Why Targets Matter to the Self-Defense Shooter


In the last week or so I’ve shot around 10,000 rounds, and I have another 15,000 rounds that need to be shot over the next 10 days, so targets have been on my mind lately. If you’ve read any of my previous articles, or if you follow my weekly radio show, you’ll notice that most of my focus on shooting is centered on the self-defense aspects of the sport. That’s not to say that I hold anything against the hunters or sports shooters, it’s just what my focus is. I’m going to assume that you’re reading this article because you too share an interest in self-defense, and would like to learn about targets that may help you become a better defensive shooter. If that’s not where your interests lay, then no worries. Tin Cans, Shoot-n-See, or pretty much anything at all will work great for the recreational shooter who’s just interested in going out and hammering some rounds down range every once and awhile, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

One of the first things we need to establish is what type of training we’re going to do, and how our targets can help us or hurt us. If you talk to any medical professional that’s put any amount of time into seriously studying gunshot wounds you’ll start to hear some interesting things. The gist is usually that handguns don’t do that much damage, and the parts of the human body we need to hit to make someone stop doing what they’re doing are pretty small. That’s not to say that there aren’t all sorts of people who have been shot and decided to stop what they’re doing, just that to literally incapacitate someone we’re aiming at a small area.

So why does it matter when we’re just buying targets to shoot at? Well, most of the classic targets that people are familiar with have two pretty big issues: The placement of the scoring zones, and their size.



If you look at the classic B-27 Silhouette, as made famous in every single range scene in any police movie made in the last 30 years, the x-ring is placed at the bottom of the ribcage just above the belly button. Now, I’m not a doctor but I’m pretty certain there are no vital organs placed there in the human body. That’s not to say rounds placed there couldn’t prove fatal over time, just that it’s not the optimum place to shoot a violent attacker. To be effective, we’d need to move the scoring zone higher.


Using the B-27 as an example again you’ll notice that the scoring area encompasses almost half of the entire target. Each zone is worth less point than the next, but we’re still teaching shooters that it’s okay to miss, in some cases by a lot, with only a small scoring penalty. Having such loose accuracy standards can lead to poor marksmanship and poor performance in actual violent encounters. Keeping in mind that the adult human heart is about the size of two clenched fists held together, and is the target we are aiming for in the torso, how does an ovular scoring zone the size of the entire upper torso make sense? We need to be training to hit small targets, and engraining their location compared to a human torso so that we are aiming for those areas without having to think about it.

So what targets should the self-defense minded shooter use? I do most of my training with the Pistol-Training.com modified Q target. In addition to allowing me to run most of the training exercises that I prefer to run each range session, the target’s scoring zones are much less generous than that of something like the B-27. Another good target to be on the lookout for is the TQ-19, which places a small scoring box in both the upper torso and head of a human shaped silhouette.

If neither of those is available to you here’s what you want to look for in your training targets for self-defense:

Use a human shaped target.

Some people make the argument that you don’t need to be shooting at a silhouette at all and instead should just use a bullseye or something similar. I’ve seen several studies that suggest that by utilizing human shaped targets for training we are desensitizing people to the natural aversion they have to harming a fellow human being. While on the surface this doesn’t sound like a good thing, keep in mind that the violent criminal does not suffer from such crises of conscience, and hesitation can get someone killed in a violent encounter.

If you have to pick between a target with large scoring zones or small scoring zones pick the small ones.

When Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot said, “Aim small miss small,” it was one of the best pieces of shooting advice that Hollywood has ever offered us. The areas we are aiming at on a human are not large, so why should the aiming areas on our training targets be any larger?

Pick a target that has the scoring zone placed in anatomically correct locations.

Despite what you hear people say, center of mass is not where we want to be aiming. Training people to shoot center of mass is pretty much training people to gut shoot their attackers. We want to be shooting at high center of mass. The scoring area in the torso should be placed at the equivalent of armpit level, right between where the nipples would be. This is where the heart is located, and represents the target where most shooters should be spending the majority of their practice time aiming and shooting at.

Just remember, you will not rise above your training, you will default to your training. Why not make sure that training counts by selecting a target that helps you train to win.

By John Johnston. Originally published in the February 2014 issue of GunUp the Magazine.

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