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Bullseye targets suck

Of all the things that most shooters do when they go the range that sabotage their efforts to improve, one of the ones that’s been really bugging me recently is the use of bullseye targets. I think most people do it just because it’s what everyone expects or it seems like the right thing to do (so you can grade your accuracy?), but they just suck.

redfiledPrecisionSightInI used to be a big fan of the rifle sight-in targets with a big diamond in the middle to figure out where you are on the paper and then smaller diamonds in the corners so you can really dial things in. Of course, part of that is because most of my square-range accuracy practice is at the Wake County range which doesn’t have a target return system, so one target has to last twenty minutes until the line is called cold and you can change them…

And maybe that zebra stripe pattern is good for zeroing a rifle with optics, but for shooting an iron-sighted pistol? Holy crap.

I was blown away when I took the Steve Anderson class back in November when the week before I was barely able to keep my shots in the 6″ diamond at 10 yards. At the class, keeping them inside a 6″ square head box at 20 wasn’t much challenge after relaxing and watching the front sight.

One of the nice things about head boxes: they’re about the width of your front sight at distance, which is more convenient than you’d think. I’ve also come to realize that’s why the NRA puts big black “bullseyes” on their targets: that’s about the width of the front sight at the intended distance:


5.5″ “bullseye” at 25 yards? That’s crazy talk! Is it?

Anyway, my rule of thumb recently has become that, when shooting for accuracy, you should be aiming for a target no bigger than your front sight. You can have more target than that available, but you should be aiming for the small center of it. Whether that’s an NRA bull, or the dots in Dot Torture, or a piece of tape in the middle of a paper plate, you should hold yourself to a higher standard of excellence.

For working on speed? Use IDPA or USPSA cardboard targets with big, broad scoring zones. Forget about the false precision of a bullseye target. Shoot the cardboard and then look for the pattern in your hits.

Where does steel fit in to pistol training? Well, it’s kinda hard to see the pattern in your hits unless you paint between every run. And when you miss the zero on an IDPA target, at least you have 6 inches or more of cardboard around it to know where the miss went. With steel? Hmm…

About Ben

Blog contributor. Active in IDPA and USPSA, and he won't flinch if you call him a rules lawyer. Ben is a beard wearing, bacon eating, whiskey drinking, motorcycle riding, coder.

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