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Thread: AAR: Target Discrimination/Low Light Practice Session, Virginia 23 January 2011

  1. #1

    AAR: Target Discrimination/Low Light Practice Session, Virginia 23 January 2011

    On 23 January, we attended a Pistol-Training.com practice session with Todd Green at the NRA range in Fairfax, VA. We have all taken classes from Todd before, and his teaching credentials and professionalism have been chronicled in detail, so I won't get into that. Take the fact that this is at least our fifth training session with Todd as covering that ground. For those unfamiliar with the NRA Headquarters range, it's top notch. Todd's intrepid assistant Tom is a range officer there and is always a helpful addition to the instructor team.

    PART I:

    Description of the session:
    This month痴 Practice Session will focus on target discrimination drills in both normal and reduced lighting. Students will be given an opportunity to work on a critically important but often overlooked part of the handgun skillset. Both simple and photo-realistic targets will be used to challenge each student痴 ability to identify threat and non-threat targets under time pressure and various lighting conditions.


    Do you have night sights? Handheld light? Weaponlight? Do you know which combination is best for you, your work or your circumstances?

    Enough background; so what did we do? Crawl, walk, run... or at least jog.
    We started off simple 末 each target had a colored sheet of 8.5x11" paper with a number on it (later, two colored, numbered sheets side-by-side). The targets were set to present for three seconds. Todd would call out a criteria (odd/even/color) and if your target turned and presented one of those criteria, you'd draw and shoot. Move lanes (to where you hadn't seen the target) and repeat. There were many variations of this. Some with a partner who would chastise/critique you depending on your performance. Some with multiple targets. Some with multiple criteria (Orange, Odd means it has to be both orange and odd). Each step required more thinking time as you decide if your "orange 6" is a "Top, Orange", meaning the number is over 4 (numbers were 1-8, so 4 and below was bottom, 5 and up was top 末 not complicated, but takes a fraction of a second of brain power). Were either of your numbers in your mom's birthday? And you changed lanes each time so you couldn't carry your knowledge into the next relay. While this may sound pretty basic, it accomplished a couple of important things: It made you really look at and assess your target before going for your gun (for most people in most places, you can't legally draw a gun on someone who isn't a threat). It also became a balance between thinking time and acting time. You only have 3 seconds total. If you need 2.5 seconds to employ your gun (draw, aim, fire), you only have 0.5 seconds to figure out if the person in front of you is trying to kill you. Good luck.

    The next step was to use bottle-type targets. These are vaguely more humanoid than numbered papers. Some had hands painted on in varying colors. (Like IDPA no-shoots, for those familiar with that concept.) Others had none. Same concept with the targets bladed then presenting for 3 seconds. This time, Todd calls a color or criteria which defines the good guy. "Orange" means if the hands are orange, you do not shoot. Any targets with no hands were to be shot, regardless. This time, Todd and Tom mixed it up by turning the lights on and off. Sometimes it was the usual NRA lighting (which feels like you're having a shootout in Yankee Stadium). Other times it was very dim lighting, and sometimes it was completely dark. Surprisingly, I found the dim light to be the hardest to negotiate. (Summed up in learning points below.)


    Sure, it looks nice in daylight. Does it have hands on it? Are those hands orange? Do they both have thumbs? I'm glad that wasn't a real threat 末 3 seconds goes by fast when I can't find my flashlight.

    Finally, we moved on to photorealistic targets. For those not familiar, this is a set of targets that are photos of people from the 1970s doing a variety of vaguely threatening things other than being trapped in the 1970s. Some are provocatively holding a badge, others a gun, some both. There's an old guy with an umbrella, and the same old guy with a handgun. Different targets have different hit profiles too. Some are a large guy squared up to you, while others have a lady in a car with only her head visible. Remarkably, the hostage survived many iterations of her hostagetaker getting shot in the head before she eventually met her fate. Our rules of engagement were simple 末 you're not judging if a wrench at 21 feet is a threat 末 if it's a gun, you shoot. If not, you'd better not go for your gun or you'd better have a good lawyer on retainer. Same deal as before 末 varied lighting conditions and constantly moving lanes means you don't know what's going to be in front of you. Another variation was added as well: You and a partner are having a real conversation in your lane (both of you in the booth) and the target will present itself whenever Tom decides to push the button. When it presents, you both have to react. The shooter decides whether to engage and responds appropriately to the target and the non-shooter clears the booth (before the shooter touches his gun) and critiques. If you're having a real conversation (as we were), it's a challenging exercise... especially as Tom and Todd slowly reduce the exposure time on the targets to the minimum the system handles (1.2 seconds, if I recall correctly).


    It's not so easy when it's dark, you're surprised and you have 2.5 seconds to assess, draw and engage...or not.

  2. #2
    We are diminished
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arclight View Post
    Finally, we moved on to photorealistic targets. For those not familiar, this is a set of targets that are photos of people from the 1970s doing a variety of vaguely threatening things other than being trapped in the 1970s.
    That line is certain to go down in AAR-writing history.

  3. #3

    PART II - What Did We Learn?

    PART II:

    So, what did we learn?
    Many of us went into this session with talk of lumens and strobes, handheld vs. weapon-mounted and every-day-carry vs. tactical carry lights. All of that went out the window when the room lights would go on and off, and targets would turn, sometimes with a gun, sometimes with a badge and sometimes with both. As long as you had a decent light and could shoot well strong-hand-only (which weeds out a lot of people when you have a hostage to account for), the "tactics" of it don't seem to matter too much. It doesn't seem to matter if you're a fan of "Harries technique" or "modified FBI". Especially when you're caught off guard, haven't spent years practicing with a light and gun, and a target appears unexpectedly, the light will end up where it ends up and so will your gun. Either practice a lot or realize it may not come out as pretty as you imagine it.

    One thing I found remarkable was the challenge presented by medium lighting. Todd made a point that you don't have to shoot one-handed (light in the other hand) just because it's not bright out 末 you may have enough ambient light to accurately judge the target without your flashlight and be able to do fast, accurate, two-handed shots (and reloads or malfunction clearance, if needed). While this was true, that gray area (so to speak) between light and dark was the hardest to negotiate. Do you have enough light to judge? Are you sure? Is it worth giving up a good two-hand shot on a small hit area to have more light? Are you really sure that wasn't a badge?

    Your draw and press-out matter... a lot. The faster you draw and acquire a good sight picture, the more time you can spend deciding if that drivers license in the pretty girl's hand is a badge. The more complexity in target discrimination you add, the less time you have to correctly perform the shooting task. I can assure you, most real shoot/no-shoot scenarios have more complexity than photorealistic paper can offer. If you've got a 2.5 second draw and press-out, you have extremely little time to decide.... and the less time you decide, the more likely you are to shoot the wrong person, or get shot.

    If someone really has the drop on you, you're already in trouble. By the time you see the double-barreled shotgun pointing at you, realize what it is, turn, draw, line up your sights (yes, even "well enough") and shoot, there's a lot that can go wrong. Situational awareness to keep you ahead of that curve is critical.



    How much light do you really need? How much time?


    Bottom line:
    We all spend a lot of time shooting paper targets. They are targets and we went to the range to shoot, so that's what we're going to do. Even in training classes that include some form of target discrimination, you're there to shoot so more often than not, that's what you'll be set up to do. Meanwhile, in the real world, the hardest part of a gunfight (or any fight) is knowing when you're in one quickly enough to win it. Without getting into precontact queues, this kind of elementary target discrimination should be a key part of any honest training regimen. What good is knowing how to shoot if you don't know when?

  4. #4
    Site Supporter Dropkick's Avatar
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    Northern VA
    (First posted 01-24-2011 10:14)

    Thanks ToddG for another great session, and thanks Arclight for a great write-up. I don't think I would have been able to give it the justice you did.

    I tried to take some notes during the course of the evening, but it was a fast paced session. Reloading mags, and writing notes is a technique I have yet to master.

    Some of my notes included:
    Distractions & Reactions -> Decision on Shoot / No Shoot
    Make decision quickly so you can draw
    Shoot photo realistic targets in real places
    Look for badges & weapons before you reach for your gun
    Hold light in the middle of your chest pointed down, as a ready position

    Some of my observations during the class included:
    When the targets flipped, occasionally people (myself included, *face punch*) would reach towards their weapon. I'm not sure if this was just a nature reaction to being at a shooting class where we all knew that we'd be shooting, or the fact that we progressively had less and less time the target was visible. Either way, when we got down to 1.2 seconds, no one got a shot off.

    The colored/numbered targets were a little hard not to cheat against, it was pretty easy to see the color of the paper ahead of time, and "get the jump" on it so to speak. I think if there was a colored dot in the middle or the numbers were printed in the different colors on white paper, it would have made this first drill a little more effective. The silhouettes with colored hands was more effective. And of course the photo realistic targets added a whole other dimension to it. For me, the woman in the car was the hardest because of the limited target area presented, and that the target area was not centered up on the paper. The next hardest target was the hostage. I impressed myself with how well I shot it, and I was also very impressed to see how well everyone else did with that target too.

    Since there was the low-light component to the session, I got to see a lot of different lights and methods people carried them. Some lights were as small as your thumb, while I think my Fenix TK12 was probably the largest. I did notice a good number of Surefire G2's. There was even a few weapon lights. The number of different light pouches was just as varied. Most people had kydex belt holsters for their lights. One gentleman had his on a string around his neck. I had a cordura belt pouch, but started clipping the light into may pants pocket, after fumbling with the self-flattening pouch a couple times. I did witness someone try to load their light into their pistol. I think it's was because it was the closest to his center-line, where most reach for their spare mags. On the support side, behind all the mags is a more logical place. Anyways, I say all this because the #1 thing that I noticed is, if it's low/no-light and you don't have your light out and on (debatable about "on" part) to begin with, then there is no way you can get your light out, ID the shoot/no shoot, and then draw and fire in 3 seconds. Doesn't matter what method you use or light / pistol / holster you have.

    And that's the biggest take away I got from the class. Regardless of how much light there is, you have to be able to quickly identity if there is a threat, before you even begin to reach for your weapon.

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