Multifunction reactive targets

Challenge Targets Multifunctional target with a 3D torso in place. Photo by Peter Burlingame.

Challenge Targets Multifunctional target with a 3D torso in place. Photo by Peter Burlingame.


by Peter Burlingame

How many times will you need to shoot the person that is attacking you? I don’t know. You don’t know. We’ll find out.  But if you think you know that number now, ahead of time, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Always firing the same predetermined number of rounds while you are practicing is setting up a conditioned response that may or may not be appropriate to the emergency. A case in

Pulling this pin lets the target fall all the way over when hit. Photo by Peter Burlingame.

point is the ‘double tap’. The firing of two shots quickly and stopping to assess is a holdover from the days when revolvers ruled. It helped with ammo management. You knew you had 3 double taps in your pistol.

But there is a real good chance that two (or three or four) shots will not be enough to stop a real threat. The question is how do you train realistically? How will you know how many shots to fire and when to stop shooting in an actual situation?

Very useful training tools to address the question of how many shots to fire in training are ‘reactive targets’. The best of these targets will react when hit properly, but won’t register poor shooting. How many times will you need to shoot? If you rush and don’t aim, and hit the wrong place, you will need to keep shooting. Stay cool, aim as much as appropriate, put the bullets into the right place and the target reacts, rewarding your diligence. (remember that you have to balance the speed/accuracy equation.

Some reactive target systems use an inflated balloon placed in the ‘vital zone’ of a target to support the target, which is usually made of cardboard. Often a tee shirt is placed over it to add a bit of realism. If you miss the balloon, nothing happens and you need to keep shooting. Hitting the balloon will result in the target falling to the ground. This teaches you to shoot well, and to keep shooting until you get the desired response from the target.

Pistol-rated plate showed no dimpling even after 100 rounds of 9mm and .40. Photo by Peter Burlingame.

Pistol-rated plate showed no dimpling even after 100 rounds of 9mm and .40. Photo by Peter Burlingame.

While I was looking at all of the offerings at the vendor expo at the ILEETA conference in April 2013, I stopped by the Challenge Targets booth. I already have one of their excellent hostage situation targets, but I was interested in a new target that I hadn’t seen before, their ‘Multifunctional Target’

The ‘Multifunctional Targets’ can be used for very realistic reactive training. The target consists of a bent steel stand with a hinged receptacle that is sized to hold a 2”x4” and two 1”x2”s. At the top of the 2×4 is a steel plate, which is the target. The hinge has two setting  with one, the target will rock back a few inches and then reset to its normal position, or, if you remove a pin, the target will rotate all the way back until it hits the ground.

A bracket holds two 1x2s in front of the steel target. A cardboard silhouette or plastic 3D target can be attached to them. When set up properly, the steel plate is located directly behind the vital zone of the cardboard or plastic target. Hit the target in the right place and the bullet will strike the steel plate, making the target react.

As I’ve said, you can set it up so the target rocks back and forth a few inches when the steel is hit. In this mode, you get feedback for good hits, but you don’t need to constantly reset the target.  Personally I prefer to set it up to fall all the way over as it gives a more realistic response which is important in training.

The basic operation of the Multifunctional Target is very similar to the venerable  Pepper Popper and like the Popper it can be adjusted with a set screw. The further forward you make the target lean, the harder it is to make it fall over when hit by a bullet, requiring  hitting it with a larger caliber gun, or rapid, multiple shots to drive the target over.

Student gets off the X and engages the reactive target. Photo by Peter Burlingame.

Student gets off the X and engages the reactive target. Photo by Peter Burlingame.

For our first test drive we set the Multifunctional Target up with a Tactical Ted 3D plastic torso attached to the 1×2 strips, so that the steel plate was directly behind the upper chest of Ted. One advantage to using the 3D target is that allows you to engage at an angle so you aren’t always shooting at a full frontal presentation of the target.

However, if you plan on shooting the target from an angle be sure to set it up so that steel plate is no more than 4”-5” behind the target, otherwise well aimed shots will miss the plate and the target will fail to react.

We initially set the target so that even a hit from a .22LR would knock it over. The basic drill was on the start signal, to move laterally while drawing and engaging the target, shooting it as many times as necessary for it to fall to the ground.

How many times will that be? I don’t know. You don’t know, we’ll find out. As the crew all ran the drill multiple times we learned by immediate feedback whether we were being diligent enough or if we needed to slow down slightly and pay a bit of attention to the sights. “Don’t shoot faster, shooter better” was heard by several students amidst their rapid fire misses.

Once every got the hang of engaging the target, I adjusted the forward lean so it would take two hits of 9mm and 8-10 .22LR to knock the target over.  Now you not only had to hit the target well, but control the recoil so you could hit it again while the target was still moving backwards.  If you waited too long the target would return to leaning forward again.
What a great training aid!

The Multifunctional Target is light weight, easy to set up, easy to adjust, has lots of versatility and gives that all important immediate feedback which is critical to performance training.  The unit that I used was the 8” Training Target – Heavy Base with Target Holder  – Handgun rated (code PS-HD-TH-8-H) which retails for $194.00. What a bargain!

The 8” handgun rated plate was hit just about 150 times in our training session, hit with  .22LR, 9mm, and .40SW. The plate showed no  damage whatsoever. Good stuff! If you are serious about your training and want to avoid training scars like always firing a predetermined number of rounds, Challenge Target’s Multifunctional Target is highly recommended.

Disciplina remuneror fidelis!

Peter Burlingame is the founder of The Self Defense Initiative, a 25 year old training school based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Peter is a contributing member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. His articles have been published in the FBI’s National Associates’ magazine, “The Firearms Instructor” and “Survival Quarterly.” You may contact him at Videos at

The target is positioned so the steel plate is in the vital area. Photo by Peter Burlingame.

The target is positioned so the steel plate is in the vital area. Photo by Peter Burlingame.



About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

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