Target Based Behavioral Conditioning

September 22, 2015  
Categories: Op-Eds

There are only a handful of tactical professionals whose names call for, nay, demand they be spoken with the gravitas and urgency seen only in such voices as those of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. One such tactical professional is SMG Lee. Another is Burt Gummer. Another still is…Trevor Thrasher.  (Note: if you don’t like wrestling or prefer something darker, just say that name Batman stylea la Christian Bale.) However you want to pronounce it, he’s the man who wrote the following guest post. You’d be well advised to pay attention and get your learnin’ on. Then we discuss.  Mad Duo



by Trevor Thrasher

According to LT Col Grossman in The Behavioral Solution: Conditioning To Kill, after World War II, the U.S. Army significantly changed the way they trained soldiers. More specifically, they “…pioneered a revolution in combat training that replaced the old method of firing at bull’s-eye targets with deeply ingrained operant conditioning using realistic, man-shaped pop-up targets that fall when hit.”

Operant conditioning, which is basically using reward or punishment as a consequence of behavior, is extremely useful in tactical training, particularly when used in situations that require quick action or reactions to a stimulus. However, operant conditioning (and for that matter all other types of conditioning) can be completely misused and do more harm than good. Conditioning often means that there is little thought in the process and reaction becomes intuitive. As a trainer you have to constantly ask yourself if your drill is really conditioning the right things.

In the law enforcement field I have seen some really off the mark conditioning. Examples of this includes requiring officers to give a warning every time before they shoot or overly conditioning officers to fire only two rounds. Yes, the dreaded, dirty, double tap. In the case of automatic warnings, it is not by any means always legally required, it can delay an officer from firing, make them less accurate, give away their position, and in numerous documented cases each and every year, gets hesitant officers killed by perps who of course have no such requirement. One example from the double tap dogma crowd is shooting two and taking time to evaluate a still standing and lethal threat while that threat is still engaging you. Double taps are not a legal standard, and certainly are a good way to lose many gunfights. Maybe there is a time and a place, but certainly not as a default.

One of the biggest errors I see in training is using photo realistic targets improperly. Mainly this occurs when a threat target is used that shows a suspect in a combat crouch pointing a gun forward at the officer being trained. Students are then drilled to respond by drawing their gun, giving a command, taking careful aim, and then calmly pulling the trigger a set number of rounds. Does that behavioral response make any sense to anyone? In the real world, that response will most likely get you killed. How many people do you train who can effectively outdraw a pointed gun?

[Drill involving use of cover and a variety of targets and responses from 88 Tactical Pistol Development Course]

How many times have you “simmed” that response out?

In an extremely reactive shooting like the one described above, an officer should be trained to do something defensively to survive long enough to counter attack. Maybe there is cover only a few steps away, maybe lateral movement can be integrated with some rapid, well-trained point shooting. There are several options, but standing, commanding, and taking deliberate aim is generally the wrong thing to condition. We then wonder why we see officers freeze in such situations. Worse yet is that these targets are often the only targets ever used and officers feel that they have to wait until a gun is pointed right at their face before they can ever fire.

Enter the “O-SHT,” “NO-SHT,” and “NOT-SHT” behavioral response target. I typically base the trainee’s desired response on the stimulus presented, the initiative of the situation and other conditions at the time of the drill. I call this a S.C.A.R: Stimulus, Conditions, Appropriate, Response. A S.C.A.R. (yes that bitch is protected or soon to be) is more than a simple stimulus-response. It requires an intuitive, legally and tactically appropriate response to the conditions that exist at the moment.

[O-SHT Target: From Missouri POST Qualification- Dog The Bounty Hunter is fucked in that state. How are these officers conditioned during their qualification? (]

An “O-SHT” target is an immediate threat like the one previously described. The acronym equates to: Oriented (gun oriented in firing position on you), Sudden, High Intensity Threat. Before a trainee can fire, the threat already has them under high duress and the trainee must respond with some type of initial attempt at defense often to include OODA loop disruption before trying to counter-attack. During intial introductions to these targets, I will point at one and ask a trainee how it makes them feel. The typical answer is “Oh Shit.” I then ask if standing and delivering is practically speaking a good idea. The answer is universally “No.” Why then do we keep conditioning people to respond in the wrong way? The initial response like any S.C.A.R. drill will depend on the availability of cover, distance to the threat, the trainee’s readiness level with their own weapon, and a variety of other conditions that effect the appropriate response.

[Explaining the “O-SHT” Target. 88 Tactical Pistol Development Course]

A “NO-SHT” target (below, left) is an imminent threat with deadly capability at hand. Typically this is represented by a target with a weapon in a drawing motion or held down to the side. The acronym equates to: Not Oriented (gun not immediately oriented in firing position), Sudden, High, Intensity Threat. Depending on the trainee’s skill, readiness and tactical approach, the desired S.C.A.R. will often be a near simultaneous mix of defense and offense.


A “NOT-SHT” target (above, right) is an imminent to probable threat with deadly capability at hand. Typically this is represented as a target facing away from the trainee, at times even with the back of the “bad guy” towards the trainee. The acronym equates to: Not a Sudden, High, Intensity Threat. I also call this a “Day at the Range” target. Of course the terms about immediacy, suddenness, and intensity are relative and are not to be too strictly interpreted. Depending on the conditions at hand, if there is no doubt about the intent of the threat, the appropriate S.C.A.R. is often to immediately go offensive and eliminate the threat before it turns into a “fair” gunfight. I don’t like working with people who want to get into gunfights. I want to work with people who want to participate in legitimate shootings. Otherwise, the trainee could seek cover and consider giving commands.


Using any of these targets and combining them with a S.C.A.R. requires that the trainee “be in the moment” and emotionally attach themselves to the training. We all know that there is little difference between strong imagination and reality when it comes to training and conditioning. Tied into the type of targets is both the tactical response and amount of sight verification required. Without getting too deep into it, I teach point, precise, and perfect levels of marksmanship depending on the situation at hand most often driven by the amount of “duress” that exists. At times, I even expect a number of misses if the targets and demands are extremely high.

Heaven forbid we try to train realistically like the courts require.

I know many will argue with me on that, but I simply ask them how that zero miss philosophy is working out in the real world when conditions are tougher than the “no miss” philosophy allows in training. We can save the rest for another article.

NON HUMANOID TARGETIf you are performing isolation drills, performing something out of context, or working on something not requiring much in the way of a S.C.A.R., I would suggest using a non-humanoid target. This will minimize or eliminate any bad conditioning and keep emotion more out of play so the trainee can focus on the simpler things. For behavioral targets, I use frequently use a series from Targets Online ( which show the same suspect in a variety of positions.

The subject of training versus conditioning is a deep topic I encourage professional instructors to further explore. A good law enforcement read on the subject is “POLICE PISTOLCRAFT: The Reality Based New Paradigm of Police Firearms Training,” by Michael Conti. Conti heavily covers the use of operant and classical conditioning during police marksmanship training. LT Col. Grossman and Bruce Siddle also have some good available literature on the subject that is relevant in any field.

Think before you teach, but think especially hard before you condition.

Stay safe.

Trevor Thrasher

Trevor Thrasher 4

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Trevor Thrasher 2About the Author: Trevor Thrasher is a currently serving Operations Sergeant (18Z) with 19th SFG whose uniformed deployments are frequently interspersed with OCONUS contractor jobs. He’s also been a cop for over 2 decades, serving in just about every imaginable tactical billet. Among his many specialties is an uncanny ability to create butt hurt and angst across the wilds of the internet with his blatant disregard for worship at the altar of accepted range lore. He’s worked PSD in non-permissive environments, conducted CT DA missions both unilaterally and with foreign SOF personnel and achieved numerous instructor certifications in some of the most severe schools available to US or allied SOF soldiers. Among these many disciplines are two of his own; the High Threat Method, and Reality Behavior-Based Training©. You can contact him (or take one of his courses) via 88 Tactical Group, of which organization he is both partner and COO.

Trevor Thrasher 1


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  1. Ana Marie Dzubilo

    Trevor, you’re still full of yourself.

  2. W. Hillman

    Thanks. Excellent read. I work in the Firearms Training Unit for a large police agency based in the northeast. I definitely agree with your training principles and concepts. Not only will I be signing up for an 88 Tactical class, but implementing new changes to our training curriculumn.

    • Tthrasher

      Glad you enjoyed the article. Don’t forget to check out Mike Conti’s book “Police Pistolcraft.”


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