July 12, 2022
By Jeremy Stafford
Designed for NRA-sanctioned bullseye events, the “B8” is the official target for timed- and rapid-fire stages. (The “B6” target is used for slow fire.) The B8 consists of a black bullseye with a 1.695-inch X-ring, a 3.36-inch 10-ring, and the 9-ring, which grows the black to 5.54 inches across. There’s also an 8-ring, which brings the entire center target size to 8 inches in diameter.
While researching the history of bullseye competition, I was surprised at the lack of documentation regarding these targets. There is plenty of anecdotal history, but no specific history is easy to find in known books, and I found nothing digitized. What I do know is that NRA bullseye matches, known as “NRA Precision Pistol” matches since 2010, have existed in their current three-pistol, 2,700-point format since 1941. There were sanctioned NRA bullseye matches before that — going back to 1871 when the NRA was founded — and the first NRA rifle matches were held at Creedmoor, Long Island in New York. However, the modern format and targets date to 1941. While the NRA Precision Pistol matches are still well-attended events, other forms of pistol competition such as IPSC, Steel Challenge and USPSA appear to be more popular today.
Given current firearms and training, why is a target from a sport 50 years removed from its heyday enjoying a revival? I contacted two respected instructors for their input: Retired SWAT officer and veteran Bill Blowers of Tap-Rack Tactical and retired U.S. Army Special Forces SGM Dan Brokos of Lead Faucet Tactical.
Brokos indicated that Special Forces had been using B8 targets through the 1990s. As the Global War on Terror increased the tempo of train-ups and deployments, the use of B8 targets increased exponentially.
Blowers’ experience is somewhat like my own. Within metropolitan police departments, the B8 wasn’t commonly seen until about 18 years ago. In fact, I hadn’t even used one during training until 2008 when I took a pistol course taught by retired U.S. Army 1st SOFD-Delta veteran Larry Vickers. For the first 10 years of my law enforcement career — as a student and an instructor — most of my training involved a silhouette target. While in uniform as a U.S. Marine, I did shoot on the NRA B6 while qualifying in the entry-level pistol program, however, on the rare occasion that we trained with our pistols, E-type silhouette targets were more often the target used.
With that history out of the way, let’s consider why the B8 is now being widely used and replicated: It’s useful! With a black center measuring 5½ inches in diameter, the B8 provides an excellent approximation of the target size of the human heart and could represent the effective target area on a human head. If all the training advancements of the last 20 years have reinforced anything, it’s that only good hits count. If your training regimen allows for hits outside of the effective area for incapacitating a threat, you’re doing yourself a disservice and you may not perform as well as you’d like in a critical situation.
The 5½-inch bullseye is generous enough to allow for fast work up close and small enough to allow for challenging accuracy work out to 25 yards. It seems to me that handgun training goes through cycles; there will be a great hue and cry for speed work, and then a backlash for it the next year. Then there is an emphasis on accuracy development as shooters realize that they’re missing shots they used to make. It’s outside the scope of this article to discuss the need to strike a balance between speed and accuracy, but wherever you are on the spectrum, the B8 can serve you well.
The size of the B8 also lends itself to target transition drills. Whether working on the vertical or horizontal plane, target transitions are an important part of any handgun regimen. Even with modern hollow-point ammunition, handguns often struggle to stop threats decisively. In real life, you might need to move your aiming point from the torso to the head, or even lower to the pelvic girdle to stop an advancing threat. There is also the very real threat of facing multiple attackers, so the need for multiple target transitions is also necessary. From a logistical standpoint, if you’re limited to one target lane, the ability to place multiple B8s on one backer becomes invaluable. A standard 24-inch by 35-inch cardboard backer will easily accept six B8s. This allows the shooter to work on multiple transitions on multiple planes.
All firearm trainers are beholden to their environment. This could mean that training occurs at an indoor range with few shooting lanes, or even an outdoor square range that only goes back to 10 yards. Good instructors are prepared for anything, and the B8 target allows them the flexibility to provide good training at any reasonable distance. The B8 also offers the additional benefit of being inexpensive. In a package, official NRA B8 pistol targets can cost 20 cents each. B8 repair centers can save some, costing as little as 7 cents each (shipping not included). However, many people simply copy the repair-center target off the internet and print it on an 8½- by 11-inch piece of paper. White copy paper and the internet’s scaling wouldn’t meet NRA competition standards, but it’s a common practice among shooters and instructors. Often, instructors must ship all sorts of gear to ensure that they are ready to teach a training event: Personal gear, ammunition, firearms, and so on. Gear costs money and takes up space. The ability to have a host print out cheap targets near the training site removes one administrative burden. From an agency perspective, the ability to reproduce targets can save a lot of time and money, which is important when training budgets are typically stretched thin.
Lastly, the B8 target allows the instructor to set a standard. It is a uniform size, allowing the shooter and the instructor to track progress and scores in order to measure improvement. Holes in paper don’t lie when it comes to performance; you either meet the standard or you don’t. You are either progressing or you are not. It is natural to want to soften the blow when a friend or student who isn’t up to snuff, but the B8 doesn’t care. Start using the B8 and you’ll find out exactly where you stand; that might just be the best feature about it.
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