Firearms training range reality & a new training tool
by Dave Spaulding
Law Officer Magazine
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It would be optimum if every American law enforcement agency owned a state-of-the-art firearms training facility, but for many reasons, that will never happen. Regardless of how much any given community supports its police department, few citizens want a firearms range near their home. Some claim lead may contaminate the soil and ground water; others fear gunfire noise and the possibility of a stray round entering the neighborhood. Further, many urban communities don’t have the space for a shooting range within or close to their jurisdiction.
While a few small, wealthy departments exist, most struggle to make ends meet. The capital necessary to buy land, build the range and equip it represents funds better spent on cruisers, uniforms, radios and maintenance. Many police departments either borrow another agency’s facility, or they use a gravel pit, a dry creek bed, a natural mound or another such location to conduct qualification, which is nothing more than shooting a standard course of fire, punching enough holes in a paper target to earn a passing score. However, everyone knows (if they have a functional brain in their head) that qualification alone does not ensure safe, consistent firearms proficiency.
The tradition of conducting firearms qualification continues for any number of reasons; lack of a proper facility is just one of them. (Personally, I think many agency range officers just don’t know any better.) In many states, to become a “certified” firearms instructor, all the officer must do is visit a state training council facility and attend a one- to two-week course, during which the staff of said facility teaches what they think students need to know. At this point, the officer is blessed and told to go forth and do great things. The problem: Most of these programs leave the new instructor ill-prepared to teach shooting because they have only been shown how to qualify. While I am far from the ultimate authority on firearms training, I have taught a few people how to shoot, and I have had far more than a handful of students who have prevailed in armed conflict (some captured on video). I also remain a serious student on the topic of gunfighting.
In my columns, I hope to help those who want to improve themselves as shooters or instructors and remain open-minded to new ideas. I would also like to help those instructors from small agencies (LAPD and NYPD don’t need the help!) who seek to do more than just qualify their personnel. I understand what it feels like to care more about the firearms training program than your agency does. I have trained officers in spite of themselves and invested my own time and money into my efforts. While at times I felt quite discouraged, I never felt as if I failed.
With that in mind, read on to learn about a firearms training tool that doesn’t cost much or require much space, and can help instructors go beyond simply qualifying students.
Get Ready to Duel
While surfing the company’s Web site to check out the new products, I came across a portable dueling tree. While a dueling tree is nothing new to experienced shooters and trainers, what caught my eye about this one was that it was portable and cost less than $300, including shipping. A short video demonstrated how well it worked. I was immediately intrigued with the target for small-agency/mobile training, so I called the company and requested a sample in order to share my findings with Law Officer readers.
According to the company, it developed the target system in house with design engineer Larry Sandvig, a U.S. military veteran with small-arms experience, and Sandvig developed the tree with safety, efficiency and reduced cost in mind.
The tree stands only around 4' tall when assembled and weighs around 68 lbs.; when disassembled, the unit is easily transported. Made of AR 500 steel, this target system will stand up to years of shooting, provided the instructor or agency takes proper care of it.
The angle-forward target not only reduces wear on the plates and steel upright, it reduces potentially harmful bullet splatter. Normally, you shouldn’t shoot steel targets from closer than 7 yards to avoid splatter, but the small circular targets found on LE Targets’ tree would be quite difficult to hit at this distance, creating more student frustration than necessary. I found that shooting them at 5–6 yards worked just fine, provided the shooters stood right in front of the plates and no spectators were permitted to spread out behind those shooting.
While some question the validity of shooting at steel targets, I find students like shooting at steel—it’s fun! There is nothing wrong with making training worthwhile and fun; it may spur the in-service officer to visit the range. Additionally, unlike paper targets, the shooter can’t score steel targets. If you watch an officer on the line shooting for score, they will lift their head with every shot they fire, trying to double-check the bullet hole’s location. Few trust their ability to line up the gun’s sights and control the trigger, so they will fire a shot, raise their head to check the target and then return to their position behind the gun. The problem: The previous shooting position has changed, so it’s unlikely the shooter can maintain a tight group. Steel targets, especially those as small as the discs found on the LE Targets Dueling Tree, are either struck or not, in which case you don’t hear a ringing sound and the target does not move. A shooter can hear/see this without having to lift their head, so the steel target helps the shooter/student hold proper shooting position.
Officers can fire any number of drills on the tree to help keep their shooting skills sharp. I have included several drills to help instructors use the tree efficiently, but I’m sure many of you will develop your own. Be innovative, and don’t be afraid to try new things to help your student-officers prevail in a fight.
Stay alert, and check 360 often.Lt. Dave Spaulding is a 27-year veteran of the Montgomery County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office. He is a member of the Police Advisory Board and the author of "Defensive Living" and "Handgun Combatives," both available from Looseleaf Law Publications (www.looseleaflaw.com).
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