The Case Against Orange Targets

There is a slowly growing awareness and concern among enlightened shooters about the ever increasing use of orange targets in Sporting Clays, Simulated Field, Five-stand Sporting and Birdbrain shooting disciplines. All these types of target shooting have the same basic objectives, that is:

* They hope to offer better practice for field shooting;
* They offer a much greater variety of targets than skeet or DTL;
* They provide competitions that use far less ammunition than the original disciplines, which may go to hundreds of rounds to decide a 20-target event.

The concern regarding orange targets comes about from the dawning realisation that colored targets - especially orange ones - do not always provide a visual improvement. In fact, in many cases they are less visible because target recognition, just as detecting a hunted quarry in the field, depends principally on movement and contrast, not color.

It is the contrast of a light target against dark background, or a dark target against light background, which provides the quickest and clearest identification of the target.

The problem with orange targets
Put simply, the light-orange target color is often too light to contrast properly against the backgrounds encountered. This is not always recognised because orange is regarded as a "bright color".

History of coloured targets
Field-type targets came into being because the original clay target sports - skeet and DTL - had been in existence for almost a century and many shooters wanted something different. The highly evolved black "clay" target was initially used in a variety of settings and in many different flight patterns.

Even some non-flight (rabbit) simulations were created. Next came "battue" targets, which "floated" and turned in a manner unachievable with the standard clay. The orange target was then introduced because of the difficulty of seeing a black target against a dark-green background.

The importance of contrast in visual interpretation
Contrast rather than color is what the human eye first picks up in identifying objects. The next is shape, or outline, and then comes color. This is true in all uses of our sight, but to put the matter into perspective, first consider the following examples of contrast in some general situations:

* In print: We"re so accustomed to reading "black on white" print that we have missed the significance of it. Conventional "black on white" printing is used because it works. This style of printing is the quickest and easiest to read.

* Marine buoy observations: Imagine you're at sea; think of the common buoyage colors - red, green, and yellow. As the distance from them increases, the first color to "disappear" (although the object can still be seen) is the red one. It can still be seen as a black object miles away because red is a very dark color. The next color to disappear is green, although it too can still be seen as a dark object. The yellow buoy remains yellow far longer than either red or green because of its contrast with the darker water.

* Fire engines: Red fire engines are difficult to see on dull days and at night. Many progressive countries have long ago recognised that yellow fire engines are more visible under more adverse conditions. Likewise, the now redundant DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) used yellow ground vehicles for maximum visibility on all aerodromes in Australia for many decades. All training aircraft were yellow for many years.

* Hunting in the field: The nearest thing I think we have to an orange target in real life is a hare. Those big ginger animals can be invisible in a "seat" or squat in green grass or dry grey grass and can be "kicked up" before you see them. Perhaps they know more about contrast than some target setters! I've also experienced a red fox lying unseen in stubble paddock until I've almost walked on him. And although the pastime of tiger hunting is history now, we've all seen plenty of film evidence proving the yellow and black striped beast's invisibility.

The importance of contrast in clay target shooting
Having established the relationship between visibility and contrast, let's look at some specific target problems, and then the solution. Orange targets have become an epidemic - overused to a serious extent - and the damned things actually cost more too! Of course, this may be a large part of the problem. Sales people in every field are notorious for "selling up" to dearer products and for limiting stock variety.

Examples of misusing orange targets:
Orange rabbits
The rabbit target is one that most shooters are acquainted with. If they hate this particular target, it's usually because they struggle to see them. The reason for "rabbit invisibility" is usually lack of contrast against their background - dry grass, dry grey stumps perhaps even bright-green grass. These are a different color, but sometimes a similar shade to the orange rabbit! Incidentally, like all orange targets, they"re still black on one side. They can be set up to roll with their highly visible black side out, as they should be on 99 per cent of all "rabbit runs".

High aerial shots
Ironically, when any orange aerial target is visible high in the air it's not because of the orange color, but in spite of it. What we actually see is the black color, which is very visible against a light-blue sky - we are seeing the black underside of the orange target.

High crossers
Orange targets seen with the sun coming from behind the shooter onto the target give a very poor contrast against a light-blue sky. Shooters seldom "fail to see" a black target against a light-blue sky.

Low incomers
If the orange target is not high enough coming in to show its black belly, it can be damned hard to see. Likewise, if it's coming in among light-grey dead trees its light-orange shade makes it almost invisible.

A few related colored target matters
The symptoms of the "invisible target disease" are compounding and other colors as well as orange are being used simply "because they're there". The orange targets are sometimes called "fluoro", but not all are fluoro.

Pink targets
The color pink becomes grey, at a certain distance, just as red becomes black. Of course, the distances we shoot over (even with the growing trend towards more difficult targets) do not cause pink targets to "disappear" completely. But the principle is important because of poor contrast.

Miniature targets
By this I mean smaller than standard sizes. The minis terrify some shooters, but the fact is they are not more difficult to hit, just more difficult to see. If you can see them, the shot pattern and shot size will break them almost as easily as the standard target. However, seeing the miniatures are certainly more difficult and if they are orange, then the lack-of-contrast problems are multiplied. Color differentiation is inversely proportional to the size of the color sample. You will appreciate that it's damned hard to identify the color of a grain of sand, or the head of a pin, even though you can clearly see the little object. Suffice to say, minis should never be offered in orange. If the contrast using a black target isn't good enough, use the black mini elsewhere and put an appropriate standard target instead.

Fluoro-green targets
This color stands out more, and against more varied backgrounds, than almost any other color in common use. This is for three reasons:
* It really is fluorescent and reflects light more efficiently, which is a practical definition of fluorescence;
* It's a light, bright color and stands out because of the contrast;
* That red/green color-blind shooters (a massive 25 per cent of male shooters) see it as yellow and have no trouble with it. The normal-sighted see it as green, but because it is so bright, it is easy to see.

Color differentiation difficulties
All the above information was generally with respect to people with "normal" vision. However, there are two other groups who are more acutely disadvantaged by the lack of contrast in non-black targets: elderly shooters and the color-blind. It is obvious that if targets are hard to see, those with less efficient eyesight are disadvantaged even further.

Older shooters in clay target sports make up the majority of shooters. Many have ailing eyesight.

Color-blind shooters
About 25 per cent of all males are color-blind, meaning they can't differentiate between some colors. The most common form is red/green and orange is a secondary color, composed of red and yellow.
For those shooters who find the orange targets difficult to see, a simple improvement can often be achieved with red-lens shooting glasses. These will turn the orange monsters bright yellow. But in reduced light the second black target is hard to see.

Orange targets - the solution
If the black target is deemed inappropriate, decide which color is best - don't jump to orange straight away. Try yellow targets; they will stand out against more back-grounds and are more visible to shooters with color-blind problems. If yellow can't be obtained or sprayed, use fluoro-green targets; as said before, they look yellow to the color-blind and more visible to the shooters with normal vision.

Use the black side of all "rabbit" targets as standard practice; get several opinions before using the orange side of the rabbit.

Seek opinions from those having target identification problems, not those who can't "see" the problem.

Lionel Swift