While perusing the “Next” area at SHOT Show 2016 — the section intended for first-time exhibitors — I came across the MantisX Firearms Training System. It looks like a rail-mounted laser, but inside of that little unit is actually a gyroscope or three, and by working in conjunction with an iOS or Android app on your smartphone, it knows exactly how you’re screwing up your trigger pull. Take that real-time feedback to heart and the MantisX is supposed to make you a better shooter . . .
I think we all know that one of the keys to accurate shooting is a good trigger pull. One must be able to break the trigger without affecting the aim of the firearm. All sorts of mistakes will throw off sight alignment milliseconds before the trigger breaks, from increasing grip tension, anticipating recoil (pushing, heeling, flinching, etc), putting too much or too little finger on the trigger shoe, weak wrists, and many others. As it can be extremely difficult to recognize these things without a talented instructor closely watching your shooting, many of us resort to a training aid.
Ah, the classic pistol training target or “correction target” for a right-handed shooter (mirrored left-right for a left-handed shooter). Developed long ago by the Army, these targets are still popular — available at every shooting range in the country — because they still work. Although a bit general and not really capable of correcting or improving grip and other aspects of technique, or ensuring that sight alignment is correct to begin with, they are a help to the vast majority of competent shooters looking to improve.
As it happens, this is precisely how the MantisX program provides the shooter with feedback. So why pay $149.99 for the Mantis when you can get a correction target for $0.50? Aside from the obvious ammo cost savings derived from dry fire training, I think we can add plenty of answers to that…
First, let’s have a look at the unit itself. It ships in a Pelican case with a USB-to-Micro USB cord — that is used for charging — and instructions.
It mounts to any M1913 Picatinny rail and many similar-style accessory rails. Yes, it’ll work on rifles although the shooting error diagnostics are handgun-specific (a rifle setting is planned for release in the MantisX app in the future).
The MantisX’s small size — 2 inches long, 1.25 inch max width, 0.75 inch height under rail (1-inch total height) — means it’ll work in many holsters made for a rail-mounted light or laser. Its weight of only 1.028 oz is unobtrusive and typically not even noticeable.
The unit connects to your mobile device via Bluetooth. Every time I’ve done this it has been as simple as clicking the button on the bottom of the MantisX then touching the giant “CONNECT” icon on the app’s home screen — it even force-enables (with your permission) the phone’s Bluetooth if you have it off. Once connected, the four menu options are “Train,” “Stats,” “Learn,” and “Settings.”
On the “Settings” screen we’re presented with options of right- or left-handed shooter, live fire or dry fire (also handy for pellet/BB/airsoft, paintball, etc) detection, and whether the MantisX unit is mounted facing forwards or rearwards.
The “Learn” mode brings up the grayed-out correction target seen a few screen shots up. Clicking any of the sections on that target will open up the relevant page for each correction. For example, clicking the target segment at 9:00 opens up “too little trigger finger” with the app’s description of what that means and how to correct it. This is the first area in which the MantisX system improves beyond your paper correction target — the shooter sees a photo and full description, with tips for correction, rather than just a headline of what’s wrong.
The “Train” mode is where you do your shooting. Whether you take one shot between resetting the target visualization or 100, the app shows each hit. At bottom, it’ll display whatever your most common mistake was, and clicking on that text — “breaking wrist up” in the photo above — will take you to the learn page with the photo and full description. Swipe that text to the right and it will show you the other mistakes you made during the same shot string. Alternately, clicking on a segment of the correction target will also bring up the relevant learn page.
Near the top right is a score, from 0 to 100, for however many shots were part of the string (5 in this case). In theory if the gun were shot from a Ransom Rest you’d expect a 100, and if you’re Michael J. Fox on a caffeine high (please send all complaints to [email protected]) you’d score a lot lower. Hitting “reset” refreshes the target and logs your results.
The little “outbox”-like logo at the very top right of the app, by the way, allows you to share your results via basically any of the social and messaging apps on your device. In this way your scores, problems, historical results (improvement over time, ideally), and more can be shared with friends.
That previous chart isn’t the only way to visualize your results, though. Swipe right and you can see this version of the target instead. It shows not only where those mistakes were, but their severity. A larger error will display as a red bar that fills a larger portion of the associated target segment. I can now see that my “too little trigger finger” error was minor, three of my “breaking wrist up” errors were fairly minor, and one “breaking wrist up” error was more severe.
Which shot was it? Exactly how severe was it? A line graph is also available, showing the score earned on each and every shot in the string. I started out poorly with a ~64, jumped up to an 85-ish on the second shot, then did really well on the final three with scores above 90.
Apparently I’m a bit too loosey-goosey, and can improve by keeping my wrists locked, straight, and steady during the trigger pull. But that was based on only five shots. What about over time?
This is where the MantisX really shines as compared to a paper target. It tracks your performance over time and allows you to see improvement and consistent problem areas. The chart above makes it clear that I need to work on locking my wrists in position better: 28% of the time I’m breaking them up, and 17% of the time I’m breaking them down.
A bar graph is also available, with each bar representing the logged shooting stats between resets. I tend to shoot at about 80 points when I’m moving and making rapid shots, not concentrating specifically on the trigger pull or anything, really, other than the front sight and putting self-defense-style, rapid-paced shots on target. I’ve been shooting above 90 when paying more attention, but can easily tank that way down when making mistakes on purpose like flinching, anticipating recoil, and jerking the trigger. The MantisX has no issue accurately “seeing” those mistakes.
Do it just right and you’ll get the much-coveted “great shot” feedback.
Actually, this is my only gripe about the MantisX Firearms Training System — it’s freaking sensitive. I can shoot from a sandbag rest and pepper the bullseye at 15 yards, and it’ll still tell me how I erred on the vast majority of those shots. That isn’t to say the Mantis is wrong! Just that I think it’s too sensitive and a threshold of “good enough” should be established. If you haven’t messed up enough to pull the shot out of the bull, you’re doing things right. According to the company, even Olympic shooters tend to score 98s.
Connected to that sensitivity are usage quirks that took just a couple of minutes to figure out. For instance, if I hit “start” before loading my gun I’d find that stiffly inserting a mag or dropping the slide to chamber a round would move the gun sharply enough to count as a shot. Obviously I took to chambering the gun first, then pushing “start.” Flipping the safety on and off wasn’t an issue, but in Dry Fire mode the unit is obviously even more sensitive so it can recognize the trigger break.
If I had my way, I’d have two end-user sensitivity adjustments available in the app. One for adjusting what a “great shot” and a 100-point score mean, and one for adjusting what the unit recognizes as a shot in the first place. Obviously it’s sensitive from the factory to recognize a shot on a heavy .22 LR pistol and whatever else, but when I’m shooting a GLOCK 19, for example, I feel like I could adjust it so it doesn’t ping on a slide release or a draw from a kydex holster, but still catches every actual shot.
While at a high level the $149.99 MSRP MantisX provides the same core feedback as a $0.50 correction target, the additional value is clear to see. Not only does it give more in-depth descriptions and correction tips, it tracks performance over time and logs the shooter’s most common sources of error, displaying this information back in multiple visual and data forms including a 0-100 point score. It also works for dry-fire practice, whereas those correction targets always seem to tell me I should try out for Top Shot when dry firing at them. (Also see tech notes added after ratings section)
Perhaps most importantly is that the MantisX doesn’t rely on the user shooting at a specific, stationary target. It’s mapping minute muzzle movements milliseconds prior to the trigger break, and will provide feedback even if you’re on the move and shooting at multiple targets. For example, doing defensive pistol drills or running through an IPSC/3Gun-style course. The feedback in these scenarios isn’t quite as precise as it is with bullseye-style shooting, but it can be even more valid to correcting issues where/when they matter most — during realistic, dynamic shooting.
Additionally, you can’t run out of MantisX “targets” and it’ll provide you with the same feedback even if you’re out plinking at soda cans or hunting squirrels. I’m not yet sure how long the battery lasts, but I have more than two hours of shooting on the initial charge and I’m still not receiving the low-battery warning, so I’m happy to deem it “more than sufficient.”
Specifications (MantisX Firearms Training System):
Works With: Any gun with a rail (adapters for non-railed pistols planned), plus most any Android or iOS device
Ratings (out of five stars):
Quality * * * * *
The unit has a couple slightly rough edges but feels fairly rugged and works properly. The app design is clean and intuitive and I found only one bug (trying to view Stats if your history is empty crashes the app). Updates to the app are supposed to happen fairly regularly, and since the app controls so much of the experience it means the MantisX is one of those rare products that should continually improve with time, but without further investment by the end user.
Function * * * *
I’m impressed with how reliably and easily it connects to my phone every time, whether I remember to turn Bluetooth on beforehand or not. It’s accurate and the feedback it provides has so far appeared to be quite valid. However, I’d appreciate the ability to adjust its sensitivity to avoid false shot detection on things like magazine insertion, slide manipulation, etc.
Overall * * * *
Highly valid training tool that tracks problems areas and progress (improvement, ideally) over time. I’d like to see sensitivity adjustment added, and maybe even the ability to store multiple shooter or gun profiles within the same app. I believe the suggested workflow for multiple shooters sharing the same MantisX unit is for each of them to use a different mobile device and to connect back and forth to the unit — again, surprisingly easy to do — as needed, but I can envision scenarios in which it’s easier to have multiple profiles within a single app and single mobile device instead.
EDITOR’S NOTE: MantisX e-mailed me some interesting technical notes and insights into their future development, which I think bear copying-and-pasting here:
One general comment about MantisX: We collect oodles of data, and there is much in the background that is not displayed (yet). We estimate we are about 10% complete with our product roadmap, so there’s lots coming down the pipeline that is only a (free) app update away. We’ll give you a heads up when we push out something significant.
Also, one interesting thing about the pistol diagnostic chart (and it’s relation to MantisX): As we’ve collected and analyzed a ton of data, we see lots of interesting things. One of those critical things is not just where your trigger-pull movement ended up, but how it got there. If you’re shooting up to the right at 2 o’clock, you could have arrived there in a straight line or through various curved means, all with different causes, but with the same “end.” Differentiating the “why” is something you could only do with something like MantisX. One of our not-too-far-away updates will be advanced diagnostics with a trace view showing the actual movement pattern of the barrel (rather than just the overly-simplified view you see in the app today).