Hostage Targets:

Dangerous Practice — or Useful Skill?

This is far more likely to be the “hostage” situation facing an armed citizen. The bad guy is on the ground,
holding the gun and trying to shoot you or your loved one (in the gray shirt). Can you position yourself properly
and make the shot when they are both rolling around?


For years, I’ve been telling people to avoid training with hostage targets. It strikes me as a dangerously stupid thing to do. I mean tobacco juice-drooling, overall-wearing, cousin-marrying, banjo-playing, Obama-voting — stupid. I hope I don’t offend anyone here, I’m referring to Joe “Just shoot them through the door with a shotgun” Biden-stupid. It seems to me to be one of the stereotypical mall-ninja wannabe fantasies. We all know one, he’s the fellow with 100 loaded AR mags in the basement, a black MOLLE pack to haul computer and accounting supplies, a “Take them from my cold dead hands” T-shirt — but can’t walk up stairs without fainting because he’s so obese. That guy.

Why do I hold such a nebulous opinion? Simple: practicing with hostage targets subconsciously programs you to 1) believe you can make that shot for real and 2) subconsciously programs you to actually shoot in that circumstance. 1) is not true and 2) will get your loved one killed.

Consider a typical hostage target at 10 yards. The exposed hostage head is maybe 8″ in diameter. The bad guy can pull the trigger in 1/4 of a second. Can you, from concealment, make that shot in less than 1/4-second? Of course not. Julie Golob and Max Michel can’t do that. Can you make that shot from a low ready in 1/4-second? I don’t know if Mrs. Golob and Mr. Michel can, but you ain’t them in any case. Now add in movement of the bad guy and the hostage, low light, your heart pounding, hands shaking, uneven terrain and so on — and it can’t be done in the real world. Small as it may be, you have a better chance with negotiation than shooting. Some things are just no-win.

On the other hand, if you insist on learning the “Only Right Way” to practice hostage shots, the way that “All The Top SEAL Units Do” well — it just so happens I have a weekend course just for you. It’s only $950 a day. Make sure to bring full cameo BDU’s, a matching chest rig, and lots of those macho “let me demonstrate my maturity level and predisposition to violence” morale patches for your bags. It’s tough training to be sure, but don’t fret: we serve Coke and Ring-Dings every hour. And we let your Mom know when to come and pick you up.

How many times have you seen this target at the range. “Do not practice on them” (Mroz). “They are unrealistic” (Werner).

Counter Point:

By Claude Werner

I had my [pink Charter Arms .38] drawn, focused in on him — as he moved, my gun moved. I waited for my shot and when I saw an opening, I fired.” This is how beauty queen Meghan Brown described her actions in March 2011 when she killed a home invader who was locked in a struggle with her fiancée.

Meghan’s is far from an isolated incident, I can document dozens of such incidents. Admittedly, a few of them did not turn out as well as Meghan’s.

The problem with talking about hostage shots is we’re confusing the situation of an armed citizen with the situation faced by counter-terrorist and SWAT units. Ralph and I are in agreement with regard to the current crop of hostage targets. I don’t like any of them because they all present a counter-terrorist type situation. Practicing on a standard bullseye target, even at relatively close ranges, is a better practice regimen. What we want to focus on is the possibility of a precision close range shot. Although I can document one 17-yard hostage rescue of a husband by his wife (who was not Julie Golob) they tend to be much shorter distance affairs. In fact they frequently only slightly exceed arm’s length.

Successful armed citizen incidents had a common factor of marksmanship practice, not necessarily hostage rescue practice. The common theme of the unsuccessful incidents was lack of practice. People are smart; when the chips are down and they have some notion of their capabilities, they will tend to position themselves for success. Meghan recognized what her limitations were, kept her head, took a position of advantage and waited for her chance.

Paul Howe once said, “Sometimes we have to wait for a window of opportunity to crack open and then pry it open further.” The rescue situations we as armed citizens may face are frequently not “gun to the head” but more often struggles involving a loved one. Or, the gun is pointed toward the rescuer, not the hostage. Also, think of who in such a situation is initiating the action. It’s the rescuer, not the hostage taker. So the rescuer is inside the hostage taker’s OODA cycle, not vice versa.”

Hostage situations are not impossible, and it’s not irresponsible to shoot when we can and need to. Just ask Meghan Brown.

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