Competitive Shooting

Misconceptions About Moving Targets and Handguns

Man running with handgun shooting moving targets

When most shooters practice personal defense, they fire at static targets they are squared to. This doesn’t teach much about shooting. Firing too quickly doesn’t either. Gunfights are not static.

The shooters run toward one another, away from one another, to one side or the other, and toward cover. Those not prepared will panic. It is important to be able to move quickly and lightly on the feet, and to be able to address moving targets.

The first chore is to master the firing grip, trigger press, sight alignment and sight picture, as well as follow-through. This absolutely must be squared away before we move to advanced drills such as engaging multiple targets and moving targets.

If you cannot hit them standing still, you will never hit a moving target.

Man shooting Hudson H9
Firing quickly and getting hits is a perishable skill. A lot of practice is needed.

Common Misconceptions

Dismiss any idea that shooting moving targets with a shotgun is anything similar to doing so with a handgun. The shotgun fires a cloud of pellets.

This cloud need only contact a small flying or scampering animal with a few pellets. The shotgun also features a three-point lockup on the body and points well.

Dove and quail fly so quickly, that some lead is required to get a hit. None of this prepares you for addressing moving targets with a handgun.

Humans are not as fast as winged animals and don’t spring like rabbits, and combat ranges are short compared to hunting ranges. However, one thing is similar.

When you are moving the shotgun and swinging on a target, you continue the swing as you fire. If you stop your movement short as you fire, a miss is guaranteed.

Shot group on target
The author fired this group, offhand, at 20 yards with the CZ 75B and Winchester 115-grain Silvertip ammunition.

Mastering the basics comes first. It is difficult enough to draw, move into the firing position, and get a hit on a static target. Add movement to the drill and things get more difficult.

There is a lot going on, including that you are being shot at. The target is shooting, or there is no reason to fire!

When you begin to address moving targets, you will maintain the firing stance, but develop the ability to swing your torso swiftly. Keep the feet planted!

Moving and shooting is altogether another skill that simply isn’t practical for most situations, at least moving at anything other than a rapid pace.

There are things you must do that conflict with movement. Drawing the handgun conflicts with movement — you may do one efficiently but not the other.

Movement conflicts with marksmanship. The upper body moves while addressing moving targets, but the feet will be planted solid.

Revolver and Ammo
These 121-grain handloads are clocking 1250 fps. No need to lead a target with these!

Techniques for Moving Targets

There are various shooting games and contests that involve moving targets. Some of these targets move on a wire or are pulled by a chain, others are on a rail.

Very few agencies have complex and expensive gear to teach addressing moving targets. We don’t usually have this kind of thing on the range.

With a little preparation, you may perform drills on the local range that will serve to train your eyes and hands for addressing moving targets.

When firing at humans moving in combat, there is no need to actually lead the target. Shooters do not move that fast, and the distance is short.

When the adversary is moving toward you, there is no need for accounting for the movement at all. Fire for the center of mass. If the adversary is moving from one side or the other, there is no need to lead, but specific tactics must be used.

Man Drawing Handgun from Holster
Beginning with the handgun holstered adds to the value of the drill.

As the threat moves to cover or is moving and firing, you should keep the front sight on the leading edge of their outline. Keep the arms, hands and head moving with the adversary.

As the sights stay on the target, the trigger is pressed smoothly and firmly to the rear. The feet remain firmly planted during this drill, although there may be a need to lightly sidestep and quickly return to a solid stance.

As you move the sights with the threat and press the trigger, keep the handgun moving with the target.

As the shot breaks, keep the handgun moving, do not abruptly stop the swing, stay on the target. It is that simple, and if you do so, you will get hits.

Reactive Steel Moving Targets
These range tools are a great help in building marksmanship.

Practice, Practice Practice

Practicing this drill without a moving target device is possible. Many of us have fired at old tires rolling across a range, but few places are available for this type of work.

An alternative that teaches the same skills, is to hang three or four man-sized targets at seven to 10 yards, and address them with rapid work.

The shooter draws and gets a center hit on the first target, quickly moving to the next target, then the next, and finally the final target.

The handgun is kept moving and the front sight is placed on the target. DON’T STOP THE MOTION! The handgun never stops moving, but rather, it is in motion and the front sight is controlled in recoil.

The handgun is fired, the front sight is recovered from recoil as the handgun moves to the next target and the trigger is pressed, and the procedure is repeated.

This is a simple drill that works well for training against moving targets, and separates the shooter who practices from the one whose goals are more aspirational than operational.

Have you ever practiced shooting moving targets with a handgun? How did it work out? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (9)

  1. Try this suggestion on for size. Remote control “toy” vehicles thest days are inexpensive and quite sophisticated. It would seem that mounting a target on vertical supports would make a great target when controlled by an accomplice. Nothing could compare with the speed and random and unpredictable motion of the target controlled by someone else. It could move left and right, on an angle, toward or away from the shooter and even stop quickly and change direction. It could quickly approach the shooter to change targets and a vertical control could simulate quick kneeling or standing motions. While this aging dinosaur no longer possess the skills to set up something like this, I am sure that for some young gaming genius this would be a piece of cake. My main concern while using the device would be that strict attention should be given to keep the target within the protective berm area while in use. This could be done with barriers or marker on the ground. Except for a Military range, I don’t think anything could compete with this for a simulated gunfight. Good luck.

  2. I’ve tried the rolling tire with cardboard center before. Never thought about keeping the pistol moving – tracking the target after the shot. Will try that next time.I

    Stupid autocorrect…that is “TIRE,” not ” FIRE. “

  3. I’ve tried the rolling fire with cardboard center before. Never thought about keeping the pistol moving – tracking the target after the shot. Will try that next time.

  4. Forgive me in advance, as my objective is never to dispute the author or others commenting directly, but I did not read anything in regards to “background” or “target environment”, unless it was implied during mention of “sight picture”. I only address this as an important piece of training, and with the recent influx of first-time firearm buyers, we (above novice shooters) may have to slow our delivery process of information and return to literal dialogue and fundamentals to insure readers are privy to all aspects of the training cited. I continue to enjoy the readings posted and hope this day still never comes that we might have to draw. Thank you for the insight.

  5. Your article on shooting moving targets is a good read. As an instructor I teach shooting on the move and shooting a target while it is in motion to advanced shooters. You are correct when you say you will see the one’s who practiced and who does not. Of course if you don’t practice your gun handling skills you have been taught you will never get better it does separate the men from the boys.

  6. Ooops,

    I stand corrected.. you now put a giant link on your homeage to an article form here.
    Glad to see it happen.. Please feel free to delete my previous comment.

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