It does no good to make the same mistakes over and over. If you’re going to carry a gun, you’d better know how to use it. That requires repetition of both handling skills and tactical drills. There’s no substitute for training with a qualified instructor, but there are some things you can do on your own to make sure you’re not reinforcing bad habits.
One very good training aid—and one of the easiest to use—is the MantisX. This unit consists of a device you attach to the rail of your handgun or rifle and an app you download to your smart phone.
The device comes in its own sturdy, little Pelican case and retails for a suggested $149.99. Also included is a USB cord to recharge the unit. The app is free, which is good, because as the company updates it, you can make sure you always have the version with the latest features.
Operation is simple: Mount the unit on your gun and turn it on. Open the app on your phone and hit “connect.” Enter the make and model of your firearm and a few other specifics, and you’re ready to train. Choose the drill you want and hit “start.” Just so there’s no misunderstanding: During live-fire drills, you’re shooting at a target downrange and not at your smart phone (no matter how tempting that idea might be at times).
SOME OF YOUR TRAINING OPTIONS
Open Training. With this session, it’s basic target practice. You shoot at your own pace, untimed, any number of shots you wish.
Benchmark. You fire 10 rounds at your own pace. You’re not shooting against the clock; however, besides your score, the unit will also log how long you took between shots. This is a good one to use at each training session to gauge your improvement on the fundamentals.
Timed Benchmark. Set the unit to five, eight or 10 shots. At the sound of the buzzer, shoot that number of rounds as fast as you can. You’re being timed to see how fast you can do it, but the unit is still grading you on what your muzzle’s doing. So, the object is to maintain a good sight picture and trigger control—sound fundamentals—while under the pressure of the clock.
Compressed, Surprised Break. In this drill, you start with the firearm on target. At the sound of the buzzer, you fire one shot as quickly as you can. Then, get set for the next buzzer. Electronic ear muffs are the way to go if you want to hear the buzzer.
Reloads and Other Drills. The MantisX also has timed speed reload and tactical reload drills. In addition, there are sessions that allow you to track your progress shooting while using your primary or support hand only.
How do you find out how you did? The app records the movement of your muzzle through your trigger pull for each shot you fire and grades your efforts, with a top score of 100 for each shot. When you’re done with a string of shots, the screen shows a circular, target-like chart of where your muzzle—and therefore, your bullets—were headed. You receive a score up to 100 for the entire string average, too.
So, what are you doing wrong, and how do you fix it? You can touch the chart on the screen where your digital “hits” are impacting, and the app will tell you the likely problem with your shooting form and offer suggestions for how to correct it. For instance, if your hits are consistently at the 6 o’clock position, the app will indicate that most likely, your wrists are too relaxed and that you’re pulling the gun downward as you pull the trigger.
If you have the app set to “Bullseye” mode (done in the “Advanced” settings), the movement of your muzzle from three seconds before your shot to one second after your shot will be traced. An “X” will mark the spot of your hit. This will show how steady you are in keeping your sights on target as you go through the firing process.
With the MantisX, all your shooting sessions are saved in the “History” menu. If you log in when opening the app, you can also upload your sessions to that vague cyberspace destination called “the Cloud,” where you can access your training history on any of your other devices.
DRY FIRE, TOO
There will always be times you can spare a few minutes to train but can’t make it to the range. Because the MantisX is monitoring your muzzle movement and not where your bullets are actually hitting, you can use the device for dry-fire training, too. Just switch to “Dry Fire” mode in the settings menu to adjust the unit’s sensitivity, and everything else works the same.
I found that the app picks up the trigger pull the most consistently when the phone is placed slightly forward of the unit on the gun, such as on the bench or table in front of you.
Endless shooting practice without having a clue what you might be doing wrong is a waste of ammo—and, more importantly, bad habits are reinforced over time. The MantisX offers helpful feedback on your shooting fundamentals. And, as you progress, you can set goals for yourself and be rewarded by seeing your scores increase and your times decrease.
You can use the MantisX to train casually or under the pressure of the clock. You can use it for live-fire drills at the range or when dry-firing at home.
Hey, it’s much more pleasurable than having a firearms instructor at the police academy scream at you to stop mashing the trigger!
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2018 print issue of Gun World magazine.