Training Gadgets Designed To Improve Your Shooting

Research has revealed varying amounts of repetition counts needed to learn a new skill and to retrain from identified problems. One point of agreement is it will take at least hundreds if not thousands of correct repetitions to create a skill ingrained enough to be used dependably on demand and it will take much more to change or correct an ineffective motor pattern. While this probably won’t be enough for true mastery, it’s enough to perform the skill consistently without much conscious thought.

Let’s look at a series of shooting training gadgets that can help get those quality reps, from least expensive and up.

Scaled Targets

The mark in marksmanship is a defined spot the shooter attempts to put projectiles into. While fundamental concepts remain the same regardless of the shape or intent, aiming at something that is the same apparent size and shape is useful practice. Understanding mils and minutes of angle, a shooter can create appropriate marks scaled from their normal full-size version. For example, at 30′, a 0.6″ circle is 6 MOA. A 3×5 index card is half the size of the A zone on a USPSA target. Common slide software or a Sharpie and index cards can create a host of aiming marks to practice on. Also, a graduated set of circles can be used as a “wobble target” to provide scaled reference as to how much wobble is inherent in a hold.

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Dummy Rounds

A very common problem among novice shooters is “flinching”, or the tendency to anticipate and react to recoil and not realize it. A dummy round inserted in the magazine, without the shooter being aware of its position, will graphically demonstrate this to the shooter first hand. It is acceptable for the shooter to know there is a dummy round in their magazine provided they don’t know its exact position. The ‘click’ has to come when the shooter doesn’t know exactly when it’s going to happen.

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ST Action Pro makes the most durable and affordable dummy rounds. The high-visibility molded plastic makes for easy identification, both in contrast to live ammunition and when dropped on the ground, and the metallic case greatly enhances longevity.

ST Action Pro makes an ideal dummy round. Using a normal cartridge case, the entire interior is filled with high-visibility molded plastic. This provides the easy identification of plastic dummy rounds with no chance of set back of the bullet (as may happen with handmade dummy rounds) combined with the durability of metal dummy rounds at less cost. There is virtually no chance of misidentification with live ammunition (again, unlike handmade) and they last longer than all-plastic versions at about the same cost.

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Laser-Based Tools

A weapon-mounted laser or a separate training simulator can emit laser beams and/or pulses instead of bullets. The simplest and possibly cheapest form is a laser set to constant on mode showing how much movement is occurring and when. Anyone can observe the laser movement and see what effects the shooter’s manipulations are having. Position can be monitored as the laser shows wobble.  Trigger control errors are apparent if the laser jumps as the hammer/striker falls.

The Tacticon Armament Laser Sight retails for $15.95, mounts to any 20mm Picatinny/Weaver-type rail, is fully adjustable for windage and elevation, and projects a red laser 50-100 meters. The Pinty is also an adjustable unit projecting a green laser. In addition to Picatinny/Weaver mount, the kit also includes a 1″ barrel clamp and figure 8 mount for attachment firearms lacking a rail. Retail is $19.99.

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Tacticon Armament Laser Sight is fully adjustable and can mount to any firearm with a Picatinny/Weaver-type rail. Photo courtesy of Tacticon Armament.

Beamhit/LMTS

Beamhit, otherwise known as the Laser Marksmanship Training System, combines a series of bore-size muzzle inserts with a laser emitter and targets. Eye-safe laser beams are detected and recorded as hits on the targets. Of course, there is no recoil or noise, avoiding the negative conditioning that can occur in live fire. The system can be set up indoors or out. Any clear space providing 15-25 meters will suffice. And because the “ammo” and targets are electronically powered, there is a virtually unlimited supply.

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Beamhit systems start with a 110 Laser Training System for $199. It uses a simple TR700 target that can only detect hit or miss, however, masks can be inserted to change the size and shape of the laser-sensitive area to represent a scaled target appropriate for your application. The kit includes several masks and they can readily be made from construction paper, thin cardboard, plastic, or similar, common materials. The included LS-101 Laser Transmitter has muzzle insert adapters for many common firearm calibers. The Laser Transmitter can be set to constant on, working as any weapon-mounted laser, or to pulse, which activates on a dry hammer/striker impact. While the laser is visible and can be seen without using a Beamhit target, the target unit records the number of times it has been hit.

iDryFire

iDryFire from iSniper, Inc. is a laser target system similar to LMTS/Beamhit. Rather than using special targets, an application ($15.99) running on most common Android or iOS phone or tablet devices is used with any visible object, though scaled targets are ideal. Laptop computers can also be used but require purchasing an accessory camera ($135) where smart devices can use their own internal camera.

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iDryFire from iSniper, Inc. uses software to control a camera to detect the location of laser pulses. Smart devices with internal cameras can function as self-contained controllers and detectors. Provided the lighting is appropriate, any paper target or object can be used. The software can’t determine hit or miss, it just records the location of each detected laser pulse and how long it took for it to get there. Users will need to supply their own laser pulse training device. Photo courtesy of iSniper

As with LMTS/Beamhit, a pulse-emitting weapon-mounted (or weapons-simulating training tool) laser is needed. Any type can be used, including those from LaserLyte, SIRT, Laser Ammo, SureStrike, Beamhit/LMTS, etc.

For best performance, insure the background has no glare. Point the camera at the “downrange” objects (use a tripod or similar mount). Run the iDryFire program. It will scan the scene and warn if the background is too bright. Press the start button. A buzzer tone indicates to start. The app detects a series of laser pulses, recording where each hit and how much time elapsed from the start signal.

iDryFire can’t score or plot group size but it will show where each of the laser pulses ended up and how long it took to get them there, the same as shooting live ammunition with a shot timer. This is really the same as substituting laser pulses for bullets as a target is merely punctured, those showing the hit location after the fact, and letting you score based on the hit location. Best part is the low price at $15.99 for smart devices. You’ll have to supply your own smart device/tablet/phone and a suitable laser training or attachment and pay attention to lighting conditions. Though it’s feasible to use outside, an indoor setting on scaled targets where you have full control over lighting and glare is best.

Laser Emitters

With the exception of Beamhit, most laser trainers require a laser emitter that is not included. There are several options.

LaserLyte makes a variety of options. The first is their Trainer Pistol Cartridge (MSRP $104.95). Each of these emitters are cartridge-specific. Select the unit based on your firearm’s chambering and insert it into the cleared chamber. A firing pin/striker-activated hardened rubber switch pulses a laser beam down the barrel. Two rubber O-ring centers the emitter in the chamber. The rear of the head is rimless and isn’t extracted when cocking the firearm or during clearance exercises. Three 377 batteries will last about 3,000 shots.

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With the exception of Beamhit units, most laser trainers require an additional laser pulse trainer. LaserLyte offers a number of popular choices. A cartridge-type unit fits in the chamber like a dummy round and pulses when the firing pin/striker hits hit. This makes normal gun handling, such as drawing from a holster, possible. Photo courtesy of LaserLyte

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The LaserLyte Laser Trainer Universal (MSRP $109.95) fits calibers up to .45 with barrels 1.875″ or longer, including J-Frame revolvers. The unit activates a laser pulse for each dry fire. No tools are required to switch calibers as an adjustable collet slides to the appropriate width. Mounting inside the muzzle-end of a barrel, the unit has a sound activated switch that pulses a laser to indicate impact.

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Muzzle-mounted units might not work in some holsters but have the advantage or readily adapting to multiple calibers. All double action firearms will pulse with each trigger pull. Some single action and striker-fired pistols can be retrofit for multi-pulse capability. Photo courtesy of LaserLyte

SIRT

For a more dedicated option, SIRT makes complete training-only laser pistols ($239). The 110 Model pistol has the functional features of the Glock 17/22 and the 107 Model is based on the Smith & Wesson M&P. These are self-contained units and marked red to indicate non-firing status. Best of all, they allow repeat shots for each pull of the trigger. Every time you pull the trigger, the laser shoots. The other lasers allow this only with double action firearms. Single action and striker-fired guns require a separate trigger reset accessory or are single shot-only.

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SIRT pistols provide complete multi-shot pulse use and are a complete, self-contained laser trainer. Photo courtesy of SIRT

MantisX

Laser-based pulses show where it was pointed at the moment the hammer/striker/trigger pull activated it but they can’t show movement before or after the shot process. Constant-on lasers show movement but don’t differentiate the pre-shot, shot, or post-shot movement. The MantisX does all of these things. The device is essentially a weapon-mounted accelerometer, tracking weapon movement in real time. The support application keeps track of this movement and records it.

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MantisX can be used in live or dry fire. Connect MantisX to the accessory rail of any firearm, just like you would any other firearm attachment or use an adapter plate with included adhesive. Install the monitor application on an Android or iOS device with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE or Bluetooth 4.0). Turn on MantisX, and pair the device.

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MantisX is a Picatinny/Weaver unit that detects all movement before, during, and after the shot and can be used dry and live fire. Used in conjunction with the free accessory app, it nearly rivals the feedback provided by units costing ten times as much. Photo courtesy of MantisX

The direction and magnitude is tracked, monitoring all movement. This movement is correlated to when a shot or dry click occurs. Shots are grouped according to movement pattern similarity. A shot-by-shot analysis is compiled, tracking the score of each shot. A detailed trace of all the movement is shown. Blue indicates the pre-shot movement during holding and sighting. Yellow shows the shot as the trigger pull releases the sear. Red is the post shot movement, showing the shot break and recoil pattern. Each shot is scored depending on how much the shooter moved away from a sighted position during the trigger pull. A perfect score is 100, which is basically impossible unless the firearm is locked in a vise. MantisX detects the direction of the barrel movement during the trigger pull. If you tend to shoot left, left sector will light up on the wheel. After a few shots, the training device shows the pattern of your movement. Analyzing an individual shot or the group of shots, the app provides suggestions that could improve your shooting mechanics.

High-End Systems

The previous equipment slowly stepped up the feature set and price. If you’re willing to add another decimal place to your cost, a number of more feature-rich electronic trainers can better evaluate and help train all disciplines of position shooting. By capturing metrics such as the steadiness of a shooter’s hold, accuracy of aiming, trigger release timing, and movement that occurs during all phases of the shot process, more advanced training devices offers even greater insights into the shooter’s execution of each marksmanship element, and analyze strengths and weakness of technique and position.

SCATT MX-02

The SCATT MX-02 is a more recent example of a high-end training system. It can be used in live fire and dry fire under broad daylight or indoors at a large variety distances. The SCATT MX-02 sensor mounts on the end of the barrel and uses an internal digital camera that recognizes a distinct mark as a reference. Based on this reference, the SCATT software tracks the movement of the muzzle relative to the center of the identified target. The unit can plot these movements as a continuous trace, which appears on a monitor as a squiggly, colored line. By sensing the exact moment of shot release, the SCATT can also interpolate relative shot placement for a single shot or series of shots. Data points from the muzzle movement trace can be saved as tabular data, revealing strengths and weaknesses in his gun-handling and aiming technique. Systems like the SCATT MX-02 can’t see bullet impacts; instead the plot suggests “ideal points of impact” based on where the point of aim was at the time of trigger release. The MX-02 can be used with airguns indoors at 10 meters to as far as 600 yards.

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The SCATT and similar units are the ultimate in shooter feedback and have been used in the Olympic shooting communities for years. They are unsurpassed in total feedback provided in dry and live fire. They are also the most expensive. Photo courtesy of SCATT

The MSRP for SCATT MX-02 is $1,799. This is $500 more than its predecessor (SCATT WS-01) and more expensive than competitor systems such as the retroreflector-based NOPTEL Sport II. All of these systems combine the best features of less expensive gadgets. You’re getting the real-time line trace capability of the MantisX with a shot record (unlike constant-on lasers) coupled with a plotted shot location as found with laser-pulse units like the Beamhit/LMTS and iDryFire. All of these features can be used in a live or dry environment from the other end of a room to hundreds of yards away.

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Photo courtesy of SCATT

Choosing Your Gadget

All of these options offer benefits and are worth considering. Using a combination is potentially better. So, which is best for you?

The low/no-cost options are an obvious necessity. Dummy rounds are useful for too many things to not just have some. Make them if you must, but you should have dummy rounds for every type of cartridge you shoot. Same with scaled targets as they provide a no-cost, no-set up option. Just leave your scaled dry practice targets taped up in your practice area to use any time. For additional feedback, a easy-to-mount constant-on laser can be had for less than $20.

The MantisX adds another level of feedback by giving information on all the movement during the complete shot process. This is more feedback than even shooting live ammunition provides and a reason why Olympic competitive shooters use systems like that. Laser-based units

The high-end units like the SCATT and Noptel are truly next level and provides all the benefits of the mid-range units and more. Of course, they’re also priced another decimal point up.

My recommendation is if you can afford something more than dummy rounds and already have simple scaled dry practice targets (and no good shooter would consider you a marksman if you didn’t), analyze your primary needs. Do you need more work on fundamental marksmanship to improve general shooting ability, or do you need to amp up your gun handling at speed? The MantisX provides an amazingly-similar amount of feedback compared to the high-end units but is really best for learning more precision shooting. Laser-pulse systems can be ideal for gun handling and a number of high-level action shooters use the iDryFire system with multi-shot laser emitters extensively. If you can afford to combine both, you’ve emulated nearly all of the important features found in high-end systems.

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