As stated on the NPR show “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Believe it or not, the Lake Wobegon Effect is an actual thing. It was propagated by Dr. David G Myers as he described the trait many people have to overrate their own abilities and capabilities. This becomes relevant when you carry a firearm

for self-defense – if your actually skill level isn’t as high as you think it is, you may be getting yourself in trouble should you need to take action to defend yourself.

I once worked with a guy who was a fisherman – he often told “fish stories,” meaning he would brag about anything and everything, whatever he talked about, he was an expert. Once, he told me that from a secured holster, he could draw and fire six rounds from his duty revolver into the three inch center of a target, from ten yards – in “one-point-two” seconds. I was newer to the shooting sport, but I knew the distance, and the speed, was a lot faster than most champion shooters could do with souped-up semi-auto pistols, let alone this guy with his stock wheel gun.

I challenged his claim, and he immediately shortened the distance to seven yards, and increased his time to “one-point-five” seconds, and the target size got bigger. About two months later, when we finally got to the range, he was inside five yards, his pattern about a foot in diameter, and his time was closer to “two-point-eight” seconds. Not too bad, but not as good as he thought he was (of course, a few years later Jerry Miculek shot 8 rounds in one second with a modified S&W revolver – but this guy was no Jerry Miculek).

When learning a new skill, the human goes through several stages. You begin by not knowing anything – and as you train and practice, your knowledge and skill level increases. If you continue training, pushing yourself further and further, you eventually get to a point where you get pretty good. One way to describe the path to mastering a skill, is to use four levels to describe the combination of how much you know, and how good your skills are.

Unconscious Incompetence – the lowest level of knowledge and skill. You don’t know what you don’t know, you don’t realize how much you are not good at doing (as an example: someone who is a first time gun owner, with a brand-new gun)

Conscious Incompetence – the next level of skill and knowledge. You know there are some things you don’t know, you realize there are some things that you are not good at doing, and as a result, you may avoid doing some things, or take extra time to complete them (a gun owner who has been to the range ten times, and has fired 1,000 rounds of ammunition)

Conscious Competence – you know what you know, you can do things, and you are able to accomplish those things because you are consciously taking those actions (you have now fired several thousand rounds of ammunition – the actions to operate your firearm have or are beginning to become engrained in your subconscious memory)

Unconscious Competence – you know things, and you have taken those actions so many times that they are natural, you do those things without needing to think about doing them (a gun owner who goes to the range regularly, shoots one or two thousand rounds a year, and has done so for several years. The motions of drawing a firearm happen without thinking about them, when the pistol runs out of ammunition, they automatically move toward cover and perform a reload – without hesitation or needing to think about it)

To have an action become engrained in your subconscious, you need to repeat that action, motion, or movement about five-thousand times. Your brain doesn’t know if these repetitions are done correctly or not. Practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect. Repeating the same thing incorrectly only ends up installing training scars that take tremendous effort to overcome with the proper method.

The first priority needs to be accuracy. Accurate shot placement is the best way to end a deadly force encounter quickly by stopping the action threatening you. You need to be reasonable and realistic as well. In the dynamic situation of a self-defense situation, things are a lot different than on a static gun range. Putting a little hole in the center of the target is nice, but more important is the ability to have a reasonable size group (a grouping of six to eight inches is size), in a reasonable time and under realistic conditions.

“Combat Accuracy” is a term that applies in self-defense situations. This means being able to hit your target quickly, but also when movement is involved. Training that starts standing in place, needs to evolve as soon as practical to incorporate movement – either training where the bad guy is moving, or your own efforts to move. Ultimately, both movements at the same time will be needed to adequately train for a real world situation.

Some say: “Ok, I miss a lot…. But I’m really fast!” Only working to get the fastest time should never be your goal. I’ve seen students trying to be really fast drawing their guns or reloading – so fast that they ended up getting the gun or magazine out very, very, quickly – but without a secure grip, they ended up throwing their loaded pistol or full magazine 10 yards downrange in front of them. Speed alone is not the answer.

A time limit can be used as a minimum goal point to train toward, as long as the training goals are realistic. Two examples would be the time required to draw and fire from a secured holster, and time required to get an accurate shot off when the gun is already in your hand.

1.5 seconds from stimulus to firing an accurate shot on target from a secured holster

.5 seconds from stimulus to firing an accurate shot on target from a “low ready” position

These times are generally considered reasonable minimum standards. As your level of competence increases from being forced to becoming natural, achieving these standards will become easier, and occur more often. And then, if you train enough, you will exceed these times on a regular basis and without needing to focus your attention on the task. Just as driving tens and hundreds of thousands of miles lets you drive smoother without needing to devote all your attention to operating your car’s controls, so too will multiple repetitions smooth out your firearm manipulations.

If you do choose to use a timer to train with, use the timed drills help you to track progress and improvement – as you get to the point where your motions smooth out, you will see the times decrease slightly, but more importantly – your motions will become consistent. Obviously, I want to be fast – but being really fast every now and then, is not as good as being consistently fast.

I have never seen a post-shooting investigation that documented a shot timer at an actual shooting scene. In the real world, no one will be keeping track of the time it takes you to get that first accurate shot off – they will only know who won the encounter, and who lost – we train with time goals only because being quicker than your opponent with an accurate shot can help you win an encounter.

Not everyone (other than my fisherman pal – and Jerry Miculek), can shoot as quickly and accurately as they think they can. And regardless of how good you are, or how good you think you are, under stress and in a real situation, you hope you will be able to be as good as you’ll need to be. Consistent practice helps you get consistent performance when you actually need it. If you want to see how fast you are, and judge yourself against a reasonable standard, you can use a timer – but don’t use the time as your exclusive end all criteria.

I’ll close with some good words to remember, from someone who knows a bit about what skills and abilities are important in surviving a shooting situation:

Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. In a gun fight… You need to take your time in a hurry.

  • Wyatt Earp