Targets—size DOES matter…

This is not the post (referenced in the last entry) “in which I completely agree with [John] about how “chasing the timer” is a bad idea, and offer some suggestions for pistol shooters in terms of how to maximize their ability curve while using a timer.”

I’ll get to that one later.  In this case, I need to vent about something I saw at the range this past Sunday.  And have seen in the past…

John Wallace, in his series of posts on “Things to Consider Before Chasing the Timer,” started off by commenting about targets—specifically, that “If you train for these small presentations, or “worst case scenarios” then you are prepared for them, as well as getting sure hits on the idiots who stand in the open (giving you full presentations).

He also commented that a number of people practice on huge, open targets.

I was at the range the other day, and observed one male individual “teaching” a tiny woman  how to shoot a handgun.  He was there in his 5.11 pants and operator polo, full war belt (including multiple pouches and a huge drop bag) with a drop-leg holster.  (She was wearing shorts, a tank top, and flip-flops.)  I’m not sure what the gun was as I was quite a distance off, but it looked like a regular full-size handgun.  (I hope he wasn’t teaching her on a .45 or a .40, because I could see that this was probably the first time she had ever held a handgun.  Of course, he wasn’t actually fixing anything about her stance or grip, so maybe it wasn’t her first time and she’d been shooting with the leaning-back stance and teacup grip that he had taught her for quite some time.)

The target was a full-torso, full-size silhouette.  It literally was larger than the woman.  And it was placed all of 5 feet in front of her.


A year or so ago, I was on a bay practicing my transitions, and monitoring a couple of people who were with me working on their basic accuracy.  A couple of guys drove up, and started to unload their gear on our bay.  There was a discussion about that, and after the RO had a talk with them, they decided to wait until we were done.  (They did say the famous line “You are doing that competition stuff, we are practicing for COMBAT” which they thought excused the fact that one of them swept all of us as he walked up to our firing line swinging his handgun in one hand.)

As we were leaving, I saw them setting up a target approximately 10 feet in front of the shooting table (in a 50-yard bay).  It also was a full-torso, full-size silhouette target.  As I watched in fascination, they began shooting slow fire (resting the gun on the table between each shot) while sitting at the table.


My personal favorite, however, is the guy who brought his girlfriend (wife? not sure) out to “teach her how to shoot” (I will explain why I keep putting those all in quotes in a different post).  He took one of the range barrels, placed it 12-15 feet downrange, and commenced shooting at it to (and I quote) “show how it’s done.”  (No, he didn’t staple a target to it.  The barrel itself was the target.  At 15 feet, tops.)

I wish I could give you that quote in the self-satisfied tone in which he delivered it.

We then had a little talk about shooting the range equipment, and he decided to stop.


Why do people think that shooting at huge targets helps them at all?

When I teach someone completely new to shooting, I start with a standard-sized paper plate at 15 feet.  Using a .22, a newbie to shooting can quite easily get all shots on a paper plate if they are taught correctly.  After that, we move to 12″ steel plates at 10 yards—which they can ALSO do perfectly easily.  (And everyone loves hearing that “ding” of a hit.)

The target is big enough so that with a modicum of discipline, they’ll hit it every time.  At the same time, it is small enough that they actually have to use correct fundamentals to get those hits, plus they can work on shooting groups smaller than their target.  (I realize they can do that on any target, but if the target is huge and irregularly shaped, it makes it harder for new folks to actually center a group in the middle of the target.)

Why anyone would start a newbie on a huge target at such a close distance that hits are meaningless is beyond me.

And as for experienced shooters—WHY?!

Yes, I do occasionally practice on open targets at 5 yards—but that is when I’m timing transitions (and shifting gears) from near to far targets.  Or working on correct gears for draws to close targets versus far targets.  Or working on shooting on the move and finding the correct movement speeds at different target distances.

But when I’m practicing 1) the fundamentals of accuracy in a direct, singular fashion, or 2) self-defense related drills and scenarios, a wide-open target at close distance simply doesn’t make me any better.

Sure, it is interesting to see how fast you can get your draw-to-first-shot from concealment.  But once you can do a consistent 1.0 second draw on the upper half of the lower A-zone of an IPSC target at 7 yards, there are other drills that will be more useful to your self-defense ability than working on cutting that extra .15 from your draw in a very unrealistic scenario.

Sure, in real life often you really DO get an open target in citizen self-defense situations.  However—sometimes you don’t.  And even if you do, a peripheral hit most likely won’t stop the attacker.  Using minute-of-IPSC-target as your accuracy level simply isn’t good enough.  And if you are disciplined enough to practice in the first place, perhaps you should practice on targets chosen to increase your skills.

I’m not saying you should only practice shooting dimes at 10 yards.  (Though it is true that periodically, working accuracy on 1-inch dots at 3 yards, then 5 yards, then 7 yards, then 10 yards if you manage it, REALLY teaches you the importance of front sight focus and trigger control.  Or it gives you practice at dealing with a lot of frustration.  Or both.)  But instead of open targets, overlay a credit-card-sized box on the head as a brain box, a 2-inch column from the brain box down to the upper thoracic, a 4″ square centered at the height of the top of the heart, and force yourself to hit it every time.  Have one day be a “headshot-only” day.  Put targets far away.  Turn targets at an angle, and add a line of tape showing where the hardcover blocks any hits below a certain point.  Make the target something that requires you to shoot well to hit it.

If all you do is practice on the easiest target possible, well—-at least you are practicing.  But if you have the discipline to practice in the first place, use targets that actually help you get better.  Yes, you should periodically use targets of different sizes and shapes, some of which should be full-size.  And yes, you should periodically use target distances of different ranges, some of which should be nearby.

However—for the most part, you should practice on targets that match (or slightly exceed) your current skill level.  So quit using easy simple targets that don’t help you get better.  You are practicing to increase your skill, not merely make yourself feel good about your 0.85 draw and 0.14 splits on a 3-yard open target.

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