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Front Sight's various ranges offer sophisticated and varying shooting experiences, helping us to develop a broader range of skills.

Passively plinking away at paper targets ill prepares you for a real-life high-stress encounter.

So Front Sight has a number of extra range experiences to get us more familiar with the concept of a 'real life' situation.

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The Ranges at Front Sight

A review of my training experience

A view of Front Sight range 1A with a mix of 'one on one' steel targets, paper targets on timed turners, and steel plates up on the berm.

Part of a series on the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute; what it does, how it does it, and its relevance for you.  Please click the links on the right hand side for other parts of the series.



Short of shooting at each other (something which is done in advanced courses with special non-lethal 'Simunition' rounds) Front Sight does all it can to make range work demanding and extending.

Various types of shooting scenarios were acted out on several different ranges, and by adding time pressures and requiring some evasive movement actions on our part as well, the range practice became more valuable and more extending.

About the Ranges

Most of the course was conducted out on the ranges, with occasional class-room lectures in their main lecture hall, a large room which could hold up to 412 people, and laid out with tables and chairs to allow us to take notes, eat lunch, or whatever else.

Our range had twenty firing positions or lanes, and had lines to mark out distances of 3 meters (ie 10 ft), 5 meters (16.5 ft), 7 meters (23 ft), 10 meters (33 ft) and 15 meters (50 ft).  It was surrounded by high dirt berms on two sides, a high block wall on another side and a block wall with two openings in it at the back for people to come and go.  It had a small roofed area near the back which gave some shade, depending on where the sun was in the sky, and there were seats and tables at the back.

The rear part of the range had a concrete floor, the front part (up to the 15 meter line) had gravel.

Front Sight has I'm not quite sure how many of these pistol ranges (perhaps 15) plus a number of rifle and shotgun ranges, and some specialty ranges (described below).

Lane/Student Ratio

We had a group of forty people, so each lane was shared by two students.

This might sound like we were short-changed in terms of each person being able to have complete access to a firing position all the time, but it actually worked to our advantage, because we needed 'down time' to reload, to hydrate, to go to the toilet, and to just relax/recuperate.

During some of the more intensive activities, we would be alternating between shooting and reloading/hydrating, with no extra spare time for anything at all except an occasional rushed toilet break.  We couldn't have used the extra time if the ratio of range lanes to students was greater.

The 2:1 ratio was perfect, and also allowed the 'coach/student' approach mentioned in the section about Front Sight Instruction in the section on instructors.

The Targets and Turners

Most of the time we were shooting paper targets that had a black silhouette more or less resembling a head and body, set on a white paper background.

Inside the silhouette was a thinly outlined chest area - the thoracic cavity - which was our aiming objective, and a very much smaller area outlined in the head - the 'cranial ocular cavity' - which was our alternate aiming point in 'Failure to Stop' scenarios.

We were taught to fire two aimed rounds to the thoracic cavity, and if that failed to stop an aggressor, we were then taught to fire a third round to the head area.

This is perhaps a controversial and not universally accepted technique that has overtones of political correctness associated with it.  If you read any report of a police shooting, you'll see they fire many more than two shots at a time, and reportedly the FBI are trained to empty their entire magazine as quickly as possible without pausing when in an encounter requiring the use of deadly force.

In reality, two rounds to the thoracic cavity may indeed succeed in stopping an adversary's attack, but it may not succeed in immediately/instantly stopping their attack, particularly if the bad guy is high on drugs.  You'll have to make an instant decision after firing the first two rounds whether or not to continue firing into the thoracic cavity, or switch to head shots, or stop shooting due to the bad guy ceasing to present a deadly threat.

Particularly when a bad guy is close and rapidly coming towards you, it is common practice to simply keep firing as many rounds as you can, as quickly as you can, until the person stops their advance and collapses.

Occasionally we used 'photo realistic' targets - pictures of people in a variety of situations, some with weapons pointed at us, and others in more ambiguous poses, and part of this practice was to determine which situations would require/justify lethal force and which were not yet at that terrible situation.

The targets were mounted on turners - platforms that could quickly rotate 90 so as to have the target either squarely facing us or else turned away on a profile view which resulted in no visible target.  The turners could be controlled either manually by the instructor, or on an automatic timer so that they would rotate open when triggered by the instructor, then would rotate closed again after a predetermined time period.

In addition, the turners could be either enabled or disabled, so that some when the turners were activated, some targets would turn and others would not turn.

As things became more intense and the times to shoot at targets were reduced, some people found it too challenging to try and shoot aimed shots at the targets under the time pressure and they chose to instead do the drills against untimed non-turning targets, and the range master simply altered the number of targets that were turning and not turning to suit the varying number of people who wanted each different scenario.

Update 2011 :  The Four Day Defensive Handgun course is no longer done on ranges with turning targets.  See our 'Front Sight Course Update' for news on what has changed for 2011.

Other Range Targets

Most of the training was with these paper targets, one target per lane.  But on occasion we were given multiple target training - a more realistic scenario, with our range master repeating over and over the fact that 'rats hunt in packs' - and as a person who had been a prison guard for much of his life, he was certainly an expert on criminals and their habits.

And so for one stage of our training we were being told to engage multiple targets simultaneously, with unpredictable combinations of targets, and suddenly announced 'failures to stop' requiring us to urgently switch from 'center of mass' shots to aimed head shots.  That was intense.

Hostage Scenarios

At the end of our formal training and after completing our testing, we had one final set of drills to conduct.  This time we had targets that showed a central silhouette with two half heads on either side of the main central silhouette.  We actually had to write the name of a loved one on the central silhouette, and were told that the two half heads on either side of the main head were two bad guys, holding our loved one at gunpoint and demanding we drop our weapon, failing which, the bad guys would shoot the person they were holding hostage.

Our mission - to shoot the bad guy in the half of his head which was visible, while not harming the person near and dear to us.

Wow.  Imagine that, if you can.  There was only one situation in the entire four days more stressful than that (see 'Specialty Ranges' below).  We were at a range of 5 meters (16.5 ft) and told to take five careful aimed shots at the left hand half head.  After completing that, we did 'dry firing' practice on the right half head, and then took five shots at that one too.

One on One Competition

To introduce an extra element of pressure and tension, the range was set up with two sets of three metal targets.  Each set comprised a two part target - the first part being a full head and body silhouette, and a very much smaller part on one side of the head which was the target, the rest of it being a hostage that we had to avoid shooting while aiming at what was intended to represent a 'bad guy' hiding behind the hostage.  The second and third targets were more distant regular targets which we had to hit, more or less anywhere, in order to trip them.

Two people would come up to the two sets of targets and would then shoot their way through them simultaneously, the first person to hit all three targets being the winner, but (of course) if your shot(s) at the first target hit the innocent person rather than the bad guy behind, you were disqualified.

It was an interesting experience to shoot 'against' other group members, and after the first round, the winners then played off against each other, and so on until one person emerged as best of the group.

Specialty Range - Doors

We were also taken to two specialty ranges.  The first specialty range involved a series of doors in door frames, and was used together with a practice gun to develop skills for moving through a house and going through a closed door and into a room when in a situation against an intruder.

This was an interesting experience, although a bit academic and very stress-free, other than the self-induced stress of wanting to do well and trying to imagine it was a 'for real' experience.  I certainly learned a very valuable and perhaps life saving lesson from the experience however, so it was time well spent.

Now for the second specialty range.  If the first was stress free, this one massively compensated for it with stress in abundance.

Specialty Range - Mock House

The second specialty range was a mockup of a house.  We arrived at the front of the house with a front door, closed, and knew nothing about what would confront us inside.  We were told we had just returned home, driven up the driveway, and as we were doing so, we saw some masked intruders grab our spouse and take her inside the house.  We had called the police, but they were not expected to arrive for about 30 minutes, and so it was up to us to resolve the situation.

We had our real loaded weapon, and one or two instructors closely following us, one chained to the back of our belt, the other behind him, and were told very very clearly not to shoot behind us, and to remember the instructors were our friends!  And then it was up to us to open the front door and confront whatever evils lurked therein.

Reacting to the surprises inside was excellent training, and I'm not going to spoil it for you by telling you what to expect inside, other than to clarify one point that was not made clear prior to going into the house myself.  You can talk to the representations of people you encounter inside the house.  Ask your instructors - or tell your instructors - how you'll react/respond to what you see inside, and define the scenario in advance so you know what to expect and what to do.

That's all the hints you'll get from me.  However, I can tell you that this was the most extremely ultimately stressful thing I have ever, ever, encountered in my entire life to date (even more stressful than bungy jumping).  The targets might have been mainly static inanimate black and white pictures on paper, but I was living the moment and for me, it was all 100% real.

We had been taught, right from the start of day one, that when reholstering our pistol after any firing to pause and let out a deep breath before gently making the final vertical movement of the pistol into the holster.  This was, we were told, because we'd be anxious, excited, and in a trembling mix of fear and adrenaline at the end of an encounter.  Most of us forgot this immediately, and people were triumphantly and dangerously ramming their weapons back in their holsters at the end of simple short range experiences (holstering your weapon is one of the most dangerous things you can do with it; many/most negligent discharges occur during this phase of weapons handling).

But at the end of the shooting session in the mock house, I was hyper-ventilating and trembling and massively tense and keyed up.  I hadn't noticed any of this as I was going through the house, and I performed quite well, but at the end of the action, I felt like my head was about to explode or something similar, and I then understood the wisdom of the admonishment to pause, take a deep breath, and be very slow and careful in reholstering at the end of an encounter.

Unfortunately we only got to go through this experience once.  It was a profound learning experience and we all would have loved a chance to repeat it.

Night Practice

Statistics show that a person is more likely to use their pistol in self defense at night rather than during the day.  And so it was a valid and essential part of our training to have a night firing drill on the range, learning some of the basics about how to tactically use a flashlight to best advantage, and how to co-ordinate holding and controlling a flashlight in one hand and a pistol in the other hand.

This was a completely realistic exercise, held at night, and with no supplemental or other lights.  We were in the dark - quite literally - except for when we were told to illuminate targets.  We had to load and unload our weapons in the dark, clear jams in the dark, and do everything in the dark, as well as, of course, shoot in the dark.

This started off at a 'normal' pace, but climaxed in an overwhelming overload of targets appearing and disappearing, with instructors calling out commands at us, piling more and more pressure on us, and the clear desert night air became overloaded with smoke from repeated rapid firing.  It was another overwhelming experience that forced us to build some stamina way beyond that you get from simply shooting at a single static target, one shot at a time, in a leisurely manner.

It also showed us an interesting thing.  Some people had a brand of electronic ear hearing protectors that had softly glowing red lights on them to show they were switched on.  None of us had realized this during the day sessions, but all of a sudden, at night, we found some of the group had little glowing red lights indicating where they were.

The really dangerous part of this was that the people with these hearing protectors didn't know they glowed themselves until the rest of us told them.  Imagine if they were creeping around their house at night, in conflict with intruders, trying to be stealthy but all the time, without realizing it, they had two red lights to indicate the sides of their head!  Who do you think would win that encounter?

Which reminds me - tritium night sights?  Dubious idea.  They are good for an hour or two at dusk and dawn, but add no value during the day, and in the dark of night, you end up again carrying something with three glowing dots that may help the bad guys see where you are (if they happen to be behind you or obliquely off to one side - if in front, they are unlikely to see the sights).

Update 2011 :  This is no longer included in the standard Four Day Defensive Handgun course.  See our page Updates on Front Sight's Courses for more information.

After Action Drills

We didn't just walk up to the distance line on the range, shoot at targets, then walk back again.  After every shooting engagement, we were taught to conduct two types of after action drills.

Tactical Reloads

We were continually being reminded that any time we had expended ammunition, we should exchange magazines as soon as time and circumstances safely allowed, replacing the partially depleted magazine with a more fully loaded one, 'just in case'.

Some people became excellent at doing this all the time.  But invariably some people would forget - particularly in the more stressful events - with the predictable result that at a moment of extreme need, they'd find themselves with an empty weapon.  That is why we are taught to reflexively, always, do a tactical reload at any lull in the situation, so as to hopefully, in a stressful environment, do it automatically to prevent running out.

Tactical Movements

In a real situation, you'd never stand still, presenting the other side with an easy stationary target.  You'd be on the move all the time.

This was clearly impractical on a 20 person range, but we were still taught a modified version of such movements, including stepping aside after every engagement, scanning the area for other opponents (our instructors kept stressing that if we were to end up in a bad situation, the overwhelming preponderance of scenarios would see us having to confront multiple adversaries, some of whom might be trying to sneak up on us from the sides or behind), checking that our opponent was truly down, and so on.

Maybe this was the one lesson we could truly learn from movies.  We've all seen movies where the good guy lets his guard down and an unexpected extra bad guy sneaks up from behind and gets control of the situation.  Hopefully our after action drills will make that less likely to happen to us.

More Advanced Ranges

For students taking advanced classes, there are other ranges with more challenging environments, allowing students to practice through tunnels and in more urban type settings, in various positions and even in multi level buildings (stairs, we are told, are one of the most challenging tactical situations to encounter).

These offer yet another reason to come back for more courses in the future!

Part of a multi-part series

Please click the links at the top right of this page to read through other parts of this extensive series on Front Sight and the training they offer.

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Originally published 11 Sep 2010, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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Front Sight Firearms Training Institute - an Introduction to this Series
About the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute
Front Sight Update 2011
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Join the Travel Insider at Front Sight, November 2011
The Instructors and Instruction
Front Sight's Ranges and Training Scenarios
When to use Lethal Force
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Pistol
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