February 19, 2015
A Pennsylvania legislator wants to ban the use of silhouette targets on shooting ranges in the Keystone State.
Thaddeus Kirkland, a Democrat representing Delaware Co., south of Philadelphia, said:
"Rather than perpetuate violence by continuing to allow individuals to practice their target shooting by shooting at human silhouette targets at shooting ranges, my legislation will prohibit the use of targets that depict human silhouettes at shooting ranges across the Commonwealth. Instead, silhouette targets could include, but are not limited to the following: white-tailed deer, black bear, wild turkey, and elk."
How, exactly, this prohibition would be enforced was not detailed.
I don't think anybody will fail to see this as the cheap grandstanding and publicity-mongering it is, and it wouldn't even rate a mention it except to make the point that our side doesn't have a perfect track record on this, either.
Rapid-fire pistol has been an Olympic sport since the Games were revived in 1896, and involves shooting at five rotating targets in time limits of eight, six and four seconds. When the event started, the targets were lifelike images of soldiers in 19th-century uniforms. These were cashiered in favor of a more abstract figure, which in turn was replaced by a coffin-shaped target that was in use when I covered the Olympics 30 years ago. Even that extremely abstract humanoid shape has now been replaced with a standard round bullseye, depriving the world of what was laughingly called the "foot shot:" a premature discharge that hit the very bottom of the target.
Similarly, when I was just a lad following the international shooting trail, there was an event called "running boar" that had shooters firing on a realistic depiction of a boar (sometimes it was two-headed so one target could be used in both directions). Various European PETA types whined about that and the event was redubbed "running game target," with a circular bullseye target in place of the boar, which had until then given competitors the name "pig shooters." While it was shot with .22 rifles at 50 meters in my day, it's now shot indoors with airguns at 10 meters, which saves a lot of range building expense, but certainly takes the hunting heritage out of the picture.
Some even agitated against the standard B-27 police target on grounds that police shouldn't be training to shoot black people. There have always been those who dislike targets made from photos of baddies like Osama Bin Laden and who think photorealistic targets should be restricted to law enforcement.
I don't have any aesthetic issues with silhouette targets, but I would point out there is one practical problem with them. If you've been to any indoor range, you've seen some tyro shooter clip one on the trolley, run it out to 7 yards and wail on it with a full magazine from a Glock 17. If he gets 10 of 17 shots on target, he regards himself as the reincarnation of Wild Bill Hickok and jams in another mag.
What he never considers is that his high shots are going into the ceiling, his low shots into the floor and the hits to the left and right into the walls. That's no great problem in modern indoor ranges where everything in front of the firing line is sheathed in steel, but if that same shooter goes outdoors, you better hope the backstop and side berms are tall!
In the dear, dead days of the 1970s, you learned to shoot a pistol on a bullseye target at 50 feet, taking one shot at a time. There's still no better way to learn stance, grip, trigger control and the other fundamentals. Shooting at the B-27 with two hands only came later, and if you were even halfway competent at bullseye shooting, keeping them all in the 10-ring at 7 yards was a snap.
There's no going back to those times: the average commercial range customer wants the immediate gratification of holing a silhouette target, and very few will ever care enough to build the skill it takes to shoot a 2700 match. But I can't help wishing more would challenge themselves. Until you've held a .45 in one hand, pointing it at a bullseye 50 yards downrange in a gusty wind, you haven't really shot pistol.