How “2 little balls” can make your training more effective

Did you know that many of the things that we learn at the range create training scars that we will have to compensate for in a real-life shooting situation?

It’s important to realize that there is a big difference between working on fundamentals and training for combat with a firearm.  It’s common for people to blend the two by practicing the fundamentals on human-like or humanoid targets.

One common course of fire is to shoot a specific number of rounds at a humanoid threat target before moving on to the next threat target.  In some instances, this makes sense…it’s called “tactical sequence” or “roadhouse rules.”  Basically everyone gets a serving before anyone gets seconds.  If you’ve 2-3 attackers and you only have 5 rounds, a version of this may make sense.

The problem here lies in how we’re training ourselves to think.  Are we training our mind to think that 2 shots to the “A” zone neutralizes the target?  That “Down zero” hits magically stop threats?

In the early days of OEF/OIF, there were a lot of cases of our guys successfully engaging an attacker with 1, 2, or 3 rounds to the chest and then moving past them to take care of the next bad guy.  The first bad guy was, essentially, “dead man walking,” but would still have enough fight left in him to shoot our guys in the back or pull the pin on a grenade before expiring.

In other cases, law enforcement and civilians have drawn their pistol, fired 2 rounds center-mass on an attacker, and immediately re-holstered their pistol before seeing if the rounds had any effect, if the attacker was still a threat, and if there were any other immediate threats.

Range training limitations means that I oftentimes see people draw, engage a target with a single round, immediately scan, and re-holster 20-50 reps in a row.

Ideally, you would have visual feedback that tells you not only if you hit your intended target, but if the bullet had the necessary effect.

There are some awesome steel and polymer reactive targets available that give great visual and audio feedback when you hit your target, but almost a decade ago, I wanted something that was cheap, light, and easy.

So I picked up a pack of 100 “ball pit” balls from Wal-Mart for around $10 and some outdoor ping pong balls from Amazon.

Then I cut holes in my paper target and put the balls in…the 2” ball in the center of the chest and the 1” ball in the center of the head.

All of a sudden, I turned my paper target into a reactive target that trained me to look for a visual cue that my shooting had accomplished what I wanted it to!

Here’s a video of them in action.  It’s an oldie, but goodie.  It’s 7 years old and it’s kind of shocking how much I’ve changed in those 7 years.


I’ve been using these balls in my targets for almost a decade now, and here’s some of what I’ve learned:

  1. They work for both live fire and airsoft. They also light up VERY nicely when using a SIRT
  2. I’ve used them for IDPA practice stages (they’re too small to be IDPA legal), classes, and training groups. I’ve found that people shoot MUCH tighter groups on targets that have a silly little colored ball stuck in the middle of them. It’s “aim small, miss small” in practice.
  3. They make practice FUN. More importantly, they make hitting the target FUN and they reward the brain immediately when it performs well, which makes learning faster.  Ideally, you want to get feedback to the brain within .1-.2 seconds after doing something to maximize neurotransmitter output.  Balls in the target accomplishes that.
  4. They don’t always fall out after the first hit. Sometimes, I’ve set up the chest-ball so that it wouldn’t come out (simulating an attacker who’s not responding due to armor or being drugged, drunk, or deranged) and people eventually have to transition to the head-ball.
  5. I can shoot sub-1/4 second splits and stop shooting almost instantly when the ball flys in full light, but sometimes I shoot an extra 1-3 shots in low light before I “see” that the ball isn’t there anymore.
  6. My splits when I’m training are usually in the .15-.25 second range.  When I’m shooting for effect, my splits slow to .4-.5 seconds.  This happens with a majority of shooters.  It’s really smart to be able to shoot at the speed of assessment so you don’t shoot too many times.
  7. This is obvious, but hitting the bigger ball while moving fast at off angles is MUCH easier than hitting the smaller ball.
  8. The balls train you to shoot until you see a specific visual cue telling you that your shots have been effective, rather than just the number of rounds fired or the number and location of hits.

Using the balls trains you to look beyond the number of rounds fired and shot placement and focus on the effect of the rounds.

For more drills that will not only make you a better shooter, but help you become a better fighter with a gun, check out our upgraded home training video course >HERE<

Like it? Please share it with your friends by email and social media.

To answer a common question that I’ve gotten offline…yes, those ARE tactical flip flops in the video.  They’re waterproof, bulletproof (with certain calibers at specific ranges and velocities), and they work for trail running.

Thoughts on training to shoot until you have visual feedback? Questions? Comments? Sound off by commenting below:

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  • DaveS

    Reply Reply August 5, 2016

    Excellent training concept. I’ve used reactive targets for years. The lesson can be vital! Don’t count shots, look for the effect, and if you don’t see the desired effect, keep firing.

  • M. Smith

    Reply Reply August 5, 2016

    Hi, Ox,
    You did something in the last drill that I have had a question about. You moved toward the target and continued shooting. I’ve heard two schools of thought on self defense shooting. One is to draw, fire and move to cover (and continue firing). The other is to draw, fire and move toward the attacker (and continue firing). Since the attacker also has a gun, please give me your thoughts on both of these schools of thought. Thanks.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply August 5, 2016

      Yup…there are a couple of things going on.

      First is that when I’m shooting on camera, I’m doing it solo and I’m always thinking about staying in frame. There was stuff on the ground to my right, so I didn’t keep moving to the right.

      When possible, I move forward and left at a 45 degree angle.

      I’ve re-created, re-ran, and Monday morning quarterbacked a lot of LE and self-defense shooting scenarios in the past with simunitions, airsoft, or even SIRTs. At the distances self-defense shooting situations happen at, draw, fire, and move to cover doesn’t happen that often. What happens more often is draw and fire or get to cover, draw and fire.

      The majority of the time, when you force a draw, fire, and move to cover sequence in practice or competition, you end up moving slower than you would otherwise…JUST so you can get a few shots off before you get to cover. The reason for this is neurological…if you practice shooting stationary, it’s actually quite difficult to shoot on the move under stress, whether it’s competition or life & death. But, if you wire the circuits together in practice, they’ll fire together effectively under stress.

      In this case, there wasn’t any good cover. Even with my high-speed tactical flip flops, I wasn’t willing to go to the left, over the berm, through branches on the ground between me and the tree 🙂

      My gut instinct from no holds barred fighting, stick fighting, and force on force is to always push the fight. It’s not always the best answer and may not be the best thing for everyone, but it’s my default.

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