Paper Targets: Part Four

Problem #5: It is too easy to identify bullet holes in paper targets.

This is an issue that many shooters never consider. When you shoot a hole into paper a paper target, the paper that was in the path of the bullet goes away. As a result, it is easy tell where the bullet impacted. This is not the case with people.

Despite what Hollywood has taught us, people that have been shot do not fly backwards through the air, they (usually) do not instantly drop everything in their hands, and they do not (usually) squirt blood into the air theatrically. It is very hard to tell if actual people have been shot.

 I have personally seen people that have been gravely injured, (shot, stabbed, cut, or impaled) and did not know about it themselves for minutes, or even hours. . On one memorable occasion, it took around five hours for an associate to realize that he had a very large chunk of metal, which did not belong there, in his upper arm. This realization was precipitated by me grabbing him by the arm, and him nearly jumping out of his skin. Before that, he literally did not know that he had been injured, (there was very little blood, it had leaked to the inside of his arm, and he was wearing heavy clothing) and was conducting himself normally. Once he knew that he has been injured he turned green and required immediate medical attention. The mind body connection cannot be discounted and humans are a unique mixture of strength and weaknesses.

People DO NOT fly backwards when shot. Newton’s third law (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) exists in all applications. If a bullet generated enough force (mass x acceleration) to knock down a target, the same bullet would knock down the shooter that fired it. There is a great amount of energy in gunpowder. However, because that energy is dedicated to velocity, spread across a relatively small surface area, the tip of the bullet; bullets penetrate instead of imparting force. Bullets go into people instead of knocking them down. Think about the difference between a punch and a stab. A relatively gently punch to the chest, will do nothing more than push the recipient backwards. However, if our puncher is holding a sharp knife, instead of making a fist, then the knife will easily penetrate the recipient’s chest. This is because the same amount of force is imparted to a much smaller surface area. Instead of a gentle push we have a much less gentle puncture wound. Penetration instead of impact.

The same goes with bullets, they poke instead of punch. But, they poke very small holes. Look at the business end of your cartridge of choice; that is pretty much what you get. There have been great advances in cartridge technology within the last fifty or so years. There are many great hollow point, self-defense cartridges out there right now. Good ammunition must offer consistent feeding, ignition, expansion and penetration. However, no matter how much your chosen round expands, it is still pretty small. Small bullets make small holes. Small holes are hard to see.

The first obstacle to knowing if, or where, your shot has struck the intended target, is the front sight. You should be sharply focused on the front sight while engaging a threat. When you need to see your target you get the gun out of your face by going to the low ready position. The cue for doing this is your attacker going to the ground. Assess and act as necessary.

The second obstacle to seeing the impact of your round, is clothing. Surely there is the possibility of a shirtless, or god forbid, naked attacker, but most of the time even criminals will be wearing clothes. Clothing has a tendency to mask bullet holes. Dark colored, or heavy clothing exacerbates this effect.

The final obstacle to understanding where your bullet has impacted, is shooter expectation. Many people believe that an effectively placed shot will be instantly visible due to blood stains. This is often not the case. A bullet fired into the vital regions of the upper chest or head may do catastrophic damage, but cause very little external bleeding. There is a lot of space in the human body. Enough space for blood to flee the circulatory system; without escaping the body. People can bleed to death inside of their own bodies. In addition and as previously mentioned, bullets do funny things. One never knows exactly where their round may have ended up.

We have established that we should not see our bullets hit the target (front sight post) and probably cannot do so anyway (clothing, small bullet holes, lack of blood). How do we know that our gunfire is working? We are looking for effects on target. We want to stop whatever action, on the part of the initial aggressor, has triggered our use of deadly force. We shoot the best target available, as many times as are necessary to stop the threat. Once that threat is gone, we stop shooting and assess the target. If there are multiple targets, we serve bullets like turkey dinner. Everyone gets a helping, if anyone needs seconds or thirds, then we come back around and serve it up hot.

How to we train for this? The easy answer is to dress our targets and check our shot groups AFTER the shooting is over. If you are shooting a 2D paper target, draw the vital areas on it and then staple an old T-shirt to it. Check your shot placement in between strings. If you have a training partner, have them initiate a target drop after several good hits.

 If you have constructed a 3D target then actually dress it. Start with old clothes from the house and then go to the thrift store. The heavier, darker, or crazier patterned the clothes are, the better. The desired training result is to shoot the correct vital areas and stay on the front sight post while doing so. If you have purchased or constructed a target that moves and/or drops then it will make your training that much better. Learn to shoot for effects on target without looking for holes.

In the last and final section I will wrap this whole topic up by discussing holistic training programs and their implications for the concealed carry practitioner…

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