Avoiding Splatter Target Training Scars…

Most shooters don’t know that there’s a right way and a wrong way to use splatter targets. As a result, most people use them incorrectly.

Do it wrong and it’s like riding the brakes on your car and it usually throws your shot off.

Do it right and it’s great training for your brain.

The truth is, this particular training scar doesn’t just happen with splatter targets. It happens with regular paper targets and especially with laser trainers.

It’s just REALLY easy to develop the scar with splatter targets.

What is it?

Think about shooting a splatter target.

You line up your sights, press the trigger, the gun goes off, and what do you do?

If you said, “look to see where you hit,” then you’ve just described a training scar called the “peekaboo.”

Lasers and reactive targets are like a magnet to your eyes.  They’re like a siren song, causing beautiful eyes everywhere to instinctively flock to the target like the salmon of Capistrano.  (Yes…I did just insert a Dumb and Dumber quote that had value for firearms training. 🙂

Let me describe the shooting sequences of 2 shooters using their sights (or dot) to aim…

Shooter 1…the Peekaboo shooter
1. Sight picture
2. Trigger press
3. Gun goes bang!
4. Look downrange to see where the shot went
5. Sight picture
6. Trigger press

Shooter 2…the Alpha shooter
1. Sight picture
2. Trigger press
3. Gun goes bang! Know where your sights were pointed (and where your round hit) when the firing pin hit the primer.
4. Assess effect on target with peripheral vision without diverging focus or changing the focal length of the lens of the eye (focal accommodation)
5. Followup Sight picture
6. Trigger press OR shift focus downrange to verify where your round(s) hit.

With a dot dot, some shooters look over the top of the frame of their red dot to see where they hit.

The Alpha shooter took a moment to reacquire a sight picture before shifting focus to the target.

Here’s why this matters.

When you hit what you’re aiming at, you get a hit of dopamine.

The sooner you get this hit of dopamine after pressing the trigger, the more that gets released and the tighter the association is between the action and the reward, with the max being at about a 15-20ms delay.

The brain’s natural tendency is to want more dopamine, more often, with less delay between action and reward.

This tendency sucks us into looking at our target as quickly as possible between shots. It’s addictive. It’s human nature. And it WILL sabotage your performance unless you take control of the process.

Specifically, there’s 2 problems with the peekaboo.

FIRST: In an attempt to see the target sooner, it’s common to start raising your head and lowering your gun before the bullet leaves the muzzle. Perceived time distortion makes this hard to believe, but if you’re groups are stringing vertically, having someone recording you shoot a few rounds from the side with the camera on your phone can be eye opening.

Seeing as how we’re coming up on hunting season, it’s worth pointing out that this is an incredibly common phenomenon with both pistol and rifle shooting.

Taking a moment to get a followup sight picture before or instead of looking downrange takes care of this.

SECOND: When you go from a clear focus on your front sight to a clear focus downrange on your target and then back to your front sight, it’s a fairly involved mental process and it takes time—2 seconds or more is common if you haven’t done vision training.

Two seconds is an eternity when you’re shooting and, as a result, people usually half-ass it and throw a glance downrange, get impatient, and then get a blurry (flash) sight picture and send the next round without really knowing where it’s going to go.

You can get away with this if you’re close and shooting at big targets, but it takes a high level of unsighted shooting skill to do this with precision at any appreciable distance. In addition, unsighted shooting is INCREDIBLY perishable if it’s not trained in a way that keeps the visual, balance, and body awareness systems calibrated and synchronized.

So, what should you do?

If you’re going to practice using your front sight (and you should…even if you do unsighted shooting), shoot like an Alpha shooter and get a followup sight picture before looking downrange, regardless of whether you’re hunting, punching holes in paper, shooting steel or reactive targets, practicing with a laser, or shooting a splatter target.

To the extent that you can, (it’s a discipline) keep your eyes focused on your front sight and assess your target with your peripheral vision when you’re practicing.

That’s one of the reasons why I like our high contrast splatter targets so much. Bright yellow on black is bright enough and big enough that you can keep your focus on the front sight and still assess your target at diagnostic distances of 6-15 feet.

Why so close?

The truth is, very few shooters can shoot a one hole group at 6 feet. Basic errors in fundamentals can throw off your shots at 6 feet by 1, 3, 6, or more inches. And when you miss at 6 feet, It could be the sights, but you can’t blame the gun, the wind, or the ammo. If it’s not the sights, there’s a 99% chance that it’s something the shooter is doing. (If it is the sights, it should still be a 1 hole group…just not over the bullseye)

Even great shooters find opportunities for improvement when they shoot groups at close distances.

Shooting tight groups at close distances eliminates variables. It reduces the number of directions that you can point the blame finger.

Some shooters don’t like shooting tight groups at close distances for exactly that reason—they don’t want to be discouraged.

That’s one of the big reasons why I created the self-aiming splatter target.

The pattern on the target is a brain-trick that has the effect of sucking your groups to the bullseye…immediately.

It’s not uncommon to see people go from shooting 6-10″ groups to shooting 1-2″ groups JUST by using this target.

And, once you start driving nails from close range? Then you start stretching out the distance, speeding up, and adding movement, low light, stress, etc.

As I like to say…work the equation from both ends.  Keep pushing yourself to shoot your precision groups faster and further out and keep pushing yourself to shoot your fast groups tighter and tighter.

Questions?  Comments?  Sound off by commenting below.

Get your hands on the only self-aiming splatter targets by clicking >HERE<.

Please follow and share:
Pin Share


  • Marcie Loffredo

    Reply Reply August 12, 2023

    For me, you validated what I was taught by an RSO at an indoor range.

    It is difficult to break a bad habit, but it is so worth trying.

    Thank you for all the information.

    And it comes down to practice, practice, practice!

    Again, thank you for all you do. Be well and safe, hugs, Marcie

  • Danny Jenkins

    Reply Reply August 26, 2020

    Brand new shooter here. 80 year old newbie. See if I am getting a correct start… grip, sighting : concentrate on front sight and a clear sharp focus of the front blade and aiming at center mass of target. Dry fire,practicing grip and sighting. 15 minutes practice … don’t try to add time for a missed practice to a 15 min session.


    • Ox

      Reply Reply August 26, 2020

      One of the best things you did was sign up for 21 Day Alpha Shooter. A structured approach to training will help you run circles around shooters who just try to cobble together drills from their favorite youtoober.

      Here’s the secret on 15 minutes.

      It all depends on how well you’re performing.

      I can do a combination of live fire and dry fire for a few hours straight without my performance dropping off IF what I’m doing is 99% review and I’m fresh, well rested/hydrated/sugared and am in the right headspace.

      There are also times where I can really only do 5 minutes of dry fire before I need to stop because I’m tired/hungry/grouchy.

      The key is that as long as you can maintain focus and do quality reps, you can go longer than 15 minutes IF IT’S FUN.

      If your mind wonders, if you start getting sloppy, or if you find that you’re just grinding out reps for the sake of doing reps, then it’s time to stop.

      Whenever possible, you want to stop early enough that you can finish with a few easy reps that you can nail…so that you always end-on-a-win.

  • Jim Reeves

    Reply Reply August 26, 2019

    Thanks for this article! I have worked with firearms nearly all of my life, and I am a fairly good shot with rifles and handguns, but when I read this article; I realized that I do this “peekaboo” error while at the range. Practice does NOT make perfect. Practice makes PERMANENT. Knowing this, there is no way that this bad habit will not follow me into the real world where any mistake could bring disaster. I am going to start breaking myself from this habit: starting with my next range time, and all of those that follow. This habit has had a lot of time to be ingrained in my shooting, so I figure that it will take a long time to get rid of it. I have corrected long-term shooting habits in the past, so I know that the best way to do this is to basically “start over”. I will keep the distance to target short and work on my fundamentals until I have the confidence that I am not making this mistake any longer. From there I will increase the distance to target, and focus on fundamentals until I can shoot with confidence and know I have eliminated this bad habit. I will vary distances; while, once again, focusing on fundamentals. I will set up a camera so I can watch myself shoot, and make any adjustments that need to be made. I will keep doing this until I can’t get it wrong without thinking about it, and then keep training without my old “peekaboo” error. I realized that I do not make the “peekaboo” error while dry firing, so with that in mind; I will see how far I can go using the same fundamentals that I use dry firing. It may not take me as long to break free of this habit as I initially thought since I will be looking out for this. My wife always tells me that I’m a perfectionist, and that I will never give up until I get it right every time. I do get frustrated with myself every time I catch myself doing something I am trying to eliminate: in whatever endeavor I am striving to get right. Sometimes it’s a burden, but in this case, I believe it just may well be an asset to my shooting.

    Thanks again! Sorry I was so long-winded.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply August 26, 2019

      Thanks, Jim! Here are some things to keep in mind and some ways to shortcut the overwriting process…

      When you’re attempting to overwrite a conditioned response, the default conditioned response will be different depending on the speed that you’re trying to respond and the stress level that you’re under.

      What I mean is this…under no stress and low speed, you can switch from an old conditioned response to a new one in seconds…because you have the luxury of being able to think through it.
      But it takes 14-28 days for it to become your default for moderate speed and low stress situations.
      In order for it to become your default for higher speed and higher stress situations, it takes 6 weeks or more, depending on the rate that you’re able to create/build myelin.

      If you’re having the issue with live fire and not dry fire, it tells me that you’ve written two different neural pathways instead of a single neural pathway that your brain uses for both dry and live fire. What we want to do is change it to a single neural pathway.

      One way to do this is to do 5-10 dry fire reps for each live fire rep at the range. You can do this consciously knowing which press is dry and which is live, or you can have someone put several snap caps in a mag and randomly insert live rounds. This would be important for you so that you can fuse dry fire practice and live fire performance, regardless of whether you were having the peekaboo issue or not.

      You may want to use a lower caliber gun for awhile… .22 or even a pellet gun, to remove some of the excitement from shooting. This will also allow you to practice at home. Pellets will suck your eyes to the target just as effectively as bullets 🙂

      If possible, use a target / lighting / distance combination that makes it difficult to see where you’re hitting so that you disincentivize your eyes from looking downrange. The Gunsite Option Target is designed with this in mind.

      Gunsite Option Target

      Try to get yourself into alpha brainwave state before practicing…using self-hypnosis, binaural tones, slow deep breathing, progressive relaxation, or whatever method works for you.

      Make sure to get at least 6.5 hours of sleep per night…The 5th REM cycle…which usually happens between 6-6.5 hours after going to sleep, is when your motor cortex releases a special form of calcium that allows physical skills to be consolidated in the motor cortex.

      After you have shot successfully, play it back in your mind and then visualize it a few times a day until it becomes your default.

      Finally, have fun with the process…if you take yourself or the task too seriously, you won’t create the new conditioned response as quickly. When you fail…be emotionally inert. Don’t care or react. Simply visualize what success would have looked like and make your next shot, knowing that nothing that happened before that shot has any influence on it. When you succeed, let out a woop, pump your fist, and smile. First when you make 1 shot without looking down range…then 2, 3, 5, or even 10.

      Let me know how it goes.

  • Wayne Clark

    Reply Reply December 1, 2017

    This is actually a very good article about a “problem” that occurs in photography as well. I used to do photography (wedding…ugh!) & a problem that a lot…& I mean a lot of photographers do is something referred to as “chimping”, which is basically the same as the “peekaboo” effect. When photographers take a picture, most will point their camera down & look at their results, which could possibly lead to missing a money shot at whatever event they are shooting. This is comparable to what is mentioned here & it is a very, very hard habit to break…but it can be broken in both scenarios.
    Good article & great advice!

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field