Lucky McDaniel

Lucky McDaniel

Bobby Lamar “Lucky” McDaniel (1925 – 1986) was a marksmanship instructor who taught what he called “instinct shooting” to bird hunters and peace officers off and on from 1953 until 1982, using a Daisy lever-action air rifle BB gun without sights as his basic training-aid.


While his shooting technique is often categorized as point shooting, the key characteristic of his technique is a split-second point-and-shoot move. He taught approximately 100,000 people his method of shooting— mostly bird hunters and law enforcement officers. The bird hunters included ex-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Henry Ford II, John Wayne, Audie Murphy, and key executives of the Remington and Winchester firearms companies.

From 1967 to 1973, McDaniel was an instructor for the U.S. Army, where he instructed infantrymen instinct shooting with the service rifle in jungle or urban warfare. The Army employed his training course for some years under the program name, “Quick Kill;” . [ [,9171,899618,00.html?iid=chix-sphere Quick Kill - TIME ] ] Beginning in the late 1970s, McDaniel taught combat shooting at Mitchell WerBel III’s facility called, “The Farm,” located in Powder Springs, Georgia, where a number of Israelis, among others, were trained.


As a young boy, McDaniel honed his own hand-eye coordination by spending his summers at his grandparents' farm in Middle Georgia in the 1930s. Money was scarce, and he often hunted for dinner with a .22 rifle and a .410 shotgun. He was expected to bring back one rabbit or squirrel or game bird per cartridge fired - he usually did. Thereafter, as a teenage pool hustler in Warner Robins, Georgia, he earned the nickname "Lucky". Later, McDaniel became a route man for the U.S. Tobacco Company, moving stocks of Brown's Mule chewing tobacco, Brewton's Dental snuff, and Sano cigarettes to crossroads country-stores in rural Georgia. To entertain the storekeepers in the early 1950s, he would hip-shoot his Daisy BB rifle without sights, and hit ants scurrying along the floorboards, or flies roosting momentarily on window sills. As his grand finale, Lucky would throw a BB up in the air, shoulder and shoot his BB gun at it, and hit the thrown BB every time.

Bystanders said they would pay McDaniel to teach them to shoot like that - in Georgia, bird hunting is a source of food, a social skill, and a competitive sport. In 1954, McDaniel began teaching instinct shooting full-time. His training courses for bird hunters and for police officers lasted about four hours each. Initially, McDaniel taught the basics of instinct shooting to both of those groups using the cheapest 400-shot Daisy lever-action air rifle available, with the sights removed. Its relatively-weak spring would propel the BB through the air slowly, so the student would have an easier time tracking the flight of the BB. (Later, Daisy built a BB rifle to McDaniel's specifications.)

Two books, "Instinct Shooting" and "Lucky McDaniel's Secrets to Shooting", are devoted to McDaniel's training techniques. He was written up in a wide variety of magazines (particularly in the 1950s), including "Time", "Saturday Evening Post", "Sports Illustrated" and "Guns". Nevertheless, McDaniel left behind him a stream of thoroughly-bewildered customers and journalists. They understood that they had been taught to perform spectacular feats of marksmanship within an extremely-short training period, but they could not match up McDaniel's training techniques with anything else in their experience- his techniques flew in the face of the conventional wisdom of that era regarding both the ways by which humans learn to perform manual skills, and the then-mutually-agreed-upon physical limitations of human capabilities.

McDaniel had, in fact, intuited effective procedures for training the subconscious mind to direct the body to perform manual tasks (in this case, shooting to hit certain types of targets) more rapidly and with greater precision than could be attained by the conscious mind. In the 1950s, however, kinesiology (specifically, proprioception and proprioceptive feedback), and cognitive ergonomics to speed the development of procedural memory, were not well understood, and there were no obvious parallels within the American teaching-profession by which to judge the significance and ramifications of McDaniel's approach. It went largely unremarked outside of a small segment of the shooting fraternity. McDaniel, however, routinely trained shooters to attain performance levels of such speed and precision, and within such a short timeframe, that his training program remains unmatched today. Accordingly, it still offers useful insights half a century later.

McDaniel's most-obvious contributions to instinct-shooting instruction were two-fold. First, after analyzing via time-and-motion studies all of the moves involved in shouldering, pointing, and firing the rifle or shotgun instinctively, or in quick-drawing and hip-shooting the handgun, McDaniel minimized the number of moves required to point and fire the gun at the target; and at the same time, he minimized the number of joints in the body left mobile (i.e., the variables) which the subconscious mind would have to control in order to direct the muscles of the body to point and shoot the gun accurately. Second, he developed a remarkably-effective training program (of motor learning) to teach the student’s subconscious mind how to quickly solve all of the guidance-and-control problems involved, and how to use those solutions to direct the relevant muscles to point and fire the gun so as to hit the target, without conscious thought on the part of the shooter (except to select the target and initiate the process). The key factor was the use of feedback to correct for a positioning error, by directing the student to always try to bracket the target with the next shot, rather than attempt to hit it directly. This was the fast track for training the subconscious mind to attain such dazzling accuracy so quickly. (In his 1980 book, McDaniel called that key factor “proprioceptive feedback.”)

As a potentially-valuable by-product, McDaniel's firearms-training programs provided results capable of shocking the society into the realization that it still knew very little about the potential capabilities of human performance, and how to train people to perform really well the fine motor-skills that are of such critical importance in our machine-dominated society, such as driving automobiles, riding motorcycles, flying airplanes, operating power boats, etc. But that did not happen, so the society’s yearnings for a quantum leap in human capabilities- as represented by the popularity of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel "Dune", and Robert A. Heinlein’s "Stranger in a Strange Land", and later, by "The Force" featured in George Lucas' "Star Wars" films--remain today a largely-unrealized dream.

Lucky McDaniel’s basic-training program with the sightless bb gun

Sport psychology was a vital component of McDaniel’s courses. To train a student, he would, as his first step, casually throw small targets (empty .22-short cartridge cases, or aspirin tablets, or bbs) up in the air, and just as casually shoot and hit them in flight with his BB gun. This move would establish firmly in the student's mind that such shooting-skills were indeed attainable, and that McDaniel had mastered them, and therefore that he probably knew whereof he spoke. Consequently, the student was usually willing to accept McDaniel’s instruction as valid, and thereafter to do exactly as he was told, without objection.

McDaniel preferred to use copper-coated BBs, which sparkled in the sunlight; and he selected safe shooting-locations that were not ringed with tall trees, so that when looking up, the student would see only the thrown aerial-target and the fired BB against a background of open sky. The object was to make it as easy as possible for the student to track the path of the fired BB through the air in relation to the target. (McDaniel always insisted that the student wear sunglasses or safety goggles, in case a BB ricocheted off a target and hit the student in the face--as occasionally happened.)

Initially, McDaniel would have the student practice shouldering and shooting the BB gun while pointing it up in the air, with no target to shoot at. He would tell the student to stand with his feet spread a foot and a half apart, with his left foot six inches ahead of his right foot if he were right-handed; his knees slightly bent; and the majority of his weight on the leading foot. (This was the preferred stance for all of McDaniel’s instinct-shooting courses.) Then, looking up in the sky, the student would shoulder the cocked BB gun and focus—with both eyes wide open—on a point two feet beyond the muzzle of the BB gun as he pulled the trigger. That way, the student could most-easily track the flight of the BB that was shot from the gun. When the student could track the fired BB regularly, McDaniel would begin throwing up aerial targets for him to shoot at.

The initial target was generally a flat washer the size of a silver dollar. McDaniel would balance it on the third finger of his right hand, and loft it straight up in the air in such a way that it would remain parallel to the ground as it rose and then fell; and he would give it a spin for stability with his thumb and forefinger as it left his hand. He would throw it up it a foot or so out in front of the student, so that it would rise 10 or 12 feet, and then fall straight down again. McDaniel would tell the student to hold his gun at a high port-arms (diagonally in front of him with the barrel tilted up) initially, and to be looking up in the air. When the washer entered the student’s field of view, he would focus upon it and follow its flight, and at the same time, move both forearms to pivot the gun to seat the butt against his shoulder with the stock against his cheek; and he would pull the trigger the instant the gun was seated.

What was happening was this: as the washer rose up in the air, the student's head would also tilt upward as he tracked its flight. Thus, at the instant the gun was seated against his shoulder and his cheek, it would be aligned to match fairly closely--at that one moment--the position of the rising flat-washer in its trajectory. Accordingly, the student’s subconscious mind then had very little fine-tuning to do to direct the muscles of his left arm to point the gun so the fired bb would hit the target. Five important factors were involved here. First, in shouldering the air rifle, the student would never bend his head so as to press his cheek against the gunstock; instead, he would shoulder the gun in such a way that the gunstock would be pressed against his cheek with his head still erect (i.e., he would move the gun to accommodate his head, not his head to accommodate the gun). Second, he would consistently shoulder the gun exactly the same way each time. Third, he would never hesitate before pulling the trigger, but would pull it the instant the gun was seated against his shoulder and his cheek: basically, he was making a controlled snap-shot. (If he delayed the shot and tried to track the washer and align his gun with his conscious mind, he could never become proficient at this type of shooting.) Fourth, the student never once looked at the gun barrel; instead, he stared at the flat washer until he pulled the trigger, and then he focused upon the flight of the bb he had shot, to see where it would go in relation to the washer. And fifth, McDaniel would cock the bb gun for the student for each shot, so as to avoid tiring the student and spoiling his concentration. It was not enough for the student merely to perceive the flight of the aerial target; he had to focus and concentrate solely upon it for McDaniel’s training program to work. If the student began tiring, McDaniel would declare a short rest-period. The student had to concentrate his full attention upon the target.

(In shooting at aerial targets, the basic difference between this method and the one commonly used by professional trick-shot artists such as Ad Topperwein is that many of the trick-shooters employ a different kind of timing of the shot as a key ingredient. They wait until the rising target has almost stopped rising. Then, aiming carefully, they shoot just below that point; and the target stops and then falls into the path of the bullet. That type of shooting generally requires either unusual natural-ability or years of practice to master. McDaniel's method does not employ that sort of timing. Instead, it uses a carefully-controlled form of snap shooting to hit the target at any point along its trajectory; and that method trains the subconscious mind for any and all of the practical types of instinct shooting to follow--birdhunting; combat shooting at reasonable distances with the rifle; or quickdraw and hipshooting with the modern handgun for emergency self-defense.)

The next step in McDaniel’s basic-training program was to teach the student's subconscious mind to solve the various guidance-and-control problems involved in hitting the aerial target, by computing the varying parallax between his direct line-of-sight and the trajectory of the bb fired from the gun held alongside his head, as a function of time; and also to identify and extrapolate the trajectory of the lofted flat-washer, and its ever-decreasing rate of climb; and then to compute the time-to-target of the fired bb, so as to direct the arms and hands to point and shoot the gun so the fired bb will hit the washer at the washer’s location in space at the end of that time-to-target period. McDaniel would swiftly teach the student's subconscious mind to solve those guidance problems and then use those solutions to direct the muscles to aim and shoot the bb gun, simply by having the student shoot the bb gun at the target and observe the results, and then compensate for his miss on the next shot. Several critically-important factors were involved in that process.

The key factor here was that the student was not expected to hit the target; instead, he was told to bracket it-- to stare at the target, and then note how far and in which direction his bb missed it, and to believe that with his next shot he was going to miss the target by the same distance but in the opposite direction. If he did that faithfully, he would soon end up hitting the target regularly. There were two reasons for that. First, this procedure was one of the basic means for training the subconscious very swiftly to solve the guidance-and-control problems. Second, it removed the fear of failure from the equation. The student no longer felt pressured to hit the target each time, or else.

There were other factors easing the pressure on the student. One of the most-important steps was to eliminate initially the complications of noise and recoil when the gun was fired: the use of the bb gun as the training aid did that. The second step was to make it as easy as possible for the student to begin hitting the target right away. To do that, McDaniel not only threw up a large (silver-dollar-size) flat washer for the student initially, but he lofted it straight up in the air, parallel to the ground; and he gave it a spin for added stability. This presented the student with the easiest-possible target. But if the student could not begin hitting that target quickly, then McDaniel would switch to a larger target. Occasionally he would find it necessary to throw up an aluminum pie-plate right above the muzzle of the student's bb gun: anything to get the student hitting the target regularly, as quickly as possible. Then it was simply a matter of shrinking the size of the target in small steps. And the final factor here was that McDaniel was not a Nazi-type shooting-instructor. He really liked people; he thoroughly enjoyed teaching them to shoot; and he let that show through. He nurtured his students--he was on their side, all the way. (Again, sport psychology.) All of those factors combined to give the student great confidence.

As the student pulled the trigger, McDaniel would have him change his focus from the aerial target (initially, the big flat-washer) to a point two feet beyond the muzzle of the bb gun. There the student would pick up and track the flight of the bb he had fired, and register the direction in which his bb missed the target (using an imaginary clock-face with the target at the center), and the distance of the miss. The student would then tell himself that for the next shot, he was going to miss the target by the same distance but in the opposite direction. If the student proved unable to convince himself of that, and he continued missing consistently in the same direction each time, McDaniel would tell him that instead of focusing directly upon the next thrown target, he should focus upon a point in space the same distance from the target but in the opposite direction from his previous miss. If that didn't work, McDaniel would tell him to double the distance of the previous miss. In such manner, the student would swiftly learn how to bracket the target with each of his succeeding shots; and shortly thereafter, he would inevitably begin hitting the target.

When the student could hit the initial target regularly (with 8 out of 10 shots), McDaniel would switch to a smaller target. He would usually progress from a flat washer the size of a silver dollar to one the size of a half dollar, to one the size of a quarter, then a nickel, then a dime, then an empty .22-short cartridge case, and finally an aspirin tablet. (If McDaniel really liked the student, and had enough time for it, he would teach the student to hit two or three out of ten thrown bbs in the air.) This basic-training for birdhunters and police officers generally took about three hours.

The course for birdhunters

When training birdhunters, McDaniel would then move the student up to a .22 rifle without sights. He would throw the same range of aerial targets, from silver-dollar size to empty .22 short cartridge-cases. The student could not directly perceive the flight of the .22 bullet, but by then his subconscious had learned how to judge parallax and trajectories and time-to-target; and it would experiment on its own to nail down quickly the differences between a fired bb and a fired .22-short bullet, and swiftly get on target.

When the student was confident that he could hit aerial targets with a .22 rifle, McDaniel then moved him on to clay pigeons thrown with a hand trap, and the student's own shotgun. The transition from .22 rifle to shotgun was generally swift.

The entire course for birdhunters averaged about four hours. During the 1956-57 period, McDaniel taught that course to students ranging in age and gender from a seven-year-old boy to an 85-year-old woman. The graduates of his course—in order to maintain their proficiency at instinct shooting—would need to practice the technique periodically thereafter, but whether with shotgun or bb gun was immaterial.

The course for peace officers

After teaching the uniformed police-officer the basic course (shooting the bb gun at aerial targets), McDaniel then trained him to hit targets on the ground with the bb gun, and then to quickdraw his “carry” gun (in the 1950s, that was usually a double-action revolver) from a correctly-designed belt holster; and finally to hipshoot it accurately.

Hipshooting the bb gun

To train the student’s subconscious for hipshooting, Lucky would first teach the student to “hipshoot” the Daisy air rifle without sights at a row of targets lined up on the ground. Each time the student got ready to shoot at one of those targets, he would pivot on the balls of both feet to point his body squarely at that target, with his knees bent slightly and his feet spread apart about 18 inches, and his left foot positioned six inches ahead (if he was right-handed). Consequently, the student would never twist his neck or twist at the waist or at the knees or ankles, or swing his arm to the side--either to sight the target or to bring his gun to bear on it.

To “hipshoot” the bb gun, the student would again begin with the gun held at port arms, then pivot it to lock the butt into the same part of his shoulder each time. But this time, instead of bringing the stock to his cheek, he would simply point the gun barrel in the general direction of the target, with his left hand (on the forearm of the bb gun) at about the level of his navel. Again, he would never look at the gun barrel to try to align it with the target; instead, he would stare directly and exclusively at the precise point that he wanted to hit on the first target while pivoting the gun into position. And the instant the gun butt was seated against his shoulder, he would pull the trigger. Then he would note where the bb hit; and he would tell himself to miss the next target by the same distance but in the opposite direction—again, always to try to bracket the targets.

Here, the critical factor was always to have the student shoot at a row of targets, and always to move on to the next target for the next shot (moving from left to right through the row of targets on the ground, and from the final target directly back to the first one). If the student were to shoot at the same target all the time while learning, he could not train his subconscious to solve the guidance-and-control problems involved with hipshooting.

McDaniel would generally begin with a row of six beer cans located at a distance of 21 feet (6.5m) from the student, and spaced about one foot (30cm) apart apiece. When the student could hit these targets regularly by hipshooting the bb gun (which generally took very little time to master, since this type of shooting involved the same basic principles as the aerial shooting, but was a lot easier), McDaniel would then line up empty shotgun shells as targets, then empty .38 Special cartridge cases, then empty .22-short cartridge cases. If things were moving right along, McDaniel would finally line up bbs on the ground as targets for the student to hit.

Suitable types of handguns and holsters for quickdraw and hipshooting

Next, McDaniel moved on to quickdrawing the handgun (as we shall note below, it was critically important to teach the student how to quickdraw the handgun before teaching him to hipshoot it). Suitable types of handguns were those in which the hammer can be cocked and the gun fired simply by pulling the trigger straight through: double-action revolvers; double-action-only automatics (or “autoloaders”); and double-action/single-action automatics, which are fired double-action for the first shot, and single-action thereafter—the hammer then being cocked automatically by the cycling of the gun. (Single-action revolvers and single-action automatics, which require that the hammer be cocked separately, require different procedures than those discussed here.)

Most uniformed police-officers usually wore a variation of the Jordan holster—sturdily designed, with no leather over the trigger guard or shrouding the hammer, and with a metal shank inside a drop loop to position the holster well below the waist so the gun butt stood away from the body and was angled forward and could easily be drawn in a big hurry when necessary. This was an excellent type of holster for quickdraw, because it was difficult for the shooter to jam the gun in the holster during the draw. This type of holster usually had an over-the-hammer safety strap to lock the gun into the holster. The student was expected to unsnap the safety strap whenever he might be approaching a dangerous situation; but if desired, McDaniel could teach him how to unsnap the safety strap as an integral part of the quickdraw, without ever slowing his hand. (The currently-popular thumb-break safety strap is not suitable for quickdraw, because it requires the shooter to stop his hand completely while popping the strap.)

Quickdrawing the handgun

McDaniel’s main theories behind the quickdraw were these: in drawing from a hip holster, you need to move your hand at exactly the same speed from start to finish, and you complete the draw by planting the elbow of your gun arm against your stomach as close to the centerline of your body as you can get it (depending upon your build), but always in the same spot; and you pull the trigger the instant your elbow is seated against your body. McDaniel’s student practiced quickdraw not to get fast, but for smoothness and a consistency that automatically developed speed. (Most people waste an enormous amount of time in drawing a handgun by bringing the hand in to the holster very fast, but then stopping the hand completely to wrap the fingers around the butt of the gun, and finally drawing the gun as fast as possible. That technique may look flashy, but it is actually very slow.)

McDaniel broke the quickdraw (from a hip holster with the safety strap out of the way) down into two separate and distinct moves. In the first move, the hand sweeps in from the shooter’s side to a point just beneath the gun butt, and without stopping, then changes direction and moves upward to scoop the gun up out of the holster. To accomplish this, as the student moves his hand in toward the holstered gun, he shapes his hand exactly the way little children used to do when they were playing cops-and-robbers and pretended that their right hands were guns: the index finger (the barrel) is pointed straight ahead; the thumb (the hammer) is cocked above the index finger; and the bottom three fingers (the gun butt) are pressed together and bent 90 degrees or more to the left.

When the student’s bent bottom-three fingers are located just below the gun butt, the student raises his elbow (thus his gun hand) straight up, and the bottom three fingers scoop up the gun butt and lift the gun out of the holster without attempting to wrap themselves around the butt. This first move is completed when the muzzle of the gun is an inch above the mouth of the holster.

As the second part of the draw (assuming that the student is right-handed), the elbow of the gun arm now swings in an arc directly to the left to a point as close to the centerline of the body as it can get, and there presses into the stomach. While the elbow is moving to the left, the three bottom fingers wrap around the gun butt, and the thumb wraps around the backstrap of the gun and locks against the uppermost of the bottom three fingers: the gun is now firmly grasped in the hand, and if the move has been made correctly, the gun barrel now makes a straight line with the forearm. As the elbow continues to move to the left, the index finger inserts itself into the trigger guard and comes to rest against the trigger. As the final step before the elbow completes its move to the left, the wrist straightens up and locks rigidly. When the elbow seats itself into the stomach, the index finger instantly pulls the trigger.

McDaniel started off by having the student draw the gun very slowly, and he would not permit the student to look at the holstered gun while drawing it. But McDaniel’s real trick in teaching the student swiftly exactly where the holstered gun-butt was located in reference to his body was by never permitting the student to look at his holster while he reholstered the gun, either. Instead, the student had to fumble the gun back into the holster; and that process swiftly taught him exactly where the holstered gun was located on his body (the spatial relationship).

The two points that usually gave the student the most trouble in maintaining a constant speed throughout the draw were:
#the transition from bringing the gun hand in from the side to lifting the elbow to scoop the gun out of the holster; and
#from scooping the gun out of the holster to swinging the elbow to the left.

McDaniel concentrated upon having the student maintain a steady speed in those transitions, and although he emphasized that the student was not supposed to hurry, the student’s speed of draw would generally progress very rapidly as his draw got smoother. (A really-fast draw using McDaniel’s technique looks deceptively slow, because there is no contrast between what would normally be the slow parts of the draw and the fast parts.)

Hipshooting the handgun

Then came the hipshooting. McDaniel had determined that when facing the target directly, most people can attain a high degree of horizontal accuracy when pointing the index finger at the target. Vertical alignment is what requires special training. By developing his favored hipshooting-stance in which the shooter points his body at the target (pivoting on the balls of his feet to get there) either prior to or during the draw, McDaniel minimized the number of movable joints in the body that the subconscious has to control in order to hit the target. To recap, the shooter does not twist his neck, or at his waist or his knees or his ankles; those joints are immobilized. Equally, important, his right shoulder (if he is right-handed) is also immobilized. By planting his right elbow against his stomach at the same point each time, he establishes a constant reference-point from which the subconscious can easily determine the parallax between the direct line-of-sight of the shooter’s eyes and his gun barrel. Also, with his elbow planted in his stomach, the shooter has greater leverage for pulling the trigger of a double-action revolver or automatic controllably. The only real variable that the shooter’s subconscious now has to deal with is figuring out how much bend to put in his elbow to get the vertical alignment correct for the offset of the gun barrel and the distance to the target.

McDaniel would have the student practice his quickdraw until it was smooth and certain (and consequently fast—but not superfast).

When the time came to hipshoot the handgun, McDaniel would have the student shoot into soft dirt (to minimize ricochets) at a location that was backstopped by a 20 or 30 foot dirt bank, to stop any ricochets or wild shots.

To teach the student hipshooting with a handgun, McDaniel would begin with an S&W K-frame double-action .22 target-revolver (any other carefully-made brand of medium-to-large-frame double-action .22 target-revolver would have worked as well). That particular gun was about the same size, shape, and weight as the typical .38 Special holster-gun carried by uniformed policemen in the 1950s; but it made very little noise, and it had very little recoil. The student began by hipshooting the .22 revolver at a row of six quart-cans 21 feet (6.5m) away. He would pivot on his feet to face the first (left-side) beer can; focus upon a point at the center of the can while he drew the gun and pulled the trigger; note which direction and by how far the bullet missed his aiming point on that can; decide instantly to miss that point on the next can the same distance but in the opposite direction; leave the gun in position and pivot to face the next can and pull the trigger as soon as he was facing the can; and so on, until he had fired at the entire row of cans. Usually he would learn to hit them consistently very rapidly; and McDaniel could then work down the size of the targets. When the student could regularly draw and hipshoot a row of empty .22-short cartridge cases at 21 feet, McDaniel would have the student change over to his carry gun (usually a .38 Special), and repeat the process.

However, it was critically important that the student stare hard at the center of the first beer can, and then pivot to the second can and stare at a point at the same distance but in the opposite direction from where the first shot missed (if it missed); and so on.

(McDaniel found that his students generally did very poorly later on if they then attempted to hipshoot at blank cardboard-silhouette targets, because when looking at blank targets, their eyes had no specific point to focus upon and shoot at; and under those circumstances, they might think they were staring right at the center of the target, when in fact, they could as easily be actually focusing upon some point off the target. McDaniel discovered that if he wired a beer can to the middle of a blank cardboard silhouette-target, and told the student to focus upon some unique point in the center of it, that immediately solved the problem. In hipshooting, the eye must have a specific point to focus upon and shoot at.)

In about four hours’ time, McDaniel could teach the average cop to draw and fire his carry gun deliberately and safely in about half a second, and regularly hit a beer can 21 feet away; and then continue pivoting and shooting to hit the rest of the cans in the row almost as fast as he could pull the trigger. And once he had learned the technique, the student could then fire all six rounds into the same can if he so desired.

(For plainclothesmen who requested it, McDaniel would analyze the motions required to draw the student’s handgun from any particular type of concealment holster, and then work up a specific set of procedures for drawing the gun swiftly from it.)

The primary purpose of this course was not to turn America’s police officers into a bunch of gunfighters, but instead to give them the confidence of knowing that if they were caught offguard by armed criminals (such as when stopping a car with a defective taillight for the umpteenth time, but this time the driver has stolen the car and he thinks he has been nailed, and he sticks a pistol out of his window and starts shooting at you), those cops still had a good chance to defend themselves successfully. To put the numbers into perspective, half a second is about the maximum amount of time that an armed man has to respond to an attack by another armed man. For example, it takes an agile man with a knife who is 21 feet away from you about half a second to rush you and put his knife into you.

Getting really fast with continued practice

The speed that McDaniel taught his student enabled the officer to draw fast enough to react to an unexpected deadly threat, while still being able to use the conscious mind to correct for any mistakes made during the process of drawing the gun. But with continued practice using McDaniel’s quickdraw technique, it was possible to get very fast indeed.

The "Wikipedia" entry for Fast Draw discusses present-day quickdraw competition employing the single-action revolver, which is based upon the old Model 1873 Colt revolver regularly portrayed in Western movies. In drawing and firing that old-style handgun, it is necessary to draw the gun; then cock the hammer separately by hand (whether with the thumb of the gun hand on the hammer, or by fanning the hammer in a chopping motion with the heel of the other hand); and pull the trigger. The entry cited above states that the competitors draw and fire only after receiving a signal to do so, so the draw-and-fire time also includes the shooter’s reaction-time; and the best reaction-time is about .145 second; and the best time to actually draw and cock the revolver and pull the trigger to fire a blank cartridge after that is .06 second, for a total of .205 second. However, it is much easier to draw and fire a modern double-action revolver than a single-action revolver, because with the modern gun, all you have to do is just draw it and then pull the trigger all the way through, which both cocks the hammer and fires the gun. However, the fast-draw competitor who is shooting blanks in his single-action revolver merely has to clear his holster before firing the gun, while the shooter using McDaniel’s technique to draw and fire a double-action revolver or automatic (or “autoloader”) has to draw the gun and then plant the elbow of his shooting arm in his stomach to point his gun at the target before firing the gun. Consequently, the end result takes about the same amount of time in either case, and the shooter using McDaniel’s technique is firing an aimed shot. So a best-case time of .06 second to actually draw and fire the gun is about right here, also. However, it is important to note that we are talking best-case here, and McDaniel did not attempt to train police officers to attain that kind of speed routinely

It is important to note here that quickdraw-and-hipshooting varies from most other activities, in that the more proficient the student becomes, the more dangerous the activity becomes. That is because the student learns how to perform a whole series of activities in sequence by conditioned reflex (procedural memory), without conscious thought. Thus, if the student becomes really fast, then if something goes wrong during the draw--such that the student makes a mistake and grabs the gun the wrong way, jamming it up in the holster during the draw (which is easy to do, unless the holster has been specifically designed to minimize that possibility—and most holsters are not designed that way), then the student will continue to carry out the sequenced steps of the quickdraw/hipshooting procedure automatically by conditioned reflex, inexorably pulling the trigger and shooting a hole in his leg before he can consciously stop the draw. If he is quickdrawing and hipshooting a .44 Magnum revolver loaded with hollowpoint bullets, the consequences of such a mistake can easily be deadly. Be warned.

In addition, wise students of quickdraw for combat shooting seldom practice drawing and firing a loaded double-action revolver or automatic at top speed. (They draw and dry fire an empty gun at top speed, but they draw and shoot the loaded gun at a significantly-slower speed.) On the few occasions when an experienced shooter does practice a maximum-speed quickdraw with a revolver, he generally loads five rounds of ammunition into the six-shot cylinder, so that the first time he pulls the trigger, the hammer will fall on an empty chamber. If he screws up the draw, the sound of the hammer falling on the empty chamber while the gun is still in the holster will generally be enough to stop him from pulling the trigger again, firing a loaded cartridge into his leg the second time. And the wise practitioner uses a firmly-anchored quickdraw-holster which will release the gun very easily--whether it be a belt holster or a concealment rig.

For practicing quickdraw extensively, the very best bet is a Jordan holster sewn to a wide stout belt, with tiedown straps to secure the bottom of the holster firmly to your leg. It is best to prep a new quickdraw-holster by putting the gun inside of six or seven gallon-size Ziploc baggies and sealing each one, then wetting the holster thoroughly in a bucket of warm water with a little soap in it, and jamming the gun into the holster to shape it, and letting the holster dry completely. Without the baggies, the gun will then be a loose fit in the holster. For uniformed police-officers, it is then well to learn how to unsnap the safety strap (snapped across the hammer to lock the gun into the holster) as an integral part of the quickdraw, without slowing or stopping the hand in that process. (Do not use a thumb-break safety strap for quickdraw.) A shoe-repair shop can sew a small bent-up piece of sheetmetal to the bottom of the tag-end of the safety strap to hold it away from the holster and enable the extended fingers sweeping up the side of the holster to pop the snap on the safety strap so that it will fly up out of the way as the hand draws the gun.

The complexity and precision of the skills imparted in McDaniel’s courses

To gain some idea as to the complexity and exacting nature of the guidance-and-control problems that Lucky McDaniel routinely taught his students’ subconscious minds to solve and employ in pointing and shooting the gun, we need to be aware of an observation that McDaniel made privately to his assistant instructor regarding their students’ true shooting-abilities.

His observation resulted from the fact that when a bb fired from the Daisy air rifle would hit the big steel silver-dollar-size flat-washer that McDaniel threw for his student initially, it would make a shallow dent in the washer. The dent would be between a third and a half the diameter of the bb. But as McDaniel lofted the flat washer into the air by balancing it on the third finger of his right hand and then lifting his elbow quickly, he would also impart a spin to the washer with his thumb and forefinger. That would give the washer a very fast spin-rate, such that any bb dents that had been made in it previously would be impossible for the student to see.

McDaniel and his assistant had necessarily taught themselves to stand beside the student and watch the flight of the bb from the student’s gun (which was far more difficult than standing directly behind the gun and watching the bb); and they had also taught themselves to watch the flight of a load of shot fired from a student’s shotgun shell; and when the lighting was just right, each of them could hipshoot a .22 revolver at a distant target and watch the .22 bullet fly toward its target. But try as they might, neither of them could ever actually see any dents that bbs had made in the surface of a big flat-washer when it was spinning as it rose in the air; the dent was just too small, and the spin rate was too fast.

Yet a curious thing would routinely happen. If either instructor said nothing to the student about any of this, but continually threw the big flat-washer for the student with the same side always facing down, and if its surface had been smooth and unblemished initially, then after the student had hit the washer the first time, his second hit would generally be within a millimeter of his first hit on the washer; and his third hit would fall within a millimeter of the first two hits. But if neither McDaniel nor his assistant could see any of the bb dents in the spinning washers, then it was a fairly safe bet that few if any of their students could see them either.

Nevertheless, because this phenomenon occurred routinely, it was obvious that the student’s eyes were actually registering, and his subconscious was actually perceiving, the location of the first bb-dent in the spinning washer, but not sending that information to the conscious mind. However, the student’s subconscious mind would then direct his muscles to point and shoot the gun so that the second and third bb hits would lie right next to the first one.

So. The student’s subconscious had previously memorized the trajectory of bbs fired from that particular gun; and it had also memorized a time-to-target table of bbs fired from it to hit targets at different distances. Now, while the student’s current target—the flat washer—went sailing up into the air, the student’s subconscious was computing and extrapolating the trajectory of that washer on that particular throw; its ever-decreasing rate of climb; and its ever-decreasing spin-rate. And his subconscious was solving all of those guidance-and-control problems so rapidly and accurately, and directing the applicable muscles of his body with such precision, as to cause the student to group his first three hits within a millimeter of one another on the rapidly-spinning flat washer—by selecting precise points to aim at that he could not even see, and then hitting right next to them. Does that sound something like “the Force” in the first "Star Wars" movie?

Some direct applications of McDaniel’s training approach

Because what Lucky McDaniel was teaching his students was actually carefully-controlled snap-shooting, it became just as easy for the student to hit moving targets as to hit still targets. For example, if McDaniel had the time and the interest, he could easily teach a hipshooter to hit just under a beer can to start it rolling, and then continue to hit it while in motion until his gun was empty. Or McDaniel could teach the student to shoot and hit a can thrown up in the air five or six times with a pistol.

A highway patrolman once asked McDaniel to teach him how to shoot out of his car while driving, to hit a particular point on a moving car that he might be chasing. McDaniel then recalled the standardized chase-scenes in the Roy Rogers and Johnny Mack Brown western movies of the 1940s, and worked out a complete set of training procedures based upon the type of snap-shooting (but using the left hand) that the cowboy movie-actors routinely employed while chasing one another at a full gallop on horseback in those movies. Early the next morning McDaniel tried out those procedures on the shooting range; and later that day he taught them successfully to the patrolman.

During the 1950s, the Alabama Highway Patrol drove without partners in their cars, but they were issued M1A1 carbines in addition to their handguns. In Tuscaloosa, a Highway Patrolman named Dutch Wigley asked McDaniel to teach him how to hipshoot his M1 carbine. McDaniel employed basically the same training procedures as were described above in teaching the peace officer to hipshoot the bb gun, and was amazed at the potential damage the trained officer could do to a large group of armed men at 50 to 100 yards by hipshooting the carbine in semiautomatic fire. That was when McDaniel invented the training technique later adopted by the US Army as “Quick Kill.”

McDaniel and his assistant instructor could routinely hipshoot gallon cans at a hundred yards with a handgun, but he never pretended that instinct shooting was the ideal technique for use in every situation, or even in most situations. However, in some shooting-situations, his techniques would regularly achieve the desired results when no others could.

Although Lucky McDaniel was only really interested in teaching instinct shooting to birdhunters and police departments, occasionally he would branch out into other fields—for example, in 1959 McDaniel taught the Cincinnati Reds baseball team to improve their batting average by 22% over their previous year’s performance; and in 1961 they won the National League pennant. From time to time he taught golfers to lower their scores dramatically with an afternoon of instruction; and he improved similarly the performance of tennis players. McDaniel could and did occasionally teach people to pop a twelve-foot bullwhip accurately, hit aerial targets when shooting a blowgun, or throw knives. To McDaniel, any metal object with a point—from a ten-penny nail to an icepick—could be thrown and stuck up reliably and accurately in a very small target. His principles worked well in a wide variety of situations.

Future applications of McDaniel’s training approach?

A few people have argued that the source of McDaniel’s spectacular success at training others was his unique mental-approach—an important part of which was his almost-hypnotic personality—and therefore that it would be impossible for others to duplicate his teaching skills; and thus the ability to train others in that manner was lost forever when he died. Those who knew McDaniel will certainly agree that he had great charisma and was a superb and unorthodox problem-solver; but it is less well known that McDaniel trained two or three teaching-assistants at various times during his career. He taught each of them to teach his course exactly the way he taught it; and his assistants were able to teach the students to the same level of proficiency as McDaniel, and almost as fast as he could—even though at least one of those assistants definitely lacked any of McDaniel’s charisma. So it was the sets of procedures that McDaniel evolved to train the students that were of critical importance to success of the training program, and not McDaniel’s personal abilities as a teacher. Accordingly, his training skills were transferable.

Today we live in a machine-dominated society, in which our ability to operate many of our machines with precision directly affects: (1) our performance of important activities; (2) our overall peace of mind; and (3) sometimes our safety. An excellent example of such a machine is the automobile. The key point here is that other than to select a destination and perhaps a route, we don’t use the conscious mind to drive the automobile. We train the subconscious to direct our muscles to operate the car.

For example, when we are approaching a red traffic-light ahead and we know that we will have to bring the car to a stop, we don’t consult the speedometer to see how fast the car is going; and use a laser rangefinder to determine how far away we are from the traffic light right then; and consult a graph or set of tables to determine how much pressure we will need to apply to the brakes to bring the car to a halt from the present speed of our car in the distance ahead, and then watch a pressure gauge on the dashboard as we apply the brakes, to ensure that we are applying the correct amount of foot pressure to the brake pedal. Instead, we have trained the subconscious mind to judge speeds and distances simply by observing the apparent sizes of objects in the distance, and the rate at which our car is approaching them. And we have similarly trained the subconscious mind to determine when and how hard to direct the appropriate muscles to apply the brakes to bring the car to a stop precisely at the stopline of the intersection up ahead.

For the most part, we teach ourselves (or are taught) to drive by means of simple trial-and-error experimentation on our part; but that does not turn out to be a good way to train the subconscious. A fortunate few can learn by those means to intuit swiftly the limits of speed and braking and cornering in each driving-situation—because of the way the brains of those particular people are wired; but most of us cannot, and we become mediocre drivers, and remain so for the rest of our lives, no matter how much driving we do. This costs most of us much of our precious tranquility and peace of mind, and many of us our lives due to wrecks. We need a better way to learn to drive a car (or fly a plane or ride a motorcycle, or...).

If we analyze carefully what we are actually doing when we operate our machines, we see that when we are driving an automobile, the subconscious is solving basically the same kinds of guidance-and-control problems as are involved in enabling us to perform instinct shooting with speed and accuracy. In the mid-20th century, Lucky McDaniel intuited a set of procedures for training the subconscious very rapidly to direct the body to perform certain types of manual skills far more rapidly and accurately than most people could otherwise learn to attain by means of simple trial-and-error repetition. Here we have examined some of his training programs in as much detail as was practicable, in an attempt to identify the underlying principles for training the subconscious effectively to attain those levels of speed and precision.

In 1950s America, kinesiology was not understood well enough such that instructors in fields of fine motor-skills outside of the shooting sports (i.e., in driver’s education, pilot training, etc.) would have any reason to pay close attention to what McDaniel was doing, and adapt his methods for their own use. Whether the times are right for widespread application of his training approach in the 21st century—not only for instinct shooting with firearms, but for training in the operation of motor vehicles and other types of machines, and sports, as well—remains to be seen.



* "Instinct Shooting", by Mike Jennings, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1959
* "Lucky McDaniel's Secrets to Shooting", by Lucky McDaniel and Bill Reece, Columbus, Georgia 31904: Waldrup Printing Company, 1980

External links

* "Shotgun News", 9 June 2006, “Instinct Shooting with Airguns,” by Tom Gaylord,
* "Time", 14 July 1967, “Quick Kill,”,9171,899618,00.html/
* The US Army Quick Kill Training

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