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Tactical Targets

Tactical Targets

Intense training for defensive shooting requires special targets.

A 3D target such as the Tac-Man is especially useful for shooting from the side, something that can't be replicated with other targets.

For a long time, I never gave much thought to what I shot at on the range--paper plates, IPSC targets, silhouettes or a plain piece of cardboard--it just didn't matter. But as the sophistication of my training increased, I realized that different types of targets work best for certain purposes.

Elaborate pop-up steel plate systems and other expensive target systems are fun, but they aren't necessary for good defensive training. There are many inexpensive options that not only have tremendous potential but also offer training options that steel systems can't match.

Bullseye Targets
I doubt there is a shooter out there who has not shot a typical bullseye target at one time or another. It is the target that I learned on, and most others probably did as well. Properly used, the shooter simply aligns the sights and places them at the bottom of the black circle.

Bullseye shooters use this sight picture for ultimate accuracy. Keeping the sight picture aligned at six o'clock--the bottom of the circle--provides for a precise, consistent sight picture. Of course, the sights must be adjusted so the point of impact is at the middle of the target at a specific distance. This is a good example of the target being a perfect match for a purpose--in this case, precision shooting.

Aiming the sights in the middle of the target, as combat shooters do, is not as precise because it is not easy to judge the exact middle of the bullseye.

Bullseye targets are great for learning the fundamentals, but if the goal is realistic defensive training, this style of target falls short; most bad guys don't wear bullseyes on their clothing.

Human-Shaped Targets
One step closer to the reality of defensive shooting is the IPSC or IDPA target. Formed roughly as a human figure, the shape of the IPSC/IDPA target represents a torso and head. A-zone hits (center hits that are the top scoring areas in competitions) and the B, C and D zones are delineated on the cardboard.

These types of target are preferable to a bullseye target for defensive shooting practice because they prepare the shooter for aiming at an ambiguous body shape rather than at a well-defined target.


Notching up the reality with IPSC/IDPA targets is easy. Adding a T- shirt and hat along with some facial features drawn with a magic marker can do wonders. Whenever I do this in my classes, there is always a least one person who complains that he or she can't see the A zone. "You won't see it on the street either," I tell them.

Adding realism is vital to better preparing a shooter for the worst-case scenario: having to point a gun at a person for real. We've trained ourselves never to point a gun at anyone--and this ingrained behavior may actually cause us to hesitate when we need to act. Using realistic targets, in realistic situations when possible, can help us overcome this. And that leads us to the next rung on the target-reality ladder.

Photographic Targets
These targets depict people in various poses; some threatening with weapons, some not. Stick-ons are available with pictures of weapons and normal objects that can be used to turn threatening targets into benign ones and vice versa. Practical applications of photographic targets vary, but the two primary purposes are for adding realistic visuals and for judgment training.

The best way to use the photographic targets for judgment training is to shoot them blind. Have a training partner set up the scene so the shooter has no idea what he or she will face until the target comes into view.

The shooter then has to make instant shoot/no shoot decisions based on what the target is holding (a bottle, gun or wallet, for example) or doing (sitting on a bicycle or brandishing a weapon).

One-inch dot targets reinforce marksmanship basics that carry over into other shooting situations. The author shot these dots at 15 feet.

When using photographic targets with students, I often do an experiment that has the class shoot a 50-round routine on plain targets, then repeat it on photo-real targets. Most often, the results are dramatically different. Groups are usually larger on the photo targets and positioned on or toward the weapon depicted.

The larger groups indicate that the photo targets are inducing stress due to the increased realism. Having a gun pointed at you, even if it's a just a photo, tends to do this. This effect is good, as it is imperative to train under as much stress as possible.

The fact that the groups are gravitating to the weapon shows a couple of things; shooters are focusing their attention on the attacker's weapon, and they are shooting with a target focus rather than using their sights.

Repeated training under these stressful conditions allows shooters to immunize themselves to a particular stress level, and the more they work with these targets, group size will shrink and shot placement will improve.

It is important to note that training with targets that are aiming guns at you does not mean to suggest that you can outshoot a drawn gun--you can't. They are used to simply represent a lethal threat and to add realism and stress.

Three-Dimensional Targets
The sculpted facial features and torso muscles of the Tac-Man by Law Enforcement Targets is the first step in three-dimensional targets.

A relatively inexpensive, hollow, pressed form, they are stapled or screwed onto target stands. Their dimensional properties are excellent for giving the shooter an idea of how and where the bullet will hit when shot, especially so from the side--something that is lacking in two-dimensional targets. Dressing the shell with some clothes helps create a sense of reality.

DVC Targets makes an ingenious reactive target system that utilizes Tac-Man targets. Hard Head Ted is a metal stand and frame with shooting plates. A Tac-Man target is affixed to the Hard Head Ted.

With the Tac-Man target installed, the plates, hidden from view by the target, align with anatomically significant areas of

the target body--the thoracic cavity and the vital head locations.

When a shot hits the chest plate or head plate, the target falls. The key is dressing the Tac-Man target realistically. Not only will the shooter face a humanoid target, hits must be made in the proper place for the target to fall--and that's the best feature of this target system.

The 3-D Complete Body from Law Enforcement Targets allows the user to completely dress the target in clothing. Articulated joints allow the limbs to be placed in various positions, and dummy knives and guns can be glued or taped to the hands.

Also in full 3-D, the TorsoPro by Qualification Targets is an anatomically correct, solid target. Made of high-impact foam and rubber material, it is capable of withstanding more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition, depending on caliber and concentration of fire. Besides firearm training, the TorsoPro can be used for knife, baton and other impact skills.

Precision Targets As Mel Gibson counseled his sons in the movie "The Patriot," "Aim small, miss small." A dot target comprised of simple one-inch circles--easily made on your computer--is a fantastic way to improve your shooting skills.

Starting at a distance of 10 feet, obtain a proper sight picture and sloooooowly squeeze the trigger while keeping the sights on the target. As you perfect your shooting, back up and do it from a longer distance.

The dot target is a fantastic way to improve your shooting skills because it requires employment of all aspects of marksmanship: sight alignment, sight picture, breath control, trigger control and follow-through. While you will never be shooting that slowly or precisely in a defensive situation, the skills learned in precision shooting will carry over to all situations.

IPSC and IDPA targets, with their human shape, teach shooters to aim to center mass or high chest. Adding some clothing creates more realism. Photographic targets add stress through realistic depiction of attackers. They're great for shoot/don't shoot scenarios.

Moving Targets
Making good chest shots and head shots is relatively easy when the target is stationary. It's far more difficult when the subject is moving, and even more so when the shooter is moving as well.

Practice on moving targets is essential, but very few ranges have them available and those that do usually have a system that runs in a predictable path, often at only one speed. Neither of those attributes contribute much to realism. But even if it's not perfect, it's better than limiting your training to static targets exclusively.

My favorite method for creating a moving target system is with a radio-controlled vehicle, which you can find in any large toy store. I rigged mine with a three-foot dowel to which I attach a balloon on a string. The dowel keeps the balloon afloat. The string keeps the balloon far enough from the vehicle that I don't need to worry about hitting it.

It is also possible to rig the vehicle with a paper target or to pull a platform with a target stand, but the added weight and wind resistance will wear down the battery much faster. The advantage of this approach is that the target is fully dynamic; path, speed and direction can be instantly changed.

If you decide to try it, I suggest getting a remote-controlled vehicle with the largest tires available to help it navigate uneven terrain. Also, the higher the voltage in the electrical system the longer the car will run. The one I purchased has six-inch wheels and runs on a 19-volt battery.

Using helium in the balloons permits use of the vehicle at lower speeds because the balloon floats above the vehicle. Most large stores sell disposable helium tanks in the party or toy sections.

Not only is training with the remote-controlled vehicle lots of fun, it is quite valuable. Having an assistant control the speed and direction of travel, the path of the balloon becomes quite unpredictable. It dramatically illustrates how hard it is to hit a moving target, and it can be a humbling experience.

Force-on-Force Training
Regardless of realism or movement, paper and plastic targets are nothing more than inanimate objects. They don't shoot back. They are not a thinking adversary, and there is no emotional investment. Training with them creates no real stress or fear.

For those reasons, the best tactical targets are, by far, human. While we can't completely replicate a real-life gunfight, force-on-force training with non-lethal weapons is a terrific way to experience what is lacking in range-based training. (For more on force-on-force training, see this issue's "Defensive Tactics" column and last issue's Faking It feature on airsoft guns.)

The amount of time on the range dictates what I will practice. If it's a short session, I often just practice one type of shooting. For longer days, I will mix in different types along with different target styles.

Combining these types of training with other defensive skills such as challenging, use of cover, movement off the line of attack and shooting multiple shots--never the same number of shots in each string--will greatly help your chance of surviving and prevailing in a lethal encounter.

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