forum home > articles home

Bullseye shooting is good practice and some time spent on the basics is important.  Keeping your sight picture, breathing, and trigger control rock solid is a must.  Without mastering the basics you can't master anything else.  Some time spent with a rimfire pistol periodically is wonderful, and frankly I need to do more of it myself.  That said, most of my pistol shooting is self-defense style practice and here I want to talk about self-defense targets

For my usual outdoor pistol shooting I use full-size cardboard silhouettes, IPDA (International Defensive Pistol Association) or IPSC/USPSA (International Practical Pistol Confederation and their American affiliate, the United States Practical Shooting Association) targets.  They are a solid color brown cardboard.  They have impressed scoring rings or boxes but these are not visible from a distance.  I do not staple any paper targets over them.

The IPSC/USPSA and IDPA targets:


The idea is that you shoot for vital areas without benefit of a traditional point of aim because a human adversary that attacks you will have no bullseye on his chest.  It's my belief that when practicing your self-defense shooting you need to imprint upon your subconscious the idea that you are shooting into an unmarked mass and you have make your own target mentally.

They used to tell us to aim for "center mass," but that is becoming discredited as a physiologically vague location to put your bullets.  The ideal human targets are the brain, spinal column, and heart. 

Let's digress from paper targets for just a second so we all understand why this is.  You may have heard this ad infinitum but it can't be said enough: the goal of self-defense shooting is never to kill your attacker but only to stop whatever he is doing that gave you cause to shoot him.  In order to stop that physical activity as soon as possible we need to destroy the brain or spinal column, or the heart.  Destroying the brain or spinal column will stop him immediately but even if the heart is destroyed enough blood can circulate for limited additional activity.  A hit or hits anywhere else and cessation of hostilities is going to depend on something other than mechanically stopping the physical plant--it will come down to the attacker's mental processes--pain, fear, a simple decision to quit, etc.  We can't count on any of that so we practice to put bullets where they will do the most good.

Obviously those points are not easy targets to hit so the fall-back is the upper center chest in a triangle formed by connecting the dots between each nipple and that hollow right at the "V" of the throat.  We should also practice shooting the cranial-ocular area of the head as that is the most likely area for a bullet to penetrate to the brain.  Since a bobbing moving head is going to be incredibly difficult to hit in a real life gunfight I would suggest you practice most of the time hitting that triangle in the upper center chest.

Let's get back to targets.

I find the IDPA/USPSA targets ideal for a couple reasons, first being they are widely available in bulk and are not expensive.  Figure around $60-$65 per 100 plus shipping, and those will last you a long long time.  Buy 25 if you prefer.  Being cardboard you don't need a target backer, and you can simply tape holes and re-use the targets quite a bit.  You can buy masking tape the same color brown or be cheap and buy buff-colored masking tape anywhere.  I re-use taped targets as long as they will reasonably support the tape and show hits cleanly.  I'm frugal and get a lot of use before I toss the targets. 

One negative about these targets is the impressed "scoring aids."  IDPA uses round circles and IPSC uses rectangles. These organizations both, ultimately, run shooting games, and they use SCORES.  Without meaning to sound overly dramatic, in real life the only scores are "escape," "live," and "survive" and we don't need scores.  The shapes do have a purpose though their positioning is not right for us--don't get into the habit of using the impressed rings and squares.   I do understand their decisions to use using circles or squares--they had to use something, and if we co-opt their targets for self-defense practice we just need to keep in mind that we are borrowing sporting gear and not judge it based on defensive criteria.  You wouldn't borrow gear from a football team for convenience and think you were using realistic martial arts gear, would you?  Be real.  Too many shooters think they are Tommy Tactical, but keep your perspective. 

Shooting is fun--so much fun that we just can't help ourselves and we make a game out of everything having to do with guns, but somewhere in the back of our minds we just have to always remember that part of it is a serious business, eh?

Keep in mind those are line drawings of the targets shown above--on the real cardboard targets you don't really see those lines except up close.  Ideally of course the target would be blank:

Or you could use a pencil--because it won't show at any distance--to draw in the lines to represent the general anatomical areas we want to target like this:


Whoa...lot's of places that won't do us much good even if we hit the bad guy, aren't there? Something to think about?

Keep in mind I'm not a computer artist nor an anatomical expert.  Best bet is to hold a target up against yourself and see where those areas I describe above compare on your own body or some other "average" male and then mark the cardboard.  (I think I gave this guy nipples about two inches apart.)

Another way to add both fun and realism to your otherwise serious practice is to save old, worn or too-small shirts and use them to clothe your cardboard target as shown:


That has the strong attraction of definitely getting your mind out of the bullseye rut and into a three-dimensional mindset to some extent.  We've found that in shooting through t-shirts the bullet holes are often hard to see even up close as the shirt whips and moves as the bullet shoots through it.  This helps condition our brain that we are not going to see those cute little Hollywood special effects where a nice little splash explodes and blood flies out.  Real people don't have a nice little packet of McDonald's ketchup under their shirt backed with a hard plate so a tiny explosion can blow red goo out on cue.  Don't expect to see reactions like that.  That is as bad as looking for bullseyes and scoring rings.  The only cue we should expect from our shots is the cessation of the attack. 

Cessation = stop shooting. 

Continued attack = keep shooting. 

That isn't rocket science.

Bottom line?   Get looking for bullseyes and scoring rings out of your subconscious mind.  Is accuracy important? Yes--but in self-defense handgun shooting the only "bullseye" is in your mind, because it sure as heck is not going to be there on the street.  Train real.  
(5 May 2009)

Some IDPA and/or USPSA cardboard target Sources:

Alco Target Company
Speedwell Targets
Midway USA



copyright 2009 Mark E. Freburg, All Rights Reserved


Uploaded: 5/4/2009