What Are the Best Targets?

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It’s something we all do when we go to the range, and typically it’s something we don’t put much thought into until the question is posed to us by the range staff.  We have our weapons, ammo, eyes and ears…we think we’re ready to do some work on the range.  Then the question comes…what are the best targets?  You may already have some on hand if you’ve prepared before hand or have some leftover from the last time you shot.  Most of the time we buy targets at the range on a whim, on the spur of the moment.  But does the type or target we choose to put holes in mean anything to our shooting and training?  I mean, there are so many manufacturers, types, sizes, and colors.  There are silhouettes, bulls-eyes, terrorists, cartoons, zombies, shapes (circles, triangles, squares, etc.), paper, plastic, splatter/reactive targets, and the list goes on.  Picking out the target is usually the last thing we do before getting on the range and we just look at what’s available and pick something that fancies us at the time.  For most of us, we don’t even think about it. We’re just complex creatures of habit and go with the same ones every time.  Again, does our target mean anything to the overall outcome of our training?  Well let me ask you a few questions first…does the ammunition, lubrication, caliber of the gun, or the gun itself mean anything to your overall training?  Hell yes, they all do!  Every little thing you do in firearms training, even selecting your targets, contributes to what you get out of your training.  The type of training you’re doing should dictate the target you use for that particular training block at the range.  When you go to the range just don’t have in mind you’re going to waste some ammo and paper. Look at it more as a particular block of time set for your firearms training — just like going to the gym.  You probably have a workout in mind before you arrive along with some basic goals.  You don’t just show up and grab whatever weights are laying around…or at least you shouldn’t! Treat shooting the same and the benefits will pay dividends.

So how do you choose the right target?  Well it depends on a few things:  What are you shooting for (LE, military, self/home defense, hunting, etc.) and what do you want to get out of your time at the range?  Do you just want to go and burn off some ammo or are you (you should be every time) going to the range to grow your shooting skill set.  I don’t care if you’re going to range to show off to some girl or your buddy, you should always be going with a goal in mind and focus on that goal.  Before I go to the range, I already know the targets I’m going to be shooting at and I’ll be visualizing punching keyholes and center mass groups (pun intended “Center Mass Group”)!  You should either have already purchased your targets in advance or know exactly which ones you’re going to buy when you arrive.  You should also be choosing targets out of your comfort zone.  If you’re used to shooting full size silhouettes at seven yards, try picking smaller targets at the same distance.  Chris has me hooked on shooting small three-to-five-inch colored shapes at three to fifteen yards.  I typically warm up with those and three-inch dots.  I’ll start with the three-inch dots at three yards and keyhole them.  I’ll continue moving back until I’m no longer key holing, and I’ll stick at that distance and slow down my controlled pairs till I’m back into keyhole groove.  Next I’ll go to targets that I’m basing my training on that day.  It could be anything from various silhouettes, hostage or what we call “low-percentage” targets.  I will always close out my day of shooting with shooting the large realistic picture or photo targets at distances between three and twenty-five yards.  The reason I like closing out with that particular target is because it’s a full-size human shape (torso up) and ultimately we’re all shooting with defense in mind.  If the time comes where you are forced to take another person’s life because they are trying to take yours or that of someone you care about, you will revert back to the training of shooting those life-like pictures without hesitating.  So it’s good to close your training with that burned into your mental shooting game.  As you can see, I shoot all kinds of targets on a typical day.  I’m always shooting new targets and doing different tactics, techniques, and procedures with them.

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Remember that it doesn’t matter what you’re shooting at target-wise as long as you follow and use the “7 Habits of Highly Effective Shooters.”  When you master all seven, each time you manipulate the trigger you’ll be unstoppable.  The target is simply about keeping your mind in the game.  Most times when people have marksmanship troubles it’s because they’re overthinking the actual fundamentals of shooting rather than just keeping it simple and enjoying the act itself.  When I’m training people on the range who are having various issues with the fundamentals, I get them thinking about other things besides actually shooting, and it typically all falls into place for them. They have the “ah ha” moment like riding a bike for the first time.  Once it feels right and they see the success on the paper, it’s simply about repeating it.  Changing up targets is a great way to put your mind on other things while you’re shooting.  Whether it’s a new hostage-type target or one of those cool zombie splatter targets, your focus goes to that and the physical act of shooting becomes second nature.

So although I’m not really saying one target is the best target, I’m simply saying keep it fresh and look at your targets at part of your tool bag.  The next time you hit the range, get a challenging target and test yourself; push yourself beyond your limits and comfort zone then ratchet it back a bit till you’re dialed in.  That’s the only way your shooting will go to the next level.  A good transition to  a newer and smaller target is to put the new one at center mass or the bulls-eye of the target you’re used to shooting.  The visual stimulus of the old target will keep you comfortable, especially if you’re moving the target farther downrange, but now your focus goes to the new target.

Like anything else with shooting — whether you’re doing your re-quals on the job or in the service or just headed to the local range on your own — make it a fun and unique training experience.  It’s your time, make the best of it because I guarantee the wolves (bad guys) are out there training to defeat you, rob you, harm you, and take what’s not theirs.

Chris Sajnog