AutoTargets: Why You Should Buy One

featured

Middle of June we posted about AutoTargets, a new company bringing some innovation to our beloved hobby/sport/profession. I tend to be somewhat of a tech geek so this particular product was definitely something on my radar.

AutoTargets finally completed their research and development cycle and got their product to the point where they could open up their Indiegogo campaign (which is how they intend to bootstrap initial sales).

The tl;dr is this: While they are obviously more expensive than shooting on paper, AutoTargets brings a very useful and powerful tool to the shooting industry. One that can benefit individual shooters, competitors, classes and groups by providing unique training scenarios and entertaining challenges.

AutoTargets worked with me to get the units in prior to my local club’s 3-Gun match. I really commend them for going above and beyond to get me the units and targets. My starting care package included five lift units, a bunch of targets, two CO2 bottles, somewhere near four kilometers of tubing (kidding it was only like five hundred feet), and a parts kit. They also hooked me up with $10 to get the CO2 tanks filled (which was super thoughtful). Basically I was ready to go out of the box with the exception of charging the batteries and filling the tanks (which they made super easy by even sending me a list of local places that could do the fills——how is that for customer service?)

Again, I did not do an unboxing video, though I really should have. Whoever did the packaging (all done in house) had each of the boxes perfectly packed and organized (as in an OCD level of packaging). I’m going to have a hard time getting the boxes reassembled when I have to send them back…

Construction

You should really think of AutoTargets as a target system. Sure you could have a single one (and there is still some training value from that), but the power of AutoTargets is in the magical network of units.

The heart of the system is the CO2 driven pneumatic lift unit. A surprisingly compact metal box, painted in a dark orange, houses the brains and actuators. The top is a molded plastic that can easily be removed for accessing the internals. The unit utilizes a LiPo battery (rechargeable) that during testing provided about 8-9 hours of “on” time. Wireless communications is provided via a USB wireless adapter that jacks into the brain.

AutoTargets Lift Unit

AutoTargets Lift Unit

Next you have the targets. The targets are basically a multi layer cake of foam board and metal foil. As the round passes through the target it simply completes a momentary circuit and registers the hit (it should go without saying, you do not want to staple paper targets over these). There are three primary zones and they are painted on the front in a pretty typical silhouette (though not specific like IPSC, etc). There is additionally a “hostage taker” zone (though my targets did not come pre-painted with them).

AutoTargets standard target. (hostage taker would be in upper right)

AutoTargets standard target. (hostage taker would be in upper right)

Finally you have the app. The almighty app that glues the system together. The app allows you to configure pretty much every aspect of the units, and how they interact with one another. Some settings are app specific and some control the scenario as a whole. The individual settings let you configure what impacts “kill” the target and allow it to drop. Everything from a single hit anywhere to complex point systems. There is even an unlimited mode which will allow you to practice as you would on paper, albeit with hit tracking (complete with metal pinging noise and/or vibration) and shot timing. Scenario settings include things like delayed start, target randomization (time and number), overall duration of the scenario, etc. They even helpfully include a Quick Start Guide that details the setup for some different games and drills.

IMG_2662

Currently the app is only for Android, but AutoTargets has indicated that the IOS version of the app will be out very early next year (in time for the first production units to reach the public).

How It Works

The first lift unit that you boot up sets up a wireless LAN (local area network). We will call that guy “alpha” for now. As you boot up additional units, using some sort of dark magic, they each locate and attach themselves to the alpha, and additionally configure themselves as range extenders.

After the first unit is broadcasting, you can open the app on your Android device, which will then begin searching for the lift units. Be aware though if there are other wireless networks in range and your device has joined one of them it will not find the lift units. You have to be on the same network; easy enough to fix by opening your network preferences and joining the network created by the alpha. The alpha unit has to be within about 100 yards of the controller tablet (I would recommend syncing at a closer range). The additional units can have up to 250 yards between each other (since each one acts as a booster and repeater). Obviously terrain features and general RF interference can impact this distance.

I imagine if you had thirty-two of these units and clear line of sight, you could string them out for thousands of feet. Currently thirty-two is the max number of lift units that AutoTargets suggests is “reasonable” to network together; assuming that having a Beowulf cluster of reactive target systems could be considered “reasonable” that is.

AutoTargets set up and linked in BMC Tactical's workshop.

AutoTargets set up and linked in BMC Tactical’s workshop.

You also have to physically connect each unit to CO2 which is what drives the mechanical lifter. You can do this one of a couple ways. You can either give each unit it’s own dedicated bottle (which is probably how you would set up units that are far apart), or you can chain them together with tubing. Each lifter has an in and out port. The last unit in the chain needs a “terminator” in it’s “out hole”. A twenty ounce CO2 bottle should provide about 1,000 to 1,500 lifts. Based on my testing this is accurate. We did have a couple of leaks while setting up the system, mainly due to hoses we cut poorly, which lost some of the CO2 to the atmosphere. I think you could technically use another gas system (like HPA) so long as you can get 50-55 PSI (though that would need to have a blessing from AutoTargets).

Observations

Overall, the units are super easy to setup. The first thing is make sure the batteries are charged and that you have a good fill on your CO2 tank. After that, place your units out where you want them. Clamp the targets in place. Connect them with tubing and the tubing to the CO2. Turn the units on, and open the app on the tablet. Then have fun.

I did find it was easiest to turn one unit on well ahead of the others and let it establish the network. Then connect the app, then bring the other units online.

The targets that AutoTargets is currently shipping with the units is the tip of the iceberg, methinks. The easiest customization is that you can paint them to match whatever you want (paying attention to the zones, of course). Want a zombie target? No problem. But since the targets are really looking for a momentary completion of a circuit in four separate zones, really you could have a variety of inputs (think IR sensors, etc). I think this product will see some interesting upgrades and hacks over time.

Just for testing the connection range I was able to place two units near 150 yards apart, and I was back about 50 yards from the alpha unit. It worked fine and the app saw both units and both units responded to control without problem. I only used two since I hooked each unit to it’s own CO2 tank; probably something you would want to do with units that are widely separated in distance.

Target life is obviously a concern, though targets are not going to be horrible to replace at around $20 per target. They are rated to take five hundred or more rounds. If you are super accurate, and bore out a hole in the middle of a target, and rounds are just passing through without touching the target at all, it won’t register a hit. In reality this is probably not going to happen all that often unless you run the target in unlimited shot mode. During testing none of the targets failed to register a hit, even shots that were overlapping.

Another interesting feature of the targets is that they can indicate a fault (or a “short”). Basically what happens is that sometimes a round will cause a little part of the metal foil to remain in contact with the other side, keeping the connection constantly on. The app will indicate the zone where this occurs; all you need to do is take a pencil or a stick and poke it through the offending hole (or put another shot in nearly the same place) to clear the short. That only happened a couple of times during all of my testing.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the targets do sit pretty low to the ground, so you really need to pay attention to your angles (you can see this in the third video where we had rounds skipping off the ground back into the berm–we really should have had the targets further back).

AutoTargets During a 3-Gun Match

I had previously warned Jared Milinazzo, the club organizer and ranked competitor, that I was going to have the opportunity to test out AutoTargets and that I wanted to work them into a match. He was totally amenable and welcoming to the idea. Originally we were supposed to meet up a few days before the match and run through some sample scenarios, but we were not able to connect. I showed up to set up the morning of the match a little earlier and Jared indicated where they should go. We just did a simple setup using them with a single firing position. Each target was to start in the up position and would drop with two hits anywhere in the silhouette.

The first run was definitely a learning experience. I had mistakenly set the scenario to run “unlimited presentations” which effectively left the targets standing after they were correctly and effectively neutralized. I quickly corrected that and set the scenario to “5 presentations”. Much better!

Three of us ran through the set before Jared had his turn. Did I mention he is nationally ranked? I mean, I’d seen him run courses before, and run them quickly and accurately. But now I could see the reactions and splits (on the AutoTargets anyway). A little under a second and a half to place two hits center of mass on five targets. He was so fast that he was shooting the third target before the first had begun to drop. And he was exiting the bay, to the next set of targets, as the fourth was dropping. Sigh. Someday perhaps I’ll be able to run a quarter of that speed… Anyway, here is a short video showing him take on the AutoTargets.  I was demo’ing the basic units but AutoTargets is going to be offering an upgrade kit to drop the units much faster.

For my second run, I decided to have some fun with the system and introduce some randomness. I don’t “compete” for the competition. I use the match as a monthly test to vet gear and confirm practice (which sadly it confirms that I do not dry fire nearly enough). For my scenario I set the system to only have two targets visible, and to randomize the presentation order. Here is a short video demonstrating that:

Fun Shoot

In addition to trying them out in a competition match I also wanted to do a fun shoot with them to just play around with the features.

We took them out to some BLM land designated for shooting, and set them up at a variety of distances with the intention of shooting mixed rifle and pistol. We ran a bunch of scenarios and also had the opportunity to assess the durability of the units.

The lifters operated flawlessly for both the rifle and pistol shoots (.223 Rem, 9mm, and .45 ACP), and the app registered all hits appropriately. In total we shot somewhere north of two hundred fifty rounds in the limited time we had out there. Some of the video from the shoot:

So, what about durability of the units you may ask? Well, during our “fun shoot” three of the lift units took rounds. One was just a “flesh wound”, the other two took heavier hits (though none of the shots were on the body where the electronics and hydraulics sit).

You can see, in the following pictures, the damage:

Round to one of the side struts; will likely only need some paint.

Round to one of the side struts; will likely only need some paint.

Shot to the carry handle, with a deflection to the terminal bar.

Shot to the carry handle, with a deflection to the terminal bar.

Impact of round partially broke the weld, and bent the terminals on the other side. Target continued to work without fault.

Impact of round partially broke the weld, and bent the terminals on the other side. Target continued to work without fault.

Terminals bent from impact of round.

Terminals bent from impact of round.

The worst hit took a round directly on the terminal bar (where the lift unit clamps to the target). That shot actually cracked the weld and transferred enough energy to deform the connectors.

The interesting thing to note is that we did not discover any of the damage until we were breaking the units down. They all continued to function even with the damage. In fact, none of the units even showed a “short” condition to any of the zones.

I would assume a round to the main body would disrupt the unit. To mitigate this, AutoTargets has an armor plate system in development for those that want it. Though more bulky, you can certainly use sandbags both in front of the unit and laying over the top of the body in front of the lift arm (which would have stopped the damage our test units took).

AutoTargets for Training

Paul Howe of CSAT is one of my favorite instructors. I met him back in 2003 when I was in Texas and working in executive protection and he taught some courses at our company’s range. He has some published standards that he requires for his instructor courses and I think they form a good baseline.

Why I find them relevant for this target system is that they compliment one another. If we review his pistol standards we see that we can easily set these drills up using AutoTargets. I’ve cleaned up the items to be a little more readable.

  1. From the Ready Position, fire 1 shot at 1 target from 7 yards in 1 SEC
  2. From the Holster, fire 1 shot at 1 target from 7 yards in 1.7 SEC
  3. From the Ready Position, fire 2 shots at 1 target from 7 yards in 1.5 SEC
  4. From the Ready Position, fire 5/1 shots at 1 target from 7 yards in 3 SEC (this drill you do 5 dry fire shots, then load a live round and fire it; repeat drill 5 times)
  5. From the Ready Position, fire 4 shots at 2 targets from 7 yards in 3 SEC
  6. From the Ready Position, fire 4 shots (2 from weak side/2 from strong side) at 1 target from 7 yards in 5 SEC
  7. From the Ready Position, fire 1 shot starting with a Malfunction drill at 1 target from 7 yards in 3 SEC (I use a snap cap)
  8. From the Ready Position, fire 4 shots (2 in each magazine requiring a reload) at 1 target from 7 yards in 5 SEC
  9. Start with Rifle Up, fire 1 shot dry then transition to pistol fire 1 shot at 1 target from 7 yards in 3.25 SEC
  10. From the Holster, fire 1 shot Kneeling at 1 target from 25 yards in 3.25 SEC

Sure, there are plenty of other standards and training scenarios, but this one gets it done pretty effectively in 24 rounds and can be a good confirmation of the mechanics you are encoding while dry firing.

The AutoTargets system could easily be used here with two lift units (or even one; if you modify drill #5) to complement your training. In fact I did the above drill with a buddy of mine (Mike) just to try it out and it worked really well!

One of Mike’s observations was the introduction of anxiety and stress into the shooting. He and I generally shoot weekly, and we work the basics against paper targets. If we want to get a little froggy, sometimes we will do an el Presidente drill. After a few weeks of this, though, you know what to expect. You can “game” the drill. And with that gaming comes complacency.  In the following video, the first two segments are us running through Drill #6 (from above).  The next two show a couple of random shoots.  The first of those was a basic shoot with randomized target presentations; each target requiring one shot.  The last was the same as previously but with the exception that the center target required a failure drill (two to center mass and one to head).  As you will see, I kept hitting center of mass, but was not shooting the head.  As soon as I did, the target dropped.

What the AutoTargets helps engineer is the “uncertainty” factor in the drill. If you set up the scenario to randomize targets (both presentations and delays of lift), you can really test (and tune) your basics. It makes you think.

The other benefit is that the app gives you immediate feedback on where and when the shot occurred. So you can go back and “hot wash” your run. “WTH, Why didn’t it go down?… Oh… I see, I needed to put two in center of mass and one in the head, but I actually put one center of mass, one in the outer torso, and one in the head.”

But What About Repairs?

So, as I mentioned before, our demo units took some damage… I called up Chip, and he immediately put some replacement components in the mail to me. That’s right, the units are (for the most part) user serviceable. You don’t have to send the full unit back. Not only are they user serviceable but they are intended to be very modular. AutoTargets has a host of upgrades that are already planned: faster lift unit, armor kit, and external triggers to name a few.

Anyway, I got the replacement lift arm units and set about doing the repairs. I was a little nervous at first, but after reading through the instructions I realized it was pretty simple. The first unit took me about ten minutes to repair, and the other took a little under five minutes. Tool-wise, all I needed was a set of wire snips to cut the cable tie holding the terminal bar wires and a jeweler’s screwdriver to manipulate the rubber grommet that protects the wire penetration into the body. Everything else was done with fingers. I didn’t even get a chance to curse because it was so easy.

b

Disconnect the lift control cable

c

Pull the cable through

d

Disconnect the retaining clips

f

Swap out the unit

g

Reconnect the lifter arm and the pneumatic arm.  (there are a couple of nylon washers that are important; and not really that hard to replace to my surprise)

h

Lock the retaining pin back in place

i

Set the rubber grommet back in the pass through hole

j

Clean up the wire on the inside (also a good view of the guts)

Conclusion

I can heartily recommend this target system. The worst thing about the targets is having to send them back. As of the time of publish for this review, I’ve had these out to a range eleven times, expended one thousand, eight hundred and fifty (or so) rounds (not all have been mine), and had to refill the CO2 tanks once (beyond the initial fill).

The biggest barrier for most people will be the cost. Individual units are going to be the cost of good firearm (I realize that is a very personal evaluation; I think they will be in the $850 range). Of course you can just shoot paper, but I think the value that this system can add to your training is something to consider.

I definitely foresee these being more heavily adopted (at least initially) by ranges and departments. Once the product goes fully live, I am going to have to have to buy a couple for myself—yes, I am willing to drop the cash for a couple of these (I’d love to have five, but I don’t know that my closet can contain the shoes I’d have to agree to my wife buying since she gets to spend an equivalent amount on things she wants).

One is good. Five is better... :)

One is good. Five is better… 🙂

If you are interested, AutoTargets is currently running an Indiegogo campaign for pre-ordering the units. They have already completed the research and development so their campaign is all about crowd sourcing the funding for the raw materials which should drive prices down. Basically this is not vaporware—this is a legitimate product that is tested and working and just needs a home… 🙂 And you can get units for at least $200 off the future MSRP.

You can find more information at their website, and follow future developments by liking their page on Facebook.



Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. His latest venture is as one of the founders of IronSights.com; a search engine for all things gun related. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


Advertisement

  • so expensive….

    • Blake

      …& totally worth it.

      If you consider that a unit costs about as much as a good traditional steel plate rack or dueling tree, there’s a heck of a lot of value in this system.

      • Thanks Blake!

      • USMC03Vet

        Everything on that domain is stupidly overpriced. It makes Zennith pricing look legit. You can shoot steel for far cheaper than that.

        • Blake

          MGM makes some of the best steel targets available:

          “Dueling trees have always intimidated me. Not from the shooting point, but from the manufacturing and durability point. I hate working on equipment at the range, so when I build a product, I want it to be “zero” maintenance. Most, if not all the “brand” trees feature some kind of a post with an arm behind it that pivots. There is a target of some size or shape welded to that arm. I’ve had nightmares about that whole design, and to convince myself I wasn’t delusional, I bought one of my competitors trees. We broke the first target off of it in about an hour – 480 rounds, and much of it was 9mm. But hey, it was cheap….”

          • Bill

            Second that on MGM. I’ve been a customer since Mike started up and the products and service more than make up for any extra expense. I’m ashamed that I have bought targets from a couple other companies, but none have matched MGM’s quality or service.

        • You get what you pay for—

    • Caesar, right now it’s available for $200 off MSRP which gets a starter kit down to only $650. Think of it as an investment that will help your shooting skills more than any other $650 purchase, all while making shooting more fun! And the targets are half the cost of clay pigeons in terms of cost per round fired. Thanks!

      • John

        It will help more than $650 worth of ammo or reloading components? I think not.

        • They are both valuable for different reasons…of course the best choice is to buy both! 🙂

  • ruinator

    Worth every cent! In training, and in fun. I think this would be a game changer for any small business owner. Here in ABQ we have an indoor range I never go to. I think 20$ is just to steep for a range fee (we are in the desert after all). HOWEVER, I will happily drop cash to go spend an hour with these targets. When Doc and I picked up the targets, I was already looking forward to our next range session. DON’T SEND THEM BACK DOC! DON’T DO IT

    • Ruinator, thanks for your feedback! Glad you had fun with them!

  • HSR47

    One of the big issues I have with this system is that it relies on the modern inkjet printer/razor pricing scheme: Tantalizing and subsidized upfront cost funded through the continuing sale of expendable and single-source parts.

    With steel the cost of targets is a one-time cost; With cardboard/paper targets, the per trip cost is relatively low.

    These, on the other hand, have up-front costs comparable to steel, and continuing costs that are significantly higher than paper/cardboard. Ultimately, were I to use these, the replacement targets would be my largest single cost every time I used them.

    Frankly, I think the best option here is using cameras and software to identify hits.

    • I don’t believe the target cost is that high. Up to 500 rounds per $20 target just doesn’t seem bad at all. Paper targets can run up to $1.50 for fairly plain ones and we all know you won’t get 500 rounds of use with paper.
      Also, as they grow and contract for a greater number of targets to sell the cost will go down.

    • HSR47, the targets last 500-1000 rounds depending on caliber and shot placement, which makes them half the cost of clay pigeons in terms of cost per round fired. It actually comes out to about 2-5 cents per shot, which is a tiny fraction of the total cost to shoot. The targets can be reused multiple times, unclamped and reclamped, get rained on, and keep working even after being shot hundreds of times.

      By the way, we already have plans to integrate a camera into the unit as an add-on. You would just have to swap lids for a new one with a camera mounted to it, and you’ll be able to see your target right in the app.

      Thanks for your feedback!

      • Will it register the hits in the app or just show the target?

        • It’s a little early to say for sure, but it may be a feature that’s released in multiple phases. Ultimately we should be able to use the app to register and track exact hit locations, and use our existing technology to back it up. Camera-type bullet sensing fails to register when you hit in the exact same spot, since it doesn’t make another hole. Our existing technology solves that problem. Combining both technologies should be the best of both worlds.

          • I don’t think it’s really needed since the target falls if you do your job. I’m sure some may want the extra function. It would be way down my priority list of added features though.
            I like the way yours functions as it is:-)

            I actually have one of the other systems made by Bullseye. I find it most useful for long range shooting not so much for shooting handguns.

          • Bill

            An early system by a different company had a hit sensor that required good center mass hits to get the target to fall automatically. I believe at that time it was a bug that turned into a feature. Another system (I believe) can be set to require a specified number of hits before it falls, which in my opinion is a requirement – I can’t train LEOs to expect adversaries to drop at the first hit, or peripheral hits.

      • Joe

        Just a word of unsolicited advice…do something very well before dreaming of making it better. You have what seems like a great product, focus on marketing it, selling it, and driving the costs down.

        Focus focus focus.

        • Thanks Joe, you certainly make a good point, but we will never stop innovating!

  • Bill

    Pneumatic systems tend to function much better on indoor ranges with a controlled climate. Any moisture that gets into the lines can freeze or wreck havoc with the lifters, and if a line gets nicked or perforated trying to find the damaged section is a pain. In an indoor range most of the mechanism can be protected, outdoors I’ve usually had to make do with logs, lumber, blocks or steel plates (which have to be properly set to avoid sending spall into the lines of towards the firing point. Cold weather can reduce the battery life on electric systems, but that’s why spare batteries are warming up in a car or charger.

    The targets, and the controller, also need to be weather-proof, at least to succeed in the training world, so you’ll have to add the cost of a Pelican case, Otterbox or Lifecase to the startup.

    I’d also think that stick-on sensors that would work on any target shouldn’t be difficult to produce

    • Blake

      Good point.

      With all the spall flying around, I think a good upgrade would be to use the type of steel-braided hoses used in automotive braking systems.

      (Speaking from the perspective of someone that spent half an hour last week bleeding hydraulic mountain bike brake lines…)

      • Blake, fortunately there is not much spall that flies around with our system, since the targets are ricochet-free. The tiny fragments of target that fly out are completely harmless. There’s more of a chance of getting spall from hitting whatever your backstop is. A properly constructed range should have very minimal splatter from the backstop, so that shouldn’t be an issue either.

        Having steel-braided hoses is an interesting idea, but I think that you will find it to be a waste of money. After sending thousands of rounds at our system during testing, we’ve literally never had a pneumatics line fail or become compromised in any way.

        Thanks!

        • Bill

          Good to know – I just operate on the principle that anything downrange will eventually eat a bullet. On a target line it is easy to make certain pneumatic or electrical power lines are protected, but when you get into portable set-up in the woods or an abandoned building eventually someone who can’t hit a billboard on demand will score a perfect shot on a quarter inch line or cable. It’s a law.

          • Doc Rader

            “It’s a law” FTW.

          • This hosing is inexpensive and you can use a simple in-line coupler to cut out a part with a hole/leak and then couple the line back together afterwards (and at 50 psi finding the leak will be pretty easy). I don’t think you’d ever recover the cost of steel-braided cable considering how unlikely it is that this hose will spring a leak, how easy it is to repair, etc. Plus, steel-braided hose isn’t going to withstand a bullet impact anyway. You’d be insuring against debris hitting the hose but that would be extremely unlikely to damage the plastic tubing anyway. When I was testing my units I dragged 150 yards of hose over forest land littered with rocks, broken glass, empty shell casings, etc, then shot at it all day and had precisely zero issues…

          • Bill

            That’s exactly what I’ve done when using pneumatic units – getting a bagful of those barbed hose connectors and a pair of cutters. Sometimes a little spray silicone to make things go faster, and if hose clamps are needed I’ll have a holstered cordless drill-driver with the right bit.

            I kinda treat range repairs like a pitstop at Indy.

        • Doc Rader

          I would also point out that if you protect the units with sand bags (opposed to plate armor) spall is not going to be an issue. Technically you could even protect the host runs with sand.

          I would be more worried about a mixed field where you have steel targets interspersed (which is why at the 3-Gun match we separated the AutoTargets from the steel).

          • We also offer an AR500 steel plate that is faced with a sheet of UHMW to catch spall and ricochets. We’ve shot it point blank with .223 and 9mm multiple times and had zero ricochets.

      • Bill

        Interesting – i’ve been looking for a new gravel grinder and trying to decide between hydraulic and mechanical discs.

        I had been using a target system in which each radio-controlled turning/lifting target was powered by motorcycle or small tractor batteries, and the batteries were a pain to handle, move, keep charged, keep from sulfating when not used for long periods and keep charged in the winter.

        • Blake

          [offtopic] Spiffy. I built a gravel grinder this spring.

          IMHO you don’t *need* hydraulics unless you’re carrying heavy loads or spend most of your time on long stretches of steep downhill where you’ll really heat up the brakes. There’s no denying that they work better, but a problem or a crash in the middle of a really long ride without a hydraulic repair kit can really get you in trouble (I saw an article a while back about some guys riding in Tuscany that electrical-taped their front brake line back onto the bike after a crash & refilled it with olive oil & soda straws from a pizzeria. Great ingenuity, but I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes…)

          Older mechanical discs were pretty crap but the good modern stuff works quite well. My setup is:

          – on-one midge “dirt drop” handlebar with tektro RL520 linear-pull drop-bar levers (& two layers of Cinelli gel tape)
          – jagwire road pro brake cables & housing
          – “good enough” tektro aquila single-piston caliper on the rear 160mm disc
          – TRP Spyke dual-piston linear-pull caliper on the front 160mm disc (this is the only braking component that cost any significant amount of money, & was totally worth it).

          I find these mechanical discs to be even easier to adjust than v-brakes, & more modulable. Just set the approximate cable tension when you bolt it into the caliper, line up the pad blocks & fine-tune with the caliper’s barrel adjuster so that they’re just barely not touching, and you’re done. You can assemble & adjust the entire system with two or three hex wrenches, & it uses standard wire & housings available at any bike shop. Oh, a good Sheldon Brown tip: cut your brake housings with a Dremel cutoff wheel (or other tiny grinder). It’s the only way to do it without squeezing the tube housing or leaving sharp edges (granted I never tried with a good-quality hacksaw, but once you’ve cut cable housings with a Dremel you’ll never want to use anything else).

          Bear in mind that disc brake wheels should have at least 32 spokes and at least a 3x cross lacing; radially spoked wheels commonly seen on sport rim-brake bikes must be avoided as they can’t handle the hub torque.

          Hope that helps, & have a great time gravel grinding. I suppose you’ve seen “guitar Ted’s” articles and http://ridinggravel.com/

          • Bill

            Great info, thanks! I had no idea that you could actually torque the spokes like that, and I’m a big guy in hill country with grip strength that can strangle a pig. Sheldon Brown is The Man – I found his page when I was reliving my childhood trying to rehab old Sturmey-Archer 3 speed hubs, and found Guitar Ted when I first started thinking gravel. Actually, where I live, road = gravel, if not worse. I’ve debated a fatbike, but don’t intentionally leave what passes for the road that often. I’ve wondered how they’d do as LE patrol bikes, but the ones I’ve ridden how been slow and not exactly nimble, kind of the Electra Glide of police bikes.

            When did riding become as expensive as shooting?

          • Blake

            The fatbike option is tempting. When 650b+ came out I made up a tire-on-rim volume & height comparison:
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dd92e786363077db5328b233b93e1e032019946ea7fd7b906eae9a579214ead0.png

            But at the end of the day, I want the bike that will get the job done with the least amount of energy, & a huge amount of weight at the edge of your rim ain’t the way to do that.

            I’ve got a set of Michelin Mud2 CX tires for the gravel grinder, & for trail use they do just fine as long as there’s no deep mud or unavoidable huge rocks. If your bike will fit them then a set of 40c WTB Nanoraptors would work even better thanks to the increased volume (& no worries about pinch flats if you run them tubeless). Biggest thing is being able to manage the pressure on the trail so that you can drop it for the slop & rocks, & bring them back up to Berto pressure for the ride home.

          • Bill

            Thanks – good info

    • Bill, we are using abrasion-resistant polyurethane tubing that has held up incredibly well in our testing. It’s rated from -40 to +165 degrees Fahrenheit, and is also rated for more than triple the PSI that the system requires. We’ve tested the system in the winter time (in Pennsylvania) and had no issues with the pneumatics. For extreme cold temperatures, it may require an HPA tank which we are looking into and will be testing soon.

      Cold weather typically only affects LiPo batteries for systems that require a lot of current…however our system is a low draw device and there should be very little (if any) negative effects from cold weather.

      The system as it stands is already weather resistant, but we do offer upgrades to increase the weather resistance if you plan to leave it outside 24/7.

      And we also have plans to release non-lifting units in the future. This will be a less expensive option that can be used standalone, or in conjunction with lifting units.

      Thanks for your input!

      • Bill

        Not being a pneumatics guy, can a line dryer be installed between the tank and the line(s)? I’ve been at outdoor ranges where moisture was freezing in the lines. Part of the problem may have been that tanks were getting filled at welding shops or Bubba’s compressor, and not from “clean” sources like dive shops or the fire department’s cascade unit, neither of which are big into nitrogen around here.

        Speaking of Bubba, can the system run off a compressor instead of a tank?

        • We are talking about 2 different things…our system uses CO2 tanks which are typically filled at paintball supply stores and sporting good stores. It sounds like you are talking about compressed air or nitrogen tanks, which can be filled at fire departments or scuba shops. CO2 is a completely different animal in that it does not introduce any moisture in the lines. You may see some condensation on the outside of the tank, but that’s completely harmless.

          You could run the system off of compressed air, and in that case we would certainly recommend an air dryer.

          Hope that clears things up, thanks!

          • Bill

            Thank you – like I said, this isn’t my field, though I have a friend who is a mixed-gas diver whose goal in life is to bore me to death with formulas. Now the company that makes one run off of carbon monoxide from the belching exhaust of a cruiser with 270,000 miles on it will make a million bucks.

            You’ll sell a lot of turners, particularly if you make them with “offset” target holders so that they can swing into and out of doorways and windows and from behind trees and building corners. Even if they just blade to the shooter when they are hit, it could save a lot of engineering/money, as opposed to have to drop and lift an entire target and backer.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Looks like a cool system.
    The only drawback seems to be the possibility of a lot of down time for repairs.

    • Thanks! We offer some options for ballistic protection, such as an AR500 plate that will stop multiple hits from a .308. Of course you could also just use sandbags which are much cheaper.

    • Bill

      “Down time for repairs.” The first time I saw a RO carrying a cordless drill/driver with all the socket bits and a pouch full of spares for every fastener on the range, I laughed. Next time I was at the range I was carrying my own, now coupled with an impact driver. Ranges are like airplanes and race cars: every hour of use requires a couple hours of behind the scenes service, and/or the ability to fix things fast.

  • raz-0

    OK, I’m going to do some math here based on having run stuff like this at matches.

    What’s good:
    -price. we’ve looked at and bought some other auto targets, and nothing is below about $1000
    -programability

    That’s it.

    What’s bad:
    -pneumatics, they are a PITA and anything that breaks means you are likley going mail order for parts (maybe that’s regional, it’s not like I reside in the land of tractor supply and such).

    -pneumatics as implemented. We run ones that work off of built in air compressors. Runing tubing is worse than running wires. Heck, we have enough problem with using rope to hook up activators and it getting shot during the course of a match. Similar issues with wires, but they are at least easily repaired.

    -lack of armor – things will get shot. the farther away you put these things the more random bits will get shot. In a recent match, a single target at 100 yards in a 70 shooter match saw ate least 200 rounds shot at it. I can’t een imagine putting these out at say the FN match where the biggest division had 260+ competitors and some of the long range shots had people taking 5-6 shots a piece at it to get a hit.

    IMO, it is very hard to make an agrument for targets that don’t run off of the power of gravity and simple stuff.

    • Doc Rader

      Sandbags are the way to go with protection. Cheap and effective. As Jeremy S mentioned above, the hoses are very simple to repair if they need it.

    • We offer an armor package that withstands unlimited hits from a .308 and prevents ricochets. As for the pneumatics, we have the option of using an individual bottle for each unit and mounting it behind the armor plate. This makes each target a completely self contained package that will run all day and provide over 2000 lift cycles. No wires to run, no tubing, no damage from gun fire, and no ricochets.

  • anomad101

    I shoot cut out cardboard.