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Gunsite Option Target

The Gunsite Option Target does many things well.

Gunsite Option Target
Circa 1976, Jeff Cooper compares a standard cardboard silhouette target next to his first camouflage option target in Arizona.

I can hear it now, “Another Gunsite article.” I’m sure Eric Poole will love the letters to the editor, but before you bang away on that keyboard, hear me out.

Gunsite Academy has trained tens of thousands of people over the last 43 years, and they know a thing or two about how to maximize square-­range training. But even Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper realized that this was limiting.

There are several shoot houses on the Gunsite property, and force-­on-­force and simulator work comprises a great deal of the higher-­level curriculum. That being said, there’s a huge square-­range component that can’t be ignored and must be conducted efficiently. Whether you’re a Gunsite instructor or a local trainer putting your first class through, 3-­D targets are great, as is putting t-­shirts on targets. But when you’ve got 25 students on the line, efficiency is vital to training.

Enter the Gunsite Option Target. Originally designed by Cooper from his earlier American Pistol Institute (API) target of the late 1970s, the current Gunsite Option Target is a square border humanoid measuring 18 inches by 30 inches, the same size as the official International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) cardboard target featuring both body and head zones, hence the name “Option.”

The humanoid target overlays three different shades of tan and brown in a camouflage pattern to subdue the borders and mute the scoring zones. Cooper’s original targets had a busier camo pattern and larger, circular target rings, but the target has since evolved. The current iteration, which was approved by Cooper before his passing in 2006, has a realistic 8-­inch by 8-­inch triangle in the upper chest area and a trapezoid in the head area. These scoring zones are lightly outlined on the target, making them difficult to see beyond a few yards. (I’ll explain why this is important later in the article.)

The last evolution of the Gunsite target includes the addition of a hand holding a clear, outlined revolver in the lower corner of the target. While some may scoff at this, I think that as armed good guys we should always be training to shoot at a defined threat, especially if we’re adding humanoid shapes to our training. Everybody talks tough about how they’d rather be “tried by 12 rather than carried by six,” but I’ve seen the stress of a federal trial break good men. No matter how right you may be, facing the possibility of losing everything is incredibly stressful. This was a wise addition by Gunsite.

Gunsite Option Target
Gunsite’s Option Target (right) improved on the API target (left).

Now that we have the basics of the target understood, let’s talk about the logic and experience that went into the design. Painting targets different shades of camouflage isn’t something that Cooper came up with one night at the Sconce. It’s a technique that’s been around for years and it works whether you’re shooting with optics or irons, or using a rifle, pistol or shotgun. The addition of a pattern on the target makes it difficult to find a precise aiming point and forces the shooter to focus on their sighting fundamentals throughout the process of taking a shot. It also demands that the shooter be aware of where the sights are on the target rather than just cutting a bullseye in half. It makes consistency on the sights challenging. If you’re the type of shooter who prides oneself on shooting tiny little groups, then these targets are sure to humble you.

As mentioned earlier, the actual scoring zones are shaped to approximate the areas on the target that have the best chance of stopping a determined attacker. The lines are faint, which, in conjunction with the irregular pattern on the target, makes looking at the target an exercise in futility. With iron sights, this forces the shooters focus back on to the front sight. With a red dot, it keeps the shooter looking at the entire zone rather than at a fixed point. (Think upper chest.) Both of those adaptations are advantageous to a shooter who wants to get good at defensive shooting.

Self-­defense training is more than focusing on bullseye-­centric marksmanship skills. I do not slight shooters who use bullseyes to hone their defensive skills. I’m simply acknowledging that there are good reasons to incorporate targets other than bullseyes into a rounded training regimen.

Like the Gunsite target, option targets also lend themselves well to being modified on the range. You can fold them into smaller, more challenging shoot zones, and layer them to create more challenging shoot-­ and no-­shoot targets. For those who are looking to be economical, this works on several levels because it also allows for the target to be re-­folded so that previously shot portions can be rotated with clean portions of the target.

Another option with targets that have a defined threat like a handgun printed on them is that you can fold that threat away making a series of shoot and no-­shoot targets. This will encourage students to use their decision-­making skills. It’s not a substitute for scenario-­based, force-­on-­force training, but it’s a great first step in introducing decision making to a square-­range environment.

A student of the serious use of firearms should make sure that they are seeking training outside of a square range. That being said, the square range is still an important component of any training program and remains one of the best options for developing and maintaining fundamental firearms skills. Making that training as efficient and challenging as possible is something that all shooters should strive for. I’ve found that the Gunsite Academy’s Option Target is one of the best targets available to that end. They’re available at for about $0.50 each. 


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