Are You Good Enough to Take a Head Shot When Everything is On the Line? - ITS Tactical

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Are You Good Enough to Take a Head Shot When Everything is On the Line?

By Jeff Gonzales


In light of the recent suicide bombings in Belgium, how prepared are you when it comes to taking a high percentage shot? How good of a shot are you when it counts the most?

Good Enough


While there’s still a lot of information making its way to the public on the recent Islamic terrorist attacks in Belgium, one thing comes to mind; are you good enough to make a head shot? While I’m speaking mainly to our domestic Law Enforcement, I’d extend this question to anyone who finds themselves in harm’s way.

Years ago, I was asked about the effectiveness of a head shot from a pistol. There’s no doubt they’ll produce a result, but the question we all wonder is if it’s the result we’re looking for; immediate incapacitation.

It’s a Come As You Are War


Head shots with a rifle tend to be more favorable when aimed at the head for lots of reasons, but the reality is you probably won’t have a rifle with you, so let’s just put that to bed. You’ll likely be forced to respond with a pistol, whether from your duty belt or concealed carry. After all, the main reason we carry a pistol is for convenience first, lethality second.

There are several different strategies floating around the internet on how to deal with this type of situation, but immediately incapacitating the threat is the tactical imperative. Many suicide devices are detonated using a switch, not a “kill” switch, just a switch the wearer depresses at his or her time of choosing.

Welcome to the Nightmare


If you fail to immediately incapacitate, you may find the target still has the ability to depress a button, most likely taped to their hand so as not to be dropped or taken. If you look at the recent bombings you’ll notice the suicide bombers wore gloves. This concealed the switch mechanisms even further, but more importantly, made them inaccessible to bystanders.

So if you fail to immediately incapacitate, it makes sense to consider the target would still be combat effective. In this case, combat effective implies that they’re capable of depressing a switch that’s possibly taped to their hand and concealed with a glove.

What If?

What if you find yourself in this situation? What’s the maximum distance you can guarantee a head shot? I love hearing how folks comment on their ability to make this shot easily at 25 yards. Generating the immediate incapacitation we’re looking for means the target is smaller than the head itself. Basically you’re looking at the base of the brainstem, or about a four inch target.

Now how far can you guarantee that hit? I feel it’s safe to say 10 yards. That’s right, a measly ten yards from an explosive device. While you may want to be much further outside the blast radius, your skill may prevent that luxury. In addition, while I mention head shot in the singular tense, I’d want to place several rounds into the target zone, thus increasing my chances of neutralizing the threat.

Don’t Kid Yourself


All of this places a high demand on the shooter, probably higher than you’ll ever imagine. If you fail to incapacitate and they detonate a bomb, you may be responsible for countless lives loss. Though that may be an eventuality you can’t control, it would suck to know they depressed the switch after your failed attempt.

My point is this, if you haven’t been practicing shooting reduced targets at extended ranges, then don’t kid yourself. All the techniques out there that circumvent marksmanship principles will be of little use in this situation. Does it warrant a change to your training philosophy? Maybe. It means accepting reality and either going with it or doing something different.

Realistic Expectations

One final thing I’d like to mention is target discrimination. Yes, that pesky notion of positively identifying the threat and in this case, a suicide bomber. Early photographs show them in bulky clothing; it’s still spring and current temperatures probably wouldn’t rouse suspicion. How would you know they’re a suicide bomber?

Have you been studying available information regarding mannerisms and appearances? If so, is that enough to justify your head shot? This is an incredibly challenging incident and one we better start preparing for, or at the very least discussing from a realistic capability standpoint.

To my friends in blue, train hard and be ready.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Jeff Gonzales was a decorated and respected US Navy SEAL, serving as an operator and trainer who participated in numerous combat operations throughout the world. He now uses his modern warfare expertise as President of Trident Concepts, LLC., a battle proven company specializing in weapons, tactics and techniques to meet the evolving threat. Bringing the same high-intensity mindset, operational success and lessons learned from NSW to their training programs, TRICON has been recognized as an industry leader by various federal, state and local units. Organizations interested in training with TRICON can call 928-925-7038 or visit for more info.

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  • VA_Mob_Member

    ITStactical Lord I hope and pray I never have to find out

  • bullitt4686

    You mean, it isn’t like the movies where one abdomen round completely incapacitates the bad guy?  Really?

    You know, under duress, moving target, LOTS of others running toward you (away from the bad guy), even when closing the distance, 10 yards is still a difficult shot to make it to the brain stem.  I agree with Mom Member, I hope I never have to find out.  Really not sure that I would even take that shot.

  • Jerry Tiedeman

    at 30 yards

  • Daniel Espinoza

    Do we know what kind of device they used under the gloved hands yet? What if it was dead man switch.

    • Chris Hazel

      Those are infrequently used and certainly over-hyped. More likely is the remote triggerman.

    • Daniel Espinoza

      Yeah it’s a far stretch

    • Curtis Rowe

      I’d rather them die by getting shot with my pork covered bullets.

    • Jon Maxwell

      Turns out they have problems with people taking off the vests or not detonating them. Most are now attached to the rib catch and detonated by a remote triggerman. Shooting the person wearing it doesn’t stop it.

  • Steve Smith

    I can and will.

  • Mitch Erwin

    There are very few that could! That’s all I’ll say…….

  • Brian Drost Sr.

    I train on head shots only

  • Jay Harris

    I’m working on it. 18 yards and working my way to longer shots.

    • Matt Cannon

      Not bad, what firearm are you using? Rifle or pistol?

    • Jay Harris

      M&P9c except the head. That is with g17. I just got the glock so I’m still learning the break on the trigger.

  • bill_mullen

    kc8ysl I’m not sure yet, so I’ll go for body first and then head shots.

  • Lupe Riv Aguiere

    Yes 1sec conceld draw double face tap massad is .07 sec

  • Jim Caraker

    Now? Yes.
    6 months from now if I haven’t practiced consistently? Not so much.

  • Curtis Rowe

    I know I’ll take the shot, whether it’s the first or third that hits him…

  • David Stoeckl

    Yes. Then again, I’ve had more practice than most. It’s harder to get to a range now, but hey…

  • Sean Swanger

    Upper torso hits work just fine. Aiming for the head isn’t necessary.

  • bullitt4686

    I read below several folks that think they would take the shot at the shooter in the Aurora Theater shooting also.  :phhhtsh:

  • Blake Presson

    I practice 25yd headshots every time i go out to shoot.

  • Matt Cannon

    As a military combat veteran, yes. But… just because we are trained doesnt actually mean 100% accuracy 100% of the time. So to everyone who feels they arent up to par dont worry, as most veterans like myself have trouble with this as well. Lots of things need to be taken into account when it comes to taking any shot regardless if its to the head or not. Just practice practice practice 🙂

  • Rob

    The point made about Target Discrimination reminds me of a case in the UK – a Brazilian national, Jean Charles de Menezes. He was shot around seven times in the head, at close range, in a case of mistaken identity.

  • Taylor Rocha

    a “headshot” will not always do it. #themoreyoutzone

  • Twix Wrapper

    training, YES. Good enough, You can tell me AFTER I take the shot, because I would not hessitate for a heartbeat.

  • David Campero

    T zone smarter not harder

  • Ronald Wickline

    Yes, still train 2 to the torso and one to the head with sidearm and have a high confidence in my abilities at pistol distances. I agree with Matt Cannon, nothing in life is a sure thing and practice, practice, practice.

  • John P. Christensen

    Suicide bomber? What happens when his finger comes off the button? Better hope your far away taking that shot.

    • Glee Raymond

      Yep, my thoughts also. You do not know if there is a dead man switch until too late

    • Chris Enslow

      Are you willing to go down with that suicide bomber? I am and would not hesitate to shoot if given the clean shot.

  • Shelby Barringer

    Good enough to “make” a head shot. You don’t want to “take” one.

  • Chris Enslow

    Dumbest question ever. High caliber .45 center mass is the shot you need to take. It’s the caliber and stopping power – and the rapid loss of blood pressure that takes down an assailant. I’ll take my chances with a double tap in the thoracic cavity – thank you very much.

    • Nicholas van Amen

      rounds on target > caliber/stopping power

    • Billy Twowolf Hall

      What if your phone shooting into vest full of blow your ass up most if tge chemicals rgere are ysung are unsrabke enough a shock could set them iff

    • Chris Enslow

      ^I would reply if I could, but…

    • Juston Hutson

      If he’s wearing a suicide vest your gonna get people killed, thus this thread on head shots

    • Brent Driscoll

      Double tap? Shoot til they stop.

    • BryanWatts

      This isn’t a discussion about assailants. Nor does a .45 provide more “stopping power”. Check the deep.

  • Robert Huskey

    I got 5 headshots out of 8 with a 1911 .45acp from 15′ on my 2nd time shooting my new pistol.

  • John M Cross

    Why are you shooting at Bruce Wills targets!?!?!

  • Bryan Mcfarlane

    Just like mat, I’m a military vet and I’m also LE. In any situation lots of thinks can come int play. And you have to train train and then train some more. Once you get some good range time where you know where your round is going to hit, them I have to mix other crap into it. I’m not saying anything that other vets haven’t already done or experienced in real life. I practice/ train for hostage situations at 100 yards or less under less that ideal situations at multiple targets at different ranges at less than 150 yrds. I set up the range the way I want it. Usually 3 targets, 1 at 125, 1 at 80-90 the other at 50-60 yrds. The first 2 are head shots and the other is a 1″ target for trigger, breathing and body control. Once the targets are set up I back up 80 yrds the run up to the gun, do 15 push ups Load the first 5 rnds. Cold bore shot into 100 yrd target, shift to 80 yrd that are about 100 feet apart at that range. Then back and forth between the 2 targets untill all the rounds are gone, all shot are almost as fast as you can and get good shots. Load up 5 more rounds, go to the trigger control target. take my time. Put it all together for 5 clean, accurate shots

  • Tracy Mathias

    Group of Middle Eastern Men just arrested in California , shooting Guns for hours , screaming allah akbar , and wearing turbans .

  • Jake Andrews

    This question bis exactly I switched to a revolver. When everything’s on the line I wanted to he 110% sure I could take that shot

    • BryanWatts

      I’m not following the logic.

    • Bryan Watts

      I’m not following the logic.

    • Jake Andrews

      I’ve found revolvers are more consistently accurate for a smaller price. Can’t afford to accurize a glock at the moment however they are still relatively accurate

  • Trent Moonshower

    All this talk and even if u do make the perfect shot the fn thing may still boom and kill if near a crowd

  • Canadian LoneWolf

    I completely agree with the author of the article, a head shot is the only way to go. If you are not willing to take that shot, and not confident in your skill, you may cause much more harm then you think. Jeff Gonzales has already covered the fact that anything shy of an instant kill could still permit the bomber to detonate his device, but the other possibility hasn’t been mentioned. The media mentioned today the most commonly used explosive by these people is TATP (tri-acetone tri-peroxide), anyone who has handled TATP knows how EXTREMELY shock sensitive it is. If the target has the device in a suitcase, that’s one thing, but if it’s contained in something like a vest, then a body shot is just as likely to detonate that device, as the trigger itself. There is nothing stable about TATP. Unlike C4, if you so much as drop it to hard, or hit it with a hammer, odds are you will never know you fucked up. A bullet would undoubtedly have the same effect. If you have what it takes to draw, DO NOT shoot to wound. One shot, One kill!
    … and I say again, I wish as Canadians we were permitted to carry.

  • Desmond Robertson

    Yes I could make that shot 999 times out of 1000.
    but it is not the best location to stop the problem.
    there are dead man switches. and last command muscle movement all factors.
    for your information a friend of mine took a 45 to the head at point blank. back of the head and passed threw his left eye and he still was able to shoot back (yes he is still alive)
    You have to look at all options like is the rotator cup a good location to disable the arm to prevent detonation? or how about the hand?
    if you are going to pack you need to be able to think FAST target FAST and know that some times you will make a bad call.
    When you have to kill it will mess with your head for years (I know this 1st hand)
    3″ above the belt is a good zone (may not kill right away but it will disable right away and lots of room for adrenaline missing with enugh mass to prevent 2nday hits (most rounds will not pass all the way thru that zone)

  • Zach Floyd

    With a .45, anything is possible

    • daxwes

      I met a guy in the Emergency ward of Garden Grove, CA hospital that had a .45 bullet between his skull and the skin surface just above his left ear.  The entrance wound wasn’t bleeding due to the swelling.  He was quite lucid and only complained of a “bad headache”.  He survived it, no problem.  His friends literally dropped him off on the driveway and left, wheels spinning.  Nice.  The .45 is not an “off switch”.

  • Justin M Dougherty

    First try at this but not too bad.

  • Michael Herbert

    through the mustache sever the MO and instant flaccid paralysis.

  • Bryan Mcfarlane

    Desmond, lots o people with practice can make that shot when you can calmly shoot at the paper target calm down and squeeze the trigger. Oops missed just alittle. Hit the good guy let me try again.
    That wasn’t my point of what I was trying to say. The point is to make sure you can you make the shot under stress, right now, and put the rifle round in the “T” ( your switch) without hitting the good guy. A lot of people can do that too, but many more may not be confident if they could. That is the drill I do to keep sharp. If you can run 80 yrds and get behind your rifle and shoot 5 rnds in 15 second and hit all of them accurately in a 1-2″ square 100 yrds, awsome.
    Your not surviving a 223 or a 308 in the eyeball.
    It’s only a drill to keep sharp
    I was discriding my rifle drill not pistols

    • Desmond Robertson

      there is that point low light and moving is good too for most the time you will be in low light and the target will be moving.
      for stress simulation use a strolight and sudden noises.
      (I also do 5 rounds per outing with out ear protection so my own gun fire will not mess with my shooting)

    • RogerDane

      Absolutely. Increase heart rate, BP, respiration… you might add a few
      friends yelling at you or simply standing next to you and emptying a mag
      down range as you setup your shot and take it… anything that adds to
      the “adrenaline”. Used to run some 50 yards and drop and do as many
      pushups as I could (to failure) and “then” try to hit a 25 yd 6″ paper
      plate walking in… add to the physiological stress and you can get
      closer to what it is like under incoming… ‘closer’.

  • Marvin Hogg

    head shots on paper targets are nice nut strokers, but when the stress level is defcon 5 and your life or death is .01 of a second away, aim for the center of mass. Save the head shots for call of duty or another day at the range.

    • David Royal

      Always, and unload on them

    • Mark Armstrong

      What if that is your only clear shot?

    • Justin Ortega

      Definitely not shooting center of mass on a suicide bomber might not be the greatest idea just saying

    • Keith Tango Swearingen

      are we really that ignorant to believe that,
      1- the suicide bomber would announce themselves.
      2- you would / could process, draw, aquire (in a sea of people) and shoot.
      cause if you’re that close…..
      you’re gonna be a victim.

  • Matthew Crump

    Just here for the keyboard warrior comments about how they could make the shot.
    No you couldn’t. Not unless you’ve got experience in real life situations and lots of it.

    • Matt Cannon

      Lol well the thing about ITS posts is you wont find any “keyboard warrior comments” as most of us are ex military and the majority of us are combat veterans with years of experience under our belt.

    • RobertMoody

      Then how does anybody survive their first “real life situation”?

  • Canadian LoneWolf

    This article has certainly spurred an excellent conversation, and some very valid points all around.
    Koodoes to all, and thank you ITS for providing the forum for such conversations.

  • Jonathan Chamblee

    Headshot doesn’t solve anything when a deadman switch is involved.

  • Mark B. White

    I am amazed by the armchair qb’s on here. You all do know that shooting paper, stationary paper is good, but paper doesn’t move nor shoot back, right? You can post up all the targets in the world of your wonderful practice sessions, but taking that shot is 100% last resort. I think you would save more lives by getting others out of harm’s way from the alleged bomber. Your own too. I definitely don’t want to be around someone who is overconfident in taking this shot. No way you have ever been in this situation or anything like it. If you are “comfortable” taking this shot, you need to train more. Period…

  • cdennisg

    The bottom line seems that training should work the basics. Sight picture, breathe control, and trigger discipline. Otherwise all the mall ninja tactics in the world won’t deal with this situation.

    • cdennisg I would say work on skill sets so they are more instinctive. Automatic in nature by training under stress. Many times the basics get thrown out the window under stress, so train under stress seems to be a viable solution

  • Stationary target “Practice” is in no way shape or form even close to what you need to save someone in a hostage situation! Also you may learn some stuff from reading this article – Training Scars –

  • Keep it moving!

  • Randy Strauss

    Good question. Without a doubt about 10 years ago. Today? I’m not so sure. But, I’d probably take the shot anyway simply because if I’m off I simply didn’t neutralize the threat…which was going to happen if I didn’t take the shot, anyway.

  • Lori Straley

    I am just glad my dad owned a gun shop for years when I was little and have had the opportunity to shoot an AK47. I feel pretty confident I could take someone down. The closer range the better in my opinion so as not to shoot any innocent bystanders and yes I would aim for heart/abdomin area because as others have commented that under pressure your hands will be shaking!!!

  • Dave Schwartz

    The dead man’s switch triggers if you shoot him in the head. You have to shoot the battery.

  • Strych9

    To me this question is mostly academic. 

    While there might be a time you encounter a guy with an S-vest that’s taken hostages and if you’re responding to it, or one you’re of the hostages, a head shot might be the only option. 

    However, most of the time when a suicide bomber is involved the first warning you’re going to have that he REALLY is a suicide bomber is going to be him yelling “Allah Akbar!” followed immediately by him detonating his vest or trying to (it could be a dud). 

    Sure, if your head is on a swivel you might have caught on to his behavior and be trying to stay “left of bang” but in reality the time interval between you knowing FOR SURE you need to drop THIS guy and him going off like the HMS Hood isn’t enough time for you to draw, aim and fire or even just aim and fire.

  • MossyRoofTop

    Istanbul Airport Attack 06/28/2016

    Looks to me a head shot in this particular case would’ve helped. The vid is blurry, but i figure there would be time to go for the head shot.

  • BrianCuprisin

    “If you fail to incapacitate and they detonate a bomb, you may be responsible for countless lives loss.”
    I am not responsible for lost lives. The bomber is responsible.

  • dbass

    One thing to keep in mind when practicing is you won’t have much time to aim. Practice hitting target as quickly as possible because once you draw on anyone well trained you just became the’re next target. 

    Even 10-yards is a little stretch for most people once the heart rate goes up. Best way to get a real idea of how hard this shoot is going to be; do three sets of as many push-ups as you can then try to draw from the holster and fire within 10-sec of the gun becoming level.

  • ColtStacy

    Add stress to the situation and adrinaline and you probably have a miss to your target. Training years ago when i thought i was rambo a hard core instructor told me most gunfights take place between 5 to 8 ft on the streets and the good guy that has trained alot misses his first and or second shot due stress. It was hard to believe at that time. But as time went on and found myself in similiar situation i found out its true. Double tap to the chest and a well placed between the eyes is a good drill. But a single to the 3 ring for the first shot and first one on scene, well id say we all better get to training harder.

  • Alex Fraser

    Mustache line to eyebrows right? Middle of nose? That’s what I learned from J. Farnam. Probably out to 75 feet with current skills if I have a laser on my P-32 or Smith 638 or 36. Otherwise, 30 to maybe 45 feet without laser. Okay, with adrenaline dump? 30 to 45 feet with laser? Add to that the problems of identifiying who the jihadi is….hey, how about the deep state stops fuckin with President Donnie, lets him isolate America, start the corrupt mafia public works project for the deplorables and the ghetto, stop fuckin with the middle east and Afghanistan, etc etc….oh right, the imperialists and neocons couldn’t dominate the world then…..

  • RugerDan

    Another question is, “do most people take the time to sight-in their weapon with their carry ammo?” This means shooting your gun from a rest or sand-bags and making sure it hits where the sights are pointed.

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