Good live fire handgun training for the intermediate and advanced shooter should involve all three elements of the combat shooting triad. They are Marksmanship (the shooter's ability to hit the target quickly), Tactics (the use of position, movement, cover, concealment), and Weapon presentation (draw and handle the weapon, including skill at reloading).
Generally, we measure Marksmanship very quantitatively. The number of shots fired is compared to the number of hits on a target, and the position of those hits. In this regard, basic marksmanship skills are easy to measure against a set standard. Some targets are measured either in hit or miss, while others are measured by various point systems assigned to zones or parts of the target. Tactics are often a subjective issue which involves the use of judgment in determining the best courses of action. While there is a broad gray area between the best and worst, there are also some basics. Weapon presentation is also subjective to a degree, but there are measurable standards which are tested by performing tasks against the clock. This includes using a shot timer where the the shooter's performance is measured from a random delay beep given by the timer, to the times of the first and last shot on target. In the absence of shot timers, trainers have used mechanical target holders that will expose targets for a limited period of time. This is still done in many government qualification courses that were developed before the widespread use of shot timers.
Most pistol training is done with stationary paper targets which are used to measure the shooter's marksmanship and sometimes threat discrimination skills (as in the case of shoot/no shoot targets). One drawback is often the fact that you cannot always readily tell if or where you hit a paper target if you are using a smaller caliber pistol. Creative individuals also utilize various moving and reactive targets. Balloons, motorized target carriages, metal balance plates and other mechanical contraptions can make short courses of fire very interesting. Balloons in particular are low budget challenging targets when hung from a string in a light wind Helium filled balloons anchored to the ground by a simple string tied to a piece of lumber make challenging realistic targets.
You want to also train at night or in low light situations if and when possible. There are techniques that are unique to the use of flashlights and pistols that are best practiced before used in the "real world". You can start by simply shooting in the daytime with the light in one hand and the pistol in the other, and then once you are used to the mechanics of it, transition to the same scenarios in the dark. The most advanced techniques include the use of night vision gear and IR lasers, but the great majority of low light self defense situations will not include the luxury of allowing you to don and adjust night vision goggles. By default, this means using either a handheld or weapon mounted flashlight. Note that most low light qualification shooting is at ranges 15 yards and under. Longer distances bring in the problem of target friend and foe identification to a level that you can be dealing with a lot of liabilities regardless of your marksmanship skills.
It has also been my observation that shooting at silhouette targets, while offering an objective means of quantifying marksmanship and shot placement, might present unrealistically large and easy targets for the shooter. Unfortunately, cardboard and paper targets are all that is allowed at most commercial shooting ranges. Don't shoot steel targets at extremely close range since there is a danger of injury from spalling or ricochet. Spalling is unlikely to cause serious injury, but a ricochet can kill at short ranges. Generally, the higher velocity the bullet, the further out your minimum safe distance will be.
This combination reactive target incorporates both a steel plate and a cardboard silhouette. A solid hit on the steel target will bring up the cardboard target in a fulcrum movement as seen on the right. This introduces an element of movement into a target range while taking up no more space than a regular target stand.
Speed shooting reactive targets on the other hand, is a good way of measuring both speed and accuracy when done against the clock. Reactive steel targets are almost infinitely reusable and can pay for themselves many times over in longevity compare to conventional paper or cardboard targets and target stands. We have found them to be some of the best targets for challenging time scored events.
A good range session for intermediate and advanced shooters should ideally include shooting to time standards, fast draw, fast reload, and tactics. Safety is always a consideration and all persons at the range should wear some eye and ear protection. If you train in a place that will not have access to fast ambulance service, it is a smart move to keep a trauma kit on hand in case there is a bad accident. Many shooters who train in live fire move and shoot tactics, especially in a team or group that coordinates fire and movement, will wear body armor while training live fire.
Many people who train in martial arts and shooting tend to want a fairly high level of privacy, but I was able to get some pictures of this private training session to illustrate how variations on a relatively simple concept can make for a pretty full training day. After some confirmation of the pistols' zero, all events were variations on the same seven steel targets placed from 15 to 20 yards and measured with a shot timer. The club standard is to knock down all targets in 15 seconds. Maximum allowed shots is ten per magazine, but you may reload as many times as you want with no penalty, just loss of the time it takes to reload.
Other elements to include in training are target and threat discrimination. This later becomes an element that stands out in more elaborate dynamic scenarios. First is the identification of targets as shoot/no shoot. This is usually done with different colors or types of targets being designated as shoot or no shoot. In IDPA, this usually means you shoot the natural cardboard targets but don't shoot the white targets. Early stages of this in military training are "friendly/unfriendly", but for civilians and law enforcement, determination of intent is a major factor in combat shooting and should be incorporated into training scenarios. More advanced techniques reach into tactical judgment development which must include threat assessment. Target assessment is based on several tactical factors like the type of threat and level of force to be used against that threat. Target assessment in high tempo and dynamic scenarios should include a quick examination of the target, not simply spotting the target. First, examine the whole potential target, this should give an immediate indication as to whether or not it is a friendly target. In complex situations, the presence of a weapon in the hands of a target will often not be sufficient to justify shooting. It may still be a non-hostile individual. Unfortunately, it is not easy to train with these types of targets made of flat cardboard and the foam targets that contain these elements are usually cost prohibitive for individuals and small groups. A simple target discrimination exercise can be done with simple spray paint and stencils or even a large black market to illustrate common objects in the "hands" area of a target. This can also incorporate the order in which targets are to be engaged, for example some painted with "knife", "pistol", or "rifle" on the front of the target to indicate what type of weapon that person is armed with. Then incorporate the decision making process into the distance from target to determine the order in which the targets are addressed (more powerful weapons vs. proximity to you). You can also add elements of costume to the targets such as "enemy" uniform items or even logos imprinted on old shirts.
Here, we see a fairly simple exercise with reactive targets and some range props. In this case it is a couple of plastic 55 gallon drums to simulate vertical cover and some steel plates on hinged stands that will cause the plates to drop when hit. The plates are placed at 20 yards and are 6 to 10 inches in diameter, to represent only the "A" (maximum hit) zones of most graded targets. In this string of fire pictured on the right, the shooter has chosen to "crowd" the cover and actually use the side of the drums as a rest. The shooter here is using a good tactic of keeping his body behind the cover while leaning out to shoot, rather than stepping partially out from behind and exposing more of his body. Being close to the cover is a viable tactic when the target is smaller or further away and you need more precision in your shots. It is also used in situations where enemy fire might come from more than one direction and you need to get as much protection from as many angles as possible. It can present a problem though if you need to maneuver quickly to another spot or aim in a different direction and is considered a secondary choice by most people well versed on dynamic CQB.
It is generally better to be a little distance away from your cover as seen in the picture to the left. One drawback to being backed off of cover is that you cannot use it as a rest. This is a tactical judgment call, but one the shooter should be aware of. You will also not get as steady of a lean without something to support the body against. Maintaining some distance from your cover can also reduce likelihood or severity of injuries from secondary missiles or rounds which might penetrate the cover. A shooter can more quickly maneuver when keeping some distance from the cover.
Military doctrine is to shoot from around the side of a horizontal cover in order to present a smaller target to the opponent. There are, however many situations where this will not be possible or practical. Again using the range props, this shooter is practicing on a timed event. From the standing position, draw, take cover and engage the targets. In this scenario, the shooter has chosen to use the cover as a rest, but keeps his head and shoulders as low as will be practical while still being able to aim. The body is positioned behind the thickest part of the cover as opposed to directly behind the small gap behind the drums. Going prone in this situation may cost too much time getting into position at such a short range and the defender would be less able to maneuver and face the possibility of being overrun.
Here is the typical shooting bench layout at a range. The stapler is for tacking up paper targets and for tacking new centers on the cardboard targets, although it is also very common to just use masking tape to cover existing bullet holes. My advice is to use a good heavy duty industrial stapler because you are usually trying to stable the cardboard and paper targets onto wooden target holders. The ubiquitous Leatherman tool is for making various adjustments and tweaks on the guns and gear. A can of WD-40 or similar spray lube is good for keeping the guns running smoothly and reducing dry carbon buildup inside the actions. Can you tell what is wrong in the picture? It is the USP, being the one pistol left without the slide locked to the rear (foreground), and the Witness carry comp (far left) with a magazine in place. Normally, you want to leave the guns with the slide locked to the rear AND magazines removed while sitting on the bench. In a best case scenario, someone should be able to see that the chamber is empty without touching the weapon.
It is usually most efficient to load magazines while waiting for your turn to shoot and have them ready to to go when your turn comes up. This is an issue on timed ranges since the shot timers are sound activated and you can only have one shooter at a time if you realistically expect to get accurate scores from the shot timer. Some rangemasters get really anal about even handling magazines and ammo when someone else is forward of the line, so you might have to set up a magazine loading point separate from where you leave the guns if you run into this issue at a highly supervised range. Personally, I am more likely to just exit such a range since you will spend too much time on protocol and not enough time actually shooting.
With all of the fun and games of a gallery type range to practice on, it helps a lot to be able to measure your skills against established standards. One guy who appears to have compiled a lot of information on standard handgun qualifications has posted a web page with what looks like a pretty good compendium of standards. CLICK HERE to see several qualification standards spelled out, including the FBI standard which I think is a good overall system. You can obtain the specific FBI "bottle" targets at Pistoleer.com They have a good online ordering system that links into paypal and some very competitive pricing.
The picture on the left shows the FBI "Q" target in relation to a full grown adult. Note that the scoring zone corresponds more or less with the center mass target zone on an average person. The color contrast in the target is subtle and can lead to problems if you try to use these targets for training at longer ranges. My opinion is that they are only suitable for ranges under 100 yards in clear lighting conditions. That is not to say the target would be limited for use only with handguns. In fact, the shooting scenarios can be set to run about the same regardless of the weapon you are training with since the challenges of shooting at shorter ranges remain a constant, while the weapon you may have available is the variable. Due to the speed necessary to deal with close range opponents, your performance with a rifle or handgun may not particularly favor one or the other. Paper targets such as this are easy to transport out to remote areas for training scenarios where certain public range rules would make effective training impossible.
I decided to pay particular attention to the FBI handgun standard because it seemed to be the most comprehensive test of combat pistol shooting skills, can be done on both formal and improvised range facilities, it can be conducted quickly (under ten minutes for the whole thing) and you can do it in one box of standard pistol ammo (50 rounds). The course was designed around a double action automatic, probably the SIG, but is relatively easy to adapt to any other automatic pistol. It is not readily adapted for use with a revolver since required reloading would usually put you over the time limit. The entire "bottle" area of the target is the score zone, at two points per hit. This corresponds in size and shape to the center mass area of a person. The Q in the center is just an aiming point to help give a reference to the person aiming at the target; IE center mass aiming point.
One thing needed to run the FBI course is a shot timer if you do not have a range with mechanical targets that can be raised or flipped into position from a central command console. A distant second rate choice is a training partner with a stopwatch, but if that is all you test by, your times and scores could not be considered "official" because some of the timed events (like two second double taps) often produce "late shots" that count as misses in this test. Those late shots can be so close to the wire that it is impossible for a person with a stopwatch to accurately determine this. If you run the course without a timer or time limits on the stages, it will seem too easy, in fact, just about any monkey with a decent pistol can score "possible" on the course if they run it without time limits and take time for every shot. If you are running the course with a large group, it can help a lot to use a set of amplifying earmuffs so that you can make sure to hear the range commands. The earmuffs have electronics in them which will cut out loud sharp noises like gunfire.
Here is the course, in short, as per the information at Dan Young's site, with the information credited to a Steve Silverman. Some minor adjustments can be made in the course of fire due to different magazine capacities. High standard capacity magazines are allowed, but not extended mags that stick out the bottom of the pistol more than a normal magazine would. IE, nothing like the 33 shot Glock 18 mags, but using a full size magazine in a compact pistol is tolerable.
You generally want to avoid having to reload "on the clock" but if you run out of ammo in the middle of a stage, the reload does count on your clock time. When the course standard calls for a reload in a particular stage, you have to do the reload of some sort whether or not your pistol is empty. In stage three, the double taps from the low ready are done "double action" on the first shot, but if you are using a 1911 or similar gun, you would engage the safety before each string, and disengaging the safety is done "on the clock". It is NOT required to engage the safety on a double action pistol when you do stage three with the hammer down at the beginning of each double tap string.
From what I have been able to find out, they are fairly open on what holsters are used, and agents I have seen in training may or may not even have the pistols concealed, so an open top IDPA holster is allowed on this course. What is generally not allowed on the FBI and similar ranges are cross draw holsters or shoulder holsters - especially the "Miami Vice" type where the pistol points to the rear when it is in the holster. This is mainly due to the fact that they will be running several people through the course at one time and a person drawing or reholstering a pistol from such holsters is likely to be pointing it (loaded) at other trainees. Some instructors will mandate that the course is done with pistols "concealed" while holstered. This is usually accomplished with the people wearing a jacket or vest that is long enough to cover the gun and left open at the front. IE, the drawing process should not involve unbuttoning or unzipping any outer clothing to get at the pistol.
FBI Pistol Qualification Course
This standard, revised April 1997, is used to qualify both agents and instructors.
|Ammunition:||50 rounds service ammunition|
|Scoring:||Hits in or touching "bottle" count 2 points; misses and hits outside bottle count zero points|
|Qualification:||85% to qualify; 90% for instructors|
|STAGE I||18 ROUNDS|
|STAGE II||10 ROUNDS|
|STAGE III||12 ROUNDS|
|STAGE IV||10 ROUNDS|
Note that the FBI standard has also been copied by a number of other law enforcement agencies and security firms. All for good reason since this makes it easy to prove a level of competence if there is ever any question about it laid in court. This should also be a consideration for anyone who obtains a concealed weapon permit or similar license even though your local jurisdiction may not require any competence testing to get the permit. Even if you happen to carry a pistol without "authorization" it is important if the issue ever gets to court, to dismiss any questions about your competence by demonstrating a level of competence and familiarity with a government recognized combat pistol testing standard. If you cannot or do not meet a competency standard, then it can become rather easy for a litigator to argue that you carrying or using a gun can be considered a public menace. The fact that many law enforcement and military personnel routinely fail these standards is simply another point in support of a dedicated citizen who acts to maintain a level of competence consistent with that required by the FBI.
Some things to note, however, is that this qualification standard is only one part of their extensive and ongoing training in the use of weapons and how that use applies to current law. As such, laws regarding the use of lethal force vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and time to time. An unfortunate reality is that the effects of the law will also vary according to who you are. Racism, class, political alignments and employment status (whether or not you are a law officer) often play a major role in determining whether or not a shooting is justified. The FBI standard also does not deal with any "shoot, no shoot" scenarios, multiple or other threats a person may encounter. Hence, it should not be considered the beginning or end of any training program.
Link to various handgun drills and shooting standards.
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