Safety and Training

Designing Realistic Courses of Fire

Designing courses of fire is a very personal thing. We often fault police and other agencies for having unrealistic qualification requirements, but how do our own methods stack up? For example, is firing at a high-contrast bullseye at 100 measured yards a good indicator of how our guns would fare on a hunt or in combat. Here’s an en example of a marksmanship test that helps sharpen multiple skills. It works particularly well on ranges with grass rather than concrete.

Set up two brown paper bags from a grocery store at a random distance between 100 and 200 yards, weighing them with rocks of empty brass to keep them from blowing away in the wind. Have two shooters fire on them on cue. The two need not have the same kind of rifle, an AK and a scoped bolt action would work just as well. The key is to use whatever you consider your primary fighting weapon. Even a shotgun or a .22 would work, though neither would be optimal. The first shooter to score a hit and alert the timekeeper wins.

Why does this drill work so well? For one, you have a low contrast target, brown against brown, tan and green backdrop. That’s reasonably similar to a camouflaged foe, as the age of the bright uniforms has long passed. Grocery bags are good approximations of a torso in size. Unknown distance that has to be estimated or ranged is another real-world problem. The shooters are under a time pressure and have to choose between shooting rapidly and aiming more accurately. At over a hundred yards, most cannot make out holes in paper, so there’s no certainty of having scored a hit. Calling a hit without getting one loses the competition. Hitting the target but not calling it before the other shooter also loses it, provided the other competitor got a hit as well.

This drill is quick, usually requiring less than a minute to set up and another minute to shoot. It’s cheap, calling for just two reusable paper bags and 3-10 rounds per shooter. To add realism, the competitors should start out standing—shooting prone would be fine but taking that position takes time. Prone may also be specified out, as grass or rabble could obscure real-world targets. At that distance, open sights, red dot and scopes all have advantages and disadvantages. A variation of this drill could be done with tethered balloons—those make hits obvious but add the challenge of random motion in the wind. The balloons would have to be tied high enough that fragments or debris from ground strikes would not pop them. For even more of a challenge, locate the balloons behind bullet-proof steel targets. The important elements—the requirement for speed and the absence of high-visibility bullseye at known distance—remain to add just enough adrenaline to make this an educational experience. To really make this a high-stress shoot, make the loser buy ammo for the next round.

This drill is just one of many. Use the logic behind it to design your own. If you have a favorite course of fire of your own, share it here.

About the Author:

Oleg Volk

Oleg Volk is a creative director working mainly in firearms advertising. A great fan of America and the right to bear arms, he uses his photography to support the right of every individual to self-determination and independence. To that end, he is also a big fan of firearms.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (3)

  1. I have a range I can go to where I typically shoot at 12 inch helium filled balloons at 50 – 100 yards with whatever we are shooting, whether it be pistols or rifles. Balloons make great reactive targets, as stated, because you know instantly when one gets hit. The wind does make for a great challenge.

    Another fun target for accuracy is golf balls hung up with a piece of thin rope or even the string for the balloons. Shooting a golf ball at 100 yards with a 10/22 or AR 15 with iron sights is rewarding when the ball goes flying.

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