Are your targets helping you, or setting you up for failure?
Just because you go to the range once or twice a month, doesn’t mean you’re ready to protect yourself in an actual gunfight. In fact, you’re actually just playing at training, and someone will be giving your eulogy if you ever have to protect yourself from “Mongo the ex-con.”
The problem begins when we go to the range and get our targets. We pick one out and it’s usually something like the B-27 qualification target. We hang it up and proceed to put some holes in it, and think to ourselves, “I did pretty good!” The problem with this is that you will inevitably revert to your range training if you ever have to shoot on the street. Let’s look at the problems in this scenario.
There is a huge difference between marksmanship training and training to fight.
The above mentioned target is fine if all you want to do is keep score on a piece of paper. It has nice, big scoring rings, which are great for seeing who can get a better score, but that’s all. The “X” in the center is considerably lower than the vitals on a human opponent. Very little credit is given for making head shots on it. While there is some value in them, this is probably the least useful of targets if you are training to fight!
Next, we have the various picture style silhouette targets. These can range from just a black outline with some arms sticking out, to full color targets with bad guys pointing guns at you, displaying knives, or even holding someone hostage. Some will be camouflaged, and some will show outlines of the human anatomy. Targets like this are used to accustom new shooters to the fact that yes, you will be shooting at another human being with your gun, and yes, that human being will usually have something in their hand that can hurt you. With non-visible scoring rings, and more realistic targets, shooters are forced to focus on placing their rounds center of mass. Perfect!
What’s wrong here is that the shooter becomes accustomed to shooting at a similar shaped target all the time. If the target is the same height all the time, and the shooter only practices at the “statistical” gunfight distance of seven yards, it becomes even worse. The shooter becomes used to a target that is always the same height, same distance, and same shape. What happens when Bubba the armed robber comes upstairs or downstairs, presenting an abstract target? It doesn’t look like it does on the range and the shooter freezes up or misses altogether. Cue the funeral march.
Making your training better
What can you do to make your training more relevant? First, use targets at unknown distances. Get used to taking a sight picture at different ranges. Change the shape and size of your targets. Fold the target in half to find out what it’ll be like to shoot at a sideways adversary. Cover the bottom half of the target, simulating a target behind a car. Angle the target to you, so you don’t have the ideal “center of mass” shot.
Change the height of the targets. Condition yourself to transition between higher and lower targets, and maintain your sight picture. Want to work on moving targets? Tie balloons to pieces of string three to five yards long, and hang them from target sticks. You will get a good taste of how difficult it is to hit a moving target. To work on precision shots or “hostage” shots, take a cardboard IDPA target and staple another one on it, with the white backside facing out. Make sure most of the target is covered up, so you have to focus your shots.
One of the goals here is to be able to make your shots as fast and as accurately as you can. This is not the time for sloppy marksmanship. You also need to get in the habit of making up your bad hits. If you have a bad hit on the target, shoot it again! The whole idea of only shooting one or two rounds fails miserably on the street when the assailant moves after the first shot, and you have to shoot several times to put him down. So train yourself to do it beforehand.
Basic range drills are just that: basic range drills. Once we have the fundamentals down, we need to step up our training regimen and make it harder on ourselves. The harder our training, the easier the fight will be. Train yourself to fight and win, so you can avoid the cheap flowers and kind words at the funeral.
[ Steve Collins owns S&L Training in SW Missouri, teaching concealed carry and defensive firearms and tactics. He is a former member of the US Army Marksmanship Unit and an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor. For more information on training opportunities, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.sandltraining.com. ]