Handgun Diagnostic Targets: What Are They Worth?

You’ve all seen them, or at least you have if you’ve spent any time on the internet. They are often free to print, but you might have seen a few for sale in gun stores here and there. The infamous Handgun Diagnostic Targets. These targets promise to replace the advice of any trainer you’ve ever worked with or heard of. They are the ultimate means to make you a more accurate shooter. Why spend a ton of money listening to an instructor when you can print these at home and basically get the same thing, right? 

I’ve seen these things everywhere, including on the websites of sources I often trust, including firearms training schools, which is a big concern to me. These handgun diagnostic targets are often maligned and for a good reason. I’m not just here to put them down. I wanted to take a few of these targets out myself and try to see if they have any application to practical defensive shooting. 

The Origin of the Handgun Diagnostic Target 

The origin of these targets seems tough to confirm. I’ve heard more than once they were designed for one-handed, 25-yard Bull’s eye shooting. Maybe in that world, they do matter, and they do work. I can’t say and can’t seem to find any confirmation of Bull’s Eye shooters using these targets beyond an entry into the Bull’s Eye encyclopedia. 

Maybe it’s just internet lore, but at least then, the target seems to have some vague practical application. My first experience was being a young kid who had no idea how to shoot a handgun very well. My dad was a long gun guy, through and through. I didn’t learn to shoot a handgun until I saved up $120 and purchased a cheap German-made .22LR SAA clone from the 1970s. 

diagnostic target

I sucked with it. Couldn’t hit crap with it. I surfed the 2000s internet trying to find tips to shoot better, and somewhere along the line, I ran across the Handgun Diagnostic Target. Using my parent’s printer, I printed what must have been dozens of them. I shot them full of holes with that .22LR. 

Did the target help me become a better shot? No, but all the time I spent shooting did. I just remember trying to use the targets and thinking, “Okay, don’t move my thumbs at all, and I didn’t, but I’m still not hitting the Bull’s eye.”   

What Are These Things? 

They are a traditional Bull’s eye style target. You want to hit directly in the center. The sections outside of the center offer several suggestions on what you can do to improve your shooting. The idea is simple. If you fire a shot and it lands low right, you read the little block that sits low and right and figure out that you’re tightening your grip as you pull the trigger. 

Stop doing that, and you’re sure to hit the Bull’s eye, right? Instant feedback and correction. That’s the idea. The promise is that if you keep using the target, you’ll improve your accuracy by eliminating your bad habits. 

one handed shooting
One-handed shooting is not my forte.

They’ve become so common, and dare I say ‘famous,’ because they provide easy answers to accuracy woes. That’s why as a kid, I printed enough Handgun Diagnostic Targets to lose an allowance to the HP ink gods. It was an easy answer to the questions I had, and I thought it could help. 

I haven’t shot these targets since I was a kid. So, I wanted to see after a decade and change of experience how the targets worked, and if they worked. 

Does it Work? 

I printed a few, this time from my own printer, so Dad, you can chill. I set them up at 10 yards, grabbed an optic-equipped handgun, and began shooting. My shooting has improved, and using a red dot on a handgun at 10 yards is easy mode. I didn’t attempt to shoot the black and diagnose my faults. Not to brag, but I could put them all in the black with ease at 10 or even 20 yards. 

Instead, I attempted to purposefully use crappy form by using the diagnoses on the Handgun Diagnostic Target. I tried too much trigger finger. I threw that sucker as deep into the trigger guard as I could. And pulled the trigger. I hit the black regardless. According to the target, I should have hit to the right, but even within the black, I hit to the left side. 

too much tirgger finger, diagnostic target
I used a lot of trigger finger and it landed on the opposite side.

Let’s try the opposite, too little trigger finger. What do you know, I hit the black again. Oddly enough, the target says that it should put the impact to the left, but it threw it to the right. I tried slapping the trigger and again hit black, actually putting it right next to my first shot, and once more, it was in the opposite direction of the diagnosis. 

too little trigger finger, diagnostic target
Too little trigger finger gave the opposite result

I tried tightening my grip as I shot and still landed in the black, so I tried it one more time and started with a really loose grip and contracted my entire hand. It did throw the shoot of black slightly to the right, but not out of the nine rings. 

pushing too much target
Pushing too much resulted in an in the black shot

I tried heeling and flinching, but those are kind of tough to inflict purposefully. If you aren’t really flinching, it’s tough to take it. Even when I heeled up a bit, I still hit black. 

Why don’t they work?

Handgun Diagnostic Targets don’t work for a few reasons. First off, some of the diagnoses, like too much trigger finger or too little, are silly. Modern shooting and modern instructors have discovered that grip is more important than trigger manipulation for accuracy with a handgun. Trigger pull doesn’t matter much when you get a nice tight grip and good fundamentals. 

tc9 profile
Here is my test gun, a TC9.

Flinching and heeling and the recoil anticipation do seem to make a difference, as does a poor grip. The problem with the handgun diagnostic target is that it tries to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to shooters. Shooters are unique and have unique faults. A target can’t correct every shooter. It might work in the same way that a roomful of monkeys with typewriters might eventually write Shakespeare given enough time. 

However, it’s not a good tool for the average shooter. A good tool for the average shooter is an instructor, an experienced one, who can look at what you’re doing and make an individual diagnosis. That’s how you become a better shot, that and lots of shooting. 

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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