Let Me Introduce You To Your New Best Friend: Your Target

The best tool for improving your marksmanship is your target. Like your best friend, your target is always there and willing to help. But unlike your best friend, your target will not lie to you. Whatever you are doing wrong or right, your target will provide an immediate and unambiguous record. If you know how to read your target, there is a wealth of knowledge to be had every time you go shooting.

The principle is simple really. Just about every common shooting error presents in a predictable way on your target. If you make one of those common mistakes, your target will show it. Knowing how to identify these mistakes can help you easily self-correct and improve your shooting.

Learning to read (your target)

A variety of individuals and organizations have published charts to assist you in identifying your errors.

Using a chart to identify your errors can be straightforward, but if you haven’t done it before there are a few tricks to make it easier.

Step 1: shoot the target

Until your target has holes, there isn’t much it can do for you. Kind of like if your wife were to ask you if an outfit looks good on her despite the fact that you haven’t seen it. The question gets you nowhere except a trip to the doghouse. You can’t blame your target when you shoot poorly, but she still blames you if she doesn’t like your answer. Go figure.

Step 2: consult the chart

Once you have holes in your target, the fun begins. Now you can compare your target to a chart and identify your shooting errors. How you compare will depend heavily on the kind of chart you are using.

These charts come in two main varieties: shot group examples, and wheels. The shot group example charts tend to show pictures representing example groups. With this kind of chart, find the picture that most closely represents your target.

With the wheel charts, things are a little different. Here you need to compare your group position to an area on the wheel. Once you have found a group or a section on the wheel, you should now have a list of one or more errors you could be making.

Step 3: process of elimination

Once you have your list of errors you can start eliminating potential problems. For example the first chart below indicates that with the pistol groups hitting low left generally can be caused by poor trigger control or poor sight alignment.

In order to identify which of these errors you could be committing, you should start by posting a fresh target and shooting another group. This time focus on not making one of the errors you found. With the above example you might choose sight alignment. Make sure those sights are perfectly aligned for each shot. Did the issue go away? If not then repeat but try focusing on a perfect trigger squeeze.

If you go through all the listed options without fixing your issue, you have one of a few potential problems: you were unable to actually self-correct one of the issues, your chart is incomplete and you are committing another unmentioned error, or you are combining multiple unrelated problems which happen to combine to look like a different problem altogether.

Potential pitfalls

Before you head to the range and expect these charts to be your new savior, remember one thing: these charts are imperfect. The real world isn’t always black and white. It’s not impossible to be doing more than one thing wrong (sometimes they will even cancel each other out, masking the problems altogether).

Sometimes you might find new and exciting ways to screw up too, meaning your mistake might not be on the charts at all. Congratulations, have a cookie.

Charts

Not all charts are created equal. They tend to all have common themes and areas where they overlap, but some charts list errors that others don’t. The amount of information on these charts can differ greatly. Which one you use is up to you. When in doubt keep a collection of various charts – more information is never a bad thing so long as you can parse it.

There are many similarities between disciplines, but for the most part these charts are targeted towards one type of shooting. Below are some charts I have found for analyzing pistol marksmanship. If you are looking for a chart that covers rifle marksmanship errors, check out an Appleseed, they provide some great materials.

1. Target Shooting Canada:

This is a good fundamentals chart of the group examples variety. This is a great place to start, especially if you are just starting out.

2. NEShooters (Awerbuck):

This analysis tool caters more to the tactical/defensive shooting crowd. Personally I take exception to a few of the listed errors: in particular 9 o’clock shooting errors being caused by not resetting the trigger quickly enough. This is a good example of a more complicated wheel type chart presenting all of its information in one diagram.

3. Degrata Tactical:

Another good general fundamentals chart, similar in many ways to the first. While the first one had brief lists of errors, this actually provides advice on correcting technique.

4. Xavier Thoughts:

This chart is probably one of the best because it’s so simple. Unlike the other charts I listed, this one is a very concise and clear wheel type chart, but it does require a bit more knowledge to use.

Analyze your groups regularly to improve

Your target doesn’t lie. If you want to improve your shooting and don’t have the luxury of the oversight of an experienced instructor, the next best option is to look at your target. Let your target do the teaching. With the right materials, you can identify your errors and correct them yourself.

What group analysis resources do you use in your training? Post a comment and share!

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