Command Targets – One of the Best Training Tools You’ve Likely Never Used

What’s the goal of every round we put down range? Simple – to have the desired effect on our target. It doesn’t matter if that effect is to topple a bowling pin, clang steel, punch out the center of the 10 ring, or end a critical situation we have to hit the target we intended to and where we needed to for it to work. It’s no secret the primary reason trained shooters miss is improper trigger control, which on its own is a straight forward enough skill to focus on improving. With that in mind, the majority of us flock to the firing line to master it. Coupled with firearms manipulation and body mechanics, these three domains of shooting are generally all you need to succeed at varying levels in recreational target shooting and competition. I will acknowledge the ability to manage the stress of competition is also vital for winning matches. However, a reliance on physical aptitude alone may leave you woefully unprepared and overconfident when facing life threatening encounters involving a firearm. To understand why, we have to look at the two components of our response to high risk activities such as combat. These are our physical and mental reactions. Under extreme stress those hardwired physical skills that we have mastered (draw, side-step, reload, etc.) will be there for us. Our cognitive ability to remain effectively engaged, however, is far less likely to have been correctly or routinely practiced on the range and therefore can be the weakest link in our recovery.

Why is it a challenge to build proper mental muscle memory?

1) We’re generally limited to paper target ranges.

The mental aspect is the most difficult to truly replicate on any range, no matter how complex you make the scenario or layout and distribution of targets. Yet availability of training resources, cost, and time dictate that the vast majority of us will be primarily training in a paper environment at a local indoor shooting range, outdoor rod and gun club, or our buddy’s backyard berm. Even the bulk of law enforcement entities are stuck on paper… and qualification targets to make matters worse. There just isn’t enough time and money for most of us to get involved in regular Scenario Based Training so we’re forced into the more readily accessible medium of paper.

2) We don’t practice the way we fight.

We tend to practice skills in isolation. That is to say, we perform a drill that works on recoil management. Then we take some time to practice our draw and maybe even mix in some off-line movement. Next we conduct a few emergency reloads. The point is, public ranges generally don’t provide the necessary freedom (for obvious safety reasons) to train the way we’ll be required to fight. In a critical situation, every skill may be called upon at any time. We can make our physical skills pretty damn good using the building block method, but one of the most important skills in a gun fight is being able to assess and discriminate targets then quickly engage them. This necessitates a mental process in conjunction with a mechanical process. There simply is no substitute for practicing target identification in concert with target acquisition. You can be great at one or the other but you need both to win. Yet, there is little to no ability for us to challenge ourselves in this regard without the right resources.

3) We’re not using the right training aids.

Scenario Based Targets which randomly present shoot/no-shoot options and therefore force disciplined threat ID are the best way to reach the goal of training for real world engagements if you’re limited to a stationary paper range. However, to maximize value they need to be rearranged after each iteration and, unless you suffer from extreme short term memory loss, you’ll need a training partner to reset them. This is not only slow but also difficult to manage when you don’t have a regular training partner. So the question must be asked, how do we capitalize on our limited resources and time to maximize the development one of the most difficult aspects of defensive training? Well thankfully, there is hope. Enter the discretionary engagement target, a.k.a. “Command Targets;” aptly named for the fact that the target presents a multitude of clearly distinguishable options which are designated via a command that then requires shooters to correctly identify before they can successfully engage. Generally a collection of 3-5 shapes on a white sheet of paper, command targets are the natural choice to allow for several consecutive strings of fire without any need to reset. At first glance, all command targets seem similar. And until recently they have been. The two major shortcomings of those legacy command targets is their limited amount of differentiation between the areas called out and the reliance on a training partner to ensure the shooter has no idea what the next command will be. All that changed recently with the Modern Warrior Project’s T2. Where every other command target on the market has only 2-4 options for designating the area for a shooter to engage, the T2 has 13 ways. This unprecedented amount of variety means every time you pick up a sight picture you’ll be forced to pay attention to what you’re actually being told to fire at. No more repetitive anticipation of 1 or 2 colors. The T2 forces the student to account for everything from background and shape size, to mathematical calculations and location. Next, the MWP team has found an ingenious way to let shooters train on their own or even compete against each other without the need for an additional person. The T2 Playlists, freely available from the website, allow shooters to choose pace, variety, and number of targets per iteration and then be instructed to engage random targets through the convenience of their smartphone or Bluetooth speakers/headphones.   In the real world there is no air gunning or pre-running a stage. A true command target will force you to run through a tactical decision making process before you pull the trigger, which is exactly the cognitive delay we’re trying to shorten while still ensuring it remains 100% accurate. So the next time you’re looking for a way to get the most out of every round, consider adding the T2 command target to your range session. Doing so will help ensure the most important tool in our tool box gets the same attention our trigger finger does.  

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