Moving Targets for Tactical Training

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From John Tate

Previously, I wrote about putting a standard qual target on my little, red “Radio Wagon” and pulling it towards the student; likewise, across (L to R or R to L) in front of him.

Construction of the “charging” target is simple. The puller stands beside and a bit behind the shooter and pulls a rope attached to the wagon. The speed of the charge is determined by the speed of the puller’s yank, walk, or run. The “crossing” target is equally simple; the difference being a pulley is attached at the opposite end of the backstop from the wagon, and the rope run from the wagon, through the pulley, and back to the puller, who as before, can be standing safely beside/behind the shooter. The puller pulls, walks, or runs and the wagon races across in front of the backstop.

As part of a four hour firearms class with handguns, I had the chance to exercise that concept thoroughly, as part of the other exercises where the target(s) is/are stationary, but the shooter moves forward/back/side-to-side. It’s a splendid mix. Various lessons learned and re-learned:

  • Our static targets and static qual settings are training our officers NOT to move to cover. When cover is used, significant body parts are often left exposed.
  • “Groucho” steps definitely aid in smoother-shoot-on-the-move shots.
  • The “21-foot rule” is absolute garbage and the charging wagon drill makes absolutely clear any armed threat within 30 feet justifies a drawn firearm held at low ready. Two ancillary comments to this:
    • First, in the exercise setting, the shooter knows his threat is going to charge … so the normal time to observe-evaluate-react is removed from the overall time to defend.
    • Second, once reaction has started, it is the draw that takes time; all the more time with a level-3 rig.
  • We teach the “Tactical-J” when using pepper on a charging subject; we need to do the same with any charging subject.
  • Backing away from a target over uneven ground is tricky and adds nice dynamics of divided attention and how to manage secure footing.
  • Because so much of our quals and practice are with stationary targets, engaging moving targets is a skill quite lacking in most shooters. BUT it’s easy to remedy with a little experience.
    The experience of trying to hit a closing but zig-zaging target or a crossing target makes VERY clear the advantage of such tactics if YOU are the target of someone else. And, just as in torpedo defense, randomness of speed and duration amplifies the value of zig-zags. The uneven ground causing the wagon to bounce also added a bit of distraction.
  • Another lesson expressed earlier was shown true: If changing attention from one target to another, scan with the eyes, not with the barrel; do NOT move eyes with barrel; move the eyes to the target, then move the barrel to the eyes. (This speeds scan accomplishment & prevents/reduces over-swing.)
  • Safety is always a factor. Since a running wagon-puller must necessarily turn his back to the shooter, a safety observer ought to be included in any formal conduct of these drills.

The proof of concept is 3/4 finished. The last 1/4 is a target mounted on a remote control (RC) vehicle. The implementation is a small RC truck with a whip antenna and a head-sized balloon mounted at the antenna’s top. I did bring out the RC truck and had the shooter try to keep up with it in dry fire. He thought hits would be easy. We’ll see …..


The ‘little red wagon’ idea was proposed to me by Richard Barbaras. The RC truck idea was proposed with a truck to experiment with by Randy Erwin.

[On a non-related note…]

Gear vs. Skill

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The fact is, the basics of good practical shooting can be picked up and dropped onto almost any gun, and skill will trump gear every single time. Train the skill, and the gear will follow.

I’ve been swapping out my USPSA “gamer” CZ75 with my carry/IDPA CZ P07 when I dry-fire, because I want to get better at BOTH sports. I shoot the CZ75 from a Blade-Tech dropped offset holster, and the P07 from concealment in a Crossbreed Supertuck. This begs the question as to how much of a disadvantage is shooting carry gear versus a competition rig.

Fortunately, I’ve done dozens of runs through the El Presidenté as I was climbing up to C Class, and have some hard numbers to report.

CZ75 (Improved trigger, Improved sights, no concealment)
Average Time: 9.5 seconds
Average Points: 42.4 points
Average Score: 4.53

CZ P07 (Dead stock, from concealment)
Average Time: 11.4 seconds
Average Points: 37.4 points
Average Score: 3.25

BTW, my best time (so far) on this drill is 7.3 seconds with 50 points of hits, which translates into a score of 6.85. Not bad, I can do better.

How much of a difference does gear make? by KevinC

Skill is much more important than equipment concerns. Yet another shooter made it a point to perform a comparison and came up with this.

This mirrors other observations on this. Skill is the most important factor, equipment less so.

It’s also worth pointing his results on this are completely inline with USPSA Classifier data on CM99-11. Numbers work out there as well.

Keep Qualification Scores


Do police agencies keep numerical range scores or is it just pass/fail? Some agencies are going away from the actual numerical scoring, supposedly because training records fall under the open records act and they are afraid that if an officer with a higher qualification score kills someone in an otherwise legitimate shooting that the prosecuting attorneys will ask the officer didn’t shoot to disarm, etc. How are police agencies handling this?


I believe many departments only keep pass/no pass records, but not because of the reasons stated.

It is very easy to establish in court that shooting a gun out of someones hand or shoot to disarm, etc., is not only impractical but also nearly impossible under the stress of a violent encounter. These feats are myths. What is more likely is that the departments do not want the scores of those who barely pass to be available.


For liability purposes, Pass/Fail scoring is becoming the norm. When the use of force is questioned, it is normal for the training records of the officer to come into play, and needless to say, this includes officer involved shootings.

The problem is, on paper, it makes all officers appear to have even ability. When I first started, % scores were common, and I was always PROUD to be able to consistently score 100%. However, there are always those officers who will struggle to meet the minimum (75% in our case). I’ve seen officers with poor firearm skills. Unfortunately, with a pass or fail system, the officer who struggles to pass the qualification with a minimum score (and needs several attempts to pass it), is EQUAL to the officer who passes it consistently with 100%.

When we picked our competition team, we would take the top shooters in the department and place them on the pistol team. Under a pass/fail system, there are no top shooters, everyone is equal! It used to be that exceptional ability on the range was recognized, but under the pass/fail system, you can’t do that. Pass/Fail works for liability reasons, but other than that, I think it sucks.


If you score a perfect weapons qual, and you are out on the street, a gun fight errupts, one of your bullets doesnt hit the intended target, huge law suit because of that perfect score on paper. Lawyers love that kind of case.

Some have advanced the notion that public sector firearms courses (for police and private citizens) should not keep scores, allowing pass/fail only, due to issues with liability problems. The problem, we’re told, is that assessing skill numerically could jeopardize the legal defense of an otherwise legit shooting. If the qualification records indicate the person was more skillful, the prosecution may claim the shooter should have tried other shot(s) or shoot to disarm because of their higher skill. If the qualification records indicate the person was less skillful or marginally qualified, it might be shown that the person was reckless due to a lack of skill. Thus, best not keep scores because high or low results could be used against you in court.

Wrong. As with many issues in the firearms world, much of what is taken as “truth” is merely garbage repeated endlessly. Keeping a numerical assessment of skill is necessary if skill is ever to be improved. There is no liability problem with doing this.

By definition, this sort of liability is something whose presence is likely to put one at a legal disadvantage. Such a liability needs to be based on a precedent established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive for a court when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.

Such a precedent requires a preceding incident to have actually occurred. In this instance, there must be a legal case where a person’s qualification scores were successfully used in court to secure a verdict against them.

If one still believes that keeping qualification scores creates a legal liability provide the docket number of the case where this happened. Case law is based on actual filed court actions from actual events. If such a thing never occurred there is no legal precedent and any “liability” is pure conjecture and unsubstantiated opinion. A nice way of saying, “it’s bullshit.”

The lack of qualification scores will have a negative impact on training success. Avoiding this due to imaginary liability is poor practice.

Speed of Actual Engagements

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When required to do an El Presidente as one stage of an IDPA match I was running, three police officers who had come said, “But we had 30 seconds to do this in the Academy!”

My response was: “You can take 30 seconds here, too. You’ll just be last.”

The slow, low skill levels reinforced in many qualification courses could be called “an unrealistic speed that is not reflected in the speed of actual engagements.”

Police officer and competition shooter Ron Avery discusses this here:

Low speeds and skill levels are to be expected at the academy level. The problem and failure is never addressing this elementary school skill assessment and asking skills to improve during a career.

Training Scars and New York Reloads


Thomas Howard of Precision Response Training put together another good article and video testing a long-held popular truism of the defensive shooting world. The “New York Reload” involves drawing a secondary firearm under the assumption that this is faster than reloading the primary. “The fastest reload is a second gun” is the buzz phrase that “proves” it.

Is it actually faster? Here’s a test to find out.

Benefit of Practicing a Game


Tactics are an expedient and the “correct” one is situation dependent. Fundamental skills apply to all relevant situations. Therefore, once an overview of concepts has been accomplished, most training time should be spent learning something that is guaranteed useful in all situations rather than obsess over edge cases that likely won’t occur.

It is too bad many folks billing themselves as tactical trainers don’t understand this. Here’s an example.

How does a defensive firearms trainer establish a test that demonstrates proficiency with a firearm (or a specific skill) that is NOT just another “game” that can be practiced by the student? How do we make a realistic testing process, or do we need to even do it? I ask specifically in the context of law enforcement training but the question applies to any personal defense scenario.

If the standard is currently difficult or impossible for the person attempting it, practice and training for a “game” forces skill/capability development if the standard is ever to be achieved.

For a person incapable of shooting El Presidente with a 6 hit factor (12 centered hits in 10 seconds) that has been considered “par” for any competent handgun shooter since the 1970s, practicing for it until this standard is consistently achieved will also improve general, overall gunhandling and marksmanship. Training fundamentals intelligently with periodic retesting against some standard demonstrates skill is actually improving. When this is achieved, increase the standard or find a new one to test against.

The deadlift is just another “game” that can be practiced. Training it with ever-increasing weight until you can pull double or triple the beginning poundage will also improve your general, overall body strength.

Failing to assess results with numbers is a training failure.

Shooting El Presidente is a great example of a circus trick. It requires skill, but those “skills” may likely get you killed in a real gun fight.


It is a measure of fundamental skill, nothing more. Any other sort of test can be used if preferred. Shoot it once or twice as a measure, train fundamentals, then retest to measure improvement.

This isn’t a “circus trick” as some low-skilled personnel pretending to be instructors have suggested. A person with good marksmanship and gunhandling will have good results on such a course. An improvement in fundamentals will result in an improved score. A poor score or a lack of measurable improvement indicates fundamentals are poor and haven’t improved.

Same with the deadlift, or other primary lift. If you aren’t adding weight over time, you aren’t getting stronger.

What this “tactical trainer” fails to realize is many gun owners (LEOs included) struggle greatly on any reasonably challenging test even when there aren’t any variables. Set up an El Prez for a few police officers or gun owners and ask them to shoot it once or twice for record, suggesting that a good score is all center hits in under 10 seconds.

Straight forward, no variables, yet (for many) it will provide plenty of challenge. Their skills aren’t sufficient to meet the challenge with a straight forward, no-variable test. That low skill will just degrade further if more variables, stress, and uncertainty are thrown at them.

Given the standards of most LEO and CCW qualifications, most people would need a 200-300% skill increase to earn a “par” score (12 center hits/60 points in 10 seconds) on this.

The only “circus trick” of this drill for most people is developing sufficient fundamental skill to shoot it reasonably well. No sacred cow here, just the harsh reality most gun owners would be better served with simple exercises and actually developing basic skills beyond novice levels.

If rules changed to address and enforce the various complaints cited against competitive events and courses, the same good shooters would continue to win and the complaining non-shooters would find other excuses to avoid having their lack of skills measured in a peer environment.

Slow Is Not Fast


You’ve probably heard the advice “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

This tip from Karl Rehn

Slow Is Not Fast


Skill Development and the Real World

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It all came together… for once.

Didya ever notice how it’s not hard to nail a reload, not hard to nail the draw, not hard to fire 6 fast accurate shots, but all together with 6 more accurate shots?

Yeah, not that easy.

Which puts the foolish bleating from self-appointed tactical experts about why a drill like this isn’t useful into perspective.

Yes, the skills involved are elementary. Yes, the targets and scenario are known in advance. It should be easy. Overcoming the various gremlins involved make it a challenge.

Consistently performing this drill under 10 seconds with all centered hits indicates sufficient skill to shoot at the “speed of life.” The performance above is twice that fast.

Be A Good Instructor

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With regard to measuring one’s skills, I think it’s important for everyone to benchmark where you are and try to improve that continuously. For an instructor, it’s doubly important.

There are a lot of different benchmarks you can use, just having one is the important thing. Shoot it periodically and try to get better at it. You may find that the benchmark you use changes over time to something more challenging and that you have multiple benchmarks that measure different aspects of shooting.

One of the main advantages of shooting in competition is that you find out you’re not as good as you think you are. Ego is the Achilles heel of many shooters and instructors.

Claude Werner, A tactical instructor that makes sense.

Competition vs. Street Training


Competition vs. street training — again, and why my opinion has wiggled around

by Ralph Mroz

Over the years I’ve written a few articles on the difference between training for match competitions and training for the street. I have found that my opinion has changed over the last few years in that I find more value in competitive-orientated shooting that I used to. In no particular order, here’s the things – pro and con – that have influenced my current state of mind on the matter:

  • There is a lot more to street self defense than shooting, but shooting is a critical and central component of it.
  • Competitive shooters are the best pure shooters, so if you want to learn to shoot, competitive training is how you’ll get good at it.
  • Competitive shooting can train some bad habits into you. For example, you can shoot too fast (that is, faster than you can assess the situation), cover is treated as an inconvenience rather than a life-saving opportunity, you shoot without vocalization, penalties for misses are not life-destroying, among others. [Editor’s note: All of these can – and are – mitigated by course design if that is the goal.]
  • You can mitigate the disadvantages of competitive training by doing it only as a sideline compared to street training or by shooting competitions with street gear and using street tactics. You can also modify competitive training drills to be more realistic while retaining their shooting improvement quality.  [Editor’s note: A significant portion of all effective training, for competition or otherwise, is developing fundamental skills. Concerning firearm use, there is no difference in fundamental skills with street training or competition.]
  • Now that so many men have retired out of our top-tier special forces (Delta, whatever 6 is called this week, and so on) and are teaching serious members of the public and LE, we have more insight into their training methods, which, and this is important, have been validated in copious close-quarter combat engagements since 2003. One thing that strikes me is just how much a good deal of their training seems to resemble competitive training, which is no real surprise in that every SF unit has a top competitive shooter that they regularly get instruction from.
  • Competitive shooters, in order to get an edge, slick up their guns with a too-light trigger. Yes, Rule Three is the ultimate safety, but on the street you have to expect to get startled, bumped, trip and fall, as well as get into physical struggles. During these events your finger can involuntarily come onto the trigger, and a trigger weight less than 5 pounds — and ideally more — is just too light.  [Editor’s note: All military and many civilian venues (notably Production/Stock/Standard divisions) mandate equipment and modifications suitable for issue and/or field/street use.]
  • Tom Givens’ record of all of his 60+ (armed) students winning their gunfights is impressive, and Tom trains in traditional, competition-compatible, technique.
  • Things like acquiring a sight picture and resetting the trigger — both foundational competitive techniques — do seem to have value under stress. The trigger reset seems to become subconscious programmed, and whether or not you can actually acquire a sight picture under stress (I believe it depends on the amount of stress you are under compared to what you have become accustomed to), you are certainly building kinesthetic memory which seems to hold up sufficiently well.

Some additional points:

Competitive shooting need not encourage bad habits. Things like shooting too fast and cover use can be addressed with course of fire design based on the goals.

A significant portion of all effective training, for competition or otherwise, is developing fundamental skills. Contrary to popular myth, competitive shooters do not conduct training or practice by shooting full competitive courses repeatedly. Instead, they drill fundamental skills, the same base skills that apply to all firearm use. Let’s ask a top competitive shooter about this:

When I shoot a match, I break down a stage into basic shooting functions. I then practice those functions as a drill until I perfect my performance. I only train using drills… Stages are too complicated and don’t allow you to properly improve a specific area.

Rob Leatham

If a long time, top shooter like Mr. Leatham trains by breaking everything down into a drill to train functions/fundamentals, then so do the rest of us. And training functions is the same for every task we need to train for.

Concerns with equipment, such as slicked up guns with a too-light triggers, can be addressed in equipment divisions forbidding such modifications. Military matches require as-issue gear and ammo, for example.

This “problem” is overstated anyway.

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