The Quick Kill instinctive shooting method that was once taught in the US Army remains a  useful combat skill. It has been supplanted in the training world by improved sights and a focus on extremely rapid use of sights, but we believe it still has a place in the training and combat world.

It’s faster to show than to explain this skill. Unfortunately, there are few quick kill videos digitized at this point, and none fell readily to hand.

Quick Kill traces its roots to the “trick shooters” of the 20th Century, men like Ed McGivern who had so mastered firearms that they could pretty much hit anything with anything — fast. In the 1930s through the 1950s there were many articles on what was then called “point shooting” or “hip shooting,” driven in part by the stylized cowboy acts of the era. A technical/training book called Instinct Shooting by Mike Jennings appeared in 1959 and sold mostly out of ads in the back of gun culture magazines. Frank Connor, an author of many shooting and hunting articles, espoused similar techniques, as did “Lucky” McDaniel who brought the skill to the Army.

The Army initially called this Quick Fire, but in the second generation of the unofficial training document had progressed to calling it Quick Kill. This was not something that was just taught to Special Forces: it was part of infantry training for several years, as the peacetime training base of a large and slow-moving army reluctantly assumed a war footing during Vietnam.

There were three phases to Quick Kill, which was, during its brief life, normally the second phase of Basic Rifle Marksmanship training, after the trainees were taught to clear, disassemble, maintain, reassemble, and function-check the service rifle, but before they were taught such marksmanship fundamentals as sight picture, trigger control, and steady-hold factors. Those three phases were:

  1. Firing with an air rifle with no sights. This was a block of three hours of instruction. Initially these were just Daisy BB guns stripped of sights. Later, the Army’s own Training and Audiovisual Support Centers (one on every post, they made and supplied training aids) made one by glass-bedding a Daisy in an M14 stock.
US Army photo from the David Albert collection.

Later still, a special Daisy that was mocked up to resemble an M16, but with the sights blanked off, was made. Any of these modified Daisys are extremely rare today. This one was sold by Rock Island Auctions in 2011:

There are at least a couple of variations of this air gun, which is not surprising, as they were locally made in individual TASCs. There were probably rudimentary plans, possibly just a single undimensioned sketch. One thing they have in common is lack of any actual sights.

Photo from the David Albert collection.

2. Firing with a service rifle with blanked-out sights. For the M14, a “training rib” was created that did this and provided a shotgun-like “sight picture” (although the rifle was held well below the sight line in this training).

3. Firing with the service rifle, but not using the sights. Three distances were used: 15, 30 and 50 meters.

Yes, in the late 60s and early 70s, your basic grunt learned to hit stuff with his rifle, then he learned to use the sights. Heresy, today. But a look at old AARs shows that our guys generally won the meeting engagements with their conventionally-trained PAVN opponents, so it might just be heresy that works.

The whole program consumed one or two training days for a basic training company. After that, the troops would move on to aimed fire. Initial controlled studies showed that trainees who experienced Quick Kill performed better at marksmanship, even at longer ranges, than those who had not. Instinctively, that seems a paradoxical result. The scientists speculated that increased self-confidence may have been at work.

A later survey showed that, yes, Quick Kill-trained soldiers had greater confidence in themselves and their weapons than soldiers who had not had that training. In the absence of any other logical theory as to why Quick Kill training improves hit probability at 300 meters, the confidence factor has to be the tentative conclusion.

In 1969, the Army and George Washington University researchers conducted another study on Quick Kill training (one of many sponsored by the Army’s Human Resources Research Organization, HumRRO), to see if money and time could be saved. Some groups continued to have three hours of air rifle training before moving on to a real rifle; some had only an hour and a half (this was not deliberately part of the experimental design, but the schedule happened to short some trainees; the social scientists welcomed this “found data” and incorporated it in the study). For the study’s sake, some training companies had the phase in which an attached rib is used to encourage instinctive firing deleted, and others retained it. The test showed conclusively that the Army was getting training value out of the air rifle and rib training: the groups that had the full training shot better than the ones that got the bowdlerized version. On the other hand, the test showed that they could make some changes to target ranges and reduce the number of rounds fired in the live-fire block of instruction, without compromising marksmanship quality. The key was reducing them together: if you reduced the round count while taking out one of three target distances (they went with 20 and 50m), there was no effect on training quality; if you reduced the round count, but stayed with 15, 30 and 50m, performance declined.

Remarkably, all trainees in this experiment at Benning were still being trained, even at this late date, with the obsolete M14 rifle. (Of course, National Guard units were still armed with WWII era weapons like the M1 rifle and M1919A6 light machine gun).

Quick Kill suffered the fate of many other Army innovations of the 1950s and 1960s — it became tainted by association with the lost war in Vietnam, and the Army banished it from its collective memory.

From time to time, someone tries to “rehabilitate” Quick Kill, as we suppose we’re doing with this post. The thing is, it works. You can train to hit targets at combat ranges without sights, and we firmly believe you should. (Think you’re hot stuff? Put some tape over your sights and run a Dot Torture or three. Spend a whole training session on it — and tell us if you don’t get better at it). Of course, the Army’s safe, simple, cheap starting mode — an airgun — is a great way to begin practicing Quick Kill.

Some more formal ranges, especially indoor ranges, won’t let you try this. They have their reasons. Your first few rounds will go unexpectedly high or low, but you will be surprised how quickly you can get on “minute of man” from a low position (pistol held centered at about chin height, long gun tucked below the armpit) or even from the hip. As with any practical shooting practice, start low and close in (if backstop permits; don’t do this if you’re shooting up on an indoor range or with an unknown range fan). When you’re hitting at smell-his-halitosis distances, then move the target back.

This skill does not replace aimed fire, but it supplements it in a potentially lifesaving way.

The facts are: you can learn to shoot accurately at short to medium distances without sights, with a lot of ammo, and a lot of practice. (But less than you might think it would take). Those mid-20th-Century guys, whether they were actual warriors or matinee idols, who blazed away with Colt .45s or Thompsons from the hip, are not as entirely incompetent as today’s training wallahs seem to think they are. In fact, today’s trainers are as stylized in their own way as the Western movie gunfighters of the 1950s were in theirs.

Here are some sources of more information.

Jim Keating describes some of the history on a nearly unreadable (gray text on black background, circa 1990) website, and will sell you manuals or training. He learned QK as a ROTC cadet in the 1960s.

Here is the 1971 version of the instruction “Training Text” (a document with less weight than a fully-doctrinal field manual). We apologize for the poor scan, it’s what DTIC had. The document describes a systematic and deliberate system of drilling rapid-fire point shooting just like the service drills any other soldier skill.

Here’s one of the 1969 studies. There are more to be found on NTIS and DTIC.

This website has more detail, developed by David Lambert. Some of the photographs used above appear to be from Mr Lambert’s collection and we have revised this post to give him credit:

27 thoughts on “Quick Kill — Useful Skill”

June 10, 2015 at 09:51
Sounds like something I’ve read being used by SOG teams running recon when they would have close quarters contact.

Jim Scrummy
June 10, 2015 at 10:15
Thank you! Good stuff!

Tim, ’80s Mech Guy

Tim, ’80s Mech Guy
June 10, 2015 at 10:41
My Dad trained on that at Fort Campbell summer ’68. They were still training on -14s but he has never mentioned any Vismoding, only the Daisy with no sights. He grew up on a farm and had a bit of rifle and rimfire experience already but nearly zero with a pistol. He wound up on the First Army Pistol Team when he got back from VN. Whilst ostensibly instructing “Helicopter Instrumentation and Electronics ” in reality they spent five or six hours a day on the range shaking the sights off their High Standards.

Tom Stone
June 10, 2015 at 10:58
I saw some oldtimers as a kid who could shoot from the hip with a shocking degree of speed and accuracy. This was in the early 60’s and they weren’t young men.

Raoul Duke
June 10, 2015 at 10:59

If you are using the gun as any sort of visual reference to direct the bullet flight path, I would argue that is “aimed fire”, not point shooting. Whether acquiring a deliberate hard focus on the front sight, just seeing the sights in a “flash picture”, or putting the gun between your eye and the target, none of it is truly “point shooting”.

Also of interest, many trainers these days, including FLETC, advocate a high ready position such as you described, with the pistol tucked under the chin, and practice extending to arm’s length and shooting the whole way. Sort of a transition from true point shooting to a flash front sight picture, all in the same arm extension toward target. Some call it the “21-inch-trigger-press”. Very effective at contact to 3 meters or so.

June 10, 2015 at 11:01

I am pleased to see this. As a gun nut and paintball enthusiast, I know from paintball experience that the walking, aimed fire I see taught at my local range will get you hit.
I have enjoyed practicing shooting from the hip while running from cover to cover while advancing. With semi auto AR’s, AK’s and my Steyr Aug.
I have seen video of Soviet troops advancing at the run, firing at full auto from the hip.
Starting at 50 yards, I can score 15 hits from a 30 round magazine while running at full speed. Reloads behind cover, and I am off again.
I have to say that all the other guys at my local gun club laugh at me as I run and shoot from the hip.

  1. S

    A useful link for airguns, care and feeding. Everything from little BB plinkers to big bore buffalo stoppers. I don’t get anything for plugging the site, it isn’t mine and I have no connection; but if you can’t overcome the temptation to shower me with Kruger-rands, I’ll understand.
    I’m working on a suppressor for the CO2 powered BB Mauser C96 copy, and a holster/stock like the real ones; it’s just a little too loud for plinking from the desk. The barrel can’t be threaded and is tapered, so it’ll be a fiddly job Bubbaneering a socket adapter.
    1. oberndorfer

      swiss-style soda bottle, then, maybe?
      1. oberndorfer
  1. S

    That is a very good idea…I could drill out the stopper and use that as the basis for the adapter. Problem is, I’d have to cut the base off and remount it so I can get some baffles in there, and it’s likely heavy, too heavy for the puny barrel of the pot-metal Umarex plinker (the actual barrel is a scary thin brass tube inside a wobbly mounted potmetal shroud). I think I’ll go for pvc plumbing & electrical fittings with a layer or two of epoxy & fibreglass over the top for safety and resilience. The drawback to stored pressure systems is the adiabatic cooling; I might get away with double taps with decent intervals between them, but no mag dumps. Accuracy goes out the window because of the dropoff in muzzle velocity. I think a slide action bb would be the best for consistent accuracy for training QK, or a pre-charged pneumatic. It’s easier on the logistics, being able to recharge anywhere with a pump rather than buying CO2 powerlets.

June 10, 2015 at 11:44
Taran Butler shooting a plate rack from the hip.

Jason C.
June 10, 2015 at 12:26
Thank you for this. Four words: Airsoft in back yard. It works great for point shooting, there’s no intrusive range master, and it costs less than a bottle of soda.

June 10, 2015 at 14:23
sorry for banging the
drum again

  1. Brad

    Okay. How about this?

June 10, 2015 at 14:46
my first thougt was ‘hey, the dodo is back’.
but then i remembered that many ww1 fliegerasse pilots were young aristocrats, with their instinctive shooting skills developed in shotgun hunting.
The Royal Air Force had noticed that as well, for fighter pilots and bomber machinegunners.


That’s also the first thing that occurs to me after seeing ‘quick kill’, isn’t that just like shotgun shooting?

  1. Hognose Post author

    It is, in a way. And in WWII we taught aerial gunners to fire at claybirds with 12-gauge shotguns, before they ever fired an AN/M2 aerial MG. That is, in fact, where all those old Remington etc. auto shotguns with “US PROPERTY” engraving come from, they weren’t “riot guns” but relatively long-barreled claybird guns.Everything old is new again!

June 10, 2015 at 15:04
Went through this training at Ft. Campbell in summer of 69. One phase not mentioned was hitting a small disc thrown in the air about 10ft overhead and slightly in front of you. The discs started about 2in in diameter and graduated down to about the size of a dime. Surprisingly, for most of us, it took very little time to be hitting the dime size one consistently.
There was also a “jungle” course where we had to traverse a trail through the woods. Somewhere on the trail were two enemy (drill sergeants – but I repeat myself) that we had to detect and shoot before they shot us. We were dressed in a heavy leather coat and a heavy leather hood with safety glass.
At the end of the course, we got to do a live fire with M14s. My assigned rifle had a good, crisp trigger. I was able to run off 3 and 4 shot strings well enough the Range Master thought I had a full auto weapon. The 4 shot strings, especially, proved the control issues with the full auto mode.

June 10, 2015 at 17:10
now i got to get a red ryder and get rid of the sights LOL

J. Wilde
June 10, 2015 at 17:14
My dad trained at Ft. Lost in the Woods, MO, and once described to me an experience that sounds just like what you’re talking about here. He never called it Quick Kill. He just said it wasn’t long before they could hit salt tablets tossed into the air.

June 10, 2015 at 17:27
I thought of this guy after watching the Predator video yesterday but it fits very well here…..
U tube Lars Andersen..a new level of archery
U will enjoy it.

  1. S

    It’s entertaining, as is also “A Response to Lars Andersen: a New Level of Archery”, also on the toob.
    Another entertaining watch is Lajos Kassai, who even makes and sells horsebows (“only” fibreglass, but still effective…if you want hot diggity dog horsebows with proper sinew/horn unbeaten by any modern material, try Saluki. Bring Money).
    Downside to Kassai is he uses western three-finger draw and not the thumbring, meaning he only draws up to 50lb. If you want penetration and range, it will mean 50% more at least. He is blazing fast, though, and I’d put my money on him if it came down to a shootout at the Agincourt Corral with Mr Andersen. If you’re drawing 80lb plus, even with the thumbring, a quick shot is mandatory except for Gorillas. Or, one buys a wheelbow with heaps of letoff, fancy sights, and all the failure points.
    Hey, at least we can still talk about bows and arrows, for now. At some time, mentioning that one just discovered how to throw a rock will be a capital offence.
    1. oberndorfer


June 10, 2015 at 21:03
You can watch the Army Marksmanship Unit shoot quickly and accurately in the modern competition-shooting style, using their sights, but not always relying on a hard front-sight focus and slow trigger squeeze.

Shooting air guns at moving targets makes sense. Removing your sight doesn’t, since it provides feedback about how well you’re indexing your gun, whether or not you take the time to fine-tune your aim.
June 10, 2015 at 21:36
“. In fact, today’s trainers are as stylized in their own way as the Western movie gunfighters of the 1950s were in theirs.”

been saying this for a few years now. Glad to see I am not the only person who noticed this

June 11, 2015 at 03:39
The only weapons training I received was in our one month Field Medical School, which wasn’t much. Upon joining Recon in Nam (latter 1970), we did the two week Recon training program (RIP). This included what they called the ‘rapid fire technique’. It was a shoot from the hip, quick target acquisition technique that sounds like what you are describing here. We were taught to immediately go into a slight crouch as we brought the M-16 to bear. In between patrols, we frequently practiced the technique along with standard sight & shoot. I cannot say I am a great shot, but the technique works as I got reasonably good at looking where the first round or two went then making the adjustment to be on target. Not too many bulls eyes, but usually nailed the target after the first couple rounds. Had the opportunity to use the technique just once, but that’s a story I’ll tell you over a scotch.

June 12, 2015 at 13:22
Someone above mentioned shotgun shooting. I read an article some years ago by a man who ran one of those millions-of-birds South American ranches. He said that when shooters- experienced Norteamericano shooters, who were paying a lot of money for unlimited game- came down, they would have a pretty good level of skill. But after a few cases of shells, they would improve remarkably. His conclusion was that sheer quantity, over a short time, of shooting had a significant quality in training value- a thousand in a week was a very different thing to a thousand in a year.

Those old pheasant slaughterers could kill two or three hundred driven pheasants a day because all they did was shoot.


  1. Wild, wild west says:

    Fort Jackson, summer of 1971, I remember Quick Kill AFTER basic rifle marksmanship and qual firing, not before, using “regular” wooden stocked Daisy BB-guns without sights. Daisy sold the same guns on the commercial market; I found one at a flea market some years back.


    1. BAP45 says:

      What were your thoughts on it?
      I never called it anything fancy but just “point shooting” when I used to compete. And it was as involved as this. More just you’ve been doing this long enough you know where it’s going.


      1. Wild, wild west says:

        Well, my thoughts were that the part where we put on helmets and face shields and hunted each other in the scrub brush with the BB guns was the best part……but as to the training itself, I’d been using a shotgun for several years before going in the army and instinctive shooting wasn’t anything new to me by that time. It was a new thing for some folks, though, so overall worthwhile.


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