Why I hate the -3 zone

There is no substitute for knowledge.

-–W. Edwards Deming

One of the things I enjoyed most about my time at the elite Rogers Shooting School is the intellectual caliber of people I met there, both instructors and students. There were a fair number of highly educated people who came to the School on a regular basis. One said he came every year ‘to get his speedometer reset.” Some of them continue to stay in touch and I enjoy those conversations.

I recently received an email from a physician, who is an annual student, relating to some target design work I had been doing. He sent along his analysis of the IDPA target, based on the “ANTHROPOMETRY AND MASS DISTRIBUTION FOR HUMAN ANALOGUES,” which is the medical profession’s way of saying the dimensions of the human body.

He included a diagram of issues with the IDPA and IPSC Metric targets in relation to the actual size of the average male American. His diagram resonated with me because, for a long time, I have called the -3 zone of the IDPA target “the lawsuit zone.” The reason I say that is that the target is so large by that point that no part of the person’s body is actually going to be there. So a bullet striking that area would, in fact, just sail off into space. Most likely, it will strike “a busload of nuns and orphans being followed by a limousine full of personal injury lawyers having a conference call with the District Attorney.”

The anatomical analysis he did caused me to do some further research in the anthropometry document to create my own diagram. As I did so, it confirmed another unusuality of the targets; they have no neck. The head zone is not too bad of a match for the area of the male head from the eyebrows to the tip of the chin, especially if he has a jaw like Clutch Cargo, but there’s just no neck.

Visual indicators tend to convey information best, so I created a target image with colors to demonstrate the issues I noted.

IDPA target w human dimensions

Disregarding the head aspect, there were several things to be observed.

1) The -3 zone, or the D zone of the USPSA Metric, on the sides of the target is basically where a man’s arms are when they’re hanging by his side. A man holding a weapon at or near eye level would not have anything there below a line approximately even with the middle of the -0 zone. I marked this area in red on my target depiction.

2) The area of the -3 zone below the -1 zone very closely aligns with the area of the male body below the waist. I’m unenthused about that as a targeting area for reasons that will become obvious further on. That area is shaded in pink on my target image.

3) From about two inches above the bottom of the -0 zone down to the bottom of the -1 zone corresponds generally to the area from the xyphoid process to the waist. Emergency room physicians have told me that they consider this entire area to be an abdominal wound and not nearly as serious as a wound in the torso above that line. The yellow striped area on my image shows that zone.

4) Finally, by process of elimination, the area I shaded in orange is where all the “good stuff” is, as one physician put it to me. This is the area of the torso where a bullet has the best probability of quickly stopping a deadly threat to one’s life. Note that this area goes all the way up to the neckless chin.

My image is really a ‘best case’ example. To get an idea of what a true anatomical overlay would look like, my surgeon friend subsequently sent me a couple more images. Since he’s a physician, they’re much more illustrative than my drawing is. He overlaid them on the IPSC Metric target, but for the purposes of this discussion, the -3 and D zones are interchangeable. Note also that the -1 zone or C zone is no great shakes as a targeting area, either.

aorta overlay guts overlay

Note on the gross anatomy target that my yellow striped area corresponds to the infamous “gut shot.” While a serious wound in the long term sense, its ability to stop criminal action quickly is quite suspect.

Several articles have been written describing the geometry necessary to figure out where the vital organs are. Running a geometry problem in my head while someone is trying to do me serious bodily injury seems a bit much. However, I think an understanding of what actually constitutes the “high center chest” is useful. This is especially true since the IDPA and IPSC Metric targets are very commonly used in training classes.

And that’s why I hate the -3 zone. When I ran the Georgia State IDPA Championship for several years, I painted black over the -3 zone of all the targets so hits there would be scored a miss (-5). It caused a certain amount of grumbling but I really think people need to be confronted with the realities of personal protection.

8 responses

  1. My understanding is that researchers have lately concluded that the pelvic area is an excellent target area to stop the assailant from advancing. If that’s true, your pink area would seem to be a good place to hit.

    1. Sunshine_Shooter

      Pelvic hits are better than misses, and that’s where the simple answer ends.

      If you destroy the pelvis, the body cannot support its weight on its feet, almost ‘anchoring’ that body in place. There are some veins & arteries in there, but I don’t know how likely hitting one of them (with either the bullet or a fragment of shattered bone) actually is. A pelvis hit is basically a decent way to start doing work on a bad guy, but is not the same as a heart & lung hit, which is still less desirable than a CNS strike.

      miss<wing shot<pelvis<center mass<CNS

      1. There’s actually a lot more to it than that.

        Here’s a good illustration of how many holes Nature has already put in the pelvic bone.

  2. In general, I agree with the idea here. In USPSA shooting, we consider the Delta a non-penalty Mike with a point or two added. But it’s there mostly to avoid the penalty.
    However, the -3/D zone has some value in the larger scheme because the theory advanced here has no allowance for movement. A moving target struck in the equivalent of the -3/D that’s moving in the direction of the hit is struck well; a target twisting or turning could easily rearrange a -3/D hit into a 0/A. Yes, it goes the other way, too.
    Having the perimeter hit zone does offer useful information about where the bullets went and since hardcovering the targets is both a bunch of work and an aiming aid (a hardcovered -3/D target offers way too much aiming information by outlining the good-hit zone with a high-contrast border), I’d just as soon leave it there.

  3. […] you made in the body scoring area. I prefer to not count the outer scoring area as I mentioned in Why I hate the -3 zone. Use this format, (3) X/10, X being the number of hits. For this drill, do not count any hits in […]

  4. […] you made in the body scoring area. I prefer to not count the outer scoring area as I mentioned in Why I hate the -3 zone. Use this format, (3) X/10, X being the number of hits. For this drill, do not count any hits in […]

  5. […] 8) Write on the target how many hits you made in the body scoring area. I prefer to not count the outer scoring area as I mentioned in Why I hate the -3 zone. […]

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