Understanding The Defensive Double

What to do when it's not "one and done."

posted on March 10, 2023
Sheriff Jim Wilson

Contrary to what one sees in the movies and television, defensive handgun cartridges rarely cause a dynamic physical reaction on the part of those hit. I have seen men hit at fairly close range with the .45 ACP and with the .357 Mag. and in either case, there was no immediate, noticeable physical reaction. The handgun is a good defensive tool simply because it is more portable than a rifle or shotgun. As a fight stopper it leaves something to be desired.

For this reason, we generally suggest delivering two shots to the vital zone when forced to use deadly force to defend yourself. Two shots double the chances of incapacitation and bringing the fight to a quick end. Delivering this pair of shots can be divided into two techniques: the hammer and the controlled pair.

The hammer applies to close-range engagements. The shooter sees the front sight against the target and quickly presses the trigger twice. He or she then quickly comes back on target, reacquires the is front sight and evaluates the need for further action.

The controlled pair is used at slightly longer ranges. In this case, as quickly as the shooter is able to deliver accurate shots, they see the front sight and press the shot. Then they quickly reacquire the front sight and press the second shot. Finally, they reacquires the front sight and evaluates the need for further action.

In either case it is important to recover and get back on target to see what effect, if anything, the shots have had. Did the threat go down and, if so, does that threat still have a weapon and capable of using it? Is the threat still on his feet and posing a danger?

If the bad guy has taken two hits to the center of his chest and is still on his feet and creating an active threat, it doesn’t make much sense to keep shooting at the center of the chest. It could be body armor, or drug induced, it really doesn’t matter. The smart thing to do might be to go for a head shot and get the whole thing stopped.

It would be a mistake to fail to stay focused on the threat until you are certain that there is no longer a threat to yourself or others with you. And it would be a mistake to bring the handgun down to a ready position until that determination has been made. The delivery of a defensive pair is not a matter of “shoot twice and stop.” Instead, we deliver the pair, recover immediately, and take further action if needed.


High speed gear
High speed gear

High Speed Gear Celebrates 25 Years of Innovation

The company began in 1999, producing equipment for members of the U.S. Marine Corps.

First Look: Viridian Lasers for the Rossi Brawler

New aiming options for Rossi’s single-shot .410/.45 Colt pistol.

First Look: New Caliber Options for the Robinson XCR Rifle

6mm ARC and 8.6 Blackout are now available for this versatile line of rifles.

Review: Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 SMU Rifle

The feel of shooting an AR-15 with the ammo costs of .22LR.

Visual Process

Let your eyes fire the gun.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.