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Multiply your training time return with inexpensive targets

By Ralph Mroz

Handgun training and qualification is one of those things that varies widely from agency to agency. Progressive agencies train each officer multiple times per year, in bright and low light, and mix interactive force-on-force scenarios (using technologies like Simunitions or airsoft) with necessary live-fire range time.

Coming in a couple dozen variations, and with hand overlays, photorealistic targets are the ultimate paper target, and can be used to create really exciting, high-value training.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are agencies that get their officers to the range only once per year, and then only to perform the minimum necessary “qualification.” No matter where your agency lies along this spectrum, one thing that’s always in short supply is training time and funds. Firearms instructors are always looking for ways to increase the training value for the time expended, and for ways to make the training more interesting and fun for their officers.

There is an inexpensive way to simultaneously accomplish both objectives: simply avail yourself the wide variety of different targets that are available. Paper targets are all very inexpensive, and simple steel targets are quire reasonably priced. And then there are the home-grown “targets” you can develop with a few items from your local dollar store.

Paper targets come in hundreds of variations, and they are all quite inexpensive. Essentially they come in three types: 1) scored area qualification targets, 2) geometric shape targets, and 3) photorealistic targets. Law Enforcement Targets carries a wide variety of each type, and each has their purpose.

Scored qualification targets have rings or scoring areas on them; they vary from straight-forward bulls-eye targets to targets with rings or scoring areas overlaid on an image of a person. The newer anatomical targets, which indicate where the major organs are on a human profile, are counted in this category. The purpose of this type of target is to develop marksmanship and shot placement, and for that they do a good job. You are probably using one of them now for your qualification. If your agency policy allows, an easy way to “spice up” these qualifications is to use a different, more interesting target. And certainly you can do so anytime for training other than your formal qualification.

Paper targets with geometric shapes on them — usually differently colored or numbered squares, circles and triangles — are used for the next step in training above marksmanship: judgment and speed. Typical drills with these targets are to hit a colored/numbered/shaped object as the instructor calls it out, or to hit several in succession. These targets help officers to choose and discriminate what they are shooting at—to integrate what they are seeing with their decision to shoot.

A shooter engaging some steel targets.

Photorealistic targets are perhaps the ultimate in paper targets. These targets usually come with a choice of a dozen or two life-size pictures of people, and with hand overlays so that you can portray each target as holding either a deadly weapon such as a knife or gun, etc., or an innocent object like a cell phone or badge, and so on. These targets are meant for decision-making courses of fire, and they do extremely well in “shoot houses” or situations that require the shooter to move through a course of fire and to be presented with shoot or no-shoot targets throughout it. I have used Law Enforcement Targets’ Full Color Situational Targets for a number of years now, and they are a first-rate tool. Officers rave about them.

Most of these paper targets are no more expensive—or hardly so—than the plain-old qualification targets you are probably now using. If you have not tried these alternate paper targets with the officers you train, you will find that everyone really likes using them. Although you are increasing the difficulty level of the shooting, you are also increasing its relevance.

Steel targets are used by all top-level shooters because they offer instant feedback as whether the shooter has hit or missed the target. Since they provide that feedback both audibly (and sometimes visually, also), the shooter never has to take his/her eyes off the sights. High-end steel target systems come with computer-controlled pneumatic mechanisms, but you can get a great deal of training value out of reasonably priced, simple reactive steel targets. And it's a sure bet that your officers will thoroughly enjoy shooting at them; if you want to increase the "fun" factor of going to the range, this is the way!

Action Target’s PT Static targets are an example of what I consider to be the most useful steel targets: simple, reactive, self-resetting squares or circles. They also have some neat combination targets, such as the PT Flip-Flopper, in which knocking down a pepper popper causes a paper target to swing into place, adding a time element to the system. The paper target can be a threat or no-threat target, to add judgment to the time constraint. The basic plate rack is a staple of all good shooters, and the PT Dueling Tree is a nifty device in which two shooters compete by shooting at a dynamically changing set of steel plates. I can tell you first-hand, this device not only a great deal of fun, but a really good training tool, as well!

Rubber targets, which the bullet passes through, are a variation of steel plates, and they are very useful for close-in training, where most of our real-world shooting happens (most steel plates should not be shot at less than 7 to 10 yards for safety reasons.) Newbold Targets are the leader in this field, and their high-tech polymer targets will take thousands of rounds.

Home-made targets, such as balloons, soda and milk jugs, and so on, can make exciting and challenging targets, and they cost essentially nothing. Shotgun clays are likewise very inexpensive, and make great reactive targets.

Adding realism A staple of high-end defensive tactics training is what are called “hooded” drills, in which the trainee is led, with a hood over his/her head, into a scenario. When the hood is removed, they have to react instantly to the situation in front of them. I have tried using hooded drills on the range, but found that removing the hood generally disrupts the shooter’s safety glasses or ear protection. Instead, I have gone to the following high-tech solution. I set up a scenario with between two to a dozen Full Color Situational Targets from Law Enforcement Targets, using their threat/no-threat hand overlays. I then cover each target with an old towel, to which I have attached a string. I pull down each towel in the order I wish, and let the trainee react to the situation as presented.

Bottom line With somewhere between zero incremental cash outlay to a very modest investment, we can all make our handgun training much more interesting and much more fun, and we can provide a much greater return on their training time to our officers.

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