The Tueller Drill is one of those shooting drills that you probably thought about a million times, but you never really knew what it was called. It’s pretty common to hear people inside the self-defense training community say something like, “Most defensive encounters happen within 21 feet, so practice shooting close.” In a nutshell, that’s the Tueller Drill.

Not all deadly encounters involve a bad guy with a gun. It could be a hammer, knife, tire iron, or axe. Frankly, it could be anything that someone picks to use as a weapon to harm you. The Tueller Drill was designed to illustrate just how fast a situation can turn deadly even if there isn’t a gun involved.

First, Some History 

The Tueller Drill is an exercise in self-defense. Generally speaking, self-defense shootings occur when the attacker is very close to the victim or closing the distance between themselves and the victim at a fast and aggressive rate. 

A man holding a knie
People often underestimate how quickly someone with a weapon can reach them, but the Tueller Drill makes it pretty clear. (Photo: Seth Rogers/

Police Sgt. Dennis Tueller of the Salt Lake City, Utah, Police Department pondered how quickly an attacker with a deadly weapon (knife, crowbar, etc.) could strike an armed officer before the officer could respond with accurate self-defense shots from a holstered firearm. He had volunteers rush at him with a knife from 21 feet and timed them. His conclusion? The gap could be closed in 1.5 seconds. The results were published in the 1983 article featured in SWAT Magazine entitled “How Close Is too Close?” 

It soon became part of police dogma when it came to surviving edged weapon encounters. 

The Tueller Drill helps to prepare you for just such a short-range attack, aiding your ability to draw and fire your gun in close quarters when under the threat of grievous bodily harm or death. 

This video breaks the idea down quick and easy for you:

Training is the key, and there are a few easy ways to work on this drill both at the range and with dry-fire training. 

At the Range

If you’re at a range with motorized target hangers, and they allow you to draw from your holster, send your target out approximately 21 to 25 feet. Enlisting the help of a range buddy, have them advance your target toward you. How fast can you draw, aim, and fire two shots into the target? Have them stop the advancing target as soon as you’ve gotten your second shot off. 

A shooter engages a target at the range
You can practice the Tueller Drill at the range, but always ensure you are following all range and safety rules. (Photo: Don Summers/

Measure how close the target got to you but keep in mind that an attacker will close the gap faster than the target advancing at you. If your range doesn’t allow you to draw from your holster, you can lay your gun on the range table. Once your target starts advancing, pick the gun up from the table, aim, and fire two shots. If you’re at an outdoor range and want to use a loaded gun, the “attacker” can stand back-to-back with the “victim.” 

With the gun holstered and the victim facing downrange, on “go” (or a shot timer) the attacker runs, the victim unholsters, aims, and fires two shots downrange. With the second shot placed, your runner freezes. Measure the distance that he put between you and where he stopped. 

Dry Fire

A shooter uses a laser training gun
Dry-fire training or a laser gun are other good options. (Don Summers/

Using a laser gun, blue gun, etc., have a family member or friend rush you from 21 feet away. See how close they can get before you draw and get two dry-fire shots off. For this drill, it’s safest to use a dummy gun so you can safely go through the motions of drawing and presenting your gun while training. (Please, if you’re using a real gun, triple check that the gun is unloaded and there is no ammunition in the vicinity. Aim in a safe direction while simulating engaging the target.) 

You can also have someone rush you from the side while you point your (safe, empty) gun in a safe direction. If they can tag you before you get two shots off, consider yourself dead. Alternatively, you can have them stand back-to-back with you and take off running away from you. After the second shot, the attacker freezes. Measure the distance that they covered. The goal is just to illustrate how fast an attacker can close the gap from 21 feet.

It happens fast.

Really fast!

Why Is the Tueller Drill Relevant?

A shooter fires a gun at the range
Speed matters in a self-defense situation, but understanding when you need to act is one of the most important factors in stopping a threat. (Photo: Don Summers/

Clearly, in a defensive shooting, timing is everything. The title of Tueller’s article in SWAT Magazine says it all: “How Close Is too Close?” If you’re in a defensive situation and need to shoot your attacker, the distance you choose to shoot at him/her will be judged to see if you acted in self-defense or not. 

Shoot too soon, and you may be charged with murder. If you shoot too late? You may be dead. It’s a very fine line, and it happens very, very quickly. Practicing drawing from the holster and getting shots off is paramount. Bad things happen fast. Having knowledge and muscle memory from practicing the Tueller Drill might just save your life. 

If you want even more details, here’s a nice breakdown of decision making under stress and why the Tueller drill is still very relevant: