Ballistic Problem Solving – Think, Then Shoot

By Paul Markel

Ballistic Problem Solving - Think, Then Shoot
Ballistic Problem Solving – Think, Then Shoot

LUVERNE, AL –-( We all have to start somewhere. Everyone is a beginner once.

Think back to the days of your “Learner’s Permit” and Driver’s Education classes.

When we first learn to drive every aspect of the car and its operation is new and a bit bewildering. I learned to drive with a standard transmission car. Talk about doing it the hard way.

The Cones
At first, when you go through Driver’s Education, your instructor tells you how to do everything. “Insert the key, depress the brake, turn the ignition, put the car in drive”, etc. Before you are allowed out on the road you go to a wide-open, flat parking lot full of orange cones and practice. After a while, you get pretty good at maneuvering around the cones and you are ready for the challenge of the road. No one goes straight from the cones to their “License Exam”.

You need to learn to work in traffic, to monitor other cars, to deal with unforeseen circumstances.

When you consider firearms training, particularly with a handgun, the path toward mastery is very similar to that of learning to drive. As you begin, every move you make is guided by your instructor. This is how we master the fundamentals.

Unfortunately, far too many gun owners and shooters stop at the square range or what I like to call “the cones”. The cones help you to become a safe operator. However, if you plan to someday use a firearm in the most dynamic and dangerous situation ever, personal defense, you need to get away from the cones and learn to think with a gun in your hand.

Ballistic Problem Solving
The purpose and design of the Ballistic Problem Solving course (BPS) is a get the shooter out of their square range/orange cone comfort zone. During a rapidly developing and hyper-violent deadly force encounter you won’t have a coach to help you work through the problem.

Too often instructors will teach people to become shooting robots. The shooter can’t operate without specific commands and the square range structure. There are firearms instructors and institutions so afraid of armed students that they won’t allow shooters to make a move without specific commands.

Yes, a brand new shooter needs detailed guidance, but we need to help people progress and move forward. Getting stuck in the cones doesn’t help a person learn to deal with the realities of carrying a gun out in the world. The real world has far more things in it that should NOT be shot than things that should.

In the real world, if you put a bullet into something that should not have a bullet in it there are serious consequences for your actions. A bad shot can cost you money (attorney fees and fines), time (court and jail), or even your life in the most extreme circumstances.

Concerning firearms safety, rather than forcing people to become shooting robots, afraid to load their guns without permission, we should provide the best training possible. One of the most profound and practical pieces of advice I received during training came while I attended an NRA LE Pistol and Shotgun course. After going over the 4 Universal Safety Rules with us, the instructor advised, “All safe actions are permitted.”

He went on to give an example. “If you need to load, unload or clear your gun for some reason, move to a position where you aren’t muzzling other shooters and do what you need to do. As long as you don’t violate one of the four rules you’re good.” I was impressed by the logic and simplicity of that guidance.

Thought-Provoking Drills
After a shooter has proven to be a safe operator and understands how to effectively manipulate the gun, it’s time to take off the training wheels. If a person cannot be trusted to handle a firearm in a safe and conscientious manner they should be dismissed. Guns aren’t for everyone.

The most dangerous thing you can teach a shooter is to fire their guns reflexively or without thinking. Snap shooting is a recipe for disaster. During the BPS course, students are put into situations where they must discriminate between targets. Target images of various shapes and with different numbers are placed downrange. Rather than prompt the shooter with a preparatory command, they are instead told to engage the shape or number the instructor calls out. The shooter doesn’t know what shape or number will be called until they hear it. This forces the student to engage their brain and find the correct target before they press the trigger.

Other drills put the shooter in realistic and unusual positions. They might begin from a seated position in a chair or they might be facing away from the target. No one begins a real gunfight standing flatfooted, facing the target with their hand staged like the quintessential western gunfighter. Before launching bullets shooters must move into a position where the target can be effectively engaged.

Ballistic Problem Solving - Think, Then Shoot
Ballistic Problem Solving – Think, Then Shoot

Parting Thoughts
Given the recent event where armed “professionals” fired at a single bad guy and struck nine bystanders, I think a serious discussion of target discrimination is warranted. Square range qualification training doesn’t cut it in the real world.

It’s been said that shooting is ninety percent mental and ten percent physical and I believe that to be true.

A firearm is merely a tool. It’s the mind or the brain that allows the body to use that tool effectively and efficiently.

The world doesn’t need more shooting robots. What the world needs are people who understand how to think and then shoot.

Paul Markel c 2012

About Paul Markel

Follow Paul Markel at Student of the

Paul Markel

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

In regards to the 90% mental, 10% physical, it would seem Steven Kings agrees:

I do not aim with my hand; I aim with my eye.

He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.

I do not shoot with my hand; I shoot with my mind.

He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.

I do not kill with my gun; I kill with my heart.

He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.

~The Dark Tower


An excellent article, thank you…