Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Range plans and target selection

I loved my last unit.  Because of our mission, firearm proficiency was considered a very important skill, and as such, significant resources were dedicated to ensuring that we maintained the required levels of proficiency.  Without getting too specific with the unit's requirements and budget, let's just say that in an average week I probably fired almost a thousand rounds between my rifle and pistol, sometimes more, sometimes less.  Unfortunately, now that I'm not there anymore, my ammo budget has shrunk considerably (since I have to pay for it), and my shooting practice now fits in between all the other stuff I have going on instead of being a major daily activity.  Add to that the fact that as an instructor, most of the time I'm on the range I'm watching other people shoot, not actually doing any shooting.

3" Circle target from LETargets.com
Because range time and ammo are precious, going to the range just to convert money into noise - while certainly an option - probably isn't the best use of my limited resources.  To ensure that I get the most valuable practice I can out of my range time, I always make sure to put together a range plan.  Depending on how much lead time I have (whether the range is planned or just some time came open), I often plan down to the approximate number of rounds I'll dedicate to each stage of my practice.  I say approximate because my range plan is never absolute - I leave room to shift around if I feel that I need to focus on a specific problem area or skill, or if some other circumstance prevents me from accomplishing what I originally planned.  However, even in the case of circumstances beyond my control, I will  take a minute before stepping up to the firing line to re-evaluate my plan and build a new one if necessary.

6" Circle target from LETargets.com
My general range plan starts off with some work on the fundamentals of marksmanship, usually at 3-5 yards on 3" dots.  I start with basics: start from position 3, extend while acquiring sights, focus on fundamentals, fire one shot.  Once I can consistently keep the shots within the dot (usually a mag or so), I move to a controlled pair, then go from position 1 to controlled pairs.  After I'm comfortable at my starting distance, I'll move further away and continue similar strings.  Seven yards tends to be my switching point from 3" to 6" dots.  I may also work off-hand shooting as well.  Dot targets are excellent for working precise shots and focusing on the fundamentals of marksmanship.

IPSC target from LETargets.com

IDPA target from LETargets.com
After working fundamentals, I'll usually work skills such as immediate action, reloads, turning drills, holster drills, or off-hand shooting.  I prefer working skills on an IDPA or IPSC target.  The rationale behind using a silhouette target is to psychologically prepare myself to fire on a human shape in a situation requiring lethal force.  While I don't relish the idea of firing on another person, the whole purpose behind carrying a firearm and being skilled with that firearm is to protect my family or other innocents.  Generally speaking, most threats to my family will be from a human being, so it is an unfortunate fact that I must train to engage that threat.  The silhouette targets also have clearly marked critical zones delineating areas such as center of mass and the "T" zone of the head, further enhancing their training value.

4 Color Discretionary Target from LETargets.com
Sometimes steel targets can also be an enjoyable way to train, but unfortunately not all ranges have them, and they often have more specific rules than paper targets.  I usually work steel last, and most steel training is a compromise between speed and accuracy.  Steel is a great way to measure raw speed, such as timing reloads, immediate action, or holster draws.

Other targets that have training value, but may require a second person on the range with you are discretionary targets and combination targets, such the RTG1 target from Rockwell Tactical.  These targets allow your partner to call out a color, number, or shape as your target.  This forces you to think while you train instead of simply firing repetitions on the same target.  It teaches target discrimination, which is critical in a stressful defensive scenario such as a theater, mall, or other setting with an abundance of people.  The RTG1 target is designed to combine both a silhouette target with a discretionary target, saving you time and money.
RTG1 Target from Rockwell Tactical

On a flat range, I don't necessarily advocate the use of situational targets such as the "hostage" targets or "bad-guy" targets.  While there is nothing wrong with those targets, they are primarily designed for scenario use, and they tend to distract from working fundamentals on the flat range.  They do have their uses, but in very defined training situations.  In my opinion, your flat range time is better spent developing your target discrimination, fundamentals of marksmanship, and critical skills.

I hope this post has been useful.  Please don't take it as criticism of other instructors who may use other methodologies.  My thoughts are not necessarily any more valuable than theirs, but they are based on what has worked for me, and are derived from training I received from some incredibly skilled SOF coaches.  Of everything I've mentioned, the most important is the range plan.  Take the time to plan out your day, and make the most out of every minute and every round.  Your life or someone else's may depend on it.

X Echo 1 is a 10 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. In addition to his Coast Guard credentials, he is also an NRA Certified Instructor, focusing his attention on civilians looking for professional instruction for their defensive needs.