Why We Practice Shooting at 21 Feet

By on February 17, 2017

Almost every shooting range I go to has targets set up 21-feet from shooting position (or bench). I wonder, does it emanate from the “Tueller Rule”?

21 Feet in 1.5 Seconds

Dennis Tueller, was a firearms instructor for Salt Lake City’s police department. He penned this article published in SWAT magazine in March 1983. Written for police officers, it’s still relevant and full of sound advice. In his scenario, the bad guy is armed with a knife running toward a cop 21 feet away. From his observations, he points out that a healthy bad guy, from a standing position, can run 21 feet in about 1.5 seconds. And the cop? Tueller poses several options: issue verbal commands; seek cover; step aside (as in get out of the way); have your gun pulled, at the ready, in case the first three don’t work.

A Demonstration

In 2012, the importance of the 21-foot distance was demonstrated in my NRA Shooting for Self Defense class. Two instructors were involved: one played the bad guy who was to run 21 feet from a standing position; the other played a self defense shooter. (For safety, the gun used was plastic, and the two were not only 21 feet apart in one direction, but also, 10 feet away laterally. We watched from the side. On “Go!” The ‘bad guy’ ran a straight line; and the shooter pulled the ‘gun’ from his holster, took aim, with intent to fire. Illustrative !

Result: The plastic gun was pulled and aimed, the bad guy was nearly on top of it.

It takes about 1.5 to 1.9 seconds for a healthy ‘bad guy’ to run 21 feet. Intermediate to advanced shooters, depending on degree of training and practice, can get a shot off in 0.9 to 2 seconds, from a holster. But I can’t. Yet.  (My first point shooting class qualifications clocked me in at 3 shots–groin, chest, head–from a low ready in 1.6 seconds. On the slow side but passable, by Steve Barron’s standards). And if you’re not into guns for self defense, what are you going to do?

Four Take-Aways:
Timed shooting match. SM shooting my S&W 9VE.

Northside Sportsmen Assoc. hosts friendly pin shooting competitions, where each shooter is timed for accurate shot placement. Here I’m shooting my Smith & Wesson Sigma 9VE, a 9mm semiautomatic.

My take aways regarding the 21’ foot danger zone:

1) Someone closing in on me at 21 feet with a weapon or a real bad look on their face, poses a real and imminent threat.

2) Know what you’re willing to do. Visit the Willingness blog post here.

3) Seek best training possible.

3) Cultivate a mindset to not freeze, and be able to take evasive or martial action.

4) Practice is an eternal must.

5) Above all: You want prevention more than you want self defense. (Don’t let someone get into your house in the first place!)

Next time you’re looking 21 feet down range, think about that target moving toward you. Will you be ready and steely enough to deal with that threat? Are you willing to shoot, really? How exactly are you going to do it?

Seek good training. Practice a lot. Visualize your options.

Advanced shooters may be interested in this update on the Tueller drill.


Suzy Meyer, Author
Pittsburgh, PA

I'm a landscape architect, gardener, and of late, a certified NRA instructor. I enjoy practicing T’ai Chi, playing bocce, and walking through watersheds.. This blog is my journey full of learning curves to calm the chaos.


Receive a FREE PDF of the 5 Myths!

* indicates required