Gabe White on Vision

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Vision is critical to tactical performance, and has been an important topic in fighting disciplines for centuries. Shooter Gabe White has a fascinating approach to developing vision vis-a-vis the mechanics of shooting that he wrote about here:


From a tactical perspective, of course we must confirm our targets in force encounters. Confirm the factors that provide the articulation to use deadly force. Confirm that a threat is armed, or that it’s a gun and not a phone the subject is pulling out…

And we must be aware of people moving in the foreground between us and our target – with a potential to move through our line of fire. And our backstop – is it an active apartment complex? A brick wall?  Or a plate glass window at the Starbucks, the looky-loos on the other side all turned toward us as they try to figure out what is going on…?

This is a high level task load on our cognitive processing when it will matter most. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little more time to take all that in before going to sights and pressing the trigger?

Gabe’s At Will Accommodation Shift saves time and increases certainty on the sights when we transition to them. This can be invaluable in a shooting situation, and life saving in a situation where a threat may be shooting back.

The Force Science Institute has done some research regarding vision, including gaze control and scan patterns, as well as specifically related to shooting.

I was able to see some of the research mentioned in the Analyst course. It was telling in that the “ordinary” officers – newly minted recruits fresh out of training – spent a lot of time doing exactly what they were trained to do: look for their sights during a shooting encounter. First their eyes wildly jumped around the scene in question, then lost all focus on the subject when threatening actions took place, as they were now occupied in searching for their sights. Unfortunately, in so doing they missed threat cues, they missed that the subject they were shooting had drawn out a phone, or just pointed a finger at them.

By contrast, “elite” performers, members of a tactical anti-terrorist squad, were much more focussed in the use of their eyes. Their eyes were “quiet,” they lingered at the points one would expect true threat cues to emerge: head/facial expression, hands, waistband. Then, when the threat presented, their gun came up, but their focus to the sights came later and was much more controlled, still observing for shoot-no shoot indicators before shooting. Understand this was a matter of fractions of a second.

Gabe has augmented this through his approach to visual acuity on the sights. When considering some of the Force Science research on trained vs. novice shooters,  in particular regarding internal vs. external focus, one can see where the issue with the ordinary or recruit shooters was versus the elites: training time, and experience with stress. Both of these reduce internal focus through more practice and what is called stress inoculation.

What we are practicing is as important, if not more so, than how much we practice. Gabe’s approach offers a practice methodology for Vision that has much promise in a crucial area of shooting performance, and not just for the competition world.

Here is a highlight clip of Gabe in action:


One comment

  1. In a personal communication, Gabe expanded on his thoughts regarding the At Will Accommodation Shift (AWAS) with some comments I think are valuable:

    (slightly edited)

    “I don’t think I’ve ever heard or seen the process of sight focused shooting described accurately. Sadly, I have come to believe that my definitions and methods are not of widespread utility. Many people seem hardwired to have linked convergence and accommodation and are simply going to run their vision differently than I do. Target focused shooting works fine in an awful lot of instances. Personal variation is the reason.

    ‘See What You Need to See’ is the bottom line true answer, even if it is dreadfully empty.”

    And regarding AWAS:

    “I think the best thing to get across to everyone is a clean decision-action process of having unobstructed vision while seeking to make a decision.

    If the decision to fire is made, bring the gun to the eye-target line and carry out the aiming and shooting (exact details somewhat variable by individual), and be active mentally, looking for the big things (threat exits sight picture by falling/turning/running) that should tell the shooter to quit shooting, get finger in register, unobstruct the vision, and go back to decision-making. “


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