Paper Targets: Part 3

Problem #3: Paper targets train shooters to target the wrong places.

Problem #4: Paper targets are two-dimensional instead of three dimensional.

I am going to discuss both of these issues together because they are interrelated. There are only two reliable ways to incapacitate a human with a gunshot. Shut down the central nervous system directly, or shut off the supply of oxygen to the central nervous system, by causing a massive drop in blood pressure. To do either of these things we must put holes in the brain, spinal cord, or the major vascular structures (heart and major blood vessels) that supply oxygen to the brain. The three targets most likely to achieve this goal are located in the head, the upper chest, and the lateral pelvis.

I am going to discount the lateral pelvis right off the bat. Proponents of this target claim that properly placed shots to the pelvic region break down skeletal structure, making an attacker immobile, and have a high probability of striking large blood vessels and nerves. This MAY be the case for a rifleman facing an opponent wearing body armor. However, we are talking about using a handgun in self-defense scenario. As previously discussed, bullets do funny things and pistol bullets in particular may break bone. Even if they do, an immobile attacker can still be a threat, as discussed in Part 3.

Acquiring the necessary point of aim is also problematic. Attackers are (probably) wearing clothes and (most likely) moving. It is not that difficult to identify an attacker’s chest or head. It is difficult to identify the pelvis depending on what a target is wearing and how they are moving. There are simply too few external landmarks to quickly and accurately place a shot. Finally, limiting our prospective targets increases response time (Hick’s law) and makes the most of potentially limited training time. Stick to the head and upper chest.

The highest percentage target is the central portion of the upper chest. This area contains the heart and the major blood vessels above the heart (aorta, vena cava, pulmonary vessels, etc). If you place a bullet in this area, it is very likely to damage one of these vital parts of the anatomy, causing a drop in blood pressure to the brain. This target area is a rectangle roughly bounded by the collar bones at the top, the breastbone at the bottom, and the nipples on either side. On the average male this makes a rectangle of roughly 9-10 inches wide and 7-8 inches high. For training purposes a 5’x8′ card pasted just below the neck of a cardboard silhouette is a good expedient. An index card is easy to see and is quickly replaced when it is too shot up to be of any further use. Another approach to visualizing the target area is the “cardiac triangle.” This is an imaginary triangle formed by drawing a horizontal line across the nipples and from each nipple to the neck just below the Adam’s apple. Use whatever method is the easiest for you to visualize but ensure that you are shooting at the target’s vital area.

With a head shot the intent is to disrupt the central nervous system by putting a hole in the brain. This does not mean simply shooting someone in the head. People think of a head shot as being instantly fatal but this is not borne out by history. There are innumerable incidents of people being shot in the head and not being seriously injured. The skull and face are made up of multiple hard bones with complex curves. Sinus and nasal cavities, upper and lower jaw bones, and even teeth have been known to deflect bullets, especially pistol bullets. This does not mean that someone shot in the face may not be horribly disfigured, but our intent is to immediately stop a deadly threat. To do this with a pistol we have to place a shot inside of a rectangle that goes from the lower outside edge of each eye and extends to the outside of the forehead. This rectangle is approximately 3’x5′ which makes a 3’x5′ card stapled to a target backer a convenient training tool. This is not an easy shot to make on a static target. It becomes much harder on a moving target. In addition the head is not static on top of the body. Watch a boxing match or MMA fight to see how quickly someone can move, turn, and bob their head when under stress. Know your skill level before planning to take a head shot in a deadly force scenario. It is your life, if the time ever comes, you had better be as good as you think you are.

The problem becomes that many paper targets teach us to aim “center of mass,” and are scored accordingly. Take a look at the some of the most common law enforcement and military targets:

le 1military 1

 The highest scores result from shooting the targets in places that are not necessarily vital, or are not the most preferred areas for shot placement. The vital areas in the head are also not clearly delineated and often do not indicate proper shot placement.

Many shooters do not take this into account and simply shoot at the highest numbers that are printed on the target. This is training us to repeat poor shot placement. Frankly, these targets are dangerous and could get you killed.

We must learn to shoot quickly and accurately, but if we are aiming at the wrong portion of the body then even accurate shooting will not be as effective. We have to know what our actual target is before we can shoot it.

Targets such as these are a better answer:

better 1

However, one does not have to break the bank to get decent targets. I construct targets similar to the ones above with scrap cardboard and a template that I made from scrap plywood. The template, a utility knife, and a marker and we are good to go. We need effective targets but we also need money for training ammo.

Problem #4: paper targets are two dimensional, people are three dimensional. This seems fairly self-explanatory but many shooters have never thought it all the way through. We are not training to shoot at a point on the outside of the human body. We are shooting through that point, to place holes in the actual targets which are the vitals inside of the body. If the shooter is offset from their attacker, or the attacker is turning away from the shooter, then the point of aim must be adjusted to achieve the correct shot placement. This is extremely hard to visualize on two dimensional targets. However, if we use even a rudimentary 3D target, the correct shot placement becomes much easier to visualize. As below:

angle views

Imagine that our shirtless friend is a threat. Notice how his orientation to your line of fire will effect your point of aim to get the desired shot placement. Another very effective way to visualize this is to use a training partner. Have them stand at arms length from you and slowly turn in a circle. Stop them intermittently and then reach out and touch the exact point on their body where you would aim to get an effective pistol shot. This is kind of eerie when someone does it to you but it is a highly effective drill for visualizing shot placement.

Finally, shoot 3D targets. One can purchase relatively inexpensive mannequin type targets. Or we can make 3D targets out of anything that we can coax into a relatively humanoid shape of the right dimension. Cardboard, plastic, and duct tape are your friend.

Whether you are using 2D or 3D targets, ensure that you are delineating the actual vital areas of the body and not simply “center of mass.” Many shooters may initially find themselves drawing to a natural point of aim, that is indexed on the middle of the target, because of long habit. This is a training fallacy that must be addressed and remedied. Initially, delineate the vital areas on your target. Practice getting shots into the vital areas as fast as possible, with no regard for shot groupings. If all the rounds are in the box, shoot faster. Once rounds start to impact outside of the lines, slow it down and make your shots. Shooting outside of your comfort zone is what makes you better, push yourself.  Once you can reliably make fast and accurate shots to the vital areas, it is time to remove the reference lines and shoot at a target that looks more like an actual person. Draw in only the landmarks that exist on a clothed person. Eyes, nose, Adam’s apple, neck notch (it is actually called the suprasternal notch but it is simply that dip in your neck right above your collar), ears, whatever landmarks you can spot on everyday people. These become reference points for finding our target areas. Unfortunately criminals do not wander around with a dartboard painted on their chests. Learn where to shoot.


2 Responses to “Paper Targets: Part 3”

  1. Wouldn’t it also be helpful to remember you need to be putting multiple rounds in/at your target/attacker? Or is this something that goes without saying. Basically I am speaking on the “double tap” or “two in the chest one in the head” axioms I have heard mainstream.

    • I think that you are asking about the rate, speed, and cadence at which a target is engaged.
      The terminology “double tap,” is somewhat out of favor among professionals, because of its connotations. This is a little bit of quibbling, but it is instructive. “Double tap,” implies firing on the following sequence: front-sight, shot, shot, front-sight. However, you are responsible for every round that comes out of your firearm. You must aim each shot. Firing two rounds, based upon one sight picture, is not aiming, it is guessing. You are literally taking a guess about where your second shot will go.
      The more professionally acceptable sequence is known as the “controlled pair”. This is: front-sight, fire, front-sight, fire, front-sight. This does not sound that different from a controlled pair but it really is very different. The “double tap” is two shots, fired in quick succession, followed by a shooter looking at their target, regardless of effects. The “controlled pair,” because it is a repeatable sequence, it can be done over and over again, until the deadly threat situation is concluded. It can also be very effectively transitioned from target to target.
      The bottom line is that we shoot the best target we have available, as many times as necessary, to reduce a deadly threat. Don’t get in the habit of shooting a set number and stopping. Shoot the attacker to the ground and assess the situation from there. I hope that answers your question.

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