As a professional defensive shooting instructor I am always looking for ways to introduce more realistic target systems into use in my classes. Standard targets serve as a simple measurement device telling us if we got our hits or not. The forward thinking defensive shooters of today are looking for more. They realize that self-defense with a handgun is at least as much about understanding what is happening around you as it is about solving the shooting problem.
Hill and Mac Gunworks Steel Target System
At NASGW in Little Rock, AR, I had a chance to talk with Mac Steil of Hill and Mac Gunworks about the Hill and Mac Gunworks Steel Target System. I recorded the conversation and you can listen to it here.
I am looking forward to integrating Hill and Mac Gunworks targets into the defensive firearms instruction that I do through Safety Solutions Academy, because Hill and Mac seem to be forward thinkers.
Here is a simple video of Hill and Mac Gunworks Steel Targets getting slammed with 5.56 and 7.62×51.
Recently, HMG’s targets were featured as one of the “Best New Law Enforcement Products of 2014.” I think the use of the HMG steel target systems goes well beyond LE use, but more about that in a bit.
The Search for “Better” Defensive Targets
My quest for better targets has been a long one and I currently use several different target styles to help my students take their defensive training to the next level.
Paper Targets for Defensive Training
When it comes to paper targets, if I could have only one, it would be the Balance of Speed and Precision target developed by Rob Pincus. I discovered this target and the many ways to use it while I was a Combat Focus Shooting instructor. I still use these targets as my main paper target and I find and develop new ways to use them every time I’m at the range.
In addition to these paper targets, I use several other paper targets that force students into the habit of gathering information before they shoot (if they need to shoot at all.) Multiple targets and multiple strategies help to keep students on their toes and wondering what is going to happen next. This certainly makes training more interesting, but more importantly it carries over that big question from real life violent encounters, “What is happening?”
Steel Targets for Defensive Training
Steel targets get set up on the range whenever the opportunity presents itself. If you have never had the chance to shoot steel, you are missing out. It literally is a blast. In addition to helping red-line the fun meter, steel targets also provide additional feedback. Shooters instantly know if they have hit their target or not through the
unique sound that bullets make when they hit a steel target.
Some steel targets take feedback to the next level through movement. It may be as simple as a little bit of a wiggle when the target is hit and could be as dramatic as the target falling over. This visual feedback is especially important as in defensive shooting we stress the idea that we need to shoot until the threat has stopped. This is most often illustrated by the idea of shooting the threat to the ground (although there are lots of other ways a threat can stop.) As a result, steel targets can help to fill a void that paper targets leave.
Steel targets aren’t without their challenges, however. The first thing we have to understand about steel is how bullets react when they hit it. Steel is harder than both lead and copper. When bullets hit steel, especially steel with substantially more mass than the bullet, the bullet ends up in lots of little pieces. Physics tells us that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force. A large, heavy, steel plate is that outside force. The direction of all those little pieces changes and begins to travel on a plane parallel to the face of the steel plate. Usually.
This can pose some safety issues especially if steel plates aren’t flat or have other hunks of metal on the face to hold them in place like bolts heads. In these situations, who knows where those hunks of high-speed metal are going to go.
Hill and Mac Gunworks Steel Target Systems are Different
HMG seems to have thought about the challenges with steel targets and has taken care of many of them with their design. Here is a detailed look at the design elements of the Hill and Mac Gunworks Steel Target System.
When it comes to defensive firearms training we need to constantly assess our training activities and evaluate whether the benefits of the activity significantly outweigh the risks that are involved. In life there are always risks and it is the same in defensive training. The question is, “Are the risks that are present worth the expected outcome?”
Training with steel targets certainly has some benefits, but those benefits come with additional risk. Sometimes, those fragments of copper can return to the shooting line. At high velocity. They are sharp. They can certainly make people bleed or worse. It is a risk that must be considered.
Wearing protective glasses helps to protect our fragile vision, but that doesn’t cover the rest of our body.
Training in heavy clothes that wouldn’t be typical for your defensive context doesn’t make sense even though it would reduce the consequences of splatter.
Standing at long distances from your targets can also minimize the risks, but at the same time this can significantly change your shooting problem to the point where you are no longer training realistically.
HMG has taken a different approach. All of the targets that Hill and Mac Gunworks produce have a 14 degree forward cant which drives lead and copper fragments into the ground instead of back toward the shooter. In addition, the targets are flat on the face with no bolt heads or other hardware to direct fragments in odd directions.
This significantly reduces the risks involved at shooting steel targets even at realistic distances and helps to drive the balance of risk an benefit to an appropriate level.
Hill and Mac Seems to Improve more than Safety.
In addition to increasing safety through design, HMG has designed a target system that increases visual stimulus while training. When you hit Hill and Mac Targets you not only receive a auditory report of your performance but the target will also fall to the rear. A spring system then stands the target back up for you to shoot again.
When the targets are coupled with an electronic reset kit, the target is retained in the down position after it has been shot. The target is reset by the spring only after it has been released by remote control. This provides a visual stimulus to tell you when you need to begin shooting as well as when you should stop.
I haven’t yet had the chance to actually shoot any HMG targets. I’m looking to fix that soon. On November 14, 2014 I’ll be flying down to the Atlanta area to spend a day on the range with the HMG Crew. I’ll bring he camera, and shoot a bunch of pictures and some video too. Most importantly, I’ll report back in how the HMG Targets and accessories perform.
Until then take a look at this video of The Hill and Mac Gunworks Steel Target System.
Hill and Mac Gunworks Steel Target System Range Day
HMG invited me to the Advantage Tactical range just outside of Atlanta to take a practical look at the Hill and Mac Steel Target System. I jumped at the chance and hopped on an airplane to get some rounds down range on the HMG targets.
HMG pulled out all the stops. The range was full of targets, guns, ammo and food. There were plenty of full auto blasters and suppressors too which mad the shooting plenty of fun. Although the weather was cool, the company was good, the food filling and the gun barrels warm.
I had some struggles making it to the event as snow had my flight out of Cleveland delayed, but I was able to achieve my goals in the short time I was on the range.
Shooting the Hill and Mac Gunworks Steel Target System
My main interest in the HMG Steel Targets is as a tool for defensive shooting, as a result that is how I tried to focus my day.
I started out with a Glock pistol. It makes sense to begin here as the majority of my training courses surround defensive handguns. There were many steel targets available to shoot. A 2/3 USPSA silhouette with a flapper, a tombstone, an 8″ circle, a mini popper with a second stage target. Some of the targets were self resetting, and some were set to fall and my favorite used the remote electronic reset system. The fact that a single target can be set up to fill multiple roles is what makes HMG targets a system.
A target system is what I’m looking for. I need targets that accomplish several goals. I need targets that make students think while they are shooting. By combining different size targets with different spring rates and an adjustment of the threaded rear foot, the HMG targets can help me to achieve that. One combination may take two solid hits to drop while a different target face and spring might take three or four rounds to drop.
The visual cue of the target going down is an important one. It is one of the cues that you would need to recognize in the real world in a real defensive gun use. A threat going to the ground could be an indication that they are no longer a threat to your life and as a result your use of force needs to stop.
This type of thinking is crucial when training for armed self- defense. If you fail to stop your application of force in a reasonable time frame once the threat against you ceases, you could face criminal and or civil consequences. A target that disappears after a reasonable number of solid hits gives that visual cue.
HMG Electronic Reset Kit, Convenience and Visual Stimulus
When those steel targets are shot to the ground the need to be reset. In a training environment this can be a hassle and take time. The spring combined with the Electronic Reset Kit means that targets can be reset at any time without having to move down range. This is certainly a great convenience.
More importantly, the Electronic Reset Kit allows the target to be activated at any time from up range (up to 1000 yards away.) This allows the target itself to be the signal for the need to begin shooting. This seperates the HMG Target System from most steel targets. Almost all targets require a auditory signal to begin the shooting. Because more defensive gun uses begin with visual stimulus of seeing a weapon than hearing a shooting command, buzzer or beep, the visual presentation of a target serves as a more realistic indicator of when shooting should begin.
There are other target systems that allow for remote activation and presentation of a defensive shooting targets, but many of these systems are expensive and require a permanent installation. For an instructor like me, a permanent installation doesn’t make sense. An easily movable system like the HMG Targets makes a ton of sense
HMG Steel Target Durability
Hill and Mac Steel target systems are certainly built for the long haul. I started out with the GLOCK on pistol targets and quickly transitioned to a shotgun on the same targets. The light weight pistol target faces fell quickly with the heavy payload from the shotgun. It didn’t have any additional impact on the target face other than taking off a whole lot more paint.I held onto the shotgun and loaded it with slugs. The rifle rated target faces were from around 25 yards out to 50. The 2/3 USPSA rifle targets rocked hard when the slugs slammed them and threw the lead fragments to the ground in a cloud of dust. Upon inspection, the target face remained smooth at the impact point of the slugs.The rifle targets were obviously intended for rifle rounds and we delivered plenty of 5.56, 300 BLK and .308 rounds. Some of the edge hits did mar the edge of the target slightly which isn’t surprising or disappointing. The cutting method is proprietary and so it may or may not use heat, but the damage to the edge of that target is on par with what i have seen with targets that are cut without heat.
The only damage to the target face was caused by 5.56 green tip. This ammunition has an armor piercing steel core. I was actually quite impressed. Little dimples instead of big divots on the target. However this steel is being hardened works.
The real test came from the .50 BMG. The 50 caliber target faces are the same as the 1/2 ” rifle targets, however, the 50 bases come with a 1″ front plate to protect the base and minimize flex. Again, the target face had minimal dimples from the .50 caliber rounds that impacted the target and the base.
HMG Steel Targets: The Next Step.