Very little can be more frustrating than showing up for a training day on the range and realizing very quickly that the instructor or instructors don’t have a plan.  Putting “rounds downrange” has its place and can be beneficial for familiarization and officer’s comfort with his or her assigned weapon.  The problem is that when we finally get the okay to take the officers to the range and we are given the ability to train, we waste it.

We all understand the shortage of training dollars in almost every aspect of Law Enforcement and we must ensure that we are not wasting the minimal resources that we have.  Our officers deserve the best, most realistic training we can give them and “pulling the trigger” is only a small piece if we are doing so just to hear the “bang”.

While I certainly do not have all of the answers for Firearms instruction and there are many Instructors who are more qualified than I, there are some things that I have learned over the years that have improved our range days and I believe are providing some great training to our officers.  I will share just a few of the “tips” that I have picked up along the way.

Have a plan. As an instructor, it is our responsibility to plan the range day in order to ensure we are getting the most out of it.  Develop a written plan for the range.  Know what areas you are going to cover and stick to it.  Showing up at the range with “some ideas” is not going to work.  You must have a plan and you must ensure that the officer’s time is not wasted.  Create set “Courses of Fire” that you can run the officers through.  These courses of fire can easily be tracked and documented.  When you are asked later, what was trained, you will be able to show, on paper, the instruction that was given.  I’ll discuss written training plans and Courses of Fire at a later date.

Get creative. So, for those of you in the very large departments with lots of access to cool “stuff” this may or may not apply to you.  I am going to talk to the rest of us who are getting by with very little in the way of training assistance and equipment.  Good training does not have to cost a lot of money and if your department can not afford the high speed/low drag equipment you still don’t have an excuse.

Gather up some stuff. A great day of realistic training at the range for our ERT usually just means our trailer with the following “stuff”.

Plywood sheets (8X10 that we use over and over)

Metal fence posts (with post driver)

Big metal clips (the kind from office supplies)

Cardboard (from the local packing company that we get donated)

Targets (hostage, FBI Qual)

Faces and hands on 8X10 sheets (I’ll explain later)

Lawnmower target frame (for moving targets)


A beat up squad car (we got an old one that barely runs)

Long pieces of rebar (to hold targets)

Hardened steel poppers (we’ll talk about these as well)

Stapler with staples

Officers assigned weapons (all of them)

Anything else you can think of.

As you can see from this basic list, we don’t have more than $100 worth of stuff in the lot.  Minus the squad car, which was donated from the local County Conservation Office after we pulled it out of the weeds, we are really just using everyday items.

Why all the plywood you say.  When we as officers are on the street, we are surrounded by obstacles.  Walls, corners trees, vehicles.  Why would we not train our officers to shoot as they will be on the street?  Get creative with your walls and obstacles.  Set up your Plywood “obstacles” in different configurations and make your officers navigate them on the range.  Teach you officers to fire from cover, over it, around it and even under it.  These don’t have to be permanent structures.  That is why you brought the metal fence posts.  You can set up your obstacles in any way you wish.

I want to skip ahead just a bit while we are talking about plywood and talk about “moving targets”.  A moving target system can be outrageously expensive.  Here’s what we did.  I found an old push style lawnmower base at the dump and made sure the wheels were good.  On this frame I built a very simple target stand that would hold a piece of cardboard and a paper target.  On the front and back of the lawnmower frame we put a very simple clasp that we could attach a very long piece of nylon rope to each side.  At the end of the range we placed the lawn mower frame in the center of the firing lane and went straight out to each side to a post with a simple 75cent pulley.  The rope runs from the mower frame to the edge of the firing lane and all the way back to the firing line.  With one officer on each rope the target can be pulled across the firing lane at any speed with as many stops and starts as we want.  Back to the plywood.  In front of the “track” that the lawnmower runs we place our “walls” at varying widths apart so as the target moves, it comes into view and then back out of view.

Not fancy, but it certainly works and I think we are into our moving target system for about 20 bucks.  Better yet when it gets shot up (which it always will) we aren’t out any money and the system is NEVER “down for maintenance”.

So what about the targets. A couple of quick things.  These don’t have to cost much either.  There are places that will sell you thousands of dollars worth of target stands and you will really be no farther ahead.  What we have done is taken pieces of standard rebar that can be picked up pretty cheap.  We stick these in the ground at about the width of the targets and using a piece of cardboard or even some drop ceiling tiles, use the clips that you got from the office supplies and clip them onto the rebar.  They won’t hold up to really strong wind, but when they get shot up, we just throw them away.

One thing I picked up that makes a lot sense is putting a face on the targets.  You can find a face on the web that can be printed on standard 81/2X 11 papers and stapled to the targets.  Use different faces and you can even tie in “shoot/don’t shoot” by drawing and outline of your open hand on paper and copying it.  Staple these where the target’s hands would be.  A very important aspect of shooting is reactive response.  When your officers see target with open hands facing them, it will burn into muscle memory that this is “don’t shoot”.  On the inverse of that, when you want your officers to shoot the targets, print off a picture of a gun in hand and put it in place of the open hand.  Get your officers used to “deciding” whether or not to shoot, even on range days.

You can purchase targets that already have these items but if you can save a few dollars, you can afford more rounds to fire.

Steel “poppers”. I love steel targets.  The sound of the round smacking a steel target gives me a little thrill.  These “systems” can also be cost prohibitive but I believe that the “reactive target” is very important.  The instant feedback to the shooter can help build confidence in your weaker shooters and can improve your stronger shooters.  With some ingenuity, a steel “popper” target system can be obtained without spending a fortune.  Our town has a nice little welding shop and the owner likes the Police department.

My personal favorite steel targets are the 8-12 in “pie plate size” targets that hang from a frame.  The advantages to these types of targets is that based on the size, they can be more or less challenging based on the distance from the shooter to the targets and if they are “hanging”, there is no need to “reset” the target.  Ask around, there may be someone who is willing to put in some “sweat equity” into helping you build these targets.  I prefer multiple hanging targets on a single frame.

Note: for your Precision Rifle shooters, make sure you use good hardened steel as a good sniper round will just burn holes in your targets.  I will have a follow up article on Precision Rifle (Sniper) Training at a later date.

The old squad car. Keep in mind that “if you take it to the range, it will get shot”.  I don’t suggest using your brand new squad cars for range training, but if you decide to, don’t be surprised when you are explaining to the Chief that you have to buy a new spotlight.

Why a car?  There are several reasons why I feel it is important for our officers to have and use an actual car on the range.  First, as I have said before, I believe it is important for the officers to shoot in the most realistic environment possible.  Secondly, there are many great learning lessons that can really be driven home when we use an actual vehicle.

One particular course of fire involves the patrol rifle.  Most of our officers carry their patrol rifles in the trunk of the vehicle and we will place the officer’s rifle in the trunk of the range car.  The course of fire begins with the shooter seated in the patrol vehicle with seatbelt on and vehicle in drive and running.  When the target is presented, the officer is required to exit the vehicle, go to the trunk of the vehicle and retrieve his or her patrol rifle and must engage the target while using the vehicle as cover.

Sounds easy right?  Give it a try sometime.  Your officers all believe that they could easily get to their rifles and use them but what you will discover is that, under pressure, simple mistakes will be made.  Seatbelt not unhooked, vehicle still in drive, forget to pop the trunk before they get out, and forget to “charge” the patrol rifle.  After a few runs through this course of fire I watched several officers re-arranging their trunks in their own vehicles.  Lesson learned.

Use your imagination.  Get ideas from others and let’s have a GREAT day at the range!!

Written by Officer Corey D Roberts

Officer Corey D Roberts is an NRA Law Enforcement Select-fire Instructor and held the positions of Training Officer and Tactical Commander for a Multi-Jurisdictional Emergency Response Team.  Corey is also qualified in Police Precision Rifle.  Corey D Roberts is not licensed to give legal advice and before implementing any training program in your area, check with your department legal advisors.