Whether it’s called the “Diagnostic Pistol Target,” the “Pistol Correction Chart,” or the “Troubleshooter Target,” there are dozens of places online where you can find slightly different versions of the same printable target. The resource is supposed to help shooters self-diagnose their bad pistol shooting habits, but I think your practice time is better spent elsewhere. I explain why in the video below, or you can scroll down for the full transcript.

A few days ago, I was talking to somebody about some of the different drills and tests that I use to practice at the range and he asked me what I thought about those diagnostic pistol targets or correction charts you can print out. You’ve probably seen one of these before. They’re all over the internet and there are even some commercially printed ones you can buy. The idea is that you shoot at this target and based on where your misses are, the chart will tell you what you are doing wrong.

Plenty of other people have done a good job of critiquing these targets, but this isn’t the first time I’ve been asked about them, so I’ll throw in my two cents. For the kind of handgun shooting most people seem to be interested in, I think these targets are a waste of time. It’s my understanding that the most popular form of the diagnostic chart we see today was originally developed many years ago for one-handed slow-fire bullseye shooting at 25 yards. If you want to get better at two-handed rapid fire defensive or practical style shooting, you’re not going to get much relevant advice from a bullseye correction chart.

So I guess that raises the question of why we don’t just create a new version of the target that is intended for modern practical shooting. I’m sure someone will attempt to make something like that if it hasn’t been done already, but I doubt that target would be very helpful, either. I don’t know much about traditional bullseye shooting so I can’t say whether the diagnostic chart is actually helpful in that context, but I do know that for practical shooting, it is almost impossible to determine what somebody is doing wrong solely by looking at their target.

There is maybe one exception to that rule. For a right-handed shooter, if shots are consistently going low and to the left, that is typically an indication of some form of recoil anticipation. That’s a very common problem. But even knowing that, the target doesn’t tell us the whole story. Recoil anticipation can mean a lot of different things. If you’ve got hits low and left, you might be dipping the muzzle as you pull the trigger, or you might be jerking the trigger at the last instant before the shot breaks, or you might even be closing your eyes. All of that is going to be masked by the recoil and you aren’t going to know exactly what you did wrong by looking at the target. And that’s a best-case scenario for target reading — that’s assuming your misses are all grouped in one area. What if your target looks more like a shotgun pattern and you’ve got holes all over the place? That’s usually the result of several overlapping problems. If you’re anticipating recoil and you’ve got issues with your grip and bad trigger control, a chart is not going to help you figure out why one shot went high and the next one went to the left.

So what’s the alternative? Well, I know it’s not the answer a lot of people want to hear, but the absolute best way to improve is to get help from a qualified shooting instructor who can actually watch you shoot and give you feedback. Looking at the target doesn’t always tell us what we need to know, but a good shooting coach can watch the shooter — usually just their hands — and determine a lot about what they need to work on. I know it’s not as easy as printing out a target, but there’s really no substitute for a good shooting instructor.

The good news is that eventually, you can develop the skill of coaching yourself a little bit, and, in my experience, that can sometimes involve finding clues based on where your misses are on the target. But instead of consulting some universal chart, you have to refer to your own previous experience and coaching feedback you may have received in the past. So for example, I shoot a 6-round Bill Drill and afterwards, I think maybe I didn’t have such a great sight picture on some of those shots. Then I look at my target to confirm that suspicion and I see that a few of my hits are high. So that would tell me I’m probably letting my trigger finger get ahead of my sights. I need to be more patient and let my sights dictate when I fire. That could still be a misdiagnosis of the issue, but over time, I’ve learned that is an error I’m prone to making during a string of rapid fire at close range.

But if I back up and shoot a drill at 20 yards and I’ve got hits that are high, it probably means something different. If I’m pretty confident I had good trigger control, high misses are evidence that I may be letting my focus drift onto the target and away from the front sight. The location of the misses can tell me something, but it’s really dependent on the context and on the individual shooter. Someone else could shoot the same drills and have a target that looks exactly like mine, but they could be struggling with totally different issues.

So before you can expect a specific pattern of missed shots on your target to be a useful part of your troubleshooting process, you just have to do the time and put in some hours on the range. And for less skilled shooters in particular, you need an actual qualified teacher. There is no magic target that’s going to make you a better shooter.

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13 thoughts on “Why the Diagnostic Pistol Target is a Waste of Time

  1. So, one of the things that I have struggled with is finding qualified instructors in my area. There are a fair number of shooting ranges but finding a reliable list of handgun courses is a bit challenging.

    1. I had that same problem. It wasn’t as effective or fast as I’m sure a good coach/instructor would be; but recording myself shooting and a quick picture of the target helped. Camera placement is really important, you’ll need to do it from several different angles to get enough information though.

  2. Probably good for basic marksmanship training (bullseye). Don’t even need it as a target – it’s good advice just as a print out.

  3. My preferred approach, not having used these targets, is to brace the pistol against a solid post or rail and use strong stability to see how the sights and gun quality perform without any human-induced variations: even little snubbies can repeat surprisingly well. I typically use three shots or maybe a few more to determine the built-in statistical variations of the gun. Once I know how the gun performs of its own ability and I can address any needed sight adjustment or sight picture compensation, then I try holding it unbraced to see where my shots group. In this way, I can ask why my aim is changing from where I know it should perform to be anywhere but within that target area at the moment that it fires. The diagnostic target may not be entirely correct, but it seems somewhat helpful. It gives some ideas of what you may be doing wrong, although not all possibilities, and it might just be correct if certain tendencies are seen to repeat. Meanwhile, the basic idea of having the gun right on target at the moment when it fires remains the single largest goal for accuracy, and when either live firing or dry firing, the somewhat experienced shooter is often able to recognize the moment that the barrel shifts its aim, and to figure out why that is happening. One problem that shooters sometimes have is the Hollywood factor, the wishful idea that it doesn’t matter all that much how firm, stable, consistent, highly placed, and well-aimed a grip you have, or even how consistently you look at the target through the sights. Being even slightly casual about being exactly on bullseye as the trigger is squeezed, in any sort of plinking mentality, simply won’t send the bullet to its hoped destination.

  4. A red dot or laser sight can point out small movements of the firearm that you can miss with iron sights.
    It helped me.

  5. Something many new shooters do after purchasing a firearm is going to the range, sending a bunch of lead downrange and expecting their abilities to improve, simply because they have put in a little range time. Without concentrating on what they are actually doing, and why that may affect their scores, they’re never going to improve their skills.

    That’s where a professional instructor comes in. They are experts at watching someone and identifying the shooters mistakes and also at offering advise on how to correct it by showing the new shooter the actual mechanics of shooting.

    Just remember, if you take instruction from your buddy ‘Joe’, and ‘Joe’ isn’t a professional, you’re never going to be any better than he is. A professional will be able to give instructions that allow a person to continually improve their skills.

  6. I’ve been teaching a course on “Introduction to USPSA” (Practical Pistol Competition) for six years now, and I have found that same diagram to be a useful tool.

    The challenge in this course of instruction is not just to teach the rules of competition, or to learn to “draw from the holster” (which many participants find unfamiliar) or to shoot under the stress of needing to shoot accurately QUICKLY … and one of the things that even experienced shooters don’t notice is that the stress causes them to not instinctively get the proper finger-on-the-trigger placement.

    Even very “experienced” pistol shooters (who are accustomed to slow-fire) find it difficult to comprehend what they are doing wrong; and the most common problems they need to identify and correct are jerking the trigger, and proper placement of the trigger finger.

    I use this diagram/chart to help my students identify their problems. While I accept that it is not the perfect tool for everyone and every situation, it provides a graphic tool to focus the students on the 3 most important elements of pistol shooting: Sight picture, Sight alignment, and Proper Trigger-finger placement.

    When you draw from the holster under time pressure, you don’t always get the best grip (or a consistent grip), nor do you always get your finger “just right” on the trigger.

    This visual teaching tool gives them an incentive to emphasize these elements in their drills and dry-fire practice. It may be complete bunkum or it may be the eleventh commandment, but proper trigger-finger placement is essential to getting hits on the target accurately and consistently. If I tell my students what they’re doing wrong with trigger-finger placement, they may or may not accept and adapt.

    But if I have a professional looking diagram which explains why they keep hitting low-left (for example), they start paying attention to their trigger finger placement, their grip, and their sight-picture/sight alignment. All these benefits come from a graphic which “proves” they cannot wish their bullets into the A-zone; they have to get the technical parts right before they can shoot accurately, consistently.

    So you may denigrate the silly-ass shot-placement diagram and feel proud of yourself for “debunking it”, but it IS a valid indicator of poor grip and it DOES help new competitors to accept that they need to change the way they shoot before they can improve their performance.

    In other words, you don’t know everything.

  7. Hey Chris, you’re right that old school diagnostic pistol targets don’t work for 2 handed defensive pistol shooting…particularly 2 handed defensive pistol shooting with a double action trigger.

    And we came to several of the same conclusions (I originally put the link to the article here, but after 4 days, it’s still pending)

    There are several problems with the old-school diagnostic targets. One of the biggest is that they assume that all problems are a result of the interface between your hand and the gun.

    That’s simply not correct.

    A New York Trigger (or other triggers that are too long and too heavy for a particular shooter) creates predictable patterns on the target.

    Holding your breath creates predictable patterns on the target.

    Cross eye dominance creates predictable patterns on the target.

    Visual suppression issues create predictable patterns on the target.

    A map in the brain of the hand that’s not granular enough creates predictable patterns on the target.

    Heck…even loose rear sights create predictable patterns on the target.

    I saw these patterns over & over with shooters and would get them on target while I was standing with them, but they’d forget how to fix the problem a day or a week later when they were on their own.

    So I created what could be called the modern diagnostic pistol target. It’s not designed to replace an instructor…it’s designed as a cheat sheet to help shooters remember what they have been taught in the past–but forget the instant the first shot goes downrange–so they can fix their groups QUICKLY, before bad technique becomes ingrained habit.

    The target is brain based, which means that it helps shooters identify and fix mental and visual factors that can cause loose groups in addition to mechanical and technique issues.

    The great thing is, it actually works.

    Does it fix every problem? Of course not. It would be just as silly to assume that a target can diagnose and fix every possible problem as it would be to claim that that’s even possible.

    The targets come with 2 4×6 diagnostic charts and the fact is, there’s only so much information you can fit on a postcard. I could fill a book with diagnostic tools and fixes for common problems, but I had to limit what went on the card to some of the more common and higher leverage problems and solutions.

    Because of my focus on performance neurology, I also focused more on brain based solutions to problems. They tend to be higher leverage solutions and shooters of all levels deal with them.

    I originally posted a link where people could download and print the target & chart for free, but, again, it looks like having a link caused the comment to get stuck in moderation.

  8. We call it the “wheel of mis-fortune” a very handy tool for bullseye shooter wanna be’s.
    Cant believe it would be of much use for two handed shooting. Useful more in rapid and timed fire portions of the match.

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