Choosing a Target

Many gun owners prefer or are forced to practice on an indoor range. The good news is, indoor ranges typically have a wide variety of targets to choose from. This can be confusing to new gun owners, because while many targets look alike; some are geared towards developing certain pistol-handling skills, some are better for defensive firearm training, and some are just a lot of fun.  

If you’re a more-experienced pistol owner, is your favorite target holding back the development of your skills? Do you even have a favorite target? I do, and we’ll talk about it later. Could switching out your target and trying something new help you become more proficient with your pistol? The question then becomes, which target should you chose, and why?

How to Pick the Perfect Target

The answer to the question of which target to use depends on your reasons for coming to the range. Is this trip just a chance to hang out with friends, have fun and safely shoot your guns? Are you at the range in order to try out a new gun or get more acquainted with a gun you already own? Or maybe, you’re at the range to put in some practice and develop your ability to consistently hit your target on-demand. No matter your reason, there are some targets that are optimal for what you’re trying to accomplish, and some that should be left for other days.

First, a few common-sense range safety tips. If you’re a beginning shooter and have difficulty hitting the target at longer distances, don’t worry about it too much. Everyone started somewhere, and with guidance and thoughtful practice, you’ll soon be a better marksman. However, resist the urge to run your target out as far as you can in order to “push your skills,” as you may wind up hitting someone else’s target with your fired rounds (not cool) or hitting and damaging a piece of range (really not cool, and potentially quite expensive). The fact is, though, if you can hit a 3” target at 5 yards, you can hit a 9” target at 15 yards, so practice on closer, smaller targets first in order to gain confidence and ability, then see how far you can take things as you skill develops.

Another thing to keep in mind is your height and the height of your target on it’s carrier. If you’re shorter and your target is towards the top of the paper, there’s a good chance your rounds will hit the ceiling of the range rather than the backstop, potentially damaging the range equipment. Take care, then, with where you’re aiming, and make sure you’re safe at all times.

Popular Target Styles

The style of paper targets available on an indoor range can vary widely, but in general, there only two different types:  

  • Human-shaped and human-analogous targets used in defensive shooting drills
  • Bullseye targets used to develop consistent shooting skills

Human Shaped or Silhouette Targets

A man-shaped target. Sort of.

The high-scoring rings on this target aren’t optimal for self-defense.

Human-shaped targets are targets like the popular “zombie” and “terrorist” targets, and human-analogous targets include the common B-27 target and other government-approved qualification targets and silhouette targets, along with competition-style targets used in the practical shooting sports. Most of these targets are an excellent way to train yourself to hit the areas on a person most likely to stop an attack, and they should be a part of your range training if you’re training for a defensive encounter. Keep in mind, though, that many targets like the aforementioned B-27 have their high-scoring areas located outside the vital areas you need to hit in a defensive situation, so adjust your aim accordingly.

Bullseye Style Targets

Bullseye targets come in many different shapes and sizes, but all are designed with one thing in mind: Helping you make repeatable, consistent hits on your target. Making a great shot inside the 10 ring of the target is one thing. Making your next shot go inside the 10 ring (and the one after that, and the one after that, etc.) is another thing altogether. A good solid stance, a clear sight picture and a smooth but firm trigger press are the keys to a consistently good pistol shooting, and very few things help develop those skills like a bullseye target. Learn to shoot this target well, and getting your hits on a human-shaped target will be much easier for you.

Battleship indoor range target

Looks easy, right? Try it for yourself, and see.

A personal favorite of mine is the “sub hunt” target or similar targets. These targets combine the vital defensive firearms skill of making a precise shot on-demand with the fun of playing the popular “battleship” board game. While it may seem to be a relatively minor thing, if you can sink your opponent’s sub with a well-placed shot while they’re watching do it (and maybe heckling you as well), it gives you a taste of what it’s like to make a difficult shot when it matters most.

Going to the range is a fun and safe way to enjoy the shooting sports, and going to the range and consistently hitting your target makes it even more fun. Range time should be safe, fun and educational. Getting the right target, and getting your hits on-target builds your confidence in what you can do with your gun when it matters most. And if we’re honest, it’s also a lot of fun to out-shoot your friends and family as well, and that’s what consistent practice with the right target can do for you.