Safety and Training

Target Training: Paper Just Won’t Do

Zombie target with red-haired clown in red/yellow costume

A few years ago an administrator on a well known gun forum posted a sticky: NO MORE ZOMBIE THREADS! The thread went unheeded and the question of what would you do when the zombies come was answered time and again. From some reason zombies became a more interesting topic than the terrorists at McDonalds or gangs.

Gray target with blood on lips and chest
This guy looks evil, insidious and hungry all at once!

I enjoyed a number of the threads as some of the correspondents had considerable real-world experience in dealing with modern versions of the zombie. A crackhead or a meth addict isn’t a great deal different from a post apocalyptic zombie. The tongue- in-cheek conversations were excellent fun, although some predictably were off the wall.

I studied the zombie, and found that for all of the time men have been on earth there has been a fear of the dead. Zombies, as we call them today, probably originated in Haiti. The denizens of this hellhole were reportedly robbed of their minds and free will by a liberal application of drugs and witchcraft. The drugs were the Haitian equivalent of the Appalachian moonshine with much the same effect over time.

The zombies took up much of the conversation online, and then there were learned discussions of the primordial fear of the dead in all of us. Over the centuries, from Hezekiah in the valley of the dry bones to a middle age era fascination with burial of the living and, to an extent, the vampire myths, human beings have demonstrated an inordinate fear of those that are no longer able to inflict harm.

Perhaps with nothing to lose, and no fear of pain, the dead would make powerful and frightening opponents. For whatever reason every society has some myth of the undead or the zombie; the original cinematic epic Night of the Living Dead galvanized our thoughts and fear. The first movie was more realistic than the ones that followed, in the tactical sense anyway. The later epics give those of us with tactical experience much in the way of humor. Many are filled with social and political satire, the mark of excellent science fiction.

However, don’t take the movies too seriously. It is a waste of time to criticize the inept tactics of the hero or heroine—he or she wins anyway. Whether the threat is the undead or alien creatures, we see men with supposed military experience conducting briefings in the open in parks rather than inside buildings behind cover. We see society pull together in a time of chaos when historical experience with the New York power outage, LA riots and hurricane Katrina show that society breaks down into roving gangs of practically tribal proportion.

Gray target with 230-grain shots
This guy has suffered from sudden weight gain- 230 grains each!

If you believe anything else then your social maturity has not progressed past Cinderella! When the subject turns to zombies there is always a good discussion, and there are those that just don’t get it. Then there is the inevitable comment concerning my gun safe from my schoolteacher daughter-in-law. “I am not that fond of guns, but when the zombies come I am coming to your house.” (If you ever engage in a culture war with the daughter-in-law be prepared to wave the white flag sooner not later.)

I cannot help but compare and contrast the difference between the new found popularity of zombies and zombie targets and every other bugaboo and bad guy from the past. I cannot recall a Nazi target from my youth nor a Việt Cộng target, yet they were real. There were no Frankenstein or Wolfman targets. No targets designed to mimic the many adversaries faced by Dirty Harry Callahan, nor those facing the The Man With No Name from the Spaghetti westerns.

There were plenty of Bin Laden and Quadaffi targets. It is interesting to see how the zombie targets have evolved. Some companies were start-up companies capitalizing on the zombie target craze. As an example, zombie targets began with pretty simple depictions of zombies. One in particular I enjoyed was a zombie that once was a mechanic and who wore a name tag “Bob” on his shirt. My kids thought it was funny and I convinced them it was made just for me!

The clown target. in particular, proved to be an example that gave the students the heebie jeebies. And that was a good training aid. Yes, zombie targets are training aids!

This guy creeps us out. Shoot quick!
This guy creeps us out. Shoot quick!

No student would let the clown get close and they gunned him quickly and accurately. Might be something to it!

The big guys also jumped on the zombie band wagon. After all, with a profitable line already in place, it wasn’t a big step to offer zombie targets and if this unconventional product did not sell well the company wasn’t sunk. Even old line police suppliers offer zombie targets. They offer rubber coatings for steel targets and everything you can imagine for the target world, so zombie targets were a must. One of the great changes in the target world was a result of the introduction of a target with a true visual register.

This was the original Shoot N C from Birchwood Casey. It is difficult to overrate the Shoot N C’s place in target development.

Today Birchwood Casey offers the Darkotic line. If you ever pined for the day when there were huge rats at the dump to shoot, well, Birchwood Casey has just the target for you. He doesn’t pop when he is hit, that’s all.

Zombie Industries

Zombie Industries was formed solely to supply zombie targets. They have made quite a go of it and presently offer a number of well-designed targets. The targets are paper in some instances with a twist we all should appreciate. The paper targets are innovative and well thought out although the bleeding targets are another matter.

Gray realistic Zombie target with red "blood" on chest on and neckYes, bleeding targets!

These are foam and plastic targets filled with red paintballs. If you hit them just right there is a spurt of red paint. If you do not hit right on the paintball the paint still runs down the chest. Even more exciting is the demolition of the target once the target is suitably holed by a few hundred rounds. The exploding material specially designed for the Zombie Industries target fits in the back of the head in a properly sized mortise. (I use the do-it-all duct tape to secure the “bomb.”)

It takes a rifle round to cause the explosion, and the result is pretty impressive. It’s a fitting end to the useful life of the zombie target.

More than once I have seen targets criticized as “too realistic.” Even my own daughter did not like working with a target depicting a large charging dog.

No such problem exists with the zombie target. No one cares if you shoot zombies since there is no sympathy for the dead. Even the most rapid left winger could not criticize a zombie target. The zombie is dead and apparently evil. And they are commercially viable and should be for some time.

There is even some value in training. The targets may be placed in challenging positions that the typical flat paper target would not work with. And the zombie apocalypse target as one example is among the most challenging targets every invented. This one features a literal horde of zombies. You can place a clay pigeon behind the head or simply use flat paper- and only head shots count. That is a challenge!

What to use to shoot the Zombies

This isn’t really a tough question. The only thing you need is a fast handling firearm that is accurate, with high hit probability and offering rapid follow-up shots. High capacity is an advantage.

Bruneete woman shoots at gray Zombie target.
There is some utility in training with the Zombie target.

Since zombies tend to come in droves you need to be able to quickly replenish your ammunition supply. The best bet is a good quality self-loading pistol you are familiar with. Since headshots are the rule, and nothing else matters, the high-capacity 9mm pistols look good.

  • Most of my shooting was done with a Commander .45, then again, I am an old school man.
  • For practice, a good .22 conversion unit on the AR 15 or 1911 runs and works well.
  • The CMMG conversion for my Daniel Defense rifle, along with a Black Dog Machine 50 round drum, will really spoil you when it comes to reloading time.
  • The humble Ruger .22/45 my assistant calls her “baby” was a great deal of fun.
  • Revolvers are darned slow in this type of shooting and there is a lesson there. Perhaps that is why the world’s armies began walking away from the wheel gun in 1900.
  • As for rifles, well, America’s rifle, the AR 15 is the obvious first choice. Not that you cannot have fun with the .22 caliber HK MP5.


A few years ago Hornady introduced the Critical Defense bullet and the Critical Defense line of ammunition. A companion line, the Critical Duty, is intended for police work.

Hornaday Zombie Max Ammunition with bright green and red letters.
Zombie Max ammunition is the load of choice for the Zombie hunter.

The FTX bullet uses a polymer in the hollow nose cavity. This plug instigates bullet expansion. The nose is immune to plugging with material. Even if you fire the bullet through a jacket pocket, the polymer plug is driven into the bullet nose on impact, resulting in good expansion. When it comes to zombie shooting expansion is good if you can have it.

Hornady recently introduced a new version of the Critical Defense as zombie ammunition. The red nose plug is changed to green in this application. The result is a really neat looking loading that serves a real purpose.

Tongue in cheek, sure, and lots of fun you just have to love zombie ammunition.

So how many zombies have you shot lately (real ones or the practice targets discussed by the author)? Share your favorite zombie gun and ammo in the comment section.

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 (4)

  1. We have a combined family with 9 children and so far that makes 22 grandchildren. That means at any one time I could put together 4 or 5 kids to go shooting with me. As they got a little older, say old enough to notice girls it got a little harder to get them out of the house and out shooting … then the Zombie’s found their way to our neck of the woods. Now all it takes is a phone call and it goes something like this. ” Hello” “Hey, this is Grandpa” ” You remember I was in the Army?” ” I just got a call, I am back in the Army, there are tons of Zombies out in woods and only You and your brother and me to stop them!” “Are you with me?” ” I am with you Grandpa, get my rifle and ammo out of the safe and I will be right there!” Who doesn’t want a big Zombie target shot full of wholes hanging on their bedroom wall! Ah, memories of the great Zombie campaign in the woods south of town and the time when only me and my Grand kids were there to stop them. Good times!!!

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