By Susan Callaway
Certified NRA instructor for handguns, self defense, CRSO
The dedication page of my new book reads: To the man I had to shoot to save my life.
Yes, you read it right. I’ve already had to shoot a man in self defense. Here’s the story.
In 1982 I was living alone at the edge of a small desert town in Southern California. It wasn’t the best of neighborhoods and I was moving the very next day to a better area. Sometimes your luck just runs out.
I woke up about midnight, hearing angry voices outside at the back of the house. There was no fence and people often wandered around at night, but their argument seemed to be escalating and getting closer so I got up and put on a robe. My little dog was barking up a storm.
Looking out the front window, I saw a man standing by the driver’s door of my car on the street, obviously trying to get into it and well illuminated by the full moon.
I got the shotgun and opened the door a crack, then shouted at the man to get away from my car and go away. He just looked at me and went on trying to get into the car.
Then I made a big mistake.
I walked out onto the sidewalk, closing the door behind me to keep the little dog from getting out.
At that point the man started to walk toward me, in a few words telling me just how he would hurt me. I raised the shotgun, but he just sneered and said confidently, “you won’t shoot me” and kept coming.
He was still too close to my car, so I aimed the .410 shotgun just over his head and pulled the trigger.
I saw the shocked look, just before I saw the blood on his face and chest where the tiny #6 birdshot had hit him. He turned and ran away, destroying a low ornamental fence in the process, but never even slowing to untangle it from his legs.
Elapsed time? Probably not more than half a minute from the time I walked out the door until he fled. The time between his sneering comment and pulling the trigger? Probably a few seconds. The car was no more than 20 – 25 feet from the door.
Emergencies happen fast. I basically had a choice between shooting at him or being killed, with not much time to make up my mind. I was lucky to have the gun, to have taken it to the door with me, and lucky to know something about firing it. Some miracle had made me keep it loaded the two years since I’d left the farm where it had been used on squirrels and other varmints.
Shaking and almost sick to my stomach, I went back into the house and locked the door… made sure every window was locked and took a long hot shower. I had no phone, so could call nobody. Since the sheriff’s office was 32 miles distant, calling them would have been a joke anyway. Everyone in that town just had to live with that fact. I never did report it, not being at all sure what their reaction would be. He obviously didn’t die, and didn’t report it either.
Eventually I went back to bed and tried hard not to think about any of it. As with most things we don’t want to face, I mostly succeeded.
It was almost 25 years, and a few self defense classes later when I realized all of the mistakes I’d made and how close I came to death or terrible injury that night. I was very, very lucky things turned out as they did. And he was very lucky I hadn‘t aimed that gun straight at him.
What were my mistakes?
1. I went from a relatively secure position in the house to a seriously exposed position on the front walk. I basically cut off my only avenue of retreat when I shut the door.
Since there had been others arguing with him only minutes before, there was every reason to suspect he was not alone and that others could have attacked me from behind. It just never crossed my mind… Actually, I was sure he would run away as soon as I shouted, or at least as soon as he saw the gun.
Once I was under attack, understanding my peril and scared to death, I suffered from “tunnel vision.” I was completely unable to see or hear anything but the threat in front of me. I probably no longer even heard the dog barking furiously in the house. This is very common under such stress and can only be overcome with serious training and practice.
2. My gun held only one shell at a time, and I had no others with me. If he had continued to attack after I’d foolishly shot over his head, he would probably have killed me. It is highly unlikely I’d have had time to reload anyway.
3. My major mistake was in confronting him, without knowing what to do and especially without an adequate weapon.
So, should we all just cower in the house or allow ourselves to be attacked and robbed? Only you can answer that for yourself. I did what I thought I had to do at the time, and I would again. If there is a next time, however, I won’t make the same mistakes.
In the course of my training I’ve given this all a great deal of thought. I was amazed and unhappy to discover that many of the handgun and self defense classes seem to ignore or gloss over one of the most important parts of helping people prepare for just such an encounter: practice on your own.
Skills take time to develop and a class or two for a few hours can begin the process, but can’t provide the ongoing practice required to cement those skills into the reflexes and muscle memory needed for fast, effective action under stress. If you understand how the mind and body works under this kind of stress, you’ll understand why you must be prepared to react instead of trying to remember what it is you’re supposed to be doing or agonizing over a decision when you may have only seconds to live if you don’t ACT immediately.
This book of practical exercises grew out of that perceived lack. These are the exercises I do myself on a regular basis, and teach to all of my classes. I believe that these exercises could make the difference between a successful defense, and death or serious injury. It’s too important not to at least consider.
A man (or anyone) who attacked me today would face a calm, confident, prepared and VERY well armed woman – any time of the day or night. I would hope that he was able to perceive his disadvantage and just go away.
Some would, and some would not.
I’ve already made mine.
[The book, “I Am NOT A Victim” is no longer available.]
Would love a copy of your book..so glad you are safe
Please send us your email!
I would love a copy!
Please forward copy of the book, can’t wait to read it. Thank you for the effort and the honesty!
I would love to have a copy of your book.
Thank you, ma’am, for what you have been doing all these years that I haven’t known about. I just found out about your blog from Survival Blog’s post of your cancer and know you are in my prayers. If you are still sending them, could I have a copy of your e-book? I would like to give it to my wife, as she is starting to get interested in arming herself.
Again, thank you for what you do and have been doing for so long. God bless!
I would love to have a copy of your book. Thank you
On the way! 🙂
Good afternoon. Followed a thread to your site from joelsgulch.com — I’d like a copy of your book. (I tried sending an email but it bounced back as a bad address)
No problem. Book on the way in email as a pdf file.
Could you please send me your book? Thank you making the information available for everyone.
I’m happy to send it. Watch for a pdf file in email.
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Love your site! Please send me your book!
On the way… pdf file.
this is the best website ever
May I please have a copy of your book? I’m very interested in learning about the firearm exercises you mention.
Take care and God Bless.
It is on the way!
I would really love the book. Self defense is something that I am passionate about. Please let me know if that is still available. Thank you.
On the way! Spread the word! It’s free to anyone who asks for it.
Hi Mama Liberty,
I’m new to guns – got my CCW almost a year ago, constantly dry fire, go to the range, etc. It sure is nice to see another mature, not-anorexic woman who knows what she’s talking about!
I’ve been trolling youtube looking at holsters and am so sick of the 110 lb girls on whom the gun just seems to disappear.
I’m 61, 5/9 and got a gut. The freaking thing pokes me in said gut. I’m waiting for my new Oynx holster to come. Hopefully, that will spread out the pain a bit a the 4:00 position. Also, a bit less muffin top there!
I suppose I could go on a diet, but that ain’t about to happen. I just buy bigger clothes – seems to work.
I would love to read a copy of your book.
Thanks in advance.
Book and response coming in email. 🙂
Hi, great account, will share with my daughters, hope tosee you at july appleseed.
I’ve enjoyed your comments on TTAG, and read of your harrowing self defense experience just today. If still available, I’d enjoy the chance to read more.
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May I please have a copy of your book? Thanks.
On the way!
I’d like a copy of the book.
Look for it in pdf file coming your way!
Hi Glad you were able to repel the attacker. Would like a pdf copy of your book. Thank you
On the way. 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am looking forward to reading your book, and thankful that you have taken the time to inform us.
You are most welcome! Book is on the way.
Thanks for joining Liberty.me! May I have a copy of your book? We are in northern California, and I grew up in Colorado, spending a fair amount of time in Wyoming.
On the way! 🙂
It would be great if you could send the PDF of your book. I found you on Liberty.me. Thankyou for writing and loving freedom! Jimmy.
Sent, and I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
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I have a Mossberg shotgun and a Glock sidearm. Over 3 decades ago I took my first private lesson in firearms (“private” means no registration, finger prints, nor any other notice to the government that I undertook such instruction). My instructor’s most important lesson stays with me still:
“When you clear your gun of its holster, or raise your shotgun, you had fucking better be prepared to shoot to kill, NOT merely to injure or maim ! If you fail to do that, you will likely die at your attacker’s hands. Don’t worry about going to prison for self-defense, unjust as that would be. Take the sentence in stride, for it’s a terror only to an ignorant child, not to a man who knows his legitimate individual rights, and asserting and defending your legitimate, absolute right to your life is well worth any price you pay to do so !”
That is just about the worst advice I’ve ever heard for self defense. The ONLY purpose in drawing or firing the gun is to stop the attack. That is the only moral or legal attitude that makes any sense at all. If the attacker dies as a result, it is his responsibility, of course, but it is not even logical for that death to be your goal. Instead, I’d say that you have zero authority to fire that gun unless your life, or that of another innocent, is clearly in mortal danger. Then shoot straight, to center of mass, to STOP the attack.
I have a bad feeling you are probably living in one of the statist hellholes. Out here in Wyoming, there is no “registration, fingerprints or any notice to government” required for either instruction or gun ownership. We carry guns, either openly or concealed, with no government “permission” slip, though some still get one, easy and cheap, because they travel.
Please send me an email to request the book. There is just so much more to this self defense thing than I think you realize.
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You are alive. That is all that matters. Hindsight is the best teacher, you never forget its lesson.
My goto long gun for self defense/home invasion is an AR15. Why, many asked? Multiple home invaders. You can’t always have a lone wolf invasion. Sometimes the whole pack arrives, and that possibility must be first in the list of defense strategies.
A 12 ga. combat shotgun is also in the safe, readily available for my wife to back me up.
We both have sidearms (I carry) of various calibers.
The decision to get back into powder-burners after a 35 year hiatus began when my wife opened the door to a shabbily dressed woman, stinking, with matted hair. She drove a trashed white van, with dark tint. She said she was working for a new carpet cleaning business, and asked my wife if her crew could clean the carpet free of charge. She slammed that door so quickly it startled me.
Lesson learned. We speak through the door to determine who it is. There are multiple arms hidden, but quickly accessible. Trust your gut. We discussed a camera at the door, but it was too expensive to install, with all the other cameras we would need at 3 other entrances into the house. A peep-hole camera with audio will be the only purchase, at this time. Getting defensive arms took more that our disposable income, but we have to be prepared. My wife doesn’t want to carry, but she does have a sidearm.
Anyway, there are stories to be told, and lessons learned, and lives saved. It doesn’t get much better than that!
We each have different situations, needs and skills, of course. I can’t handle a 12g. shotgun, but I suspect my 20g would do the job. 🙂 I never leave home unarmed. Not because I expect trouble, but because I don’t ever want trouble to take me by surprise again if I can help it. Living in rural Wyoming, with a good dog and a long driveway helps a lot. And I’m a firm believer in trusting my guts. Thanks for sharing your story!
Howdy. Although in your first and I pray only violent defense encounter, hindsight has revealed different choices you could have made, the blessing is that in the moment your decisions were successful in resolution as well as keeping you alive. The Lord works in such ways, and the result is you, passing along information to keep others alive and safe.
I have an 18 year old daughter, two granddaughters – and a wife I am teaching to defend by fighting her pistol. Your book would be an asset in teaching them all, and feedback would be happily provided. Email address is email@example.com. Thank you and God bless you.
Book is on the way in pdf format. Your feedback is important to me, and I’d love to hear from the ladies!!
I want to thank you for telling your story. People need to stop being ashamed of having and using guns. Did you make mistakes? Sure you did and so would any of us. It take practice and more practice and you still won’t get it all right. But if you walk away alive you are the winner and only the winner can learn. Please let me know how I can get a copy of your book.
Please send me your e-book. I am really new to the idea of self defense and the importance of the 2nd amendment. I am 68 years old and the idea of hand to hand struggle is out of the question. However, I do wish to be a responsible gun owner and be able to protect my loved ones. Thank you in advance for your help in this vital matter.
The book will be on its way shortly. I’m 68 as well, with a chronic bad back from an injury 53 years ago. No “hand to hand” for this old lady, you can be sure. But it is never too late to learn to defend yourself, and a gun is only a small part of that. I think the book will help you to realize how many different ways you can prepare for that, and a few simple changes might mean you never need to become a victim.
If you decide to get a gun, I hope you will consider finding a good instructor and taking at least the basic three classes. Good luck, and I look forward to your feedback.
Thank you for sharing the story, I have been thinking about it for a while. Trying to put myself in that situation and thinking what my reactions would be. Not telling the mistakes you made until after the story made a big impression, as if I had made them myself.
I think about what actually might transpire and really do not know what I would do. How do I get the book, I feel I would benefit greatly from advice.
I’m happy to share the book with you. Look for it in your email.
Whether or not you currently own a gun, I urge you to get some good, hands-on training in addition to using the drills in the book. Be aware of your surroundings at all times when outside your home, and frequently visualize how you would respond to potential dangers. Your ideal response will depend a great deal on where you live and the “laws,” customs and attitude of the people around you.
“self defense book” Please send the book I want my daughter to read it.
I appreciate your writing.
I will send others your way.
God Bless you,
The book is free to anyone who will send me an email and ask for it! All I ask in return is that they send me their feedback and feel free to ask questions. Book is on the way.
You rock lady! Yes the important think is…You did defend yourself and survived! Those of us who have survived understand as the theorist never will. You do not know until it happens to you. There are too many Polyanna’s out there and individuals who teach nonsense. Never apologize for being a survivor. Mistakes, we all make them, but we survived. Focus on the fact you survived, and that is positive. Most stories of self defense are about just plain folks like us. If we could only make the sheep out there understand that they can survive too.
I enjoyed your story. If you are interested, mine is at “http://www.savedbyagun.com/our_story.html”
God Bless you.
Thanks so much! One great benefit of survival in spite of mistakes is the opportunity to learn from them and improve one’s chances of survival another time. That was the purpose of my subsequent training, and sharing that has been a great pleasure to me.
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Excellent story, thank you very much for sharing it. I especially like how the facts weren’t obviously twisted to make you come across as some amazing super hero, but as any “normal” person who might find themselves in such a situation. Very inspirational.
LOL!! I suspect my picture there would easily dispense any notions of being a “super hero.” This incident happened nearly 30 years ago, and at that point I was completely untrained in self defense. I was just very, very lucky and was able to translate that luck into doing something meaningful much later.
I had no idea that picture was the infamous “mamaliberty” that I know from “shtfplan.com” and “ericpetersautos.com”. Cool to see you in “real” life! Here is me: http://youtu.be/Nta4higYq2o
Here’s hopin’ I keep seeing you around the internet.
Glad to meet you!! Come visit me in Wyoming. You can do all KINDS of things here that make city people wet their pants. LOL
And don’t worry, I plan to be around for a very long time.
Wyoming! I’m upstairs in Montana. And I’d appreciate a copy o’ that fine book, ma’am. 🙂
It’s on the way! Thanks for stopping by.
J., I don’t know why your first response didn’t show up here… tried to approve both at once and guess that was a mistake… anyway, I’ll repost it here:
Hi, ML – I haven’t been online much, and won’t for a while, having just lost my beloved bride last month and I’m am still up and down trying go get things done here. She was my soul-mate for most of my life and without her things don’t matter so much, But I saw a note you left at Sipsey street and wanted to share a thought with you. Although I’m sure you already know it.
“Yes, he shot at the cops… we’re told… and this might be no different than what we envision when “they” come to confiscate our guns. WE DO NOT KNOW what really happened here”
My thought: we must realize taht IF it coems down to the knock on the door and we,assuming it is a home invasion, take out a half dozen bad guys with the proper repsonse, then whether we are taken dead or alive, the marxist media will not tell the truth, that we were defending our lives. Rather, we will be painted as violent people with a history of mental illness, who possessed an ‘armory’ of weapons and thousand of rounds of ammunition, and imaginary neighbors will be interviewed to swear that we were scary / anti-government or Viet nam era vets with PTSD. Then a close up of the news bitches will tell the slack-jawed viewers about the family consisting of little Timmy the handicapped child, Kiki the amputee chihuahua and the grieving diabetic wife in a wheelchair all left behind when their husbands were gunned down by the armed madman / madwoman as they simply tried to do their jobs.
Hey – I’m pretty good, maybe I should take up writing for the bastards!
Stay safe and free. God bless you.
Besides, the excess birdshot could have made some nasty marks on your car! But I’m glad you pulled when it came to be trigger time, otherwise you may not have been around to write the article.
Exactly. The important thing is that I did manage to defend myself, warts and all.
The best gun fight is the one that never happened, or where the criminal runs away without a shot fired. But we must be prepared to shoot if necessary. And that means we must have the tools to do the job required. Anything else is Pollyanna nonsense.