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Pistol Targets

Over at, Team Vertx 3 Gun Nation Pro Shooter Chris Andersen offers three target options for competitors looking to dial-up both their speed and accuracy. [Descriptions and recommendations after the jump.] Notice that the targets above are nestled in lush green grass. Not only does that tell you that Chris doesn’t train in the Texas summer, it highlights the simple fact that advanced shooting skills are more easily mastered in the great outdoors (weather dependent). Especially at ranges where you’re free to do whatever it is you like to do (as long as you don’t do something unsafe). I’d go so far as to say that . . .

most square ranges have very little to offer anyone training for armed self-defense, save practice on grip, stance, breathing, trigger control and weapon familiarity. I’ll go even further: standing still and shooting at paper targets trains you to . . . stand still and shoot at immobile targets. Not good. If you have to (i.e. if you face money and time issues) sacrifice regular square range practice for irregular outdoor work. Yeah, it’s that important.

Chris Anderson’s drills:

Pistol [image at top of the post]:

Start position: Pistol holstered, hands at sides. Upon start signal, engage 1 IPSC target at 7 yards with two rounds, then transition to two 4-6” steel plates at 15 yards.

The differences in speed between the two types of targets will be drastic. Forcing you to stay under control while transitioning between a high speed, target focus type shot, to an aimed hard sight focus shot. This setup will offer a number of different ways to shoot the drill as well. Starting on one of the difficult targets first, then transitioning to the high speed shot, and then back to the remaining difficult target is another option. Mixing up the drill forces you to keep thinking on your feet, and the large variance in speed will help you sharpen your focus and train you to stay under control.

Rifle TargetsRifle:

Start position: Low ready. Upon the start engage an IPSC target at 10 yards with two rounds, then transition to an offhand shot on and 8-10” plate at 50 yards.

Just like the pistol drill, switch between starting on the slow and fast targets to keep yourself guessing. A ten yard rifle paper shot will be VERY fast, and the visual patience required to hit the offhand 50 yard steel will be invaluable in competition.

Offhand rifle shots are some of the best training opportunities available in all of shooting. The fundamentals they ingrain are incredibly important, and will carry over into every difficult shot that you ever take with your rife.

Shotgun TargetsShotgun:

Start position: Port arms. Upon start signal engage 2 falling steel targets at 10 yards with birdshot and then transition to a third falling steel target obstructed by a no shoot plate in front that requires a careful hold-off to execute.

The shotgun is the most dangerous gun of all in my opinion when it comes to staying under control. The amount of forgiveness a good birdshot pattern can offer is great, but it is also very easy to get cocky and push too hard.

This is especially true if you have a difficult shot situated amongst some faster shots. The consequences of a miss are much higher due to the guns limited capacity, so focus is very important. Varying between fast birdshot targets and a difficult, no-shoot hold-off shot will test that focus. Not to mention, these types of shots will reinforce valuable knowledge of your shotgun’s birdshot pattern.

Stick with these drills.

I have been doing drills like this pretty much since I started shooting, and still use them regularly. Try setting up your own version of these drills and plug them into your practice routine each time you are at the range. They are simple enough to be easily duplicated.

Keep your setup consistent and track your times to monitor your progress. Also don’t be afraid to push occasionally to find out where the limit is. You will find if you practice these skills regularly, that limit will be faster and faster!

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  1. The website title is The Truth About Guns. There is more to “The Truth” than the sole focus on self defense shooting. Matter of fact most guns that find themselves out of the closet or safe are used in other pursuits. When five thousand people show up for an IDPA match (like do at the Grand American or Camp Perry) I might begin to change my mind. But for now self defense neurotic fixation is not what I enjoy reading about or doing.

    • So… write something about it. You do know this website takes user submissions, right? Are you just going to complain, or fix the problem you see?

    • Did you miss the reader survey this year, which is designed to capture reader areas of interest? An email address is also available for submitting your concerns about content. Your comment here is as out of place as your perception of TTAG’s alleged self-defense fixation is outsized.

    • +1.

      When all you got is a square range, that’s all you got. Make the most of it. It sure beats a circular range.

      • Agree to both of the above.

        I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was a 20- and 30- something shooter, I was range-spoiled. I, or someone in my close circle of shooting buddies, controlled access and scheduling for multiple military range bays where we could (and did) shoot all types of target arrays and scenarios. Advancing- or retreating-while-shooting, shooting from the ground (lying on our backs or sides), moving targets, multiple targets, 180+ degree target spread; we tried a bit of everything, without even considering at the time just how lucky were we were.

        After I retired and moved to a new-to-me community that didn’t have a large military presence, that all changed — drastically. Two outdoor square ranges within 100+ miles; one with highly controlled access and strict usage rules, and the other busy all the time with a cross-section of shooters from every discipline imaginable; at no time was the range not jumping with people, sunrise to sunset. Initially, no indoor range at all, and once one finally opened, severe restrictions on use such as no holster presentations, movement, or target types other than stationary paper from 2-ish to 17 yards.

        Finally made a few friends who had access to large swaths of agricultural land where impromptu ranges could be safely set-up and used regularly, but before that, it had been a long 10-15 years of square-range-only public access ranges, and this lack of “flexible” ranges definitely affected my skills. Although it was a poor second choice, during this time I began to compete in local and regional IDPA and IPSC matches just to get some multi-target and run-N-gun practice with my defensive pistols.

        So, in summary — flex ranges are nice if you have that option, but lots of people simply don’t.

      • I know darn well it is not the same, but airsoft, paintball, pellet and shotgun clay games are a good substitute.

        I try to go to GSSF and IDPA matches. At home I use airsoft in my finished basement. I can practice shooting and moving with a pellet repeater. Its hard find people, but I try to get group to play paintball. Finally this year I started shooting 5 stand and field clays.

        None of these are the same but you have to do with what you have available.

    • I agree. Developing advanced skills is great, and great fun, but real life situations are too varied and too fluid for a typical concealed carrier to get ahead of it all with just what limited training they can get. Navy SEALS, ok, but Joe Blow? Square targets are fine for most of what’s going to make the difference. Besides, awareness, avoidance and de-escalation are your best first defenses, none of which has anything to do with a gun range.

      • “Besides, awareness, avoidance and de-escalation are your best first defenses, none of which has anything to do with a gun range.”

        Quoted for emphasis. Great points.

  2. What comedy.

    In these politically correct times finding a place to shoot at all is a miracle, at any expense and travel time . Many of us have either dry fire or “no rapid fire” as training options. Perhaps the tactical experts of the world should focus on self defense training which can be done in ones living room .

    • +1. The only thing we have around here are “square ranges”. I could head off to the hinterlands to shoot, but that isn’t always easy or practical.

    • When I was in college (and thus impecunious), I did ten dry fires from my 1911 every single night at a bullseye target I hung up in the corner of my apartment. It was the epitome of “not tactical” training, but I’ll tell you what, I could shoot that thing lights out when it was time to hit the range, and I’m still halfway not bad with a pistol.

      I recommend this practice to everyone I know who is trying to improve their accuracy. Fundamentals: sight alignment, trigger control, breathing, stance. Price: $0.

  3. our square range offers events and classes using barriers, movement, multiple target engagement. for myself, i like to command the target to return to ‘home’, and unholster/pick-up the pistol once i determine movement. goal is to unload the magazine (15rds or less) into a small section of the target before the target can reach contact with the pistol. amazing how much not standing still we can do around here. not so much time with the ‘target flip’ capability. i do not practice clearing the house [setup a kill cone and wait for targets], and i do not intend to have a running gun battle where i need to shoot from a chair, running laterally, diagonally, up/down side-to-side, under a car, from an airline seat. escape and evade is first cholce.

    oh yes….

    i do not shoot only square-on to the target. learned in the military to shoot from profile so as to present a less acquirable target to my adversary.

    cheers, ya’ll

  4. Airsoft. they have guns that mimic real ones and have few restrictions on where to shoot. You can run and gun to your hearts content.

  5. There aren’t a lot of ranges around where I am, so I take what I can get and am grateful for the opportunity. Up here we’re slowly improving our firearms laws, but ranges are still pretty thin on the ground.

    Speaking of opportunities, there’s a big opportunity out there for someone:
    Take some augmented reality glasses, add a “blue gun” with some sort of laser tracking that has realistic weight and recoil (maybe use a CO2 cartridge), and you could run some interesting scenarios in pretty much anywhere. Well, anywhere no one is going to freak out.

  6. Had my epic rural shooting spot plucked from me and my buddy (whos family land it WAS), so its pretty much either dry fire or goto one of the box ranges around here with no drawing from a holster, no rapid fire, no movement, or want you to be a member to do any of that etc. blah blah blah. Id almost rather just dry fire in my own house and actually be able to move and use my holster.

    Then again, I dont know that many people who are shooters around here, I am probably missing or overlooking somewhere.

  7. Man I wish it were that easy. “Go outside and shoot.” Seems simple enough, right? Not so much.

    I live in a densely populated metro area around one of the country’s largest hubs. After months of searching online and asking around I still haven’t found a place to go move while I shoot that is within budget or remotely convenient.

    Lots of really nice ranges are out there that allow this type of shooting but they are all, from what I’ve gathered, membership type ranges that require hundreds of dollars in initiation fees followed by substantial monthly dues. Not to mention you have to be invited by a current member and voted in. All this for something I’d be able to use once, maybe twice a month. That’s just a bad investment.

    Now of the ranges that allow the type of shooting named above that aren’t restrictively expensive, they still present two major drawbacks. First, they’re incredibly far away as in several hours by car. Second, they’re full of morons.

    I’m mainly talking about state run parks with ranges and while they still mandate a fixed firing line you could at least incorporate multiple target scenarios. That is if you can keep from getting shot by the idiot who thinks muzzle control has something to do with dogs.

    In the interest of being productive, how do you guys go about finding a 180 degree range? I’m open to suggestions, any help is appreciated.

    • The best ones I’ve seen were originally gravel pits or other “dirt mining” operations.

      Second best were naturally eroded mini-canyons with several sharp bends, to limit bullet travel in all directions.

      Both are incredibly rare and valuable as diamonds to serious shooters. I’ve heard of a few square ranges that have small dirt-bermed shooting “bays” that you can rent for an hour or more, but unless they have wrap-around berms behind the shooting point, even those will be limited to about a 90-degree target array (45 degrees left and right of the center line).

  8. There is something to be said for shooting in a controlled environment, particularly for newer shooters working on basics. Plus it’s convenient to get a little trigger time on the way home from work. Also, air conditioning is nice.

    But, yeah, the great outdoors is preferable where feasible.

  9. When I moved to North Carolina I couldn’t wait to go to 37 PSR. Since I became a member I have gone almost every week. I sight in in the square range and then head to a bay to do actual training. I’m loving it.

    • When I lived in that end of the state, I thought guns should be banned. Now that my thoughts have changed, I live in the mountains where options for people who don’t own 20+ acres are irritatingly lacking. Irony and sadness.

      • +1 living in the mountains of NC, without owning a Jack load of land, finding a good range is next to impossible.

  10. Currently living in the gun utopia called New York State. Given that, my Fish and Game club is 7 miles away and if you pay within the first 4 months of the year it is $15. There are only two shooting stations on the 300 yard range but there is seldom anyone there. The separate pistol range doesn’t have a bench but you can drag a picnic table over and improvise. If it is busy I can step across my road and be on 76,000 ( seventy six thousand ) acres of State land. NY sucks but there are some empty spaces.

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