Over the years, I've spent a lot of time teaching on the range. Working with talented, knowledgeable instructors has allowed me to learn some helpful tricks of the trade. Rather than keep them to myself, I want to take the opportunity to pass them on to my colleagues who run firearms training. Evaluate each tip in this article, and decide which ones will work with your training.
1. Protect Weapon-Mounted Lights
Weapon-mounted lights are becoming more popular with law enforcement at every level. However, these are often expensive, and like any piece of equipment, they should be properly cared for. One way is to focus on their use during range training. In my opinion, if the weapon-mounted lights are not needed (e.g., during daylight training) the bezel should be covered with a piece of duct tape or similar material. This will prevent the lens from becoming caked with carbon residue and other crap during shooting. Even better would be to remove the bulb and its housing during shooting.
Although good quality weapon-mounted lights are shock-isolated to reduce the potential for bulb damage, why subject it to unnecessary abuse? I suggest removing it from the rest of the light assembly and, if appropriate, taking out the batteries as well. The latter step will extend the battery life because it's likely the light will be unintentionally activated during your training. Along the same lines, even if the bulb isn't removed, I like taking out the batteries during daylight range training and putting them back in before leaving. With the batteries out and the bulb housing off, take the extra step to cover the battery cavity with duct tape to protect it as well.
2. Move the Targets
No doubt about it, moving target systems are great for range training. Here's one variation from the conventional method of use that I like to plug into the firearms drills: I attach a "no-shoot" target to the mover. Shoot targets can be placed down range behind the no-shoot. I've even gone to the trouble of acquiring a cardboard cutout of a uniformed police officer for the no-shoot. This adds a little more realism to the drill. The student is then given the command to load and ready. The instructor controls the mover, running it back and forth, causing distractions and using the no-shoot target to block the student's view of the shoot targets, while giving the command to fire as he does so. The instructor can even throw in an occasional challenge command to determine whether or not the student shooter is in range-robot mode.
The idea is to create a more chaotic environment, with the moving target simulating an innocent civilian or fellow cop who may accidentally come into view between the suspect and the shooter. The latter has to either hold their fire or move laterally to get an angle on the target. I like this because it forces the students to be even more precise in their use of deadly force.
There are some good commercial moving target systems out there. However, if you don't have the cash to purchase one, you can still construct a "poor man's" mover with 2x4s, pulleys, rope and some wire. Instead of an electric motor, you can even have fellow officers provide the power to run the target back and forth.
3. Paint It Black
I've been using this next technique with my low-light firearms training for years. Most of you probably use silhouette targets for your range drills. I suggest, at least occasionally, you use more realistic targets. While some are printed in just black and white, I think the best are multicolored. Good representations of human beings that pose lethal threats to the officer are more true to what we encounter on the streets: a face, a gun, clothing, etc.
If you do put these targets on the range for low-light training, then I suggest using black spray paint to darken the light-colored area that surround the target individual. (Cheap, $2 spray paint cans work well, but be sure to buy enough for all your targets plus a couple of extras.) This makes low-light drills more realistic in that we are replicating an armed suspect coming at us out of the darkness. I like this because it forces the student shooter to be more careful when identifying the threat. Depending on the ambient light, you can elect to have your students just react to the threat or use their handheld or weapon-mounted light to do so. It falls in line with the "shoot what you know, not what you think" rule. I think this is legally defensible as an advanced form of training that replicates confronting an armed suspect. It also provides stress inoculation for the student. If and when they're in a real low-light confrontation, they'll have had some training to help them deal more effectively with this challenge.
I wish I could claim credit for this great idea, but I've got to give credit to the man who taught it to me: Phil Singleton of Singleton International. He dedicated these targets to James Rapozo, a Visalia (Calif.) PD officer who died in the line of duty in January 1998, shortly after going through Singleton's course. Order the targets from www.philsingleton.com.
4. Prepare for Wild Weather
If you've been a firearms instructor for any amount of time, at some point you've encountered weather problems that affected your targets, and therefore, your training. On a rainy day, cardboard target backers quickly start to degrade and soon lose their ability to stand up to the moisture. Then, the paper targets start to come apart. One solution I learned when I was working as an instructor with the H&K International Training Division was to not use cardboard at all. Instead, we would go to the lumberyard or Home Depot and buy pieces of wood veneer cut to the dimensions of the cardboard backers. We would use drywall screws to secure these onto the target holders.
OK, I know what you're thinking: The veneer could be expensive. In a sense you're right, but if you factor in repeat usage, there may not be as great a financial impact as you would initially think. Under good shooting conditions, the veneer pieces should last a lot longer than cardboard. In rainy weather, their use allows firearms training to continue without having to stop to fix targets, unless the conditions necessitate a cessation of training.
I've also frequently used spray adhesive instead of staples to secure paper targets to the backers. The adhesive alternative works very well, holding targets in place during damp weather as well as when heavy gusts of wind start blowing across your range. I've shopped around and found the 3M brand to be effective. Another option is the WT-MP13 Spray Adhesive from Westech Aerosol (877/674-2010). I think you'll find that either of these will make running the range less frustrating, especially during bad weather.
Along these lines, if your mindset is to cancel range training when it rains, I would suggest you reconsider. Unless it's a downpour that compromises safety, I'd suggest going ahead and training for real in the rain. This is because the next gunfight certainly won't be put on hold because of a little precipitation. That's not to say we don't take steps to help our students, if appropriate. I was running a four-day submachine gun operator's course when an El Ni o storm descended upon us and the rest of Los Angeles. It was so bad that I expected to hear the area had been renamed "Waterworld," and I half expected to see animals of all kinds going by in pairs looking for an ark. Despite this challenge, we decided to try to keep the course going. To do so, we obtained a couple of easy-up tents, put the firing line under them and kept the training going.