How to Shoot a Spinning Target

Don't let spinners intimidate you. Here's how to master this challenging target
Sean Murphy Avatar
Shooting the spinner target at the range.
Shooting spinner targets sharpens your target transitions, mental focus, and recoil management. Tanner Denton

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If there was ever a target that could haunt a shooter, it would be the spinning or “spinner” target. It’s likely that if someone has encountered a spinner in competition, they’ve left with a bitter taste in their mouth. Simply put: If your marksmanship and timing are not up to par, a spinning target will fight back. It is a formidable adversary. But as a skill-building tool, there’s no better ally. 

Originally designed by MGM Targets and now manufactured by others, the spinning target offers a clever energy management game. The primary purpose of this target is to hit the target enough to spin the target array in a complete revolution. To play this game, you need to make precise shots to get the target moving. Repeated impacts, made at the right time and place, must continue until the target spins over. While flipping the target is the main goal, there are a number of creative ways to engage the spinner that make it an even more versatile training tool.

What Is a Spinning Target?

A spinning target at the range.
The spinner is a challenging target and a versatile training tool. Tanner Denton

Before delving into how to shoot spinning targets, it’s important to understand how they work. A spinning target comprises a dual set of plates affixed to a narrow center plate, vertically arranged with a high and a low plate. These targets are connected to a pivot on the central bar. The target plates may be different sizes, while others may feature identically-sized plates; each variant has its own motion dynamics.

A lot of factors go into how easy—or not—a spinner is to spin. The distance between the plates has a big influence, and how well the target is maintained also plays a role. If the pivot hasn’t been greased in a while or if the bolts on the target are loose, the spinner will be more challenging to flip. Additionally, if you are not squared up to the target your bullets will strike glancing blows and not impart as much force on the target.

How to Spin the Target

As the saying goes, timing is everything—and that’s particularly true with spinning targets. The best technique concerning the placement of hits and the speed of your shooting varies with the firearm you’re using. You can use a spinner to train with handguns, rifles, and shotguns—but in this article we’ll focus on hand cannons. That said, no matter what you shoot, more energy applied faster will spin the target more efficiently. Though you’ve probably heard that smooth is slow and slow is fast, in this case fast is faster. And if you don’t get your hits fast enough on a spinner, you might never turn it over.  

A proficient shooter with a 9mm pistol should be able to spin an MGM spinner in approximately seven shots at a reasonable distance; we recommend starting at 7 to 10 yards. The hardest part for a pistolero is initiating movement and then building momentum, since each bullet strike doesn’t transfer a lot of energy.

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The fastest sequence I’ve found involves a double- or triple-tap on the larger, bottom plate to start. This is immediately followed with one or two shots on the top plate. From there make alternating hits on the top and bottom until the plates spin over. Don’t be afraid to shoot the backside of a plate to give things a helpful nudge over the tipping point, especially if it is hesitating on the verge of success or failure.

While it might sound obvious, missing hurts a lot when it comes to shooting spinning targets. You are robbing yourself of the energy you would have added, as well as continuing to bleed energy until you successfully hit the target again. I’ve witnessed many shooters miss, then stop shooting for a few seconds to think about it—which actually makes things worse. If you miss, you should do your best to rapidly follow-up with a hit.

A spinning target getting close to flipping over.
As the target starts to tip, time your shots to help nudge it over the tipping point. Target backs are fair game, too. Tanner Denton

Keep in mind that the target can become visually disorienting as it gets moving. If a shooter becomes distracted or loses perspective of the motion, a poorly timed shot can counteract momentum, slowing or halting plate movement even more than if you had missed. Maintaining your focus is key.

Pro-Tips for Shooting the Spinner

Here are a few pro-tips I’ve learned over the years of shooting spinning targets.

  • Ammunition selection can significantly affect your performance. Spinners are energy-appreciation targets, where more energy per round translates to fewer rounds needed. In the case of our 9mm pistol, going with 147-grain projectiles rather than 115s could mean fewer hits required. In some games like 3-gun, it’s not uncommon to hear of competitors keeping a couple boxes of heavy-for-caliber ammo just for spinners.
  • Whenever possible, square up to the target. Glancing blows at an angle don’t impart as much energy as direct-facing hits.
  • The backside of the target is also in play. I’ve seen more than a few shooters watch a spinner hover in place as if it were deciding whether to go over. Sending an extra round or two on the backside of a plate can ensure success.
  • If you struggle with aiming, take a mental fix on the position of the plates before they start moving. Return to those spots—top and bottom—once the plates begin to move.
  • Target maintenance is paramount. Any target subject to bullet impacts may require attention over time. Loose bolts or rusted/dry points at the pivot reduce the effect of a bullet strike, making it much harder for you to flip the target. Properly maintaining spinning targets is not only advantageous when stage planning in a competition, but it’s crucial for practice and to enable realistic expectations.

Practicing with the Spinner

Beyond competitive settings, the spinning target serves as an excellent training aid and an enjoyable target for friendly wagers. Practicing with spinners hones a diverse range of skills, including maintaining a firm grip, precise aiming at specific target points, swift follow-up shots, precise shot-calling, and effective recoil control. For newcomers, mastering the art of spinning the target demands some effort, as all these skills must seamlessly converge to deliver well-placed yet rapid shots. Some would say this is the same as mastery of shooting a handgun, and they’d be correct.

A guy practices shooting the spinner targets at the range.
Be sure to square up to the spinner target so you're getting direct hits on target rather than glancing blows. Tanner Denton

Once you master the basics of spinning the target so it flips over, the drills to further challenge yourself are nearly endless. A common litmus test of your proficiency is to determine how few rounds it takes to spin the target.

Spinning target training variations:

  •  Start and Stop: Get the target moving and then stop it, refining your sense of timing and focus on the plate movement.
  •  Sustained Spinning: Get the target in motion and continue making impacts to continue spinning. You’ll find the timing changes, necessitating earlier shots as the plate gains speed.
  • Add More Targets: Start with a hit or two on the spinner, then transition to another target, then back to the spinner, repeating as necessary. This is immensely helpful practice for transitioning targets, as well as deciding on when/where to hit the spinner as it’s moving.
  • Concealed Target: Place an additional plate behind the spinner and play a game where you must keep the spinner moving, but points are only earned from the hidden target.
  • Single-Handed/Off-Hand Shooting: For those who really feel confident or want to earn some money, spin the target while shooting one-handed or, for a real flex, with your off hand.
  • Step Off: Once you spin the target, take three steps back and repeat the drill. You’ll be amazed at how quickly each extra yard adds to the target’s difficulty. 

Final Thoughts on Shooting the Spinner Target

While the prospect of facing a spinner might instill fear, mastering this target can help bring out the best in a shooter. Options abound for both rimfire and center-fire applications. The skills required to have success with a spinning target are those expected of any proficient shooter: accurate aiming and precise vision, good trigger manipulation, solid recoil management, and the ability to rapidly follow-up with precise shots. While typically seen in competitive environments, a spinning target can inject some excitement into your range sessions.