Renowned for their marksmanship within the armed forces, the USMC’s pistol qualification course uses a bull’s-eye target over an E-type silhouette scored for points.


“Why would anybody want to shoot at black polka dots?”…

“Why would anybody want to shoot at black polka dots?” Most negative statements directed at competition shooting slights the bull’s-eye. Conventional competition appears so staid that the uninitiated question its validity. Military historians started poo-pooing bull’s-eye’s lack of relevance around World War II, as the complaints of “there ain’t any bull’s-eyes in the field” continued to build. Field courses were created to supplement Round Bull Known Distance shooting eventually replaced it.
Few gun owners have any significant bull’s-eye experience, and this has hurt the skills of the entire gun community. While training has increased in complexity, the basics of marksmanship have degraded over the years. It used to be that every formal shooting program included portions of strict, accuracy-oriented shooting. Today, most marksmanship training begins and ends on full-size silhouettes.

We now take it for granted, but the basic bull’s-eye target was an important step forward in testing marksmanship proficiency. Over 150 years ago shooting accuracy was often recorded via “string measure.” Pegs were pounded in the bullet holes shot through the target’s surface and a string wrapped around them, with the shortest string winning. It isn’t hard to imagine how tedious it would be to score a target and it was soon realized a cleaner, faster system was needed.
If you think about it, all the intricacies of marksmanship and the related equipment boils down to trying to put bullets in the same place and hit the center of the intended target every time. Of course arms and ammunition are only so accurate, and even the best-trained human operator is subject to a host of follies. Some deviation is to be expected, but “close enough” can be just as effective. In testing basic marksmanship skills, a simple aim point with an easily defined center point is all that’s needed. The goal is to hit as close to that center point as possible with each shot. The further away the shot deviates from center, the more its effectiveness is lessened. How much deviation from center depends on the distance to the target, the equipment used, the shooting conditions, the skill of the shooter, and the standards of marksmanship expected.

Bull’s-eye targets solve this with great ease. The target is a simple black circle on white paper and the center can be found intuitively. A series of concentric circles radiate from the middle and the center point clearly is designated by a central circle marked ‘X’ and surrounded by the 10-ring. A shot anywhere in this area is deemed “perfect” and given a maximum value of 10 points. Shots landing further away from this center in any direction are awarded fewer points, with each corresponding circle out worth 1-point less.

Evaluating the marksman’s efforts is simplicity itself. Each bullet hole is worth the value assigned to the smallest scoring circle it touches. Tally up the earned points. A string of 10 shots has a maximum value of 100, thus, a score of 100 indicates “perfect” marksmanship—at least according to this particular course’s standards. In a contest, comparing the raw X-count breaks ties. Scoring points may seem a bit arbitrary but it provides solid objectivity. The standard is clear; you either earn a certain number of points or you do not. To challenge marksmanship skills further, the target can be moved further away, a smaller target can be substituted, or reduced time limit can be imposed.

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