Two to the Body, One to the Head: The Case for Vertical Shooting

Let’s face facts: firearms were first invented to kill human beings.  They were not intended for paper targets and they were not initially used for hunting animals. No, they were designed for one purpose only, and that was to take the life of another human being.  For civilians today, this means self-defense, but what will it take to put that criminal down and keep him down? We’re talking about the bad guy, face-down or belly-up—a shot technique that is guaranteed to reduce Mr. B&E from menacing to harmless.  Well, one safe bet is “vertical shooting” and the technique goes something like this:

Vertical shooting takes its name from the disposition of shots on the target, which, in an ideal world, should fall dead center vertically through the object. In reality, (mostly because of human being’s compulsory startle reflex actions) when a body is hit with a projectile it causes the person to fold over at the trunk and bend at the knees. Due to those sudden movements (and the fact that a human target will more than likely turn to one side or the other when hit by a bullet) true vertical shooting (you know, like the perfect patterns you take home from the range and hang in your office) is a pretty loft goal, but a nice ideal to strive for in training.

Vertical shooting should be done at close ranges and consists of a minimum of three shots and a maximum of perhaps five. Shots should start at the solar plexus and end at the head. When you start practicing that drill at the range, just remember that at first it may seem odd and awkward, and not something one does naturally, but with very little practice, hitting your marks and moving up on the target can be mastered in a relatively short period of time.

Most shooters know the concept of vertical shooting as the “Mozambique Drill”.  Broken down, this drill requires shooters to place two quick shots to the body in order to immediately address the threat, then one, carefully aimed shot to the head to finish him or her off.   The name stems from the 1964 Mozambican War of Independence and the technique comes to us from Rhodesian Mike Rousseau, a mercenary who lost his life in that conflict.  According to a story he relayed to Jeff Cooper in the late 60s or early 70s (Cooper later folded the “triple tap” maneuver into his own school of shooting techniques), Rousseau, armed only with a Browning Hi-Power 35, found himself in a one-on-one conflict with an AK-47 toting guerilla.  Rousseau hit the assailant twice in the torso but this failed to neutralize the target.  A third, “slowed down” shot to the head severed the fighter’s spinal cord and finally put the bad guy down for the count.

What the lovely garden spot of Mozambique taught Rousseau—and all of us for that matter—is this: though your first instinct should be to shoot center-mass, making headshots may turn out to be the only option available to truly stop a threat.  The bad guy could be riding high on adrenaline or perhaps some crazy drugs and even though your shots to the midsection may eventually prove fatal, it may take a couple of minutes for your attacker to realize this—and a couple of minutes are a couple of minutes too long in any deadly encounter. Simply put, your enemy does not have time to interpret shots that target his Central Nervous System (i.e. head).

That isn’t to say shooting an opponent in the head is easy.   The head is by far the most animated part of a human beings body and during the exigent circumstances associated with a firefight, aiming at such a small target will be difficult not to mention the reflexes involved in firing two shots then switching gears to expediently “aim” at something.  Additionally, the human skull can be one tough customer to penetrate and some pistol calibers may not be effective.

This is where the Mozambique Drill (sometimes also called the ‘failure to stop’) becomes useful as its repetitive actions call for fast, reflective body-body-head shots, indicative of where each shot should be placed.

The Mozambique Drill may only be useful out to around seven meters; beyond that range, fast head shots may not be an option unless you’re an extremely competent shot, as in someone who does it for a living. Most shooters need a steady aim to consistently hit targets the size of a head beyond that distance, and under the stress of a live combat situation it is better to make sure our shots hit the bad guy, period. Because of that, there have been spin-offs of the Mozambique Drill, namely the body-body-head-head placement of shots, which elaborates on the idea that the head is hard to hit.

Another version of that drill is the body-body-hip-hip placement of shots. After the initial failure to stop the bad guy, two additional shots are directed at his hip area in an attempt to strike the pelvic girdle formed by the sacrum in the center and the two pelvic bones at its sides.

The pelvic girdles are large and thin and they are designed to hold the skeleton upright and vertical. If your attackers pelvic bones get shattered by a projectile, the hips can no longer hold the structure of the body and the opponent will collapse to the ground. Believe it or not this actually does work both in theory and practice, but both bones must be hit in quick succession, as piercing just one will not necessarily collapse the body.  Also, there is less of a chance of killing the target then there would be with a head shot.

We must keep in mind, however, that any range drills we do are generally free of stress induced factors. That paper or steel target is not armed, and it won’t shoot back, but the training you do with it should aim to keep it that way.  Do some pushups before you shoot, have your buddies holler and scream while you shoot, make the experience as realistic as possible because a gun has one purpose and it doesn’t discriminate between good guys and bad guys.