From: John Tate
To: Mr. Mark Shea, NM DPS LEA Advanced Training Bureau Chief
Subj: New Mexico Firearms Qualification Standards and Scoring

First, I commend the LEA for the changes to the handgun courses of fire, especially: the mandatory speed reloads; mandatory use of flashlight; change of 2 seconds to 3 seconds on the “quick draw” stages; and the steps back at the retention stage.

The purpose of this e-mail is to recommend another conceptual change for the next iteration of updates: scoring zones that penalize the shooter for errant but “in the zone” hits. For support of this suggestion, please read the text below and the article at the link under it.

Low level shooters, and even a number of instructors, have been quoted complaining about being penalized several points during a standards course of fire for missing target center. They say they should have received full value because errant shots landed in the silhouette target’s head or throat area and that would have been effective on a real person.

This is a wrong way to approach this. Paper targets aren’t real adversaries, as the “games’ll getcha killed” crowd likes to point out when bad mouthing practical competition shooting. The desired point of impact (center chest in this case) was known in advance and an errant shot, even if dumb luck put it in the throat, is a MISS by a good 12 inches or more. In a training/practice environment against static targets that aren’t real, this is not good. In the real world you take what you can get. On the range that is NOT a “throat”, it’s a different target or scoring area. Intending to shoot one target (silhouette center), missing it and accidentally hitting a different target (silhouette head) is still a miss.

Try this: Run a tape measure from the center of the target area you intended to hit up to the errant shot in the throat/head. Now, rotate the tape 90 degrees left or right. That same shot error, if pushed left or right instead of straight up, likely missed the entire silhouette. Rewarding such error, even if dumb luck put it on a different target (head/throat scoring area) is rewarding a miss.

This is why I like targets with concentric rings for marksmanship exercises. Too much shot error in ANY direction is the same, lowered result. Silhouettes are good for some types of training, but not for fundamental marksmanship because novices confuse sloppy shooting with “good” hits. For training purposes, we don’t care that a shooter’s flinch or other error pushed the shot towards the head. What matters is the shot missed the intended point of impact. This should be noted so the error can be corrected. Noting this with point totals provides an objective measure, as opposed to some feel-good assessment, and is an easy way to stay organized to help track if improvements are being made. The same course can be revisited and a higher score indicates the shooter is improving the skills tested by that course.

My emphasis is on the content of the second paragraph: a shot intended to hit the “center of mass” that luck places in (for example) the neck-kill-zone of the target ought to be scored a miss, just as a required head shot that misses the “credit card” but hits the medulla-oblongata is a miss.

John Tate