A case for photo realistic targets and scenarios in defensive pistol training:

Why you should consider using realistic targets as part of your personal defense weapons training

Training the brain.

By: iFightBack (Self-Defense Software)
(Interactive firearms training simulator for home and classroom use.)

What difference should it make to be shooting one type of target or another when it comes to defensive firearms training?
( as opposed to “target practice”)

One of the key aspects of many types of training is building “muscle memory”. For shooting, muscle memory normally means teaching your body to perform grip, trigger control, sight acquisition, etc. automatically when needed. They call it “muscle memory” but what you are really doing is creating pathways in your brain to connect certain areas of memory directly to the muscles needed to reenact that memory, bypassing any analytical processes. In other words, you can just do it without having the think about each step it takes to accomplish the task.

Besides muscles, however, there are other aspects that come into play during an encounter where deadly force may be needed. Other than psychopaths, we all have (or should have) an ingrained emotional aversion to taking another life. That aversion will come to the fore in the event that the need to use deadly force ever arises. Because using deadly force crosses this aversion threshold, even the police will require any officer involved in a deadly encounter to submit to counseling. The overwhelming majority of us will have this aversion to taking another life, even if it is a justified use of deadly force.

This natural aversion might cause you to pause for a critical second or two while your brain stops to resolve your conflicted emotions. This pause could prove to be fatal…to you. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating that you train yourself not to care about taking another life. I do not want you to become an armed psychopath. I am advocating that, when adrenaline is telling you that you or your loved ones are in immediate mortal danger, your brain has been trained to not hesitate and to react accordingly.

So how does one train for this? Your brain is a series of connected pathways. This is connected to that and that is connected to this other thing and so on. Just like when you know someone from church, for example. You see him there every Sunday and recognize him. All of a sudden, by chance, you see him at a football game. You know he looks familiar but you cannot quit place him. He is out of context. The connection between him and church has been established in your brain but not between him and football and so it takes you a second or two to recall where you know him from.

And so it is with targets and shooting. To always shoot at round bullseye or flat silhouette targets creates a association in your brain between pulling a trigger and this type of target. To have something out of context all of a sudden in front of you when you need to pull the trigger to save your life or that of another may cause you to hesitate briefly while your brain makes the necessary connections to what is going on with what you need to do.

For what it is worth, the private shooting club that I belong to here in Texas does not allow the use of any target representing a human, even in zombie form. I believe that what they are specifically trying to avoid is the use of realistic targets depicting media personalities, politicians, minority groups, etc. That could lead to a heated argument between you with a gun and the guy next to you with a gun. Which is what this rule, at our gun club, is trying to avoid. If your favorite shooting range does not allow realistic targets, dry-fire practice outside of the range would be very useful. See article Drawing From Concealment: Dangers to Yourself and Others and how to avoid them.

Click here for a YouTube demo video of dry fire practice.
(No realistic targets in the demo but you will get the idea)

This brings me to one last point. Keep in mind when selecting realistic targets to not bring your personal stereotypes into the selection process. In real life bad guys (and bad women) can be any age, any ethnicity, any religion and can be carrying any weapon such as a bat, knife, gun, etc. To train with only one type of realistic target defeats the purpose of using realistic targets in the first place. If you train with a target of an attacker that is always one gender, one age, one ethnicity, and/or one religious group, then you are training your brain to build that connection. Then, if you are ever unfortunate enough to be attacked, chances are it will probably not be someone who fits your particular stereotypical view. And then your brain will have to pause while it connects the dots between what you feared might happen and what is actually happening. Mix up your targets….

Granted, a realistic target is still a paper target but, visually, to the brain, it is closer to what a real threat will look like than a bullseye target. Closer still is an actual interactive video as used in Modeling and Simulation such as our iFightBack® firearms training software. Here is an example of that type of interactive simulation video Click to view YouTube example

Training is vitally important. Don’t get lulled into believing that just because you have a gun in your house and/or in your holster that you are prepared to defend yourself and your family. When an attack happens and the adrenaline hits, without training, you will be flopping around like a fish out of water trying to get your brain and body coordinated and into action. This is when muscle memory of both the body and the mind needs to take over.

At SelfDefenseSoftware (developers of iFightBack) our motto is “Practice as if you life depended on it!” We advise that you take advantage of more than one training and practice method.


Drawing From Concealment: Dangers to Yourself and Others and how to avoid them.

You own a gun for self defense, you carry concealed and you are pretty good at hitting a paper target at the range. So you are prepared to protect yourself and your family, right? Maybe not so much when you are almost paralyzed with fear or panic and your brain can no longer think straight.

The Chemistry of Fear

Humans have a mental and physical response to mortal danger, which is typically the only time you will be drawing (or trying to draw) your weapon from concealment. This is called the “fight or flight reflex” and it is kick-started with a huge dump of adrenaline into your blood stream. The effects this adrenaline dump can have on you includes loss of fine motor skills (e.g. trigger finger), tunnel vision (you only see what is directly in front of you), hearing exclusion (you no longer hear what is going on around you), trembling, loss of bodily functions, etc. These effects can be lessened with training but not entirely eliminated.  You need to train to overcome these involuntary reflexes.  Practice will transition the act of drawing your weapon during a crisis into a reflex that does not need to rely solely on deliberate, conscious thought for each step. A reflex in other words. Without training you will be less effective in handling your weapon and more likely to be a danger to yourself and others.

While we are on the subject of “fight or flight”, don’t forget that flight –OK, call it rapid tactical redeployment if you want – can sometimes be a good choice.

The Remedy

OK, so what training am I talking about here? At the range you are practicing basic shooting skills such as stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, breathing, and, hopefully, follow through (recovering the sight alignment after the recoil). But that is not going to help you at all if you can’t get your gun out of your purse or holster or you shoot yourself in the foot or someone else while trying to get your gun out because of the adrenaline induced panic. When you carry concealed, every holster, purse, shirt, pair of pants, or dress, will change the dynamics of drawing your weapon. You need to practice with each possible combination so that, if evil ever does step out in front of you, your hand will already be reflexively moving to draw your weapon without you having to consciously think through every step.

The Problem

The problem is that almost all gun ranges will refuse to allow you practice drawing a loaded gun from a purse or holster. According to the NRA “It is a probably-statistically-provable fact that drawing a loaded firearm from a concealed holster is the second most dangerous thing most folks do with their CCW handgun. And I say “second” because the only more dangerous thing is putting it into the holster in the first place.
(*) https://www.nrafamily.org/articles/2017/4/19/how-to-practice-drawing-a-pistol-from-concealment/

The Solution

So how do you practice this vital skill? The term used is “Dry Fire Practice”. Dry firing is practicing with an unloaded weapon. Because “firing” a weapon with nothing in the chamber may be harmful to some firearms, it is usually recommended to use snap caps or Laser Training Cartridges to protect the firing pin.

Laser Training Cartridges
Laser Cartridges

The added and extremely useful advantage of the Laser Cartridges is that they flash a laser dot on your target with each “shot” so that you can see exactly where a bullet would have hit had the gun been loaded.


More to it than Fire

Dry “Fire” practice should be more than just practicing “firing” your weapon. As mentioned earlier, in a real life threatening situation you first have to draw your gun from concealment and that can be dangerous and complicated. In the middle of a mugging is not the time to try and figure out why your gun is snagging on your sweatshirt or where your gun is in your purse.

Shirt not clearing.

Can’t find gun

Practice will reveal any potential problems. You want to find those problems and solve them before you ever have to rely on these skills for self defense.



Dangers of a Panicked Draw

When danger threatens, that “fight or flight” adrenaline rush that we talked about is screaming at your subconscious “SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT!” You need to practice over and over again to keep your finger off of the trigger and keep the gun pointed in a safe direction until ready to fire. If these basic rules are not drilled into your subconscious muscle memory you will possibly find yourself swinging your gun about wildly and your finger racing to the trigger and squeezing before you even know what you are doing. You do not want to be shooting yourself, loved ones, or innocent bystanders while trying to protect yourself and/or others.

Remember also, that when a purse is in front of you or switched to your opposite “weak” side (away from your strong hand) instead of at your “strong” side, your gun starts off pointing to the side or behind you and not at your attacker. If you reach into your purse at that time and pull the trigger in panic, anyone standing around you would be in mortal danger from you not the attacker. The same holds true of drawing your weapon when the threat is behind or to the side of you. If you do not keep the gun facing in a safe direction as you turn to face the threat, your loaded weapon might be “sweeping” past innocent bystanders and if that subconscious “SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT!” forces your finger to find the trigger during that “sweep”, innocent bystanders or loved ones could be shot.

A “strong side” holster (on the side of your strong hand) starts off with the muzzle of the gun pointing down in a safe direction. All you have to do is grip/pull/rotate…and your gun is now facing the threat without having “swept” anyone else. A”cross draw” holster, however, may be pointed down as well but it is more difficult to keep it pointed down as you bring it to bear on a threat if front of you. Some shoulder holsters start with the gun pointed behind you and getting it out of that dangerous position and facing in a safe direction while bringing it to bear on a threat in front of you is even harder. The same holds true for a “Flashbang” holster. In other words, you want to practice not just drawing your weapon in a smooth and rapid manner, you want to practice drawing your weapon in a SAFE, smooth, and rapid manner.

This is what dry fire is meant for since you can’t be practicing this at the range. With dry fire you can practice this at your home or office, at any time, with your own gun.

Enhance Dry Fire Practice with modern dry fire software

Software such as iFightBack from SelfDefenseSoftware.com takes dry fire practice using laser training cartridges to the next level.

For one thing, it is amazing the difference between internally deciding for yourself when to draw and having an outside source, such as a programmed beep, deciding for you when it is time to draw. That little bit of surprise when the timer goes off helps build reflexes and that is what you want. Calmly telling yourself to draw while practicing does not develop reflexes. Reacting to a beep as the “danger signal” does…Or drawing against a bad guy as shown here in the iFightBack Draw Drill  And he will shot back.

Having the program repeat the drill rapidly over and over also helps. If you screw up, you don’t have the luxury of shaking it off, calming down, and trying it again. With the iFightBack software set to repeat, and setting the time between repetitions to only a second or two, if you screw up, you need to immediately jump back into action because the software will not wait just like a bad guy will not wait for you to get comfortable.

With iFightBack you also get audio feedback giving you your shot time and shot placement. Shot time will let you know if you if you are getting faster. Shot placement (Head, Center Mass, On Target) will let you know if your accuracy is improving. Your shots will also be shown on the monitor.

A report is generated that will show these statistics for each shot. If you have a double action gun, like the Beretta PX4 Storm that I have, you can try “General Target Practice” and the report will also give you your split-times between shots. With a single action gun you can practice the “Tap and Rack” jamb/misfire drill between shots and the split times will not give you a good indication if you are getting better at that drill.

There is also the “5-Step Draw Drill”. You can set the speed between steps and the program will call it out as you practice. “Grip – Pull – Rotate – Join – Extend and Fire” and finishes off with “Scan and Assess” after the shot to remind you to get out of tunnel vision mode and check your surroundings.You can set the speed slow to start with and increase it as your movements become more natural and smooth. Remember that “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”.

Most videos you will find on the 5-Step Draw Drill will demonstrate drawing from an Outside the Waistband (OWB) holster but the same steps apply to any form of concealment. With a purse, for instance, the “Grip” is when you put your hand into your purse to grip the weapon. If your purse is currently on your opposite or weak side the “Grip” may entail also swinging your purse around to your strong side while gripping in order to be in position when you “Pull” the gun out of the purse and “Rotate” it to be pointing at the threat. This would be the same as practicing with your back to the threat. You want to hold off on the “Rotate” until you are facing the threat. So you “Grip” and can be “Pull”ing while you pivot around to face the threat but you do not “Rotate” your weapon until you are finally facing the threat. This is to make sure that you are not “sweeping” innocent bystanders in case that screaming adrenaline shouting “SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT!” gets the better of you and your trigger finger starts acting on it’s own.

In Conclusion

Practice as if your life depended on it!

“Si vis pacem, para bellum”. (If you want peace, prepare for war.)

Simulation based firearms training and the benefits for personal and home defense preparedness.

   Just owning a gun does not mean that you are prepared to use it properly or effectively any more than owning a wrench makes you  an auto mechanic.

  If you keep a gun in your home and/or as a carry weapon, it is because you are aware of the possibility that bad things happen in the real world and that you need to be prepared to defend yourself and your loved ones if such a situation should arise. To be prepared to defend yourself in a life or death situation requires practice. i“While the simplest technology [target practice] may be used for practicing basic skills [trigger control, sight picture, etc], newer technologies, such as simulators, bring fresh opportunities which can help [the gun owner] develop better skills.  Such types of higher level skills can only be addressed through realistic simulation training scenarios, which are safe re-enactments of real-life situations…  There is now an increasing body of evidence to demonstrate that using simulation training can significantly enhance the level of preparedness to deal with a range of situations and help [the gun owner] develop critical skills and knowledge.”

  Police Link stresses that, “Motor skills are by their very nature perishable. They require some form of repetition or practice to maintain or improve the level of performance for each and every skill. Skills that will be performed under stress will require a higher level of repetition or intensity during their initial development and will still require constant ‘maintenance’ through physical or mental repetition; ideally a combination of both. …if you don’t consistently use and/or practice them, you won’t be able to perform them well, especially under stress.”

  This Law Enforcement Publication writes, “Think of police training as falling along a linear continuum. At one end of this spectrum is absolute safety, at the other is absolute reality. As police training moves farther along the continuum toward reality, it moves away from safety. For many years, police trainers could only go so far…could only be so ‘real’ without sacrificing safety.

“As long as officers were training on a real range, with real firearms, many rigid safety rules were necessary. This kept most police trainers from developing the types of training they knew their officers needed. Ultimately, technology stepped up to provide an answer, the firearms training simulator, which provided a means for conducting firearms use-of-force training.”

The military has also long recognized the benefits of simulation-based training. ii“Simulation software has become an invaluable training tool for the armed forces, offering trainees a unique and comprehensive training experience whilst saving the forces both time and money.

Simulation software offers trainees a realistic and immersive environment in which to practice and perfect their responses and decision-making skills.

“These powerful training platforms may not offer physical real-life experience, but they allow trainees to practice working in a huge variety of different scenarios and environmental conditions that they may otherwise never encounter during training.

“Here are 5 invaluable benefits of using simulation software:

  • Cost effective and time saving.
  • Safe environment to learn in.
    Simulation-based learning offers a controlled and safe environment in which to learn…giving [the gun owner] the experience and confidence  they  require to perform effectively when faced with the real thing.
  • Highly immersive experience.
  • Experience a variety of environments and scenarios.
  • Progress can be measured objectively.”

iii“If you are a gun owner, especially one who carries a firearm on a daily basis, you’ve probably wondered how you would fare if you had to use your weapon in a life-and-death situation. Could you hit a moving target? Would you freeze under pressure? Would you accidentally harm innocent bystanders in your attempt to take down a threat? With virtual simulation training, you can find out the answers to these questions.

  “…does (taking a concealed carry class) really mean that you will be ready to use your firearm in an emergency situation? Training simulations are one way to learn a skill that is too dangerous to perform for real.”

  Research at Winona State University in Minnesota states: “The intent of simulations is to immerse trainees in situations to see their real reactions, and to demonstrate what their subconscious tactical decisions might be if confronted in a similar manner. …increasing the brains’ muscle memory by using simulations, similar to athletes building muscle memory while training for competition. …allowing the trainee to make mistakes, these simulations allow for trainees to experience errors and consequences in a safe environment.

Training with a video of a human character is more effective than training with a computer-generated character because of the realistic nature of the interaction.

This type of learning creates appropriate and necessary memory and trains the most important law enforcement muscle of all — the brain.”

  A Firearms Simulations Study concludes, “…it does appear that students training with a non-recoil handgun achieve statistically similar qualification scores that students training with a live-fire weapon achieve. In addition to the potential cost savings, (non-recoil) handgun training offers several instructional advantages and also provides a safer  environment than live-fire. …several studies seem to indicate that firearm simulation is a viable approach…becoming a valuable tool in both the teaching and learning of psychomotor skills.”

  At SelfDefenseSoftware (developers of iFightBack) our motto is “Practice as if you life depended on it!” We advise that you take advantage of more than one training and practice method.

1) Go to the gun range as often as possible to learn and maintain your muscle memory for:
breath control
hold control
trigger control

2) Dry Fire Practice
3) Mental Rehearsal
4) Interactive Simulation-Based Training. (at your local range or at home with iFightBack (Train your brain for better threat assessment, sight acquisition, shoot / don’t shoot, multiple threats, moving targets, good guy / bad guy determination, and much more.)