What’s your Tueller Distance?

It’s not 21 feet, I promise you. UPDATED 12/30/23.

WARNING: Graphic image in this article.

One of the things the US military likes to do is “get under the enemy’s decision curve.” What this means is we act faster than the enemy can react. By the time the enemy sees us, asses the threat, issues reactionary orders and can carries them out, we have already neutralized that target and moved on.

I bring this up because there is a point of distance where any potential attacker is ‘under your decision curve.’ You need to be aware of that physical range and who’s inside of that limit. No person(s) who trigger your Condition Orange should be inside of that distance without you doing something about it. If they are, you should be at Condition Red. You know, Situational Awareness and all that.

Salt Lake City Police Officer Dennis Tueller in the early 80’s did some experiments and discovered two things:

  • It takes a competent armed person about 1.5 seconds to draw, aim and fire two shots into a target at seven yards from open carry.
  • A male of average fitness can cover seven yards in the same amount of time.

This is where the “21 foot rule” you have heard about comes from. However, it’s not a rule and it’s certainly not 21 feet. The more correct term is the “reactionary gap.” And it is a variable you need to be aware of. Here’s his original 1983 article.

Here’s the rub.

IF he’s 21 feet away, and IF you can get two shots off, it’s not going to be at seven yards, it’s going to be point blank range because he's closing the distance. If you’re a little slow, you might not get your arms extended and have to pull the trigger from compressed ready, or even one-handed from the hip because you haven’t gotten your hands together yet.

Here’s the real kicker: Short of a brain/spine hit, even if you hit him directly in the heart/aorta area, he can still have up to 10-15 seconds of combat capability before his brain turns off from blood/oxygen loss. This isn’t Hollywood, people don’t fall over and die the second they catch a bullet. Especially if they’re in the middle of an adrenaline spike or are hopped up on drugs. And if you have bad aim and shoot them in the abdominal area below the rib cage (stomach/intestines/etc.) you haven’t hurt him enough to stop him. He might die, but that will be long after he’s stuck that knife in you multiple times.

And there are no winners in a knife fight. If the knife gets to you, then you're going to get cut and that will suck beond belief. This is the back of a police officer after being attacked by a knife-wielding assailant:

Knife Fight

Let’s do some math:

  • 21 feet in 1.5 seconds == 14 feet/second.
  • Attacker can be combat capable for 15 seconds after a fatal hit.

Just round numbers here, but 18-20 seconds at 14 feet/second looks more like 280 feet, which is almost a football field. Realistically it will be way less, but when your life is on the line, you always want to act under the worst case scenario and be pleasantly surprised if you stop him sooner.

In the end, you need to understand and train to do a couple of things.

1. Get off the ‘X’. Every foot you back away is one more foot he has to cover to get to you. Move to one side or the other so he has to change direction. This will throw off his momentum and aim.

2. Keep shooting. If you have fulfilled the legal and moral requirements to shoot someone, there’s no scale or grade on how many shots are too much. As one instructor told me decades ago, “If you can shoot him, there is no legal difference between ‘dead’ and ‘dead dead.’ Except anchor shots. Remember, as an armed citizen, you are authorized only to shoot until the threat is stopped. Once he’s no longer a threat, you can’t do a Bernhard Goetz, “You don’t look too bad, here’s another.”

3. Practice your “Failure-to-Stop’ drills. That’s two fast shots to the center torso, an assessment to see if he’s down, then an aimed shot to the head. If you're not confident in your marksmanship to hit his head, aim for the groin. If you han hit his pelvis, he will drop like a bag of rocks because you just destroyed his ability to walk. 

4. ‘Shooting feet’ is not always equal to ‘running feet.’ If you’re at 7 yards away from the bad guy as the bullet flies, but there’s two cars and a cart corral between you and him, that’s more than 7 yards running. This is part of the space you want to create between him and you.

5. Understand your ‘Tueller Distance.’ The police draw from open carry. You and I draw from concealment. Practice and measure how long it takes you to draw and fire, then at 14 feet/second, use that to start figuring your ‘Tueller Distance.’

5a. Understand the distance itself. On Sunday morning, find an empty parking lot. Measure out your determined Tueller Distance, then have a buddy stand at that distance from you. Mentally “save his size” to understand the scale of the distance. Count how many parking spaces there are from him to you. Repeat at different angles.

6. Make sure your your lawyer understands. If, God forbid, you’ve defended your life and now must defend your freedom, make sure your lawyer knows and understands the concepts we have been discussing here. The most important one is why you engaged at that particular distance. Once they understand, they should know where to look (at $400+/hour) to understand and start to build a legal strategy with this as a part of it so you remain free.

As with all aspects of being an armed citizen, figure this out now, so you don’t have to think about it while you’re fighting for your life.

12/30/23 UPDATE:

I wrote this article, not knowing about this video. Just knowing about the 'rule,' then after reading The Law of Self Defense, finding and reading the original article, then about 10 minutes of research to answer specific questions while writing this article. Today, I found this video by Tom Greive, the CEO of USCCA who is a lawyer and worked as both a defense and prosecuting attorney. Man, I'm good. ;-)

Related Articles

It's happened. Now what?

Carry Insurance

Free Joomla! templates by Engine Templates