Ever since the sharpshooter's rifle was optically enhanced, the man behind that rifle has often experienced a phenomena largely unknown to the regular troop in the field. The eyes. When the sniper took careful aim at his adversary he often found himself struck by the fact that he was looking into another man's eyes. Added to the knowledge that he was about to "punch" said adversary's lights out, in a very personal and permanent manner, the new sniper sometimes balked. The simple fact is I am told, that no one knows how he or she will truly react to this until they do it in earnest.
For the regular grunt, the issue seldom gets to this point as often -- unless engaged in close fighting or CQB -- the most he may see of his enemy is a dark shadow balanced upon his front sight post. In some cases, he may not even see that much! He may, according to a very well written book called "On Killing" by Daniel Grossman, simply point his rifle in the general direction of the action and hose down the foliage. He may in fact simply lay there in the muck and let those around him do the fighting. This is the nature of humanity. The act of war conflicts against everything we have been raised to believe. It is terrifying and evil in that it forces otherwise sane and sound people to commit acts for the good of their nation that go against their very upbringing. To overcome these feelings military and police units from every nation use constant and repetitive training. A well-used aphorism states: Train how you fight -- fight how you train.
One of the most obvious deficiencies in training, both for the regular soldier, the police officer, and the sniper of either persuasion, is that their practice targets seldom replicate the human beings which they will most possibly engage. For the sniper this issue is compounded by the fact that with the aid of his telescopic sight, he can easily see the minute details of his quarry. It has been said time and again that the eyes are the first thing the sniper notices when tracking a live target. The eyes, which in and of themselves are not particularly striking, bring life to an otherwise immobile face or form. They can transmit across great distances the fact that the object you are about to fire upon is another human being like yourself. He has needs and desires like your own. He bleeds like you. He curses like you and probably fights with his spouse as often as you. Through his eyes you can see his intelligence and cunning, his humanness. A flat, one dimensional target can not replicate this life force. The more sensitive among us will always hesitate when faced with this reality. Unless his training can overcome his humanity.
Training can tame these jitters effectively, but only so far as the realism of the target used in practice or the mindset of the individual troop. The British -- long proponents of the sniper in combat -- have occasionally gone to great lengths to provide their snipers with realistic targets. As early as the first world war, three-dimensional targets were assembled from old uniforms -- complete with rank insignia. These provided the fledgling sniper with the opportunity to both engage a life-like target and also practice his most important trade, intelligence gathering. A three-dimensional target -- covered in camouflage -- can be set up in a manner to make the sniper-in-training work hard to find his mark. It teaches him the skills of an observer. No matter what kind of clothes you place on a flat cardboard target, it will always look like a cardboard target. It can serve to improve a shooters aim, but it will never truly prepare a marksman for the potential shock he may feel the first time he has a live individual in his sights.
In steps Proline Training Inc, of Gatesville Texas. Seeing a need, they have been producing high quality three-dimensional targets for several years. These targets are totally lifelike in appearance -- as you can see from the photos accompanying this article. These semi self-sealing mannequins are made of a pliable vinyl polymer that replicate a human very well. They come in several ethnic persuasions and in several build types. The unit Sniper Country is testing is the Target Pro Heavy Weight - Model TP-2500.
Packed in a 28"x22" box, the TP-2500 comes almost ready to shoot. Assembly takes about three minutes during your first experience as you figure out the almost self explanatory assembly process. The kit features a complete and well-muscled life size torso with a detailed head. The body is well rippled and even the navel is molded into the target. The target is anatomically correct and provides excellent markers for various uses (knife, baton, fist). Also included is a 22" black base, four 8" spikes, a 1.25" diameter wood dowel, a lag bolt and wing nut, and a lynch pin. You will also find a flexible plastic instruction sheet -- a nice touch I thought as I often destroy paper instructions in the process of assembly.
The seven step assembly is quite simple. Set the black base on level ground. Install and drive the four spikes into the ground through the holes provided in the base. (Note, you may want to save the spiking for last as it will allow you to position the target for the profile or angle you want after assembly.) Insert the wood dowel into the base. Secure it with the provided lag bolt and wing nut. Set the Target Pro torso onto the dowel and insert the lynch pin to hold it in place. You are ready to shoot in a matter of minutes. In reality it takes about the same amount of time it would take you to staple targets to a backer. Once you have learned the assembly procedure, repeat setup goes about twice as fast. The hardest thing about using Target Pro is carrying it down range!
Target Pro is approximately 5' 8" tall. It is possible for the sniper to replicate different heights by replacing the wooden dowel with a longer or shorter dowel found at any local hardware or woodworking store. In this manner, a sniper can become familiar with his mil-dot or duplex reticle for range estimation. This is, in fact, an excellent tool for ranging exercises. One can leave Target Pro off the base to simulate targets in the grass or, with a very short pole, a kneeling target.
To be most effective, Proline recommends painting in the white and the iris in the modeled eyes. This should have the impact you are searching for in your training curricula. When dressed in either a T-shirt or military uniform and placed in a realistic setting, Target Pro achieves its goal in providing the most realistic target on the market today. One can dress it in a full ghillie or gangland garb and use it for target identification and observation exercises. Some go as far as to apply camo paint to the face, although I did not bother. The target is completely life-like in appearance when dressed. When used in a shoot house the visual effect can be very real.
Being fully three dimensional, a shooter is able to practice shots from all angles, be they high angles of fire, shooting from the sides, behind or any angle to the front. Medulla shots are easily analyzed as you have a fully 3-D and lifelike head to work with. This is just 100% better than guessing on a flat target since you can see entry and exit wounds in realistic dimension.
Bullet strikes are found by observing the small black hole left in the target. They appear like small pock marks in the skin. Occasionally you will have to look close as the Target Pro is semi self-sealing. The holes close up but are easily found once you recognize them for what they are.
I would envision Target Pro as an ideal tool for Law Enforcement trainers who wish to acclimate their shooters to their job in as realistic a manner as possible. It can be mounted on a dolly for moving target practice, placed in a shoot house or automobile. One can use it in aircraft. While the cost is not low, the life of the target is such that many rounds may be fired into this target before it needs to be replaced. If a particular area in the target is worn out, say, from frontal medulla shots, one just need rotate the unit for a different angle. Once the head is toast, you still have the full torso for tactical pistol practice. Daily exposure to a sub-gun might make short work of it, but I can not say as I do not own one! The target is very versatile and allows a trainer many options not provided by a flat paper target.
The question begs, how long can a target with a listed retail of $159 last? Proline tells me that the average bullet count is about 5000 rounds with rifle projectiles -- or the life on one high quality sniper rifle barrel! I am told that one police training facility has fired upward of 20,000 rounds (type unknown) on their Target Pro -- but I would not count on that kind of longevity! The life of the target will depend on the type of ammunition used and how you concentrate your fire. The trainee may use either rifle or pistol. Proline smartly provided a wood pole instead of steel so you need not worry about ricochets. If you eventually shoot out the pole -- you'd have to be a piss poor shot to do so -- a replacement can be purchased at your local hardware store as it is a standard 1.25" wood dowel!
I would highly recommend this training aid to all law enforcement trainers who feel the need for a life-like target. The possibilities are endless for setting up scenarios, be they in shoot houses or out of doors. Competitive civilian tactical shooters can also benefit from training with this 3-D aid, but be forewarned that you might get some interesting looks at your local range. When set up at the 200 yard line, the Target Pro is nearly indistinguishable from a live human to the naked eye. Until an observer realizes that it has no legs, they might be quite upset with you when they see you take up your firing position. If using multiple Target Pro targets, always double check that the range is really clear before allowing anyone to commence firing!
Down sides: Like all soft targets when viewed beyond 200 yards, seeing a hit on Target Pro through your spotting scope may be problematic. On the other hand, the exercise you get checking your impacts will do you good. You may see the holes with quality glass, up to a point, but do not count on it. This is a small price to pay for the dividends. It is FAR more realistic than shooting on steel. I am told that when shooting Target Pro in a team exercise, the observer can see a shock wave ripple through the target that will at least verify a hit. It reacts to a bullet impact with movement and reflex. I was not able to completely observe this as I did not have a spotter for the test -- only fired at a 200 yard range. I am told another way to check your results would be to tape a balloon on the back side where the medulla would be. An interesting idea as it really makes you think in three dimensions. Proline is now working on reactive targets that should give instant feedback. Some of the ideas they discussed with me are quite interesting and should prove beneficial as training aids. Further, you may also order heads only. This recent release is great for the trainer who needs the realism of Target Pro but can not justify the cost of a full torso to the bean counters. The cost saving is substantial. Placed in windows and automobiles, the heads can be quite effective -- particularly for sniper training.
While nothing can prepare you fully for the reality of a call out or combat, Proline Training Inc's Target Pro will certainly give the tactical shooter that extra edge when dealing with their first exposure to the harsh reality of their job. Whether you shoot pistol or rifle, Target Pro is one more aid to help you in your constant drive for improvement. You can also use Target Pro for impact training with batons and flashlights. It also can be used in knife training. Lastly, one can use it to illustrate body armor to your officer trainees.
Sniper Country recommends Target Pro to the serious tactical shooter and law enforcement officer who demands the best and most lifelike target available. Paper has its place as does steel. Adding this target to your available options will improve your results by giving you an anatomically correct target as a check on your skill and aim.
(As an aside, I was so impressed with this target that I am requesting Proline allow us to offer the TP-2500 and other models through the PX. With luck we should be able to offer it at a discounted price with in the next month. Law Enforcement trainers please contact the PX for bulk order discounts.)