The biggest problem with attending the annual International Law Enforcement Education and Training Conference (ILEETA) is trying to decide what to attend. Every year I go through the agonizing process of trying to decide which training session to attend on a given day only to discover that the course I’ve chosen conflicts with something else I really wanted to see. Fortunately, many of the courses are offered several years in a row, so what you can’t attend one year, you can pick up the next.
At the 2009 conference, I had the pleasure of sitting in on James Williams, MD’s, lecture, “Utilizing 3-D Target Anatomy Visualization.” Williams is a self-described “training junkie,” competitor and researcher in the defensive arts, as well as an emergency room physician in a major metropolitan area. Through his Web site, www.tacticalanatomy.com, Williams offers training on how to properly train with firearms while visualizing standard targets in a 3-D format. Although I was familiar with the problems that Williams described in his lecture, few firearms instructors are really addressing these issues in their classes.
3’s a Charm
A proper firearms training program must address three skill levels. The first level is the fundamentals—no, essentials —of firearms training, which include such topics as grip, body position, sight usage, trigger control, loading/unloading, malfunction clearances, etc. These are the things that “run the gun” and allow shooters to hit their targets.
The second level is the combative aspect of firearms training. Combative is defined as “ready and willing to fight.” Thus, this level addresses those skills that make the gun more than just a sporting implement, including one-hand shooting, one-hand malfunction clearances, extreme close-quarters shooting, combining open-hand skills with firearms, shooting from varied positions, shooting and moving, etc.
The final level is the interactive aspect, what many call force-on-force or scenario-based training, during which the skills learned in the first two levels are put to the test to give the student the confidence that their skills will work in a real-world environment. Interactive training is an art form, and the best programs are well-scripted and reflect actual events. For the best information available on how to conduct interactive training, read Ken Murray’s Training at the Speed of Life (Armiger Publications, 2004).
Flat paper targets are just fine at the fundamental level, but once combative training begins, students need to be working on targets that better reflect the adversary they’ll face, meaning some type of 3-D target. Lateral movement is one of the essential combative pistolcraft skills, but as Williams so succinctly points out, if you shoot to the center of a flat sheet of paper, you’d actually only skim a 3-D target. If it were a real human being, you’d only be grazing the chest wall and not delivering a stopping shot; thus, such training is actually teaching students to fail via poor shot placement. This is unacceptable.
To combat this trend, instructors over the years have used discarded store manekins, but they don’t hold up well. Three-dimensional targets from the target manufacturers do work, but can be quite expensive and beyond the budget of some agencies. The most economical of these targets is the Tactical Ted (from Law Enforcement Targets at www.letargets.com ), which is a molded “half torso”—hollow on the back side—meaning it is partially 3-D. But even this target is $40. The Tactical Ted is actually quite sturdy and will last a long time, but it quickly gets filled with holes, making it hard to determine shot placement. Using masking tape will work for a while, but even this mending process becomes overwhelmed quickly if a large volume of fire is part of the training program. If more time is spent repairing targets than training, something’s wrong.
An Effective Choice
After attending Williams’ course, I began to give more thought to how I could improve on the 3-D aspects of my training program without spending a small fortune on targets. I needed something that would extend the life of the Tactical Ted target, allow for realistic scoring and emphasize the 3-D target visualization that Williams describes. One morning while getting ready for work, I reached for a needed piece of equipment to complete part of my early morning ritual when the answer hit me—toilet paper.
A roll of toilet paper is similar in size to the area targeted in the high chest, and it’s 3-D and cheap. Buying a large supply at a discount store, I headed to the range to see how well it would hold up. Shooting the TP alone proved to be disappointing because it turned to confetti quickly. I needed a way to bolster the roll without too much time and effort. Heavy paper wrapped around each roll did the trick, not only supporting the roll but also making hits easier to score. The hits can be taped each time or, what I found to be easier, was to slash each hit with a black marker, which gets the students back on the firing line more quickly.
Because it’s the roll of paper that is scored, not the target itself, the number of holes in the Tactical Ted target is not a problem, thus the targets can be used until they fall apart. This makes their $40 price tag more reasonable. Of course, covering the target with a shirt makes for a more realistic target while eliminating the desire of each student to score their hits in between volleys as the shirt absorbs the impact of each round. Moving the target with some type of swinging or wobbling target stand adds to the effect. When moving laterally or taking some type of side shot, the student learns to look for the 3-D strike zone that Williams describes. This leads to a better trained, better prepared combat shooter.
There are 3-D targets currently available that have interior strike zones, some even fall over when hit, but such targets are costly and don’t last as long as many would like. By having a number of TP rolls prepared prior to the training session, the “strike zone” can be easily added to each target and quickly replaced as they are shot up.
A word on attaching the rolls to the Tactical Ted: Use a sticky, heavy-duty tape like duct tape or first aid tape. Remember: The tape will take hits, so you want something that will allow bullets to punch through without cutting the tape each time. I found that wide duct tape works best for this purpose.
By taking a section of tape that’s about twice as long as the TP roll, bending it in a U-shape with the sticky side out, you can insert it through the roll and then press it against the inside for a strong bond. Use a wood dowel to press the tape against the cardboard roll for greater adhesion. Then attach sections of tape to the ends of this strip and connect to the top and bottom of the 3-D torso target. An additional strip of tape over the areas where the two sections meet will add strength.
Have at least one roll for each shooter you intend to train; two would be better depending on how many rounds you intend to shoot during the session.
Although I don’t consider this target set-up to be a replacement for paper targets, it’s a good supplement to conventional target systems in helping the shooter visualize the area they need to hit when the target is not facing them directly, including from the back. Keep in mind that reasonableness is not based on how the suspect is positioned when the shots are taken; it’s based on the suspect’s actions. Situations occur in which shooting a suspect from the side or in the back is reasonable in order to stop them from additional violent action.
Remember: Quality training does not come from range equipment; it comes from a dedicated and innovative instructor. In the end, it’s all about the officers we train and ensuring they’re as prepared as possible with the short amount of time that we have with them each year. I know that in-service training can be a thankless job and that we train many officers in spite of themselves and their behavior, but don’t give up on them. They’re doing a tough job, and, regardless of attitude, they are worth keeping safe. Stay safe, stay alert, and check your 360 often.
A final note:
If you aren’t a member of ILEETA, you should be. Check it out at