Last February we posted on Universal Training Munitions (UTM), and their significant importance to reality based training (RBT) for the military and law enforcement. The UTM design allows officers to use their duty firearms during force-on-force training. For the AR-15, officers are only required to change out the bolt carrier group. The clearly marked blue UTM bolt is designed to be rim fired. This protects against an accidental firing of live center fire ammunition during training. There are other procedures for Glock handguns, providing the same level of protection.
A short time after our post, UTM came out with their Civilian Target Ammunition (CTA). We posted an article with the particulars of the CTA product. Several months ago UTM contacted us and offered us an opportunity to test the CTA. We jumped at the opportunity, and after a bit of a delay we’re ready to share our findings.
Civilian Target Ammunition (CTA)
The Civilian Target Ammunition is marketed for anyone who wants to get more trigger time, but may have restrictions on how often they can get to the range. This is particularly beneficial for the AR-15. The number of ranges allowing rifles is much lower than those for handguns. Some States are very restrictive on how firearms can be transported as well. The CTA rounds allow a shooter to get trigger time almost anywhere. This includes inside their own home, garage, living room, or wherever, with a greatly reduced concern of damage.
Another great advantage of the CTA set up is the ability to train new shooters on the AR-15, without the fear of live-fire mishaps. The CTA system allows a new shooter to handle a real firearm, use all of the controls, but be at greater ease knowing the weapon is only firing plastic training rounds. This could be a huge benefit to instructors, and likely a way to advance firearms training much faster with newer shooters than by traditional means.
NOTE: Firearms safety rules still apply! The comment on “plastic training rounds” emphasized the fear and anxiety felt by new shooters, and not as an endorsement to be careless. A new shooter who knows the weapon only has “plastic” rounds, is much more likely to be at ease, which should advance their training – that’s the point.
Fear of firearms and shooting is one of the biggest hindrances to training new shooters. Despite efforts to reduce those fears, when it comes time to live-fire there are often moments of high stress for the instructor and the shooter. The UTM CTA system provides the middle ground in training, where a student can actually fire the rifle, but knows that there isn’t going to be a loud bang or a real bullet traveling down range. This ability to actually fire the rifle before live rounds has great potential in reducing fear, anxiety, and shooting errors when the time comes for live-fire training.
UTM Civilian Target Ammunition can be an integral part of the introductory firearms training, and on-going training as well. Initial costs are definitely a consideration, but the “Core Kit” can get a shooter started for only $249.00. The UTM CTA is an excellent choice for serious shooters who want and need more trigger time and training opportunities, but suffer from limited range access. Practicing for competitions in between range times to ensure those fractions of seconds doing magazine changes or transitions stay proficient, while shooting under time. When the range is far away, or cost prohibitive, shooters can bring the range home with the CTA kits.
UTM Civilian Target Ammunition “Core” Kit
- UTM blue-marked training bolt carrier group (rimfire)
- (1) Magpul 10-round 5.56 mm magazine
- (1) 50-round box of CTA ammunition
- MSRP – $249.00.
UTM Civilian Target Ammunition “Marksman” Kit
- UTM blue-marked training bolt carrier group (rimfire)
- (1) Magpul 10-round 5.56 mm magazine
- (2) 50-round boxes of UTM CTA training ammunition
- Cleaning and maintenance tools kit
- Target backer/bullet trap – with mounting options
- Several cardboard targets
- Convenient carry/storage case
- MSRP – $329.00
- Additional 50-round boxes of CTA rounds – $32.50.
UTM CTA Specifications
- Average Muzzle Energy: 2.1 ft/lbs
- Average Muzzle Velocity: 375 fps
- Projectile Weight – less than 1.0 gram
- Accuracy: 1.18in at 32 yards (mean radius)
- Maximum Effective Range for Training: Approximately 55 yards
- Surface Danger Zone (SDZ): 200 yards minimum safe distance
- Optimum Effective Range for Training: Approximately 32 yards & closer
- (1) Year warranty in original packaging if stored as instructed.
On-Going and Advanced Firearms Training
The UTM Civilian Target Ammunition opens up much more than training new shooters on firearm mechanics. Shooters can establish the same difficult drills they would in a competition or advanced training session to improve their muscle memory, dexterity, and overall weapon skills. All this at their own home, without the costs to travel to the range and pay range fees.
Even in the short distances of a basement or garage, shooters can use CTA to establish challenging drills. Drills that hone a shooter’s fie motor skills for some of the most important aspects of the fundamentals of shooting. This would include:
- Timed shooting
- Magazine changes
- Position shooting
- Transition drills with a training pistol.
One instructor wisely told me that mastering the fundamentals of actually shooting the firearm is not the greatest time saver in a gunfight. The real speed of an experienced shooter comes in mastering the required mechanics of presenting the firearm to shoot, and keep the firearm in the fight. In multiple training sessions our SWAT Team has consistently proven the “fastest” shooter is not the one with the quickest trigger pull, but rather the ones who have mastered weapon presentation to target, and fast magazine changes.
The UTM pistol kits would be perfect for that last drill. Pistol kits are available for Glock Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, Heckler & Koch, Beretta, FN, and Caracal.
One of the best training methods I’ve been apart of is using short round counts per magazine. This requires fast and accurate shooting, but also incorporates magazine reloads. When time is added as a factor, and penalties for missed shots, the shooter can acquire critical skills development within their own home.
Pistol ranges and center fire rifles do not mix typically. However, the CTA conversion could easily be sold to range or club officers, opening up plenty of training opportunities at indoor facilities normally restricted to handguns. Officers and civilians could conduct the same skill tests on their AR-15’s using the CTA, as they would on a live fire range. Clean up would be minimal, and the risk of range damage is non-existent from UTM rounds.
In addition, officers and civilians could perform transition drills from their AR-15 to pistol. The CTA system could be used for the AR-15, and live fire could be used with pistols. The possible training combinations are almost limitless.
UTM Patented Munitions
As previously published, the UTM rounds incorporate a patented (2) primer system. This allows the UTM rounds to be very accurate while traveling at a much slower speed than competitor rounds. Officers and civilians can conduct realistic training with a significantly reduced chance of injury or damage from munition impact.
NOTE: The UTM Civilian Target Ammunition is NOT intended to be used in force-on-force training. Though the round is traveling at a much reduced speed than competitors, there is a potential for injury from the harder plastic projectile. Only the UTM Man-Marking Rounds (MMR), with a soft plastic tip, should be used in force-on-force training.
The UTM Civilian Target Ammunition differs from the RBT (Man-marking MMR) versions by having a hard plastic bullet, instead of the wax filled marking bullet of the man-marking rounds.
The use of a 2-primer system maximizes efficiency in launching the plastic projectiles, and avoids energy loss in the empty casing. When the UTM rounds are fired, the casing will actually extend forward slightly near the base. This will not effect firing, extraction, ejection, or reloading. This is a part of the unique UTM design to better use the energy in launching the desired projectile.
Transitioning from a live-fire AR-15 to a UTM Civilian Target Ammunition system will take “less than a minute.” Actually, if your rifle is clean and free of excessive lubrication, the transition can be completed in about 20 seconds. Here’s a UTM video showing the ease of transition.
Ensuring an officer or civilian has properly changed a live-fire bolt carrier group for the UTM bolt carrier group cannot be understated. Thankfully UTM has made it easy with a clear blue strip on the extraction side, and a bright yellow reminder to check to bore on the end of the UTM bolt carrier group.
UTM Civilian Target Ammunition Testing
Since there is a legitimate training aspect of the UTM CTA, I was fortunate enough to use my department’s range as a testing location. This was beneficial because distances were known, and the level surface allowed a more consistent platform for accurate shooting. The UTM CTA was fired from varying distances using two shooters to compare results.
AR-15 Used for Testing
- AR-15: Rock River Arms LAR-15, Entry Tactical
- Caliber: 5.56 mm
- Barrel Length: 10.5 inches
- Trigger: RRA 2-Stage Match
- Optic: EOTech, old N-cell model (no longer in production)
- Light: Surefire M900
- Zero: Previously set at 50 yards.
Overall the UTM CTA rounds performed very well, and as advertised. The CTA rounds provide an actual recoil, similar to live-fire, just not quite as strong. The CTA felt recoil is straight back into the shooter’s shoulder, and there is little if any muzzle rise during firing. Still, it is much more realistic than non-recoiling training systems.
The Shooting Tests
Each test was performed by both shooters at various distances from 5 to 25 yards. The majority of test strings did not attempt to counter bore-to-sight offset, but simply aimed the EOTech sight at the intended point of impact (POI). Each shooter aimed at the center cross hair during the tests, except for two series. On those shooting exercises a hold over high was held at two separate POA. This was done to determine if adjusted POA would allow shots to strike the center cross hair as hoped.
For matters of consistency we did not adjust the zero of the EOTech sight. That EOTech sight had been pre-zeroed at 50 yards. The bore-to-sight offset distance (the distance between where the sight is centered and the center of the barrel’s bore) was approximately 2.0 inches. As was expected there was a drop in projectile flight the further the shooter was from the target.
When shooting up close, no adjustment was made for bore to sight off-set. As such, it was not surprising to see our hits around 2.0″ lower than POA, very consistent with the previously noted bore-to-sight offset distance.
10-Yard Line – Standing
The first 3-shot series was from a standing position at the 10-yard line. We did not have the target/bullet catch hanging from a target to avoid any movement. Instead the target/bullet catch was placed on the range floor. Two of the shots were nearly through the same hole, about 1.75″ low of POA (center), with the third being 2.5″ low. This was very consistent with bore-to-sight off-set, particularly from the increased angle of shooting standing to a low target.
Move to Shooting Prone
To avoid any adverse effect from shooting at a downward angle, the remainder of the test shots were taken from a prone position with the AR-15 supported by various means, left up to each shooter’s preference. Shooting from prone provided the a near horizontal aiming pathway for the UTM projectiles, and a more accurate way to judge trajectory and projectile drop.
7-yard Line – Prone
We decided to move closer to gauge bore-to-sight off-set more accurately, and to evaluate the difference that prone shooting had on accuracy. Shooting at the 7-yard line also had the benefit of giving us an idea of what a user could expect while shooting in a basement or other room within their residence – 21 feet being a reasonable maximum distance in a home.
A 5-shot group was completed at the 7-yard line from the prone position by the second shooter. Somewhat surprisingly, the grouping was a little lower than the standing shots at the 10-yard line. The group spread out to about 1.5″ from each other, and were from 1.50″ low to 3.0″ low of POA (center cross hair).
The AR-15 used for this test is not this officer’s primary rifle, so there were some different features that could account for some accuracy. Despite this, the shooter was able to place shots in very close proximity to the shots from standing. One shot was just to the left of the double-hole shot by the first shooter. This was about 1.5″ low of POA. Two shots were just to the right of the lower shot from the first shooter – about 1.75″ low and about 0.5″ right of center. Interestingly, the final two shots were on top of each other, along the center line but nearly 3.0″ low.
Due to the newest of the system, the shooter not using his primary AR-15, and the precision placement of those last two shots, we believe these hits were simply attributed breathing or aiming structure.
10-yard Line – Prone
The second shooter performed a grouping from the 10-yard line and prone. These shots were still low of POA, but not inconsistent with our previous findings in consideration of bore-to-sight off-set.
Of particular note to us was our shots remained very centered along the center vertical line, meaning the UTM CTA rounds were not deviating on the horizontal axis. The slight drop in rounds from the center cross has been discussed, and this observations indicated to us just how accurate these rounds are.
25-Yard Line Prone, Supported
We decided to go ahead and move to our maximum testing range of 25-yards. We used a variety of supports to help keep the AR-15 steady and supported. Even at 25 yards the bullet drop from point of aim (POA) to point of impact (POI) averaged only about 4.75″. That’s not too bad considering the lightweight plastic projectile and the relatively low speed of 375 fps. With a very minor POA adjustment the shooter should be confident of hitting the target.
At the 25-yard line we also incorporated some unorthodox rifle rests to provide a more stable shooting platform. From this video you can also see just how small our target was – only about 15″ x 15″, with a center circle of only 1/2 MOA.
Some of the rounds hit at the very bottom of the target, so anyone desiring to shoot this far out should be aware that not all of the projectiles may safely make it into the built-in trap. In addition, we did not experience a great deal of shift along the horizontal axis until we reached the 25-yard line. At 25-yards the effects of air and gravity on the lightweight projectile really started to show its impact. In addition to the expected lower hits, we also hits that began deviating further away from the center line of the target – sometimes as much as 3.0 inches.
At all other distances, including 20-yards, we did not experience a deviation from center on the horizontal axis of more than 1.5″, and that distance was both at 20-yards. All other ranges saw hits mostly within 1.0″ of the center line, except for 1-2 where the shooter called an error on their part.
15-Yard Line Prone
Shots from both shooter’s at the 15-yard line were consistent with expected drop, and were very tight to the center line. When shooters transitioned to the marked POA #1 (at the top of the black circle) we were laying rounds within 1.0″ of each other, and about 1.0″ low of the center cross. When POA #2 was used (one line above the black circle) we actually had two hits almost exactly on the center cross.
In this video you can see how the UTM Civilian Target Ammunition functions the AR-15 as designed and without fail. You can also realize just how quiet the system is, only hearing the cycling of the bolt.
At the 15-yard line we observed what I believe most would consider the maximum effective range of the UTM Civilian Training Ammunition. At this range (45-50 feet), the shooter can expect to aim at the center of the target, and still make hits safely into the target and projectile trap. Obviously, this statement is based on the shooter using the included UTM targeting system and projectile trap. A larger target and trap system would greatly increase the maximum effective range, but we then begin to expand beyond the targeted ranges of being able to train within the shooter’s home.
This range is different than the UTM stated effective and accurate range of 1.18″ (median radius) out to 32 yards. Our accuracy results were based upon an EOTech with a 50-yard zero. We completely accounted for this fact in evaluating the hits that were lower than POA. We also accounted for bore-to-sight offset. Had we specifically zeroed the EOTech to 25-yards I believe our hits would have been much closer to point of aim (POA) to point of impact (POI).
The very close hits on the horizontal axis clearly indicates these rounds are accurate, and our fairly tight groups at various ranges also indicate good accuracy. When considering the 50-yard EOTech zero, and bore-to-sight offset, I believe an objective observer could judge that the UTM CTA rounds would meet or be very close to the UTM stated accuracy.
A 25-yard zero on the rifle’s sights would obviously make a difference and could possibly extend that range to 20-yards. Beyond those distances I feel that the reduction of speed and energy in the projectile makes the UTM Civilian Targeting Ammunition less capable of providing useful feedback to a shooter’s aiming and fundamentals, though still capable of providing good training on other shooting skills.
UTM CTA Targeting System
The UTM Civilian Target Ammunition targeting system is designed to be a target and a projectile trap. As the picture below shows, the small UTM projectiles have enough energy to penetrate the cardboard target, but are stopped by a thin metal sheet at the back of the foam target stand. This provides an additional safety feature from ricochet, and an easy clean-up process.
As the pictures will show, the one thing we did not have a problem with was horizontal placement of the CTA projectiles, until we reached 25-yards. Other than a few “flyers” (mostly called by the shooter for breathing, or movement during the shot), the CTA rounds landed very close to the center vertical line.
BlueSheepDog was invited to a private showing of the UTM man marking rounds several years ago during SHOT Show. We were very impressed with the ability of an officer (or civilian) to use their own firearm, but be able to train in force-on-force situations. The ability to use your own firearm cannot be understated, as it provides the most accurate feedback for reliability or issues during live training.
We posted an article on the UTM products at that time, with an endorsement of the product. This came from several evaluation points:
- Our experiences with the product
- The incredibly innovative design of the ammunition
- The ease of transitioning from a live firearm to a UTM training firearm
- The rim-fired design for maximum safety
- The real cycling capabilities of the UTM ammunition
- The accuracy of the rounds
- The lower speed for a greatly reduced injury potential (man marking rounds)
- The relatively affordable price.
The new Civilian Training Ammunition (CTA) has also impressed us with its potential as a training device for a wide range of shooters. The initial start-up costs are a definite consideration, but if a shooter is serious about acquiring, advancing, and maintaining their shooting skills, the UTM CTA system is an excellent method of doing so, without the requirements of a full blown range (NOTE: Check all local laws to ensure the CTA system will be legal in your area).
During our evaluation and testing of the product we found the transition to be easy and confident. Fit and function responded just like the AR-15 did with a live bolt and ammunition. We had absolutely no malfunctions during our entire training evolution, the UTM CTA functioned flawlessly every time. The UTM CTA ammunition loaded into the provided Magpul magazine without issue, fed into the chamber without fail, fired consistently each time, and ejected the spent casing without consistently each time.
We have no problem endorsing and recommending the UTM Civilian Targeting Ammunition system to our readers. This is not a system designed for shooters who go to the range once a year. This system is designed to enhance and maintain the proficiency levels of serious or professional shooters, or to introduce apprehensive new shooters to the joys of shooting. Either way the UTM CTA kit is an excellent choice.
EDITOR’S NOTE: UTM contacted us after viewing our article on the UTM Universal Training Munitions last year. They offered to send us the Marksman Kit to do a review, and we were very glad to accept. UTM has not paid BlueSheepDog for the review of this product, and at the time of publishing are not paid advertisers or partners with BlueSheepDog. We have reviewed this product with an open mind, and critical evaluation, so you, our readers can have an unbiased feel for what this product could do for you if you purchased yourself.