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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Olmstead-Jacobs HumRRO 14-69 Quick Kill.pdf
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: