The 4 types of shooters

A friend and colleague of mine once taught me that there are four types of shooters. I believe that in pursuit of learning and applying a skill, it makes a lot of sense to grade students and I also believe it makes a lot of sense to divide shooters into these four categories.

1. Unconscious incompetent

Here is a shooter who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. On top of that, this is a student-shooter who does not believe the trainer when he tells him that he is doing something wrong.

For instance, let’s say that I am training a class in pistol and I observe a student slapping the trigger every shot, so I offer him feedback like I am suppose to be doing as a qualified handgun instructor. This is the type of guy who will immediately tune me out when he realizes I’m suggesting he change his technique, say little in response to my suggestions and then, when he thinks I can’t hear him, tell his buddies that he is not slapping the trigger and that I have no idea what I’m doing as an instructor. (Of course, such a student-shooter probably doesn’t even realize that my headphones are electronic so I can hear him—not that that has ever happened, of course.)

My guess is that even if I videotaped these types of shooters, they still might not have a clue what they are doing wrong because in their mind, they can’t be wrong.

2. Conscious incompetent

This type of shooter is much more self-aware. He understands he cannot shoot that well… and that’s the good thing about this type of shooter because acknowledging this means he can be trained. This shooter is well aware of their limitations, checked their ego at the door and is open to learning.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this person is destined to become a good or even decent shooter. They may never become engaged enough in training to become competent in the necessary skills. They may have some hand-eye coordination issues or some other application issues that hinder them in being able to shoot accurately, consistently and tactically. These issues can take a lot of energy and discipline to overcome, and they may just not have that in them.

Regardless, this is a positive type of student-shooter because, whatever obstacles exist to them shooting well, they have the potential to learn, to train, to change and to become better.

3. Conscience competent

This student is self aware and has learned and developed competent shooting skills because of this. Unlike number 2, this means they have acquired the ability to assess and understand what they are doing right or wrong and what it takes to make fixes.

Most shooters drift between type 2 and 3, especially when they learn something new or tweak a technique. One defining characteristic though is that this type of shooter knows that repetition is all law of learning. They also know that improper repetition can create bad habits, which they are prone to fix because they have spent enough time training to know what is necessary.

4. Unconscious competent

This is where muscle memory and competency meet; skilled tactical and technical behaviors are basically automated with a shooter like this. This type of shooter has the right mindset, has put in the work many times over, and can now perform single or multiple actions during a lethal confrontation.

This type of shooter can do something (or several tactical “somethings”) without having to think about it. It just happens. Not that it happened naturally—multiple, correct repetitions helped this shooter gain critical shooting skills that may save his or her life when the time arises.  For instance, this type of shooter does not need to think about where to place his or her trigger finger or how to squeeze the trigger slowly while watching the sights. It just happens naturally.

Obviously, this is the kind of shooter we all aspire to become. But it takes practice—a lot of positive, correct repetitions.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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