarding on the sidewalk runs into his house and tells his parents, “There’s a police officer in the street being shot at, call 9-1-1!” Gramins will later tell American Handgunner, the boy is “the bravest kid I’ve ever known.” Gramins can hear the boy’s dad yelling to him like a cheering section, “Get him! Shoot him!” In the heat of the moment, Gramins has time to take some comfort in this.

Reloaded, he charges the suspect, now on the other side of the vehicles. The officer fires as he goes. He will tell me later, “He (was moving) back toward my car. I don’t think he knew I was off to his left. I charged right at him, and ended up three feet away. I was shooting one-handed when I got close. As I ran toward him firing, I saw no effect.”

Third Magazine

Seeing his GLOCK at slide lock again, Gramins sprints to an angle where he can get his patrol car between himself and the gunman, who is still shooting at him but with a different pistol. Again the cop is reloading on the run, demoralized his gunfire has done nothing to stop his deadly attacker, and acutely aware he’s on his last magazine.

Gramins is now to the right of their two cars, and he sees Maddox is now to the left of his patrol car, using it for cover and crouching down low. An intensively trained SWAT team leader, Gramins tries to use the technique LAPD SWAT employed to successfully neutralize the machinegun-armed suspect Matasureanu in the infamous North Hollywood bank robbery shootout of 1997: he points rather than aims his G21 and fires as he moves, trying to ricochet his bullets under the car and into Maddox’s legs to bring him down. The angle isn’t right, though, and he sees his bullets hitting his own car and front right tire. Time to change the plan, he realizes.


Gramins sees a tree between the sidewalk and the cars in the street. He dives prone behind it, and — trained on the precision rifle as a SWAT cop — realizes he now has the best cover and the most solid shooting position he has had since the gunfight began. Maddox has been popping up and shooting at him like a jack-in-the-box and then crouching deep, watching Gramins from under the car. The cop sees Maddox looking at him now from under the police car.

Carefully, consciously focusing hard on his front sight, Gramins follows legendary Border Patrol shootist Bill Jordan’s advice (“Take your time, quick!”) and squeezes off three rapid but still carefully-aimed shots, holding on the would-be cop-killer’s head. On the third, Maddox collapses face down. He is no longer shooting. A large pool of blood begins to spread outward from the gunman’s head.
Gramins keeps him covered. About a minute later, the first responding officers, Detective (now Sergeant) Barnes and Detective Mendez, arrive. Both are fellow SWAT team members. Gramins feels a sense of relief as the backups kick the downed antagonist’s gun out of his reach, and handcuff him.

It’s over.

Reconstruction will show from the first shot of the gunfight to the last, 56 seconds have elapsed. During this time 54 pistol shots have been fired, 33 from Gramins’ GLOCK .45, and 21 by Maddox from two pistols.

Wound Assessment

Raymond Maddox did not survive. Autopsy showed he had been hit by 17 of Gramins’ 230-gr. Speer Gold Dot .45 hollowpoints. Some had hit extremities, including upper limbs as the officer’s bullets tracked up the gunman’s arms while he was firing at the cop. But Maddox had also been hit in one kidney, both lungs … and the heart. All three of Gramins’ last carefully braced, precisely aimed shots had indeed hit the head, but two had smashed into his face and only the last had pierced the brain and ended the fight.

Gramins did not emerge entirely unscathed. He caught a bullet fragment in one shin, and bullets going through the glass of the car had sent fragments into his face. He also suffered a significant hearing loss in his left ear, most likely due to firing 13 rounds from his .45 from inside the closed patrol car.

He, at the hospital in a room adjacent to where the medicos were trying to save Maddox’s life, also had to hear a doctor angrily cry, “Why did the cop have to shoot him so many times?” If only the physician had known …

The shooting death of Raymond Maddox at the hands of Officer Timothy Gramins was ruled a justifiable homicide. No lawsuit was filed. Gramins received multiple awards for his heroism in the encounter and was later promoted to sergeant.

Weapon Assessment

Both the would-be cop-killer and the officer who neutralized him were heavily armed. They had access to seven loaded firearms between them. Gramins deployed only one; Maddox used two.

Maddox opened fire with a stainless steel 9mm auto which Gramins first thought looked like a Taurus copy of a Beretta, but turned out to be a 16-shot S&W Model 5906. It was recovered, empty, from the front seat of Maddox’s Pontiac, its last spent casing stovepiped where Maddox had dumped it as he grabbed his second weapon. It was a Bersa .380 pistol. The .380 was apparently hit and, unknown to the cop, rendered inoperable by one of Gramins’ .45 rounds near the end of the gunfight. Also in the front seat of the gunman’s car was an SKS semiautomatic rifle, fully loaded with a 30-rd. magazine, and in a box. At least one analyst has suggested Gramins’ charging toward Maddox while emptying the second magazine in his GLOCK kept the gunman from accessing the high-powered semiautomatic rifle. Gramins was told later Maddox’s weapons were tied to four homicides in the city of Chicago.

Gramins had been carrying his primary sidearm, the 13+1 capacity GLOCK 21, with only 12 rounds per mag because he had found with his magazines, it was sometimes difficult to positively seat them loaded all the way up if the slide was forward. He had the two spare magazines on his duty belt, and also a 9mm subcompact GLOCK 26 backup gun in a holster attached to the Second Chance ballistic vest under his uniform shirt. A Remington 870 pump shotgun loaded with five 12-gauge slugs was racked above him inside the patrol car, and as a SWAT officer, he had an AR-15 in the trunk with several 30-rd. magazines. Like his opponent, he was never able to deploy any of the heavy artillery.


There are many lessons to be learned from Tim Gramins’ incident, some more obvious than others.

Carry enough ammunition to finish a worst case scenario fight. After this event, which has been widely publicized among law enforcement, Tim Gramins put his .45 in his gun safe and went with a 9mm. He told me, “We are allowed to pick our weapon. GLOCK, S&W, Beretta and SIG are authorized, and we have our choice of 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP, all with department issue Gold Dot ammunition.” His duty pistol is now the GLOCK 17, loaded to full capacity with 17+1 rounds of 124-gr. +P 9mm, backed up by 11 rounds of the same in his GLOCK 26, which of course can feed G17 magazines. A slim-line Safariland triple magazine pouch carries three more 17-rd. mags in uniform, and he carries two 33-rd. 9mm magazines behind the trauma shield of his ballistic vest.

This adds up to 146 rounds on tap. A widely-circulated police article by our mutual friend Charles Remsberg made Tim famous in cop circles as the policeman who carries almost 150 rounds of ammo on his person. “I can carry a hundred rounds more ammo, and it only weighs a couple of pounds,” Gramins told American Handgunner. “Round count seems to be skyrocketing in police gun battles, police running out of ammunition. I don’t want to be in such position. I came close to it, with only four rounds left in my GLOCK 21.”

The dynamic movement required to escape the kill zone kept Gramins from accessing either the shotgun in the squad car’s cockpit or the AR-15 in its trunk. One lesson this taught him: what you have on your person may be all you have to fight with once a fight goes mobile.

Aggressive humans can soak up multiple lethal wounds and still continue homicidal action for surprising periods of time. People have taken multiple, massive wounds even from high powered rifles and shotguns, and stayed in the fight. Contrary to popular belief, a heart shot like the one Maddox sustained well before Gramins’ brain shot killed him does not necessarily guarantee the hoped-for “instant one-shot stop.” The medical journals devoted to treatment of trauma show multiple survivors of gunshot wounds to the heart, and forensic pathologists have recorded numerous cases of people who continued conscious, purposeful, sometimes successfully homicidal actions after being shot in the heart. Even if cardiac function is completely shut down, the recipient of the wound has up to 15 or 16 seconds of action left before blood pressure drops below the level it will no longer sustain consciousness, and not all wounds of the heart cause total shutdown. This appears to have been the case with Raymond Maddox in this shooting, who by the way had a “clean toxicology screen,” which showed no alcohol or drugs on board.

Forensic pathologists tell us there is no post-mortem artifact for adrenalin dump, and even if there was, its effect on the given person experiencing it cannot be precisely predicted. This shooting appears to be a classic example. Mortal wounds are not necessarily instantly fatal. The study of gunfights is replete with cases of “men who were dead, but didn’t know it yet.” It was not possible to reconstruct exactly when Maddox took the cardiac hit, but it is absolutely possible he was up and running for almost a minute despite a .45 caliber gunshot wound to the heart before the final bullet to the brain short-circuited his central nervous system and ended the encounter.

Training is critical! As a SWAT cop prior to this shooting, Tim had extensive experience shooting through barriers such as windshield glass, from both sides, and this stood him in good stead in the opening of the gunfight when he essentially “broke the ambush” by returning fire through the windshield from the driver’s seat. Extensive Simunitions-based “force on force” role-play had prepared him as best as possible for shooting a murderous criminal who was shooting at him.

Know what you’re fighting for! The day of this shooting was the eighth birthday of Tim Gramins’ son. Prior to hearing the emergency call over ISPERN, Tim had been pondering when he could take some break time to buy his son the Star Wars game he wanted for his birthday. Throughout the gunfight, Tim was aware of his need to survive for his son and for the rest of his family. He credits this determination for seeing him through the deadly gun battle. The very term “gunfight” is really a misnomer: the guns don’t fight, the people do, and those who know what they’re fighting for have a powerful psychological advantage.

Finally, the lost lesson of this incident seems to be the importance of aimed fire. At the end, from a solid prone position where Tim had his hardest “front sight focus” of the fight, was when three rapid shots to the head all struck the intended target, the last one “shutting off the computer” and bringing the death battle to a decisive close on the side of The Good Guy.

The author wishes to thank Sergeant Tim Gramins and the trainers of the Skokie Police Department for the outcome of this shooting, and fellow police writers Chuck Remsberg and Dave Scoville for first spreading the valuable lessons of this life-or-death battle to the law enforcement community.

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The standard for this and virtually all current shooting principles is rooted in the Sykes/Fairbain study/book "Shooting to Live with One Hand Gun". Their study still holds water even if semi auto techniques have changed some of the application.

Second I would use the FBI study of the 1986 Miami-Dade shooting. Plenty of info there.

Here is a current  assessment and some facts pulled to explain the move back to the 9mm. https://sofrep.com/gear/the-reasons-why-fbi-went-to-back-to-9mm/

Yet another http://gundata.org/images/fbi-handgun-ballistics.pdf

None of them will give a simple outright answer, but it's all there if you look j through it.

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  • 1 month later...

High Center Chest is ideal. If you absolutely need that person to stop what they are doing, shoot what is available. A bullet passing through any part of a body will make that person reconsidering their actions and give you a chance to make that "better" shot. 


High Center Mass or Ocular Cavity. 

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It's a gunfight

Head bouncing around like a balloon, throwing lead like a sunny Saturday afternoon in Chicago, it took the officer three aimed shots to stop. 

The skull is remarkably bullet resistant, especially to less than optimal hits. I'm reminded of the Jared Reston gunfight and his recovery from seven pistol wounds.

Bleeding out takes time and pistol bullets poke small holes. Shooting extremities is an option, but the human body naturally redirects blood flow to the core when it "thinks" the arm will be chewed off by a sabre toothed tiger or has actually suffered trauma from a bullet.

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You simply don't know how you are going to perform in a situation where you're either shooting at someone or getting shot at unless it's happened to you. Center mass gives you the highest hit percentage. No matter how good you are you will probably be worse when your life is on the line. A buddy of mine woke up with a guy in his living room. He confronted the guy and it went south. He aimed directly between the guy's eyes and pulled the trigger.  He hit the guy in his pinky.  I asked him if the guy raised his hand as a sheld.  His response was the guy had a weapon in one hand pointing at him. The hand he hit was at his side.  That's how far his aim was off. The guy hit the ground like a ton of bricks and begged for his life. At the range shooting drills are nice and pretty.  In real life they get ugly. Cops go into a situation prepared. They give themselves every advantage when bad things could happen.  As a regular guy, the bad guy has that advantage. None of us are John Wick. No matter how much we tell our Wives we are. 

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