Accuracy Requirements for Defensive Ammo

Author: Jeff Gonzales | February 13, 2024
Accuracy Requirements for Defensive Ammo

Have you ever wondered where accuracy shooting standards came from? How they came to be and why they are important? Accuracy shooting standards were established to best prepare the shooter to manage an unknown, unknowable event. Defensive gun uses are mostly surprise attacks. There is little, if any, warning and we are reacting to a deadly force threat. This threat could be at arm’s reach, it could be across an intersection or down a long aisle of a grocery store. You won’t know in advance and therefore need a well-rounded skill set; hence, the 8-inch accuracy standard at any distance with any weapon. To support this accuracy standard, here are three reasons for selecting accurate defensive ammunition:

  • Know the accuracy capability of your gear
  • Confirm the reliability of all your gear
  • Develop ongoing marksmanship skills

Let’s further define this standard. First, eight inches is the approximate size of the upper thoracic chest region, which houses the vital anatomy such as heart and lungs. Disrupting or destroying these vital life processes will help stop an attack. Any distance is relative to the weapon’s effective range, which I typically describe as the maximum distance you could legally and morally take a shot. This is subjective because it depends on shooting skill. Any weapon in this case references modern firearm platforms, such as pistol, rifle and shotgun. The bottom line is we want to keep our shots within eight inches regardless of the situation or equipment to help factor in the human effect.

We’ve discussed in the past the importance of choosing quality defensive ammunition. What constitutes quality centers around highly reliable, minimum penetration and maximum expansion. One characteristic overlooked is shot placement—the ability to deliver rounds in the vital anatomy on command. This has everything to do with the shooter. If the shooter doesn’t do their job, then everything else is of little importance. Here is something else to think about—under stress you can expect a degradation in performance. How much degradation is subject to debate, but many believe it is at least 50%. I remind folks they will be half as accurate as they expect under stress. Choosing accurate defensive ammunition begins by understanding accuracy.

How Accurate Is Your Ammunition

When you factor in accuracy capability of defensive ammunition, you typically see group sizes in the 4-inch range. This is accomplished in a controlled environment accounting for as many variables as possible. This is normally shot from a bench-rested condition at the 25-yard line with minimum human involvement. To gain a greater appreciation of this metric, we need a basic understanding of Minute of Angle or MOA. Accuracy when it comes to shooting is best defined by using MOA. It is said a rifle is accurate if it produces at least a one MOA accuracy standard at the 100-yard line. Converting this to a pistol at 25 yards requires a little bit of math. At the 25-yard line, one MOA is one quarter of an inch. Since 25 yards is one quarter the distance of 100 yards, it makes this math a little easier. A one-inch group at 25 yards would be four MOA and if we multiply our four-inch group, we get 16 MOA. This gives us an ability to compare ammunition in a more side-by-side comparison. I have found some ammunition to be inherently more accurate than others. It’s a consideration when purchasing my defensive stock and knowing this in advance is a major advantage.

Know Your Gear and Your Gear Will Take Care of You

We see a lot of challenges in our shooting courses as it relates to equipment. Some could do a better job reading the required gear lists we provide, while others could benefit from knowing their gear better before class. Taking the time to prepare your equipment is always a smart choice, with reliability the first consideration. Ensure the ammunition functions properly in both the pistol and the magazine(s). There are previous articles to review for details. To be efficient with our resources, zero the sights, whether iron sights or pistol-mounted optics during this process. Since we want to be precise with our zero, we can observe the accuracy potential. Shooting a tight group allows for a better zero which provides great accuracy insight. For those shooting iron sights, it is important to see where the shot group strikes the target when the sights are properly aligned. It also illustrates the shooter’s capabilities.

Build Skill While Learning To Shoot for Groups

Since the shooter will be the wild card, what can you do to improve the odds? Strive to master the marksmanship fundamentals. Reviewing position, grip, aiming, trigger control and follow-through will make any range session more valuable. When shooting, you want to be as consistent as possible to achieve the desired accuracy. The average of your shots at or near the bullseye defines your accuracy. If you were to center the group, it would be close to, if not on, the bullseye. Precision, on the other hand, is how close the shots are to each other. They are the same, yet different. Strive to be accurate first, then precise. Once this is achieved, push the speed while maintaining minimum accuracy standards; hence the 8-inch standard. The final goal is command performance under stress. This means delivering effective fire against the target under any condition at high speeds. But what if our marksmanship skills are not there?

There are various online resources that attempt to demonstrate the accuracy potential of various firearms and ammunition combinations. They offer an interesting perspective, but not a replacement for self-discovery. If you lack the marksmanship fundamentals, I can see the benefit of some of these resources. It is hard to appreciate the information if you struggle with accuracy. The pursuit of accuracy verification as a method to improve our marksmanship will kill two birds with one stone. Not only will we see the shot groups under the best of conditions, but over time we will see these shot groups get smaller and smaller. It is a natural byproduct when striving for accuracy. I suggest discovering this on your own.

The simplest and cheapest way to start is with training ammunition to build skills before using the more expensive defensive ammunition. Using bright-colored bullseyes are great for this task. A small bag or even better, an old sock filled with sand to help support the pistol, will be a huge benefit. Start at the 10-yard line if you’re not sure of your marksmanship skills, to give plenty of room for growth. The goal is to fire a three-round group where all three rounds are within four inches of each other. I like to start shooters out with three rounds because it requires a shorter attention span. Staying focused for only three rounds is easier than trying to stay focused for five rounds. It is a great place to start knowing there is more on the horizon.

Once you can repeatedly deliver four-inch groups, switch to two-inch groups. Reducing the group size by two inches or 50% will be a lot more challenging. The secret will be concentrating on the iron sights for perfect alignment, then aligning the sights on the bullseye in the same location for each shot. Slowly squeeze the trigger without moving the sights, which is why I suggest shooting from a supported position. Something overlooked when shooting for accuracy is breathing—breathe normally to stay relaxed but squeeze the trigger at the same point in your breathing cycle. Once the shot is fired, relax and let the pistol recoil. Start the process all over for the remaining shots. If you incorporate three to five volleys as part of your range session, the gains will come fast. At some point, it is a good idea to move the distance from the 10-yard line to the 15-yard line. Repeat the process only against a four-inch target. The goal is to perform this drill at the 25-yard line with the smallest group you can repeatedly produce.

Defensive ammunition is plenty accurate from the factory. Modern pistols can produce great shot groups when paired with quality ammunition. The challenge is discovering how accurate is the combination. Learning how well the ammunition shoots is an important process. This means having a basic understanding of measurements, such as MOA, and what that equates to at the desired distance. In the process of shooting these groups, we get another confirmation on reliability. Using premium defensive ammunition to shoot evaluates reliability while at the same time demonstrating accuracy performance, followed by using defensive ammunition to properly zero a pistol-mounted optic if one is present. This whole process allows us to improve and demonstrate marksmanship capabilities. Making this a habit improves marksmanship skills over time. The good news is there is no bad news—no matter the outcome, learning is taking place.

About the Author
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Jeff Gonzales

U.S. Navy SEAL Jeff L. Gonzales is a nationally recognized weapons and tactics instructor. He is the founder and CEO of Trident Concepts, LLC., former director of training for The Range at Austin and current podcast host... Learn More