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Training with moving targets:
Are you doing enough?

Agencies must provide training that reflects the realities of the work environment — this includes low light, moving targets and moving officers

Long gone is the era when law enforcement ranges were dominated by unidirectional shooting alleys punctuated by a line of static bowling pin silhouette paper targets. Today’s law enforcement ranges are filled with great training equipment. Shot timers, target stands, shoot houses, a wide variety of paper and cardboard targets, steel targets, and reactive targets are regularly used to provide fun, interesting, and quality training. But as a firearm instructor who regularly travels throughout the United States, I rarely see a critical piece of equipment: moving targets.

When I talk about moving targets, I’m not talking about static target stands that turn and present a target then turn sideways after a pre-set time. While these can be effective for shoot/no-shoot decision-making training, they’re mostly used during qualification courses to set the par times between strings of fire. Instead, moving targets are those that force officers to track a threat across the range while staying aware of non-threats and other use of force factors.

Unfortunately, many departments depend on computer-based training simulators or force-on-force to cover this critical topic. These are great tools for training that goes beyond moving targets to include de-escalation and use of force option decision-making. However, as good as these are, the weapons used do not recoil, track, or sound like duty weapons. I don’t think it’s a leap to believe a sharp plaintiff’s attorney could make a reasonable argument against a department for failure to train on moving targets and shoot/no-shoot decision-making if that training wasn’t conducted on the live-fire range using duty weapons.

The legal stuff

I’m not an attorney, and none of this should be taken as legal advice. This legal information is meant to provide some context as to why I believe training on moving targets is important.

To get started, every plaintiff’s attorney knows a failure to train lawsuit is easy to prove when a department fails to train officers “how” to do something. It goes further than this with many failure to train lawsuits indicating we must also train officers on “when” to shoot. Without a doubt, training officers how to shoot better is critical. Officers who shoot accurately are safer for other officers, bystanders and suspects. The sooner bullets stop flying, the safer everyone will be. But we also need to focus on when to shoot and how to maintain situational awareness in the presence of those uninvolved citizens.

Nearly 45 years ago, the courts began telling law enforcement that our firearms training needed to reflect the conditions officers would expect while working. In Popow v. City of Margate, an officer was on foot pursuing a kidnapping suspect. The officer fired his handgun at the suspected kidnapper, missed, but struck Mr. Popow, killing him. Today’s courts still cite this case with respect to the firearms training issues. In this case, the court said it was easily foreseeable that officers would have to pursue a fleeing suspect (moving) in low light through neighborhoods and other areas with innocent people (non-threats).

Another case to be familiar with is Zuchel v. Denver. In the Zuchel case, the jury found the City of Denver’s “shoot-don’t shoot training” grossly inadequate because it consisted of a short lecture and video. When considering Zuchel and Popow, it becomes clear that law enforcement agencies must provide training that reflects the realities of their work environment. This includes low light, moving targets, moving officers and decision-making training for when to use deadly force.

Lots of choices

The ways in which we can train using moving targets while making shoot/no-shoot decisions is limited only by our imagination, but there are several high-quality products out there ready to go to work on your range.

A budget-friendly option is the traditional swinging target. When activated, these start off swinging fast and gradually slow down. They are perfect for introducing moving targets into training. A non-threat set up in front of a swinging threat target hidden behind barrels is like a threat leaning out from cover and moving back behind it with a non-threat in the way. Swinging targets holding two different targets are also available and are another fantastic way to obscure a threat target with a non-threat.

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Challenge Targets make durable and easy to use swinging targets including the traditional single target and a double target version. Both can be used with non-threat targets for training.

Last year, Challenge Targets released a new target called the Swinger Elite. As Brad Brune, President of Challenge Targets, told me, “It’s a similar concept to the traditional swinger but the motion is derived from three rotating steel plates that are offset to the side opposite the cardboard target.” This makes the Swinger Elite move up and down and left to right in an unpredictable manner.

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Sometimes it starts off slow and speeds up as the rotating plates start to synchronize with the cardboard swinger. The pace and movement changes erratically as the steel plates are shot and fall to the ground. It is a fun target that will challenge any skill level while working on moving targets and decision-making.

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The Swinger Elite from Challenge Targets features three rotating steel plates to the side opposite the cardboard target causing it to move up and down and left to right in an unpredictable manner.

MGM Targets has a fantastic target called the Attack Target. When activated, the target stand is pulled down the trolley at a high rate of speed. The target covers approximately 21 feet in 1.5 seconds, and a foam block stops the target stand at the end of the “attack” bringing it to a stop.

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The MGM Targets Attack Target simulates someone running at the student forcing movement off the “X” and quick decision making.

An even better surprise is the cardboard target falls toward the shooter when the target reaches the end of its travel. Even when students expect the target to fall toward them, the suddenness of the movement causes students to move away from the target reinforcing the importance of moving off-the-X. If the student is standing close to the track, the target will fall on them. While it doesn’t hurt, it is quite a surprise.

The Attack Target is portable, easy to set up, requires no electricity or special equipment, and can operate on most surfaces. You can use it on an open range to test an officer’s ability to quickly draw and accurately engage a charging threat, or you can set it up in a live-fire shoothouse with a non-threat running towards officers. This target can help fill the moving target and shoot/no-shoot gap in law enforcement firearms training.

Marathon Targets has recognized we have a fundamental gap in our training programs. The problem is the only time we do live fire training with realistic moving targets is in actual combat. This really isn’t the best time or place to learn new skills. Marathon Targets has eliminated this fatal training gap with A.I.-driven, armored, autonomous robotic humanoids that look, move, and behave like people.

Marathon’s A.I.-driven robots drive autonomously across the entire range, are always aware of their surroundings, and communicate with each other to synthesize a convincing and challenging tactical environment. Robots never leave their movement area, so they won’t draw fire outside the mapped safe range zone. They utilize precision autonomous navigation and collision avoidance. Instructors can also individually control different robots.

The Marathon Targets robots even flinch and groan when wounded, and shriek and fall when “killed.” Separate hit zones can even simulate adversaries with body armor, and instructors can program the robots to require multiple accurate hits in “fatal” target zones before activating the target to shriek and fall. This allows live fire training to move from static marksmanship to a decision-making exercises on moving targets.

Go train

When it comes to preparing officers for the realities of a deadly force encounter, it is critical we teach them how to shoot well. The mechanics of running the gun are important, and we should never lose sight of helping to build better shooters. But we need to move beyond the mechanics to include moving targets and shoot/no-shoot decisions using real firearms with real ammunition that recoils, functions and sounds like it would on the street. The courts provided direction, and it’s up to us to be better.

As much fun as ballistic therapy was for me at the range, I was shocked and surprised how many other fantastic products were on display

Todd Fletcher is the owner and lead instructor for Combative Firearms Training, LLC providing training for law enforcement firearms instructors from coast to coast. He has over 25 years of training experience as a firearms and defensive tactics instructor. He retired after more than 25 years as a full-time police officer and over 31 years of law enforcement experience.

Todd is a member of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) and the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA). He is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), and was selected as the 2022 ILEETA Trainer-of-the-Year. He is also a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) and won the 2023 IALEFI Top Gun Award. He can be reached at