Lots and lots of things are debated in the world of self-defense…guns, calibers, and tactics.
That’s without a doubt a very good thing. The more we debate and experiment, the more we learn.
Oddly, some things are never debated, or necessarily even talked about.
One such topic is why we aim center mass.
Discussing a subject does not mean we intend to debate it. However, discussion can lead to a better understanding of concepts.
Aiming center mass is good advice, but today we are going to talk about why it’s good advice.
For experienced and well-trained police officers, military members, and concealed carriers, it’s obvious.
For those new to the world of firearms-based self-defense, understanding why we aim for center mass is just as important as aiming center mass.
The subject comes up often; in numerous firearms-based Facebook groups, I see lots of questions and statements.
Lots of “Why can’t I shoot them in the leg?” and lots of bravado talking about “headshots.”
Often the connecting tissue between the two is a lack of experience.
So today, we are going to go in-depth with why you aim center mass and the reasons why limb and headshots often end up being a poor choice for the average self-defender.
We’ll also be realistic and talk center mass downsides, as well as who teaches center mass shooting.
Sound like a plan? Then let’s get to learning!
Table of Contents
What Is Center Mass?
One helpful way to ensure we are on the same page is to all have an understanding of terms.
Center Mass means the torso in the context of a self-defense shooting.
Not all center mass is equal. On the human body, the important portion of center mass sits below the neck, centered in the upper portion of the chest.
Ideally, when you train to shoot center mass, you are aiming at the portion of the chest containing the heart and lungs.
Why Aim Center Mass?
The most obvious reason is that shooting a firearm accurately takes skill. One way to reduce the skill needed to hit a target is to make the target bigger.
When you gaze upon the human body, the largest target is the torso.
Reason number one to aim center mass: the biggest target presented to you. Even at various angles, the torso is the largest target.
In a fight, people move, and the angle presented won’t present as a squared up range-style encounter.
When someone moves, runs, and dives, they might present a small portion of their body. Regardless of the portion presented, the torso presents the largest target.
Don’t believe me? Here’s what former Navy SEAL and Trident Concepts owner Jeff Gonzalez says on the subject:
“Most defensive gun uses are fast, chaotic and happen with little warning. The average person is always playing catch up since they must respond to the deadly force threat. Add stress and little to no training makes delivering your fire to the largest target zone available your top priority.”
Gonzales continued, “Typically, the largest target zone will be the upper thoracic chest region or ‘center of mass’ where vital life processes such as the body’s ability to produce and transport oxygenated blood reside.”
We’re pretty sure he knows what he’s talking about since he pioneered some incredible advances for defensive training and runs one of the best combative and defensive shooting training schools.
Of the torso, the chest happens to be the widest portion of the body. That’s great because the chest is also the home of the heart and the lung. Both are virtual organs and necessary for a fight.
When you aim at center mass, you increase your chance of both hitting the target and hitting a vital organ in the target.
If you want to stop a bad guy, shot placement is key. Hitting the bad guy in the chest is not just easier but exercises proper shot placement.
Hit a bad guy in the chest, and they are more likely to be out of the fight. Aim small, miss small should also be mentioned.
If you aim at the chest but hit wide or hit low, you are still hitting the bad guy. If you aim for the logo on his shirt, you’ll probably still hit his torso.
Sure the shot might not be the best for stopping a bad guy, but pain compliance can often end a fight as well.
Aiming for center mass ensures the safety of others as well. When a bullet hits the torso, it’s less likely to over-penetrate.
Over penetration is when a round goes through your target and continues forward.
A round over penetrating the target can strike another person and kill or wound them.
When you shoot a person’s torso, the thicker portion of the body often ensures the round does not over-penetrate and travels on to hurt another person.
What About Headshots?
Without a doubt, headshots will stop a threat outright.
Being able to hit a target in the brain housing group is an almost guaranteed means to turn the lights off.
Headshots can be hard to hit, though.
It’s a much smaller target than the torso. Even at 15-yards, hitting a moving target as small as a head is rather difficult.
Add in a dose of adrenaline, and your heart pumping rapidly, and it gets a little tougher.
Want to try it out? Do 20 burpees and try to hit a stationary target in the head at 15-yards. Now imagine that target is running towards you or moving to cover or pointing a long gun at you.
It’s a tough shot to make for most shooters.
A missed shot means you have a round shrieking through the air and carrying with the potential to harm another person. A missed headshot isn’t just a missed headshot, but a round sent wildly into the world.
One firearm safety rule is to know your target and what lies beyond it.
What lies beyond is pretty dang important!
Just Shoot Them In the Leg!
We see these a lot from people with often good intentions but poor knowledge of firearms.
Shooting someone in the leg or arm is suggested so a potential bad guy can be wounded but not killed.
Well, there are a few problems with that theory.
Getting shot in the leg is not a way to guarantee the person won’t die. The femoral artery could be hit, and the bad guy would bleed out quickly and easily.
Second, like the head, limbs are always moving. Limbs and arms move and groove quite a bit during a fight.
As targets, they can be long but are often thin compared to the rest of the body.
Not only are they hard to hit, but when hit, the likelihood of over-penetration is very real.
You really can’t win in this scenario.
Who Teaches Center Mass?
Everyone in the industry teaches center mass. At least for self-defense shooting.
Sure, police and military instructors will likely train professional gunfighters for headshots in certain scenarios, but center mass is the go-to 99% of the time.
Center mass shots are the industry standard for a reason.
When you have an industry that loves to argue all agree on one thing; it’s worth paying attention to.
As an infantryman, our training was all about center mass shots.
It can be rather difficult to hit a guy in the head in a gunfight, even for trained soldiers and Marines. Headshots require a slower, well-placed shot.
Heck, sometimes we trained to hit the body multiple times before transitioning to a headshot.
In terms of limb shots, I’ve never received training, outside of less-lethal shotgun, to take limb shots.
Downside to Aiming Center Mass
Nothing is 100% good at all times. Surely there have to be downsides, right?
Yep, there are a few downsides to acknowledge when focusing on center mass training.
Body armor exists and has become quite affordable. Body armor commonly covers the torso and can make your shots less effective.
That said, criminal use of body armor is rare, and this is more of an issue for police and the military.
Even when you get hit in the armor, the best-case scenario is getting the wind knocked out of you.
Worst case, you are dealing with broken ribs and potential internal bleeding. So it’s not like body armor defeats center mass shots completely!
Also, if a bad guy is aiming a firearm at you, their arms, hands, and firearms often get in the way of a chest shot. Even when a bad guy is armed with a melee weapon, they tend to keep their arms tucked in.
This can slow down or deflect a bullet and make it difficult for center mass shots to reach their intended target.
However, these two downsides still aren’t enough reason not to train center mass shots.
Especially if you are a concealed carrier, shooting center mass increases your ability to stop a target and end the threat.
While there might be more guaranteed ways to put down an assailant — like head shots — these only work if you land the shot. Aiming for center mass will give you the best chances to land your shots.
When it comes to a gunfight — nothing is certain. All we can do is train our hardest and learn what techniques have the highest chance of successfully stopping an altercation.
What say you? How do you train for center mass shots? Let us know your thoughts and tactics. Now that we’ve settled this debate, what about weapon lights? Do they make you a target? Come see in Can a Weapon Mounted Light Make You a Target?